BO KNOWS FOOTBALL, PARENTING

Father And Son In Park With American Football

Created for the 50th Super Bowl, Toyota has tapped the touchy-feely market by pairing pro football players with their children in a series of commercials about being a father.

Numerous studies show the relationship between early childhood trauma, attachment, abuse, as well as in utero treatment of the unborn fetus and the mental and physical health of adults.

There’s no question that how a child is parented makes an enormous difference in child development.

Debated are the effects of divorce, step-parenting, blended families, and single parenting on children.  In my view, the emotional health of the family unit casts more influence on the growing child than what the family looks like.

How a child turns out is affected by biopsychosocial factors:

  • Biological each child’s hard wiring and physical health (affected pre- and post-natally);
  • Psychological to include attachment, presence of abuse or indulgence, boundaries, rules, roles, exposure to trauma, etc., and;
  • Social factors found not only in the child’s experiences with the wider community and culture — religion, education, social environment, access to goods and services, technology — but also to support networks including family, extended family and peers.

More children can turn out well-adjusted and happy when dads (and moms) provide positive parenting — even if they haven’t been parented well, or at all, themselves.

No argument is being made that all children can turn out wonderfully; there is too little control over the multitude and combination of factors that inspire dysfunction. It’s not foregone that those of us who experienced a less-than-healthy family environment will be less-than-healthy ourselves.  There’s truth to the saying, “I’m like this because my parents stayed together, so you just never know.”

Worrisome is the unawareness or reluctance many people bring to recognizing and creating a healthier family environment than they themselves had.  Parents don’t have to be robotic models of their own parents, though too many are.

Just as bad are parents who ride the pendulum to the other end of the spectrum, thereby encouraging lack of self-discipline and responsibility, materialism, boredom, entitlement, low frustration tolerance, and self-centeredness.  And there’s no proof that socioeconomic status predicts a positive parenting or family outcome.  Nasty custody battles seem to follow the money.

Summarized by a client who honestly believed that marriage meant there weren’t supposed to be any problems (and was angry and confused when there were) parenting is much the same.  Love does mean having to say you’re sorry:  a recognition you’ve erred, selecting out learned behaviors from reactive ones to conscious ones, along with changed behavior, are quantifiable and observable equivalents to saying “sorry”.

Despite all the self-help books, hugs, and positive modeling, parenting will never be a walk in the park.  But hugs, encouragement, and consistent positive modeling can ensure that moms and dads don’t have to walk in the dark.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist in private practice where she specializes in couples work, especially with relationships affected by disability.  She and husband David attempt to parent their two children, hooligan kitties Petey and Lucy.  Kathe and David present Couples Communication Workshops in Colorado Springs.  Read about it and register at www.BeingHeardNow.com.  

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copyright, 2015 Being Heard, LLC

MOST MARRIAGES GET STUCK ON ONLY HALF THE PROBLEM.

jelly beanWhen we were in school, most of us had to do “word problems” in math class.  Like this one:  Stan starts out for home,16 miles away, at noon on a hot day, carrying 39 jelly beans in his pocket. Within 5 miles of home he notices there are no jelly beans left, although Stan swears he hasn’t eaten any. How many miles has he travelled?

The first step in solving any problem is to figure out what’s really the problem.  There may be lots of information, some important and some not very.  Some information seems important but doesn’t apply to the question.

Or does it?

In relationships there are often two or more different views of what’s important:  jelly beans, distance, heat, Stan’s track record at telling the truth.  Lots of marriages get stuck when one is talking about Stan’s fondness for jelly beans and the other finds a solution in the day being hot.

In this scenario people are talking past each other; each interprets something different even within the same situation.

A husband might pass off Stan’s love for candy as no big deal, while his wife might see Stan’s behavior around candy as disgusting and weak-willed.

Soon it’s no longer about Stan.  Husband says wife is too uptight and judgmental.  She’s that way with the kids; never lets them have any fun and keeps them on a short leash.  Even does it to him.  Dragging their children and pets into this marital dust-up, husband declares that everyone is fed up!  The final shot is his suggestion, delivered in an ominously quiet voice, that even her mother agrees with him.

His wife is openly shocked, confused about how they went from Stan’s behavior to a personal attack on her.  She righteously challenges her husband’s values and parenting.  Somewhere she alludes to his sometimes wearing the same underwear for two days.  As for her mother’s opinion, well, that’s a whole other fight.

Neither partner is being heard nor hearing the other.  If you don’t see dark storm clouds you’re probably not married.

When it was legal to advertise cigarettes in the media, one brand’s tag line was “I’d rather fight than switch”.

Maybe fighting rather than switching is about appearances — smoking the most popular brand.  It’s possible defending your cigarette brand is like defending yourself; your inalienable right to protect your choice against all others’.  At a certain tipping point, not switching is inversely proportional to the quality of the smokes; said another way, the likelihood of fighting has more to do with ego than it does with fine tobacco.  Nevertheless, it’s hard to picture two dudes duking it out in the break room over smokes.

This same effect happens with couples.  Call it what you will — false pride, stubborness — It’s more likely that each partner feels threatened in some way; so much so that disagreement turns vociferous, personal, and mean.

Unhealthy communication within marriage guarantees an unhealthy marriage.  It’s what husbands and wives do when they aim to save position within the relationship, not in saving the relationship itself.  Sort of like ignoring the larger issue of smoking to argue about cigarette brands.

Before you know it, there’ll be fighting in the streets over jelly beans.

Kathe Skinner has been a Colorado Springs Marriage & Family Therapist for over 20 years with a private practice specializing in couples work.  She and her husband, David, are counting down the months to their 30th anniversary.

copyright 2016, Being Heard, LLC

THE CROCK-POT MARRIAGE: TASTY LOVE IS SLOW-COOKED

crock pot

“You Can’t Hurry Love” sang The Supremes in their 1966 hit, covered in 1982 by Phil Collins and in 1999 by the Dixie Chicks.  Love that’s instant is often short-lived, more lust than length.  To await the outcome of something not ready in a jiffy is the practice of relationship . . . love at its most tasty.  While many of us search out the searing heat of newness, turns out successful love is cooked in a crock-pot. 

That familiarity breeds attraction has been a theme celebrated for at least a century, from George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion as inspiration for the Broadway hit musical My Fair Lady to Oscar-nominated Bridget Jones’ Diary.  Guys might not worry about big girl panties, but it’s not just plus-size gals who love the possibility that love conquers looks. 

Despite what mom said about a good personality and a great smile, it seems the pretty ones have a shapely leg up when it comes to finding a likewise gorgeous mate; in evolutionary terms it’s called “high mate value”.  Notwithstanding friends with benefits, turns out mate value increases the longer people spend time together before dating.  In other words, the more you get to know someone, the more attractive you find them. 

Turns out mom was right.  

It stands to reason that the perception of mate value might also increase once people are permanently paired, irrespective of the amount of time spent getting to know each other in a non-romantic way. 

Several factors may be key:

Realistic expectations might mean having few, if any, expectations at all.  Of course that means that long-term togetherness is best viewed as a box of chocolates; understanding that the twists, turns, and adventures of even one life are unpredictable that double goes for any couple.  Shared values can feed into the predictability that increases the more that’s known about each other.  An acquaintance’s behavior doesn’t carry the same weight as that of someone we’ve committed to, probably because the expectation of a friend’s behavior doesn’t matter as much even though the behaviors might be the same.  For example, when a friend gets drunk it may be humorous; when a mate does, not so much.

No one has a plan for change, even though change is on the short list of life’s certainties.  The story of the spouse who left when the other developed cancer is apocryphal but is only a segment of our fear that when we’ve grown older, rounder, or more wrinkled our mate value is lost.  But the more you know someone, really know someone, the less likely change is upending.  True as well is that knowing and planning require learning and practicing.  Despite a feeling of instant connection, relationship is, well, work.  Just when a couple feels the hard part’s behind them, then whammo change happens again; it’s not so much planning for particular changes (as if that were even possible) it’s having the ability to have a plan for change in general.  As difficult as it might be to achieve, couples who can reach consensus about a plan of action are couples who are successful at riding out change together. 

Communication is about more than talking and listening.  Communication that works is an active process that builds on itself over time.  Attentiveness, thought, understanding, and active involvement are marks of partners who continue to know each other.  Think of friends you’ve had, male or female, to whom you felt comfortable talking about anything.  Expectation, judgment, and vulnerability seem to increase with romantic closeness when the truth is that you may already have trusted a friend with lots of the same things.  The effort each of us puts into “communicating” seem inversely proportional to time:  listening and talking to new mates is more intense than listening and talking to new friends; while the same behaviors are more intense with older friendships than with long-standing mates.

Each partner’s vulnerability to the other is possibly the most telling feature of mates’ mutual value.  Belief in the relationship incorporates the needs for trust and safety we all have.  With vulnerability (and the acceptance of it) there are no surprises, no hidden agendas, and not much left unsaid.  Respect is a key element of mutual vulnerability; knowing that your partner – or your friend — will not seek to harm you intentionally.  Both have a serious effect on self-esteem and our beliefs about our place in the future of others.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist in private practice who specializes working with couples.  Cooking with a crock-pot every chance they get, she and husband David have been married for 29 years. Together with their 2 hooligan cats, the Skinners live in Colorado where they teach Couple Communication Workshops.

Copyright, 2015  Being Heard, LLC

A FATHER’S DAY FANTASY

hefner and twinsFantasy’s a powerful thing.  It fuels the head trip of desire and compels the illusion of feeling good, even when there are no hands on.   Multi-billion dollar industries – from publishing to prostitution to porn – start here first.   

But how does the brain distinguish between what’s real and what’s imagined?   Scientists’ hypotheses point to the involvement of different areas of the brain and the multi-directional processing among them.  

Sexual fantasies are a solo adventure usually leading to release through orgasm.  For some the mind’s eye is enough to induce a significant physical event like orgasm.  Actual visual stimulation is so powerful that doctors’ offices getting sperm samples provide men with sexually explicit magazines as a way for patients to get it up and over with.   Humans are not alone:  Species that are down the evolutionary ladder from us also purposely seek out ways to feel good “down there”.  Elephants rub, monkeys twiddle away the hours masturbating, and male dogs lust after people’s legs.

Sometimes fantasy goes wild and boundaries are blurred, creating a new “reality”.  One example is the substitution of social bonds created by in-person interaction with texting, sexting, and hook-up sites.  We’ve always looked for love in the wrong places but it’s easier now; you don’t have to take a shower to “chat”.  Carried to extreme, fantasy never becomes reality:  the lure of being anyone you choose, often without consequence, is a strong inducement to stay impersonal.

It’s long been known that our brains are hardwired for pleasure, with specific neural pathways acting as highways.  As with anything pleasurable, the possibility of overindulgence, abuse, is possible.  While most brains have stopping, or surfeit, mechanisms, other brains are glitched to go wild.  Especially worrisome is the effect on young brains of unrelenting and ever-more-present societal messages about sex.  Young brains are not yet equipped with that Jiminy-Cricket-battle between the super-ego and the id; with this age group (and for some adults), the id wins almost every time.  Understandably there is concern for young people among parents, educators, and the mental health community.

The mental health and medical communities are concerned about the rise within the broader population of sexually identified mental health diagnoses as well as the rise in sexually transmitted disease.  It’s no longer unusual to know someone with herpes; it’s even been authoritatively predicted that in ten years over half of women and 40% of men will have contracted genital herpes.

Fantasy enables our addiction to the belief that if we can imagine it, we can make it real.  It sounds snappy when Sony says it, but those are dangerous words.  Not only because that’s not always true, but because it shouldn’t always be true..  Powerful as it is, sexual fantasy is just that.  Many of us are still hanging with Freud rather than updating our belief that it’s abnormal not to fantasize when bringing about orgasm. 

In praise of sexual fantasy: 

  • Leads to sexual activity, conjoint or solo, and that’s a good thing;

  • By inducing orgasm the body rids itself of stale sperm, an evolutionary advantage;

  • Orgasm reduces blood pressure, aids sleep, counts as exercise, lowers heart attack risk, lessens pain;

  • Can infuse a dulled relationship with newness;

  • Takes us on a journey we probably otherwise wouldn’t be capable of;

  • Stimulates creative thinking;

  • Enables us to practice social skills;

  • Offers an escape from criticism that may induce self-consciousness or an inability to function sexually;

  • Makes us feel good about ourselves, powerful, potent, and desirable;

  • Enhances relationship;

  • Mostly, sexual fantasy Is fun.

Sex is the adult version of play and fantasy is our way of looking forward to playing.  As thinking beings we need fantasy, daydreaming, and imagination as a pathway to our best self.  Fantasy is a pleasure in itself. 

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist whose private practice focuses on couples, especially those whose relationship is impacted by visible or invisible disability or illness for whom sexuality is often a significant issue.  It’s probable that childhood exposure to an overly enthusiastic dog is the reason she’s a cat person.  Then again, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.  With their two hooligan cats, Petey and Lucy, she and her husband David live in Colorado Springs where she maintains a private practice and where she and David co-instruct Couple Communication Workshops.  

Copyright 2015, Being Heard, LLC

GENGHIS KHAN GOT A DIVORCE

genghis Khan

It’s not that I don’t love you, Gengy.  I do.  But things just aren’t the same.

Used to be we’d talk ’til the yaks came home.  We don’t talk like that anymore.  Actually, we don’t talk at all.  You’re distant and quiet, even with the kids.  You’re never home at dinnertime and I can’t remember the last time we had a date night.

Other gals say it’s the same with them.  You and your horde come home after conquering and slaughtering and a year’s gone by and you act like some bigshot who’s gonna take over where you left off, but guess what? everybody’s been used to fending without you. Know what else? we’ve done pretty good, too.

Whoa, Gengy; don’t get your temper up!  You’re such a control freak, but you’re not gonna bully me anymore.  I love you, I do. But I can’t — no, I won’t — keep taking it.  You come off as so studly but I’m tired of sleeping by myself while you get wasted on that fermented crap.  I’m really sick of all those concubines hanging off you.  And I’m tired of entertaining all those brutes you call generals.  Gengy, I’m just. plain. tired.

I’m done.  I mean it this time.

Your moods don’t bother me anymore.  I don’t give an ox’s ass about all that blood on your hands and those nightmares you have.  Man up, Genghis!  It’s a brutal world out there for all of us; but the Great Khan wants us to feel sorry for him like nobody else matters.

The saying is “love conquers all”, not “Genghis Khan conquers all.”  Try thinking about somebody else besides yourself for a change!

It’s beyond me how you can get one end of your empire to communicate with the other but you’re in the dark when it comes to communicating with me.  What do I want?  I’ll tell you:  I want you to tell me dinner was good.  That I look nice.  Tell me about your day; you know, like how’d it go out on the steppes. Some funny story about one of your generals.  Like that.

Yeah, yeah, I know all about all the great stuff you do.  You keep telling me, don’t you?  You don’t listen, not to anybody.  You do what you want, you get what you want, and thousands of people get hurt.  If you put half as much effort into us as you do into work, we wouldn’t be so far apart.

Look, Gengy, we’ve been together a long time, since we were 12. Pretty good for an arranged marriage, huh?  Remember our first night — all those stars! the music of shuffling ponies.  And you couldn’t . . . well, that’s ancient history.  After all, you were only twelve.

You once said you’d give me the known world but I didn’t think it meant you’d be gone all the time.  It’s like you’re trying to prove something with all this conquering.  And being so fearsome; what’s that about?  Sometimes you even scare me.  You don’t have to be a therapist to see what having a tyrant for a father did to you. And the way you treat me? Just like your father treated your mother.  She took it for all those years, but I don’t have to.

I’m sorry; bringing your mother into it, that was a low blow.

Listen.  Mongolia doesn’t feel like home anymore.  You’re never around and when you are you’re all inside your head about who you and the boys are going to pillage next.  The kids don’t need me; they’re all grown and scattered to the winds.  You don’t need me, and I’m tired of doing this marriage by myself.  I’ve got to think about me for a change.  I’ve always wanted to travel —  maybe China; I hear their silks are to die for.

Don’t act surprised, Gengy.  We’ve both known this was coming. As brutal as you are, you never laid a hand on me.  This is gonna sound strange, but you know what?  I almost wish you had.  At least that way you would’ve touched me.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist specializing in couples work, especially with those couples whose relationship is impacted by visible or invisible disability.  She lives in Colorado with her husband David (whose latest conquered territory is the garage) and their two pampered yak-ity cats, Petey and Lucy.  She and David hold a Couples Communication Workshop throughout the year.  Check it out all the Workshops offered @ www.coupleswhotalk.com

Copyright, 2015 Being Heard, LLC

SOMETIMES YOU OUGHTA BE SCARED

clown hugBells should go off in your head if you’re walking in the woods and a clown in a bunker’s offering free hugs.  

Or when your guy grabs your shirt, slams you up against the wall, and says you don’t wanna make him angry.

And the whole theater’s screaming at that dumb young thing not to open up when the doorbell rings at midnight and nobody’s expected.

I’m not generally an alarmist although my husband David would disagree.  I do worry about fire starting in a trash barrel where he’s dumped grass clippings.  Or being afraid things are gonna blow up.  Or when I feel eyes on me when I’m working late by the open window in my first floor office and I can’t help myself I just have to look.

One summer my panties started disappearing off the clothesline, hang-up calls began right after my soon-to-be-ex left the house, and the guy across the street would make a racket so I’d look up to see him standing naked in his doorway.  When the phone rang at 2 one morning and the soon-to-be hustled me into the dark backyard I thought yeah, sure, I’m gonna get whacked — he had lots of, uh, connections; I didn’t for a second believe the police were evacuating the neighborhood.  But they were.  That spooky ass guy shot a neighbor who was coming home from shift work.

A bit after I rented out my condo, the woman whose doorway was a few feet away from mine was strangled at home then dumped in the woods. The daughter’s boyfriend went to prison for murder in a sordid story worthy of a bestseller.

Like people in an abusive marriage or those who return from war, I can talk about what’s happened to me as if it had happened to someone else.  Traumatic stress is often numbing and, whether the stress is long- or short-term, the need for self-protection can make us look (and be) detached and dispassionate.

Danger exists in trusting others even as protection is so desperately needed.  Laying down the guise, being vulnerable and exposed, is almost literally a deadly challenge that many won’t choose.

Traumatic stress is so often unexpected — who would set themselves up to be traumatized? — we cannot prepare or protect our psyches from it.  A system-wide shock indicates that everything in our world — most especially those to whom we are vulnerable like spouses, parents, children, friends as well as surroundings that once felt safe — is now suspect.  Add to that the invisibility of chronic, traumatic stress and the difficulty of  recognizing or relating to it adds to misunderstanding and further isolation and loneliness.

Traumatic stress can be vigilance run amok.

The experiencing, fearing, seeing, remembering of violence and harm can derail our thoughts and emotions, often forever.  Like someone who puts and keeps themselves in line for abuse, or those who think themselves immune to repeated horror, all of us need to realize that horror commands a price.  Similarly, we need to know that sometimes, not always, we can predict nasty experiences and seek to avoid them.  Problem is, the invisibility of stress disorders can mean that some people are less in control than it seems.  The creed of healthcare workers, protectors of public safety, combatants, and others who serve reinforces our expectations — and their own — about invulnerability.

Sometimes, vigilance is underrated.

Putting ourselves in charge, like not hanging out with somebody who slams you against a wall, is a proactive step to avoiding traumatic stress in the first place.  And when you can’t avoid getting bummed out, talking with a professional helper can expiate what may be stuck in your head.  That’s necessary if you want to be able to live your life without looking over your shoulder for clowns.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist in private practice who specializes working with couples, especially those for whom invisible disability — like PTSD — is part of their relationship’s mix. She and her husband David hold Couples Communication Workshops that help inoculate couples from the stress that a poor relationship can bring.  Register now for the lateswt workshop at www.BeingHeardNow.com

© 2015, Being Heard, LLC