Family Relationships

Join other women in the sandwich generation - share ideas and solutions as you learn to nourish family relationships without starving yourself.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Susan Boyle: A Role Model

Remember Susan Boyle, the Scottish T.V. sensation from Britain's Got Talent? She was middle-aged, shy, portly, nonthreatening - the classic underdog. Although Boyle performed well in the final competition, she didn't win. And afterwards she was hospitalized with emotional exhaustion. Yet she came out the other end with her sense of humor intact and more confident.

You can take a lesson from Susan Boyle. Focus on your strengths that can lead to success. Look for a role model who inspires you and begin to see yourself from a different perspective. And relax as you let your creativity run wild.

There may be stumbling blocks along the way, but just keep going. Focus inward and don't be swayed by the attitude of others. Pay attention only to what you're trying to accomplish. And continue to move forward on your own steam.

Here's a way you may be able to follow your dreams. Avon Voices is conducting a singing talent search - inviting you to join a global movement that unites and inspires through the universal language of music. Women around the world are making their voices count by telling their stories, sharing their dreams, and showcasing their talents.

Through February 13, 2011, you can sing out on a 30-second video clip from the approved song list at Avon Voices. The finalists will be eligible for professional coaching, Avon makeovers and studio time for performance videos.

The Avon Foundation for Women was founded in 1955 to improve the lives of women. Avon global philanthropy has donated more than $800 million in more than 50 countries for causes most important to women, including breast cancer research and efforts to end domestic violence.

Want to discover effective tips to help you as your family in flux and you change? Download a complimentary ebook, Courage and Lessons Learned: Reaching Your Goals, and receive a free monthly newsletter, Stepping Stones, by signing our email list to the left of this post.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Virtual Book Tour: Dr. Gary Small

Today we are delighted to welcome Gary Small, M.D., director of the UCLA Memory and Aging Center and professor of psychiatry at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine. He'll be answering our questions - and yours as well - about the book he recently wrote with his wife, Gigi Vorgan, "The Naked Lady Who Stood On Her Head: A Psychiatrist's Stories of His Most Bizarre Cases."

Nourishing Relationships: Several of the stories in your book deal with how the mind affects the body. One of them gets into your experiences with the “Fainting Schoolgirls.” What is mass hysteria? Is it a common phenomenon?

Gary Small:
In the “Fainting Schoolgirls” incident, I was investigating an outbreak of illness in a suburban grade school. The kids were rehearsing a performance, when suddenly 30 of them grabbed their stomachs and fainted. The principal told me that it started with one popular child who fainted and suddenly the rest of them went down like dominoes. The health department couldn’t find a cause and gave the “all clear,” but the community was in an uproar. The school seemed to be blocking my efforts to get to the bottom of things, and the parents took offense that a psychiatrist was suggesting that their kids might have had a psychosomatic illness. I nearly gave up my study until I attended the actual show – a little worried that the outbreak might recur – when one of the mothers sought me out and supported my theory of mass hysteria – she was convinced that her daughter’s physical symptoms were in fact psychological. My subsequent research proved my theory that when stressed out, the mind can make the body sick, and in a group setting, it can really get out of control.

When we face uncertainty, our minds crave explanations. If we have no way to account for symptoms, we feel out of control and our fear escalates. And, if we learn that our own minds may have caused these very real symptoms, we tend to feel more anxiety about what our minds might do next. People may worry that their brains are possessed by some outside spirit, or perhaps a poltergeist has taken charge of their willpower. They’d rather latch onto something like the mysterious poisonous water theory. In all the mass hysteria episodes I’ve studied and written about over the years, the lingering question for me is why they don’t happen more often. The essential ingredients – groups under psychological and physical stress, often hungry, tired, or both – come together almost daily all around the world.

NR: Why are people afraid of psychiatrists?

GS: There is clearly a stigma about “seeing a shrink” and admitting one has a problem. Sometimes people are in denial about their mental struggles and avoid or even attack psychiatry in an attempt to avoid anyone discovering their secret psychological issues. Also, mental illness is often perceived as a weakness. Many people still believe that they should be able to solve their problems on their own. Yet, in any given year, an estimated one of four adults—nearly 60 million people in the U.S—suffer from a mental disorder and most of them don’t get help, which is why it is so important for people to try to get beyond their fears.

Psychiatrists are sometimes viewed as probing mental detectives who take control of their patients’ minds rather than heal them. In my book, I attempt to debunk such misconceptions and demystify the treatment of mental illness. Despite the public’s misconceptions, psychiatric treatments diminish and often eradicate symptoms of psychosis, depression, and anxiety. Systematic studies have shown that often combining medicine and psychotherapy results in significant improvement.

NR: Why do you need a therapist if you can talk to a good friend?

GS: A psychiatrist or therapist, unlike a friend, has no agenda of their own when listening. When a friend gives you advice, he may be thinking about how your actions will affect him, as well as you. When you’re in therapy, it’s all about you, not the therapist. Also, anything you tell a therapist is strictly confidential, and unless your friend has the training, you may not be getting the greatest advice. Having good friends is important to our mental health, but if you need it, don’t hesitate to call a professional.

NR: In your book, one of the cases involves a woman who develops a so-called “serial addiction.” What exactly is that and is it really possible?

GS: When we think of addition, alcohol or drugs usually comes to mind, but a person can get addicted to almost anything they enjoy: food, tobacco, sex, gambling, the Internet, or even video games. Some people have addictive personalities. When they “kick the habit” of one thing, they simply move on to something new and get addicted to that. In The Naked Lady Who Stood on Her Head, a woman who has an eating disorder overcomes it. Then, her shopping gets out of control, and she just can’t stop until she moves on to something else. This kind of serial addict usually exhibits the same behavior patterns regardless of the object of their current addiction: They crave the experience all the time, have withdrawal when they can’t get it, are secretive and defensive about the behavior, and the addiction interferes with everyday life. Anyone who’s struggled with addiction or dependency, should be aware of the possibility of becoming hooked on something new.

NR: Another case involves a patient who discovers that her husband has a second wife and family. You give that as an example of a sociopath. How do you define sociopath and how can we tell if someone has that personality disorder?

GS: Sociopaths are people who think only of themselves. They have no conscience or empathy. Whether it’s an Bernie Madoff, Adolf Hitler or Charles Manson, they wreak havoc on other people’s lives. But what about the everyday sociopath who sneaks into your life and befriends you? When you discover his true colors, you’re shocked, you feel violated, and you often blame yourself for being duped. How can you spot these predators before they gain your trust?

First impressions count. If someone does not seem genuine, your impression may be accurate. Also, watch out for people who seem too good to be true. Sociopaths often anticipate your needs in order to get what they really want. Finally, look for typical character traits: no sense of remorse, short-tempered and quick to blame others, and few or no long-term relationships. Remember, sociopaths can be smart and even when you’re on alert, they can slip into your life. Don’t blame yourself, just cut them out and move on.

Thanks so much, Gary! You've given us bites of a delicious idea feast. Now, readers, it's up to you if you want more - he's ready to answer your questions. Just click on 'comments' at the bottom of this post and follow the prompts. If you don't have an account you can sign in as 'anonymous' - it's as easy as that!

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Are You a Tiger Mother or Western Mom?

With the publication of her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Amy Chau has unleashed a flurry of heated discussions about parenting styles. When an excerpt of Yale Law Professor Chua's book was printed in the Wall Street Journal, there were well over 5000 comments - more than any other article in the history of their website.

Chau insists that her book is a memoir, not a guide about child rearing. But by describing her strict Chinese mother rules for her two daughters, now teens - no playdates, no sleepovers, no TV, no school plays, no choice in extracurricular activities - she emphasizes the control she exacted as they were growing up. And Chau explains the rigid academic demands she set for her daughters - getting no grade less than an A, being the #1 student in every school subject, playing the piano or violin at an expert level, winning gold medals. She justifies this by stating that it will serve her children in good stead as "achieving academic excellence gives you self-esteem."

By comparison, Western parents may be seen as coddling, soft and weak. Chau notes that studies have shown Chinese parents spend about 10 times as long each day drilling their children in academic subjects. But many have noted that these behaviors may have adverse effects. Arguments about parenting styles do not happen in a vacuum: the suicide rates are above average for Asian-American girls aged 15 - 24.

The Wall Street Journal followed up with an article by author Ayelet Waldman offering the flip side of parenting, In Defense of the Guilty, Ambivalent, Preoccupied Western Mom. Waldman highlights the value of letting children find their own way as they learn from their failures as well as their successes.

As moms, we all try to do the best we can, knowing that each child requires something different from us and there is not one right way to parent all children. Given those caveats, where do you weigh in on this battle between "tiger mothers"and "western moms"? Let's hear what you think about these very different parenting styles.

Here are some questions to consider: How do you describe your own mothering style? What's worked for you and your children? How were you raised? What do you think about how your grown kids are parenting their children? Is it really a cultural difference between East and West or a difference in expectations? We'll consider these questions again next Wednesday as we take a second look at tiger mothers and western moms.

Be sure to join us this Wednesday as we host a virtual book tour with Dr. Gary Small, author, with his wife Gigi Vorgan, of The Naked Lady Who Stood on Her Head: A Psychiatrist's Stories of His Most Bizarre Cases. Dr. Small, director of the UCLA Memory and Aging Center and professor of psychiatry at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine will answer our questions and be open to yours as well.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Kick Start a Gratitude Practice

We hope you read Monday's post from our guest blogger, Sherry Belul. She was full of ideas about how to get into the habit of expressing your thanks on a regular basis. If you haven't started your gratitude practice yet, here are more practical tips from Sherry.

Another great place to introduce gratitude is an unexpected one: when we’re in a snit! It might seem counterintuitive, but when you get to a place in your day where it feels frustrating, depressing, or all-tangled-up, you can take a deep breath, close your eyes, and imagine something you’re really grateful about. Usually for me, I like to think of the last time my son and I shared something really funny or when we’re snuggled in bed and I’m reading to him. Turning my attention to gratitude for something so essential in my life helps put everything in perspective. When I open my eyes, I can more calmly address that computer snafu or the blown-out tire on the car! Sometimes, when I’m feeling really expansive, I’m able to find some gratitude within my fitful situation: “Well, the tire’s blown out, but wow, I’m grateful to own a car.”

Misses are similar to snits in that these are places in our lives where at first glance it might seem hard to find any gratitude. This is part of the magic. Look for times throughout your day when you feel longing or sadness for something you don’t have, then quick-as-a-wink, you can turn that feeling around by feeling gratitude. For me, it might begin like this: “I’m really depressed that I don’t get to see my mom as often as I’d like.” When I notice that “something’s missing” thought, I turn it around: “I really love my mom. I’m so grateful to have her in my life. I think I’ll call her to tell her I love her.” Bingo. I shifted from “something’s wrong” to “something’s wonderful.”

I leaned this place of gratitude from my son when he was three. He was sitting in front of his birthday cake, ready to blow out the candles, when I offered the usual, “Make a wish, honey.” He blew out the candles and I said, “What’d you wish for?” He smiled broadly and proclaimed, “A birthday cake.” Amazing. That moment changed my life. Throughout the days, ever since, I remind myself to wish for things I already have and love. I wish for a witty and fun son. I wish for an apartment in a city I love. I wish for fresh running water. I wish for the ability to do yoga. Watch how fun it is to wish for something and receive it immediately. It’s like having our very own magic Aladdin Lamp!

Gift giving occasions are one of the best ways to experience gratitude. And they’re easy ways to include the family. Here’s what you do: next time you need a special gift for someone close to you, set aside ten or fifteen minutes to just think about that person. Let yourself re-experience all the things you love about them and all the shared times you’re grateful for. Let yourself receive the joy of who this person is to you. Then, on your own, or with your family, create a gift that expresses that gratitude. Maybe you all sit around the table together and make a list of what you love about that person and then present it on a scroll or in a hand-made book. Maybe you decide you’re going to each write a letter that includes your favorite memories of that person. Then you bind the letters or you record video of each of you reading them. Maybe you make a book of gift certificates that are things that person needs: help with babysitting or lawn mowing or computer trouble-shooting. There’s an old Jewish saying, “What comes from the heart is received by the heart.” And the beauty of this is that the gratitude you express in your gift will be received not only by the recipient, but also by your own heart.

Email Sherry to tell her your gratitude practice experiences or learn about the one-of-a-kind tribute books she makes at You can also sign up for Simply Celebrate’s free newsletter.

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Giving Thanks - All Year Round

Today, we're delighted to welcome a guest blogger, Sherry Richert Belul. Sherry, mom to a witty and wonderful 10-year-old boy and founder of, shares her secrets about giving thanks. Like Martin Luther King, She has a dream - to bring more gratitude into the world.

Some of the best moments of parenthood are those first recognizable words that pop out of our children’s mouths. You know: When ma-ma-mamoo shifts into a solid, “Mama” and it’s obvious that his “dee-dee” refers to the fluffy kitty he is patting with pudgy hand. Usually it isn’t too long after those first thrilling words, that we begin teaching our children the dynamic duo, “Thank you.” (Usually parroted in the oh-so-endearing, “tank-you.”)

Ours is a polite society and it doesn’t take long for children to catch on to saying “thank you” when someone offers them something or does something nice for them. It becomes an automatic response. As well, it’s fabulous that our country has deemed the last Thursday in November as an annual day of thanks. Those two things are so wonderful. But they’re actually just the very tips of the great gratitude iceberg.

In my own life I’ve learned that it’s possible to create an ongoing practice for myself and my family that is a conscious effort to bring gratitude into our lives throughout the day, in a variety of ways. I promise you, if you commit to trying just a couple of these practices for just a couple weeks, you’ll experience the magic of gratitude. Because here’s the secret: every single time we pause to express gratitude for something in our lives, we get to experience receiving that thing all over again. When we’re giving thanks, we’re receiving more of what we’re grateful for. Saying thank you instantly multiples what we have!

Wanna start your own gratitude practice? Below is a “Chinese Menu” of places to begin. These are all simple things that you can incorporate into your day — and suggest to or model for your family. I hope you’ll write and let me know how it goes!

Gratitude lists are the easiest and most foolproof places to begin bringing more joy into our lives. This is what you do: first thing upon waking or last thing before going to bed, grab a piece of paper or the laptop and make a list of ten things you are grateful for in your life. Could be your daughter’s bubbly laugh. Could be that you can walk, see, or dream. Might be having a fridge full of food. Could be having shared a cup of tea with your friend. Don’t think that the items on your list have to be spectacular, like winning the lottery! In fact, the more we can allow ourselves to feel grateful for the everyday things in our lives, the more things we have to be grateful for!

Lists are a great way to involve your family. In our house, before our meals we go around the table once or twice and each list something we’re grateful for. You can also set aside a time before bed or in the morn when your family writes your list of ten things silently together but then share an item or two that you each wrote down. (Or if the kids are small, you can go around in a circle and share verbally!)


Something go your way? Did you get some praise or a raise at work? Find a parking spot at the busy shopping center? Your four-year-old eat some broccoli? You slipped, but didn’t get hurt? Take a moment to offer thanks for these kinds of sparkly moments. Lots of times, I’ll just stop for a few seconds, look at the sky, and whisper “thank you.” Not only does it offer us a chance to truly experience our good fortune, but also I’ve found that it reinforces my desire to look for or create more glitzy situations!

Log on again Wednesday – Sherry will tell us lots more ways to express our gratitude.You can sign up for Simply Celebrate’s free newsletter at And learn more about Sherry's ebook, "Present Perfect: It Really is the Thought That Counts," that includes dozens of no-to-low cost gifts that are fun to make and full of love.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Optimism about Gabrielle Giffords' and America's Recovery

The recent news has been good concerning the ongoing recovery of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords after she was shot point blank in the head on Saturday. Reports are that she is breathing on her own as her husband holds her hand. The outpouring of prayers and good thoughts coming from Americans around the country will help to sustain her and her family through the long and arduous recovery that she faces. Support also goes out to the families of the six murder victims, whose funerals begin tomorrow as 9 year old Christina Taylor Green is laid to rest.

How will the country recover from this tragedy? Will Americans come together to face this heartbreak as one nation or will we be driven apart by finger-pointing and fractious debate? The palpable distress created by the horrific shootings have added to the already high levels of stress identified by the recent national survey conducted by the American Psychological Association.

We hope that such unfathomable horror will never personally touch you or your loved ones, but here are some techniques to use when you are coping with other stresses in your life:

Focus on what you can control and what you can accomplish, not what you can't. Close to one-half of those surveyed by APA said they experienced irritability and anger as a symptom of stress. While you often can't influence circumstances, you can recognize your emotions and control how you handle them. To move away from frustration, let go of negative thoughts and unrealistic expectations. Clearly define your goals or aspirations and keep focused on them. Make something positive come out of a negative situation.

Draw on your strengths. Survey respondents readily admitted their lack of willpower in creating a healthier lifestyle but 70% believe they can improve and institute the changes they have identified. Use the personal strengths you have relied on in the past as well as those you have developed more recently. Brainstorm new ways to apply the abilities you have in a novel way as you generate new opportunities for yourself.

Be patient with yourself. Know that you will recover balance and serenity at your own pace. As long as you keep moving forward, you will eventually reach your destination. Like one-half of survey respondents, you may find that listening to music, exercising, spending time with family or friends and reading are comforting ways to manage your stress.

Talk about your thoughts and feelings with family and friends and reach out to others in your support system. Be open to asking for help and validation of your emotions. You may want to consult a professional counselor for a non-judgmental ear and help in sorting out your concerns. Start a journal to aid in the process of coping with your anxiety.

You'll likely find that your personal recovery, both physical and emotional, will take time. Support is valuable as you begin the process of rebuilding body and spirit and restoring hope as you cope with your own feelings of stress and anxiety. And the American Psychological Association has more tips for coping with stress in the aftermath of traumas such as these horrific shootings.

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and Stress in America

The weekend shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords - and the attendant murders of six bystanders - has again pushed the American psyche into overload. Though out of harm’s way themselves, many people experience stress and anxiety when faced with these kinds of uncontrollable situations. While it appears the gunman's serious mental illness motivated the shooting spree, the horrendous act itself has raised stress levels all across the United States, already high due to the poor economic climate. In fact, a recent national health survey found that 75% of the general population experiences at least some stress every two weeks, with half of these rated at moderate or high levels.

According to the American Psychological Association, key findings from their recent survey indicate that stress levels have increased over the past five years, impacting both physical and emotional health. Most Americans are feeling moderate to high stress levels, with many feeling overwhelmed and emotionally exhausted. The most frequently cited sources of stress are concerns about money, work and the economy. Nearly one-half of those who participated in the survey were fearful about their job stability. Over one-half also noted that family responsibilities and relationships were significant causes of stress.

What can you do to reduce your stress levels and take better care of yourself now and during the rest of 2011? The American Psychological Association has some suggestions to manage your distress in the aftermath of the shooting. And here are some of our tips to get you started:

Maintain balance in your life between personal needs, work and your family obligations. Don't over commit yourself even as you retain a normal routine. Carve out some special time for yourself even in the midst of caring for your growing children and aging parents.

Exercise moderately several times a week. Only one-quarter of those surveyed were satisfied with their level of physical activity. To increase yours, find an activity that you enjoy and will stick with - walking with friends, water aerobics, dance or yoga classes, training at the gym.

Eat sensibly, following a balanced diet of healthy foods rich in nutrition that serve as a natural defense against stress. Avoid the use of drugs and alcohol to self-medicate and limit your use of sugar, caffeine and cigarettes as they can contribute to your anxiety. Get enough rest and sleep to allow your body to recover from the stresses of the day. Over 40% of the survey respondents reported feeling fatigued on a regular basis and lacking in energy.

Use relaxation techniques. Set aside time for a regular routine of deep breathing, guided imagery, meditation, or other stress reduction methods. Decide to put off worrying - much of what you may fear never actually happens anyway. Remember to be open to the healing effects of laughter.

Using these tips can help you become more resilient as you cope with the stresses around you on a daily basis. And to learn more about how you can manage the pressures you face in our economic downturn, check out our ebook, Taking Control of Stress in a Financial Storm: Practical Strategies and Resources for Success.

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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

How to Sustain Your 2011 Resolutions

Keeping your resolutions can sometimes feel like climbing a mountain. Like these boys, make sure your goals are accessible. And don't forget to stop from time to time and note your progress. Track your growth. Notice each small success you make toward reaching your goals. It's easier to reach short-term objectives and small accomplishments will help you stay motivated. For example, instead of being focused on competing in a marathon, begin by jogging a couple of times a week.

Reward yourself. This doesn't mean eating apple pie and ice cream if your goal is to lose weight. Celebrate your success by treating yourself to an activity that doesn't undermine your resolution. If you've been sticking to your objective of eating better, your reward can be a movie or museum date with a friend.

Stick to it. Obsessing about the occasional slip won't help you achieve your goal. Do the best you can and take one day at a time. Be patient as you let a new activity, like exercising regularly, become a habit. And before long, your new healthy routine will become second nature to you.

Keep trying. If you run out of steam by mid-February, don't despair. Start all over again - set another goal to get your body in better shape. There's no reason you can't make a new resolution any time of the year.

Joining a gym or a weight loss program is the easy part but continuing to show up is the bigger challenge. Now that you have some new strategies to implement, resolve to turn your ambitions into year-long healthy lifestyle changes.

For additional support, join the email list to the left of this post and receive a fr** monthly newsletter. And as an extra bonus, you can download our complimentary ebook, Courage and Lessons Learned: Reaching Your Goals.

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Monday, January 03, 2011

Tips to Keep Your 2011 Resolutions Going Strong

Gift yourself in 2011 - just like this little guy, enjoy the moment and new discoveries. Try to find mystery and wonder in the simple pleasures.Keep this in mind as the new year begins. Are you setting new goals? It's common practice, and the majority fall into the categories of losing weight, smoking cessation and starting an exercise program. But even more common is the tendency to break New Year's resolutions. Research suggests that the longterm success rate is only around 20%. Chances are, at some time, you've been a part of this statistic. How can you stop the cycle of resolving to make change, but then not following through? Here are some strategies that may help:

Be realistic.
Strive for a goal that is reasonable and attainable. Instead of resolving to never again eat the fattening foods you love, avoid them more often than you do now. Choose practical solutions that you will be help you succeed.

Outline your plan and have a backup. If you decide to stop smoking, how will you deal with the temptation to have one more cigarette? What about calling on a friend for support or participating in a pleasurable activity instead. Or practice positive thinking and visualize a healthier body. Know that you'll cough less, breathe easier and be able to exercise more.

Talk about it. Don't keep your new goal a secret. Find a friend who shares your resolve and continue to motivate each other. Find support through a smoking cessation program or join a weight loss group. Tell family members who can be there to talk you through the tough times.

Log on Wednesday for more ideas about how to keep your resolutions going strong. In the meantime, has lots of articles to read in 'Family Relationships' and the 'Newsletter Library.' Or sign our email list to the left of this post to download a complimentary ebook on how to reach your goals and for a free monthly newsletter full of practical tips.

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