Family Issues And Challenges

Our families are the source of some of our greatest joys and deepest hurts. No matter what kind of family you have or even if you don’t have any still-living members of your immediate family, you are bound to have strong feelings and opinions about families in general and your own family in particular. We actually have several families:  our family of origin (parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, etc); our nuclear family (the family members we grew up with in our home), our own family (partner, spouse, children, grandchildren), and our family of choice (our circle of friends and intimate others who accept us and love us just as we are). Our different families assume different amounts of importance as we move through various stages of life. Our families are the primary shaping force in our lives for many of our early years and often for years beyond those well into our adulthoods. Many of the issues clients bring to my counseling practice are related to their families.

Oftentimes our issues are too much for us to cope with alone, in which case counseling is required. Whether you are seeking to work through your dilemma one on one, or are seeking to engage in family therapy or couples therapy, Dr. Beth Firestein is able to work with you to not only determine the best way to overcome the trials in your relations, but provide you counseling in the execution of these solutions. Contact Inner Source today for a free 15-minute consultation, and start your path to a new life today.

Dr. Firestein writes a monthly Q & A column for the Healthline magazine which is a separate magazine inserted into the Reporter-Herald on the 3rd Thursday of each month. The column is called “Uncommon Sense”.  Here are some sample questions and answers from previous columns addressing topics of interest to many of the families she sees in her private psychotherapy practice.

Question: Dr. Beth, I am the mother of 3 young children (7, 4, and 2) and I feel constantly overwhelmed.  My husband and I decided that it would be best if I stayed at home with the children until they are all in elementary school or beyond.  Even though I miss the adult companionship I got from being at work, I love being a mother and being home with my children.  Still, I am exhausted and never seem to live up to my own expectations.  Any suggestions?

Answer: Anyone that thinks being home to raise children is easier than having a job outside the home is quite mistaken.  The task you have taken on is a formidable challenge but very worthwhile, as I am sure you have already discovered.  Exhaustion and feeling overwhelmed are definitely part of the package, but if they are your constant and unrelenting companions you probably need to do something different.

That “something different” falls into three broad categories:  practical assistance, self-care, and changing your expectations.  In the practical assistance category, I find that many mothers are really quite reluctant to ask for help or accept help, even when it is offered by people they care about with no strings attached.  They have always been highly competent and independent women and carry these traits into their mothering role.  There is nothing wrong with that, but we all need a little help sometimes and mothers can often use more than a little help.  Allow yourself to ask for and accept help from others.  In most instances, they feel good about giving and it really is OK to ask and to feel OK about receiving the help. It will actually make you better as a mother, not worse.

Self-care is the hardest thing to talk to mothers about.  It’s hard to see how doing something for oneself can be justified when the needs of the children and household are so endless.  However, that is the whole point: those needs are endless. You can either exhaust yourself without replenishment, which leads to burnout and impatience with your children and partner, or you can exhaust yourself and then replenish.  Doing so can lengthen your irritability fuse and increase your patience. It also ties in with suggestion three: changing expectations.

Many mothers think changing their expectations or standards for housekeeping and other things is the same as being lazy and letting her off the hook of personal responsibility. There is another interpretation of what it means to change your expectations:  it’s called being realistic.  Exhaustion and chronic feelings of not being enough, not doing enough and not having enough are always interwoven with our expectations.  It’s fine to have aspirations, but the reality of having children is that they consume huge amounts of time and energy.  This necessitates alterations in your life patterns and in how many things you can expect to get done and do well.  By lowering some of your self-expectations, you can do things and you might even feel a sense of accomplishment instead of a constant sense of failure.

In spite of the growth of whole industries to help mothers and provide gadgets that make their jobs a little easier, mothering young children never really becomes less work.  Children’s needs don’t diminish even if the tools we have for meeting those needs have become more and more sophisticated. Even at its easiest, parenting is an incredibly demanding job.  Give yourself a break and take the time to enjoy your children instead of berating yourself for all that no longer fits on your plate.

Question: Dear Dr. Beth, My mother is in her early 60s and she has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. She is in treatment but the odds are really not in her favor and she could well die in the next year. I am in my late 30s. In my teens and early 20s, my mother and I butted heads a lot.  Things have gradually improved between us and although we are not extremely close, I care about her and want to do the right thing by her in this time of her life. What can I do?

Answer:  There are quite a few books and websites now that help people deal with a loved one who has a terminal illness. Many offer practical suggestions and deal with issues around grief and preparing for the likelihood that your family member may die in the near future.  What I can contribute are some things to consider from a psychological and relational point of view as you relate to her in the last few months or years of her life.

Most family relationships are complicated.  Even the most emotionally healthy parent-child relationships can have not-so-pretty histories, ragged edges, and quirky elements alongside a great deal of love.  You are probably in the same boat as most adult children with a terminally ill parent. Most of the adults I talk to in this situation primarily want two things: 1) to help their parent die in peace, feeling loved and cared about by their family, and 2) to be at peace themselves about the relationship at the time of her or his parent’s death, both at the time of the death and in the very long future they will live without their parent.

There is no perfect way to go about helping a loved one die but there are more and less graceful ways to go about it.  You and your mother have come a long way in your relationship and have healed a lot, but are not extremely close. Here are a few suggestions:

1) While you may wish to do more healing work with your mother and try to become closer to her before she dies,  as the illness progresses, there is a time to stop trying and just do your best to be with her as a loving and accepting presence in her life;

2) Mutual acceptance, kindness of spirit and small loving actions convey love and create healing in ways that verbal communication may no longer be able to do;

3) This is the time to let go of resentments. No matter how justified they may seem to you, they are irrelevant to what is happening in the ill person’s life and irrelevant to healing your relationship with that person. Let them go and you will be more at peace after she passes away.

4) If you can create new, positive memories with you Mom even during this period of deterioration in her condition, you will have those memories the rest of your life. Such memories may include organizing an album of family photos together, asking her to share stories about her life and the life of the family she grew up in, or just sharing a cup of tea in front of the television. Simple things count the most.

There are parents, adult children, sometimes younger children, and sometimes even grandparents involved in the situation of the ill family member. There may be spouses or ex-spouses. Each person will have their own unique relationship with their ill family member. While you can gently encourage estranged family members to work on healing their relationships with your mother, you have absolutely no power over whether they do so.  This is a time to focus on your own relationship with your mother and allow others to do,  or not do, whatever they choose in regard to their own relationship with her.  I wish the two of you peace and further emotional healing in the last days, weeks, or months of your togetherness.

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