Tag Archives: Family

Family Secrets & Sirens – Is Your Family Too Closed or Too Open?


When I was a kid, there were two kinds of families in my neighborhood, the fun, welcoming, kind who never knew how many people were going to be at the dinner table, and the private kind who rarely invited friends over and bit their tongues when asked personal questions. I considered my own family to be on the former ilk. Back then, I thought this could only be good. At various times in my development, the motley crew at our 5:30 dinner table might include a pregnant teenager on billet from our church, some cousin’s college aged kid who was doing a semester at our house, and an assortment of peer friends. And there were few secrets in that dinner table conversation. All states of the human condition were ripe material for conversational comedy.

Today, family therapists look at a family’s tendency to be more closed or more open as a way to determine how healthy it is for the children in the nest. While there is a huge range of communication styles within a family and styles of inter-relating with the community, a couple of extremes can indicate a family dysfunction. One is too private and the other is too open to outside influences.

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When you think about too private, think of the heart wrenching family structure of Philip Gerrido as the extreme example. His crazy ideas and violent behavior ruled the nest that included a kid-napped and raped “wife.” The family had little input from outside relationships, not even at school because the children were home schooled. This is a rare, extreme example of a closed family system. Another, less obvious, closed family system might be a family who follows a religion that is not represented in the community. Because some of the community’s lifestyle choices might be at odds with their religious beliefs, this family tends to limit social contact and exposure to media. Finally, an even more subtle example might be a family who is just very private. They send overt or silent messages to the children that family matters are not to be discussed outside of the home. They also are reluctant to have too many guests in their home.

There’s another extreme. That’s the family with so many people and ideas filtering through the front door that the family has no compass at all. These families often lack a family code, a set of values to return to when the winds of peer pressure blow too strong. Too many ideas and too much information, when not tempered with sound social structure and family emotional guidance, can make children feel frightened, and also leave them confused when they begin to build their own identity as a young adult.

The key is to find the right balance of open and closed. Having a tight-knit family structure that provides privacy and protection from influences that do not underscore family values is not necessarily dangerous for kids. But having a family system that prohibits exploration of alternative thought and choices, leaves a child unprepared when she/he eventually leaves the nest. Teaching children family values is crucial to their development. I call it, “Instilling The Hopi Way.” But preventing a child from interacting, exploring, and questioning the big, wide, world of ideas outside the front door, handicaps them when they begin the process of becoming individuals.

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FOR COUPLES: The Secret of Love and Parenting

loving familyKids can be challenging. But so can our adult love relationships. But are they the same relationship? In many ways they are, and what we learn from one kind of relationship, we can apply to the other. The common link is emotional intimacy and the big tug-o-war in every intimate relationship is the struggle between independence and union. While many people have heard of co-dependence, that pop psyche term that means no one can remember whose problem is whose, not many fully understand the feeling of a healthy inter-dependence.

Independence and union are the yin-yang of human connections. Being in union with another fills us up with feelings of security, confidence, and heals our loneliness. And sometimes being together can also feel more like suffocation and imprisonment. Independence can help us feel powerful, free, and proudly self-sufficient. But independence can also bring feelings of isolation, fear, and, with no cheer leader, insecurity.

Every intimate relationship is a live action game, it’s partners on the same team with (hopefully) a common goal. Like basketball, sometimes one partner runs with the ball and scores, and other times is happy to assist or play defense. You steer the parent/child team when you make a firm rule. Your child steers the team when his/her unadulterated insight blurted out at a family dinner, awes and amazes you, and you change your behavior based on it. In an adult relationship, you may choose to lead by instituting firm boundaries between work life, couple-hood, and family life. He leads when you all move to a new city for his job and know that the long-run win will be family harmony.

The biggest difference between parenting and adult love is the direction separation runs. When you meet a stranger and fall in love, your journey together is one where you continue to grow closer and closer to create deep intimacy. A mother/child relationship runs the opposite course. You begin, literally as one body. And your journey is a long, slow separation from womb to dorm room. Both kinds of relationships share this: on their journey together each partner’s needs for closeness and autonomy will wax and wane as emotional needs ride the waves of daily life stresses.

Some people might think that another huge difference is that kids can’t leave. They are wholly dependent on their parents. But I beg to differ. Although kids may be financially dependent on their parents, they can emotionally leave the relationship. They can check out if their well-timed calls for some  autonomy are not heeded. They can check out if they are given too much independence, and feel unprotected by their parents. Lovers can do the same thing. They may leave physically or emotionally.

So, how can we honor the struggle between our desires to be an individual and our desires to be a partner? The answer is always to talk about it. To have empathy for another’s autonomy and not “take it personally.” To voice our own needs for autonomy or closeness in a non-threatening way. The road to intimacy is a prickly path. We will often make mistakes in judgement, or act from a place of fear. But the other wonderful thing about all relationships is that they are alive and growing and there is always room for repair. And in that very process of repair, where we may use empathy and humor, we will feel in union again, that is, until the next time we feel smothered.

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FOR WOMEN: Is Your Spouse Being Financially Unfaithful?

Man taking euros banknotes with stealthy expression.Does your spouse keep a separate safe deposit box? Do the family’s financial statements get mailed to an office address, not the home? Is he or she an ATM junkie? If so, there’s a chance your spouse could be stepping out on you with the family money. And this behavior is far more common with men than women.

It’s one thing to fear that your husband might stray with his heart and/or his body, but what most women don’t realize is that the risk of financial infidelity is far more dangerous and could lead to longer term consequences for women and their children.

“Most divorces are not impulsive decisions. One party or another checks out emotionally three to five years before they file for divorce,” says, Stacey Napp the CEO of Balance Point Funding, an investment firm that invests in women who have become financially disabled during a divorce proceeding. “Long before a man leaves, he begins to squirrel away assets so that he’ll hold the power in divorce court.” The behavior is more common with affluent husbands because, as a family’s net worth rises, couples tend to move into traditional gender roles, with the woman working less and handling more child rearing and household management chores. And if divorce happens these women are left unprotected. Since it is illegal in most states for a family attorney to work on a contingency (taking a percentage of the final settlement) the exit game becomes one where divorcing husbands strive to leave their wives with no assets to hire a good divorce lawyer — who may demand as much as $20,000 on the first visit.

“Divorce isn’t pretty, but it doesn’t have to be dirty,” says Napp, who founded her company after her own divorce and the financial infidelity she experienced that nearly cost her her entire lifestyle. According to Stacey Napp, there are six red flags that women should be on the alert for:

Is he being financially unfaithful?

1)      Your bank, brokerage or financial statements are sent to his office, and not to your  house
2)      You’re not the beneficiary of his life insurance policy
3)      Like clock work, the same amount of money is  being withdrawn from your joint account every month
4)      He has a separate safe deposit box
5)      Significant repeated cash withdrawals on your joint credit cards
6)      Does your husband own his own business and have his family as employees and/or partners in that business?  That alone isn’t a red flag, but if any of the above are also present- watch out!

So, if you do suspect trouble, is there anything you can do to stop the leakage? Yes, according to Napp, you have to act like your own forensic accountant and gather intelligence before he hides evidence from a real court. That may mean photocopying every document he ever brings home — including his entire wallet and briefcase. Since people stay in contact with their money, photocopy cell phone records, check frequent flyer miles, even the home telephone bill. Ever the financial sleuth, Napp says that calling fast food delivery restaurants in areas where phone calls have been made, can reveal what address goes with what number. And always, wives should request a once yearly free credit report from all three credit reporting bureaus. This report can contain information regarding financial institutions that he may have established relationships with that you were unaware of. It would also show any aliases and/or alternate social security numbers being used by your spouse.

With the enormous emotional pain that women experience during divorce, financial unfaithfulness adds another layer of injury. Injury that can have tragic consequences for children who might be yanked from school after losing tuition and women who many lose their home and community support system. Stacey suggests that women who are full-time mothers are especially vulnerable to this kind of infidelity.

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FOR MEN: The New Equality, Male Infertility

man and babyThe much maligned egg of a woman over 35. It’s been the target of criticism for so many years that most women can easily rattle off their chances of a having a down syndrome baby in relationship to their age. (1 in 2000 for a twenty-year-old, 1 in 100 for a forty-year-old.) But now the research lens is finally aimed at male fertility and viable sperm. Turns out, men need to consider their fertility window too.

In the last few decades there has been a huge increase in the numbers of older men fathering babies. In the 35-49 age group, in particular, there has been a 40% increase of new fathers. Delaying fatherhood to play the mating field may now have intergenerational consequences.

A US study,  published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “Advancing age has differential effects on DNA change, chromatin integrity, gene mutations, and aneuplodies (chromosome abnormalities) in sperm” has shown that older men have higher chances of passing down genetic issues to their offspring. A French study backed up that finding, showing that infertility issues of men do indeed rise significantly after the age of 40.

Not only men who are waiting to have kids after the age of forty face fertility issues, but when they do successfully impregnate a woman, they have a higher chance of passing two specific gene disorders: schizophrenia and achondroplasia (commonly known as dwarfism.) The authors of the study,  Andrew Wyrobek from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Brenda Eskenazi from the University of California, School of Public Health, blamed the quality of a man’s sperm, which they say, quickly weakens after the age of 40.

Women who are holding out for an older, more successful man, might consider this. One study found that women, regardless of their age, who carry offspring of a man past forty. increase their risk of miscarriage.

Finally, one other US study gathered and examined ninety- seven samples of semen, all coming from men from the age range 22-80, who were not smokers. When looking over the samples, researchers found that the activeness and the movement of the sperm related with DNA fragmentation. The study concluded as well that not only do women have a biological clock, but so do men.

With research like this, suddenly the idea of being young enough to throw a ball with a child becomes less important than simply being young enough to father a healthy child.


FOR PARENTS: The Dangers of Baby Sleep Overs

baby-standing-on-his-bed-and-cryingIn this age where marriage and parenthood are increasingly separated across the social classes, many American babies and toddlers spend at least one night a week sleeping at the home of a non-custodial parent.

While this may be convenient for fathers who want a relationship with their children and single mothers who need a break, new research on attachment shows that young children who sleep away from their primary caregiver have an insecure attachment style with their mothers.

Attachment is a critical aspect of personality development and mental health. Having a close, enduring, bond with at least one primary attachment figure creates a blue print for love that a child will carry into their adult romantic relationships. And the younger the child, the more susceptible they are to attachment injuries that could lead to anxiety, depression, and mistrust of relationships.

This new research from the University of Virginia and printed in the journal Marriage and Family Health, shines a light on the dangers of even single overnights. Sleeping away from a consistent, familiar environment and mom, can cause a baby or toddler to have feelings of insecurity and have an insecure attachment with their mother. It also opens up the debate about how family courts dole out child custody arrangements. In deference to fathers rights, if both unwed parents want to be involved in the lives of their child, courts are increasing dividing custody of younger and younger children between two homes. But this research demonstrates that babies and toddlers would be better off seeing their father during day time hours and returning to a consistent environment for the night time routine.

It is important for adults to put the psychological needs of children above the needs of parents. Sigh. Parenting isn’t ever convenient.