Category Archives: Relationships

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.    

The Harsh Reality of Obsessive Exes

Over the years, every time I have told somebody they are in danger, they don’t want to hear it.  But it happens.  And so I’m going to impale it on your minds even more.  Here are just a few stories from the recent past:

1. A woman in Amsterdam was accused of stalking her ex-boyfriend for allegedly calling him 65,000 times in the past year.  After he filed a complaint with the police due to the excessive calls, the police arrested the woman and she argued she had a relationship with this man and didn’t see her calls to be excessive.  The man denied them ever having a relationship.

2. A British man bombarded his ex-girlfriend via email and Facebook messages asking her to take him back.  He set up a series of blogs warning people about her.  He was finally jailed for admitting he violated his restraining order.

3. A dumped lover in the Bronx hired his own cousin to kill his teenage girlfriend and tried to cover it up as a botched robbery.   He paid his cousin $1,000 to shoot the teenage girlfriend.  The ex-boyfriend warned if he couldn’t have her, then nobody could.  The girl was found shot dead with their baby in a car.

Those are just some of the thousands of stories.  When people get vengeful, they get obsessed; the ego can’t take the bruising and they want to control.  There are some people who are unable and unwilling to let go after a breakup. 

At first it seems they are, obviously, emotionally hurt.  That’s understandable.  They call, they visit, they keep arguing and try to reconcile.  Well that all sounds reasonable.  Then they’re following, stalking or threatening.  Then they vandalize belongings, which escalates to personal violence, and maybe even killing the partner’s pets.  If this isn’t dealt with and gets extreme, there can be kidnappings and killing of children, as well as murder and/or suicide.  This “obsessive-ex” syndrome is rampant.  Media usually report it by breaking it up into little pieces describing individual incidents only when they reach an extreme, instead of acknowledging the overall picture.  This obsessive-ex syndrome is not gender specific.  It usually doesn’t just go away.  Over one million women and 300,000 men are stalked annually in the United States. 

Stalking by definition is not a onetime act.  The course of conduct may involve a whole bunch of criminal acts. Taken one at a time they’re annoying but there definitely is a pattern.  Here’s a list of some of the stalking behaviors for you to look out for:

1. Assaulting the victim
2. Violating protective borders
3. Sexual assault
4. Vandalizing your property
5. Burglarizing your home
6. Threatening you
7. Killing your pet
8. Sending “forever” cards and gifts
9. Leaving telephone or email messages for you again and again and again
10. Disclosing to you personal stuff that they have found out
11. Telling a lot of people personal stuff about you
12. Following you
13. Going to your work or school…Just showing up
14. Sending photographs of you without consent
15. Monitoring your Internet history and computer usage
16. Using technology to gather images and information about you

This can be potentially fatal for you.  One of the reasons they do this is because they perceive you as weak and they say they want you back,  but really it’s their ego that needs saving.  It’s too dangerous.

How To Say You’re Sorry

There is an effective way to apologize and an ineffective way. 

Here are some ineffective ways:

1. I’m sorry.

That’s it.  That’s it?  It’s kind of shallow and superficial.  If you say “I’m sorry you felt upset,” that puts the blame on the injured party.  If you say “I’m sorry YOU felt upset,” that means you aren’t taking responsibility for your actions.  That just says you got upset and I’m sorry that you got upset, but it’s not my problem!

2.  I’m sorry if I did something to offend you.

Ouch.  The “if” word is a stab in the heart.  It’s pretty defensive, and not “owning” it.  It’s qualifying the apology.  Any apology with a qualifier in it is not really an apology.

I particularly remember this one, because I was in a situation where I used this and blew it.  I made a terrible mistake early on in my psychotherapy practice.  I used this line with a patient.  She didn’t say anything, but the next week, she came back furious.  I guess I was being defensive and didn’t realize it.  So, even the pros do it.

3.  If it will make you feel better, I’m sorry.

Whoa!  This one is so insincere that it literally drips insincerity.  What you’re really saying is “If it will make you feel better (you stupid, weak, annoying idiot), then I’m sorry.  Yikes!

4.  I’m sorry for whatever I did.

This is one that too many husbands try to use, but then too many wives don’t communicate particulars!  This one is a bit vague and non-specific.

5. Any and all apologies followed by the word “but…”

This apology reminds me of a funny thing that happened in a psychotherapy session.  I sometimes get a little playful with words and images, so when I had a husband and wife in therapy, and every time the wife opened her mouth, she said “but, but, but, but,” I said back “you’re a ‘but’ with feet!”  She went through the roof, because she thought I called her an ass.  I guess I should have watched the way I worded that comment.  I wasn’t sensitive and got a little too playful at the wrong time.

That example segues into how to apologize correctly.

First of all, you personalize your apology.  “I am sorry I hurt you.”  Anything that is personal is felt more deeply.  That needs to grow into “I’m sorry I hurt you by breaking my promise….” or whatever you did.

The third part of the apology occurs when you show you really understand why this was upsetting – you’re not only acknowledging that it was upsetting but also why it was upsetting.  “I’m sorry I hurt you by breaking my promise to call.”  You are justifying their being upset.  You elaborate on all the hurtful aspects of what you said that you’re aware of, and then you again express regret and remorse.  “I am so sorry  I have hurt you.  I take full responsibility.  I did this and I regret it.  I have remorse.  I was being selfish and flighty.  I was insensitive.”

It’s really then important to express some desire to make amends.  Discuss what you are going to do inside your heart, soul, life, mind, and habits to make sure it doesn’t happen again.  And repeat your apology as often as needed, especially for bigger wounds. 

After things have settled down, and some time has gone by, you might want to talk about some mitigating circumstances, but in general, I wouldn’t suggest you go in that direction until the pain has subsided to a much lower level.  And don’t use the excuse “I had a few too many drinks.”  You still did what you did. 

If you are going to apologize, make it sincere or don’t bother.

Divorce, Recession-Style

A number of news sources recently reported that (sniff, sniff) people just can’t afford to get divorced anymore, what with mortgages upside down, and diminished family income.

Furthermore (more sniffs), in most cases, the couples have to stay together under the same roof just to make ends meet.  No longer can divorced spouses count on maintaining a lifestyle.  No longer are kids summarily thrown into visitation chaos and feelings of abandonment….and that, obviously, is a good thing.

One of the sadder aspects of my three decades plus on radio talking to people in some sort of crisis is the growing realization that many people see adversity as a motivation to turn on each other, rather than to turn to each other.  I understand husbands who feel depressed when they can’t adequately support their families, and I understand wives who feel desperate because they worry for the well-being of their home and children.  But I don’t understand turning away from each other at a time when both need support and hope.  Each spouse needs to (as Archie Bunker often said on “All In The Family”) “stifle themselves” and try to buoy up the other’s state of mind.

In trying to make the other person still feel valued, competent and loved; in telling your spouse that you know that, ultimately, you can count on him/her; in letting your once “dearly beloved” feel your support, makes not only them feel better, it makes YOU feel better.

I’m sure everyone reading this has some sort of strain or stress in their marriage.  Generally, it’s something that can be overcome if you both pull together and put aside your individual resentments and fears long enough to follow through on your marital vows to love, honor and cherish.

Pets Aren’t Human Substitutes

More than 80 million Americans are pet owners, and spend nearly 25 billion dollars on veterinary care.  Why do we do that?
 
Originally, animals served a largely utilitarian purpose:  horses pulled carts, dogs protected the farms, and cats ate rodents.  This dependency on animals to help us in our daily lives evolved into warm, close bonded relationships with them – and that’s a good thing, but only up to a point.
 
Taking on the responsibility of caring for an animal is a sacrifice, and requires an unselfish commitment that elevates human character.  Making sure that your pets have food before you do, and providing a safe haven for them is an expression of compassion.  Enjoying the enthusiasm of your dog or cat when you appear on the scene, having your blood pressure drop when you pet them – those are the perks of having a pet around.
 
However, if you are infinitely more comfortable with animals than humans, the scales have tipped way too far in the wrong direction.  Human communication is largely verbal, and give-and-take is an essential part of human bonding (along with trust).  When an individual is fearful or hostile about human connection, it’s nice if they have a pet (a warm mammal) to hold close, but it’s not a substitute for a human relationship. 
 
I get way too many calls from, for example, people like the woman who keeps a dangerous dog in the home (with little kids), because her husband chooses to keep the dog in spite of the threat to his own children; or the man who calls and complains that he has a ferocious allergy to cats, but his fiancée will not adopt her cat out to let him move in after the wedding!  If this sounds like you or someone you know, it’s time to revisit the situations, because choices like these are, obviously, the wrong choices.