Category Archives: Family

Shacking Up Does Not Lead to a Stronger Marriage

Remember this little ditty?: “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage.”  Nowadays, this rarely happens.  For a lot of adults it’s, “First comes love (maybe), then comes ‘shacking up,’ then comes a heartbreaking split involving children.” 
 
Many shack-up couples claim, “We’re living together to improve our chances of having a great marriage.”  I recently even had a young woman on my program whose own father told her to do just that.  I couldn’t believe it.  As research shows, shacking up actually has the OPPOSITE effect.  I have been saying this for 30 plus years.

For the small percentage of cohabitants who actually go on to marry, the majority of them end up getting divorced, or they experience spousal abuse and infidelity.  The simple fact is that shacking up does not lead to stronger marriages.  I love it when someone writes to me saying, “Well, I shacked up and my partner and I are still together.”  So what?  That doesn’t mean shacking up is good.  There are people out there who smoke like crazy and don’t get lung cancer.  Does that mean we should tell people to smoke because some people have dodged a bullet?

Of course, if two people want to shack up it’s their own personal choice, but they should know it leads to reverberations – even when there aren’t kids involved.  For example, how is your extended family supposed to accept someone as “family” when you’re not even willing to make them family?  People become family through birth, adoption or marriage.  If you’re not willing to make somebody family by making a commitment to them, then you can’t get angry when the rest of your family says, “Leave him/her home, they’re not family,” or, “Of course we don’t want them in the family photograph, they’re not family.”   Furthermore, don’t be surprised when other family members with kids don’t want to hang out with you because they don’t want their kids to think your behavior is OK.

There’s enough research to show that cohabiting dissolves families, impacts children, and increases instances of sexual abuse, drug abuse, crime, illiteracy, and out-of-wedlock pregnancy.  In addition, studies reveal that only 45 percent of couples who live together go on to marry, and of those who do marry, there is a 45 percent higher risk for divorce than people who have never shacked up.  Only 15 out of every 100 shack-ups will result in a “long-term successful marriage”.
 
When cohabitants do marry, they tend to be less committed to the long-term future of the relationship, and they are less reluctant to terminate it.  Cohabitation is, in part, an acceptance of leaving.  One study found that the more months young people are exposed to cohabitation, the less enthusiastic they become about marriage and having kids.

Most importantly of all, since shack-ups have such a high dropout rate, there’s a better chance that kids will end up devastated.  All too often, kids are made or hauled in to a shack-up situation.  Moreover, kids who come from divorced parents frequently go on to shack up themselves.  It’s a ripple effect. 

Kids who live in homes with parents shacking up are more likely to:

  • Become involved in unmarried sex because their lives are very sexualized outside of any context of marriage and family. 
  • Experience sexual abuse in the home.
  • Have emotional and social difficulties due to problems with forming permanent emotional attachments.  When they reach adulthood, they struggle to find happiness and productive marriages.
  • Experience poverty, poor achievement in school, and a litany of other problems.

So, what should you do if you have already gotten yourself involved in a shack-up situation? 

  • Stop!  If your relationship matters to you, then you and your partner need to cease shacking up.  The longer people shack up, the less likely they are to move on to a long-term successful marriage.
  • Seek premarital counseling.  This is really important in establishing the communication and relationship skills needed for a successful marriage.  If you have already been shacking up, then developing these skills is even more crucial because you’re used to living with insecurity.   
  • Protect your kids.  If you’ve put your kids in a shack-up situation, understand that this is not in their best interest.  Stop being selfish, weak, scared, or any combination thereof. 

If you know someone who is revving to shack up or is currently shacking up:

  • Talk to them.  Bring the facts to their attention.  Although facts seem to bother some people’s emotions, make them aware anyway.  
  • Celebrate marriage. If you are happily married, share your experiences with other people – especially young people. They need to know that happy marriages exist.

Video: Use Hypnotherapy to Transform Pain

This listener, Lidia, was severely injured during her naval service. Her surgery and rehab were botched and, on top of that, her family never visited while she was in the hospital. 

Twenty-five years later, her rage over these incidents has returned and she’s not sure if this is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  In my opinion, it’s not about her injuries or rehab, it’s about her feeling abandoned by her family. I’ve got a way to transform that pain into something else…

Now There’s a Term for Letting Kids Be Kids: ‘Redshirting’

“Redshirting” is a term that describes college athletes who practice in red shirts but do not compete in games to receive an extra year of eligibility.  Recently, the same idea has been applied to young kids entering school.  More states than ever now require kids to turn 5 before they enroll in kindergarten, and more parents are voluntarily delaying their kids’ entry into kindergarten.  In short, a small percentage of kids are being “redshirted.” 

In my opinion, the primary reason for kids being redshirted, especially in private schools, has to do with academic competition amongst schools.  By putting kids in school later, they will be more mature, better able to sit still and do the work, and more likely to perform well.  You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure that out. 

In 2009, The New York Times (despite its liberal tendencies) published an article that bolstered redshirting:

“A report out of Cambridge University recommend[s] that kindergarten begin at the age of 6 rather than 5 in Britain.  The Cambridge Primary Review is a sweeping study, requiring 14 authors, 66 research consultants, 28 research surveys, more than 1,000 ‘written submissions’ and 250 focus groups, all leading to the conclusion that British children are currently not allowed to be children.”

If you Google “what age should a kid start kindergarten,” you’re going to see a lot of obfuscating and confusing information.  That’s because it’s a political thing.  The liberal mentality is that kids should be taken out of the home and provided with government education ASAP.  I find that scary.  That is not in the best interest of children.  As the Cambridge study points out, kids simply need to be allowed to be kids.  If you ask really good teachers about this, they will almost always tell you not to put your kids in school too early.  The effects of starting too young begin showing up right around the third grade when kids get knocked off their feet because they’re not really ready.  Boys are especially unprepared because they take longer to mature neurologically and emotionally. 

I think kids should be allowed to be kids, and I believe parents should restructure their families so they’re able to raise their kids.  People should postpone having kids until they can do the right thing by them.  It’s the same principle as buying car: if you can’t really afford the upkeep and monthly fees, don’t go out and buy one.  Don’t put children in an awkward situation simply because you’re not ready to handle it.  It’s not right.  Most people have the biological ability and legal right to have kids, but that doesn’t give them a moral right.  People who aren’t responsible shouldn’t have kids.

One of the main complaints about redshirting comes from parents who don’t want to have to pay for an extra year of child care.  Seriously?!  They’ll put their kids in school at 4 if it will cost them less?  Apparently they don’t care what’s in the best educational interest of children.

Of course, some kids will be ready for school earlier than others, but for the most part, we shouldn’t be forcing them into school at age 4.  Homeschool them, and when they start kindergarten, they’ll be stars.  I’m all for kids not starting kindergarten until the age of 6.  Let them be kids.    

Facing a Grave Illness

Should doctors tell their patients when death is imminent?  Would the news make a difference? 

A while ago, my dad had bad stomach pain.  He called the doctor, and the doctor said, “Oh just take some antacids.” He took antacids for about a week, but the pain didn’t go away.  The doctor went “down periscope” and discovered that my dad had a rare form of stomach cancer, and it was bad.  He underwent surgery and then did chemo (which you all know how pleasant of an experience that is).  While this was going on, I asked the doctor if he could explain to me what was likely to happen next based on what he found.  He said he’d give him about five years.  I thought, “OK, he’s 61. Five years is great.”

He was dead in six weeks. 

As it seems, a huge percentage of doctors don’t want to eliminate hope or upset anybody, so they exaggerate.  It makes it difficult for everyone involved for a couple of reasons.  First, the person who’s dying may want to sort of tidy up his or her life by remedying some relationships or putting some business things in order.  In addition, caregivers need to plan their lives too, especially since they put all their focus and energy into taking care of the ill person.

In my dad’s case, the cancer had metastasized to his brain and it took very little time for him to die.  It was stunning.   He had led such a healthy life except for several gin and tonics every night.  Otherwise, he ate nauseatingly healthy food.  You’d open up the refrigerator at my house and you’d say, “Is there nothing here to eat?  This is all way too healthy.”  I did try – although it was pretty grim – to have a conversation with him about what his wishes were before he passed, but he wasn’t up for talking about it.  It’s because of this that I think it’s really important to know the truth about your loved one’s quality of life – How is the disease going to progress?  What are you going to need to do?  What are you going to feel like? – before it’s too late.

I realize that some people want to know the truth and some don’t, but that’s exactly why a doctor should ask and not just soften the news.  Hope is nice, but “hope for the best to prepare for the worst” is probably smarter.  Of course doctors don’t know when the end is going to come exactly (they’re not soothsayers), but they know enough from their experience, generally speaking, to be able to say, “Don’t plan past Thursday,” or “Don’t plan past next year.”  And yes, there are always exceptions every now and then (i.e. the doctor says that the person is going to die sooner than later, and it happens later), but usually they can make a good guess. 

The doctor should also ask if he or she should tell the patient’s family.  Getting permission to tell the family is very important because when doctors withhold information, it becomes more difficult for the family to chart the patient’s course in life.  And moreover, if the doctor withholds information from the family, they’re going to just go look it up on the Internet.  I think a human being should be the source of that information.

Sometimes people don’t want to talk about death with their physician, or certain decisions need to be made without their input.  When the doctor tells it like it is, it allows family members to decide what they want to do and not do.  They can decide if they want aggressive treatment that might prolong life, or choose to stop treatment, which could result in a faster but perhaps more comfortable death.  These decisions are part of the new focus on health care which is allowing people to die with some dignity, and leaves families feeling at least somewhat competent in the time of crisis because they know what’s being asked of them. 

In addition, families should discuss whether or not they want to know the truth if one of them gets in that position.  Generally speaking, the family wants to know a little bit more than the terminally ill person.  Personally, I want to know the calendar day and time.  I’m big on clarity (I have already had all of these discussions with my son so he knows exactly what I do and do not want).  However, a lot of people feel negatively about that because they believe it eliminates hope.  But either way, my recommendation is that your family should sit down and discuss plans in case someone needs treatment.  People freak out about discussing this because they don’t want to even think about it, but you should (even with your more mature children in their mid-to-upper teens).   Sit and calmly talk about what all the possibilities are and your wishes for each scenario (i.e. “If my brain is no longer connected to reality, I don’t want to be here”).  You can even leave the option open to have life prolonging treatment for when the time comes.  

Remember that everybody else stays behind and has to deal with things after you’re gone, so providing clarity about what you want helps everybody deal with feelings of guilt, fear, and anxiety later.

A woman called me a while back whose 92-year-old mother was alert and perky, but she was on perpetual dialysis.  She wanted to get off it, call in hospice, and call it a day.   Of course her daughter was upset.  She was not only losing her mom, but her kids were also going to have to experience death.  However, I told her that she had to respect her mother’s wishes.  I said that hospice is an incredibly moving experience and takes care of everybody in the family, not just the person leaving, and that her mom had decided she had lived a good life and didn’t want to be spending her time watching her blood being recycled.  She just wanted to go out peacefully, and her daughter needed to honor that. 

Parent Your Child, Not Yourself

Many of you aren’t parenting in the best interest of your child.  Instead, you’re parenting to satisfy your own needs.

I get too many calls on the topic of having low self-esteem.  And that’s probably because there are a lot of parents who have no concept of how to help their kids develop a positive attitude about people and life.  You see, a lot of parenting comes from the “hurty” places: “I didn’t have a lot of freedom, so I’m going to give my kid total freedom,” or “I didn’t have a lot of freedom, so I’m not giving my kid any freedom.”  Instead of thinking about the needs of the child and what’s really healthy, parents make it all about what I experienced.  They think things like, “He looks a lot like my ex-husband, so I can’t stand him.”  

Parents conjure up all kinds of things from ugly places.  They lament to themselves, “My kid isn’t perfect, my kid has some kind of handicap or problem, my kid’s not pretty, my kid’s not athletic; my kid’s not this my kid’s not that.”  But at the root of all their complaining is just their narcissism not being fed. 

The whole “I look good through my children doing something” idea is the same mentality that creates groupies.  Girls go hump stars and sports figures and they think they’ve made themselves into something.  That’s all that’s about.  I had a wonderful conversation a while ago with a young woman who called with, again, a self-esteem question.  I asked her, “Well, how have you earned it?”  Her only comeback was, “I know how to have fun.”  Well, I’m sorry.  We don’t respect ourselves because we know how to have fun.  Don’t misunderstand me, I think it’s healthy to know how to have fun, but that’s not how you respect yourself.

So, a lot of mistakes parents make with their kids come from them still being mucked up by their own pain.  That’s why I think it is really important to have six months of premarital counseling before people decide to marry because they learn a lot about themselves, the other person, their needs, their fears, their desires, and their problems, and they learn how to resolve things, move forward, and mature.  It’s more likely that the marriage will work.

Considering this further, I thought maybe you could apply this rule to having a baby.  Maybe people should go into counseling for six months before they have a baby, or if they get pregnant, perhaps that’s when the therapy starts.  In pre-baby therapy, you can talk about what happened in your childhood, what feelings you have about your husband or wife with respect to having a kid, and put everything on the table.  It’s amazing how much better you both can deal with things once the air is cleared. 

And that’s why I’m so blunt on my satellite radio program: I’m trying to role model for all of you how to put even the ugly stuff on the table.  Because once we take a clear look at it, it has less power over us.   What you try to suppress is what has power over you.   I’d like you to be the master, not the slave to your history and emotions.

So, this is why I recommend counseling when you’re thinking about getting married, and when you’re considering having a baby.  A lot of stuff is never discussed when you’re dating.  I mean who discusses diapers when they’re dating?

Why It’s Important to Eat with Your Kids

Some years back, I remember a television actor making a public service announcement suggesting that parents have dinner with their kids maybe once or twice a week.  I was flabbergasted – there actually had to be a public service announcement to tell people this?!

Then I realized that in our society, we probably do.  The notion of mommies and daddies, home and hearth, and meals with your own kids are becoming less and less the portrait of America. 

According to a study, “The average parent spends 38.5 minutes per week in meaningful conversation with his or her child.” 

Let me repeat that: Only 38.5 minutes in an entire week!

By simply eating dinner together each night and making an effort to talk to your kids, you can quadruple that number.  You’ll get to know your kids.  Isn’t that the point of having a family?

According to Harvard research, “Family dinners are more important than play, story time, and other family events in the development of a child’s vocabulary.”  The dinner table is the social center of families, so it is no wonder that’s where our kids learn to talk. It gives them “real live” demos and practice in speech and social interactions.

Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine show that frequent family meals are associated with “a lower risk of smoking, drinking, pot use, depressive symptoms, and suicidal thoughts.   Kids between the ages of 11 and 18 also get better grades.”  Wow.  All of that is helped just by having dinner every night with your kids?!

The archives also reveal that family meals are “related to better nutritional intake and decreased risk for unhealthy weight control practices.  Families eating meals together ‘every day’ generally consume higher amounts of important nutrients [such as] calcium, fiber, iron, vitamins B6, B12, C, and E, and consume less overall fat compared to families who ‘never’ or ‘only sometimes’ eat meals together.”  This is probably because mommy cooked dinner.

Additionally, The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found that “the more often teenagers have dinner with their parents, the less time they spend with boyfriends or girlfriends, and the less they are going to be sexually active.”  Not only do your kids have less time to hang out, but having a really good relationship with you makes them less likely to search for closeness by becoming sexually active.  This is why you see a lot of young sexual activity in divorced families where mommy decided she didn’t need a man.

A study conducted by the University of Minnesota also showed that “adolescent girls who have frequent family meals, and a positive atmosphere during those meals, are less likely to have eating disorders.”  When I read that, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my own family.  During my last couple years of high school, I went down the anorexia path.  We had dinner every night as a family, but it was a nightmare because my mom and dad were always angry about something.  The atmosphere at dinner was not pleasant.  So, it’s not just being at home that makes the difference.  You have to make family dinners a good experience. 

Another survey asked kids, “What’s the most important part of the dinner?”   What do you think their answers were?  The food?  No!  54 percent said the important part of dinner was sharing, catching up, talking, and interacting. 

The surveyors also asked teens, “Would you say your parents regularly make time to check-in with you and find out what’s happening with you or not?”  Compared to teens who have frequent family dinners, teens who have infrequent family dinners were almost two-and-a-half times more likely to report that their parents don’t bother to check-in with them.  Teens who have frequent family dinners are twice as likely to spend 21 hours or more per week (an average of at least 3 hours per day) with their parents.

The bottom line?  Your family structure and dynamic affects your kids, especially at dinnertime.