Family Relationships

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

Monday, February 28, 2011

How to Fight Inertia

As Sandwiched Boomers, chances are you're bombarded daily by challenges with aging parents and growing children. You may also be trying to balance home and work responsibilities. And that's without your commitment to stay healthy, lose weight and exercise regularly. Just thinking about your hectic lifestyle can stop you in your tracks. If this is your life and you're feeling the time crunch, follow these guidelines.

Photo by Nuttakit

Make a start, any start. Buy a journal or borrow one of the notebooks your child isn't using and do your homework. Write out some specific long term goals and break these down into smaller, more manageable short term objectives. Begin with the one that seems easiest to implement and take the first step. Don't forget to consider the character strengths and personal resources you have that will help you achieve your goals.

Create weekly or even daily to-do lists.
For example, if a regular exercise program is your ultimate goal, begin by penciling in a 20 minute walk twice a week after carpool or during your lunch hour. Organization and planning may sound like dirty words. But the more you concretize what you plan to do, the greater the chances are that you'll follow through with your intentions.

Give yourself a break and see what happens. Let go of any negative thoughts about yourself in relation to getting stuff done. Actively dispute the idea that you are lazy, apathetic or can't get a handle on the process. Choose a simple mantra that rings true for you - such as 'yes I can' - and repeat it often.

Sign the email list to the left of this post to receive a free monthly newsletter, "Stepping Stones" and download a complimentary ebook about how to reach your goals. And log on Wednesday for more tips about fighting inertia.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Conversation with Pamela Madsen, Author of Shameless

Sex educator Pamela Madsen joins us today to talk about her new book, SHAMELESS: How I Ditched The Diet, Got Naked, Found True Pleasure and Somehow Got Home in Time to Cook Dinner. After being married thirty years, Pamela embarked on a sexual adventure that she explores in her memoir about a new monogamy. She proposes by allowing yourself to be truly seen by your partner, you can achieve a level of intimacy that you may never have felt before. So lets get started, Pamela.

NR: Why did you write this book and what gave you the courage to do so?

PM: Once I owned up to my deepest, untapped desires, I discovered a wellspring of happiness and self-confidence inside me that extended to every part of my life. Whoa! I thought. This is incredible! Everyone should know they have the power to experience life in all its richness right now, just as they are. No diets, no plastic surgery, no nothing. Just intact, healthy sexuality.

If I can stop warring with my weight and workaholism, I think most people can. I know that when I stopped denying my hearty and normal sexual appetites, I started losing my uncontrollable urges to overeat, overwork and over-compensate. For the first time, I could relax in my own skin. Admitting your desires takes a tanker-load of courage, and a rip-stop web of support. That’s what I’m here to provide. That’s my mission. That’s why I wrote SHAMELESS.

NR: For many people in long-term relationships, the very idea of changing one’s sexual practices or introducing extreme ideas may be viewed as a threat to the happiness and health of the relationship itself. What would you say is the best way to approach a spouse or significant other regarding such topics?

PM: Candidly discussing desire, whether it’s new-found or previously undisclosed, isn’t about blowing up a happy and healthy long-term relationship. It is about creating new depths of intimacy and revealing oneself to one’s partner more fully. Make no mistake – it can be an edgy exercise. It’s just as scary to share your deepest needs as it is for your partner to hear them. Honesty isn’t always comfortable but that’s how we develop true acceptance of ourselves and our significant others. It’s also important to remember that there’s a big difference between expressing desire and acting on it, and what may feel extreme to one, may be the other’s baseline. No one’s sexuality is “typical” and for both the speaker and the listener, this is the moment to put judgment aside in the name of love. Sometimes, simply naming desire out loud is enough. That is often the key to opening greater understanding between two people. The best way to approach this is with gentleness and an open heart. If you love this person enough to be vulnerable, then hopefully you believe that your love is reciprocal enough to see you through.

NR: If a significant other’s sexual journey and desires may not be in line with one’s own, do you think that it would/should spell an end for the relationship? To what extent should each partner be expected to compromise their own desires for the sake of the other?

PM: The knowledge that we are individual sexual beings inside of a relationship is something that many people find impossible to understand. We always think we should be “one” in our desires, and that our partners should be the ones to give us pleasure. My husband and I agree that we are two people in love, committed to a long-term marriage that has many important and vital elements that we both cherish – including our marital bed. That being said, I had to come to the understanding that no one could give me true pleasure other than myself. First I had to understand what my own desires really were. I was surprised to find how much they had changed and shifted over time.

To be sure, many people won’t examine their own fantasies and desires. More often than not, we sit in such judgment of sexual desires in general and our own in particular, then we hide them away as if they were somehow shameful. And then we forget about or fail to recognize them at all. The denial of our essential sexual natures is so ingrained –we can’t even look at our own bodies without cringing. Body shame looms large. There are so many obstacles to leap over, from religion and cultural mores to family issues, lack of information and possibly even abuse.

So this concept of us being unique sexual beings could be really big news for people. And that we can be two separate beings in ONE marriage is really startling. It may throw a different light onto a dedicated relationship, but with kindness, openness and compromise, there’s no reason for our innate sexuality to torpedo a couple.

NR: The history of the sexually liberated woman is a long and tangled one, ranging from the feared and scorned (but eventually romanticized) flapper to the essentially accepted “cougar.” What can be done for sexual liberation to truly be accepted in a modern, somewhat sexually repressed society?

PM: That question is too big even for me. I guess it is always about people being willing to be brave enough to speak their truths and be seen just as they are. Of course that can be dangerous. But pioneers in any field run the risk of ridicule, defamation or worse. The thing is the more people speak out, the more the taboo loses its power. The idea of a “cougar” is the perfect example. It wasn’t so many years ago when it was a vile epithet that categorized older, sexually engaged women as predators preying on young men. Well, that term has now lost a lot of its sting. The point, of course, is to get rid of terms that demean people –and women in particular –simply because they’ve embraced their sexuality.

NR: You’ve noted several times that many sex writers and sex advocates feel like they have to hide their identities in order to save face among peers, or even to keep their jobs or family relationships intact. You’ve even blogged about your own personal worries about being “found out” and the possible repercussions. What steps do you think need to be taken to calm this fear (legitimate or otherwise)?

PM: The more we are willing to be seen, to take the risks, to come out, the safer everyone will feel. I am stepping on the shoulders of incredible sexuality advocates and pioneers to write my book Shameless. They took a lot of hits on my behalf – and make it feel safe enough for me to come out. And now I have, and I am sure that I will take hits too. I already have. But by telling my story, I will create the space for others to do the same and stand on my shoulders.

NR: You’ve talked about how many people you’ve met come from all walks of life, all across the ranges of age, orientation, body type, and you’ve used these examples to illustrate that sexual confidence doesn’t come only to those who are young, fit and beautiful. However, gaining confidence can be especially hard to those with poor body image. As a woman who’s warred with her weight for the years, how were you able to embrace your own body?

PM: This is an ongoing process even to this day. For me, it was about allowing in pleasure just as I was. Not waiting until some day. Once I allowed my imperfect body to give me pleasure, I became much more accepting of who I was. I began to feed my body what it needed, and it was less hungry for other things. And through this process, transformation occurred.

NR: While sexual openness is slowly becoming more mainstream, many people are still afraid to truly examine their own desires, and may be too embarrassed or unsure how to contact a sex educator such as yourself. What do you think is the best support or education system for people who are willing to learn, but unsure how to begin?

PM: It’s always helpful to use the Internet and begin a careful search. There are well-regarded sites such as The Association of Reproductive Health Professionals that have great sex information. Plugging in terms such as Tanta, Sexological Body Work, and Sacred Sexuality can open up reasonable channels of inquiry that can stay private and quiet. At the same time, these thoughts or desires aren’t as unusual as one might think. It’s liberating to discover that for yourself.

NR: As a mother of two, you must have dealt with the concept of the birds and the bees with your children. How, though, do you think that the concept of embracing sexuality and sexual liberation should be introduced to our younger generations, and more importantly, when?

PM: All kids are different. But generally speaking, I think it’s important to tell our kids that sex is normal, and sexy thoughts are healthy and pleasurable. Whatever we can do to remove sexual shame from our children is an incredible gift. I also think it is important to communicate to our children that their sexuality belongs to them – and no one else.

NR: Our thanks to you, Pamela, for sharing your memoir with us and giving us a peek into SHAMELESS: How I Ditched the Diet, Got Naked, Found True Pleasure…and Somehow Got Home In Time to Cook Dinner. Now our readers have the chance to ask you their own questions. Just click on the "Comments" link below.

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Role Models on Presidents Day

Presidents Day, honoring George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, reminds us to look to strong role models for inspiration. Mount Rushmore, in the Black Hills of South Dakoka, memorializes Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt. These men reflect goals to strive for - courage, freedom, compassion and conservation, among others.

But you don't have to look only to U.S. Presidents for motivation and guidance. In the past here on our blog, we've focused on many role models, both for ourselves and for our children. They can stir us to greater efforts and success in our family, community and work lives.

When Randy Pausch learned that he had terminal cancer, he gave and then wrote The Last Lecture as a guide for living rather than dying. He stressed the importance of living each day fully, striving to achieve dreams and expressing gratitude for those gifts that you have. He encouraged his students, children and readers to stretch and take creative risks as they reached for goals.

Olympic swimmer Dara Torres and singer Susan Boyle have pursued careers about as different as they can be. Yet they are both role models of courage for women who have a dream and work hard to accomplish their goals. The mother of a toddler, Dara believed she wasn't too old to compete in the Olympics in her 40's and defied the odds by winning 3 more medals in Beijing. Susan was 48 and unknown when she competed on Britain's Got Talent, stunning the audience with her powerful voice. A short eight months later she had the world's best selling album of the year, with 9 million copies purchased. As our blog post indicates, both women successfully created their personal best through dedication and drive.

A teacher at heart, John Wooden was a life coach incarnate, not just a basketball coach. The Pyramid of Success he created for the men's UCLA basketball team works just as well for women balancing family and work life. His home grown aphorisms - Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do; Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are - can motivate you to work toward your personal best in any area of your life.

Elizabeth Edwards was a source of inspiration for many, fighting to maintain her dignity as she battled breast cancer and sought to protect her children. In an interview shortly before her death, she said that she wanted to be remembered as someone who stood in the storm and, when the wind didn't blow her way, adjusted her sails. You can read more about how Elizabeth Edwards took charge of defining her life by reading our blog post after her death.

Syndicated columnist Amy Dickinson, known as "Ask Amy," writes about the value of using other women as her role models and support in her book, The Mighty Queens of Freeville. For more insight about how we can empower ourselves and prevail through tough times by learning from our women friends and family, read how Amy answered our questions during her Virtual Book Tour on our blog.

Just a few of other role models we've blogged about are those women who return to the workforce and those who use their personal strengths as a means of centering themselves.

If you are looking for some more positive role models for success, look over other past blogs and be sure to sign up for our monthly newsletter, Stepping Stones. When you do, you'll receive our free ebook, Courage and Lessons Learned: Reaching for Your Goals. You'll find inspiration there to make this the best time of life.

And please visit our blog again on Wednesday, February 23 when we welcome Pamela Madsen for a Virtual Book Tour. She'll be discussing her new book, SHAMELESS: How I Ditched The Diet, Got Naked, Found True Pleasure and Somehow Got Home in Time to Cook Dinner.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Tips for Less Stress

In our fast paced world, Valentine's Day is already a fading memory. If you're single, that may be a relief. Although you can't control whether or not you have a romantic relationship, you can control how you manage your life. When you realize that you always have lots of choices, it's easier to take your stress level down a notch:

Photos by Salvatore Vuono

Give back some love. Do you have a relative or neighbor who could use a visit or phone call? Go outside your normal routine and get in touch with someone you've been meaning to call - it could brighten the day for both of you. Studies show that when you shift attention away from yourself to others, you actually feel better.

Volunteer your time. Nothing makes the day more special than a good deed. And the payback of altruism or giving back can help you see the situation from a much better perspective. Spending the day in a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter helps those in need, increases your connections and can improver your sense of self.

Let go of bad feelings and think positive. If you continue to feel frustrated, angry or disappointed, remember that a minor change in attitude can make a big difference in how you relate to others. According to Indira Gandhi, "You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist." Try to find humor in your situation and fall back on laughter.

Focus on a relationship plan. If it's what you want, you can define objectives that will move you in that direction. Tell those you trust that you would appreciate being fixed up. Make a list of what you expect in a partner and what changes you may be willing to make. Join a singles group or a dating website. Take whatever steps you think are vital to improve your chances.

Relax and rejuvenate to relieve stress. Attend to your mind and your spirit. Practice techniques of deep breathing or your own form of meditation. And set aside quiet time to do what brings you pleasure. Nurture yourself and your body through regular exercise, good nutrition and proper rest. This sort of attitude will sustain you as well as promote greater self care.

Give yourself the priceless gift of a life less stressed. Spend some time on Her Mentor Center and read articles that are full of tips just for you. Sign the email list to the left of this post to receive a free monthly newsletter - and then download a complimentary ebook about how to reach your goals.

Mark the calendar as the first day of the rest of your life. Commit to keeping your worry in check and maintaining balance in your life. As you savor your newfound power, cast a love spell in celebration of you.

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Single on Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is a special time to express romantic love. But it can also put pressure on those who, every other day of the year, are perfectly fine with their single status. You may feel lonely on this day and worried that you don't have the motivation to do what's in your best interests.

Photo by Keattikorn

When you love your life you're better able to control how you handle Valentine's Day. Follow these practical tips and put this one day a year in perspective:

Give yourself an emotional break and watch what happens. With a deep breath, release any negative thoughts you have about not being in a relationship. Actively dispute the notion that you are unworthy or unattractive. Choose an affirmation that rings true for you - I'm fine just the way I am; my life is full of those who care about me - and repeat it out loud, with conviction and often.

Take a step back and trust your instincts. Listening to your inner voice can provide comfort and reassurance about where you are right now. As you recognize your strengths, focus on why you're happy with who you are and what's important to you. Be sure that you're integrating your core values and personal ideals into how you live your life.

Pay attention to the positives in your relationships. Notice who you enjoy spending time with and what about them brings you pleasure. And remember that your personal character and qualities make them want to be your friends. Relax into your friendships as you enjoy fuller and deeper conversations.

Connect often with others. Going out with a group of colleagues can sometimes be more fun than a date. And having support is especially important when you're feeling down. You can bring more intimacy into your circle of friends. Be willing to reveal your opinion and needs so that others have access to your inner world. And encourage them to do the same with you.

Lower your expectations about today. Actually, there really is no perfect day, so relax. Be realistic and proactive. You can take the lead and make a plan - organize a potluck dinner or a hike in the hills. The wonderful memories you create will last long after the day is over.

Make the most of today
. And log on again Wednesday for more tips about how to have less stress around Valentine's Day.

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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Improving Your Relationship for Valentine's Day

With research statistics still indicating that one out of every two marriages in the United States ends in divorce, you can beat the odds by resolving this Valentine's Day to work on improving your marriage.
Photo by Clare Bloomfield /

Instead of letting your arguments spiral out of control, vow to use fair fighting techniques and put your differences behind you before you go to bed at night. Here are some tips to get you started:

Believe in your ability to change as a couple. When you make a pact to let go of old hurt feelings, you can focus on the present and what you can do to transform it. Trust that your love runs deep enough to support the work of strengthening it.

Focus on specific behaviors you would like your partner to change. Identify and prioritize particular actions that upset you and calmly talk about these. Be realistic about the ones you choose - focus on behaviors that your partner is able and willing to change.

Don't get stuck in past arguments. Agree not to fight the same battles over and over again. Either try to resolve them once and for all or agree to disagree. When you do, you can let go of your anger and begin the process of forgiveness.

Keep your communication open and honest. And be willing to cooperate and compromise about issues where you disagree. When you are able to deal with your anger and forgive your partner for mistakes he has made, you can both grow from the experience. And you'll feel better if you offer an apology when you have been the one in the wrong.

Give compliments freely. Sometimes it seems easier to criticize and complain than to praise and acknowledge positive behavior. Instead, be more attentive to the actions you want to reinforce. When you are thinking something nice, say it out loud to your partner.

Invest in your partnership. Make time for your relationship just as you would for any valuable asset. The efforts that you put into growing and developing it will be returned in multiples. Use each other for support as you are going through the myriad challenges of life.

Create greater intimacy with your partner and keep up the romance. Remind each other why you fell in love. Set aside time to be together and focus on each other. Be free with your affection and warmth. Tap into your sensuality and find new ways of exploring and expressing your sexual relationship together.

Plan some exciting adventures to bring back the feelings of exhilaration you felt when you first feel in love. You can discover new activities you both like to do - take a class, travel, go on an outing. The thrill of a new discovery can release dopamine and bring more pleasure into your relationship, encouraging real intimacy between you.

Studies have shown that for couples in love there are surges in dopamine, the chemical of pleasure, and in oxytocin, the hormone of bonding. These encourage further closeness and provide the benefits of reducing stress, creating calm, suppressing pain and producing better immune functioning. Researchers have estimated that in about one-third of long-term marriages, couples have the same kind of brain responses to each other as do newly in love couples. So whether you've been together for years or are newly falling in love, enjoy the feelings of closeness and have a happy Valentine's Day.

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Monday, February 07, 2011

Staying Warm on Valentine's Day

With record snow throughout much of America and cold winds blowing, it may be hard to stay warm. If you've got someone to cozy up to, you know that love alone does not guarantee the success of a close relationship. It also takes work, commitment and communication to build strong connections.

If the weather weren't enough, couples today are dealing with huge stresses of all sorts - fears of economic meltdown, actual job loss, threats to safety and security, concerns about retirement finances, and, for Sandwiched Boomers, issues arising from children growing up and aging parents growing older. Partners rely on each other to help buffer the impact of these stresses - and, hopefully, to make coping with them a little easier. Here are some tips that you and your partner can use - on Valentine's Day and throughout the year - to keep the fires of love burning bright.

Devote time and energy to your relationship. Make time for each other. It is well worth it - your efforts will come back to you many times over. Even if your days are filled with chores, let your date nights reflect romance, sensuality and affection.

Share with your partner what you love about him or her. Don't hesitate to give compliments when you think of them. Express the gratitude you feel at having your partner in your life. As you remember why you first fell in love, your feelings will grow even deeper and richer.

Focus on the positives in your relationship. Draw on your partner for support when you need it. Recognize that your mutual trust lets you enjoy being playful and sharing a laugh together. Your relationship can rejuvenate you when the stresses of the world outside weigh you down.

Remind yourselves of the commitment you made and the love you created. Plan date nights even when you don't have something special to celebrate. Draw on humor to lighten the mood. As you recall the joyous times you shared in the past, you will be forming new memories for your future together.

Do something unique this Valentine's Day. Studies of long-term relationships have found that couples who share novel experiences together actually increase their marital satisfaction and happiness. Why not begin by planning a brand new celebration of your love on February 14th this year?

Build new memories as you enjoy each other. Be playful and have fun together. Laugh and bring humor into your daily life. Plan some adventures - discover new activities you both like to do. All of these bring more pleasure into your relationship and encourage real intimacy between you.

Savor your special times together, whatever they are. When you give all of your attention to enjoying a positive time, you can build memories of these happy occasions and re-live them whenever you want.

A survey of women after last Valentine's Day found that 2/3 of them were disappointed in the way the day had turned out for them. Either their expectations were too high or the realities too low. In either case, why not talk with your partner before Valentine's Day and decide to do something different this year. You can make it a special day for you both, even if you are a Sandwiched Boomer coping with the stresses of growing children and aging parents.

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Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Parents Weigh in on Tiger Moms

Amy Chua's book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother continues to make waves among women and parenting experts. It's gotten everyone talking about how to raise children today, in the midst of all the distraction out there. As mothers, we all want the best for our kids, but what does that really mean? The best at academics, the best at music, the best at sports, the best at relationships, the best at self-esteem, the best at balance?

Here on our blog, the comments we've gotten from you so far are overwhelmingly in favor of Western Moms over Tiger Mothers, but with the recognition that children do need rules and boundaries. And that, as parents, we need to acknowledge a healthy respect for the individuality of each child in helping them develop into successful adults.

Most of the media have come down on the side of western parenting, as well. Janet Maslin has written a scathing review in the New York Times book section, describing Ms. Chau as a narcissist who "never fails to make herself its center of attention" rather than on focusing on what is best for her daughters.

Ms. Chau believes that being a Tiger Mother encourages self-esteem in her children because they truly excel in particular activities. But some parenting experts note that overly controlling the choices teens can make may instead foster a negative self-image.

Parenting is never easy and there's lots of input available from developmental professionals. Clinical Psychologist Wendy Mogel advises parents to set standards and role model their values but then allow their teens the freedom to make their own decisions - and face the consequences of their actions. She calls it "compassionate detachment" and believes it helps build strength and resiliency in teens.

We've looked at different kinds of parenting styles here on our blog before. When Lenore Skenazy shocked overly protective helicopter moms with her book about how she was raising her 9 year old son, Free Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry, we talked about letting your children make some of their own decisions. In another blog post, we suggested that you resist micromanaging your teens and encourage them to do more independent problem solving. As your kids mature and head for college, the message is to ease up on being too directive and instead let them learn from the consequences of their actions.

Of course, it's true that western children waste many hours on texting, video games and television - more than 4 hours a day, according to Nielsen figures. On one of our blog posts, we gave you some tips about how to get your kids unplugged and find creative outlets for them instead. Even though it can be frustrating to try to wean them away from electronics, setting family rules about what is and is not acceptable is easier when your include your children in the planning process.

Of course you know well that parenting is messy and complicated, with you "ad-libbing" some of the time. You need to dig deep to understand your children's strengths and weaknesses - as well as your own - in creating your personal style. And recognize that it will develop as your kids grow and change. But when you give your children the room to rely on themselves and build independent problem solving skills, you are teaching them about how to succeed in life, as well as in school.

So what are your thoughts about all of this? Let's keep the conversation going. Just click on the "comments" button and share your experiences with all of us.

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