Doing Life Together

2 teensRita, like so many daughters, came to therapy because of a tense relationship with her parents. Rita feels her parents’ expectations are too high and she can never measure up.

Expectations, when too high or out of line with a child’s true desires and goals, can cause anxiety and unnecessary pressure. I often see this in daughters who have eating disorders. Either they believe they must be perfect in all they do or they have received that message from their families. These girls are highly anxious, constantly worried that they may fail and never measure up to the self-imposed or family imposed standards of perfection. Expectations are unrealistic.

As children become more independent and autonomous with their parents, some discover that the push for autonomy is not always welcomed. Their desires may be met with resistance. In fact, children may act out or become disobedience in order to test their emerging confidence and autonomy.

As children look to parents to confirm their sense of self and growing independence, they expect to be reinforced in their efforts. When moms and dads don’t do this, children may try to please their parents by living out their dreams in order to receive approval. In the long run, this creates resentment and restlessness.

Parents have to be so careful not to force their dreams on their children in small, subtle ways. There is such a fine line between motivating a child to new things and pushing the parents’ expectations.

So parents, reassess your expectations. Are you asking your children to live up to your dreams and ideals? Or are you helping them sort out their own desire’s and fulfill their dreams?

upset girlJerry has no relationship with his children now that he and his wife are divorced. Prior to the divorce, Jerry was very involved in their lives. But the relationships took dramatic turns due to something called Parent Alienation Syndrome (PAS).

In the 1980s, a forensic psychiatrist coined the term parental alienation syndrome (PAS) to describe the efforts of one parent to turn their children against the other parent. The syndrome involves deliberate mental and emotional abuse that can occur among highly conflicted couples who fight over custody. The result is a child who harbors tremendous negativity toward a parent that is not based on actual experience with that parent. PAS destroys family bonds that once existed between children and a parent and is based on lies. There are no legitimate reasons why children are taught to harbor animosity toward the targeted parent.

It usually takes the form of one parent blocking another from seeing the children due to a belief that children will be harmed by visitations. False allegations of child abuse and sexual abuse often are in play.

A less severe form of this is when a parent blocks a child from visitation due to the inconvenience of visits. Visitations are seen as a chore or an errand, not a means of promoting the parent-child bond. Over time, one parent is seen as superior over the other.

The motivation behind PAS is usually rooted in poor coping from the failed marriage. Instead of a spouse engaging in healthy grieving for the loss of the marriage, they engage the children in the ongoing battle. They feel so damaged from the breakup that enlisting the children in the anger and blame serves as a way to further the blame. Sometimes the spouse who vilifies feels so rejected and alone that they turn to the children for nurturing and support, even companionship. What emerges is a “we against the world” position.

If you see signs of alienation, continue to reach out to the children involved and don’t give up on the fight. Your children are too important.

Except and adapted by We Need to Talk by Dr. Linda Mintle (Baker Books, 2015)

ID-10066791A friend’s wife was diagnosed with ALS. Another, lost his wife to cancer and yet another had a son involved in a tragic car accident. When trouble hits, we wonder why. Why doesn’t God do something about disease, evil and all the other problems that seem so prevalent in our world? We know He has the power to act, but often feel he delays or just doesn’t care.

He does care. To see His caring, we have to put on our spiritual glasses. To cope, we need corrective vision.  The eyes of our heart need to be opened.

When difficulty comes, we can’t see the big picture and don’t know what God is doing in the depth of our souls. So we need tools to help us make sense of the moment and look below the surface. Three tools help:

1) The Scripture. When we read Scripture, we see the promises of God and remind ourselves that God is trustworthy. Everything He has for us will be accomplished and nothing is being done away from His watchful eye. God is in charge of all the earth, yet it is easy to think that He has abandoned us during dark moments. The best antidote for those feelings of despair is to read His Word and be reminded of his presence, caring and concern for us.

2) The Cross. The cross is where Christ suffered for us. It was part of God’s eternal plan  in which he established his dominion over sin and death so we don’t have to suffer eternally. Jesus ruled over sin and evil so we can experience new life and healing. Jesus has the last word when it comes to disease, evil and all other difficulties. He has overcome!

3) The Resurrection. Because Jesus rose from the grave and had the power over death, life doesn’t end at the grave. There is the hope of a better day, a day with no more suffering or pain. Until then, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead lives in us. So keep praying, hoping and asking for healing. Each day, that power beats back the darkness and brings hope.

So while we suffer here, we use our spiritual glasses to look through a corrected lens. God has given us His word to remind us of his promises, the cross to take our judgment, and the resurrection to be victorious over all death, disease and pain. This day isn’t the final day. Even though it may not feel like it, God is in control through the difficulty and will meet you where you are. But put on those glasses to see a little clearer. Live in the hope of tomorrow.

I love my motherThis week we celebrate Mother’s Day. All over this county, moms will be receiving flowers, candy and going out to dinner. There will be special celebrations and multiple ways to honor our moms.

But this Mother’s Day, I want moms to think about the gift they give through the years when they raise their children, especially mothers who raise daughters.

One of the greatest gifts you can give your child is a mom whose identity is firm and certain. That’s right, the better you feel about yourself, the more confident you are as a woman, the better gift you give your daughter. You give the gift of a positive and strong woman identity.

How you do that has to do with Mother’s Day and honoring your own mother. No matter the state of your relationship with mom, it’s never too late to love, honor and connect with your  mom. The more you work things out with your  mom, the better mother you will be to your children. Teach by doing. Develop the “I” in “You,” because a mom who knows who she is, passes that legacy to her children.

This Mother’s Day honor your mom by working out your issues with her. Stay connected to her even when difficult issues present because you are teaching your daughter how to handle this powerful relationship. The more you work it our with your mom, the better mother you will be to your children. And that is a gift that continues to give for generations.