Category Archives: Family

DNA Is Not The Magic Answer

I hear an awful lot from people (especially those tracking down a sperm or egg donor) who are interested in finding out about their DNA, thinking that their DNA would tell them something about their health.  But that’s a bogus supposition.

Even if we take your DNA and if every aspect of your DNA was known, the question is: “would it be possible to predict the diseases in your future?  Could that knowledge be used to forestall the otherwise inevitable?“  According to an important article in The New York Times, the answer is: “No.”

While sequencing your entire DNA is proving very useful in understanding diseases and finding treatments, it is not a method that will predict your medical future. You know why?  There are other issues involved.  It’s not the only variable.

And this new study from twins in five different countries concludes, it is not going to be possible to say that, for example, Type 2 diabetes will occur with absolute certainty unless a person keeps a normal weight, or that colon cancer is a foregone conclusion without frequent screening and a removal of polyps. Conversely, it will not be possible to tell some people that they can ignore all the advice about, for example, preventing a heart attack because they will never get one.  According to their DNA they can still get one.

It turns out, even when they find DNA which would indicate a “Whoops!  You have a gene for _____,” most people will still be at an average risk for one of more than 20 diseases.   Their risk is like the general population, even with the gene.  Isn’t that interesting?

There was one positive finding (positive – not in a good way): “…as many as 90 percent of people would learn that they are at high risk of getting at least one disease and the gene sequencing could, in theory at least, identify as many as 75 percent of those who would develop Alzheimer’s.”

The reason for all this is there is behavior, there is environment and there are random events.  I have a friend who, sadly, is struggling from lung cancer.  Nice, healthy, good environment, good diet, never smoked, not around smokers – yet she has lung cancer.  There is a huge issue that comes under the category of “randomness,” i.e. bad luck.

So if you do a whole genetic analysis of yourself, we can look at some things you might want to be more concerned with and maybe make sure you keep your fat level low, your exercise level up, but none of it, in general, determines anything.

“The real benefit of studying your genes is not to predict your future medically, but to understand how diseases occur and how to use that knowledge to develop better therapies.”  That’s just the reality.  So do not come to me and tell me you want to go back through generations to find out if anybody had a disease because it doesn’t necessarily have a damned thing to do with you.

Resolving Sibling Rivalry

Sibling rivalry is a natural part of growing up; there’s no way to avoid it.  Your best efforts won’t avoid it.  We can help minimize it, and sometimes redirect it but there’s no way to avoid it.

Sibling rivalry is probably at its worst when kids are all under the age of 4.  When they’re less than 3 years apart, they’re very dependent.  Think about it:  they can’t go cook a microwave dinner.  They’re very dependent upon “Mommy,” so subdividing “Mommy” is a threat.
If you look at dogs, the females have what looks like a million teats, so if they have a large number of puppies born, all the puppies get to eat.  If you have 3 kids, you don’t have  3 breasts, which makes it a little tougher and you usually don’t breastfeed two at the same time.  I don’t know why not, but you don’t.  So as far as resources of love and attention go, you’ve got one “Mommy,” and many demands.
From age 4 and up – competition between brothers and sisters can heat up.  It’s usually the worst between 8 and 12 because if they don’t have the same interests, there’s pull and push and who’s better, who’s smarter, who is more important, who gets more attention, who does better in school, who does better in sports…all of that.
So here are some quickie ways to handle conflict between kids:

You have to treat each kid as an individual. Parents tend to fall into the trap of “I’m going to love and treat all my children the same”.  Well, the kids are not the same – they don’t have the same personalities, they don’t have the same needs, they don’t have the same emotional reflexes (much less physical reflexes).  What parents should focus on is identifying and reinforcing the diversity of talent:  i.e., “you’re unique at this and you’re unique at that.”  And it’s really good to sit with kids when the younger ones are looking, for example, at the amazing talent of the older one or sometimes it’s the other way around.  And you sit down and you go, “Here’s the deal.  You have Mommy and Daddy here.  Mommy is very good at ‘blank’; Daddy is not so good at ‘blank’.  Daddy is good at ‘that’ and Mommy’s not so good at ‘that’ because we’re different people.  And when Daddy does really good at ‘that’, I applaud.  And when Daddy sees I’m good at ‘that’, he applauds.  So we’re happy about the fact that we’re different and we have these good things to applaud.”  And you teach your kids to do the same thing.  “You are definitely fabulous at math, but you are also incredible at art.  So when your brother or sister needs to do an art project, you ought to help.”  “When you’re having some trouble with math, go to your brother or sister.  They’ll help you.”

Having a sibling in the position of administering parental support breeds a bond as long as it’s not done as a discount.  Any time kids are getting along try saying: “That’s great how you guys are playing.  I really like seeing that; it makes me feel good.  You both look so happy and, you know, you’re working things out.  That’s really nice.”  The more you can look for the times that work and make a comment, the better.
You’ve got to really spend time with each kid alone.  Everything can’t be a team effort.  There has to be special time where you go to the library with one, a ball game with the other, a museum with this one, lunch with that one…they all have to have special time…reading, taking a walk, running an errand…special time. 
Look at how YOU are getting along with your spouse.  Poop rolls downhill (unless it’s stuck in something).  So when you’re bickering with each other with the criticism and the anger and not being happy, the kids will do it with each other.  The tension works that way.  Through words and actions, you’ve got to be very love-ish:  a lot of hugging, a lot of kissing, a lot of tweaking, a lot of cuteness…just a lot of cuteness.  I mean, my kid is 25, 6’2″, 208 pounds and when I see him, I come behind him and I give him a big smooch on the top of his head and mess his hair.  Of course, if you mess your kid’s hair, you’re going to get in trouble. But, short of that, always be very affectionate.  It’s a very important part of life.

I really think parents who try to get their kids to always do stuff together are making a mistake.  Kids need their own time, alone time and their own friend time.  So you don’t tell your kid, “Bring along your younger sister or brother.”  Don’t do that.  Don’t ever do that.  They need their own time with their own buddies.  If you want a babysitter, pay them 5 bucks an hour.  It’s very important to have kids feel special and you can rotate: special kid of the day.  Okay, we do this in this order: 1, 2, 3, 4…(however many kids you have)…in that order, you’re the special kid and you get these perks (and we have a list of perks), like you get to choose the TV program at 7 o’clock.  And the next night the other one gets to do it.  It doesn’t matter how old anybody is — they all get the “special kid” treatment so they’re not fighting over a TV show because tonight that one gets to choose.  Of course some of you are nuts and have a television in every kid’s room and I want to pinch your heads off.
Some of the things I don’t want you to do:

Don’t compare one kid to another. “Well your brother/your sister doesn’t ‘blah blah blah’.”  Don’t do that.  “He/she studies; you’re just a bum…”  Don’t do that because they’ll hate each other. 
Try not to take sides.  Try not to take sides when they’re having a little skirmish.  “Well you said…well you did…and you did…and you pushed…”  And say, “Well you know what?  At this point, I don’t care who started it, you’re both finishing it.  That’s it.  If I hear more noise about this, you both don’t go out for the whole weekend.  It doesn’t matter whose fault it is, the two of you have to finish it.”  It’s the finishing done well that I’m interested in so they have to become a team or they both get screwed on the weekends.
Don’t over-react.  You really shouldn’t discount emotions.
“I hate Johnny.  I hate Mary.”
“Okay, why do you hate them?”
“Because they do ‘such and such’.”
“Well I can understand how you can get an emotion so big you’d say ‘I hate them’, but you can’t take their stuff or bounce them over the head or call them bad names.  When you feel a feeling, you feel the feeling and we can talk about what to do with the feeling, but these are the things you’re not permitted to do with the feeling: you can’t hit them, you can’t take anything and you can’t embarrass them, and you can’t do crap like that.  But if you’re that angry, you’re that angry.  So you can either come to Mom and Dad and talk about why you’re so angry, talk to your brother or sister and tell them you’re angry, we can sit all of us and talk about why each one of us is angry because angry happens.”
You don’t discount the emotion because it’s bigger.  In order to get accepted, it gets bigger.  So you say, “Oh, I can understand why you were angry.  However, bopping them on the head is not the way you’re going to handle angry.  It’s unacceptable.  But, you’re angry, so if that’s what happened, I can understand you being angry.  I would be angry too.”  The minute you say that, the anger level goes down.  The minute you justify the anger, the anger level goes down.
So I could go on for days, but these are some basic tools that you can try and they all require you to have a sense of humor and be calm. Have a sense of humor and be calm because the more you get into it, you exacerbate it.  And definitely do not have parents arguing about it.

I Stuck My Nose In and Got Backlash

The urge can be irresistible: the husband of a relative finally has the guts to leave what you think is a bad marriage, and you think she’s to blame for it. Instead of keeping that thought to yourself, you pull some drama straight out of reality TV and tell her exactly what you think to her face. Your family has now turned you into an outcast… and you’re surprised?!

I Stuck My Nose In and Got Backlash

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Empty Nesters

Sociologists popularized the term “empty nest syndrome” in the 1970s. The media, of course, helped make its existence part of conventional wisdom. Everybody gets empty nest syndrome. But more recently, a number of psychologists who are doing research have begun taking a more nuanced look at this transition, some of them because they were not experiencing the distress that the popular literature says is “typical” when children leave home. Truth is – it’s not typical. 

Most people go through a transition and come out of it just fine, no matter what the transition is… menopause, retirement, even the death of somebody important. And, what is clear, most people (perhaps after some period of time of going “whoa, my routine is off here”) have increased satisfaction, improved relationships, and less stress. Most parents enjoy a sense of greater freedom, a reconnection with their spouses, and more time to pursue their goals and interests once their kids leave home because most parents sacrifice. They put their interests aside to take care of family.

One of the most important factors in a parental concern and inability to slide into the next chapter of life is when the kids screw up. When the kids leave and do well, most parents do fine. When the kids leave and screw up, parents’ ability to enjoy their empty nest is messed with and they spend a lot of their time suffering and rescuing, perhaps, yet again. 

There are typical qualities which lead some people to make a transition better or less well. If you’re a person for whom change is stressful period, then change is going to be stressful. A lot of people look at change as challenging, refreshing or a little “nervous-making,” but pretty exciting. Some people have to have rigorous constancy to feel okay. So, for them, change is very stressful — any change is stressful. Moving is stressful. So kids’ leaving is stressful. That’s not empty nest syndrome. That’s someone with anxiety disorder from ground zero. 

If a person’s marriage is unstable, unsatisfactory and on the verge of imploding, then when the kids leave home, the buffer (i.e., the other thing to pay attention to) is gone and that’s upsetting. People who have few friends, few interests, few hobbies, few dreams and put all their focus on their kids obviously are going to have a tough time when the kids leave. For some people who make their whole identity being somebody’s mother and usually ignore their husbands, friends and other activities, while solely focusing on being the CIA over their kids will discover a big hole when the kids leave.

For most people, the transition is really comforting and comfortable and pretty exciting…in which they establish a new kind of relationship with their kids, where they’re mentors and not supreme deities. It’s a time where husband and wife can frolic and go away, and their schedules are their own. People who have had dreams and desires like skydiving (I remember one lady mentioned that)…can go back to start doing some of those wacky things. I would say, in general, it is atypical to greatly suffer. Most people consider the kids moving out be a normal, healthy event — even a positive one. So it’s hard to get sympathy. And, oftentimes, we have a doubling or quadrupling up: kids leave, you’re also retiring or somebody’s going through menopause, death or divorce…wow. So it’s not so much even that the kids are leaving, it’s just we have a million things happening at one time, and that’s really upsetting. The best thing to do in these predicaments is to get some help. If you’re at the end of your tether, get some help.

Consider volunteer work, join a hobby group, network with friends, find some employment opportunities; set achievable goals. The empty nest can be just what it says: a dreadful event filled with emptiness and boredom, or an exciting time with new beginnings, renewing old friendships, hobbies, interests, creating new directions for a creative life. It’s your choice. 


Interview with Publisher of Movieguide, The Family Guide to Movies and Entertainment

I often hear from parents that it’s difficult to find movies or TV shows that the family can enjoy together.  Ted Baehr, publisher of was my guest recently and discussed that issue as well as the results of his research into the kind of movies that do best at the box office.  You may be surprised: Interview with Ted Baehr