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.

10253823_10101937034703950_6540690811694019762_n

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

2010052610290721[1]

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.

Love & Money: Yours, Mine, & Ours

money1

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.

~~~~

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

JustASquirrel_960_RedBlogHeader (2)-Cropped

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!

~~

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

Looking Back and Looking Forward: Goodbye 2012, Hello 2013

20013

It’s been less than two weeks since we rang in the New Year and already the beginning of the New Year hubbub has died down.  Resolutions have likely been broken and many are back to their old ways. This is one of the many reasons I don’t make resolutions. Instead, I like to reflect on the previous year, warts and all, and see how it can guide me as I move forward into a new year full of possibilities.

Looking back on 2012 I am able to glean some important insights that will undoubtedly help me in 2013. 2012  was by far my hardest year since 2008 (the year my mom passed away). Although I had some exciting highs, such as completing my PhD, I also faced some devastating lows such losing our baby in August and another pregnancy loss which resulted in having surgery to remove one of my fallopian tubes right before Christmas. Also, my husband and I moved to a new state and started new jobs, which has been both exciting and frustrating.

Despite these less than ideal situations, I still have a rather optimistic and positive outlook. The main reason for this is that when I take stock of my life and reflect back on 2012, I realize that the shadows and the brightness of 2012 have taught me a lot and will be an invaluable resource as I move forward into 2013.

In 2013, I will continue to be optimistic about the future and appreciate of what I do have rather than what I don’t.

What I’ve Learned in 2012…

Shit happens | Or as Forest Gump would say “It happens.” Sometimes bad stuff happens, sometimes really bad stuff happens, and regardless of where it is on the “bad stuff” continuum a lot of the time it happens for no reason. In my opinion, it’s not “god’s plan” or “for the better.” No, sometimes crappy stuff just happens and is completely out of our control (unless you’re doing bad stuff that is likely to have negative consequences! In that case, stop (if you can)!)

We can’t always control the lemons life hands us, but we can control how we react to them. In fact, our perception of events and the resources we employ to cope with them determine whether or not we experience stress or plummet into full-blown crisis mode.

Yes, when bad stuff happens it’s easy to throw yourself a pity party and have a fatalistic view of events and feel that nothing ever goes right for you. However, this mind set will get you nowhere fast. I’m not saying to sugarcoat reality, but after giving yourself time to grieve it’s important to glean lessons from your loss and develop a positive plan and outlook as you move forward.

Sure, my heart still breaks when I think about how badly I miss my mom or that I should be holding a baby in my arms in the next few weeks, but I don’t let that stop me from moving forward or appreciating the other wonderful things in my life.

It may be hard at times, but trust me, positive thinking is worth its weight in gold when it comes to your mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing.

Friendship matters| As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize just how critical good friendships are. The importance of quality friendships was highlighted during 2012.

Throughout the year, I experienced the wonderful generosity, love, and selflessness of good friends; the disinterest, self-centeredness, and disappointment of fair-weather friends; and the joy of connecting with new friends over both highs and lows.

These experiences have taught me that strong friendships are essential. True friends are there for you in the good times and, especially, in the bad times. Good friends sit with you when you cry, ask the tough questions, and are there when life is anything but fun.

Sometimes friends disappoint us and sometimes friends surprise us. I’ve learned to take the disappointing friendships at face value. I no longer try to force a superficial friendship to morph into a meaningful one or to even continue. But more importantly, I’ve learned to cherish the beautiful, strong, and surprising friendships that I have. These friends have made life wonderful, even when I’ve been in the depths of despair. These friends have given me strength, courage, and endless amounts of joy.

In 2013, I will take the wonderful lessons I’ve learned from my treasured friends and let them guide me to being a better friend myself. Thank you, friends.

A good partner makes all the difference | When I started dating my husband I knew I got a good one, and over the years he’s continued to show me just what a great catch he is.

For a couple our age, we’ve been through a lot. However, we always seem to come through the storms as a stronger unit. If we can make it through all we’ve been through, I don’t have a shred of doubt that we’re in this to win it.

In fact, all we’ve been through in 2012 continued to affirm my beliefs about the importance of nurturing both your romance and your friendship. It’s important to make sure the romance doesn’t fade and that you never have to bring sexy back because it’s always been there. As important as maintaining a romantic and affectionate connection with your partner is, it’s also essential to nurture your friendship, because let’s face it, life gets in the way and you better have something more than great bedroom tricks to bring you two together. Although great tricks don’t hurt 😉

In 2012, I learned that true love is the partner you want to make-out with 24/7, the partner who makes you frustrated beyond belief, and the partner who puts his money where his mouth by taking excellent care of you after surgery, including sitting on the toilet talking to you when you take your first post-op shower. Oh, and bonus, this person still wants to make out with you even when they’ve seen you at your worst!

In 2013, I will continue to nurture and maintain my relationships and friendship with my amazing husband.

Enjoy every minute| Although people may say to do it, and although it’s hard to do when we’re in the midst of turmoil,  it is important to appreciate the delicate treasure that is life.

You wake up, you breathe, and you are, hopefully, surrounded by people who love and support you. That is what matters in life. Not the car you drive, the purse you carry, or how many facebook friends you have.

Life is about the everyday moments—the laughter you share with a friend, the kiss from your loved one, the “I love you” from your parent, the little lick from your dog, or the snuggle of from your child—which go by in the blink of an eye.

Relish your days, relish your relationship, relish your life. You only have one, so make it count.

In 2013, you bet your booty I’m making life count!

~~~~

We all have probably experienced our share of both joy and heartbreak in 2012. Although sometimes the mountain seems insurmountable, it’s not. You may not climb it in a day or a week, but you can get over those humps (cue Miley Cyrus).

2012 taught me to make sure I take time to appreciate my husband, my friends, and my life.

I’d love to hear what you learned in 2012 and how it will help you as you move forward in 2013. Leave a comment above or send me an email.

Until next time,

Sylvia

JustASquirrel_180RedCircleLogo (2)

The (Not So) Brady Bunch?: Negotiating Blended Families During the Holidays

2008_step_brothers_wallpaper_002

With the holiday season in full swing, a lot of us our probably pulling out our hair trying to coordinate holiday visits with family. Balancing your family and your partner’s family is difficult enough; now factor in the fact that these days many of us have to unexpectedly juggle multiple families. Suddenly, the most wonderful time of the year becomes anything but!

Although we may expect our family-of-origin to incur small changes in adulthood, we often believe it’s going to be us who changes the family system through cohabitation, marriage, and/or adding children. We don’t expect our parents to be the ones throwing a wrench into the family system. But, due to parents passing away and the new trend of gray divorce, many adults are confronted with a familial shift they were not expecting.

Parents passing away or separating often lead to remarriage. Although remarriage and its consequences have been studied extensively in families with adolescents, less attention has been paid to how adults cope with their parents’ remarriage.

Just like children who have to assimilate into a stepfamily, adults have to grapple with numerous changes, including creating boundaries with the new “family” member, managing their other parent’s reactions to the new family form (if the parents divorced), and figuring out how to retain some of the essence of their “original” family in the face of change.

Additionally, adults with children have the added struggle of figuring out what role their parent’s new spouse or significant other will play in their children’s lives and what their children will call this new person.

These changes are overwhelming on a normal day, but the holidays tend to exacerbate these issues. Adult children are upset that rituals are changed or altogether abandoned, parents may feel jealous that their children are spending time with the other parent and his/her new spouse, and adult children may “feel caught” in the middle of this. Adult children have to manage all of this while simultaneously trying to manage their own lives, nuclear families, and in-law relationships.

Holidays are a time for coming together; unfortunately transitioning to a new family form can make having a holly jolly holiday a bit of a challenge. But, it doesn’t have to be this way. Although it takes some work and a lot of coordination, you can get back to decking the halls instead of each other!

Talk It Out: The first step is to have an open conversation with your parent(s). I’m not saying it’s going to be an easy conversation, but it’s important to put your issues or concerns on the table. Your parents may not know that you’re hurting or upset, so it’s important to let them know how you are feeling. Too often, families brush these issues under the rug because they don’t want to cause conflict or tension. However, this can backfire and lead to lingering resentment and hurt.

In a calm and respectful manner, let your parent or parents know how you are feeling and what your wishes are for the holiday season. You may even want to try our handy X-Y-Z statements to focus on a specific behavior and situation and diffuse any potential defensiveness.

Additionally, let them talk too and listen to their perspective on the situation.

Even if you don’t entirely see eye-to-eye, disclosing your feeling and thoughts can be an extremely cathartic experience.

Do Onto Others: Integrating a new member into your nuclear family as an adult is no small task. There’s the uncomfortable question of what to call this person; questions regarding boundaries; and concerns regarding how to be close without feeling as if you’re “betraying” your other parent.

My biggest advice is two-fold. First, follow the golden rule, even if it’s difficult. How did your parents treat your spouse or significant other when he/she entered the family (or how do you wish they did)? Second, do what’s comfortable for you.

I’m not saying you have to start calling your parent’s new spouse “mom” or “dad” or tell him/her you love him, but you should be warm, kind, and accepting to the extent you are comfortable with.

If your parent is happy and this person is going to be around for the long haul, there is no sense in fighting it. Not only will being kind and attempting to incorporate this newbie into the family system help you establish a strong relationship with this new family member, it will also strengthen your relationship with your parent.

Create and Adapt Rituals: Rituals reflect our family identity. As a result, families feel very protective of their rituals and any attempt to change one often is viewed as an attack on the family. However, it’s important to be flexible and learn to adapt existing rituals and create new rituals as well.

You cannot pretend that your previous family didn’t exist. In fact, it’s that experience that made you and your parents who you are today. So don’t feel shy talking about or even engaging in existing family rituals with the new spouse. However, it is important to include this person in the rituals so you don’t create and “insiders” versus “outsiders” divide. If your family wears matching pajamas on Christmas, then the newbie needs a set too.

Additionally, create new rituals with the new family member. Perhaps there is a ritual from his/her family that he/she wants to share with you, or maybe there is a new tradition you can create that is unique to your new blended family. Although this may seem strange at first, it will go a long way in establishing goodwill and a strong relational foundation.

Again, these behaviors will also strengthen your relationship with your parents. Even if they don’t explicitly acknowledge your attempts at integrating their new honey bunny, don’t think it goes unnoticed or unrecognized.

Be Flexible: Finally, it’s important to be flexible both structurally and cognitively. In other words, you have to be flexible with how you celebrate the holidays and how you think about these changes.

If your parent’s new spouse has children or a family, chances are they’ll want to spend time with them too. As a result, your celebrations will have to be modified (as well as theirs). Although it’s very easy to be hurt and upset over these changes, try to go with the flow. I’m not saying be a doormat and be pushed aside come holiday time, but it is important to show that you are willing to make adjustments.

Maybe you alternate dates or years for celebrations. For instance, you get Christmas Day this year, but next year your parent spends that day with his/her spouse’s family. Or, if you’re lucky, maybe you get the whole gang together! Whatever you decide, just know that although it’s hard, the payoff will be worth it and this will soon become the new norm.

Also, it’s important to change how you think about your new family form. It’s completely normal to grieve your former family and to feel hurt and resentful about the changes that are occurring. However, it’s important to eventually let go of those negative feelings and thoughts, not only for your own personal wellbeing, but for the wellbeing of your family.

If you only think of your new family negatively and complain about it, then you’re never going to be happy with your new family form. However, if you start to view this change as an opportunity then you may have a more positive outlook on things. Perhaps you can learn something from your new family member, or maybe this change will make you focus on your relationship with parent(s) in ways you never have before, resulting in a closer parent-child bond.

~

Changes to your family in adulthood are difficult. You may feel a great sense of loss for your former family and resentment toward the new family. However, by changing your thoughts and behaviors you can slowly work toward accepting and even enjoying your new family form, which is a great gift that lasts long beyond the holiday season!

Until next time,

Sylvia

Are the holidays giving you a headache? Submit your relationship question to Sylvia Says! 

In-Law Relationships: A Holiday Survival Guide

When Irving Berlin wrote Happy Holiday(s) he must not have had a job, financial stress, or in-laws! As we’re all aware, the holidays provide us with a time to reflect on and celebrate our relationships, but they also can be extremely stressful. We stress over finances, hectic work and social schedules, holiday weight gain, and our family relationships.

One of the most contentious relationships come holiday time tends to be ties with our in-laws (and our own parents). We struggle over adapting rituals, being included in traditions, and splitting time between our family-in-law, our family-of-origin, and our nuclear family.

Holidays with in-laws (and parents) are stressful for several reasons. First, loyalties are often implicitly tested during the holiday season. Spending a holiday with the “in-laws” may be seen as a betrayal to the family-of-origin. Second, holidays with extended family members require change. Rituals and traditions, which reflect a family’s identity, often have to be modified to accommodate new family members. Third, deviations to holiday norms may elicit uncertainty, which can be detrimental to in-law and marital relationships.

It’s important to manage in-law issues effectively because research consistently shows a direct link between the climate of in-law relationships and marital satisfaction. In fact, a recent project my colleagues and I worked on demonstrated that children-in-law’s uncertainty and dissatisfaction within the in-law relationship is linked to dissatisfaction within their marital relationship.

Additionally, a recent study which followed married couples for 26 years found that couples were less likely to divorce if husbands had close bonds with their in-laws. Conversely, wives that were close to their in-laws had a 20% greater chance of divorce. This doesn’t mean that wives can get away with keeping their distance, but does suggest that we need to be mindful of how we negotiate our in-law ties.

Collectively, these results demonstrate the importance of managing our in-law relationships. The holidays are a great place to start establishing boundaries, creating new rituals, and fostering the development and maintenance of strong in-law bonds. The tips below may help you ensure that your holiday season is merry and bright!

Stop: When we feel uncertain or that someone, such as our in-laws, is interfering with our goals, rituals, and routines we tend to be more reactive. As a result, we may say and/or do things that we later regret.

If you feel overwhelmed or upset over a holiday issue with your in-laws (or your own parents), stop and take a personal time out. Take a moment to collect your thoughts and gain control of your emotions. Pressing pause will also allow you to reflect on what is really bothering you, rather than lashing out at your spouse, in-laws, or parents.

Once you’ve had a moment to cool down you have some perspective on the issue and will be able to more calmly communicate what upset you and why.

Collaborate: Traditions are one of the best things about the holiday season. However, the moment we say “I do” we are merging our families and our traditions. It’s important to be open-minded and have a collaborative rather than self-centered attitude when it comes to holiday traditions.

Be open-minded to trying new rituals that mean something to your sweetie pie and his/her family. Additionally, you may want to introduce your in-laws to traditions that are important to you and your family. They’ll get to know you better and feel included, which in turn may make them more eager to have you join the family fold.

It’s also important to make sure that your parents are open to including your honey bunch in family traditions (and in-laws, if you so desire). If they’re hesitant, stay firm and let them know that you’re a package deal now. You can’t include one without the other. This may end certain family traditions or force them to modify existing ones, but your loyalty lies with your spouse now and you have to present a united front.

Listen: You may have heard the phrase “read between the lines,” but it’s equally important to “listen between the lines.” If your sweetheart or in-law brings up an issue he/she is having, try to listen to what he/she is really getting at.

What is the real reason your mother-in-law is upset that you’re not coming for Christmas? Is it that she may feel like she’s losing her child or that she just doesn’t want to change? Is your wife’s dismissal of your family’s traditions really just a reflection of her hurt feelings at not being included in them?

When you engage in perspective checking and paraphrasing (e.g., “What I hear you saying is…” or “You seem upset that my family…”) you not only make sure that you’re on the same page as your relational partner, but also show that you genuinely care.

Build: Although it’s nice to be inclusive and try to accommodate all family members, sometimes you have to establish boundaries. If driving to four holiday dinners or spending two-weeks with your in-laws is not your idea of a good time, don’t let your family guilt you in to doing that.

Instead, acknowledge their feelings, explain your perspective, and then offer alternative options. Perhaps you celebrate the holiday a few days early or a few days late, or make a one-week rather than two-week trip. But provide multiple options and try to reach a compromise.

If you don’t establish boundaries, you’ll never be rockin’ around the Christmas tree.

Celebrate: With all the holiday hub-bub it’s important to not lose sight of your own nuclear family. Whether you’re a two-some or a family with children, it’s important to create your own traditions and rituals and take time to celebrate with one another.

Wine: Not whine, but wine, vino, the good stuff! If all else fails pour yourself a glass, or two, or heck just take the whole bottle. Everything is better when you’re sitting by a fire, sipping some wine, and thinking of your happy place!

~

The holidays can be stressful, but they don’t necessarily have to be. Following the tips above will help you want to deck the halls and not each other!

I’d love to hear how you handle your in-laws at the holidays! Tell me your thoughts in the comments!!

Until next time,

Sylvia

Call Before You Visit: Creating Boundaries with In-Laws

As discussed last week, parents-in-law can be a source of support or a source of stress. One reason relationships with parents-in-law may be problematic is due to a lack of boundaries. Sometimes, due to uncertainty, parents- and children-in-law don’t know how to establish boundaries with one another. They, for instance, don’t know what they can and cannot do or say with one another. As a result, an in-law may unknowingly overstep their boundaries when they only had the best intentions.

A father-in-law may offer to help his son-in-law paint the house as sign of support and caring, but the son-in-law may feel that is father-in-law doesn’t respect his boundaries and is trying to insert himself in his new family’s life. This example also demonstrates how in-laws can have different expectations for their relationship, which may affect how they interpret one another’s behavior.

Although it’s important to establish boundaries with parents-in-law, it’s also important to know it’s a two-way street. Research suggests that children-in-law often want to be included in their in-laws’ boundaries, but want to exclude their parents-in-law from their own boundaries. For example, you probably want to be included in your in-laws holiday traditions, but expect them to let you and you sweetie create your own rituals that they are not part of. Not exactly a fair deal, huh? Therefore, it’s important to find a way to that can balance both inclusion and exclusion.

Sometimes, however, parents-in-law can be a bit much and you have to establish boundaries. Continued disregard for your parenting style, abuse of your emergency house key, or telling everyone they know about your struggles with infertility are just a few examples when it’s probably time to have a chat with your parents-in-law about boundaries.

However, as much as you may want to let loose on your meddling mother- or father-in-law it is extremely important that you let your spouse do the talking! Your partner knows his/her parent(s) best, so s/he will know the best way to approach them about a specific situation. You taking the reins and confronting your in-laws is more than likely going to hurt rather than help the situation.

So, what can you do to help manage boundaries with your in-laws?

Decide what’s important: Whether you like it or not, your parents-in-law are part of your family and you can’t shut them out entirely. So, decide what is important to protect and what you can handle letting them be part of. Maybe you want to keep your financial information private from your in-laws, but are willing to be open about other topics, such as work or your own family. Or perhaps you really want Christmas morning to be just you, your honey bunny, and your children, but you’re happy to welcome your parents-in-law into the celebration later in the day.

The key is to find a balance. Although your parents-in-law would love to be included in most aspects of your life, when you let them in to some of your boundaries, they’ll likely be more understanding when you want to protect other areas of your life.

Make it a team decision: Whatever the boundaries are you’d like to construct make sure your partner is on board. This can be tricky because sometimes you’re asking your spouse to change longstanding patterns of behavior. I, for example, was used to sharing pretty much everything with my mom. But when my husband and I started dating I soon realized he wasn’t so keen on me sharing every argument or sweet moment we had with her. So, I had to renegotiate boundaries with my mom a bit to respect my sweetie’s privacy and our relationship.

If your partner doesn’t want you sharing certain information with your parents respect that and your partner needs to respect the boundaries you wish to create with your in-laws too.

Remember, it’s a two-way street: If you want your parents-in-law to respect your boundaries, you need to respect their boundaries too.  Don’t be offended if they don’t want to talk about their retirement savings in front of you or would prefer if you weren’t in the room when the doctor came in. You can’t expect to construct rigid boundaries with your parents-in-law and expect them to be an open book.

However, it is important to let them in to your boundaries too.  After all, you are married to their child and, potentially, raising their grandchildren. These people are important to them too and research shows that in-laws are very appreciative when their children-in-law make an effort to include them in their lives.

Make boundaries clear: No one instinctively knows what the boundaries are, so it’s important to talk about them, especially if you feel your boundaries are being violated. But remember, each spouse/partner needs to be the one to talk to his/her respective parents.

In addition, when talking to your parents it’s important to let them know that this is important to YOU, not just your spouse. Say, for example, your spouse is fed up with your parents criticizing her parenting style. Instead of saying, “Mom, it really upsets Jackie when you tell her how to parent and I’m sick of her complaining to me about it” try “Mom, it really hurts my feelings that you don’t respect the way Jackie and I have decided to parent. I know you have a lot of experience, but we would really appreciate if your respected our parenting style and didn’t interject your opinion so much.” It’s important to present a united front when confronting parents about boundary violations.

Change your perception: Despite what you may think, your parent-in-law is probably not trying to ruin your life or marriage. Perhaps due to media portrayals, your parents’ relationship with their in-laws, or your own uncertainty about the in-law relationship you may be sensitive to things your parents-in-law say or do. Try to put yourself in their shoes to understand what their true intentions may be.

If you’re a new mom and your mother-in-law offers to come over and clean your house, don’t automatically assume she’s implying that your house is messy. There’s a very good chance that she is just offering to be nice and give you a little time to relax. So, enjoy it and don’t forget to lift your feet when she comes around with the vacuum!

~

Despite what the media leads us to believe, in-law relationships don’t have to be difficult. It won’t happen overnight, in most cases, but with a little work, patience, and understanding you can develop an enjoyable relationship with your parents-in-law!

Until next time,

Sylvia

The Baby Race: Becoming Parents

From the moment you find out a baby is on the way, whether through pregnancy, surrogacy, or adoption, you plan and prepare for your bundle of joy. You research all the latest gizmos and gadgets, read up on how to successfully keep your tiny human alive, and spend an exorbitant amount of time (and money) preparing the perfect nursery, and why wouldn’t you, becoming a parent is one of the most rewarding (and challenging) transitions you will experience.

However, in all that planning your relationship with your partner often gets lost in the shuffle. Although becoming parents is one of the most profound events you share will your partner, it can also be extremely challenging on your relationship. Suddenly you go from showering each other with love and attention to being solely focused on your small eating, pooping, and peeing machine.

Time to shower is scarce, let alone time (or desire, do you really want to leave that precious bundle?) to squeeze in a date night. So, your relationship probably needs a bit of retooling and that may not be something you planned for during your baby blitz. But, with some simple preparation and dedication you can make sure your relationship doesn’t experience the baby blues.

Although some people believe that having children reduces relationship satisfaction, this is not always the case. First, ALL marriages or partnerships experience a decrease in satisfaction. For marriages, satisfaction usually dips within the first three years of marriage, which happens to coincide with the introduction of the first child, for many couples. Therefore, a lot of people blame the baby, not the natural progression of the relationship for the dip in satisfaction.

However, research by Lawrence and colleagues suggests that compared to non-parents, parents do experience a more drastic decline in satisfaction. Yet, individuals who are highly satisfied going in to parenthood and who planned to be parents (versus unplanned pregnancies) continued to have high levels of relational satisfaction after birth. In other words, if you have a strong relationship it will stay strong. However, if you have a rocky relationship a baby won’t make things better; in fact, it will make things worse.

So, what can you do to make sure your transition to parenthood is successful?

Start with a good base.  Don’t add children to your family if you don’t have a strong relationship or if you or your partner are indifferent or do not particularly want children. Also, when possible, plan your addition. The transition will be less stressful if this it is something you and your partner mapped out, rather than it coming out of left field.

Talk about it. Talk to one another about how the addition of a baby will change your relationship, lifestyle, and your own life. Will one of you be a stay-at-home parent? If so, money matters may change as well as expectations regarding who does what around the house. Or, will you both be working? If so, balancing work and family may become a stressor for both parents.

Research shows that even in the most egalitarian households, women still end up doing more childrearing and household tasks. In fact, one study by Ted Huston and Anita Vangelisti found that of the 36.2 household and childrearing tasks that couples encounter each day, women complete 28 of them, even if they are employed full time.

Therefore, it’s important to have a conversation about how you will split childrearing and household tasks, whether one of you works in or out of the home.  Researcher Caryn Medved found that couples often employ multiple strategies for balancing their parenting responsibilities, somewhat equitably, such as alternating (one night you give the bath, the next night your partner does) or connecting with partners throughout the day to “check in” on the child and childcare responsibilities (for example, calling mid-day to see who is in the best position to pick up the children).

You won’t be able to plan for every change that parenthood brings, but acknowledging that things will change and having a tentative plan will help ease the transition.

Moms, let Dads parent. Mothers are often very protective of their children, even with their own fathers. In fact, research shows that mothers often act as “gatekeepers” and limit or interfere with interactions between baby and Dad. It’s important, however, for fathers to be able to parent and spend time alone with their children. And, when fathers feel that their wives have confidence in their parenting they tend to be more involved. So, keep quiet if the outfit the baby is wearing doesn’t match, or if that’s not the exact way you burp your little bundle.

Have realistic expectations. Both overly negative or overly positive and unrealistic expectations of parenthood can impact how successfully you cope with becoming a parent. Don’t expect that you will be out with friends one week after birth or that your sex life is going to be the same. Mentally preparing for these changes can help as you encounter them.

Ask friends to candidly tell you about their transition, what was difficult, what was unexpected, and how did they cope? Know that things are going to be different and, at times, a bit difficult. But, know that it is only temporary and soon enough you and your partner will settle into a comfortable rhythm.

Take time for yourself and each other. Babies take up A LOT of time. In those first few months you may feel like all you do is feed and change, feed and change. Therefore, it’s important to take time out for yourself and your partner. Take a shower, get your nails done, watch the game, or talk to a friend on the phone. Doing things that you did pre-baby may make you feel more human, even if you’re only running on two hours of sleep.

Also, take time as a couple, but do it in a way you’re comfortable with. Your first post-baby date doesn’t have to be some all-night extravaganza. If you’re like most parents the thought of being away from your bundle may be heartbreaking. So, take an hour and go for coffee or grab a quick lunch. Or, just watch a movie or play a game when the baby is asleep. The point is to make sure you’re focusing on each other for bit, so do that in whatever way makes sense for you.

Becoming parents is definitely challenging, but extremely worthwhile. If you and your partner work as a team, you’ll be highly satisfied parenting pros in no time!

Until next time,

Sylvia

A Blue Christmas?: Managing Grief During the Holidays

“I’ll be home for Christmas, you can count on that.” The words of this timeless Christmas song are haunting when a loved one isn’t home for the holidays because they are no longer physically with you. Whether this is your first Christmas or your fifteenth without a loved one, as many of you know, the pain still lingers.

Like me, you probably cope fairly well with your loss throughout the year then suddenly find yourself overcome with sadness come the holidays. One reason for this surge of sorrow is the fact that holiday rituals are closely linked to family identity. When these rituals are altered or, unfortunately, abandoned it highlights the fact that your loved one is no longer with you, and even calls into question who you are as a family.

This year marks my fourth Christmas without my mom. Despite the time that has lapsed, I still yearn for holidays past when we hosted elaborate Christmas dinners and spent hours together in the kitchen prepping, cooking, and cleaning, all the while laughing. I still miss her excitement on Christmas morning as she lit the Christmas tree and turned up the carols, even when I was in my late-twenties and my now husband joined us for his very first Mikucki-Christmas. I still get choked up knowing that her stocking will not be hung by the chimney with care, and when people ask what I want for Christmas I quietly think to myself: my mom.

Although it may seem that I have a very blue Christmas because of my mom’s absence, it is not (entirely) the case. Over the years, I’ve found numerous ways to celebrate her throughout the holidays. And although I do have at least one breakdown every season (last year it was on a treadmill at the gym!), I try to use her love of all things Christmas as inspiration for making my holidays cheery and bright.

Whether this is your first holiday without a loved one or you’re, unfortunately, a seasoned pro, the holidays can be full of mixed emotions. Therefore, it’s incredibly important to take care of yourself and do what feels right for you and your family.

So, what can you do to cope with missing a loved one during the holidays?

Acknowledge your feelings: Research suggests that it’s important to acknowledge your grief and mixed emotions about the upcoming holiday. If you suppress these emotions and act like all is well you may not fully cope with your grief, regarding that holiday, until years later. Don’t suppress your emotions, embrace them. Know that it is okay to feel sad and miss your loved one. It is completely normal to face the holidays with trepidation rather than cheer following a loss. Knowing that the holidays will be rough will help you set realistic expectations.

Do what feels right: The first holiday without a loved one is especially rough, so celebrate that first holiday in whatever way makes you feel good. If ditching the annual Christmas potluck and going on a vacation works for you, do it! Or, if staying at home watching old home movies with a few family members makes you feel better, go for it!

Or, have a Plan A and a Plan B and wait until the day of to decide which plan to enact. Plan A might be joining the family for the traditional feast. Plan B might be going to your loved one’s favorite restaurant with a small group. If you wake up on Christmas day and want to be surrounded by family, then go with Plan A. But, if the day is too much to deal with, go with Plan B.  The key is celebrate those first holidays in whatever way will get you through it. Take it from me!

A few weeks after my mom passed away Easter arrived. Mistakenly, we hosted Easter. That day was long and miserable as we played host while trying to cope with our fresh feelings of grief and the missing presence of my mom. As a result, we decided to do something radically different for Christmas. Christmas was one of my mom’s favorite holidays and the thought of celebrating it that first year without her was unbearable. So, we left for Colorado on Christmas day. Being away from the traditional holiday gathering allowed us to deal with our grief as an immediate family and we didn’t have to play host or put on a happy face.

Don’t act tough: Whether or not you end up participating in a traditional holiday celebration, don’t apologize for feeling emotional. It is OKAY to cry, to get upset, and to be sensitive. Don’t hide your tears or pretend that nothing is wrong. If it makes other people uncomfortable, oh well! Hopefully individuals you are celebrating with are compassionate and supportive as you go through the ups and downs of holiday grief. I get teary eyed at least once (minimum!) throughout the day on both Christmas Eve and Christmas (and a million times leading up to those days!).

Don’t ignore the elephant in the room: Often, family or friends will avoid talking about the deceased love one in a misguided effort to protect you. However, most people enjoy talking about their loved one. In fact, research shows that individuals not only love talking about deceased family members, but also enjoy being surrounded by their artifacts.Sharing stories or recounting memories is a great way to stay connected to your loved one. So share your favorite Christmas memory or funny story.

Every time I tell my husband about how my mom would take bites out of the cookies I left for Santa and wrote a beautiful, handwritten note for me “from” Santa every Christmas morning, I am transported back to my childhood and can feel my mom’s arms wrapped around me.

In addition, if you know someone who is missing a loved one during the holidays ask them to share their favorite Christmas memory or story of that person. They will appreciate the support and the chance to celebrate the memory of their loved one.

Incorporate your loved one into the celebration: As time passes it often becomes easier to celebrate the life and memory of your loved one, and you can do this in ways big or small. Display a cherished holiday decoration that was your loved ones, make their favorite recipe, or donate items or volunteer your time to their favorite organization. My Papa’s Christmas star adorns our Christmas tree every year, and my mom’s cherished snowmen are scattered around the house. I can’t help but smile and feel connected to the both of them when I look at their items and the memories they evoke.  

The holidays can be an extremely trying time. It’s important to take care of yourself and celebrate your loved one in a way that is appropriate and meaningful to you.

Also, remember that your loved one is always with you, as Nancy Tillman writes in her book “Wherever You Are: My Love Will Find You:”

And if someday you’re lonely,

or someday you’re sad,

or you strike out at baseball,

or think you’ve been bad…

just lift up your face, feel the wind in your hair.

That’s me, my sweet baby, my love is right there.

 

In the green of the grass…in the smell of

the sea…in the clouds floating by…

at the top of a tree…in the sound

crickets make at the end of the day…

 

“You are loved. You are loved. You are loved,” they all say.

 

Until next time,

Sylvia

%d bloggers like this: