Dec 30, 2009 10:18AM ● Published by Wendy Sipple
Over the years I have observed in my therapy practice that certain issues seem to arise almost on a seasonal basis, while others come up year-round.
On one hand there is the fallout from the holiday season, usually related to extended family relationships and in-laws, and on the other hand I start getting calls from happy couples getting ready to be married. Here are examples of questions I commonly receive at the beginning of the year, and a couple that come up all the time…
Q: My mother-in-law just visited and insists on bringing gifts for the kids every time she comes. We don’t want our kids to expect these and be ungrateful for what they do have. How do we sensitively confront her?
BOB: Issues with in-laws can be sticky and often important issues are ignored in the interest of keeping the peace. The fact that you are concerned enough about your child’s attitude and character to confront a potentially difficult situation or conflict tells me that you are doing your job as your children’s parent. It is in this spirit that I suggest that instead of confronting your mother-in-law, ask for her help. First, explain to her the values of contentment and gratefulness you are trying to instill in your kids, and the challenges to these values. Don’t start with her gifts, but focus on other challenges, like seeing the toys their friends have, exposure to advertising and cultural values, etc. Once you have begun laying out the landscape of challenges, gently include your concern that her gifts may also become a problem. Acknowledge her intentions of blessing your children, and tell her that you need her help in teaching your kids gratefulness and contentment. This may be all you need to say, but if she balks or doesn’t seem to understand, suggest alternatives to gifts, like special “dates” with grandma.
Q: I recently became engaged and my fiancé’s parents are strongly encouraging us to get premarital counseling. I know he is my “soul mate,” and we aren’t even having problems. Am I missing something important?
BOB: The purpose of premarital counseling is to prepare a couple for a lifetime commitment to each other. Often couples who don’t prepare for marriage through premarital counseling are handicapped by unrealistic expectations of what they believe will be the “ideal” marriage. One goal in premarital counseling is to unveil these expectations so the couple enters into marriage with realistic expectations, as well as skills to confront the many common problems and conflicts that are a part of all marriages. Perhaps the most valuable skill taught in premarital counseling, critical for a lasting marriage, is communication. Most engaged couples communicate fairly well when everything is wonderful, but I have found it only takes scratching the surface to discover significant areas in communication where most couples struggle.
Q: My third grader has recently become very disrespectful towards my husband and I, yet we feel we are doing everything right to teach her respect. What do we do to correct this behavioral problem?
BOB: When children’s behavior changes drastically it’s often an indication that they are experiencing some form of distress. Children don’t always know how to process their feelings, so they act them out. Common causes for sudden behavior changes are: issues at home, at school, with friends, trauma, etc. If you know there are no significant problems at home, like recent marital or sibling issues, it is wise to explore this with your child’s teacher to get her insight about what is happening at school. Regardless of the reason for your child’s disrespect, it’s important to talk with him/her about the behavior you expect, and the behavior you won’t tolerate. Speak with your child about how she can express her feelings in appropriate ways, but don’t forget to let your child know the consequences for continuing to act disrespectfully. Be prepared to follow through consistently until your child’s behavior improves.
Q: With more cloudy days this time of year I have found myself feeling more lethargic, moody and generally unenthusiastic. What is wrong with me and how do I get back to normal?
BOB: These symptoms may indicate a form of depression, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder, and may require medication, talk therapy or both. If you have not previously been diagnosed with depression, it is a good idea to see your doctor to rule out any potential physical ailments that may be manifesting. Once other illnesses are ruled out, it can be helpful to speak with a professional counselor or therapist to work through any underlying issues.