Unsolicited Parenting Advice? Share Your Story!

Hello All!

I recently interviewed with freelance writer, Jennifer King Lindley, for an article on confidence that will appear in the May issue of Redbook magazine. Jennifer is looking to include some real-life examples from moms in her article. If you’re interested in seeing your name in print, see her request below:

Unsolicited Parenting Advice–Share Your Experience! 

Has unsolicited parenting advice or criticism–from your in-laws, your friends, the know it all lady in the supermarket aisle–ever made you feel less confident in your parenting? A freelance writer is working on a piece for an upcoming print issue of Redbook and is looking for a mom to quote about her experience. The piece will then be offering advice for weathering such critiques to help other moms in those situations.

We could “talk” briefly through phone or email exchange some time in the next week. You would be quoted by name. It doesn’t have to be soul baring–a rueful anecdote about how someone gave a mom the sideeye at the park because her kid was drinking a soda and it made them feel like a bad mom is fine.  Thanks so much!  Jennifer King Lindley jenniferkinglindley.com jenking1@sbcglobal.net

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To My Son on Our First Mother’s Day

Hello dear readers, it’s been far too long! Pregnancy, a new home, and a newborn sidetracked me for over year. But, I’m back! And, what better way to kick-off a new season of blog postings then with another Mother’s Day post. This year, I am lucky to be celebrating my first Mother’s Day as a mama to a truly incredible little boy. Last year, I honored my extraordinary mother, and this year, I would like to do the same for a very special little boy.

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Dear E,

I am not the type of woman that yearned to be a mom, per say. In fact, a few weeks back someone asked me if I loved being a mom. I hesitated before I answered. I admit that I miss my pre-baby freedom, the option to sleep in, get drunk, or sleep in after getting drunk. I miss getting to make plans after 5:00 p.m., working without guilt, or enjoying uninterrupted time with your Dad. I miss feeling and looking well-rested. I miss having breasts that don’t leak. Yet despite all of this, I can honestly say that I love my new, sleep deprived, chaotic life. I love it not because it means I’m a mom. I love it because it means I am your mom.

I may not oohh and ahhh about you in public; in fact, I probably seem pretty flippant about the whole thing. But truth be told, I miss you when you are at daycare, I miss you when you are asleep (although all I wished for the first three months of your life was that you would sleep); in fact, your dad and I have been known to look at pictures of you while you are slumbering just down the hall.

The seams of my heart buckle when I see you smile—it’s brighter than any star I’ve ever seen glimmering against the cobalt night sky or sun ray I’ve witnessed dancing atop a mountain peak urging the day to wake. When you laugh my very own cheeks hurt from laughing with you. No aria, harmony, melody, or song can compete with you as surely, no sweeter sound has ever been heard.  My eyelids are constantly working overtime to hold back the rush of joyous tears as your tiny, soft hands grasp at my chest and cheeks while nursing (even when you are shoving your fingers through my tightly pursed lips. How are those little hands so strong?). I resist the urge to squeeze and kiss you to smithereens as you drift off to dreamland, whispering good night to the day with a gentle sigh escaping through your puffy, parted lips, burrowing closer to me.

And to think, this is just the beginning. I cannot wait until you start saying crazy shit, talking all sorts of non-sense. I cannot wait to watch you figure out who you are and change your mind 10,000 times during your evolution. I cannot wait for your awkward teenage years, when your Dad and I just look at each other and shake our heads at your outfit or whatever crazy slang you kids will be using then. I cannot wait until you become an adult and fall in love. I am excited for you to experience the love your Dad and I share. The excitement, the mundane-ness, and the contented-ness of true love is inspiring. I hope you are cherished, respected, and adored. I wish you to be on the receiving end of a look from your partner that is so powerful that no words are needed, because with that glance you know you are and will forever be loved.

As you love, I promise to put my money where my mouth (or research) is and not only accept, but welcome your partner into our family. I know that one day, you will no longer reach for me when you are scared, I will not be the first person you turn to for advice, or the person whose hug makes everything better. Someone else will fill that role and that is how it should be. But please know, my son, that even when I am no longer your home base, I will always be your home.

So on this first Mother’s Day we share together, I want to thank you for the privilege of being your mom. I thank you for forgiving my mistakes and loving me in spite of them. I thank you for allowing me to connect with my mom, your grandma, on a new level. Now I know what it is to truly love someone to the moon, back, and all around. For that is how much I do and always will love you, my sweet, sweet pumpkin pie.

All of my love,

Mama

A Thank You Letter to My Mom

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This Sunday marks my sixth Mother’s Day without my Mom. Last year, I made a conscious decision not to write a Mother’s Day post, I didn’t want to bum people out or seem too self-indulgent. This year, however, I find myself in a different position and feel compelled to express, publicly, the sincere gratitude I have for my mom as I start my own journey into parenthood.

For the past several years, Mother’s Day has been a pretty dark day. I try to keep myself occupied and distracted and not notice the seemingly incessant ads that run leading up to the day (although I’ve told my husband, I’d rather get nothing at all than one of those janky looking charm bracelets from Kay or Jared. I never want to hear our child say “We went to Jared.”) or the happy gaggles of mothers, children, and grandmothers milling about town that day.

Although I still miss my mom every day, this year Mother’s Day takes on a new meaning for me. On Sunday, I will not only remember and celebrate my own mom (and celebrate my mother-in-law), but I will also celebrate my 20th week of pregnancy and the fact that next year, I’ll will be a mother.

Despite the overwhelming joy I feel about becoming a mother (finally!), it has been marked by periods of profound sadness. You see, I underestimated the hardship of becoming a mother without a mother. And not just without any mother, but without my mom. I was always extremely grateful and understood how fortunate I was to have such an unbelievably kind, thoughtful, supportive, and unconditionally loving mom. Yet, now that I am on the precipice of becoming a mom myself, my perspective of my mom has changed and my gratitude has become more pronounced.

I always knew (or thought I knew) how much my mom loved me. Turns out, I hadn’t the slightest clue of the depths of her love and attachment. I didn’t fully understand her desire to protect me, provide the best for me, and defend me. Now, I am starting to comprehend the love of a mother. Although I have yet to meet our child, the love I feel for this tiny human is overwhelming, even scary at times. As my belly swells and the tap, tap, taps coming from within grow stronger, my love increases exponentially.

I cannot bear the thought of someone making my child sad or left out. I cannot imagine someone breaking my baby’s heart or causing extreme disappointment. But, it will happen because life happens. I cannot protect my child from every discomfort and heartache, and I can’t kill the people who inflict it. So, I guess I’ll have to learn to deal with it, somehow. It is this feeling that helps me understand my mom in a way I never could before. At the time, I could never fully comprehend how much I was loved. As I begin to assume the role of mom I am in awe and so thankful to have been loved so intensely.

I am also beginning to understand what a daunting task parenting is. For the past several months, and even years before, I often grappled with the question: “How will I be as good of a mom as she was to me?” I used to ask my mom that as well and she always said “You will.”

The relationship she cultivated between us is truly inspiring. I’m not just saying that because I was part of it, even outsiders would comment on our love, respect, and mutual admiration for one another. She was always a mom first, but somehow managed to be my best-friend, my confidant, and an opinion I sought out and respected. And, the fact that she managed to do this starting out as a 15-year-old is that much more awe-inspiring and intimidating.

For months now, I’ve thought about how she did this, how did she establish and maintain such an incredible relationship with me? Finally, a few days ago, the answer came to me: She did it by being herself.

She did it by being open and honest. By being funny and fierce. She did it by balancing selflessness and selfishness. Juggling work and family. She did by prioritizing her marriage. She did it by fostering independence. By not letting me get away with shit and by loving me in spite of the shit.

She did it by doing what she knew how to do best: be herself. She was one of the most authentic people I knew. She was unabashed about who she was, and she had every right to be because she was amazing.

By realizing this, I know that I have all I need inside of me to become a great mother because I am my mother’s daughter. She’s in my laughter, in the way I love (and dislike) fiercely, in the way I’d defend a loved one to the death, in the way I try to make a house a home, in the way I love others, in the way I am content with myself, and most importantly in the way I love this new life inside of me.

Although it breaks my heart that my child will never meet my mom, I am confident that my baby will know her because she is so tightly woven into the fabric of who I am. This is a gift so great that a simple “thank you” seems to undermine the depths of my appreciation, but I know no other way to express my gratitude for the gift of my mom’s unconditional love and how through that she prepared me so well to love my own child.

So, on this sixth Mother’s Day without you, Mom, I want to say thank you. Thank you for giving me one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received—your love. I am humbled by your generosity and the good fortune I have of sharing your love, my love, our love with our newest family member.

We love you to the moon, back, and all around.

Sylvia Says: Relationship Q & A

Relationship Q & A

Dear Sylvia: My fiancée and I have been together for two years and are getting married in June. Although we agree on most things, there’s one source conflict that has been constant throughout our relationship—her parent’s financial dependence on her. My future in-laws do not work, my father-in-law can’t because of a disability, but my mother-in-law just elects not to. My wife gives them almost half of her take home pay every month.

I’ve told her that when we get married this has to stop. I want to build a life for ourselves and our future family and we can’t do that when she’s supporting her parents. She refuses to stop giving them money and says she can’t just “cut them off.” I’m afraid this issue will eventually ruin our relationship. How do I help her cut the financial cord?

Financially Frustrated Fiancé

Dear Financially: People often say you don’t just marry the woman (or man) you marry the family. You’re learning first-hand the truth of this adage. You mention that this has been a constant source of conflict between you two, so you can’t realistically think things will change the moment you say “I do.”

As your fiancée has noted, she isn’t going to cut her parents off completely. However, since she is electing to start a new life and family with you, she needs to make you, not her parents her number one priority. As a result, she needs to compromise and make changes and you need to back down from your rigid demand.

Try to reach a compromise that allows her to help her parents to a degree and simultaneously allows you two to build a strong financial foundation—together.  Maybe she can setup a separate bank account that she uses to help support her parents. This way, you won’t feel like your money is going to support them, which can lead to resentment. Then instead of funneling 50% of her take home pay into that account, she cuts down to 25% or less. The rest of her money then goes toward building your life together.

Additionally (and this may be the hardest part), she is going to need to set new boundaries with her parents. Perhaps she can help her mom get a part-time job and look into ways her Dad can bring home additional cash (If she has siblings they need to be chipping in too, this burden can’t rest entirely on her shoulders). She is going to have to be firm and let her parents know that you are her top priority. If she can’t (or refuses to) do that then you may want to think twice before walking down the aisle.

Dear Sylvia: My close friend of 15-years and I have recently drifted apart since we are at different stages in our lives. After not seeing each other for several months, we finally planned a lunch date. When I was on my way to meet her, she texted me and told me that one of her friends, who I had never met and that she sees daily, would be joining us.

Lunch was fine and we had a good time, but I was hurt that she made plans for her friend to join without asking me.  Plus, her presence made it so my friend and I couldn’t connect the way we would have had it just been the two of us. The debacle has made me not want to make any future plans with her.  Did she feel like she had to bring a buffer because she feels distance between us too?  Should I say something to her or just let it go?  Should I not be bothered by this?

Ruined Reunion

Dear Reunion: Although people often say “the more the merrier,” in this case that couldn’t be farther from the truth. You were looking forward to a reunion with your friend and she ruined it by bringing a third wheel. I can understand your hurt, but it’s possible there was no ill-will behind the extra invite. In fact, maybe she wanted her friend to meet one of her oldest and dearest pals. On the other hand, like you said, she may have felt awkward about the lunch given the distance that has grown between you.

Regardless,  a 15-year friendship is no small feat, and although her behavior makes you want to push her away, I think you owe it to yourself and your friendship to have a conversation not just about the lunch, but about your relationship. Set aside a time to talk either in person or over the phone (don’t do email!). Start by letting your friend know how much you value her and her friendship, but feel that you’ve grown apart recently. Then tell her how much you were looking forward to catching up and were hurt and disappointed when she brought her friend along. Next, let her speak. It’s important to get her perspective on the situation. She may feel the same way and be grateful for the opportunity to talk about things and reignite your friendship, or she may have no idea that she hurt you and quickly apologize. But if you don’t talk to her, you’ll never know and resentment and negativity will fester.

Friendships ebb and flow. Sometimes life circumstances bring us closer and others push us apart. One reason we may distance ourselves is because we don’t know what our role is in our friend’s new life. By talking, you can reaffirm your commitment to your friendship and renegotiate your ongoing roles in one another’s lives. Remember, sometimes the most difficult conversations to have are the most important ones.

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Have a relationship question? Submit it to Sylvia Says.

Maintaining the Peace and Your Sanity: Boundaries with Your In-Laws

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Although I’ve written about it before, over the past several weeks people have been directed to my blog by searching terms such as “in-laws don’t respect boundaries,” “maintaining boundaries with in-laws,” or “mother-in-law disrespects my boundaries.” So, I figured it was probably a good idea to revisit this topic.

Creating boundaries with in-laws can be tough, but it is absolutely necessary! If you don’t establish boundaries with your in-laws they’ll continue to intrude in your life, offer up unsolicited advice, and meddle in your business to the point that you welcome a slow and painful death over time together. Well, hopefully it doesn’t get that extreme, but you get the point!

Additionally, my research shows that dissatisfaction with your in-laws is linked to decreased marital satisfaction. In other words, if you’ve got a problem with your in-laws, your marriage is going to pay the price.

Boundary violations can come in a variety of shapes and sizes, ranging from unsolicited advice, uninvited visits (complete with no knocking or doorbell ringing), constant meddling, or sharing your private information with others, just to name a few!

Regardless of the violation, it’s important that you set firm boundaries with your in-laws if their behavior makes you uncomfortable. However, going this alone is not the best route. Although it can work (and we’ll talk about that later), your most valuable and important tool in this task is the person whose parents are causing the mayhem: Your honey bunny.

You need to enlist your sweetie pie because (a) regardless of how much your in-laws love you, they love their child more and will be more inclined to please him/her, (b) you don’t know the intricacies of your spouse’s family communication patterns (even if you’ve been together for ages!), and (c) most in-laws react better to mediated communication than direct confrontation with the other in-law.

Now, before you ask your spouse to make his/her parents all but disappear, really consider the boundary infraction. You don’t want to set so many and such rigid boundaries that it makes having a relationship with your in-laws next to impossible.

Additionally, there are some things you just have to grin and bear. Hearing that your partner prefers his/her meat cooked medium rare rather than rare (the way you prepare it) may be the only way your in-law has to feel relevant in his/her adult child’s life. So, maybe you just take one for the team and let mama-bear or papa-bear feel like they know best (even if you know they don’t).

However, if your in-law consistently barges into your house uninvited, tells you how to parent or manage finances, and uses your personal information as fodder for gossip, well then it’s time to take a stand.

How to Take a Stand without Setting off a Family Feud

1| Start by kindly and calmly telling your spouse what your grievance is.

You know how it’s okay to talk smack about your own parents, but you get really defensive when other’s do, even if you know they’re right? You’re spouse feels the same way. So, it’s best to use what researcher John Gottman calls a soft “start up.”

Don’t begin the conversation harshly or aggressively (e.g., “Your Mom is such an opinionated bitch!” or “Your Dad is an inconsiderate asshole!”).  Instead, focus on the specific behavior and why it upsets you. For example, “Honey, it really bothers me when your mom comes over unannounced and doesn’t even knock. It makes me feel like she doesn’t respect us or our personal space.”

Now, it’s highly likely that your spouse may not see his/her parent’s behavior as problematic. In fact, he/she will probably say “That’s just how she/he is,” or “She/he doesn’t mean anything by it.” Remember, your partner has dealt with his/her parents behavior for a lifetime.

2| If/when this happens it’s important to acknowledge what your partner said, but reiterate that it makes you uncomfortable and you would appreciate it if your partner addressed the issue.

“Honey, I know she probably doesn’t mean anything by it, but it makes me uncomfortable in my own house because I never know when she’s going to show up. It would really mean a lot to me if you talked to her about this.”

Now, hopefully your love muffin respects your feelings enough to address the issue.

However, he may dig in his heels and not want to say anything to Mom or Dad because (a) his family doesn’t talk about these types of things, (b) he doesn’t want to start a conflict, or (c) he’s just plain scared (This is a bigger issue and I’ll address this in the next blog post).

For now, let’s pretend your sweetie says, “Sure thing, anything for you dumpling.” Before he/she goes off to defend your honor there are several tips to guide that conversation.

First, your partner needs to frame the request as an issue he is having with his parents, not you. If he says you’re having a problem they may wonder why you’re not talking to them directly (although this is generally not preferred, nor does it yield a positive outcome) or be less likely to change.

So, your honey should say, “Mom, it really bothers me when you come over unannounced and just walk through the door. I’m an adult and married now and would really appreciate if you respected my privacy by calling before you come over.”

Or, “Dad, it really hurts my feelings when you don’t include Bob in your annual guys fishing trip. He’s my husband and I want him to feel part of the family.”

Second, if your sweetie’s parent retorts “Oh, are you sure you feel this way, and this isn’t Jean talking?” your spouse needs to present a united front while still taking responsibility for the complaint/request.

Yes mom, it is how I feel and I don’t appreciate what you’re implying. I know this isn’t how things were in the past, but it’s different now and I’d like you to respect my boundaries.”

Third, set the precedent in daily conversation. Your honey dumpling doesn’t always have to have a “come to Jesus” talk with his or her parent to set boundaries. Instead, lay the groundwork in everyday conversation.

For example, if his mom says, “Oh, I’m going to stop by today on my way home for the gym.” He can reply, “Well, let me check with Jean to see if tonight works for us.”

Or, my personal favorite, “let me check with the boss.” This is what my husband says when a family member makes a suggestion or request. It’s light and funny, yet sends a subtle message.

Incorporating these types of requests into daily conversation will let your parent-in-law know that boundaries must be re-negotiated and that you are your spouse’s priority, which is key when setting limits with your in-laws.

~

Although setting boundaries can be intimidating, it’s essential to a happy marriage and happy in-law relationships! And remember, your honey plays a crucial if not the crucial role in this process. So make sure he or she is on board and has your back, like any good teammate!

But Sylvia, what if my honey is reluctant to stand up to his/her mom and dad? Don’t fret, next time I’ll share some tips for making sure your sweetie is a team player!

Until then,

Sylvia

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Sylvia Says: Relationship Q & A

Relationship Q & A

Dear Sylvia: My husband and I have been married for a year. We are both forty-four and this is our first marriage. All my life I’ve wanted to be a mom and was so happy to finally make my dream come true when I met my husband. Knowing it would be difficult, given my age, we began trying to conceive before the wedding. After having no luck for several months, we turned to IVF. We’ve gone through four cycles and haven’t had any success.

Due to the financial, physical, and emotional stress this process has put us through my husband doesn’t want to try anymore. My doctor suggested we consider pursuing other options, like using a donor egg or adoption. Neither of these possibilities are appealing to me. Should I end my marriage and pursue parenthood on my own or listen to my husband and doctor?

Yearning for Mommyhood

Dear Yearning: As someone who has struggled with fertility issues, I can appreciate and relate to your heartache. Realizing that a long held dream may not come to fruition is devastatingly  heartbreaking. With that said, I encourage you to seriously consider your husband’s and doctor’s point of view for your own physical and emotional wellbeing, and your marriage’s wellbeing. As I’m sure you know, the chances of having a successful pregnancy and live-birth at your age are extremely low. Additionally, as you get older, the chance of a positive outcome continues to decrease, but the emotional, financial, and relational turmoil will continue to increase.

There are two issues in your question that stand out to me. Addressing these, with assistance, may help you figure out what direction you should take.  First, I can hear and almost feel your strong desire to be a mother. Second, it is clear that your identity and life-script is highly linked to fulfilling this dream. I fully understand your strong desire to be a mother. However, pregnancy (and being the biological mother of your child) is just one of the many ways you can become a mom. As your doctor noted, a donor egg could be a viable option for you and your husband. I understand that there are questions and concerns that go along with this and I encourage you to talk to your doctor more fully about this option.

Additionally, adoption and foster parenting are options as well. You can also be a “mother” in other ways by volunteering, or taking an active role in the lives of friends and family members’ children. If these are not acceptable options to you, then it may be time to tackle the second issue—redefining your identity and life path.

When we’re young, we often create a life-script that outlines the path we hope our life will take. More often than not, however, our dreams and reality don’t converge (for better or worse). That presents us with a challenge—do we redefine who we are, or do we continue to try to fit a round peg into a square hole? Although it may be extremely difficult, emotionally and psychologically, it may be time to mourn the life you thought you’d have and redefine who you are and develop a new life script, with your husband, that doesn’t include being parents.

This is a complex and difficult process and I encourage you and your husband to seek out a therapist who will help you both negotiate this change in direction. This is challenge not only for you, but your marriage. I urge you to not abandon your marriage in pursuit of this dream, but instead, use this as an opportunity to enhance your relationship and build a dream life for the two of you. It may not be the one you originally envisioned, but I guarantee you, you can still have your happily ever after.

Dear Sylvia: I have developed a crush on my sister-in-law. I think she may have feelings for me too. She seems to go out of her way to talk to me and is very affectionate. Should I pursue my feelings or not ruffle the family feathers?

Smitten Brother-in-law

Dear Smitten: Although you may be hoping for an ending like the one in the movie, The Family Stone, when brothers happily swap love-interests, your situation will not end that way. This is your sister-in-law. Not only is she family, but she’s also YOUR BROTHER’S wife.

It seems that you may be misinterpreting her behavior. She’s likely trying to develop a family relationship with you by talking and being demonstrative with her feelings. Even if she did have feelings for you, she’s a married woman, to one of your family members no less.

So, put any romantic thoughts out of your head and work on establishing a friendship with her. If that proves too much, distance yourself until the feelings subside.

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Love & Money: Yours, Mine, & Ours

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Last time, we chatted about managing money with your in-laws. This week, we’re going to focus on managing money with your honey. Despite the fact that your marriage is, hopefully, your most intimate relationship, many couples find talking about money difficult.

Couples grapple with different spending styles, decisions about whether or not to combine finances, and determining financial assistance to one another’s families. In fact, research by Papp, Cummings, and Goeke-Morey found that conflicts over money tend to be the most pervasive and troublesome issue of marital conflict and often go unresolved. As a result, couples may avoid discussing money with one another altogether. Although that may seem like a good short-term fix, it’s going to cost you a lot more than cash in the long run.

It’s important to note that having a calm, open, and respectful conversation will help you achieve the best results. Don’t start the conversation right after you open an astronomical credit card bill, or see a new designer bag sitting on the counter. Schedule a time, in advance, to discuss your finances. Then, both of you should come to the table with questions, comments, and concerns (or as I like to call them, QCCs).

Also, listen to where your partner is coming from and try to understand the root of his/her financial perspective. Often times, we repeat the past and spend or save the way our parents did. But, if that doesn’t jibe with your sweetie, then you need to work toward finding a mutually agreeable solution. Finances need to be a win-win situation and the first step to getting there is talking.

Below are some common situations couples experience and how to tackle them.

Situation 1: Spender vs. Saver

In a magical universe filled with rainbows and butterflies, partners agree 100% on how to spend and how to save their money. In reality, couples often have differing expectations. One partner may want to sock away all of the money, while the other partner likes to spend money on extravagant things, even if it means living paycheck to paycheck. These discrepancies are particularly problematic when finances are combined. Additionally, these habits are highly ingrained and hard to break. But just because they’re hard to break doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

First, if you’re committed to making your relationship work, you need to be committed to getting your finances in order. Make a budget and a long-term financial game plan that is (a) realistic, and (b) meets both partners’ needs. If only one person “wins” it’s less likely that the other partner will stick to the plan. Thus, it’s important that both partners are involved in the financial decisions.

If one partner is a compulsive saver, for instance, agree on a percent of your monthly take home pay that will go directly into savings. If the other partners love to eat out, come up with a realistic entertainment budget. This way, both partners get their needs met.

Also, you may want to consider each having a “fun money” fund to spend as you see fit. For instance, each partner gets $100/month to spend on lattes, shoes, gossip magazines, or whatever his/her heart desires. No questions asked. But, when it’s gone, it’s gone. This will allow each partner to feel like they have some financial independence, but also that they’re working as a team to meet their larger goals.

Finally, have monthly financial summits. Alright, it doesn’t need to be that intense, but set aside a time to chat each month about your budget, where things went right, or where things went wrong. Discuss any changes either of you want to make and check in to make sure your headed in the right direction to meet your long-term goals.

Situation 2: To Combine, or Not to Combine

Another issue couples struggle with is whether or not to combine finances. Although some sources say that joint-account couples are more satisfied, others suggest that separate is the way to go. In actuality, there is no “right” way to manage your finances. Only you and your sweetie can determine what’s best for you. However, there are two “must-dos” when determining whether to pool your resources or swim in separate financial waters.

First, it’s important to think and talk about why you want to keep your money separate. Do you want separate accounts because you don’t trust your partner? Do you just want to have a little freedom to spend as you please? Or, do you have a unique financial situation, such as remarrying in later life or having stepchildren that make it easier to keep things separate? It’s important to look at the reason for your decision and address any underlying issues that are affecting not only your finances, but your relationship as well.

If you find that bigger issues, such as lack of commitment or trust, are guiding your financial decisions than it’s important to have an open discussion about your concerns. It’s likely that these issues are impacting more than your finances, but the overall health of your relationship as well.

Second, you both need to agree on how your money is divided. For example, if you decide to keep separate “mad money” accounts and maintain joint checking account and savings accounts, you need to be in complete agreement over what comes out of what account. Do all joint activities (e.g., dinners out or vacations) and expenses, such as mortgage and groceries, come out of the joint account or does some of that have to come out of your personal account?

Additionally, if you do decide to have personal accounts in addition to joint accounts, it’s important to keep things as equitable as possible. If one partner makes more money, that person shouldn’t necessarily have more “fun money” or be able to do more activities because they earn more.  Also, it’s important that the priority be your joint accounts, not individual finances. Marriage and committed partnerships are team sports and financial inequality will eventually lead to resentment in the relationship.

Situation 3: Spreading the Wealth?

Couples may also grapple with differing opinions about if, and how, to give (or loan) money to extended family members. Some of these differences might be rooted in culture. Perhaps in your honey’s culture, children help support their parents and other siblings, even into adulthood; whereas in your culture, children may not be expected to provide financial aid to their parents or siblings.

Again, it’s important to listen to where your sweetie is coming from and come to a consensus regarding if (and how) you provide financial aid to family. Perhaps you agree to only give money to siblings as a “loan” and not a “gift” with concrete terms of repayment. Or, perhaps you both agree to give money to family freely.

The same type of agreement is needed when it comes to gift giving as well. Maybe it’s easiest to agree to spend $XX amount per family member for birthdays and holidays, this number may be influenced by the number of members you each have in your family. Or, maybe you have carte blanche when it comes to gifts. Either way, it’s important to talk about what you’re comfortable with and make sure that you and your love muffin agree.

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Although talking about finances may seem like a daunting relational task, it doesn’t have to be. Putting your cards on the table will help you and your honey set short- and long-term goals that will help you build a financial future together, which is a crucial step on the path to happily ever after.

Until Next Time,

Sylvia

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Sylvia Says: Relationship Q & A

Relationship Q & A

Dear Sylvia: For several weeks, my wife had been distant. When I finally got her to admit what was wrong, she told me I needed to be more “romantic.” Even though I think I’m a thoughtful guy, it apparently isn’t enough. The next day I brought her flowers, which made her mad. She said I only did that because she told me to. I’m damned if I do, damned if I don’t. How do I fulfill my wife’s needs without her thinking it’s a chore?

–Romantic Romeo

Dear Romeo: You’re wife put you in a double-bind. She asked you to be romantic, but then chastised you when you were. Although it’s frustrating, don’t let it deter you. In fact, use it as motivation to be romantic more frequently and in unexpected ways. If you mix it up a bit, she won’t feel that the behavior is forced and you’ll enjoy being romantic because you want to, not because you have to.

However, if you’re unsure about what your wife thinks is “romantic” find out how she defines romance. Does she want a spontaneous date planned or would she be content with you bringing her coffee in bed in the morning? If you don’t know what she wants, all of your efforts will be for naught.

If she gripes that you “should know what she wants” tell her that the belief that partners should read each other’s minds is one of the biggest (and most dangerous) relationship myths. Relationships are built on communication and we have to tell our partners what our needs are if we ever want them met. So, figure out what she wants and get going Casanova.

And don’t forget, romance doesn’t mean extravagance; love is built on the little things, not grand gestures. Often, little gestures, like holding her hand while watching a movie or saying you look beautiful, have the biggest impact.

Dear Sylvia: I’m six months pregnant with my first baby. Since I’ve told my best-friend about the baby she’s completely ditched me. I feel that she doesn’t want to hang out with me anymore because I can’t go to the bars and party with her. Anytime we do talk, she doesn’t even ask me about the baby. Should I cut my losses and focus my energy on my growing family instead of my dwindling friendship?

Forgotten Friend

Dear Forgotten: I’m sorry your friend is being a flake when you need her support and encouragement most. Friendships are like books filled with lots of pages and chapters. Sometimes you’re on the same page, while other times you’re in different chapters.  Maybe your friend is overwhelmed and freaked out about how your relationship is going to change as a result of your impending mommy-hood. Or, maybe your pregnancy makes her question whether or not she wants to become a mom. Or, maybe she feels that you don’t want to hang out with her in non-party situations.

The only way to really know what’s going on is to talk to her. Bring up your concerns in a non-accusatory way. Ask her if anything is bothering her because you’ve noticed she seems a bit distance since you’ve announced your pregnancy. If she’s a true friend, you’ll be able to have a conversation about what’s bothering both of you.

But, if you find out that she doesn’t want to deal with anything too deep and prefers partying to having a real friendship, drop the dead weight, you’ve got more important things on the horizon!

Dear Sylvia: My husband recently admitted to a one-night stand while on a business trip. We’ve been married for 8 years and I never once questioned our relationship. We have three children together and many memories. He says this is the only time this has happened. I’m deeply hurt and betrayed. Should I try to save our marriage or save myself and kids from future pain and call it quits?

Stunned Spouse

Dear Stunned: I am so sorry for the hurt and betrayal you’re experiencing. Trust is the basis of all relationships and being betrayed, especially through infidelity, not only rocks but ruins relationships. With that said, although it seems impossible now, you can come back from this if you both want to.

As you noted, you’ve been together for a long time and have invested a lot into this marriage. Throwing it all away for a one-time lapse in judgment may be a hasty decision. However, only you can decide if you stay or if you go. You know your husband best and only you know if this is something you and your relationship can overcome.

If you do decide to give your marriage a second chance, I believe that going to couples and individual counseling is a must. Both you and your husband are experiencing an array of emotions and a trained therapist will help you sift through them all and provide you with the skills needed to rebuild the trust in your relationship.

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Love & Money: Managing Money & Your In-Laws

money

Over the past few weeks, I’ve received emails and relationship questions from readers who are frustrated with their financial situations, either with their parents, their in-laws, or their own partner. Therefore, the next couple of blog posts are going to focus on “Love & Money.” To kick things off, we’re going to take a look at managing finances and your in-law relationships.

Research suggests that in-laws can be a big source of support, including financial support. Some in-laws are able to give generously and expect nothing in return. Others may not have the money to give, but lend support in different ways. And others still may not only keep track of every gift or small loan, but expect to have a say in your money matters. Readers have expressed several concerns ranging from monetary “gifts” that came with strings attached, financial dependence so great that it’s hard to get out from under your in-laws thumbs, or in-laws that never loosen the purse strings.

Today we’ll look at how to manage these thorny issues with your in-laws without starting a family feud!

Situation 1: The Financial “Gift”

Imagine that you’re buying your first home, a new car, or your new nursery needs decorating and out of nowhere your parents-in-law offer to give you a down payment, or offer to help you deck out the baby’s room. They say that it’s a gift, they’re happy to do it, and it makes them happy. You graciously accept, excited and appreciative.

Fast forward a few weeks, months, or years and you are wishing you never accepted this “gift” because it’s more trouble than it’s worth. Perhaps your in-laws constantly remind you of the “help” they gave you, especially when they want you to do something for them.

Or, maybe they feel that since they helped you with your house or car, they can comment on or dictate what you can and can’t do with it. “Oohhh, you really shouldn’t paint the living room that color, we’d hate it to affect the resale value.”

The Fix: You could bite your tongue, let your blood pressure skyrocket, and slowly lose your mind, or you can face it head on.  Enlist your sweetie pie to talk to his/her parents. It is important that your spouse does the talking, because even if you have a close relationship with your in-laws, they may be more sensitive to straight talk coming from you. Your partner needs to let your in-laws know that although you appreciate the generous gift they gave (stress that part, regardless if it was $5 or $5000), you do not appreciate feeling like there are strings attached to it. They may not even be aware that they’re acting like this, or calling them out may stop them in their tracks.

If this doesn’t work, then you need to come up with a plan to repay them so you don’t “owe” them anymore, or they don’t “own” you. I know it’s an unforeseen expense, but the price of being indebted to your in-laws forever is far greater.

Situation 2: You Need Financial Help

Sure, the economy is bouncing back, but not as quickly as you hoped. As a result, you may have found yourself needing to rely on your in-laws for some assistance to make ends meet. In addition to this being a difficult favor to ask, not setting proper boundaries and developing a concrete “pay back” plan can turn this arrangement into a hot mess before you can say “We need to borrow money.”

When you’re on someone’s pay roll, you tend to have to answer to the boss. Soon you may feel that your parents-in-law are monitoring (and commenting on) all of your behaviors and purchases. “Oh, more beer, great,” or “Wow, you bought a new TV? How did you manage to pay for that?” Soon, your life is not yours anymore and you’re beholden to your in-laws.

The Fix: Treat this like a business deal. Don’t nickel and dime them, or piecemeal small loans together. Instead, ask for a realistic lump sum or a monthly loan amount. Next, establish terms of repayment, in writing. Will payments start as soon as you or your honey find a job? What is time frame of repayment 6 months, 6 years? Will interest be charged? Can you take out another “loan” or is this a one-time deal?

Additionally, you may want to consider including a “no meddling” clause. Seriously, you should explicitly state that since this is a loan, your in-laws cannot question or comment on how you spend your loan money.

Although you may wish your parents-in-law would just give you the money free and clear (and some may), be warned that this has issues too (see Situation 1).

Situation 3: Your Never Get ANY Help

Your in-laws bankroll your sibling-in-laws’ lifestyles, or give them lavish presents while you and your family walk away empty-handed.

The Fix: Although it may hurt or infuriate you that your family gets short-changed, consider it a blessing. Given the potentially sticky situations that can arise, it is better to not have to rely on your in-laws financially. However, if they want to give a true gift, then go for it, but be proud of your ability to stand on your own two financial feet.

Your in-laws may be thinking the same thing. In fact, the lack of financial aid is likely a result of your in-laws’ confidence in you and pride of your financial independence, rather than a dislike or picking favorites (although, this can happen!).

And, don’t overlook the things they do to support you that aren’t financial: help moving, babysitting, or a shoulder to lean on. Those things are worth their weight in gold!

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Money and in-laws doesn’t have to go together like oil and vinegar. Although it can be tricky, with the right communication negotiating financial terms with your in-laws can be done without harming your relationship!

Until next time,

Sylvia

JustASquirrel_180RedCircleLogo (2)Don’t miss the next post in the Love & Money series: Mine, Yours, and Ours? Managing Finances in Marriage

Sylvia Says: Relationship Q & A

Relationship Q & A

Dear Sylvia: My parents-in-law recently helped me and my husband purchase a new home. At the time, they told us the money was a gift. Since we’ve moved they act as if they partly own our home because they helped financially. They question our decorating decisions, get upset if we don’t inform them of any improvement project, and feel that they can barge into our house without any notice. I’d rather still be living in our tiny apartment than deal with my meddlesome in-laws. My husband doesn’t know what to say because he feels indebted to them. How do we get our unwelcomed “houseguests” to pack their bags?

Had-It Homeowner

Dear Had It: First, congratulations on your new home! However, I’m sorry about your parents-in-law’s behavior. As you noted, they gave you a gift. Therefore, they should not be throwing their financial help in your face or expect to be involved in your homeowner decisions. When you give someone a scarf do you expect to have control over when and how she’ll wear it, N.O.

I can understand your husband feeling a bit timid to speak to his parents, but he must. You all can sit down for the discussion, but he needs to do the talking. He needs to tell his parents that you are both very grateful for the assistance, but, as they said, it was a gift and a gift means no strings attached. He needs to let them know that you two are not going to run every decision by them and you both would appreciate them keeping their opinions to themselves and calling before they visit.

If that doesn’t work, then I suggest that you and your husband develop a plan to pay back your in-laws. It may take some time and may be a financial burden you weren’t anticipating, but if it’s the only way to get back your sanity and independence, it’s worth it. Oh, and don’t forget to change your locks!

Dear Sylvia: Some situations have occurred between me and my boyfriend that have led to him getting in trouble with law. I understand and acknowledge my mistakes, but he is blaming me for everything and not taking any responsibility for his actions. I’m wondering if it’s even worth trying to make this relationship work if he’s just going to pin it all on me.

Drained Girlfriend

Dear Drained: Any relationship trouble that ends with police involvement is never good news. In addition to the trouble with the law, you mention that your boyfriend pins all the blame on you; but as you aptly note, it takes two to tango.

I applaud you for acknowledging your role in this drama. Now I encourage you to take that knowledge and use it to move forward in a new, positive direction. It’s time to end the relationship with your boyfriend and begin a relationship with yourself. Take some time to address any issues you may be dealing with, find out what you like/want out of a relationship, and become confident in your self-worth that you don’t need to waste your time in a relationship that involves the law.

Dear Sylvia: I have a young co-worker (23 years-old) who is constantly bragging out the restaurants she eats at, the designer bags and clothes she wears, and all the people she dates. I’m not envious because I have and do nice things too, I just don’t broadcast it. Other co-workers are getting annoyed by her behavior too. Should I say something to her so she doesn’t continue putting her designer clad foot in her mouth?

Over-It Coworker

Dear Over It: Your dilemma reminds me of that Real Housewives of Beverly Hills “character” who constantly talked about how much all of her expensive stuff cost. $25,000 sunglasses?! Come on! Your co-worker, like that RHOBV cast member, seems to be a bit immature. But, think back to when you were in your early twenties; you probably did and said some regrettable things, too.

Also, this may be your co-workers first “real” job and the first time she’s been able to afford these types of luxuries. She may be so excited she can’t keep her mouth shut, or this may be her way of telling herself and others, “I’ve made it.” Although it’s annoying to hear her constant, superficial updates, chalk it up to her being a young baller and cut her some slack. She’ll outgrow this stage, eventually. If not, then layer on your designer dudes and show her how it’s done!

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