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

Sylvia Says: Relationship Q & A

Dear Sylvia: My boyfriend and I have been dating for six months and this is our first holiday together. He wants to spend Thanksgiving with his family, while I want to spend it with mine. This has caused numerous fights and we’re still at an impasse. Should we divide and conquer and reconvene the next day, or present a united front and tackle the holiday together?

First Time Holiday-Sharer

Dear Sharer: Although holidays are supposed to unite us, they, unfortunately, often divide us. I think your plan depends on how you view your relationship with your boyfriend. If you aren’t that committed to one another and don’t have a couple or family identity established, then I’d say split up, enjoy your own families, and hang out on black Friday exchanging war stories.

However, if you feel like you are already a family unit and you see him as “the one” then you need to establish a precedent now. Present a united front and your families will see you as team members rather than individuals on opposing teams. Split time between your families so you each get introduced to one another’s traditions, and demonstrate that you are in this together. Establishing boundaries and rituals now will make future holidays a joy rather than a kill joy!

Dear Sylvia: My wife and I got married in August and decided on a holiday “rotation” schedule. This Thanksgiving is with her family. This is the first time in 32 years I haven’t spent Thanksgiving with my parents and siblings. Although I’m excited to spend Thanksgiving with my wife, I’m upset that I won’t be with my family. How do I make the most of the holiday?

Homesick Husband

Dear Homesick: Transitioning to extended family relationships is exciting and terrifying at the same time. By biggest suggestion is “do unto others…” How would you want your wife to behave at a family holiday with your side? Let that be your guide.

Although you may be anxious or unhappy about missing out on your family holiday, think of it as a way to get to know more about your spouse and her family. Ask about traditions, join in on the rituals, and bask in the glory that is her in her wheelhouse. Once you figure out where you fit in the holiday hoopla, you’ll be mourning the times when it’s your “off year.” But until then, follow the sage advice I was once given: “keep your mouth shut and your eyes and ears open.”

Dear Sylvia: I’m heading to my parent’s house for Thanksgiving and dread seeing my uncle. He is racist and homophobic. Everything that comes out of his mouth goes against my moral and ethical fiber. I try not to say anything because I don’t want to make a scene, but I feel like not saying anything condones his behavior. How do I stand up for my beliefs without causing a family feud?

Had it up to Here

Dear Had It: Leave it to a wonderful Aunt or Uncle to ruin the holiday with their “insert here”-phobic comments. Although some people may say to let it go because they come from a “different time,” I disagree. I’m not saying be a stick in the mud and ruin everyone’s holiday, but you can tactfully stand up for what you believe in.

When Uncle Ignorant says his racist/sexist/homophobic joke let him know how much you love him, but not the hurtful things he says. You can simply tell him “Uncle Ignorant, although I’m so grateful for you as a person, I’m not grateful for your comments. Although I know you would never mean to hurt my feelings intentionally, I find your comments extremely insensitive and offensive and would appreciate it if you didn’t say things like that in front of me.”

For years, he’s probably gotten away with this behavior. Directly addressing his ignorance should be enough to shame him in to submission. If all else fails, tune in to the football game or become friends with a nice bottle of wine; both should distract you from his off-base commentary!

Sylvia Says: Relationship Q&A

Dear Sylvia: My husband and I are in our late thirties and do not have any children, purposefully. We love children and spoil our friends and family member’s kids, but just never wanted any of our own. We are happy with our decision, but our friends and family aren’t. They constantly tell us that “we’ll change our mind” about having children and often make us feel left out by saying things like “you don’t understand, you don’t have kids.” How can I get people to stop treating us like outcasts and start respecting our decisions?

—-Child Free

Dear Free: The divide between parents and non-parents can be great. People often view parenthood as a “normative” transition (in other words, everyone does it) and a marker of “true” adulthood; a completely antiquated way of thinking, if you ask me!

It seems that you and your hubby not partaking in this life stage throws people off.  Thus, this is more other people’s issue than your own (and perhaps, a little bit of envy). Therefore, getting people to change their opinions about your situation may be impossible.

So, instead of trying constantly explaining and defending your decision turn the tables on them.  Next time someone says, “Oh, you’ll change your mind,” in your most humorous and amiable tone, reply “I’m sure you’ll want to have changed your mind when college tuition bills start rolling in!” A taste of their own medicine may be just what they need to shut their pie holes.

Dear Sylvia: I have a girlfriend that I’ve been close with since grade school. We don’t talk or see each other much anymore, but when we do it’s just like old times. Lately, I’ve made an effort to connect more but my friend hasn’t reciprocated. I know we’re both busy with our families and careers, but it does hurt my feelings. Should I say something to my friend or just give up on our relationship?

—-Fed-up Friend

Dear Friend: Your quandary reminds me of a verse from a song we used to sing at summer camp, “make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the others gold. A ring is round and has no end, that’s how long I want to be your friend.”

Long time friendships are a treasure. Long time friends provide a link to our past and understand us in ways others may not. Friendships often ebb and flow over the years, based on life circumstances. True friendships can stand the test of time. So, don’t cut your friend out of your life. Instead cut her some slack and cherish the times you are together, rather than lament over the time you’re not.

 

 

Sylvia Says: Relationship Q & A

Dear Sylvia: My good friend and I work at the same company but in different departments. Recently, I received a great promotion at work. All of my other co-workers and friends outside of work have been very supportive and offered their congratulations. My friend/co-worker, however, has not even acknowledged the news. It’s extremely upsetting and hurtful, especially because she expects me (and our other friends) to make a big deal about everything that happens in her life. Am I right to be upset or am I overreacting?

—-Congrats Seeker

Dear Congrats: It sounds like your co-worker/friend may be suffering from a double-dose of insecurity and envy.  It’s not fair to you or good for your friendship to have to celebrate her “greatness” only to have her ignore your success. If this is the first time she’s done something like this you may want to sit down with her and let her know that it really hurts your feelings that she hasn’t congratulated you on your promotion. Then hear what she has to say.

However, if this is a reoccurring theme in your friendship, it may be time to either come to terms with her self-involvedness or let this friendship go. True friendship is about mutual support and encouragement, not trying to appease a green-eyed monster!

Dear Sylvia: My good friend owns four dogs, and it smells like it! Her car, house, and even her clothes smell like a wet dog. She always offers to drive us places and invites me over to her house, but every time I leave her car or house I smell like a dog and am covered in dog hair. How can I mention this to my friend without getting myself in the doghouse?

—-Done with the Dogs

Dear Done: It seems like your friend’s hygiene has gone to the dogs, literally. However, before telling her and her dogs to go hose off, make sure there isn’t an underlying issue contributing to the problem, like a health problem with the dogs or a physical or emotional issue with your friend.

If the problem seems to be superficial rather than serious then speak up, but tread lightly. Start subtly by offering to drive or inviting her to your house. If she asks about the sudden change in routine, tell her that your allergies to dogs seem to be triggered when you ride with her or visit her home. If she doesn’t get the hint, then tell her frankly that the dogs are overpowering her and her property. She may be upset at first, but will be glad that you spoke up.

The Trouble with Parents-in-Law?

Parents-in-laws, especially mothers-in-law, often get a bad rap. In movies and televisions shows, in-laws are portrayed as jealous, meddlesome, and, well just plain crazy. Although these types of in-laws do exist in real life, albeit to a lesser extent, a lot of my research seems to suggest that many people are very satisfied or, at the very least, content with their in-law relationships.

In fact, in-laws can be a large source of support. Both children- and parents-in-law provide mutual support. Children-in-law help their parents-in-law with tasks around the house, parents-in-law lend a hand in babysitting, and both may provide one another with a shoulder to cry on.

Despite the positive aspects of in-law relationships, they can, at times, be a challenge. Parents- and children-in-law are family, but also not family at the same time. They’re a step removed and can’t get away with the same stuff  you let slide from your “own” family. A comment about an outfit or a meal may be perceived as good natured ribbing from your own mother, but the same statement uttered by your mother-in-law is fightin’ words.

One reason in-law relationships are difficult to manage is that they are full of uncertainty, especially in the early years when you’re both trying to get to know one another and figure out your role in one another’s lives and families. In fact, in-law relationships are known for being “scriptless.” In normal language it simply means that we don’t always know how to act in them. We know, for example, the basic routine of being a spouse or friend, but when it comes to in-law relationships the picture is less clear.

In my research, I’ve surveyed over 200 parents- and children-in-law and found that they have questions about an array of issues within the in-law relationship including communication, developing the relationship, and fitting in to the larger family unit.

Parents-in-law often question how their children-in-law will affect their family system and their relationship with their adult children. For example, parents-in-law wonder if their children-in-law will let them see their children as often as after they are married or question how family traditions and rituals will have to change as a result of the newcomer.

Children-in-law struggle with questions regarding how much their parent-in-law will be or expects to be involved with their marriage and their family decisions.  Children-in-law also wonder how they are going to balance time between their new family-in-law and their family-of-origin.

In addition, parents- and children-in-law have some of the same questions, such as what to call one another, what type of relationship the other desires, and how to go about cultivating a satisfactory in-law relationship (even if they have no idea what that should be or look like).

Unfortunately, uncertainty in in-law relationships appears to be detrimental. When in-laws experience uncertainty they have a harder time creating a family bond, are less satisfied with their relationship, and tend to avoid communication (which is key to relationship development). In addition, in-law relationships impact marital satisfaction and the parent- adult child relationship. Thus, it’s important to try to establish satisfying in-law relationships.

So, how can you deal with uncertainty in your in-law relationship?

Talk to your in-law. Although you may openly talk to your spouse about what kind of marriage you want or tell your friend when they’ve hurt your feelings, you probably don’t have relationship focused discussions with your in-laws, which often contribute to the experience of uncertainty.

So, talk to your parent-in-law about your questions and expectations. Talk about what kind of relationship you want (do you want to have a parent-child type relationship or more of friendship?), what you would like to call each other (are you going to call them “mom” and “dad” or by their first names?), how often you should talk on the phone or visit? It may be a bit awkward at first, but once you know where you stand you’ll stop second guessing every behavior or comment.

Ask your spouse. If talking to your in-law is too daunting, get some insight from the person that knows your in-law best, your honey bunny. If you can’t interpret a mysterious parent-in-law behavior ask your spouse what he thinks it means and LISTEN. If your sweetie tells you that his mom is always quiet and it’s nothing against you, don’t continue believing that she’s a social butterfly with everyone else but just clams up around you because she hates you.

Also, ask your spouse what your parent-in-law expects from a child-in-law. If she doesn’t know maybe she can do some covert detective work and find out just what your parent-in-law is looking for. In addition, your spouse can drop hints to his parent about what you’re looking for. If you want to have a close relationship with your mother-in-law but don’t know where to start, have your hubby encourage his mom to ask you out to lunch or give you a call.

Watch and listen. If actively trying to reduce your uncertainty isn’t your preferred strategy then just watch and listen. Observe your parent-in-law and see how she prefers to communicate and behave with other family members, including other children-in-law, if possible. If your father-in-law isn’t affectionate with his own children, chances are he won’t want a big bear hug and it also means that his lack of overt affection isn’t a slight either. So watch and learn.

Be patient. Last but not least, be patient. In-law relationships don’t develop overnight, they take time. The beginning is going to be an adjustment for you, your parent-in-law, and your spouse. Fitting in to the family fold will take some time as you and your in-laws figure how to interact with one another and how to establish acceptable boundaries. Becoming a member of your in-law’s family and incorporating them in to yours is going to take some time.

~

In-law relationships can be tricky to negotiate, but also extremely worthwhile.  Next week I’ll address how to establish boundaries with your in-laws. In the meantime, if you have questions about your in-law relationships, submit them to Sylvia Says.

Until next time,

Sylvia

Reader Contest!

 

JSF Readers:

Have you and your spouse/partner weathered a particularly difficult time? (For example, did you lose a job due to the economy? Worked through infidelity?) If so, I want to hear from you.

In 100 words or less tell me how you and your partner made it through a particularly trying time in your relationship. Was communication key? Did your faith help you heal? The participant with the most compelling story/advice will receive a $5.00 Starbucks gift card.

All participants will remain anonymous and details will be changed to protect your identity.

Visit the contest page to enter!

Looking forward to hearing your stories,

Sylvia

The Baby Race: Talking about Infertility and Pregnancy Loss

First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby…? For the majority of people, life follows this path. For others, however, the baby part doesn’t come so easily.

In fact, every year approximately 10-15% of couples experience infertility (the inability to conceive a successful pregnancy after a year or more of unprotected sex) and numerous others experience pregnancy loss or recurrent pregnancy loss (two or more failed pregnancies). Pregnancy loss can range from an ectopic pregnancy, like I experienced in the fall, to miscarriage, or even still birth.

Experiencing infertility and pregnancy loss is devastating, and it can be even more challenging when it seems like everyone you know is pregnant or giving birth to happy, healthy babies.

Social support from family and friends can be a great source of solace during challenging times. However, communicating about infertility and/or pregnancy loss with members of your social circle can be challenging. First, you and your partner have to decide if, how, and what you should share with others. Second, once you disclose the information many well-meaning friends and family members don’t know what to do or say.

Recent research sheds some light onto how you can communicate about infertility and pregnancy loss with family and friends and how to support those you know coping with this challenging experience.

Telling others about your experience…

Many couples experiencing infertility or pregnancy loss may grapple with what and how much to tell close friends and family. Research by Steuber and Solomon suggest that couples make disclosure decisions based on how risky or stigmatized the information is (for example, the cause of infertility, if known), their closeness to friends and family, and their ability to competently talk about the issue.

In addition, it’s important to take in to account additional issues such as being on the same page as your partner. Although you may want to disclose your challenges to your best-friend or parent(s), your partner may want to keep things between the two of you. It’s important to talk about who you will and will not share your news with and how much detail you want to reveal. If one partner discloses very private information to an “unapproved” friend or family member, the other parnter may feel betrayed.

Don’t assume that you and your partner are on the same page or that your partner “just knows” not to say anything, make sure to have a direct conversation about this. While you may cope better by sharing the news with lots of friends, your significant other may prefer to keep things close to the vest. Setting ground rules will prevent uncomfortable moments or privacy violations.

However, just because you choose to tell a few select people, don’t feel obligated to tell everyone in your social circle or every new person you meet. When you reach a certain age it seems that everyone in your social circle and beyond is trying to conceive. Many people, women specifically, attempt to use this common interest as chit-chat, not knowing that it may be a sensitive issue.

If you are comfortable sharing your struggles with others (and you and your partner are both comfortable disclosing) than reply honestly when someone asks: “So, are you two starting a family soon?” However, if you don’t feel comfortable sharing your private information, simply say “not yet” and change the topic. For more great ways to manage the baby question in social interactions check out Connie Shapiro’s, a professor at the University of Illinois, blog about infertility.

Supporting friends through their experience…

Supporting a friend through an infertility issue or pregnancy loss can be difficult. You want to be supportive and show your friend you care, but you also don’t want to only focus on this issue every time you talk.  Research by Jennifer Bute, however, shows that women experiencing infertility or pregnancy loss want their close friends to ask them about their experience because it shows that their friends care. In addition, asking questions gives the individual or couple experiencing difficulties a chance to talk about their struggles because they might feel awkward bringing up the subject out of the blue.

However, how you ask questions and how much you ask is important.  For example, asking a series of questions may seem invasive. So, try a general question such as, “how did your procedure go?” rather than asking for a blow-by-blow. Also, be sensitive to your tone and what types of questions you are asking. Asking “who has the problem?” is insensitive. Instead, try asking “Does your doctor know why this may have happened?,” but be sure not to push for more information. Your friend will share what he or she is comfortable sharing.

In addition, keep your mouth shut. If your friend confides in you, don’t turn her or his heartbreak into gossip. This is your friend’s news to share and she, not you, should decide who knows this extremely private information.

Finally, if nothing else, just be there. Call to let your friend know you are thinking of her. Send a card or a thoughtful email. The world of infertility can seem like a really lonely place, and having the support of a caring friend can help lessen the heartache.

For more information on coping with infertility visit Connie Shapiro’s blog or check out her book, When You’re Not Expecting.

Until next time,

Sylvia

The Anti-Resolution Plan

In general, I hate New Year’s resolutions: Lose 20 pounds by tomorrow; never, ever drink again; exercise for two hours every day. All of these resolutions are either unattainable or unsustainable.  As a result, after a few days your resolve vanishes and you feel like a failure; some Happy New Year.

In addition, a lot of resolutions are often self-focused and, sometimes, superficial.  Although self-improvement is a good thing, there’s more to improve than just your waistline. Why not improve your education or broaden your horizons? Or, why not improve your relationships?

So, instead of making resolutions, I like to make plans. Whereas a resolution is more of a pledge or promise that you may or may not be able to honor, a plan is something concrete you can work towards.  Plans can be big or small, or you can make a lot of small plans that culminate in a big plan. In other words, a plan gives you agency and a goal. Unlike resolutions, plans, if made correctly, are attainable and sustainable.

Here are a few plans that I think will lead to happy, healthy, and satisfying 2012:

Make a plan to…focus on your relationships. You spend most of your life in relationships. You come from families, live with romantic partners, and work with co-workers. Yet, too often people overlook their relationships and take them for granted. Although you may think that your loved one knows you care, sometimes you may forget to show them.

This year, make a plan to let people know you love them, appreciate them, and care for them. It can be as simple as sending an email during the day letting your honey bunny know you’re thinking of him/her or telling your co-worker or employee “great job!” The little things really do mean a lot. And letting someone know you care is easy and free!

Make a plan to…put down technology. Now I know this means I’m encouraging you to step away from my blog for a bit, but do it! Set aside time each day to be “tech free.” Make a plan to make the dinner table or bedroom no tech zones. I’ll think you’ll enjoy the conversations and activities that take place when the ipad is put away. Taking a technology time out will also help you accomplish your first plan. Something as simple as giving your partner or family your full attention at dinner, rather than checking your email, can greatly improve your relationships and communicates that you care.

Not only will you have more time to focus on your relationships when you’re not engrossed in technology, you will also have more time to enjoy life. It’s important to live life and not just view it through a computer or TV screen. Trust me, the world will not end if you don’t check your email or update your facebook status.

Make a plan to…enjoy some quiet time. Although I love the conveniences of modern technology, there is something incredibly soothing about sitting down in my living room in the morning with a cup of coffee and my thoughts. No TV buzzing, no radio blaring, or emailing binging. Just me, my coffee, and my pup. So, take a little time to quiet your mind. Now, I’m not saying that you need to become an avid mediator (although meditation is wonderful!), but just giving yourself a few minutes of quiet can help you get ready for the day or unwind from a hectic one.

Make a plan to…have your dreams become a reality. Too many people spend their life thinking woulda, coulda, shoulda. Well, now is the time to do something about it. If you’ve always wanted to open a bakery or play guitar, start making a plan about how you can realistically do these things and then do them, mindfully.

Do research, get feedback, and be okay with stumbling and, maybe, even failing. As evidenced by seniors who wrote in to New York Times Columnist’s David Brooks’ Life Reports most people never regret the things they do, only the things they don’t.

Make a plan to…do some early spring cleaning. The start of the New Year is a great time to get rid of extra material crap and crappy people. Although it may seem harsh, too often we maintain relationships that have passed their prime or with people that make us feel bad about ourselves. Life’s too short to waste time on superficial, empty, or miserable relationships. If you have some relationships that you are maintaining out of obligation rather than desire, end them, nicely.

Make a plan to…love yourself. Too often people are harder on themselves than they would be on anyone else. Stop comparing yourself to other people be it their income, looks, education, or even perceived happiness. Make this year the year you accept who you are and love you as much as all your friends and family do!

Stop being envious of friends. All those facebook posts about their “totally perfect” evening, relationships, etc. ignore them. Facebook allows people to manage their identity and present a perfect image of their life. Remember, even the person with the most amazing hubby or perfect, angel children has just as many bad days that aren’t status worthy.

Also, stop wishing you looked like a super model or that you could lose those last five pounds. Not even super models look that super. And, no one will love you less whether you do or don’t lose a few pounds, in fact, I bet they wouldn’t even notice because they’re too busy loving you!

These are just a few plans that are sure to help make 2012 a great year. What are your 2012 plans (share them in the comments)?

Until next time,

Sylvia

Holiday Hibernation!

 

Just a Squirrel is taking a holiday break to enjoy time with friends and family! However, I did want to take a moment to thank you all for reading my column and submitting your questions to Sylvia Says. Your feedback, encouragement, and support have been amazing. I love writing this blog and am glad more than two people read it!

If you have suggestions for future columns, please email me. I want this blog to help you, my readers. In addition, don’t forget to send your relationship questions to Sylvia Says.

Well, I’m going to go back to eating leftovers and spending time with loved ones. Sylvia Says will be back Thursday and watch for an all new column January 2nd  to kick of 2012! In the meantime, enjoy your time with friends and family.

Until next time,

Sylvia

Launching Soon!

Just a Squirrel is days away from going live! Check back on November 6th for advice on how to handle holiday family stress!!

In the meantime, submit your relationship questions here!

Until next time,

Sylvia

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