Monday, April 28, 2014

Fathers and Daughters

I see good dads struggle sometimes to stay connected as their sweet little daughters grow up into teenagers and then adult women. You can't tickle her like you might have when she was little, or carry her around on your shoulders. She's probably over board games and throwing the baseball with you by her teen years. Now what? What's a father to do to stay emotionally connected, when he has, of course, never been a young woman himself ?

Sometimes fathers of girls tell me they feel like they are at an unfair advantage, as mothers and daughters may have more same-sex ways to connect with each other, like shopping, cooking, getting nails done, crafts/art, etc. Fathers need to be more creative. Fathers don't often do as much phone contact with daughters as mothers do, or have the same length of conversation. It doesn't mean that your daughter doesn't need you just as much.

Much of being a good father or stepfather has to do with being interested in her, and listening more than you give advice.

It helps her to know that you are there.

Meet her friends when you can. Take the college roommates out with your daughter for a meal.

Be protective.

Express your love for her.

Help with her car. Teach her how to maintain it.

I like to see fathers develop their own relationship with teen or young adult daughters, not hearing news indirectly through mothers.

The good news is that you don't have to figure this out all by yourself. You can ask your daughter what kinds of activities she would be open to doing together with you. She will probably have a lot of good ideas. Daughters are usually touched by dad's interest and concern.

Take an interest in her college and career path. Encourage her to get a part-time job and internships later to build her experience and confidence.

Role model through how you treat the adult women in your life with respect. She's watching.

Teach her life skills, so that she becomes strong and independent.

Teach her about money, and the value of saving it. Help her understand about investing.

Talk with her about choosing relationships that honor her, because she's very important to you.

Point out her strengths.

Daughters need loving, involved fathers. Granddaughters need caring, interested grandfathers. Girls whose mothers remarry need loving, supportive stepfathers. Just because you've never been a young woman doesn't mean you can't try to understand the complexities of emotion that the special young women in your life are experiencing. Transcending self and your own gender role to be a beloved father, grandfather or stepfather might just be one of the very best experiences in your life. It might help you build compassion and understanding for the adult partner in your life as well. Mothers bring children in to the world and nurture them, but fathers have their own irreplaceable role to play taking our children out into the world, develop courage and confidence. You don't have to have been a girl to love one well.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Let's Thrive: Redefining Success

Arianna Huffington, the editor-in-chief at Huffington Post, has a new book called "Thrive" (Harmony, 2014) out this month that is well worth reading. She suggests that money and power are a rather limited way of evaluating one's success in life. Huffington believes we need a third metric which includes creating well-being, wisdom, wonder and giving.

Huffington shares personal stories about growing up in Greece and lessons learned from her mother, who owned little but was extremely generous with others, often giving things to people who complimented them. Her mom also believed in being fully present, never missing an opportunity to interact with a shopkeeper or stranger. She tells some lovely personal stories about learning from her mom about what's truly important in life, all the way up to sharing how her mom died surrounded by family, a final shopping trip to a farmer's market, and sharing good food and wine.

Huffington addresses the issue of burning out at work, something that women are especially prone to. In contrast to "Leaning In" the recent book by Sheryl Sandberg, Huffington suggests that we all begin to intentionally lean out of work and being available 24/7.  She is in a unique position to be aware of the demands of the 24 hour news cycle, and the addictive draw of email, phone contact, and hyper-vigilance to news. She feels we need to feminize the workplace with core beliefs that we don't want to just make it to the top, we want to make the world a better place.

Here are a few of her valuable suggestions:

1. Get more sleep. She feels many of us aren't functioning at our best level because we are tired, hungry or lonely. Adults, teens, and children all get less sleep than they did a generation ago. Try an earlier, and firm bedtime. Try it for a month as she did and see how you feel. Ask family and friends to help you with your goal of getting to sleep earlier.

2. Take breaks. She has a nap room in side the Huffington Post for all the employees, also has healthy snacks there like hummus and carrot sticks. We are more effective at work when we stop for lunch and rest breaks. Perhaps you can get outside the office at lunch.

3. Give your phone a bedtime. Tuck it into a sleeping position early in the evening in a location which is NOT in your bedroom, so you are not tempted to check it during off hours. Could you put it to bed at 7pm? 6pm? Try this one and see if it helps restore you to truly be off. Don't turn it back on immediately when your feet hit the floor in the morning. Give yourself a little time to start your day in your own calming way first.

4. Take real vacations where your phone and email do not go with you.

5. Volunteer and do selfless service. At Huff Post, they pay employees for their time to do a few days of service for a cause they care about every year, but even if you don't, do it anyway. Research shows it makes us happier and helps us avoid burnout.

6. Let's have some silence. It helps us reconnect with ourselves. It quiets and soothes us.

7. Give important people, like your loved ones, your full and undivided attention. It's powerful and rare.

8. Think about the legacy you want to leave behind. This will help you peel back to reveal what really matters in your life and what you are focusing on. Work doesn't love you back. People do.

9. Protect your own emotional capital. Don't be a spend thrift with your time and energy.

10. Stop to experience awe and wonder in your daily life, whether it's noticing the sunset or the sky, a sweet interaction between people, a child's joy, or a tender moment. Savor it. Slow down for a variety of petite happiness.

11. Refuse to multi-task. It's draining, physically, mentally, and emotionally to operate in life with a split screen mentality.

12. Nobody stays on this wise course all the time, so when you veer off, get yourself re-centered again.

I enjoyed Huffington's approachable and open tone. In "Thrive" she is forthcoming about dealing with challenges in her own life and with her adult daughters as they experience difficulties like overcoming substance abuse. She emerges as a likeable, warm, and authentic person who is sharing some of her own life lessons, including about what Huffington calls, "kicking out the obnoxious roommate in her head"(a term for her negative self-talk).

It's too narrow to focus our sights on being a success at work. The real challenge is succeeding at the 30,000 or so days in life we are fortunate enough to have. It's an appealing idea to remake the workplace and our work practices to reflect this third measure of success. We need to shift the definition and the boundaries of what builds success, for ourselves and for the next generation, our children, who follow us.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Aging Parents: Conversations to Have

It's emotionally difficult to watch a parent who you always remember being capable and independent deal with declining health and advancing age. It's a contrast to parenting, where you help someone small and dependent become progressively more independent. In loving an aging parent, we witness a formerly independent person cope with losses of friends, their partner, their vitality and energy, perhaps the ability to continue living in their home alone and their challenge to gracefully accept it all.

In Erik Erikson's life tasks for different life stages, the final stage is called "Integrity vs. Despair". At this stage, people review their life, and try to come to terms with what their contributions have been, and what significance their life has had. Seniors are often coping with chronic or progressive illnesses which may slow them down and consume a great deal of their time trying to cope. Many seniors deal with some depression or anxiety as they age and deal with loss. Support from family and friends makes an incredible difference as to how well aging parents can deal with their daily life.

Many people become just more of whatever their personality was like earlier in life (think sweet, complaining, thoughtful, connected, isolated, demanding, etc.) Many older seniors key in on their daily and weekly routines and structure for feelings of security amidst the changes that are occurring.
This can make them seem rigid to younger family members, but it helps to remember that this is a part of coping for many seniors ( such as' I like to eat at this restaurant', 'I always do these chores at this time of day', set television programming, morning and evening routines that self-comfort).

When I worked years ago for the counseling department of a large, local hospital, I helped families talk through planning for aging parents. I still do in my private practice. Here are some things to consider discussing with your aging parent(s):

1. Most aging parents do better in their own home for as long as possible, with services and care being brought into the home as needed.  These might include housekeeping, a home health aide, meal delivery, a bath aide, companion care and more. What are your parents' preferences when their home is no longer the safest place for them, or their needs are more than can be supplemented at home?

2. Do they have a family-friendly family practice doctor who can be the quarterback as other specialists are needed, and is willing to talk with one family member as the point of contact? If not, help them find one. If you live at a distance, a doctor who is willing to interact by email may be very helpful.

3.Create a central storage place for important documents such as medical records, lists of medications being taken, social security numbers, health insurance policy information and contact numbers, advanced directives for healthcare, etc. Keep a hard copy in two different locations that are fire-proof and water-proof.

4. Ask your parents if they have long-term care insurance. Nursing home care is very expensive and could wipe out their savings, or yours. If your parent is healthy enough to qualify, paying that premium, even yourself, may be a smart option.

5. Discuss finances. Who is the point-of contact relative for financial matters? This individual should have financial power of attorney. They need to know the location of key accounts and policies, and the name and contact information for financial advisors.

6. If you begin to suspect your aging parent is confused, get a medical assessment as soon as possible. You can often begin with their family practice doctor who can refer on to specialists who do neurological testing and assess for memory loss and dementia.

7. Discuss what they want to happen when they die. Would they like to be cremated, or buried? Would they like a service to be held? Would they like donations to go to a favorite charity or cause? These might be difficult conversations to have, but it's essential to knowing what their wishes are.

Being sensitive to all the losses your aging parents are going through will help. Consider how you would feel if you were losing your hearing or sight, your mobility, your friends, your partner, and potentially your ability to live independently in your home. There are lots of adjustments that have to be made along the way. Get a support system for yourself. You might be an only child, but even if you have one or more siblings, the care for aging parents often falls disproportionally on one or two.

Caring for aging parents can be meaningful, and it can be hard, both physically and emotionally. Communicating with your parents about these important concerns will help you move forward to make decisions effectively and thoughtfully as changes occur. Hopefully, when we are the oldest generation, our children will be there for us as we inevitably need them more, too.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Hand-Written Note

In this modern age of email communication, text messaging and voicemails, the simple thoughtfulness of a hand-written note stands out from the noise and the crowd. What a wonderful tool for building personal relationships. Don't you love to find a hand-written note in your mailbox, on your desk, or on your pillow? Even the imperfect handwriting of the person who wrote it makes the note more interesting and less mundane.

There is something so personal about taking the time to write in your own handwriting, to say thank you or encourage someone. It means you took the time to think of the other person, and they almost feel that they are speaking with you as they hold your note in their hands. We each get so many emails every week that saying anything personal can easily get lost with the others we sift through.

No matter how expressive you are with creating text messages, like all CAPS and emoticons, it's just not like a note that's been penned just to you that you can save with your treasures.

I like to see people build stronger relationships, both at home and at work. Taking the time to handwrite a quick note of praise, encouragement, or thanks will bring you closer to the other person you reach out to.

At home, I like parents to write notes of encouragement to their children. The focus could be letting them know that you see how hard they are working at a school subject, or their efforts at a sport, or an instrument, or how they are showing maturity, responsibility , or kindness within the family. It's fun to tuck a note like that into their lunch as a surprise or on their desk or pillow. Sometimes parents get so focused on correcting misbehaviors that we underutilize our power to point out what's right with our children and teens.

Teach your children to write personal, brief thank you notes and send them promptly from the time they are little. It's classy, and it teaches manners and relationship building. Have them send thank you notes even if they don't love the gift. It's a great lesson in being gracious. It's good to let them know that the giver put time, effort, and money into the gift, and that they will want to know that your child received it. It's disheartening and disappointing to send a gift and never hear back. A hand-written note is so much better than a text or email. When children are little, you can help them get the cards in the mail before they play with the gifts. You're teaching.

In your love relationship, apply the surprise handwritten note here as well. It feels wonderful to be thought of, appreciated, and cherished. Don't assume your partner knows what you find wonderful about them. Express it in writing! No one likes being taken for granted. Expression helps us avoid depression.

At work, relationships and manners matter here, too. In the April 6 issue of the New York Times, writer Guy Trebay emphasizes that in work settings, showing that you are civilized and took the time to send a note makes you stand out in a good way. It shows you really do care, as opposed to emailing in a rote way. Some people don't understand the necessity of good manners and thankfulness until they get out of college and have a first job. The fashion industry is one mentioned in his article that really cares about details and kindnesses.

Get a box of cards, some forever stamps, a pen, and go at it. Expressing your appreciation, encouragement, and feelings with a hand-written note is sure to help you build happier and more successful relationships, at work and at home. I promise, and you can get that in writing.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Connecting Power Of Touch

Loving touch comforts and heals. Many seniors who live alone or in residential settings can go long periods of time without being hugged or touched. Children are happier with generous amounts of it. Couples can't thrive without it. Even our pets crave it. We never outgrow our need for it.

Ashley Montagu was a British anthropologist who wrote a book about the importance of touch. Skin to skin contact is essential for optimal happiness and well-being. Here are some of the things we know from studies about touch:

1. We feel more connected to someone if they touch us.

2.We can communicate many different emotions through touch.

3.The situation, or context for the touch modifies the meaning of it. Does it occur at a bar? With friends? At home?

4.Touch is an essential channel of communication between parents and children.

5. A mother's touch deepens the attachment between mother and child.

6. Even babies like to be touched.  The University of Miami's School of Medicine studied infants, and demonstrated that babies who are massaged by parents sleep better, are less irritable, are more social with other babies, and preemies even grow better when lovingly touched.

7. Generally, we are touched more often when we are little. However, we all need positive touch.
Sometimes when counseling young couples with small children, I find they both touch the babies or children, but the adults may forget (or are too tired) to remember to touch each other.

8.Touch is learned. It varies by culture. I have several young couples in premarital counseling where the differences in how each family uses touch is causing some discomfort and is having to be negotiated. You can also talk with your partner and teach each other how you like to be touched. I like couples to be intentional with each other, and kiss and hug goodbye and hello when they part in the morning and when they reconnect at the end of their day.

9.Touch has reciprocal benefits for both people, the person who is doing the touching, as well as the person being touched. Studies of stress hormones before and after massages confirm the benefit for giver and receiver.

10. Children usually respond beautifully to a little massage of their arms, backs ,
and/or legs before bedtime. It tends to help them transition to sleep better. I encourage parents to consider adding some loving touch into the bedtime routine with babies and children. I often recommend increased loving parent-child touch with anxious children.

11. Touch fosters and communicates intimacy in romantic relationships. I often notice the distance at which couples sit from each other on the couch in my counseling office and whether or not they touch each other during the counseling session.  It gives me a little window in to how they probably treat each other at home.

12. Inappropriate touch is threatening, and touch that feels too personal from strangers can scare people. Generally from the shoulder to the hand would be a less threatening location to touch someone you are not close to.

13.The gender of the sender and receiver of the touch also modify the way the touch is interpreted.

14. At work, a handshake is the best choice for touch. Honoring boundaries and personal space at work is key to being professional, as well as avoiding sexual harassment concerns.

15. In certain situations, like when someone is grieving, or celebrating wonderful news with you,
touch may be better than any words you could find to express support.

How many times have you been touched this week? Have you reached out to connect with loved ones recently with  hugs, and other ways to touch to comfort, connect or reassure? Have you talked with those you are closest to about how they feel about touch? Do you know a child or a senior who might need your loving touch? Think of touch as another tool for connecting you to the people you love, on a skin to skin, visceral level.