Category Archives: Family

Parenting and family life. Topics include intergenerational dynamics, sibling behavior, infant care, and parenting strategies.

CBS’s Show “Mom” Reveals a Family Secret

imgresSometimes social education is easier to digest when swallowed with a spoonful of comedy. The writer’s of the CBS sit-com “Mom,” (Thursday’s 8:30/7:30 central) are doing it again tomorrow night when a family therapy session provokes the spilling of a big-fat family secret. Hint: Allison Janney’s character lets the cat out of the bag and her daughter, played by Anna Feris, has to do some serious soul searching.

This isn’t the first time that “Mom” has tackled sensitive topics. The show has earned an Emmy a Golden Globe and the Television Academy honored them for “programming that creates awareness, enlightens, educates and/or positively motivates audiences.”  “Mom’s” risk-taking, humorous look at mental illness and substance abuse were only the beginning. Tomorrow evening’s episode looks at a topic close to my heart: the life of a family secret in relationships.

Perhaps the biggest lesson in the episode is the fact that a secret in intimate relationships is never really a secret. The reactions to hidden historic events take on lives of their own and create intergenerational relationship patterns. In other words, the elephant in the living room forces all family members to sashay around the outskirts of the problem without ever confronting it. Subsequent generations just emulate  the reactionary behavior, never knowing why. This is how trauma weaves it’s way through multiple generations.

My favorite way to illustrate intergeneration psychology involves a Holiday ham. A mother is teaching her young daughter how to prepare the family ham. The little girls asks why her mother cuts the end off the ham before roasting it. Her response is “that’s how I watched my mother do it.”

“But why?” says the little girl.

The two decide to call the grand-mother. “Grandma, why do you cut the end of the ham off before roasting it,” they ask. The grandmother, thinks for a bit and then says, “That’s how my mother did it.”

Still not satisfied, the little girl and her mother decide to call the very old great-grandmother. She is living in an assisted living facility but still has a good memory.

“Great-grandma,” says the little girl, “Why do you cut the end of the ham off before roasting it?”

The great-grandmother laughs out loud. “Because I only had one small pan and it wouldn’t fit.”

MOM AIRS ON CBS ON THURSDAYS 8:30/7:30 c

 

Can’t Afford to Marry? Have Expensive Kids Instead.

Child giving a kiss to his mother on the cheekThe research is clear. Marriage has become a luxury for the upper classes. The more educated and the higher one’s income, the more likely they are to get married and have children born into wedlock. The less educated, most notably those without any college education, the more likely to choose parenthood before marriage. And the most common reason single mothers site for having children before marriage is “We can’t afford to marry.”

The idea sounds counter-intuitive. Eighteen years of parenting will surely come with a more sizable bill than, say, a small reception at a Hilton Garden Inn. But we are comparing apples to oranges here. For both men and woman, parenthood is a deep-seeded evolutionary need. Marriage is a cultural convention, the usefulness of which is currently under debate.

There are two big problems facing woman today.The first is the partner crunch. As women are surging ahead in education and careers, they are leaving young male peers in their dust. These suddenly “under achieving” men are knocked out of the running as lifelong partners, if only because most women prefer not to date below their league. No matter how much money a woman makes, she still tends to choose a good provider for a wedding groom. And the few alpha males who are earning back and attaining a traditional version of young males success? They are riding the wave of free sex that has come along with the high supply sexual economy. Since men don’t have a fertility window, they can ride this wave well into their forties and marry a woman in her twenties or early thirties.

The second problem for women is the fact that the option of parenthood has an expiration date. Women’s fertility window begins to swing shut at thirty, is reduced to a crack at thirty-five, and closes completely in her forties. And that window of time has competing interests, like work, school, not to mention the frustrating task of sifting through a hook-up culture to find a commitment oriented mate. In the end, single parenthood may look like the only way a woman can keep her genes in evolution’s chain.

Economically, having kids before marriage doesn’t make sense. But emotionally, it’s a no-brainer. Parenthood is often sited as one of the most meaningful events in a person’s life.

FOR MOMS: Creating a Village From The Get Go

MDG : Maternal Health : group of women with babies sits outside a clinic in RwandaHumans are wired to bond. We don’t do well in isolation. Neither do new parents. Our hunter/gatherer ancestors had an instant village of people with a biological interest in a new baby — grannies, aunties, uncles, teenaged siblings, and parents. In fact, many anthropologists think that a preverbal infant’s need to decode this network of faces and voices was a big factor in the evolution of our intelligence.

However, with the mobility required for an efficient workforce in modern capitalism, most new parents live away from relatives. But the lack of a granny doesn’t mean you can’t create a village from the very beginning. It can help you and your baby. Isolation has been linked to postpartum depression in new mothers, and babies respond positively to consistent multiple care givers. (I used the word “consistent” on purpose. A revolving door of caregivers and strangers can create attachment problems and anxiety in small children.) Here are three ways that new or expectant mothers can begin to create a nurturing village:

1. Start before you give birth. Collect every email and phone number you can from that pregnancy yoga class, baby CPR training, or labor prep group. You’ll likely be giving birth within weeks of each other and will have an instant group to reach out to when you run into a new mother speed bump.

2. Go online. There are thousands of mommy bloggers and parenting websites (For education, my favorite is KidsInTheHouse.com) and plenty of them have chat groups and real world mom’s groups that meet right in your neighborhood. Don’t be shy. Reach out. I promise, there’s another new mother living very close to you who can help you carry your burden.

3. Create a mommy co-op. This is the single best way to bond with mom’s and find some time for yourself. Post notices at neighborhood playgrounds and on your online social networks and create a baby play group. A reasonable number would be five to eight parents. After, a few weeks, when everyone has gotten to know each other and the babies bond with the other mothers, have two moms leave for some free time each week. That’s your village creating free child care.

Here’s my video on the importance of a mommy village:

FOR PARENTS: Will Your Most Deviant Child Be Your Caregiver?

caring-for-aging-parentsAs parents, we all outwardly contend that we don’t have a favorite child, but research tells a very different story. Not only do parents have a secret (or not so secret) preference but the plight of the favored offspring tends to be the burden of giving care to aging parents. Favoritism is directly linked to caregiver choice as Mom and Dad age. This, from a fascinating long-term study out of Purdue University that looked at adult children and their parents’ choice of caregiver. And some of the results were surprising.

While you might think that aging parents would automatically choose the most stable adult children, if only for their good job, supportive family, and income, but the study showed that the child most likely to be preferred by parents is the one who shares the same personal values, even if they are a criminal or drug addict. In other words, when Mom or Dad isn’t well enough to make decisions for themselves, they want to appoint someone who would make the same choices.

The vast majority of mom’s choice of favorite child stayed stable over the seven-year study. But there was only one thing that tended to cause an aging mother to change her preference of caregiver: a child who cleans up their own life. If a deviant or substance abuser becomes law abiding or finds sobriety, the Mom’s in the study switched allegiances to the child with the newfound self-discipline. Yes, the former “bad seed” became the apple of Mom’s eye. Could it be because the child’s self-care was imagined by Mom to be a model for how a child would give care?

The researchers say that studying favoritism is important because it impacts adult sibling relationships and for the simple reason that Mom’s favorite child, for the most part, has been shown to be consistent over time.

Why We Die With Clubs

I was sure clubbed this week. By two strange bedfellows. Atheists and Christians. The catalyst was a comedic piece in The Huffington Post, where a writer took a YouTube snippet out of context and created a cute, funny, mockery of something I said last week on CNN.

The original CNN story was about a mathematical study that predicted that religion is set to become extinct in nine countries studied. When CNN anchor Don Lemon asked me to explain these results I pointed out that as populations become more educated they tend to question some of the magical thinking in ancient scriptures and find that science has more answers. But, not one to ignore possibilities, I did remind viewers that science doesn’t have all the answers and that studies show that in some survivor situations “atheists die first because if they don’t believe in anything supernatural, they can’t imagine that they have supernatural abilities.”

This was live TV shorthand and the survivor studies I alluded to are “medical” survivor studies.  I forgot the word “medical.” For this, I deeply apologize. It was also metaphoric language. I don’t believe in magic, nor do I think that God is this giant cop in the sky or ground control for our lives. But I do believe in having an open mind.

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