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Archive for the ‘Blended Families’ Category

What Makes a GOOD Apology?

Thursday, August 17th, 2017

Apologies and forgiveness are two terms we (humans) tend to throw around quite a bit. What makes a good apology? Most of us know how it feels when we receive a sincere one, but it can be tough to explain to another person (especially if they have offended us) what a good apology is. Luckily, like most things I write about, there are three steps to understanding what makes a good apology:

  1. Divide the scene into ‘actor,’ and ‘receiver;’
  2. Validate your own feelings
  3. Ask/Act.

An offense usually involves an ‘actor’ and a ‘receiver.’

  • A car swerved on the freeway and your car received a dent.
  • Your wife had sex with your best friend and your marriage received a dent.
  • Your sister took a swing and your bicep received a dent.

Even if we know the driver was on the way to a hospital emergency, your wife was lonely, or your sister was mad because you called her ugly, we can still identify the person who ‘acted’ (did the thing), and the person who ‘received’ (was impacted by the thing). Dividing the scene not only allows us to identify the ‘actor’ and the ‘receiver,’ it allows us to have empathy with the actor without excusing his or her actions. For example, we can all empathize with a father who is driving erratically because his son is in the hospital, the wife who is lonely, or the sister who is angry. This empathy won’t pay for a damaged fender, repair a marriage, or heal an arm though. Furthermore, hospital emergencies don’t cause dents; loneliness doesn’t cause cheating; and teasing your sister doesn’t cause assault. Rule number one, filed under “things I was supposed to learn in Kindergarten,” is I am responsible for my own actions. This means we can have empathy for the actor AND expect her to exhibit self-control.

Validate your own feelings.

Empathy will help you forgive the actor in time, but for now we’ll put it aside so you can focus on how you feel. This can be tricky because so many of us get locked into the role of empathizer. We can all empathize with a parent who is out of sorts because he just found out his child had an accident. We’ve all been lonely in a relationship. We even know teasing is verbal abuse and recognize our sister’s anger when she pulls her fist back to hit us in the arm. Feelings don’t predict actions (for example, just because I feel hungry doesn’t mean I will go rob a bank to get the money to buy food). Rather, feelings help us tune in to what we need. When we feel hungry, we eat. When we feel the need to go to the bathroom, we excuse ourselves and try to locate the facilities. It’s vitally important as the ‘receiver’ that, for a time, you put aside empathy and recognize any feelings you have in this moment. You may feel scared after a car accident, betrayed after an affair is discovered, or shocked after getting hit in the arm. Take a moment and validate those feelings. Think about what you need, and decide what you might ask the actor to do or say in order to repair the relationship.

Act/Ask

First and foremost, you may ask the actor to say, ‘I’m sorry.’ Then, you may ask the actor to take responsibility for his or her actions without blaming, justifying, or minimizing the behavior. Finally, you may ask the actor to make a special effort to repair the relationship (often referred to as rebuilding or making amends). Put all of those together and voila! You have the makings of a great apology.

Let’s look at an example.

I live in a part of the country where the freeways are enormous and overcrowded. When there is a lull in traffic, lots of empty space, or the traffic is free to move, it is not uncommon for me to speed. Yes, I will put the pedal to the metal and push my little Jeep over the posted speed limit. I don’t feel like I am being dangerous, I only do it once in a while, and usually it is because even though I planned ahead, there is a wreck so I am running late. But yes, I speed. And I am sorry.

Is this a good apology or a bad apology? After all, I admitted my actions, (I broke the law) and I said, ‘I’m sorry.’

It was terrible!

  • I justified my actions by explaining, “I’m not dangerous”
  • I blamed a wreck for my actions
  • I minimized my actions by saying, “I only do it once in a while” (justifying, minimizing, and blaming are relationship killers by the way).

I could have made it even worse by saying things like, “I said I was sorry. Can’t you just drop it?” or, “Why can’t you trust me? I’m not speeding right now!”

On the other hand, a Rebuilder/Amends-Maker:

  • Is quiet. She apologizes and stops talking. She won’t justify, minimize, or blame and she will leave lots of empty conversation space.
  • Is busy. She is willing to go to therapy (or in my example, defensive driving), meet with healthy peers, read books, and generally work on herself, without pressure from the receiver.
  • Is humble. She won’t fight for her rights in an argument and she allows the receiver to feel (be sad or angry) after her actions.

If you find that the person who ‘acted’ is not able to make a good apology and rebuild, then you may need to act. If it’s a relationship you don’t care to maintain, then you may need to just walk away. If it’s a relationship that is important to you, then you may need a mediator to help you work on what’s going on. Don’t be surprised if you need to make some apologies and amends too, but don’t get ahead of yourself. Divide the scene and validate your feelings. Your important relationships will thrive from this model because old wounds will finally have a chance to heal.

 

Overcoming Defiant Behavior: Keys to Parenting Defiant Teens

Sunday, November 6th, 2016

Blog post by Achievebalance.org therapist Jason Davis MA, LPC (read post on Jason’s website here)

After a long day at work or running errands, you finally are able to come home. Is your teen an expert at pressing your buttons? Do you feel like each day is a battle? It doesn’t have to be that way. Believe it or not, it is possible for you and your adolescent child to coexist peacefully.

Developmentally, your adolescent’s brain development is not complete. They are very egocentric. Don’t worry, this is normal. Their thoughts are still in the phase of concrete thinking; they see the world in black and white, a strong and idealistic sense of what is right and what is wrong. “How does the world apply to me?” or “How do I fit in this world?” These are the questions that your adolescent has which guides their behavior each and every day.

As a part of this development, their friends and peers will become a significant part of your teenager’s life for the next few years. Do not take this personally. This is part of the process of their development, socially. Unfortunately, defiance can become part of this process of development. So what can a parent do?

  1. Create a Parenting Manifesto. What is your family about? What does your family stand for? Let this family philosophy guide your expectations for your children, and especially your teenager. When defiance comes, this Parenting Manifesto helps reduce conflict and arguing.
  2. Have effective Communication with your Teenager. Do not argue with your adolescent. This includes, yelling, making threats, and blame. Remember, they are learning from your examples. Arguing with your teen will only creates more conflict and resistance. When resistance comes, give them a choice for the outcome. Offer choice A or Choice B and let them make the choice. The more a parent argues with a teenager, the more frustrating it becomes, and the greater the chance that your teen will get their way.
  3. Set boundaries and stick with them. Children and Teens like structure. It gives them a foundation to grow and act upon. Setting boundaries helps them understand that their decisions have consequences.
  4. Spend time quality time with them. Have fun. Have casual conversations with them. Ask their opinions about topics that interest them. Have lunch with them or a cup of coffee. Your chats can be about school, life, social media, spirituality, games etc. The better relationship you have with your teenager, the less resistance you will experience.

Two Parenting Mistakes and Time Management

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

Nobody’s perfect. In an age of two working parents, single parent homes, co-parenting, blended families, and just plain normal moms and dads doing the best they can, mistakes will be made.
Mistake number one: Too tired to parent.

This is probably our oldest parenting mistake. Back in ‘the day,’ parenting after a long day hunting and gathering probably looked more like an episode of ‘Survivor’ rather than ‘The Waltons.’ Older siblings were put in charge of younger siblings, children who could prepare food were put to work, while Mom and Dad protected the clan from predatory animals and neighbors. In true Darwinian fashion, children who did not conform to family norms probably did not survive.

Today, well-meaning, tired, parents know they should not ignore misbehavior, yet sometimes it’s just easier to allow the TV and the PlayStation to do their job. Tantrums are met with concessions. Children learn to act rather than ask permission because they know consequences from tired parents can be negotiated away through whining, manipulation, persistence, and even good behavior.

This leads us to mistake number two: I can’t keep up the consequence because now he’s being so good (washing my car, vacuuming, setting the table)! Time off for good behavior only works in prison. In the home, children are in charge of their behavior choices, and parents are in charge of the consequences. If children are permitted to choose the behavior AND manipulate the consequences by acting ‘good’, this can lead to power struggles, confusion, and more manipulation. Kids soon learn tired parents crave love and happiness (and a clean car) and they’ll do anything, including shorten a punishment, if their child rewards them with good behavior and attitudes.

Parenting is not for the faint-hearted and perfection is a myth. Always keep an eye out for good parenting tips and do your best!

Blended Family Counseling: Using the Developmental Model for Addressing Blended Family Issues

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

In order to assist blended families, counselors can use the Developmental Model by Patricia Papernow (1993) as a means to understand the specific issues that a blended family encounters. This model allows for movement back and forth through the stages of blended family counseling, since crises may precipitate movement to the earlier stages.

Papernow’s (1993) model for addressing blended family issues consists of three main stages, with substages existing within each of the major stages. The first is the Early Stage, with Fantasy, Immersion, and Awareness as the substages of this level. The second is the Middle Stage with Mobilization and Action as the substages. The third stage is called the Later Stage with Contact and Resolution as the substages.

The pace of families moving through these stages depends upon the support for the family. Faster families can move through the model in four years, but this would be the minority of families. The average blended family will take seven years to move through the stages, and they usually spend two to three years in the earlier stages. For slower families, they may spend up to four years in the earlier stages, and it may take them up to 12 years to complete the cycle. Without blended family counseling, some families may stay stuck in the earlier stages, and this can end in divorce.

The model examines the losses that all members encounter in the Early Stages and the wishes (especially of children) to return to their prior family structure. The biological relationships are stronger at this point, and stepparents are considered as outsiders. During Mobilization, all parts of the family system begin to find their voice. This leads to Action when the family decides to form a step family structure. In the final stages, the members of the blended family form meaningful relationships with one another.

Counselors can access this model to plot where the blended family may be stuck, where the loss issues are, and also what needs to happen to help this blended family function as a system.

Resource

Papernow, P. (1993). Becoming a stepfamily: Patterns of development in remarried families. Gestalt Institute of Cleveland Press.

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