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Learning how to be married

RingsThere are so many things we expect to just know how to do, but turn out to be not so simple. Learning how to be married is one of them. And, like parenthood, our marriages change over time, so we have to learn over and over again how to be married to our spouses. If we don’t , the penalty is an increasing sense of dissatisfaction that will only grow over the years. If we do, the rewards are literally priceless.

So what do we need to learn? Probably the first and most difficult thing is that our spouse is a completely different person than we are. We probably have lots in common, shared values, maybe shared interests, but still, on the inside, we’re different. [continue reading…]

Life is all about adjusting

adjust and balanceI’ve been a therapist for a long time, and still love every minute of it (well, except for paperwork, but that’s a different story).  It suits my nature to help people.  I help by listening, for what is said and what isn’t said, and by spending time thinking about how to help a person make new connections, heal old wounds, release old baggage, and in general keep growing as they move through their life with family, friends, work, and other important relationships.

As I think back, and ahead for for myself, I think a big skill we all have to learn is “how to adjust”.  Many wise people have said in different ways that nothing ever stays the same, and it’s really true, isn’t it.  Some of us move very easily from one phase of life to the next, and some of us, myself included, find some adjustments harder than others.

I’m currently sitting at a point in life where I have lots to look back on, and plenty (I think!) to look forward to.  I’m also now watching my grown children do some of the same, and that’s quite interesting.  And in interacting with these most wonderful little people who are my grandchildren, I’m seeing children at the very beginning of their lives, and seeing how they grow and change, literally day by day.  Because I’m not the parent and see them every few weeks for long weekend, I get to really experience those changes in a different way than when I was the parent.

All in all, I feel I’m in a very interesting stage of life.  I’m acutely aware that if I want things to stay the same (what happened to my muscle tone?!?), I’m going to be very disappointed, which is bad enough. Worse, I’ll miss what is actually going on.

It occurs to me that this is true for all of us, at every stage of life.  If we spend too much time looking forward, we miss the present.  If we spend too much time looking backward, we miss the present.  If we miss the present, we’re going to have regrets and that will make us look backward too.  Not a good cycle.

The next few blog posts are going to be about adjusting.  I don’t know if they’re going to follow a developmental order, or maybe just evolve in the order that comes to mind as I write them.  If you’re interested, please follow them, subscribe, like us on Facebook, or just check this space every so often.  It should be interesting.  I’d love to hear your thoughts as well.

Fitness Workout for a Healthy Family

Kids play skiprope on Morro Strand State Beach - Wholesome Family SceneThe older I get, the more I’m forced to admit that optimum health only happens with a certain amount of effort. Good nourishment and some amount of putting the body through its paces is required to obtain healthy functioning. The same is true for families. Dolores Curran, in Traits of a Healthy Family (1983), outlined habits of families who were perceived as healthy by a variety of professionals. The source may be nearly 50 years old, but the ideas still make sense.  Here they are:

  1. Communicate and listen.
  2. Affirm and support one another.
  3. Teach respect for others.
  4. Develop a sense of trust.
  5. Have a sense of play and humor.
  6. Exhibit a sense of shared responsibility.
  7. Teach a sense of right and wrong.
  8. Have a strong sense of family in which rituals and traditions abound.
  9. Have a balance of interaction among members.
  10. Have a shared religious core.
  11. Respect the privacy of one another.
  12. Value service to others.
  13. Foster family table time and conversation.
  14. Share leisure time.
  15. Admit to and seek help with problems.

Our families go through stages, just as our bodies do. We may notice that certain traits become more important to us as our family enters different stages. We may also notice that certain habits seem to be lacking, or need a little work. Rather than feel defeated by our shortcomings, we can be encouraged by the fact that we’ve noticed the need, and work out a plan for increasing that skill.

For example, if you notice that your family doesn’t seem to have much time to talk, you can take a look at schedules and perhaps find that breakfast time, or dinner on Saturday night, or quiet Sunday afternoons are a relatively easy time to gather the family together and hear from each other. Like any new habit, it may take time to develop, and may have to get re-started several times. That’s okay — repeatedly trying to build a positive habit is a great improvement over not doing it at all.

If household responsibilities have gotten out of balance, as they often do when children get busy with activities, a family meeting can be held to review what needs doing and who can commit to doing it. Some families like to rotate chores frequently; others like to keep the same jobs until circumstances change. Make a plan and commit to it, and if it doesn’t work, make a change and commit to that! Family habits, like personal ones, take a while to become second nature.

Notice that the various traits listed are mostly about either valuing individuals, or about valuing the family unit itself. All of us need to feel important, especially to those we love. We also need to act in ways that show how important our family is to us. By spending time discussing how to best meet each other’s needs, by working and playing together, by trying to fix what doesn’t work, we demonstrate that we really matter to each other.

Notice, too, that the family needs to focus beyond its own boundaries. Teaching respect for others, modeling service, teaching a sense of right and wrong — all of these help a family define itself. At the core is teaching a sense of religious identity and values, so that each family member knows where they stand in relation to their Creator.

Attention to these habits will help build the “muscle” that makes a family healthy and strong, ready to meet the challenges that life always brings.

Are my children on track for school?

school children“How will my children do in school? Will they perform up to their potential?” Questions like these are often on the minds of every parent ever since their child starts school in preschool or kindergarten. We look at their work, ask them questions, talk to their teachers. Often we still wonder, “How would I be able to tell if my child were having problems?”

Sometimes our first signal that all is not well is that we begin to notice our child consistently falling behind other children in a certain area. Attitude changes toward school, a sudden unwillingness to bring home assignments or work graded at school, increased frustration while attempting homework — all of these may point toward a worsening area of difficulty in academics. Two very common problem areas are poor reading comprehension, and trouble understanding and applying math concepts. Parents need to keep themselves aware of how their child is doing by working with their children and making note of how well their child seems to understand the work sent home by the school.

Educators point out that a child’s inability to learn a new skill may mean that a prior, more basic skill was not learned along the way. This shows up especially clearly in the area of mathematics. A teen may be having trouble in algebra because they never really mastered the elementary age skills of fractions and division. Also, parents may not realize that children often don’t do their homework because they truly don’t know how to do it — how to organize themselves, break down a large assignment into more manageable parts, how to take notes and review reading assignments.

Academic problems are usually verified by poor test scores or falling grades. Spotting emotional problems in our children can be a little more difficult. In this area it is also extremely important to be aware of what is appropriate developmentally. How a child is functioning in the major biological areas of eating, sleeping and toilet habits can be a major source of information. Prolonged regression, or marked changes of any kind in these areas definitely warrant a call to the pediatrician, who may then make a referral for counseling.

The ability to tolerate frustration and to do independent problem-solving is vital, and one that tends to develop steadily with a little encouragement. If we notice that our child differs a great deal from other children of the same age, or if our child suddenly has much less frustration tolerance or patience, then this too may be cause for concern.

A third area to be aware of is that of relationships with peers. Obviously every child is different in their approach to socializing, but again it is valuable to note how our children compare in a general way with other children of roughly the same age. With very young children, we look at their ability to separate from parents and form bonds with teachers and other caretakers, and also at how well they transition from one type of activity to the next, such as learning to stop playing at recess and line up to enter the classroom. Elementary age children are very interested in forming friendships, although some children will have many friends while others prefer just one or two. Teens who are having great difficulty finding a peer group, or who gravitate toward a very negative peer group may give us cause for concern.

The point of all this discussion about noticing signals of potential problems in our children is not to raise our anxiety. Instead, the objective is to define a few areas to be aware of, so that if we find ourselves consistently feeling worried about our children, we have a beginning way to evaluate them. If after reading through this article, you are still concerned about how your child is progressing, it is always valuable to check with your child’s teacher and/or their pediatrician. Both know your child well, and can help you decide if you need or want to investigate further with other professionals, such as tutors, speech pathologists, or counselors.

Our counselors at Families are well-trained in helping parents address different parenting concerns, and address behavior and other problems.  Contact Deborah Tucker, LMFT for help in finding the right therapist for your family.  If you feel your child needs an evaluation, we have an excellent psychologist as well, Dr. Shiro Torquato.

Here in Ventura County, people have been through a lot.  The terrible shooting at Borderline, immediately followed the Woolsey and Hills fires; so much trauma, so much loss, so much grief, so much sadness.  And of course, many people have had trauma in their lives for a long time, well before these incidents.  With trauma can come symptoms of what is commonly known as PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder.  More on those later.

A common misconception is that if we simply tell the story of what happened, our trauma symptoms will decrease and we will feel better.  Many people report to me in therapy that a crisis counselor or other well-meaning individual encouraged them to tell the story, sometimes multiple times, and they ended up feeling so much worse that they had to leave the room.  They were left feeling that something must be very wrong with them since this so-called simple technique did not help, or helped briefly and then left them feeling worse shortly thereafter. [continue reading…]