Thursday, June 25, 2015

Plan B: When Resiliency Matters

Sheryl Sandberg, author of Leaning In and COO of Facebook, unexpectedly lost her husband Dave Goldberg this May in an accident while they were on a vacation together in Mexico. The couple were very close and shared roles as breadwinners and parents. She has just become a single parent with the task of finishing raising their son and daughter by herself.

In June, she finished sheloshim, the first thirty days of mourning for a spouse called for by their Jewish faith, and she is reentering many of her normal activities. Sandberg released an essay she posted on Facebook about her experience losing Dave, what motherhood means to her now, and what she has learned about how to respond with sensitivity when others experience loss. It's well worth reading.

I was particularly struck by a brave comment Sandberg makes about making plans for one of their children to go to a father/child event with a family friend who offered to step in for Dave. She wanted Dave, but their friend pointed out that Dave was not an option, so they needed to go to plan B. Sandberg discloses feeling so much loss at Plan A for her life not working out and grieving it deeply, but now committing herself fiercely to Plan B. I honor her resiliency.

The ability to come back from loss, disappointment, rejection and failure is one of the most essential character traits we need to develop and we need to help our children develop. I've been counseling individuals and families long enough to know that there is a random distribution of bad things that happen in life, even if you're making your best effort. Your partner can die prematurely. You can work hard in your marriage to be a faithful and loving partner and still see it end in divorce. You can have an infant or a child not survive. You can lose your home or your business. You or a family member can become disabled which can dramatically alter what you had planned. What are we to do?

Being resilient and going on after loss and disappointment takes courage, bravery and spirit. You have to make the decision to go on, rebuild and go for the joy again, despite what has happened. Life is full of unexpected things, and sometimes the best we can do is to experience and process the feelings of loss, work towards acceptance and throw ourselves hard into Plan B. Sandberg's essay includes thoughtful insights on what has just happened to her family, and also the tenacity that she expresses to go forward for herself and her children.

There are lessons here, too, to be shared with our children about not just striving to achieve and accomplish great things, but also the spirit to come back from difficult things. Perhaps we should celebrate most of all when they try again following challenges, failure, loss and disappointment. Encouraging our children to be real and also be strong and resilient are some of the best values we can role model or instill. We can't bubble wrap our children to protect them, but we can encourage and honor their lessons in bouncing back from adversity and not giving up.

Raising strong, kind and resilient children is a wonderful legacy to leave behind. Being a person and a parent who lives in this resilient way isn't easy at all. 

Loss and disappointment can open us up in the most amazing ways to the importance of living life well and cultivating close relationships. Loss makes us realize how fragile we are all, what's really essential and how precious life is. Significant losses can tenderize us and open our hearts even more than before. Being resilient, and going forward despite how we are changed, is what takes real courage.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Want a Closer Family? Eat Together

Dinner is about more than just the food you are eating. Eating together as a family is the emotional connecting point of the day. For busy families who are often running in different directions to work, school or sports activities, it’s more important than ever to reserve time to bond.
Read my article from the Orange County Register about family dinners here.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Preparing For The Empty Nest

What happens when you send your only or last child to college? Mom and Dad need to give some thought to their next chapter. You don't want your college student to worry that you won't be okay! You also don't want them to feel frustrated with the neediness of too frequent phone calls so that they are distracted from making a positive adjustment to college. Starting to think about this transition a year or two ahead of launching your only or youngest child is a good idea.

If you've been an involved and caring parent, you want to plan for the sense of loss that can occur when your son or daughter departs for college. I like to remind parents that launching your child successfully into college is the desired outcome of the parenting project. It's just that it's an ending. You may have feelings of sadness, loss, grief, relief, joy and worry. You will also have some free time and emotional energy that you can redistribute to other people and causes.

After the college launch is a good time to develop your sense of self. What are your other interests and passions you haven't had time to pursue? Would you like to take a class or learn something new? Perhaps you'd like to volunteer for a cause you care about. In Orange County, where my counseling practice is, we have a great non-profit organization called OneOC that can help you quickly scan most volunteer needs in our local community.

It can be helpful to picture your life as a grid of about 16 boxes. While you are in the heavy parenting years, your children can fill many of the boxes. As you prepare to launch the youngest, it's time to re-examine your grid. You need many different facets of your life to be fully developing and keep yourself interested and interesting. Here are some boxes to consider for your life grid:

  • Creativity
  • Career
  • Spirituality
  • Self-Care
  • Physical Health
  • Physical Activities
  • Outdoor Time
  • Personal Growth
  • Love Relationship
  • Friendships
  • Community Service
  • Family Relationships
  • Home
  • Finances
  • Intellectual Growth
  • Travel

In each area, you can identify a goal and a small step you can take to move forward. It's best to take on just a couple of grid blocks at a time. This can be a kind of road map for giving your life a well-rounded feel.

For couples, I like to encourage you to think of launching your youngest child as a time for a renaissance for your marriage. Here's a fun exercise you can do with your partner about creating positive experiences together:

Have each partner write a separate list about fun things you liked to do together when you were first together, what you currently enjoy doing together, and what you would enjoy doing together in the future. Next, compare lists. You can negotiate trying some of the future activities that each of you would like. Remember, before your youngest child departs is a great time to intentionally begin  growing closer and having more fun together as a couple.

Entrances (like births, adoptions, marriages and remarriages) and exits (deaths, divorce, separations and transitions to the next phase of life) are challenges for the family system. Being intentional about making the transition to becoming empty nesters another positive chapter in your life helps everyone.

Actively creating this transition will serve you better than ignoring it until you come back from dropping your son or daughter at college. The whole family needs to make some adjustments and grow, adults included. You may find that you grow closer to your child as the space increases between you. It helps to remember that a part of being a good parent at some transition points is letting go with love.