Friday, December 29, 2006

Hope For Holiday Haters

It's Christmas and New Years and you're supposed to be happy about it. And yes, many people express their holiday joy in annual Christmas letters and make a big to do about everything holidays.

But what about holiday haters? What about the people who do much better in a routine? It's not that they are grinches because they are mean people, but rather they operate to their own (and everyone else's) benefit when they are in their daily routine.

New years day is Monday, and then the routine can begin again. No more Christmas consumerism craziness, no more obligation to have to "up" for every next party and event (most of which you don't give a rip about), no more I-don't-know-what-to-buy syndrome. All of that is goone for another year.

Hang on you holiday hater. Just a few more days. You can make it. I have faith in you. Once that routine begins again, you'll be your old self.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A New Beginning

The great thing about the new year coming is that it gives a benchmark for starting anew. I know that lots of people get all into resolutions this time of year, which is fine. However, it also means a lot of broken resolutions. Try something different this year.
Resolutions usually are impossible promises. Rather than making a promise you are not going to keep, why not commit to a theme to pursue?


For example, patience is a theme to pursue. A resolution is that you will be patient with your spouse, stepchildren or children. When it is a theme to pursue, then everytime you are patient you get credit for it. When it is a resolution, however, everytime you don't do it, you sre penalized for it.
Pursuing a theme in many ways is opposite of making a resolution. It is more achievable and more positive. Count your successes, not your failures and you are more likely to get more of hte behavior you are looking for. Penalized the behavior you don't want and you are likely to feel bad about it.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Merry Christmas - No Stress

So this is Christmas. I sure do hope you have a good one. As a last minute refresher, please read Natalie Nichols Gillespie article on Successful Stepfamilies on holiday stress. You'll be glad you did.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas Cards and the Pursuit of Normality

Sometimes stepfamilies form when the children are already grown up. That was my case. My parents divorced when I was in college and then my mother remarried when I was about 30 years. Life became different then. Holidays became different.

One point of tension came when my mother wanted me to address my new stepfather as father in my Christmas card to him. Well, that was never going to happen for one gigantic reason. He is not my father. What didn't help the situation is that one my stepfather's adult children addressed my mother as "mom."

Now, my mother was focused on the pursuit of normality, so I understand her action. But from my perspective, I did not want to accept the reality that with remarriage, my life was once again changing against my will. I am a stubborn one, you see.

But it gave me a little hint into what younger children go through when their newly formed stepfamilies push toward normality either too fast or inappropriately. It brings conflict and tension - especially during holidays.

Adjustment in stepfamilies and the pursuit of normality happens slowly. There is also an appropriate way to go about it. It is so important to understand this.

One thing my mother was doing was relieving her anxiety by (unbeknonwst to her) placing it on me. If I would have just addressed my stepfather as dad, then she would feel better about the whole situation. Well, that anxiety is hers to carry, not mine. Oh, I have my own that I don't need to place on here, so don't get me wrong. The point is that the desire for a feeling of normality can motivate behaviors that increase the tension father then decrease it.

So, when you're all around the tree or around the table, please be sensitive about pushing too quickly toward being a "normal" family, it is might just set you back.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Stepfamilies: Bringing Sexy Back 2.0

How often do you have conversations with your spouse about sex?

I guess I need to qualify that. "Hey baby, let's jump in the sack," doesn't count. I mean a conversation about sex. Most people never talk about sex. Did you know that? They have sex at varying frequencies, but rarely discuss it in a mutual and non-demanding way.

And yet sex is one of the most important topics a couple can talk about. If the sex is not working for both of you, and the one it is not working for never says anything in conversation, I will bet you my next paycheck (which is nothing to brag about) that person is saying something about it non verbally. That person is avoiding it, being conveniently tired or busy, setting emotional booby-traps, and so on. Or, that person is so demanding that it is not really a conversation about sex and more resembles a desperate used car salesperson trying to make a quota - being shady or making ridiculous bargains.

I really want to encourage you to talk about sex. Yes, it's difficult because the topic is so charged, but that is why I recommended the book, Sheet Music, which several of you have taken me up on. It is a light-hearted, but very practical tool to assist couples in having meaningful conversations about sex. You won't regret it.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Stepfamilies: Bringing Sexy Back

Stepfamily life, especially when they initially form, can make your sex life complicated. Privacy issues, emotinoal adjustment, family integration, relational negotiations, residual emotional pain from previous relationship and on and on are not sexy. They are difficult. Without careful attention, the family dynamics can come to a screeching halt.

Don't let it happen. Sex is good. Find a way to keep your sexual relationship healthy. It is one of several ways that you remain connected as a married couple.

Yes, when people are very busy, they are also not "in the mood" too much. That is no reason to neglect this very important part of your relationship. Here are a few tips:

1. Sometimes you have got to get into sex before you got into the mood.
2. Get your house in order. A messy house is not sexy.
3. Read a sex book together. Sheet Music is good - see below.
4. Do not demand and do not withold. Pressure and frsutration are not sexy.
5. You're still sexy no matter how old you are, no matter if you drive a minivan, no matter is you've added a few pounds, no matter if you're tired.

So go on, bring sexy back.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Ain't No Way To Fight

Holiday pressures can bottle up, intensify, and explode. When marital stress accumulates, it can be tempting to take it out on each other. Dont do it.
Conflict resolution skills are not just a nice thing learned at seminars and specialized classes at church, they are to be utilized when things heat up.
In all likelihood, you already know everything you need to do to reduce and resovle conflict. So, put it into play if the marital stress mounts.
By way of reminder, listen first. Your spouse's gripe likely has merit - at least to him or her. No matter what he or she says, you have something to learn from that conversation.
Make your case calmly without blame. Now, don't wimp out by giving in for the sake of peace. Without blame means do not accuse, do not use an accusing tone of voice, do not blame with your nonverbals. There are tons of ways to communicate blame. Get rid of all of them.
If you can't find resolve in one sitting, then revisit the conflict at an agreed upon time.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Peace and Quiet

One thing the holidays typically do not afford families is a chunk of time for peace and quiet. With time off of work and opportunity to cram in as much family time as possible, alone time often takes a back seat or is thrown out altogether.

This is not good. Time spent alone, away from the hustle and bustle and chatter of the holidays, can be some of the best spent time. Sipping coffe while gazing out at the snow (if there is snow), or stealing away to a local coffee shop, or even snuggling up fo a mid afternoon nap can all be very healthy as you navigate the holidays.

Most importantly is reflection time. Certainly the only moment we have to live in is the moment we are in, but reflecting on the past and dreaming of the future deserve attention as well. Certainly reflecting on the past should be on the positive past for encouragement adn th negative past only for education (not for self-condemnation). Likewaise, dreaming of the future should be spent on the poosibilities of the future, not a gloom and dooom forecast.

Happy holidays! May you find a moment to be whisped away by wonder.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Monday, December 04, 2006

Money, Children & Child Support

This is just a simple reminder. Money, as it relates to child support or alimony, is completely restricted for children.

There is no good end to involving your children in conversation that are related to child support. Here are my reasons:

1. The child, no matter what they say, will assign a value to himself or herself based on the number of dollars transferred in support.

2. It's none of their business. They did not cause their family structure and therefore have no place in the financial arrangements that the structure requires.

3. If the kids are involved in child support conversations, then they will no doubt utilize this opportunity as leveage against one, but probably both, parents. You do not want this to happen.

4. And finally, if the kids are involved in conversations about child support with you, then you are probably avoiding a conflict you need to have with your former spouse.

Nope, it's not easy to keep the kids out of this kind of conversation, but the truth is that you must. It is a toxic topic for children and teens.

God bless.