Monday, August 26, 2013

What Our Parents Taught Us

Eventually most parents have that moment when they realize that they said something to their kids that their parents had said to them. I don't even have kids but I know I have had those moments with kids in my family.

My mom died when I was fifteen. At that time, she'd try to talk to me and impart some wisdom and life lessons. I would often roll my eyes or think to myself, "What could you possibly know about anything?!?" It took a few years but I realized as I got older that she did know what she was talking about most of the time. Since then, barely a day has passed when I haven't heard her words in my head. I've even found myself sharing some of her advice with friends and co-workers.

I think it is a sign of maturity when we begin to see our parents as real humans and not superheroes. It's also a sign when we can learn from them, both what they got right and what they got wrong.

Learning from your parents involves working what they did right into your own life; taking their advice and their lessons as your own. However, it also involves looking at what they did wrong and making the decision to do things differently. You do not have to make the mistakes of your parents your mistakes and, ultimately, your children's mistakes.

The cycle of abuse is a cycle because we feel powerless to do anything different. Our parents dysfunction becomes our dysfunction because it is what we know. We know what we know and the unknown always looks scary and difficult - even if what we know isn't very good.  Yet, it doesn't have to be. We can choose to do something different, to have something different and to be something different. This doesn't mean it will be an easy path to take or a quick solution to your problems.

Breaking the cycle could involve confronting your accusers, seeking professional help or just being aware of your actions and the decisions you are making. If you need to so something, whatever it is, do it. Just remember that you have to do through the rain to get to the rainbow. Your hard work will pay off for you, your children and your children's children. It is worth the effort.

Thursday, August 22, 2013


It's not just a tasty seafood dish (especially when it is fried!). The phenomenon of 'catfishing' is something that could only happen to the extent and frequency it does in our 21st century cyber-society. A catfish is someone who lures someone into a relationship by pretending to be someone they are not. They use other people's photos, make up elaborate lives and lies and actually develop relationships with people using these fake identities.

The MTV show Catfish is all about getting the catfish to fess up and meet the person they have been stringing along. We are well into the second season and so far there has only been one couple who were who they said they were. Everyone else is found out to be a fake. Some of them are purposely being deceptive but most tell a similar story. They were unhappy with themselves and created this fake persona to feel better about themselves. They fell into a relationship and didn't know how to get out of it once they were so far in.

It is scary that so many young people feel this badly about themselves that they would go to this extreme. Honestly I don't understand how pretending to be someone else - someone "better-looking" or thinner or "more interesting" can help you feel better about yourself. I certainly don't understand how stringing some unwitting and unknowing person along could be seen as a positive move for the 'catfish'.

On the other hand, the person being duped often ignores flagrant signs and continues in this 'relationship' often for years. Yes, these people enter into exclusive relationships with people they have never met.

The need for acceptance and love is so strong among these people that they are willing to live a lie or accept the lies they are being told.

It's sad really and I don't know what to tell these people. Maybe I'd tell them that - only real life is real. To the catfish I'd say that life isn't not always happy or fun or what we want it to be. Being someone else isn't an option. To the person being catfished I'd say that avoiding the truth isn't an option either. Believing lies will never make them the truth no matter how hard you believe them.

I watch the show because it is as fascinating as it is sad.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Role Reversal

 For the Mondays in August we'll be looking at being adult children.

They were there for us all of our lives. They raised us and guided us from infancy to independence. As we get older, so do they. Age advances and many parents move from independence to dependence.  When they age, they need us just like we needed them.

Often, parents need their children just as their children are hitting their stride: raising their own children (and some times grandchildren), experiencing more responsibility at work and dealing with the realities that adulthood brings. It is at this time that our parents need us most.

There are several things to consider:

Living arrangements
 Should they stay at home, live with you or go to a skilled facility? A lot of this depends on the health of your parents. Healthy parents could get by with just a little more contact, a few more calls or visits. If they are suffering from an illness that isn't debilitating, maybe an assisted living facility or someone to come by and help them out once or twice a week would do.

If they need more help and can't stay on their own, living with you could be an option, but you have to consider your lifestyle and whether you can offer them the care they need. Caring for an aging and ailing parent is a full-time and draining tasks. Make sure you have a strong support system in place so that you can care for yourself while you are caring for them.

A nursing home could be a final alternative. If you choose to go this route, make sure to do your homework. Cost is a factor but it isn't the only one. Cleanliness, quality of care, number and type of activities are all considerations.

Money Matters
Regardless of the living arrangements, money is a factor. Do they have enough to live on? Can they afford their care? Can you? If you are in your fifties, consider a Long Term Health Care plan. A friend's mom spent over a decade with a debilitating disease. Because she had had the foresight to invest in long term care insurance, she was able to have a high level of care without bankrupting her children.

Also take some time to get familiar with Medicaid, Medicare and any pensions or retirement they might have. If you have siblings, consider pooling your money together. Any way you slice it, money will be an issue.

Mending Fences
As your parents get older, the inevitable becomes more of a reality. Taking the time to mend relationships and heal past hurts (if possible) is essential. Once it is too late, it really is too late and there are no do overs. Saying what you need to say while your parent is still here and able to hear you can make all of the difference and this is true if your parents are ailing or healthy. Don't run the risk of leaving things unsaid.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Lesson from Marty

Marty and I have been together for 12 years. He was two-years on when I got him. We started our journey together when I lived in Maryland. We drove cross-country and lived in California for two years. We packed up again and headed back East. We've been in Charlotte for seven years now.

Marty still does the happy dance when I come home and he struts around the block for our evening walk without a problem. Yet, he's no spring puppy. Nothing illustrates this more than his run-ins with the chihuahua puppy next door, Beyonce (yes, my neighbor's named their dog Beyonce).

Beyonce is never on a leash, so when she sees us out for our walk, she darts past Marty, barking (actually yipping). Marty offers a little bark but not and starts to give chase yet he never quite follows though. What can I say, my dog knows his limits.

I wish I could say the same. I think a lot of the time we either ignore our limits totally or we use them as an excuse for not doing anything.

My cousin, at age 40, tore his Achilles tendon. He thought he could just run out onto the basketball court without stretching. He was wrong. After a long healing process, he still hadn't learned his lesson. This time he tore his other Achilles.

On the other hand, I remember back in college when I could take back-to-back aerobics classes and then work out! I work out pretty regularly now but not at that length or intensity. It took me a while to get started again because I was so hung up on what I used to be able to do. Since I couldn't do that, I opted to do nothing. My limitations didn't just limit me; they stopped me.

Eventually I realized that I too wasn't a spring puppy. However, this old (well older) dog still had some fight left in her! I might not be able to do what I used to do but I could do something!

Age, and life in general, brings changes but change is rarely an ending, it just means a different way of doing things. A lesson that Marty has learned well.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Pain from the Past

For the Mondays in August we'll be looking at being adult children.

Sometimes I take issue with the phrase dysfunctional family. Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of families who fit that definition, however, a lot of families didn't suffer 'dysfunction' as much as they suffered from 'imperfection'. None of us had a Cosby Show, or Leave It To Beaver childhood. A surreal televised version of life cannot ever be the definition of 'functional'. We were all raised by real people in real life. Mistakes were made but that alone doesn't create dysfunction.

Having said that, whether we grew up with abuse, abandonment, neglect, bullying, feelings of ostracism or feeling left out or just different, all of us made it through childhood and adolescence with some pain. Mine came from the loss of a parent and being teased about being 'dark and ugly' in middle and high school.

As adults, we have an obligation to deal with the issues we were powerless to deal with as children. This could be done in a variety of ways. It might involve confrontation, therapy, forgiveness or even terminating a relationship. Only you know the best way to handle your situation. Whatever you decide, know that it will take courage, dedication and time.

It's called pain for a reason. You felt pain when it was happening. You feel pain when you remember it. It stands to reason that you will feel pain again as you deal with it. This is where the courage comes in. You will face pain but you have got to realize that there is a sun shining for you once you make it through the storm. The only way to get through it is to go through it.

Also know that you don't have to go through it alone. Hopefully, you have friends and family that will support you on this journey. If you don't, you don't have to go any further than your computer to find support groups. Whatever happened, you are not alone. You might want just an Internet group or you can find a support group to join in your town that will help. You could visit a therapist. Whatever you need to do, there is safety in numbers, so get your group in place.

Once you begin to face your past, you have to be prepared to stick to it. If confrontation doesn't work, try something else. When those pangs of hurt, disappointment and fear come up, you have to be prepared to move through them.

All of this takes time. It isn't overnight and it is never fully addressed in one conversation or major event. When you cut yourself, you need time to heal. With time you will heal but you must be patient with yourself and those around you.

It can get better.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Childhood through Adult Eyes

 For the Mondays in August we'll be looking at being adult children.

As a little girl, my Dad could do no wrong. He was Superman. I was definitely a Daddy's Girl. When I read Greek mythology, I immediately identified with the goddess Athena, I was a smart girl and she was the goddess of reason and intellect. She also emerged fully-grown from her father Zeus's head, the ultimate Daddy's girl.

My mom was definitely a role model: strong, articulate and funny, she was someone to admire ... and I did. As an only child, these two were my world and it was a beautiful world. When my mom started suffering the effects of diabetes when I was about 13, that world shattered. As she declined in health, I was forced to grow up before I was really ready and part of growing up meant taking off the rose-colored glasses and realizing that my parents were, first and foremost, people.

Parents are people. They are fallible. They make mistakes. They make bad choices. They are just like you and I. Over the years, I have learned a lot about my parents as far as their pasts and their future.

When my mother died, I was 15 and briefly saw a therapist. In the midst of full-blown grief, there wasn't much she could do for me. However, she told me one thing that I've never forgotten. She said, "Remember your mother as the woman she was, the good and the bad. Do not make her a saint in death that she wasn't in life."

So while I remember her as the dynamic firecracker that she was. I also remember she could be moody at times and while she wanted me to live up to my potential, she might have pushed me too hard at times. My father was a great dad but he wasn't always a great husband. That's real. They did the best that they could but they weren't perfect. They couldn't raise me perfectly because they weren't perfect people.

I am blessed and fortunate that I never suffered any abuse. I cannot image what it would be like to have suffered and lived through that. I don't even know how to begin to address it. However, I will say this. I am a strong believer in therapy. I've had it in the past and I have it now. Contrary to popular belief, sometimes seeking help is the strongest thing you can do for yourself and those around you.

Your family and friends can't always help you in the way you need help ...  but a good trained professional can. I believe in prayer and faith but I also believe that God puts the people and circumstances in our lives that can help us, we just have to reach out for them.

As we become adults, and in most cases parents, we see our parents through different eyes, it's part of growing up. In healthy situations you get to know them on a different level. My father isn't just my father now. He's my friend and that couldn't have happened when I was a little girl. He's no longer Superman; he's a man ... a good man but far from a perfect man. I wish I had had the opportunity to know my mother as the complex woman I know she was.