Messy Marriage

Posted on July 31, 2012. Filed under: Couples, Family, Home, Parenting, Relationships | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Dear Lora,

My son has been married to a sweet gal for 7 years, although she’s nice, her mother is a different story.  Within a year of the wedding, her mom moved in.  A couple of years later, the mother-in-law took custody of one of her other grand-kids, that little girl currently lives with them as well (her parents are nowhere to be found).  They have two kids of their own and now, reluctantly, he has also taken on parenting the niece.  He doesn’t feel he ever has alone time with his children and feels obligated to include the niece.  I need to point out my son is the only one working in the house and they are financially strapped.  His wife says she can’t find a job, although she is a credentialed nurses assistant.  The mother-in-law has a bad back, but is not on disability, so I wonder about that.  I told him to kick the mom out, but that would mean the girl would have to go too.   I hate to see him struggle, what should I do?

Mom in the middle

Dear Middle Mom,

Good gravy Miss Mavey, there sure plenty of lumps in this batch!  The good news, with a little whisking, I think we can get this smoothed out.

I totally get that this situation seems incredibly overwhelming — for those in it, it must feel like there’s no way out.  Luckily, I’m sitting some distance away on another pew, which gives me the chance to see this a little differently.

I hate to sound like a preacher, but I’m a firm believer in that old saying “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle”.  (For those out there who aren’t big fans of God, you can insert “universe”.)

With that said, your son is going to have to man on up!  Especially since this is a girl we’re talking about.  Girls need father figures, whether it’s their own biological one or otherwise.

Remember:  just because some dude showed up and donated a few of his genes at the right time of one month, doesn’t always guarantee he will show up with his big boy jeans on and do the right thing for the rest of that child’s life.

It’s been proven, girls with positive male figures have a greater chance of doing better in life.  They have more self-worth, score higher in certain school subjects, are most likely to excel at a sport, and list goes on.  If that doesn’t get his attention, then mention what can happen without one: teenage pregnancy, ending up in an abusive relationship, even becoming a stripper.  Not that stripping is illegal or anything, but you know what I’m saying.   I have yet to meet anyone who would proudly announce their daughter works at Cheetah’s!  Or niece for that matter!

It’s simple — it’s NOT that little girls fault, but it could be your sons, if he doesn’t handle this properly.  Right or wrong, he’s been placed in her life as much as she’s been placed in his.  Honestly, it sounds like she’s got an angel looking out for her, without your son and daughter-in-law, she could end up in a foster home, if anything were ever happened to grandma.

As for his much-needed one on one time with his own children, he needs to plan dates.  Mark off time on the calendar to spend with each separately – that could be going to the park or just getting ice cream.  It doesn’t have to be an entire day and doesn’t need to cost anything.  Side note to all of us: you can’t put a price on time well spent.  However, there’s a catch — he must also makes dates with the niece.  Whether he likes it or not, his kids are watching and taking it all in…he’s not only showing the niece she’s important, but also showing his kids what a real man is.  A real man steps up and takes responsibility.

For example, my dad died when I was in the 6th grade.  Although my mom, Norma Jean, never remarried, I was blessed with a fantastic brother-in-law who always made sure he was around when it was time to learn how to drive, who made sure I still went snow skiing, taught me how to check the air in my tires, etc., you get my point.  Although I have 2 brothers, it was my sister’s husband who stepped up to the plate.  Now, I’ll be honest, I didn’t realize what he was doing at the time, but looking back, it’s super clear.  He never announced his actions, never said “since your dad can’t be around”, he just did them, those little things that a dad would have done, had he been there.  An important point to your son, I remember all of those nice things.

On to the mother-in-law.  I hear your frustration, but I’m not sure the best answer is to kick the mother-in-law out and it certainly isn’t what the niece needs.  He’s going have to sit his wife and her mother down with all the bills and explain he needs some financial help.   Basically, one of them needs to get a job.  It doesn’t matter which one, it just needs to happen to keep the family afloat.  This is pretty darn simple: you can’t keep rowing down the river with 6 people and only 1 oar.  Bottom line – one gets a job, the other can stay home and take care of the kids.  OR, they could both get part time jobs and split the child rearing, either way, he needs a life-preserver and fast!  If some of the financial burden is lifted off  your son, I think it will offer much smoother sailing.

I commend your son for taking on of this extended family.  Despite what we envision for our children, today, families take on many different forms.  There’s no set of rules as to what a home needs to look like.  It’s what ever you make it.  I truly believe if more families watched out for each other, our country wouldn’t be running the huge moral deficit it is right now.

Take pride in the way you raised your son, he’s clearly been putting up with more than most husbands would be willing to.  I really believe there is a special place in heaven for him, at the least there will be special place in his niece’s heart if he handles this opportunity correctly.

Ps.  While I am skeptical of most government handouts, I believe there are those who truly need financial help, and it sounds like this little girl does.  I am not well versed on this subject, but I think it’s worth a call to the local Social Security office.  Since neither the girl’s father nor mother are able to contribute, there may be some assistant available to her.

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Spit Slinging Sprout

Posted on May 2, 2012. Filed under: Family, Parenting, Relationships | Tags: , |

Dear Lora,

During a party last week a 6 year old spat in my face!  Making matters worse, his parents were present and didn’t do anything about it, they just laughed it off.  This is a classmate of my sons and someone he considers a friend.  I’m appalled, what can I do?

Wet & Worried

Dear W.W.,

Slow down sister…WHAT?!?  A 6-year-old boy spat in your face while his parents were present and they did nothing?  Okay, I need a moment…

All right, I’m back with one question: is the barn he lives in a cattle barn or a horse barn?  Honestly, I was hoping you’d go on to say he was pretending to be a llama…a snake…something – anything!  I mean really, WHO let’s their kid do that?  Okay, so the boy is only 6, but come on people!

I can only imagine you were too shocked to say anything to the pint-sized saliva sprayer.  I know my first thoughts wouldn’t be clean enough to type, let alone repeat aloud.

Candidly, this is a non-starter for me, especially since I have a super low tolerance for gross conduct of any kind.  If your child is hanging out with another child who thinks it’s okay to spit on someone AND has parents who clearly see it as humorous, it’s simple: STOP IT, stop all of it!  Playdates, carpools, etc.

It’s one thing if the parents know this is an issue, acknowledge it, and are “working on it”, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here.  These parents are part of what I call the “friends first” program.  They choose to completely forget they hold the most important titles in the world:  Mom and Dad.  I’m shocked by the amount of parents who spend more time trying to be cool rather than focusing on the job they signed up for, aren’t you?

Here’s the thing…spitting has never been considered cool, so I’m baffled as to why the parents would choose to laugh it off when their little sproutlet sprung a leak.  Doesn’t it make you wonder what the kid would have to do to get in trouble?  Actually, I won’t even go there.  It’s a pretty safe bet they’d likely throw in the towel if given the chance.  In this case, the least they could have done is toss it your way so you could have wiped the wet stuff off — but they didn’t!

Keep in mind, spitting on someone can be considered an assault.  The fact that his mother and father dropped the ball is a big old warning sign and yet another reminder why I think all parents need to be certified to raise a child.  Until then, I’ll remind you of one of my favorite sayings:  “You can’t reason with stupid”.

That’s why I suggest keeping that kid a safe distance away from yours.  I’m not suggesting your child be mean or ignore him, I’m just recommending their contact be left to school or organized activities, like team sports, where there are teachers and coaches around who are trained to handle this type of behavior.

Lord knows you don’t want your child to pick up any hints from this spit slinging Jessie James.  I don’t mean to imply this boy is bad, but he’s clearly not getting the guidance he needs at this point.  Until he does, less is better when it comes to your sons exposure to his buddy’s unregulated behavior.  In this case, it’s better to be safe and dry, literally and figuratively.

If your boys are in the same class at school, be sure to give the teacher a friendly heads up on the wet and wild conduct.  Not in a tattletale way, but rather an “I’m concerned” fashion.  Which is true, you are concerned, for your son and the squirt squirter.

In this case, don’t expectorate (couldn’t help myself) big things from these parents, it sounds like they could use a mom and dad themselves.

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Racing To Conclusions

Posted on March 26, 2012. Filed under: Family, Parenting | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

Dear Lora,

My 6th grade son wants to play soccer for his school.  I want him to do track instead.  Our school recruited this amazing coach who was a US runner in the Beijing Olympics, who is super serious and teaches the technicalities of his sport and events.  While I don’t want to dictate, I think my son would benefit far more from his teachings than our more run-of-the-mill staff coaches who are catch-alls for boys soccer, girls volleyball, baseball, basketball, etc.  What should I do?

One Track Mind

Dear One Track,

My first thought was, WOW, your school landed a US Olympian?!?  That’s huge!  I wish my kids had access to someone of that caliber, you go girl!  Toss that “soccer mom” title to the side and make sure your son is on the right track!  Then, I had a second thought…

I must admit, I’m not a fan of running — at all!  In fact, the only time I run is when I’m being chased or there’s a shoe sale, so I am not the best person in the world to opine on the topic of track.  I just don’t get runners.  Honestly, when I see folks sprinting down my street, especially on cold, rainy mornings, I have this urge to stop and ask if they need a ride.

I’ve asked several of my friends who run for pleasure (if you can imagine) why they do it and they all answer the same: “because I love it”.   I believe them, otherwise, why would anyone do it?  Now a brisk walk, or even a decent stride, I can get my mind around, but running, I’m just not interested.

In my entire life, I’ve only run into one runner who admitted she’s not really a fan, but kept pounding the pavement anyway.  It’s one of our daughters buddies who joined the cross-country team, yes, the cross-country team (I won’t even drive across the country, let alone run it)!  When I asked her why she took up such a dreadful activity, she said it’s because she needed to put a sport on her college application.  CC was the only sport that didn’t require any skill, other than running, and the ability to deal with being bored for hours on end.

So unless you love it or want to use it as a tool to get into college, why would anyone on Gods green earth do it, right?  Okay, so I’m being overly dramatic, but I hope I’m making my point:  It’s hard to make someone do something they aren’t interested in.

These days I think we force kids to do things we want them to do way more than our parents did.  We take the notion that “mother knows best” to an entirely different level.   Hey, most of the time we do know what the better, in this case, track is, but not all of the time.

You’re clearly a good mom and have nothing but the best intentions for your child.  You want to make sure he has the best access to the most amazing teachers, coaches, etc.  However, trying to make your child play a sport they aren’t  jazzed about is like trying to make a cake in an Easy-Bake Oven – it’s just won’t work.  Even if you could fit the 9” pan in the small toy range, it’s impossible to really cook it with a 60 watt light bulb!

To be good at any sport, you need to be engaged, somewhat coordinated, and hope that your DNA matches up with your desired sport.

For example, let’s say you love playing basketball and that you are lucky enough to have the Zen Master himself, Phil Jackson, as your coach…if you’re a 5’ 8” white guy, you’re still not making it to the NBA.

So I’m not sure an Olympic track coach can do much for a kid who wishes they were on the grass bending it like Beckham, instead of trying to chase Bruce Jenner’s records.  Sure, he may learn some fancy techniques, but if his heart isn’t in it, there’s not a lot of fun in being the most skilled 10th place runner, right?  I mean, what color is that ribbon anyway, Magenta?

Here’s the thing, at the end of the day, I just don’t believe it really matters what any of us played in school.  No one has ever called to see if I was interested in a game of volleyball, nor has anyone asked my husband, Scooter, if he’d be interested in discussing a business deal over a game of hockey.  See what I’m saying?

Here’s something else to mull over: the odds of your child becoming a professional athlete of any kind is 22,000 to 1.  In my opinion, the odds of him turning pro at something he can’t stand – zero.

Even if your child digs his sport, he still has a better chance of winning an Academy Award than they he does at making it to the cover of a Wheaties box.  I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather be with my son on the red carpet, rather than sitting in the hot, blistering sun watching him run around a track in an outfit which looks like it was inspired by Richard Simmons.

Ask yourself, what is the end goal?  To have your son hopefully end up in the Olympics, perhaps even win a gold medal?  Or to enjoy a sport and learn the meaning of being part of a team?

Maybe it just sounds good to say your son is being instructed by a real champion, but honestly, that and 3 bucks will get you a tall latte at Starbucks.  No one cares, and if they do, you don’t want to be friends with them.

I get that being in the presence of an Olympian at the age of 12 can be considered rarefied air, but for your son, being forced to run track instead of what he’s interested in may cause him to feel like his oxygen supply has been completely cutoff.

I vote for soccer – which by they way, I can’t stand either, but I’ll save that for another column.

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Gay-O-Meter Mama

Posted on March 12, 2012. Filed under: Couples, Family, Parenting, Relationships | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

Dear Lora,

Last weekend, my teenage daughter had a sleepover with a friend.  At the sleepover, the other girls mother told my daughter that her boyfriend was going to dump her because he is really gay.  Imagine how shocked my daughter was to hear that!  She then asked the mom how she knew and she said it’s because she has a “Gay-o-meter”.  It’s important to note that my daughters boyfriend turned down that friends invitation to a dance before he started dating my daughter.  So, the fact that my daughters boyfriend decided not to pursue her daughter, must mean he’s gay.  I don’t know whether to say something to the mom, or just let it go.  Geez!  This mother is worse than any “stage mom”. 

Mad as a hornet mother

Dear Mad Mother,

Whoa, Nelly!  This gal certainly gives new meaning to mother’s intuition!  Doesn’t it just take you straight (no pun intended) back to high school yourself?  It’s pretty clear this poor gal hasn’t left her pom-pons and Aussie Sprunch Spray in the decade they belong!

Sister, she’s carrying so much baggage from her teenage years you almost want to ask if she’s still using a boom box to play her mixed tape, which I’m sure includes the single Careless Whisper from Wham!  Unfortunately, she’s nailed the careless part all right.

Sounds like this mom is trying to make up for her own short comings.  I’m guessing she wasn’t super popular when she was a teenager, and is clearly still struggling with that now.  Only someone starving for attention would open their mouth and make such an alarming comment.  Can you imagine how much pain it takes for a person to get to the point?  Talking badly about someone else’s child to make themselves feel better?   And to also use their own child to try to right perceived wrongs?

She’s what I classify as a hater.  Haters are everywhere and she happens to be one of them.  You know the type – they’re never happy for anyone else’s success, they believe if someone is more attractive than they are, they must be dumb and if they’re rich, they must be mean, awful people.  Dealing with a hater is hard.  In fact, it’s my policy to stay as far away from them as possible — mainly because I’m afraid the bad vibe they give off will cause them to spontaneously combust!   There’s so much negativity and jealously swirling around in them, it makes you wonder how they find time to manage their daily lives.  Clearly, as in this chicks case, she isn’t doing that very well as demonstrated by her current target: teenagers.

Since it doesn’t sound like you’re ever going to want to be friends with this gal, unless she undergoes some sort of hypnotic transformation, then I say you should have a simple conversation with her about the incident.  You have nothing to lose, but will feel better know you did something.  By the way, I’m referring to it as an incident, a police term, because to me, it’s criminal what she said to your daughter!

Despite the fact she’s given you plenty of ingredients to add to the pot she’s already stirring, I’d avoid discussing either of your girls or the boyfriend, just keep it to the most disturbing part – the gay-o-meter statement.

Keep it basic, let her know you’re trying to raise an open-minded teen and would rather not have someone discussing sexual orientation of any kind, gay, straight or otherwise.

We all know there’s no scientific proof anyone actual has a gay-o-meter so I think you’d be wasting your breath by trying to prove that one way or another, so try not to get caught up in the verbiage, but rather focus on the overall implied meaning.  That way you’re not accusing her of being a liar.  Side note: you never really want to call someone a liar, even if they are, because once you do, they shut down all listening mechanisms and the conversation/argument takes a different focus and gets off track.

The reason I suggest talking to her at all, is that I think you need to let her know this isn’t cool, not only for your daughter, but for anyone else she comes in contact with AND for the boy in question — bless his heart!  He’s done nothing to deserve this attention and I feel for him.

Whether her statement is fact or fiction, this is a form of bullying.  Making any comment (positive or otherwise) about someone’s sexuality, unless they’ve been on the cover of People magazine reveling their sex change, is not okay, it’s downright cruel.

Make sure you tell your daughter to tread lightly with this friend.  I’m not saying the friend is like her mom, but the gal certainly has imbedded herself in her daughters dating life to a disturbing degree.  If you allow her to have any contact with this other mother, keep a close eye on it.  This woman has her sights set on anyone who she perceives to be better than she is…honestly, at this point, it seems that would be pretty much anyone.

ps. Don’t expect to make serious headway with this chick, at this age she’s pretty set in her ways.  The goal here is to let her know that at least one other person has been offended by her off the cuff comments.  Might I add, Lord help her husband!

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Rugrat Resume Rhetoric

Posted on March 6, 2012. Filed under: Family, Parenting | Tags: , , , , , |

Dear Lora,

I can hardly believe that I’m being counseled to create a resume for my kids while they’re still in elementary and middle school!  I think I wrote my first resume my senior year in college.  Those who’ve walked in my shoes tell me that kids need to be competitive from a very early age if they’re going to get into a good high school.  My question is, what extra-curricular activities can young kids do to fill a resume?  Should I be worried my kids aren’t standout stars at school?

Ignorance was bliss

Dear Bliss-less,

Way back in the colonial period when I went to high school, all you had to do was show up.  We only had one option in my small town, so there wasn’t any discussion and certainly no resumes!  Thank the Lord, as I’m not sure what school I would have landed given my only two skills: fire baton twirling and clogging.  Can you imagine the medical releases my mom, Norma Jean, would have had to sign off on those?

So I was as surprised as you are sister when our oldest, Betsy, hit middle school and folks started talking about “resume building”!  What resume?  What building?  At that point she couldn’t even load the dishwasher without guidance, what in the world could she possibly put on a piece of paper that would make her stand out at age 11?   I quickly realized I’d have to harken back to my creative writing class days to turn her limited abilities into talents.

Betsy’s hair styling became: “has an eye for details and exhibits extreme patience on long format projects”.  At the time she had a MySpace account, which was quickly turned into: “creative director of child friendly web page”.  And my personal best — begging for the latest pair of designer jeans translated to: “has strong negotiating skills and shows promise as a litigator”.

During this ridiculous exercise, I started wondering…how many other parents are feeling the way I feel?  Is it possible I have the only child who hasn’t saved all of her allowance in order to buy pet food for the local animal shelter?  Had I missed my mark as a mother by letting my daughter blow her hard-earned cash on candy and music CD’s?

Putting my years of watching Magnum PI  to work, I started sniffing around other parents to see what “talents” they were listing for their children.  Cocktail parties offered the best bragging opportunity, where it was common to hear the following:  “my child is a concert pianist”, “my kid speaks 3 languages”, “my daughter started her own clothing line and is donating all the funds to the children of Africa”.

I think my favorite was the parent who was hanging their hat on their son’s bagpipe playing proficiency!  Talk about hot air!  Really?  You’ve been making your child play the bagpipes???  A skill that’s only utilized in our society for funerals and Scottish weddings?  Good gravy!

Had I really been that remise as a parent?  Not focusing every waking moment on some random craft that would somehow, someday get Betsy into a high school somewhere that would lead her to an ivy league college?  That’s when I decided to just be blatantly honest with the other parents about who my child was.  A novel concept these days, I know!

I remember the first time I told someone if NASA was recruiting based on MySpace pages alone, Bets would be their first call. Although I had braced for a backlash, the other parent laughed out loud and admitted they were in the same boat!  A boat that was apparently on a course to nowhere – with no life vests, just a dingy for a mom.  After all, that was what other mothers and fathers had led us to believe.

Despite their best efforts to look like their child was on course and they were at the helm of their kids ship, I quickly started learning that most parents were lying about their child’s actual GPS location.

Here’s the reality, the majority of moms and dads in this country are just like you and me.  Instead of a ship, we’re in rowboats.  Nonetheless, we are doing the best we can sailing those small vessels trying to keep our sons/daughters on track.  Why isn’t that enough?  Why is there this ridiculous pressure to make our kids row harder and grow up faster?

Once I was honest about where Betsy really was in life —  a normal  tweener, others started being candid back.  That’s when I learned, there were more parents like me than the piano playing, bagpipe blowhards that had been commanding all the attention at these get-togethers.

With that said, unfortunately, in this day and age, your child does need some type of resume, but it’s not the kind you and I have to submit for a job.  Think of it as tool, versus an actual resume on linen paper.

Here’s why: most of these high schools will ask for recommendation letters – when you ask your friends or one of your childs teachers to write one, 9 times out of 10 they will ask for a bio on your child.  This is to help them draft an informative letter, basically, the more they know about your kid, the better the letter will be.

The goal is to make your child look like they care and are an active participant at his or her school, not valedictorian…we all know, there can only be 1 of those, so don’t worry.

Schedule a meeting with either the principal or school counselor and ask them what the different schools are looking for, it’s their job to know.  Get their advice on what schools they think your child would do well at.  They can also give you some great tips on how their resume should be crafted.

Anyone who tells you your child must be a rock star or bagpiper, as the case may be, to get into high school is uninformed and unrealistic.  Keep in mind, these private high schools are a business at the end of the day and need you as much as you need them.  They need your money to keep the doors open and to keep donations from alumni coming in.  I truly believe schools are always looking for good kids, not perfect kids.

Take a deep breath, you’re child is going to be fine.  You are a parent who cares, which is truly half the battle.

Ps.  If you need financial aid, they can help you with that information as well.  Most all private schools offer some sort of scholarship to students who can’t afford tuition, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask.

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Bounced because of Nana

Posted on February 27, 2012. Filed under: Family, Parenting, Relationships | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Dear Lora,

My mother can be inappropriate with the information she shares with my 12 year-old son.  The subjects vary.  Sometimes it’s about sex or drugs, etc., she defends it by saying she wants him to know any subject is okay with her so he has someone to talk to about anything.  Recently he complained to her that his babysitting job didn’t pay enough, so she gave him some bad advice that got him fired.  I am furious!  While he can’t be paid “normal” wages because he’s only 12 and has limited skills, that job was teaching him commitment and a good work ethic.  Now, he has lost all of it – including what money he had earned!

Galled Over By Granny

Dear Galled Over,

There’s a reason the old saying goes: “mother knows best” instead of “grandparents know best”.  That’s because, somewhere between becoming empty nesters and becoming nana and papa, our parents morph into a different species, which we wouldn’t recognize if we time traveled back to our childhood.

Their famous “eat your veggies first” line is replaced with “would you like nuggets or a cheeseburger with your Happy Meal?”  The mandatory bedtime you remember is now considered a suggestion, which is never implemented at their house.  It’s way more important for the grand-kids to stay up late watching old reruns of The Love Boat with grandma, who, by the way, considers it as educational as the History Channel.  Which is fitting, especially since your mother now seems more like bubbly cruise director Julie, than someone who was ever a parent.  She’s running around making sure her grand-babies are having fun, playing games and planning shore excursions in the backyard!

It comes as no surprise to me that your mom overstepped what you and I would consider to be normal parental boundaries.  When you combine a grandparents need to look like a rock-star with their desire to make up for their perceived mistakes made with us, you start to see how age doesn’t always equal wisdom.

Looking hip and “in the know” is super important to a lot of grandmothers.  While it may be cool for the grand-kids, it’s a hot button for us parents!  It’s crazy to watch the one time family sheriff turn into a court jester — treating grand-babies like royalty, letting them drink pop, eat cake for breakfast and teaching them how to play gin rummy for real money!  What happen to the parents who’s favorite line was “I’ll give you something to cry about”?  It’s almost like their bodies have been taken over by aliens, right?

Since I don’t have her side of the story, I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt.  In most cases, the last thing any grandparent would want to do is look bad in the eyes of their grandchildren.  I’m pretty sure she thinks she gave great advice and is completely shocked it backfired.

Unfortunately, you are the one who has to deal with the aftermath.  It’s one more thing added to your thankless routine of screaming “turn the volume on TV down”, “do your homework” and “for the love of gawd, quit trying to give the dog a Mohawk!”  It’s no wonder granny and pops have our kids undivided attention, not to mention unconditional love.  It’s easy to idolize someone who never requires they eat food with nutritional value and spends a crazy amount of time teaching the values of a Vegas card game!

Here’s the thing, your mom needs to “know her audience” — in fact, that’s something all of us can work on.  Just as there is a time and place for off-color jokes you can only share with certain friends, the same is applicable with the grand-kids.  Explain there are some things you shouldn’t be discussing with the kids — YET.  You can also tell her, when they are adults, she can say whatever she wants – whether you mean that or not, it will buy you some time — right now, they’re way too impressionable to handle that kind of advice.  Build her up so she can hear your message.  Re-enforce her queen bee status with her grandchildren and remind her that with that position comes big responsibility.  Let her know you’re trying to help her hold on to that spot…I know, I know, that’s going to nearly kill you to do that, especially now, since you’re so upset, but keep in mind, this is for your kid, not you.

I’d skip harping on how bad her advice was, and how ridiculous it was that she shared that with your son, that will only put her on the defense.  Make sure you stay away from the blame game and focus on gently conveying that it’s best for her to be a cheerleader, rather than an agent.

I agree, your son was earning more than just money with that gig and I applaud your efforts for instilling a work ethic, Lord knows more kids need that these days.  I suggest you call the family he was babysitting for and explain what happened.  Like all of us, that mom has a mother too and will probably understand the situation.  Hopefully she’ll give your son another chance and perhaps a little raise!

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iHop’n To Meet Mom

Posted on January 9, 2012. Filed under: Couples, Family, Parenting, Relationships | Tags: , , , |

Dear Lora,

Over Christmas break my husband, kids and I made our yearly trip to Texas to visit his family, where I get to watch him play the role of the “good son”.  It’s usually pretty hilarious, but this time something really bugged me.  Here at home, I can’t ever get him to go to breakfast on the weekend, but there he was Mr. Morning!  He would jump right out of bed to meet mommy at iHop!  Whenever I suggest iHop around here, I get “I don’t eat that stuff!”  In Texas, he goes from sleeping, to in the car racing toward iHop in about 6 minutes!  I’m so frustrated!  Why will he do this for his mom and not me?

iHop’n Mad

Dear Hopping Mad,

As our mothers have always said, breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  I’ll take it a step further and say when it’s a son meeting his mom for a stack of shortcakes, this saying takes on a whole new meaning.

If he were bouncing out of bed to meet up with an old flame, I’d say you have every right to bombard him with a list of burning questions.  But since it’s your mother-in-law, you may want to put the matches down.

I don’t mean to make light of this link, but you can’t look at it the same way you would another women who would be considered a threat to you.  Although, there are plenty of times when mothers consider themselves “competition”, I don’t think your case seems to be one of them.  Trust me, I know all about men who are enmeshed with their mothers – but that’s a column for another day.

Your iHop’n hubby is most likely doing what his business card says: Perfect Son.   That’s the title on the card your mother-in-law carries around with her, right?  Mother’s and son’s have one of the most complicated, and, in my opinion, least understood relationships going on the planet.

How many times have you turned on the news and seen parents standing by their blatantly guilty children?  It’s because they can’t see past the complex bond.  Admitting their kids have an issue could mean there’s something wrong with them, so the cycle keeps going ‘round and ‘round.  Who can forget watching convicted killer, Scott Peterson’s mom defend him?  Now, imagine what the mother of a man who was to chicken to toilet paper another frat house in college thinks of her son – he’s a rock star in her head!

Your husband no doubt feels the obligation to keep his “Good Son” image going, as his mother is one of the few in the world who think he’s perfect, or pretty close to it.  You should hear my mom, Norma Jean, talk about my brother, you’d think he was at The Last Supper, he has total disciple status in her book.

Back to breakfast, most men feel some sort of pressure to maintain their position in their families of origin – I’m going to use the iHop menu to help to explain:

Let’s start with the basic combo:  If your husband is like mine, who happens to be the baby of the family, he’s super secure in his place in the bloodline and he doesn’t feel much pressure from his mom.  To me, this is just about the best spot a man can have, I describe his maternal relationship as the “Simple & Fit”, it’s around 400 calories and doesn’t need any frills.  Although his feeling of obligation to her is a little less than most men, he still responds to her needs and definitely plays the role of the youngest to a tee!

On the flip side, you have hubbies who swing to the other extreme, maybe they are the oldest boy, or worse, the only boy in the family – Egads!  I would most definitely put those men in the “Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity” category, which means they not only requires a lot of real butter, but the syrup has to be poured on thick when he meets his mom for brunch!

Most men are somewhere in the middle, most likely ordering the Two x Two x Two.  Basically a step above the low frills, but with much less butter and syrup.

Despite the varying degrees of complexity for this mother/son alliance, there is a common thread — his mother is most likely his first love and oldest flame, which comes with an unspoken obligation to keep the fire burning.  For the son, this means moving the logs around the fireplace to make sure embers keep glowing or, in his case, meeting her for a meal at her favorite spot to let her know she’s still loved.

Men have been told what to do, when to do it, how to act and most definitely what to eat by their mothers their entire lives, so it’s no wonder she gets to call the shots on where and when they will have pancakes and eggs.

As wives, we are (hopefully) seen as their partner, and not a parent.  Which means your sidekick feels like he can express himself with you and say “I hate eating there” knowing you most likely wouldn’t debate him on it.  Where as he knows his mother might take offense to someone bad rapping her favorite restaurant, or anything else.  See what I’m saying?

As the husband, he has more freedom to express himself, as the son, he’s trying to make sure he’s not hurting her feelings.

I know what you’re probably thinking…why don’t our husbands give us this consideration?  It would be FABULOUS if they gave us half the forethought they do their mothers, but in the majority of cases, they just don’t.  For one, it’s a lot of work, and for the most part, men are basic creatures, they don’t like muss or fuss and will take the easiest way out when possible.  Thus, you and I are usually left with their raw and honest answer, while mom gets the sugar-coated one.

So see, it’s not about his love for you, it’s about how he manages showing love for his mother.   I suggest letting this go, it’s not worth the energy, and honestly, if you tried to explain to him the abovementioned examples, he most likely wouldn’t undesrtand what you’re trying to get at.  It’s not because they’re dumb, it’s because “it’s complicated” and men, no matter how many advanced degrees they have, they don’t do “complicated” well.  I’ll bet most don’t even realize the emotional dance they’re doing with their mom.

If all your husband has to do is meet her for an inexpensive breakfast once in while, I’d say that’s a Grand Slam — wait, wrong restaurant — at any rate, count your blessings!

Be grateful she wants to meet at an iHop – honestly, she could be iHopping over to your doorstep every Sunday morning expecting you to cook!  Can you even imagine how difficult it would be to try to whip up one of those stuffed French toast combos?

I say wish your man and mother-in-law a hardy bon appetite and go grab yourself a Starbucks and a new pair of shoes…you can afford them if he keeps meeting her there!

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Birth Control, Teens & Timing

Posted on December 19, 2011. Filed under: Couples, Family, Parenting, Relationships | Tags: , |

Dear Lora,

My husband and I are in for a turbulent time during my daughter’s pubescent stage of life.  I want her to go on the pill when she becomes sexually active, but my husband thinks that would just encourage her to be even more active.  I disagree and would much rather have a protected daughter than a grandchild before we are all ready!

Proactive Pill Popper

Dear Pill Popper,

I googled the term “Putting the cart before the horse” and oddly enough, found your address!  Are you a planner, or what?!?!

Let me take a wild guess: you probably had the names of your children picked out you before you even met your husband…you clearly hate surprises and have threatened to disown any relative who’s even thought of throwing a party for you without prior knowledge…and you’re also likely the reason the rest of us can never use our frequent flyer miles, because you book your trips 8 months in advance, right? On behalf of procrastinators everywhere:  Thanks a lot sister!

There are a lot of positive things to being a planner – for the most part, life runs smoother because there’s less stress surrounding things that are known and set in stone, and you no doubt save more money than the rest of us last-minute holiday shoppers.

HOWEVER, there is such a thing as being too in control, or should I say in “birth control”!   Case in point: jumping to a lot of conclusions about your daughter jumping in the sack.

First, let me give you some good news: despite your concern about her becoming active the minute she hits puberty, recent studies show American teens have sex for the first time around age 17.  In fact, they are waiting a bit longer than teens in the past.  Even better news, The Guttmacher Institute’s says 75 percent of teenage girls had sex for the first time with someone they were in a long-standing relationship with, and almost three-quarters of that same group used contraception during that encounter.

Now, I’m not guaranteeing your young lady is going to be super responsible, they are teenagers after all, and still lose it when you forget to pick up their favorite shampoo at the store!  However, I just wanted to point out, that you might be overreacting…at least a little.

I’m kind of with your husband on the “planting the seed”, this may not even be on her mind right now, but if you put the pill idea out there, she may think having sex isn’t that big of a deal and that you’re expecting it happen sooner, rather than later.  Even though you clearly are expecting it, she doesn’t need to know that — yet.

I think you need to put the birth control conversation on cruise control for a little while and focus your energy on another way to get your point across.

It would be fantastic if someone would invent an iPhone app for this moment, but the likely reason no one has is because some things in life still require face-to-face communication.  This is one topic that you can’t text, tweet or Facebook your way out of.

With that said, I think the most effective form of birth control isn’t oral contraception, it’s oral conversation.  Before you pick up the prescription, I think you need to sit down and have chat.

Make sure you don’t approach it as on of those “we need to talk” sessions, all teenagers (and husbands) hate those moments.  Instead, try to bring it up while you’re in the car driving somewhere.  Tell her she doesn’t even need to respond, just put it out there for her to think about.

Let her know she can come to you when she’s thinking about having sex and that you will help her get the protection she needs and promise her you won’t freak out…or tell her father.  For the love of God, do NOT tell her father!  Unless you’ve got one of those progressive husbands who’s able to handle this stuff.  Here’s hint, you mostly don’t.

I started doing this with our oldest daughter, Betsy, before she entered high school.  The first few times she was like: “Mom, OH MY GAWD, that’s SO embarrassing!”  Then immediately put her iPod on and tuned me out.

None the less, I continued to drop the conversation in every few weeks until I was able to work up to:  “I’d really like to see you wait to have sex until college” versus the one our parents used, which was “You need to wait until you’re married”.

I’m not saying that waiting until you’re married isn’t an important message, but I don’t feel like that’s very realistic in this day and age.  Men and women are waiting MUCH longer to get married, than even our generation and WAY longer than our parents.  I’m not sure the “holding out until you say ‘I do’ ” line is very practical for this group.  The goal is get to them to listen, if you sound old and out of touch, they’ll likely think your message is too.

Back to Miss Bets for a minute, she continued to flip out every time I brought the conversation up, but finally started listening when I began talking about sexually transmitted diseases.  She is a germaphobe, to put it mildly, so that was the thing that got her attention.  The idea of getting cooties from someone else completely grossed her out.  Find your daughters “cootie” moment and you’ll be off to the races with this topic.

When it’s appropriate, you can take the conversation to the next level and let her know you’re open to the idea of her going on the pill and suggest she can come to you without being condemned.

As you know, there are serious side effects to the pill – there’s a reason it’s prescribed by a doctor.  I know, I sound like one of those annoying pharmaceutical commercials right now, but you get the point.  There are other forms of protection out there to consider as well.

And remember, even if she does go on the pill, there’s almost no way to guarantee she will take it as regularly as she needs to ensure it’s effective.  If she skips just 1 pill, she’s back a square one and could open herself up for pregnancy.   The only things teenage girls do on a regular basis without complaining are condition their hair and go the mall.

I say open the lines of communication and put the kibosh on the oral contraception, for now.

Side note:  Remember, you have more to worry about than being a grandmother, as the pill doesn’t offer any protection against sexually transmitted diseases.

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Tricky Foreign Affairs

Posted on November 28, 2011. Filed under: Couples, Family, Home, Parenting, Relationships |

Dear Lora,

I’ve got a great career along with a husband and a soon to be kindergartener.  I’ve been offered a career opportunity that would make me stand out in my field and double my income, however, my husband doesn’t want me to take the offer.  I would need to temporarily move to Tokyo for 9 months starting the beginning of next year.  I will have the option to come back to Miami when the 9 months is up.  My husband doesn’t want to go.   He says he could not take a leave and would have to resign instead, his family is here, and our son would be pulled out of school just a few months after starting.  My career is very important to me.  I’m already making more them him and when my bigger paycheck comes in, he can be the stay at home dad.  How can I get him to even consider the idea?

Bringing home the bacon

Dear Bacon,

Wow, this is just like that Enjoli perfume commercial from the 70’s – “I can bring home the bacon (da-dah-da) fry it up in the pan…”

First of all, congratulations on your super exciting offer, doesn’t if feel good to be wanted, appreciated and rewarded?  Lord knows, there are few places any of us can get that type of feeling.  It sure doesn’t happen after we do the dishes, fight with the kids to brush their teeth or wash our husband’s hockey stinky hockey gear, right?

Now, back to the big negative in all this excitement – your seemingly support-less spouse.

Let’s start with why he doesn’t want to quit his job and doesn’t want to move, it’s very simple – for the most part, people don’t like change.  Taking it a step further, men seem to like it far less than women.  You don’t have to look any further than their hair, most men have the same haircut they did in their senior pictures.  If they don’t, it’s likely because they’re now folically challenged and can’t recreate the look they sported when they won the state football championship.  They also don’t like changing their style of jeans, boxers or toothpaste.  So getting a man to move to another town is a real trick, especially if it isn’t for his job.

The interesting part in this equation is that you earn more money then he does and you’re now in a spot to earn even more.  I can tell you, without question, that my husband, Scooter, would move anywhere in the world if I was the breadwinner in the relationship.  Dare I say he’d even help pack!

Unfortunately, your mate seems to be doing a different kind of math, which is making for a very challenging problem.

Here are some things I’d circle back on:

1.) Does he know for sure he’d have to resign?  In these economic times, there are companies who would be thrilled to give unpaid leave.  I would encourage him to meet with his Human Resources department and see if he can get a list of the company’s position on this issue.  That’s something he can do without showing his cards and risking retaliation.

2.) It would be fantastic if you could live close to either of your extended families, but the reality is, over 75% of everyone I know has had to move at least once to make a living.  Unless your husband’s family wants to start paying your bills as well, I say go where you have the best chance to support your kid, put money away for retirement and your son’s college.  Heck, Scooter and I live in a city that isn’t our first choice because of his job.  Families have to make this decision all the time.

I’m perplexed as to why he’s playing that card anyway.  You, your husband and child are a family, that’s what you both most consider first, what’s best for your family.  If you have the luxury of considering extended family after that, then consider yourself lucky.

And 3.)  Kids are resilient, especially at your son’s age.  This could be a great learning and bonding experience for all of you.  Another plus, as a kindergartener, he could even pickup a second language fairly easy.  That way, when he hits middle school he can scream “leave me alone” in more than one language and you can honestly say that you didn’t understand him!

I think it sounds like a neat adventure.  The key to this offer is that you said you can always come back if it doesn’t work out.  We’re only talking 9 months – unlike having a baby, you can actually unwind this outcome.

As long as you are together as a family unit, that’s all that matters.  It’s not like you’re moving your son during his senior year of high school and forcing him to miss prom.

I think I’d skip suggesting to your spouse that he could then be a stay at home dad.  Whether they admit it or not, most guys are as excited about that idea as they are hitting the mall Saturday morning.  Instead, let him know this could be a chance for him to pursue a career he’s always wanted.  It could free him up to take a chance on creating his own business, being his own boss and not being beholden to a job where he has to ask for a leave.

I’m not saying that’s an easy sell, because it’s not.  It’s probably going to be harder than finding the matching lids to your kids sippy cups.  But starting with a different approach will definitely help.

You didn’t mention this, but I wonder how much it bothers your husband that you bring home more dinero, soon to be yen.  No matter what you call money, the idea is completely foreign to most men, forget that your offer is in Tokyo, it could be in Toledo and he’d likely be having the same reaction.  Your challenge is to get him to see you, him and your son as a “team” — that this opportunity is something to do together, rather than something that will make you more successful than he is.  Remember, his ego is a stake here as well.

Men are funny creatures, although they’re usually not very complex, they are experts at sending mixed messages.  For example, when my oldest daughter was 4 months old, my ex-husband demanded I go get a job, which I immediately did.  Here’s the kicker: he didn’t like it when my “job” started turning into a real career.  It became pretty clear, pretty fast that he wasn’t interested in my success.  I was completely confused…was I supposed to get a job that I hated and was awful at?

Pouring salt on the now open and bleeding wound, I was told by his accountant that I needed to watch what I made, so I didn’t mess up his tax bracket!  I changed his tax bracket all right — to single!

Turns out, this was a man who wouldn’t have moved next door, even if the house was free, let alone to another city for me.  I truly hope that’s NOT your husband.  If it is, you will have to make a tough decision either way.

For me it was simple decision, because our marriage was down right awful.  Truth be told, it was easier to go to work than it was to stay home and deal with him.  There was no “us”, or “our family”, so that made my choice easier.  He wanted someone to completely form to his life, his wishes and integrate into his family.  Toss in a couple of eggs and some flour and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

I hope that your spouse is more interested in creating something with you and your son as the focus, whether that’s staying where you are, or moving to a new city.

Final thought: If this was a career opportunity for your husband, I’ll bet there would be little to discuss, in fact, chances are, you would have already downloaded an app on how to learn Japanese in 30 days!

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Passive vs. Pushy Parenting

Posted on November 7, 2011. Filed under: Family, Parenting, Relationships |

Dear Lora,

My son’s birthday is coming up and we are planning his party.  He is inviting every member on his football team except one.  He isn’t exactly friends with the boy who isn’t invited, they’ve never had a play date, don’t hang out at school, etc. but I feel awful that he will be the only guy left out, and of course, he’ll hear all about it.  Should I force the invitation on my son or allow him to choose his friends on his own?

Perplexed Parent

Dear Perplexed,

You’re singing a familiar tune and I totally get it.  You’d like to be the rock-star parent, the one who takes center stage as a friend, while viewing the role of disciplinarian as more of a back-up singer.  However, in the songbook of a life, kids need a little ditty dedicated solely to the topic of guidance, and this sister, is your moment to take the microphone and let your son know who the lead singer in this band is.

Striking a cord between being a pushy parent versus a passive one can be tricky – luckily, this time, there’s no need to fret, you just need to be direct.  Tell your little running back that every kid on the team is getting an invite, period.  To me, leaving someone out in a situation like this, especially when the common thread here is a team sport, could be very alienating for this boy – although we’ve all heard it, here it is again: there is no “I” in the word team.

Let’s flash back to our own childhoods — remember in grade school when the P.E. teacher would pick two kids and let them each take turns choosing kickball teams?  You’d get that feeling of “please don’t pick me last”, and then relief when you weren’t the final kid standing, right?  Now imagine that your son’s classmate when he realizes he isn’t getting called at all!  Can you imagine what it would feel like to be the only kid in the posse not invited to a party?  My stomach hurts just thinking about it.

I get that you’re trying to look like you’re hip and want your son to think you’re ultra cool, who doesn’t wish their kids would look at them and think “superstar”?  The reality is, they usually don’t, no matter what you do.  We don’t get brownie points from our kids like we do our co-workers and friends.

Believe me, I know what it’s like to be the uncool mom…it’s way easier to be the “no problem” parent and pass the buck.  But trust me, if you pass the buck now, you and your son will be paying the price for a long time.

One of my most unpopular moments as a mom was actually sparked by a superstar.  When Britney Spears pierced her belly button, everyone in my oldest daughter’s world was begging their mom for a little bling around their mid-section, my Betsy was no exception.  Just like your son, Bets needed stern direction on this issue, something I discovered only after trying to handle it passively.

I thought for sure the old “no mother in their right mind” line would work, but I was wrong.  Much to my surprise, a few of the mom’s not only said yes, but paid good money for a complete stranger to stick what looks like an illegal fishing lure through the pristine bellies of their barely teenage girls.  In my opinion the piercing artist should have poked a hole in the heads of the parents who said yes to make sure they actually had a brain!  Who says yes to that, and at that age?  I didn’t and Betsy was bummed, to say the least.  She thought I was an out of touch prude.

I tried all the lines, from attempting to scare the bejesus out of her with infection stories, to what if that thing gets caught in the zipper of your jeans?!?  None of them worked, so I had to revert to my original line, which is “I’m the parent and that’s just the way it is”.  She then asked “how bad do you think it would hurt if I just went ahead and did it on my own?”  My answer:  “Not as bad as it will when I rip it out!”  Harsh?  Debatable.  Effective?  Absolutely!

Now, years later, she’s relieved she only has holes for 2 rings on her body, earrings that is.  It ended up being just another battle that came and went.  And yours will too.

If I had I let Bets put a hole in her stomach, she’d be carrying that physical scar with her the rest of her life.  If your son doesn’t invite his teammate, I’m afraid the other boy might carry around an emotional one.

This is a learning opportunity for your son and you should approach it as such.  Just making sure he’s aware of someone else’s feelings is huge and a lesson everyone needs.

He may not understand your decision today and will likely say every kids favorite line: “you just don’t get it, mom” and that’s okay.  They’re only words and someday he will understand.

Send the invite and make sure the other teammates include this boy in on the fun.  Don’t let him be ignored or left alone, he is a part of the team and should be treated as such.

Going forward, your boy will have plenty of time to pick his own friends.  I’m not saying he and the other kid have to become B-F-F’s, they just need to be friendly and able to get alone – if for nothing else, they need to do it for the sake of the team.

In the grand scheme of things this will only be a few hours your son has to suck something up.  This is fabulous practice for the game of life, where he’ll learn soon enough, he’ll have to suck up a lot more than this when he lands his first job.

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