Life Transitions_Answer

Posted on Monday, April 27th, 2015 at 1:22 am.

We all know that our sense of identity and our priorities shift as we move through various life stages.  Some of these transitions are fairly gradual and we just live our way into the next stage of life with minimal muss and fuss.  Other transitions are rapid, even precipitous. Going through puberty, getting married and having a child are usually rather dramatic changes that shake up and reshape our sense of our identities and priorities.

Moving into a new age decade seems to be a common time when people consciously or unconsciously reevaluate their life directions. For you, it sounds like turning 50 is one such moment of transition. Many people have significant psychological shifts at this time.  For those who have had children, this is often the time that the children are usually out of the house and have lives of their own. The hard-driving work of establishing a career is mostly behind you and it is time to reevaluate.

It is quite normal to be feeling a shift in your priorities around work/life balance, your interests and perhaps your relationships as well.  Around age 50, a lot of people begin to recognize that there are likely more years of life behind them than there are ahead of them. Indications of our mortality ranging from our own health problems to the unexpected deaths of some of our relatively younger adult friends can bring our own mortality into sharp focus.

I encourage you to flow with the changes and realize that it will take months, maybe a year or more to get your bearings with your evolving values and priorities.  Some decisions like change decisions like working less overtime or discontinuing certain services positions may be made fairly quickly, but I would encourage you to take more time to make decisions like moving, quitting your job or getting a divorce.  The impulses you feel around some of these issues will probably wax and wane quite a few times over the next months or year or two.  Just be reassured that you are going through a developmental evolution that is quite natural. I trust that you will come out on the other side of this transition with a newly fashioned and more grounded sense of self and life purpose for this decade of your life.


Life Transitions_Question

Posted on Friday, April 24th, 2015 at 4:49 am.

Dr. Beth, I am confused by some of the changes I am going through. I turned 50 last November and ever since then I feel somehow ungrounded, like I don’t know who I am or what my priorities are. They seem to be shifting dramatically. I used to be focused on being a parent and wanting to achieve a lot in my profession.  I did lots of extra work and participated in the executive boards of a couple of organizations.  Now I don’t seem to really care and I feel these commitments are obligations instead of enjoyable.  Any thoughts about what might be going on with me?


Different Parenting Styles in a Patchwork Family Situation_Answer

Posted on Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015 at 4:23 am.

You sound  like two independent women who have each been living on your own for some time. Naturally, there will be adjustment issues around blending your households and combining pets in a household is certainly a common challenge. You are off to a great start by simply knowing that your dogs are compatible and play well together. And no doubt, in the time you have spent with one another you have successfully managed your differences in “parenting styles.”

As you may have already discovered, there are probably many commonalities in your approach to your animals as well as things that you differ on. That is one of the things that often separates people or brings them together in relationships. While I am not an animal psychologist, I do have a few ideas that may help smooth the transition for you, your partner and your pets.

There will obviously be issues of great importance to each of you and issues that you can be flexible on.  In general, it is best that your overall treatment of the dogs be very similar. Feeding times, exercise patterns, and so forth are pretty easy to line up.  Some issues are going to require compromise.  If one of you loves to sleep with your dog in bed when you are home alone and your partner cannot tolerate this, the dog probably needs to get used to sleeping in his or her own bed, which can be in the bedroom if you both agree on this.

Other issues are important but may not be amenable to compromise. If one of your dogs has always been more of an inside the house dog and the other loves to be outside in cold winter weather, both you and your partner need to be willing to honor one another’s needs and preferences in this regard. If one dog requires special food or medicine and the other does not, you need to work out feeding arrangements that take this into account. It is largely common sense.

The main thing of importance is that when either you or your partner are home alone caring for both dogs, that they both be treated similarly with respect to house guidelines (one can’t be allowed to be under the table when you eat and the other not), but your dogs’ individuals differences also need to be honored and handled in accordance with each of your preferences.  You don’t put an indoor animal outdoors all day in the cold just because it is more convenient for you.  (A good quality dog door handles this nicely). Naturally, if one has a behavior problem that the other doesn’t have, that also needs to be handled differently.

With communication and an attitude of respect between you as partners around you pet ownership, this need not be a problematic adjustment as you merge your household. Best of luck in your transition.


Family Counseling/Different Parenting Style in Patchwork Family_Question

Posted on Monday, April 20th, 2015 at 1:12 am.

Dr. Beth, My partner and I have been involved for almost two years and we have decided to move in together.  As is true of many lesbian couples, we both have dogs. Our dogs play together well and have spent quite a bit of time at both of our homes. But we have somewhat different styles of “parenting” our dogs. I will be moving in to her house and I’m wondering how to deal with the conflicts that may arise around feeding, exercise and discipline and other differences in our styles of being with our animals?


Generation Conflicts_Mother/Daugher Relationship_Answer

Posted on Sunday, April 19th, 2015 at 4:13 am.

A variety of factors can influence adult children’s reactions to your grandparenting style. Three elements tend to influence these reactions. This first is the differences in each child’s personality; the second is each one’s personal history in relation to your mother-daughter relationship, and third, what it means to each of them to have a grandparent in their children’s lives—i.e., their expectations. It is hard to say how much of a role each of these factors may play in how this drama is unfolding.

First, with respect to personality differences: It is obvious and yet often surprising to parents to recognize how even children close in age to one another can be raised in the same household and can have incredibly different interests and personalities.  One child may be active and outgoing while another may be shy and introverted.  One child may be able to let slight hurts and disappointments roll off her back while another may be extremely sensitive and have a hard time letting go of resentments about past events that hurt or angered her.

The second factor is your relationship history and current relationship with each daughter.  While I believe that you do love both of your daughters and all four of your grandchildren a great deal, it is natural that parents often feel more affinity and similarity with one child than another.  Even doing your best to be equally attentive to both of them, there can be slight differences in the tone and quality of your relationship with each child that leads to very different relationships with each of them. These relationship differences may also originate with how your daughters treat you: how each one expresses love and handles conflict and the impact this had has on your relationship over time. Such differences can form the basis for different perceptions, expectations and reactions.

Third, different adult children may have very different perspectives on family and the role that grandparents should play in the lives of their grandchildren.  Some adult children feel strongly that being a truly loving grandparent means giving lots of attention and having lots of involvement with the adult child’s family. To these children, this may look like having her parents prioritize time with the grandchildren over their own personal interests and taking the load off the parents by offering to babysit and give them frequent breaks from their parenting responsibilities.

To another adult child; being a grandparent may include very different expectations.  If the grandparents have busy lives of their own and show their love for the family with lesser degrees of involvement, their attentions are still perceived as very loving even if the time spent and the roles taken in their adult children’s family life is more limited.

Obviously, grandparents differ widely in their own preferences and images of what it means to be a grandparent.  Most grandparents truly love their grandchildren, but they may show it in very different ways.  You get to choose how much to conform to each of your daughter’s expectations, but ultimately you have to be true to yourself and your own personality and life priorities to be happy. Ask yourself what you need in order to be fulfilled in living the remainder of your older adult life. For most people, happiness includes a balance of individual satisfaction and family involvement and that balance varies a great deal from one person to another.

It may be helpful to talk about expectations with the adult child who is so critical of your style, both to make her expectations more explicit and to let her know how you see your role as a grandparent. However, you need to realize that she may or may not be open to having this conversation. It is a probably a sensitive and perhaps volatile subject for her and she may end up venting feelings about the distant or recent past that are hurtful for you to hear. You need to be prepared for this.

Do your best not to be defensive if she expresses anger or disappointment in you as a parent and/or grandparent. These may be things she needs to get off her chest in order to move forward. Hopefully, she will be able to hear your perspective on these events as well.  If this communication can happen in a healthy way, talking about these issues may help clear the air.

While it is hard to resolve issues that are not openly discussed, if she is not able to do so you may not have a choice other than to accept that you are not going to be perceived in the way that you see yourself.  You may have to accept her disappointment in you and your own disappointment in her as well. If possible, try to do so without either rejecting her entirely or giving in to her expectations in ways that betray your true needs.  It is a difficult balance to strike when each of your expectations and needs are so different.  Continue to be the best grandparent you can be in a way that is authentic for you.

There are no easy answers to this dilemma.  It is helpful that you have another adult child that is able to accept and appreciate you as you are.  This situation may lead to you choosing to have more involvement with the accepting child’s family, which may actually reinforce the other daughter’s resentment and perception of favoritism.

Do the best you can to continue to give what you are able to give to each of your daughters and to both sets of grandchildren, but realize that there are limitations in how much you as an individual can do to resolve any problem that is actually a problem between two people.  Even if you and your daughter never resolve your own relationship, there is still a great possibility of having special and rewarding relationships with her children—your grandchildren. I wish you the best in meeting this challenge.



Posted on Friday, April 17th, 2015 at 4:58 am.

Dr. Beth, I am 62 and the proud mother of two daughters, both of whom are married and have children. One has two children, ages 3 and 5. The other has two kids also, ages 2 and 7. My problem is that one of my daughters thinks I’m a terrible grandmother, but the other one thinks I’m just fine.  It seems like my disappointed daughter is always angry at me and constantly criticizes how I treat the kids—I bought the wrong outfit, I don’t babysit the children enough, etc.  I love both my daughters and all 4 of my grandchildren.  I give and do the same for both families but one daughter is fine with it and the other daughter isn’t. I’m about to tear my hair out. What can I do?


Challenging Life Changes – Lonely in a foreign country_Answer

Posted on Tuesday, April 14th, 2015 at 4:11 am.

It sounds like you have always spent the holidays with your family and no doubt in your country of origin.  I’m sure that the culture you come from has many traditions and rituals that may be quite different from traditions here in the U.S.  Moving to another country is a big deal, even if it is only for a few years to complete your educational goals.

Being involved in the academic community can offer you a few advantages in coping with this cultural adjustment.  Perhaps you have already discovered that several of the universities here have International Student Offices which may include opportunities for fellowship and a sense of community with others who are also from other countries.  Many U.S. students and faculty are also quite interested in getting to know people from other countries and may involve themselves in these organizations as well.

The majority of international students and even non-student families who leave their home country to live here face similar issues of loneliness and may feel alienated from the new customs and traditions that surround them.  There can be a lot of confusion around expectations:  what is expected from you in being around your fellow students and what you can reasonably expect from them.

Certainly one of the most positive options is to join in the family celebration of another school mate or friend at the university if this is possible.  This may heighten your sense of missing your own family and traditions, but can also provide an atmosphere of warmth, being included and the relief of being around others and therefore less focused on your own sadness.

Another positive option, as mentioned earlier, is to connect with an organization that supports and aids international students with adjusting to life in their new environment.  Often these organizations also have the sensitivity and understanding to create alternative group celebrations that are inclusive of people from many different cultures.

Naturally, if you have the option to Skype, call or otherwise have contact with various members of your family back home during the holidays, that contact may well offset some of the loneliness and sense of disconnectedness that comes from being so far away. Take the opportunity to share with your family what you are learning about this culture’s traditions and participate as much as possible in any of your family’s traditions that can be done over a distance.

Hopefully, your family back home will also be reaching out to you during this time. As time goes on, you will form new friendships and gradually become more familiar with this culture.  You can pick and choose among the many and various ways people here celebrate the holidays and incorporate them into your own ways of celebrating.

Nothing will take away all of the loneliness of being away from your family for the first time during the holidays, but there are many compassionate people out there and many others: students, faculty and community members, who are in the same situation you are. There are many opportunities for companionship and community if you are open to the new and willing to participate.  Don’t be afraid to express your desires for companionship and inclusion.  There are many people who are quite willing to expand their own celebrations to include you and your customs as well.


Challenging Life Changes – being alone in a foreign country_Question

Posted on Monday, April 13th, 2015 at 4:15 am.

Dr. Beth, I am an international student and my whole family lives in the country I am from.  The holidays are coming up and I am feeling terribly lonely.  I don’t have the money to go back to see my family for the holidays and they are in the same position. International travel is very expensive as I’m sure you know.  This is my first holiday away from my family and I’m not sure how to get through it. Any suggestions?


Mood Swing / Bipolar-how to tell the difference_ Answer

Posted on Sunday, April 12th, 2015 at 3:48 am.

It really isn’t possible to do an “armchair” diagnosis of someone who is experiencing such a complicated set of mood symptoms and making lots of problematic life choices. It doesn’t sound like you are dealing with a straightforward depression or a clear-cut anxiety problem.

While I can’t tell you exactly what is going on with you, I do hear that you are suffering and you deserve both answers and relief from your misery.  What I can offer you are some questions you can ask yourself that might point you in the direction of an answer, but this is truly a situation where you will need a qualified in-person evaluation from an experienced professional therapist or counselor.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself: 1) How long have I been experiencing this unhappiness and these mood swings and has it gotten worse over time?   2) Has anyone in my immediate or extended family shown similar types of problems with impulsiveness, mood shifts, and taking unwise risks?  3)  Do I use alcohol or drugs often to try and relieve my misery or cope with my mood changes?  Am I addicted to anything, like alcohol or drugs? 4) Have I had repeated problems with holding jobs or keeping relationships?  5)  Does my anger have a destructive effect on my life?

These are some of the questions a professional psychologist or psychological evaluator would ask you to help determine more about what is actually happening with you and how you can be helped.  Drastic fluctuations in mood, frequent anger and irritability and extreme risk-taking may indicate a mood disorder, such as bipolar disorder, but may also indicate something completely different.  Trauma, dysfunction in one’s family of origin, and fundamental insecurities about one’s own identity and role in the world can sometimes lead to a similar symptom picture.

Regardless of what all of this adds up to I do think it is very important to pursue answers to your questions about what is going on with you.  It is clear that you are suffering and that you need some answers and some relief.  This is definitely too complicated a set of issues to sort out by yourself.  If you allow yourself to ask for help, you will probably get the answers you seek and strategies for improving your life functioning as well as your happiness.


Mood Swings / Bipolar – how to tell the difference_Question

Posted on Sunday, April 5th, 2015 at 3:37 am.

Dr. Beth, I am writing because I really feel like something is terribly wrong with me, but I don’t know what it is.  I’m basically miserable most of the time. I am unhappy and often very angry. I yell at my friends sometimes, but other times I am the life of the party. At those times, I am gregarious, I love everyone and I’m generous to a fault.  When I get passionate about something, nothing can stop me.  But sometimes I takes risks with money, driving and relationships that in my more sensible moments I know are stupid and dangerous.  Then I get depressed again. Can you help me figure out what the heck is going on with me?


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