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1st
December

Is This Normal? The ‘Twilight’ Saga

blog, Children

  • Has your teenage daughter been wearing her “Team Edward” shirt every day for the past week?
  • Has your teenage daughter been wearing her “Team Jacob” shirt every day for the past week?
  • Has your teenage daughter been wearing her “Team Finish School, Go to College, and Quit Basing Your Life Around Men” shirt every day for the past week?

The latest Twilight movie, Breaking Dawn, is holding adolescents by their respective new moons.

Does the Twilight saga chronicle a timeless story of young loves from two different worlds who manage hardships and inter-species / intra-species conflict to fulfill their destiny?  Or does the Twilight saga put feminism back 150 years?  The story of Edward and Bella has been told before, and it’s not healthy.

Their relationship begins with Edward rescuing Bella from cars in parking lots, from tripping over logs in the woods, and from confronting her parents’ dysfunctions.  The rescuing theme in fairy tales is common.  A man usually does the rescuing, and a woman usually needs the rescuing.

A woman is portrayed as incapable of solving her own problems or managing tough situations by herself.  She endures loneliness, abuse, and danger with passivity and acceptance.  Think about Cinderella and Snow White.  Their lives aren’t secure until the princes come to save them.  There is no attempt on the part of Cinderella, Snow White, or Bella to improve their lives by themselves.

Edward’s rescuing of Bella develops not into love but into an addiction.  Edward, in the first Twilight movie, refers to Bella as his “own personal brand of heroin.”  This is allegedly a compliment, but this assessment of his feelings for Bella is accurate.  There are many scenes in the Twilight movies where Edward and Bella are looking into the other’s eyes in a lush meadow or where Edward is impressing Bella with his vampire powers.  There aren’t many scenes where Edward and Bella are laughing.  There’s no dimension to their relationship.  There’s only a compulsive satisfaction of being together.

In addition to an addiction, Bella is an obsession for Edward. Without permission, Edward enters Bella’s bedroom at night and watches her sleep.  This is obsessive behavior, and it’s assuming.  Edward assumes that his behavior, however it violates Bella’s privacy, will be interpreted as an act of passion.  Sadly, Bella interprets his voyeurism as just that.  Obsession and passion are two different entities.  Obsession is a preoccupation that interferes with normal functioning in work, school, and home.  Passion is an interest that inspires engagement and enhances normal functioning.

Edward and Bella’s relationship also echoes themes in Beauty and The Beast.  The Beast and Edward are reclusive, require that Belle and Bella leave their families and commit to relationships that may prove physically dangerous.  Both Belle and Bella commit to their inter-species loves without much hesitation or without thinking of their own safety.  Beauty’s challenge is that if she just loves him enough, he will change.  Bella’s challenge is sadder.  Because she loves him enough, she is willing to change for him.  This isn’t love in either story.  It’s codependence.

Rescuing, obsession, voyeurism, and codependence don’t make healthy relationships; they make fairy tales.  This is worth repeating.  Cinderella, Snow White, Belle, and Bella are in relationships that don’t work in real life.  Once in a committed relationship, dysfunctional traits like rescuing and obsession become more prominent.  They’re the only traits the relationship has to function.

These traits can’t manage the successes, the challenges, or the growth of daily life.  So, what does the parent of a teenager or a teenager do with the Twilight saga?

  • Talk about how the Twilight saga portrays love and the roles of men and women.  Is this kind of love really desirable?
  • Talk about Bella being 18 years old, married, pregnant, and without any personal resources like an education or a career.  Is this romantic?
  • Talk about the similarities between Twilight and popular fairy tales.
  • Compare Bella to other literary heroines: Hermione from The Harry Potter Series; Liesel from The Book Thief; Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing; Jane from Jane Eyre.  Which characters are more compelling and why?  Which characters would make good friends?  Which characters are funny?

Using film and literary works as a form of escapism is normal.  Emulating their dysfunctional relationship traits in real life is tragic.  Talking about what makes successful relationships work is good health.

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21st
November

Is This Normal? Family Conflict and the Holidays

blog, Holidays

Is this normal?

  • Do you avoid holiday family gatherings because you’re way behind on your knitting or because you think you may have an unidentifiable rash?
  • Feeling trapped in an awkward silence after Grandma has six martinis for Thanksgiving dinner and begins to discuss all the fellas she could have married besides your Grandpa?
  • Do you catch yourself warning your spouse, “If Dad  (…Cousin Eddie, Your Mother, Father Leo…)  says one thing about national health care  (…vegetarians, intelligent design, Islam…),  I will Let – Him – Have – It?”
  • Notice the overflowing candy dishes in your mother-in-law’s house that no one is supposed to touch?

No other time of the year expects as much from us as the holidays.  We are expected to be joyful, thankful, generous, polite, and culinarily perfect while Cousin Eddie, in a tryptophan/Jim Beam haze, is sharing an inappropriate joke at the kids’ table.  The holidays can bring families together, and they can expose individual differences in stark relief.

What are effective ways to manage family conflicts during the holidays?  This is a great question but first, a tutorial on how families work.

Families function as a system.  The system thrives on sameness. Family members acting in predictable roles ensure the system’s sameness and its perceived survival.  Change isn’t always welcome because change may require members to redefine their roles, and then the system itself would change.   This uncertainty is scary for many.

In addition, the sameness or status quo of a system is often misinterpreted as closeness or being connected with family.  Being close with family doesn’t mean donning the same roles (and traditions, for that matter) with rigid consistency.  Many dysfunctional family systems require mountains of tense silences and oceans of things unsaid in order to preserve the status quo of their systems.

Most likely, we’ve already cast ourselves in new roles than the ones we had in our families of origin.  Are you not telling your parents that you’ve converted to Islam for your fiancé?   Not comfortable announcing that you’ve decided to become a vegan?  That you think intelligent design should be taught in schools?

New roles can be perceived as threatening, especially when holiday gatherings assume all will be joyful and connected.  The tensions between moving back into old roles, asserting new roles, and being all the things the season expects, can be overwhelming.

I have some suggestions

Take what you think will work for your system, but please keep in mind that you have a right to enjoy the holidays.  You have a right not to let the holidays exhaust you.  You have a right to celebrate the holidays in ways you find significant and meaningful.

  • Check your own expectations about family gatherings.
    • Are you anticipating an argument with Father Leo to the point where you launch into the evidence for evolution after he says hello?
    • Do you feel that you’re owed some validation for your sweet potato soufflé or for your recent foray into blogging?  Be mindful that your own expectations don’t sabotage your experience.
  • Accept that you’re not going to change anyone’s beliefs about anything.
    • Politely decline the invitation, however passive-aggressively it may be offered, to bite on a passing jab at your political, religious, or social beliefs.
    • A simple statement of, “No, thanks. I’m not going there tonight.  I’m going to see what’s happening at the kids’ table with Cousin Eddie,” can work wonders.
    • You’ve asserted your position not to engage, and that’s powerful.  Get up and leave the table because often, there will be multiple attempts to draw you into an argument.  Remember, you’re expected to play your role.
  • Don’t let the negative define your total experience.
    • Many people let one negative encounter define an event despite the thousands of positives that happen.  Keep your perspective truthful.
    • Yes, your mother-in-law uses overflowing candy dishes as vehicle for control, but you saw your niece walk for the first time, your sweet potato soufflé was amazing, and you didn’t get into it with Father Leo.
  • Assert your personal boundaries.
    • Just because it’s the holidays doesn’t mean that you have to tolerate cruelty, attacks on what’s important to you, or someone else’s dysfunction.  Be direct. Be calm. Use “I” statements. Keep it simple. Then, change the subject.
    • “I don’t agree with you, and I don’t want to discuss how I raise my children.  Where did you get that recipe for the cranberries?”
    • “I think we have different opinions on abortion, and I’m going to leave it there.  Are you going to Florida this winter?”
    • You can interrupt Grandma, mid-fella story, and say, “I’m going to help with the dishes (…check the coffee, take a walk…).  Excuse me, please.”

Tension and conflict are normal during the holidays.  Managing both so you enjoy the holidays is good health.

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13th
November

Is This Normal? Here Come the Report Cards

blog, Children

Is this normal?

  • Is your child showing a sudden and pointed interest in homework?
  • Is your child complaining that her/his teachers are too strict (…demanding, unreasonable, mean…), give unfair grades, and in addition, have remarkably horrible personal qualities?
  • Is your school-aged child saying that you look 25 in your new jeans?
  • Does your child seem to have more homework than usual?

It must be report card time.

For the last two weeks of a marking period, kids may discover that their grades were lost and forgotten at the bottom of their lockers, in secret backpack compartments, or on dumped cafeteria trays.  During those two weeks, you might see an extra effort towards school work, more complaining about teachers, and transparent flattery.

Report cards are a great way to connect with your kids about academics and school.  If the marks are good, it’s time to celebrate.  A celebration for good grades tells your kids that you recognize their hard work, that you’re proud of their work, and that you value education.

However, it’s not time to bring out the parade floats, the jugglers on unicycles, or the fire-eaters.  It’s important that the celebration doesn’t eclipse the achievement.  Keep the celebration about the grades and not the grades about the celebration.  Going out to dinner at their favorite restaurant, buying a new baseball mitt, or heading to the cider mill for doughnuts are great ways to acknowledge their work.  If you want to give money for grades, follow the celebration rule.  Don’t let the amount of cash overshadow the grades.

While celebrating, ask your kids which teacher gives the hardest tests, what’s the best way to study, and if they’re going to try-out for drama next marking period.  It’s better to use less than ordinary questions to begin conversations rather than “What’s your favorite subject?” and “Who’s your favorite teacher?”  Save those questions for the aunts and uncles at Thanksgiving.

If the grades are lower than previous card markings, it’s time to intervene.  The intervention isn’t just the one-time lecture about the importance of good grades, their future, their past, and how hard you had it when you were their ages.  From a calm, observational tone, tell them you noticed their grades are lower than previous card markings.  Ask them how they are going to raise their grades.  Then, listen.

Kids like to give vague answers like “Study (… Try, Pay attention, Turn in assignments  …) more.”  Vague generalities don’t work.  Kindly press for details until workable goals are formed.  “Complete homework every night” and “Do my best work on all assignments,” are goals that cover miles of academic ground.

Ask when they are going to contact their teachers to see what they can to do to raise their grades.  Kids can email their teachers or talk with them. Follow up with these contacts.  Review their homework planners every night and look over their homework when it’s finished.  Propose that you have a two week review of grades to determine if the grades are rising and to determine next steps if the grades haven’t improved.

This is the work of parenting, and it isn’t easy.  Most kids will test their parents to see if a nightly homework check is going to happen with any consistency.  Count on being tested.  This is a tough parenting assignment, especially on those nights where you work late, everyone is hungry despite having eaten dinner, two kids need rides to two different soccer practices, and one kid is trying to fit himself into the dryer.

A dramatic drop in grades can indicate that your child is having a problem in a nonacademic area.  Investigate dramatic drops in grades by discussing it with teachers, counselors, and your child.  A dramatic drop is a highly sensitive subject to a child, and one that won’t benefit from “enhanced interrogation techniques.”  Listen to your child and be gentle.

Academic struggles are normal.  Being involved and participating in your kids’ education is good health.

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4th
November

Is This Normal? Overeating During the Holidays

blog, Holidays

Tight jeans?

Feeling obliged to accept a serving of Aunt Hattie’s tri-colored marshmallow salad, so you don’t hurt her feelings?

Grazing during meal preparation to the extent you’re not hungry for the meal itself but…you eat the meal any way?

The holidays are upon us.  How do you celebrate the holidays without packing on 10, 20 pounds of comfort and joy?  It’s not easy.

Food represents culture, heritage, family traditions, religious celebrations, and yes, comfort and joy.  What foods do you turn to when you are sick?  When you smell a turkey roasting in the oven, what emotions come to mind?  Do you still have an affection for your favorite candy as a kid?  What kind of cake do you have on your birthday?  Food carries powerful associations that stay with us for years.  Food can remind us of people we love and closeness with friends and family.  You can separate all the wonderful things food means to you from its caloric and nutritional values, but I’m not sure I’d want to.

However, there’s no denying that with more celebrating comes more eating.  And usually the “more eating” doesn’t include multiple servings of raw vegetables.  You want to celebrate the deliciousness of the holidays, yet you don’t want to have to buy new jeans in January.  Is there anything to help avoid the January Jeans?

I don’t advocate dieting to lose weight unless you have a medical condition.  Diets rarely work and don’t address the underlying issues for overeating.  I advocate for creating your own boundaries with food.  No one person has your history, your tastes, and your associations with food.  You know what foods you love and what foods you hate.  So, I can recommend some boundaries, but my experiences tell me that everyone must define her/his own.  Try these out and see which ones work for you.  If none work, keep trying.

  • Commit to define your own eating experiences.
  • Eliminate empty calories from your diet.  Empty calories are foods that you won’t miss when you take them away.  Can you eat your salads without croutons?  If so, great.  If not, keep the croutons and keep looking for empty calories.
  • Keep foods you can’t resist out of your home and your workspace.  Don’t buy them “just for the kids.”  The kids can live a fine life without the presence of your trigger foods.
  • Eat only what you like.  Don’t feel obliged to take food because it’s offered to you, because your Aunt Hattie is a nice gal, or because it’s there.
  • Stop eating when you’re full (whether you’re at the counter top or at the table). You don’t have to eat a meal because everyone else is.  Sit down and enjoy the conversation.
  • If you overindulge, move on.
  • Exercise.  Nothing new here, but if you make exercise as routine as brushing your teeth, it helps to feel better about almost anything.

Celebrating the holidays with special foods is normal.  Redefining your relationship with these special foods, so you feel powerful and in charge is good health.

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