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ImageGretchen Rubin ( always bats a thousand in capturing my interest, but for me, this was a particularly interesting week. She was talking about the LOOPHOLES we create to get out of doing things to better ourselves. Like “I’ll start meditating tomorrow because I’m on deadline today.” Loophole.

The loophole that most fascinated me was the one that she described simply as this: “we set out to be wrecked.” No, not by drinking too many martinis. Although I guess that could be one way to wreck ourselves. But what I think she meant is how we manage –without even realizing it– to destroy any shred of possibility for  lasting change.

What a revelation it was to me that my constant nervous habit of turning on Spider Solitaire is not actually because I need to de-compress and self-soothe, as I had been telling myself, but rather as loophole maneuver to get me out of doing something better, because I “wreck” myself.  Because seriously, it’s just not that soothing to play spider solitaire for an hour. As soon as I realized that I was actually wrecking myself, I stopped.

As the week progressed after my revelation, I really got into identifying all my LOOPHOLES.  Rubin cites 10. I felt like an Olympic track star hurtling over all the obstacles I could now clearly identify and jump over cleanly – myriad loopholes I was using to keep myself from doing all the good things I want to be doing. Reading a book instead of cooking a healthy meal. Writing more instead of exercising. Enjoying my solitude instead of engaging with my family.

In fact, by the time the week was drawing to a close, I realized that I was effectively using a very extensive and creative array of loopholes to get out of a large number of explicit goals on a well-developed, but consistent, list.

And that’s when I started to kind of wilt. I was having trouble overcoming all the loopholes. And now, feeling even more guilty and inadequate for knowing the breadth and depth of loophole maneuvers I was employing. I was even worse than I thought.

I mean, my pattern was becoming starkly clear: don’t feel good about doing practically anything and feel guilty all the time for doing the wrong thing.

Somewhere between the extreme pleasure I derive from setting goals, replete with a wonderful vision for my life and tremendous hope about having the most meaningful and fulfilling life possible, and, on the other side of it, being able to enjoy that moment, is some kind of balance.

But how do you decide when to forego the pleasure of having wonderful goals and striving to meet them, in order to enjoy the time you’re spending not reaching your explicit goals? Do you set different goals? How do you know when to stop doing something that is not going to make you happy in the long run? How can you predict what you need or don’t need to feel balanced?

The answer to these questions, for me, is very clear: I have absolutely no idea.

But I can tell you this: I won two writing awards procrastinating from doing things I should have been doing instead, which means that maybe, “loopholes” are not always bad. And my guilt, which seems intuitively pointless, always calls me to my aspirations. Not to mention the fact that finding balance so that I can enjoy the “now” more might just be another goal that is going to drive me crazy. After all, is there anything harder than finding balance?

I am grateful to Gretchen Rubin though because at the very least, I really understand what I do now: drive myself to the breaking point and then, don’t meet my goals and feel guilty about it.

And maybe, now that I know what it is that I do, that’s fine too. I mean, after all, who cares? I basically get things done. I’d say I’m happy enough, if pressed to answer. I’m not actually wrecking myself too much. My family is cool with it.  In fact, maybe I can laugh at myself now, when that old familiar refrain comes in: “you’re wasting more time playing solitaire?” How’s that for enjoying the moment more!

So thank you, Gretchen Rubin, for helping me find my story. Perhaps, in the end, that is truly the best way not to drive ourselves into the ground, whether from overwork or guilt.

Here is the link to Gretchen Rubin’s loopholes: which ones move you?

6 Unexpected Ways to Fulfill Your New Year’s Dreams


There is really only one thing you have to do to get out of your comfort zone to do something new, and that is this: get out of your comfort zone and do something new.

Totally simple. And, almost impossible.

Why? Findings in neuroscience say: more than 60% of our day is spent in “automatic.” So doing anything new is actually quite taxing. Now we don’t have to think we’re lazy and unmotivated anymore. Because, you see, it is our brain that’s lazy and unmotivated.

Getting out of “automatic” requires so much energy, that the discomforts are probably going to outperform your inspiration to change. Explains a lot, doesn’t it? Here are my tips for how to deal with this harsh reality:

1)          Pray.

I watch myself walk toward the Keurig, and even as I remind myself that I have decided to cut down on coffee, I’m like a robot. I see myself take the cup out of the cupboard, and there is nothing I want more out of life than one more cup of coffee. This is a good time to start praying. A good prayer might be “God give me strength not to do what my brain is used to doing. Please, God, I can move my hand three inches over to the tea box instead of the Keurig, and I can put that teabag in my cup. Please God, give me strength to use that teabag.”

2)          Remember: you are not lazy, your brain is lazy.

It’s not your fault, you are not such a bad person. No matter how much I know you really believe you are when your resolutions don’t work.

3)          Suffer for 30 days. Or More.

I know you believed that doing something new January 1st and 2nd and possibly even the 3rd meant you would feel better right away. But…that just ain’t gonna happen. Sorry, but the stress of trying something new kills all that.  You have to suffer for about 30 days — the amount of time it takes for new habits to form — before you can coast comfortably on “automatic.”  By that time, you may even have forgotten what a great achievement you have made, and how much better your life is. Maybe you could put post-it’s all over the house to remind yourself: “Don’t forget, I’ve changed my life.”

4)          Be Sad Sometimes.

Your old self, that sweet nice self with the old habits of putting on slippers instead of sneakers and getting herself another cup of coffee instead of some healthy sour lemon water, was a lovely self. There was nothing wrong with that self. In fact, that self was the self you really love, because she was so much more comfortable than this horrible new improved stressed- out person you have become. Expect to mourn that old sweet self. But then, move on.

5)          Baby Baby Steps.

You still don’t realize what a big deal it is to do anything even remotely different from your usual patterns, do you? Here’s what I had to do, switching to tea: find a tea worth drinking, buy it, place it right out in the open where it’s more handy than the coffee pods, put a huge poster on the wall that says “DRINK TEA TODAY” and get a buddy to hold me accountable. I didn’t even do the last two which is why this resolution will probably fail. But it is the small steps that change the world, and there’s always tomorrow.

6)          Loathe your life, not yourself.

If you have to choose between being stressed out continuing to instil new habits or getting down on yourself for dropping them, opt for the stress and keep trying. Even though it’s much, much easier to get down on yourself, nag yourself, call yourself names and make yourself feel guilty for the rest of the year. Anything is easier than creating new habits. Again, the ol’ brain.

In summary: remember, new year’s resolutions are a bitch.  We live in a time that prizes emotional awareness, so you will probably really feel your stressed-out-ness more than previous generations, who were strong, determined, and knew where they were going but had little idea what they were feeling and didn’t really care. But we care: I care. Your small step managing the stress of making changes in your fully present emotional state is really one large step for mankind.

And now, I’m going to go have a cup of coffee. Oh, sorry, tea.

How to Enjoy Life More

enjoy life My number one prescription for enjoying life more is to allow yourself to be as miserable as you really are, whenever you feel that way. If you can allow yourself to be miserable whenever you feel miserable, you will feel a lot better in general.

For one thing, allowing yourself to be miserable when you feel miserable will put a stop to fighting against yourself to feel differently. The energy you use to fight against yourself is then free to be used for other things. Such as noticing that the sun is shining or that a cup of coffee tastes good — things that, ironically, relieve misery.  

If you do not tolerate suffering and being miserable very well, however, and you are constantly fighting with yourself and not enjoying being with yourself, I recommend seeing a professional. I am a professional at tolerating emotions, and I know that the more I can tolerate other people’s suffering, the better they do. And, as far as I can tell, people who come to see me have every reason to feel miserable. As I am sure you do too when you do.

Of course, some people devote their entire lives to trying to be happier and have a good life.  To me, this is a great idea. We should all do that as much as possible. Unfortunely, most of us have other callings too. Like raising children, or doing work of some kind, both of which are guaranteed to cause suffering. The more you can tolerate suffering, the easier it is to devote your life to a range of activities that hopefully, will give you some return on your investment of attention and culminate in a truly enjoyable life.

There is no real prescription for how much suffering and misery you should, ideally, be able to tolerate. And how much you should put a stop to with salves of any kind. It is a balance that has to be creatively sought after by each person individually — there are no rights or wrongs, no “best” practice, or, to my view, “normal” position. The only criteria you should have for developing your strength and ability to tolerate misery and suffering, is feeling either out of balance or unsatisfied with life. Then, figuring out how to allow yourself to be more comfortable with your misery and suffering will definitely help you enjoy life more.



Why We Get Stuck in Ruts


The reason we get stuck in ruts is because we  fail to follow effectively in someone else’s footsteps – someone who has done things well, moving along, getting things done. In fact, we start to feel like failures when we get stuck.

We fail to follow in the steps of people who have done things right — achieved health, wealth and enlightened peace — because we are fools. If we were smart, we would copy other people who are successful and arrive at all the places we want to be.


We fail to do what we should do to change for the better, because nobody can tell us what to do. This is not a statement about you, in particular, it is a statement about how change happens.  In fact, people telling us what to do often creates anti-change. We can’t follow even the best examples of people doing it right because of this.

Even worse than having nobody be able to tell us what to do, is just how much we learn from failure. Because, when we fail, we DISCOVER what works. That discovery is emotional. It’s not intellectual. Without the exciting feeling of discovery — coming upon something worthwhile, meaningful, important, interesting, new, exciting…we get stuck.


The only way to cope with failure, is to suffer. Most people suffer today because they are not happy with the fact that for most of us, life is 97% work and duty, and 3% lovely glimmers of joy. Hopefully, the 97% is basically satisfying. Unfortunately, we are not happy with just the 3% of joy. We want more.  Of course, wanting more out of life is really just a by-product of ambition, and therefore, a positive thing. If you suffer enough because 3% or less is not enough for you, in fact, you may become more motivated to discover what will actually get you more out of life. Instead of torment yourself with evidence of your inability to follow in other people’s footsteps who are doing it right. I am always pleased to see that people, when they come to me for therapy, want more out of life. The suffering is unfortunate, but must be overlooked.


Conversations: The Importance of Being Mean

sandwichYOU: So…yesterday I took my son Charlie to my friend Alice’s house. She has a two-and-a-half year old too. Little Jeffrey. We all sit down and Alice starts asking Jeffrey what he wants for lunch. “Do you want the tuna, Jeffrey?” she asks. “Or the peanut butter and jelly, or a cheese stick with an apple?” And then, she asks my Charlie what he wants. Everybody wants something different, so lunch takes like, an hour and a half — I’m thinking…why not just put out one flipping sandwich? Instead, I say to Alice – cuz I don’t know her that well yet — “boy, you sure are good at giving choices!”  And she says, “well, I like to involve Charlie and get his help. I like the connectedness. And they say it builds character.” Wow. They are two years old. I only give Charlie one thing. And you know what, if he doesn’t like it, he goes hungry. ‘Till he’s hungry enough to eat what I’ve got. But we are there at Alice’s house, and I see my Charlie looking so happy munching on his tuna which he loves, and now I’m thinking…maybe I should give Charlie some choices. Which…is going to make me crazy. I just want to make one flipping meal! Not three! But I feel so selfish and mean.

ME: Peer pressure is rough.

YOU: Should I be giving him more choices?

ME: If you want to be more simpatico with Alice, maybe.

YOU: But do you think it’s mean or selfish of me not to give him the choices if that’s what’s good for him?

ME:  Not everybody thinks that’s good for toddlers. But…what do you have against being mean and selfish, anyway? Do you think you should be nice all the time?

YOU: Well, I try to.

ME: Being mean isn’t so bad. You have to be willing to feel like a mean person to have close relationships — with your partner, your child, your friends, your family…

YOU: Why?

ME: Because why should you always put other people before yourself? That’s not fair. Then people are just going to walk all over you – you’ll be a dishrag. Either that, or you’ll get really pissed at some point, and then say “no” out of righteous anger, which is also no fun for anybody. Why not avoid the anger, avoid being a dishrag, and just settle for feeling like you’re mean and selfish sometimes? As long as you’re not sadistic. Because being sadistic is bad.

YOU:  So what is “sadistic,” then?

ME: Being sadistic is when you see that being mean is hurting someone too much but you do it anyway.

YOU: What a minute, wait a minute…you’re telling me I have to be mean, but I can’t hurt anybody? How can you be mean and not hurt anybody?

ME: It’s a matter of degree. If the person is going to be mad, that’s fine. But if the person is going to be hurt, that’s different.

YOU: I don’t get it.

ME: Here it is: if your kid is going to say “you’re mean, Mommy,” and stomp their feet a few times, but forget about it in the next half hour, they can handle your mean selfishness. A tantrum is fine. But if the tantrum goes on, and they are starting to scream “I hate you,” at the top of their lungs, crying, throwing things, banging their head on the ground, then you know you’re meanness and selfishness has gotten too much for them. Then you have to stop or it’s sadistic.

YOU: Oh my God, I think I’ve been sadistic to Charlie. The other day, he WOULD NOT leave the park. And I totally lost it. I shoved him in the car, and strapped him in really hard, and he was screaming, and I told him if he kept crying I wouldn’t let him use the i-pad and then he really started screaming. I was desperate. But he can’t always get what he wants.

ME: Right. It’s hard to see when we’re being sadistic when we feel righteous. And we get righteous when we’re stressed out. Because we want to get less stressed out.

YOU: Did I fuck him up?

ME: Well did you apologize for losing it?

YOU: No.

ME: So apologize! Nobody’s perfect. It’s a process. Apologies teach children that you feel bad about getting sadistic. That way, they can feel bad when they get sadistic.


ME: You know, mothers who feel like they can never be mean get crazy trying to be so nice all the time. Being too nice can make you crazy. Then you ooze that craziness and the whole family gets weird.

YOU: Lord Almighty. I just wish I could know when I’m losing it. I don’t want him to think I’m sadistic.

ME: You can’t always know if someone is going to experience you as sadistic. Because sometimes, our meanness feels justified, and therefore good. Everybody is hard-wired for that righteous pleasure.  Or the opposite happens, and we scare ourselves with how mean we feel and get paralyzed and feel upset. So the whole mean/sadistic thing is hard to recognize in real-time.

YOU: So what’s the answer, then?

ME: There is no answer. There’s only an act of negotiation.

YOU: What negotiation?

ME: Whether you are allowed to be selfish and mean, or whether it isn’t going to go over well with your particular kid who may find you sadistic. If your kid is the insistent type, it’s harder. Some kids can take mean and selfish mothers more easily. You may have to sacrifice your selfishness with Charlie, and serve him. When and if you can.

YOU: How do you know when to “serve”?

ME: You use your emotions to gauge how frustrated your kid is getting.

YOU: I am so confused.

ME: EXACTLY! You have to tolerate confusion. The more you can tolerate not-knowing, doubting yourself, feeling insecure and confused, the more you can stay in that state of openness, and find the right answer for how to be with Charlie.

YOU: How does that help?

ME: Because there is no “right” answer!*  It’s not about choices or no choices. It’s about staying sane so the family is happy, which is a constant negotiation of your energies versus their energies.

YOU: There have to be some rules.

ME: Yeah, you discover them. But kids don’t come with a manual. All you have is a searchlight and a prayer.

YOU: I need a better searchlight!

ME: Yes, that’s all you need — a way to observe, gauge and figure out whether you are going to sacrifice your own comfort for the sake of Charlie, or allow him some discomfort so YOU can feel better. It’s called A RELATIONSHIP.

YOU: OK, just one thing…I have to ask you this…What if Charlie can’t take what I need at all? Like…can’t handle me being mean or selfish in any way?

ME: I guarantee you that you will ask for too much sometimes, and upset him.

YOU: Oh, great.

ME: That’s what apologies are for. Love means having to say you’re sorry.

YOU: I feel bad.

ME: Get over it.

YOU: That’s not a very nice thing to say.

ME: Well, I would never say that to a patient, but since you are a character inside my own head, I can say that. And now, everybody can know what I really think about mothers who feel bad about being mean. Get over it…it just…has to happen.

YOU: OK, well thank you, you’re wonderful.

ME: You’re welcome

*Thank you to my excellent advisory board, as follow:

Advisors to this blog: what do YOU say?

Loren Starr: I have long held a personal opinion that it is good to avoid mixing the process of feeding your child at an early stage of life with emotion-laden, stress filled situations. Feeding someone is the ultimate form of control over someone and you are sending a message whenever you feed your child, even if the message isn’t obvious to the adult. I fear food showdowns have potential negative psychological repercussions. When food and fighting or food and loving (rewards) get confused I worry that eating disorders could emerge later in life. My son was a picky eater early on and he eventually branched out on his own. We provided him with choices and the ability to decline food. I think his relationship with food (at age 12) is about as good as it gets now as a result. He seeks out healthy food, doesn’t like or indulge in over eating. This is, of course, just one data point.

Martin LaPlante: In my opinion, toddlers are a little young for a la carte. But planning a menu with them in advance and giving them a role in helping execute it can give them the predictability and involvement that is good for everyone, while giving them insight into how that meal came to be.

Monique Ponsot: In my experience offering three choices to a toddler is a recipe for disaster for all concerned. It says nothing about a parents flexibility, rather it puts the child in the position of having to make a decision like a rational adult. Decisions about choices takes years to develop and is not what a toddler should be expected to have to do, just to eat! If you feel you must offer choices, two is easier to manage; for instance: “pb&j or cheese”.

Simonetta Barzanti Dixon:  Definitely the latter, otherwise she risks being at the child’s beck and call more than she already is as a mom, and also raising a kid who is fussy about food. with our daughter she got what she was given and we always said that this was what mummy and daddy were eating too, and there was nothing else if she didn’ t eat what was in front of her. as a result, she’s always eaten everything and we could always take her to restaurants and peoples’ houses with no fuss or trouble. What would happen if this kid started demanding menu choices at other peoples houses in a couple of years?

Elizabeth Mailer: I think a choice between 2 foods is reasonable; and why not if it isn’t inconvenient?

Cara Hanoum:  I always give two choices i make them laugh and tell them this isn’t “Cara s kitchen”

Susan Cottrell: She should be who she is. Every mom is different and that is OK!!!!

Matthew Ponsot:  Not a problem we ever had! LOL! We always had 2 choices: eat or not!

Andrea Cohen:  My take? It’s more about peer pressure than offering a kid choices. Nothing wrong with offering choices if you have the time and things in the house. Life is full of choices and this way kids are introduced to a variety of foods. Besides, there’s no need to be consistent – if you give choices one day, you can choose not to the next.

WHAT DO YOU SAY? Continue the conversation in the comments section, and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog.

My Four Point Plan for Keeping the Momentum Going for New Years Resolutions













You can’t always know if your resolutions are going to work out, but here’s my four-point plan for keeping the momentum going.

  1. ASSESS REALITY (As much as this is humanly possible given that…were human.) So you won’t run 10 miles a week or meditate an hour a day or bond with the kids after dinner every night have sex three times a week and write a book this year.
  2. SCALE BACK. So take a little walk, close your eyes for a minute and take a deep breath, ask the kids how their day was, flirt with your spouse every now and then, and write if and when the deck is clear. (Please note the intentional parallel between this list of examples and the ones in point 1,   including the conspicuous use of commas to add pause.)
  3. INTROSPECT. This is so easy. If you hit a wall, just ask yourself: “why?” (…don’t I meditate,write, exercise, exercise my marital prerogative, etc.) This is a lot better than just feeling depressed about it. Hopefully, you’ll get an answer. And please don’t let it be because you’re too lazy or stupid or something. That’s avoiding a more painful truth, like that you’re married to the wrong person, have the wrong job, children or life.
  4. PUT THINGS OUT THERE. When you hit a wall, don’t keep your thoughts to yourself. This makes for a thoughts-and-feelings stew. Instead, take your thoughts and feelings on the road (put them out there) and stop stewing. You stand a better chance of creating an internal shift this way. If you want to read more about how and why this happens, I have written a 20-page story about it, called “CATRINA FINDS BALANCE.” Unfortunately, it is not available yet because I can’t figure out how to publish it. But that is one of my New Year’s Resolutions so stay tuned. In a nutshell: experiences transform us when ideas and good intentions can’t. So allow your thoughts and feelings to lead you to experiences with people.


8 Tips for How to Have the Best Holiday You Have Ever Had


At this time of year, if your to-do list is bursting and the burden of being in a good mood is too burdensome, I’ve got some excellent tips to help you be as happy being miserable as you have a right to be.

Please, do try to improve your mood as best you can – these tips are only for those emergency times when you just don’t have the energy or time to work that hard.

  1.  KEEP AN ONGOING  LIST OF EVERYTHING YOU DO WRONG. The list will give you hope that you can control things, become a better person and have a better life. So make the list, and then, put it away. You can’t deal with that right now. We’ll get to it, I promise. I know how terrible you are – I won’t forget. Neither will you, trust me.
  2. TELL YOURSELF YOU’RE MAKING HISTORY.      Being aware of everything that you feel is made possible thanks to the generous contribution of our national epidemic of being increasingly aware of what we feel.  In fact, we have a lot of   catching up to do – I suspect we’re feeling all the things our ancestors could never acknowledge because they were so busy putting bread on the table. So we’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
  3. APPLAUD YOURSELF. We so dislike getting  angry or upset with the people we love because unfortunately, we love them. Little mental wars then happen. Why can’t we just have loving feelings for the people we love? It’s tragic. Try to remember that only innocence is bliss, and that love is not completely  blind. You have to know what you have to know so that you can figure out  how to deal with it. Later, of course. After the holidays.
  4. DON’T BE SO HARD ON YORUSELF (I’m not even going to correct that typo).  Whenever we are negative, we aren’t particularly understanding with ourselves. Don’t ask me why, it’s crazy. We should be nicer to ourselves when we’re down. But we just aren’t. So try to rein it in any self-criticism. Just tell yourself to cut it out – you don’t need this.
    : You may not realize that you are being hard on yourself as you take note of how lazy, negative, scatter-brained, nasty or ungrateful you are. It doesn’t matter that all these things are true. What matters is that you stop being so judgmental and critical. Have a little compassion. Just cut it out.
  5. DO NOT  MAKE YOURSELF SICK. You will probably abuse and neglect yourself at this time of year, and that is normal. Taking care of  yourself falls to the bottom of our list when we feel overwhelmed. We tend to forego basic necessities like eating right, relaxing, and being nice to  ourselves. We can even become very punitive towards ourselves and others,  admonishing, feeling unworthy or lazy, and wishing something would be better.  Again, that’s fine – as long as it is temporary. Do be careful though not to get sick.
  6. BE PROUD. Yes, you are not perfect. Yes, you need a lot of help. Yes, you have got to grapple with a few things when the going gets rough. But remember, people who are never completely miserable don’t grow psychologically — they are just spiritual blobs taking up space on the planet. Sorry. Actually, to be more kind, they are just scared to know themselves. You are luckier than that – you’re stronger.
  7. GO FIND SOMEONE  TO COMPLAIN TO.  Because misery loves company.BONUS TIP ON COMPLAINING: If you complain  to someone who wants to cheer you up when you don’t have the energy to work that hard, try to move on until you land on someone who is happy to commiserate. Don’t be lonely in your feelings – there’s nothing worse.
  8. FAKE IT ‘TILL YOU MAKE IT. People around you probably won’t be receptive to any of your ill-humor, which stinks, I know. (And the number one secret reason for their intolerance is that they are probably struggling with their negativity.) So, if you can, just fake it: slap a semi-smile on your face and keep busy so your face doesn’t reveal too much of what you’re feeling.|TIP:    Please don’t “fake it” if you have nobody around who understands you.  It’s not a good idea to feel totally alone in your wretchedness. If there’s nobody around to understand and commiserate with you, just  complain out loud to the world at large, and let everyone else deal with it. Who knows, you might get lucky and have someone be appreciative.

FINAL BONUS TIP: Spouses should reach an agreement with each other to take turns allowing the other person to rant, cry, be annoyed, and complain at this time of year. While taking turns, the other person should agree to respond with nice pats on the back, cups of tea or just ignoring the other person completely. That’s love.

In summary: it is not a good idea to torment yourself and try to twist yourself into knots trying to be in a better frame of mind for the happy holidays if you don’t have the time or energy for that kind of concentrated effort. It will ruin your holiday.

Instead, leave yourself alone to feel whatever you feel. Fake it so as not to get attacked. Try to find a companion. Train your family to be nice to you. Take note of all the negativity, so we can use it to inform your continued growth.

It may seem strange to you that forgiving and allowing some negativity could be the answer to having the best holiday you have ever had, but this is real life, and, in real life, the possibilities for where to find the deepest joy, satisfaction and enjoyment of life are infinite.


Stay tuned in the coming weeks for how to make the best New Year’s resolutions ever. And after that, we’re going to be talking about INTIMACY. It’s easier if you follow me somewhere – here, on on Facebook, or twitter – anywhere. Let me know your thoughts!!!!!

Confessions: Mean Mom

Alice (Mean Mom):  I don’t think one day goes by that my daughter doesn’t beg me to have her friends over. And…there is not one day that I want to say “yes”. It drives me nuts when they’re here – I don’t even know why. I feel so horrible wanting to say “no” all the time. And I know it’s great that she’s got friends. And it is my “turn” to host. But it just drives me nuts! Please tell me how I can get over this and be a little nicer of a mom. Of a person. I’m so mean.

Me:      Why can’t you be mean and never have the kids over?

Alice: Because there’s something wrong with a mother who doesn’t have her daughter’s friends over. It’s not right. Everything just puts me over the edge. I get so ridiculously overwhelmed – almost scared. Like any minute I’m going to start screaming at them to stop. Which I don’t want to do.

Me: What would happen if you screamed at them?

Alice: I do not want to be that mean mom.

Me: You want to be a nice mom.

Alice: Well, yes. Don’t we all?

Me: Yes, we all want to be nice. But kids are going to think we are mean anyways, you know.

Alice: You don’t think it’s possible to be a nice mom? Or to have a kid who thinks her mom is nice?

Me: Right. I do not think that is possible.

Alice:  Why? I had a truly mean mom. Like if I asked her for a drive, or if I needed something, she’d say “nope, no way that’s happening” and then she’d like…scoff. Like I was the stupidest person for even asking. And then when I’d get mad, she’d tell me how lucky I was to have everything I had. She was never wrong.

Me: You were the one who was wrong?

Alice:  Oh, yeah. If I complained about something — like that I couldn’t go to a movie because she wouldn’t drive me, or that I couldn’t buy something because she said she didn’t like it — she would say “that is NOT my problem.” She just didn’t care. I don’t want to be that Mom. First of all, I’m glad Katie asks me for things. Second, I like to say “yes.” And third, I care how she feels.

Me: You are psychologically much more attuned than your mother. You are working on having the best, most loving relationship that you can with your daughter.

Alice: That’s right.

Me: That’s wonderful. I get it. There’s only one problem. If a child wants an egg, and you don’t have one, they might want you to run out to the store and buy them an egg right then and there. What if it became your full-time job to be on constant egg runs?

Alice:  That’s a very strange example, but I get it. Chocolate eggs, maybe. That’s true. I know. Kaitlin is definitely acting spoiled.

Me: Yes, kids will suck you dry. They want what they want when they want it. At least, if they are healthy they do.

Alice: Well then my kid must be reaaaaaally healthy.

Me: Right. Kids are often very demanding people.

Alice: I know it.

Me: They want you to be nice all the time. And even if you are a really nice mommy, they are still going to be mad at you sometimes.

Alice: I try…I want to be a nice mom. I feel better when Kaitlin is happy. I don’t like it when she’s mad. I don’t want her to be unhappy.

Me: You don’t want her to have bad feelings towards you, the way you had towards your mother. You would like to have a more loving relationship.

Alice: Right.

Me: You don’t deserve to feel like you are a mean mother. What happens when Kaitlin thinks you’re mean? That must be very difficult for you.

Alice: Well, it happened the other day. It happens a lot actually. Whenever I have to say “no” Kaitlin gets mad. Like yesterday, I told her she couldn’t have candy – I’m a ridiculous health-nut – and she freaked out. Like, totally freaked out. I couldn’t believe it. I have been really worried about her being so spoiled actually.

Me: How do you handle it?

Alice:  Well I get mad at that point. I tell her that she shouldn’t get so mad. I mean, I get her EVERYTHING she wants. I do so much for her.

Me: That must make you so mad to see her act so badly when she can’t get what she wants, given all you do for her.

Alice: Yes, it does, it does. It makes me boiling mad. After everything I do for her.

Me: There really is no way to avoid making your children unhappy and mad.

Alice:  I keep thinking that I should spoil her less, but I don’t want to turn into my mother. I don’t want to turn away from her – I want us to be connected. I want to be there for her – I want her to be happy.

Me: And you should. And you shouldn’t stop spoiling her and doing as much as you can for her when you have the energy. That is not the problem. That’s love – love is not a problem, and you need it to compensate for how overwhelmed you get, which is hard for her. Here is the real problem: you don’t want her to be mad at you.

Alice: No! I don’t deserve it. I hardly ever say “no”!

Me: I know that. Even so…kids do have to be mad at their mothers sometimes. You cannot avoid being Mean Mom. You just can’t.

Alice: That is why I do not like to say no.

Me: Right. You do not like Kaitlin to have negative feelings towards you.

Alice: Oh my God, am I putting a guilt trip on Kaitlin just like my mother did to me for asking for anything?

Me: Well, I don’t think you’re trying to do that. You’re trying to teach Kaitlin that you’re a nice mother. You’re trying to get her to be more loving and appreciative of you.  You’re trying to create a loving, nurturing environment. But nobody taught you that it is OK to have a conflict of interests. So it upsets you.

Alice: Well how can I help Kaitlin be more appreciative of me? Less demanding? And less spoiled? It’s too much!

Me: You have to accept and embrace that she is not always going to be happy. It’s not your fault. It doesn’t mean you are turning into your mother. Or being a bad mother at all.

Alice: I don’t like it when she gets mad. I don’t like having the feeling that she is selfish and mean – spoiled. I don’t want to dislike her. I don’t think that’s healthy.

Me: So not only is she not allowed to be mad at you, but you are not allowed to be mad at her.

Alice: Well, I don’t think those feelings are productive. I’d rather we work to understand each other and try to respect each other and have a positive relationship.

Me: That is a great plan. Here is a positive thing for you to understand about why Kaitlin melts down if you say “no” to her: it is because she doesn’t like herself.

Alice: She doesn’t?

Me: No, she doesn’t. Because she doesn’t like the negative feelings she gets from you any more than you like the ones you get from her. That’s why she falls apart.  People think fussy kids are “spoiled” — that they are fussing because they can’t get what they want. That is so wrong. What they are really fussing about is that they don’t like themselves for making their parent feel bad towards them. They are crying because they don’t like themselves for having wanted what they wanted. We teach them to be outspoken, to tell us their thoughts and feelings, but when we get angry with them for making us feel mean, they think we don’t like them. So they fuss and then we think they’re spoiled and it’s a terrible vicious cycle.

Alice: Well why don’t they just act less spoiled?

Me: Because they don’t know when it’s OK to express themselves openly and express their needs, or when doing so will make their parents feel mean if the answer is “no.”  They have no way of knowing when it’s going to be OK and when it’s going to be inconvenient or impossible for the parent.

Alice: True.

Me: So it’s confusing for everybody when there is a conflict. Everybody feels bad. You feel bad about saying “no” and she feels bad for wanting things.

Alice: Wow. Yeah.  How can I help Kaitlin like herself? I mean – this is going to sound weird but should she like herself when she’s pushing me so hard?  Maybe she shouldn’t like herself.  Maybe she should learn to insist less…

Me: Well some people can change when they don’t like things about themselves, that’s true. But most of us just get fussy and feel bad when we don’t like ourselves. Yes, she should get to know you, and that you can’t always say “yes.” Reality bites sometimes. But no, she shouldn’t have to feel bad about herself because of it.

Alice: Kaitlin probably does feel like she’s a bad person when I have to say “no” because I get so exasperated.

Me: We are so attuned to our children we can’t understand it when they are not attuned to us. It’s painful.

Alice: Yeah!

Me: This is the most difficult aspect of parenting today, in this age of atunement to emotion: you don’t want to feel like a mean mom, and kids don’t want to feel like selfish kids.

Alice: How do I stop this?

Me: Well since you can’t avoid conflict in any relationship, or the negative feelings that are generated, you have to get OK with her feeling you are mean sometimes. And you have to be OK with feeling that you are mean and that she is mean sometimes. All your love and attention can’t clear that up. Those feelings are going to be there.

Alice: Bummer.

Me: I know.

Alice: Major bummer.

Me: Right. That’s where everybody gets into trouble. Anger is the worst.

Alice: I was hoping for a little better than what I went through with my mother.

Me:  We thought we could have more positivity if we did things differently. But it’s all about what to do with the negativity.

Alice: Well what do I do when she pushes me so hard?

Me: I told you, try not to get so frustrated with yourself for having to being mean. And try not to get so frustrated with her for wanting things so much. She’s got a strong will – don’t break it.

Alice: Her insistence really sucks though. I mean, what should I say, exactly when she acts so spoiled? Yesterday I said she couldn’t get these shoes she wanted – they were $120! And she started to beg me and beg me for them. Finally I said to her, ‘you are so spoiled!’ And then she started crying. I mean, come-on!!! She is going to outgrow them in two months! She doesn’t “need” this other pair of shoes! It’s never enough…

Me: She was acting like a child. Because she is a child. It’s not her fault she is not mature – attuned to other people, able to put you first, sensitive, understanding and compassionate, reasonable.

Alice: So what should I have said to her?

Me: Well what would have helped her feel better about herself?

Alice: Buying the shoes for her?

Me: No! There you go trying to generate positivity again. I’m asking how can you help her feel better about wanting the shoes, even though she can’t have them?

Alice: Oh! Isn’t that teaching her that it’s OK to be selfish?

Me: No. Appreciating her feelings will help her keep her sense of dignity and self-worth. When people feel good about themselves, they become compassionate and mature and un-selfish. Don’t say: “I should buy those shoes for you, if I don’t I”m a bad mother.” That would foster selfishness. You want to say to her: “I’m sorry I can’t buy those great shoes for you.”

Alice: What if she has a tantrum?

Me: Tell her she doesn’t have to be upset with herself for wanting the shoes.

Alice: Upset with herself?

Me: Right. Tell her, it’s OK. It’s OK to have wanted them. Tell her they really are great shoes. Tell her you would have wanted those shoes. That’s what your mother couldn’t do. Care about your feelings. You can care about what Kaitlin feels when it’s negative.

Alice: How will that help?

Me: She feels guilty and ashamed of herself for being so spoiled. It makes her fussy and then she loses her dignity just for wanting things…and just for letting you know she wants them. If you help her feel OK about all her wants – even the selfish and unreasonable ones — she won’t fall apart when she can’t have something. You have to find a way to say, “no, you can’t have these shoes, but…I get that you want them.” And, since she’s suffering from not liking herself lately, I would add “sorry I have to be mean.” That protects her self-worth and puts the blame on yourself for the conflict.

Alice: Like “I know you’re mad, it’s ok to be mad sometimes” and that kind of thing?

Me: Sure. And, if she melts down hysterically (since we haven’t helped her yet to feel balanced when she’s upset,) tell her you don’t blame her for fussing, but she shouldn’t feel bad about wanting the shoes. She shouldn’t feel bad about herself. “Spoiled” people are just people who feel bad about themselves.

Alice: OK. So give me some tools.

Me: Here is what you have to remember: She is allowed to think you are mean. Don’t take it away from her. You can’t avoid it. Mothers have to be mean. We can’t please our children all day long. We have to frustrate them. This is the hardest thing for us. It’s so unfair. We need them to love us. The way our parents couldn’t. We believe, if we are nice enough, we will have deeper, better feelings of love. And it just doesn’t work. We have to be mean and allow our children to want too much.

Alice: OK. Let her have her feelings, and let me have mine.

Me:  Yes. You have to appreciate all her feelings, and I will appreciate all of yours. Being a parent today, having had parents who weren’t trained to be emotionally attuned, and then trying to be emotionally attuned ourselves is very, very hard.

Alice: I know! We’re doing the best we can!

Me: Yes. So remember: all your feelings are wonderful.

Alice: No they aren’t. Not when I’m thinking my kid is selfish.

Me:  Perfect example — whenever you start thinking “she’s so selfish” that’s your cue that it’s time to help her feel less guilty and ashamed about wanting what you can’t give her. You see, you can use all your feelings to move yourself, and her, forward.

Alice: Wow, that’s hard to do.

Me: Pretty soon, if you can appreciate that she will feel frustrated and mad at you sometimes, she’ll stop feeling bad about it, and she will stop thinking of herself as “selfish.” Instead, she’ll keep her dignity when you have to say “no.” She won’t fuss or throw a fit. She’ll just beg a few times, and when you tell her to finally stop, she’ll say “OK, Mom” without falling apart.

Alice: Wow – that would be great.

Me: It’s going to take work. It’s slow. But when you can deal with the negativity you’ll be able to have all her friends over without being afraid of losing it.

Alice: Yeah. Right.

Me: You’re doing a wonderful job. You’re a wonderful mother and you’re doing a great job of trying to break the patterns that you grew up with.

Alice: Thanks. Um…you know that I’m a character that you have made up inside your own head, right?

Me: Listen…you are me, you could be a man, there is a little of you in every parent who is conflicted about saying “no” and who has to explore their relationship to all the negative feelings that always swim around.

Alice: True.

Me: Thank you for agreeing with me. I am very fortunate to have all these wonderful characters to talk to inside my own head.

Q&A: What happens when we get out of balance?

I realize I’m going through a somewhat pedantic time here, laying out this treatise on sanity and being unbalanced.  It’s a prelude and background reference work to more “conversations” where things will get emotional and interesting. So just bear with me while I get these ideas about sanity out of my system. Here we go.

Recap on sanity: the time when you can think straight – when the usual negative things don’t throw you and when you can make better relationships with peoplebalance, and plan your own fulfillment. You have mental energy when you feel sane, you feel safe and grounded and it’s just awesome.

Now: what happens when you get out of balance is you find yourself in “survival mode.” You’re usually shooting from the hip in survival mode, scrambling to feel better.

All you can do, when you are in survival mode, is make it through your day. This may include eating or shopping for comfort, screaming and yelling for relief from emotional pressures, crying or becoming isolated to soothe yourself, or thinking about what you have to look forward to. Unfortunately, this survival mode does not leave enough energy for thinking about how to create more fulfillment, sanity or happiness.

Again: everybody goes through periods of imbalance for whatever reason. You can’t go through life being perfectly balanced. Everybody suffers from periods of imbalance or from pockets of imbalance, where one or more situations or emotions create a survival-mode situation that is too overwhelming to think clearly through, and which causes agitation and feeling that you are in a war-zone, scared, unsafe or trapped.

Stay tuned: next –

Q&A: Why don’t we feel sane all the time?

The main reason we don’t always feel balanced and sane, is that IT IS NOT POSSIBLE to feel sane and balanced all the time. Or in the face of every experience.

Certain situations or people give us a problem. Even if we are extremely balanced with regard to everything else in our life, one or two things (and sometimes more) throw us for a loop.

We get thrown because things aren’t always black and white.  We may want to be kind, for example, but actually feel aggravated.  When our brain is in conflict, and it is hard to think straight, the intense emotion can throw us. Then, we lose our balance.

Some challenges throw us for a minute, and others for a day. And then, of course, there are the bigger challenges that create enormous conflict, and that can make it impossible for us unable to think straight and feel calm and balanced for long periods. Then, a gray pall is cast over our whole life, every day, every minute of every day.


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