Family Relationships

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

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sandwiched Boomers: Our Gift to You

Just for today, please indulge us in a stroll down memory lane. It's been 10 years since we published our first Stepping Stones newsletter and 5 years that we've been blogging here at Nourishing Relationships.

Early on we discovered that the Internet was like the Wild West and we joined with other pioneers to build a thriving community. We've met some incredible women through our work and want to share narratives they wrote for issues of the newsletter, some dating way back to 2001.

Read about joys and struggles of family life:

stepmother survival tips
kitchen dancing
the loss of a love

And about women who took a big step beyond their comfort zone:

doing what you love
self discovery at 52
a pilgrimage

We want you to know, dear readers, that we appreciate you! Even though we often don't hear from you directly, the statistics show that you're stopping by and reading the posts. As a gift for your loyalty, please download these complimentary eBooks and feel free to share them with your friends:

Courage and Lessons Learned: Reaching Your Goals

Taking Control of Stress in a Financial Storm: Practical Strategies and Resources for Success

If interersted, sign the email list to the left of this post to receive our monthly newsletter. And if you have your own story to tell or a family issue you want to discuss, we're listening. Just click on 'comments' below and start writing. Or email us at

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Women and the Art of Playing

We all know about the importance of play for kids' emotional growth and development. It can enhance imagination, increase social skills and boost self-confidence. So why don't we women place more value on play for ourselves?

Early on, most young girls tend to be collaborative, communicative and caring – you can see it when they play house and mother their dolls. And these traits become even more entrenched as the years fly by. As women, we often put the needs of family before our own and are kept busy nurturing our aging parents and growing kids.

We could take a lesson from the opposite sex, many of whom find time to let off steam with a pick-up basketball game or a regular poker night. And there's plenty of expert advice to back up the necessity of that. According to the founder of the National Institute for Play, Dr. Stuart Brown, play is much more than just fun. In his TED Talk, he goes into great detail explaining it as a fundamental need in healthy adulthood - it increases our capacity for creativity, problem solving, adapting to new situations, learning and happiness.

Especially with the added stress that comes with these uncertain economic times, you may think that being able to take precious time away from work and family is unrealistic. But, as members of the Sandwich Generation, it's vital to nourish ourselves so we can be emotionally strong enough to help those who depend on us.

Why don't you check out this active community of women who call themselves Mice at Play? Their main goal is to bring fun into their lives through constructive and positive play-dates, lectures, trips and workshops – in fact, they call it 'fun with a purpose.'

And then try to start your own personal play revolution. Think about your fondest memories of playing as a child. What are a few similar activities you could integrate into your life right now? How can you feel reconnected to your creative and playful side? And how far are you willing to go outside your comfort zone? Just imagine the potential benefits to your physical health, level of happiness and feelings of wellbeing. And who couldn't use a few extra laughs?!

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Virtual Book Tour with Gayle Forman

Today we're delighted to welcome journalist and author, Gayle Forman, to our Virtual Book Tour. In full disclosure, at one time I carpooled Gayle to school with my kids. I think you'll find her as engaing now as I did then:

Nourishing Relationships: Young-adult books like yours seem to be gaining a much wider readership than just young adults - what is the appeal?

Gayle Forman: A book is a book is a book and a good book is a good book. It's a golden time right now for YA books, and I think the popularity of novels like The Hunger Games or Twilight have showed moms the appeal of these books not just for their daughters but for themselves. There's something about the teenage years. They're a time of firsts—first love, first heartbreak, first time leaving home, first time making big decisions—which is why they're such fertile ground for authors but also why the books resonate for both teenagers and for anyone who has been a teenager.

NR: What kind of messages can mothers and daughters glean from "If I Stay" and "Where She Went?"

GF: I think readers of different ages take away different things from the books. With "If I Stay," young readers often email me to tell me that they appreciate their lives anew after finishing the book. That they've gone to give their parents a hug, or that they've stopped feeling sorry for themselves because they know now that life is so fleeting. Older readers, particularly those who have endured loss, I think, really connect with Mia's sense of loss of her family and find some catharsis there. Similarly, in "Where She Went," I think younger readers are swept up in Adam's agony over losing Mia, in his anger, in the hope of a second chance. Older readers connect with that, too but again, the themes of loss, of surviving loss, of what it means to grieve—if you've been through something like that, you might read the book on a different level.

NR: "If I Stay" has become a popular mother-daughter book club pick. Why is that?

GF: I think it's for some of the reasons I mentioned above, that there is a takeaway for different generations. Also, unlike a lot of YA books, the parents (and grandparents) in "If I Stay" are really cool, so I think it's refreshing for adults to see a positive depiction of parents in books about younger people. But the major themes—memory, choice, music, living, dying, loving—are ones that all ages can talk about. I think as our daughters grow older, it can be harder to find common ground and sometimes books can provide an opening.

NR: How has raising your two children changed the way you write books?

GF: It's a funny question because I didn't quite realize how thoroughly the girls impacted my writing until I was deep into it. For one, I might never have started writing novels had I not had my first daughter. When she was a baby, I knew I didn't want to travel anymore as a journalist. That was how I backed into writing my first novel, "Sisters in Sanity." But it was really with "If I Stay" that I synthesized so many of my feelings about parenthood, about the sacrifices you make for your children without ever giving it a second thought. Though the book focuses on 17-year-old Mia, the story is also very much about her parents. Former punk rockers, they slowly evolve into 1950s-esque seeming Cleaver family types and the nature of this evolution, the reason her father in particular changes, is a big theme of the book. I didn't realize until after I finished that this whole section was really about sacrifice for your children and I never would've written this, or felt this, before having children.

NR: Do you have no-go zones?

GF: No. When I was writing "If I Stay," at one point I wondered if it was too heavy or too philosophical for YA but I didn't change anything. If my characters curse in my head, they curse on the page. I realize that puts off some readers but I grew up in home where we cursed like sailors but also did volunteer work, so cursing and morality were never remotely related. But I do think very much about the morals I'm putting on the page, how I would feel as a parent if my girls at 17 did the things that the girls I'm writing about are doing. Would I be okay with my 17-year-old in an intimate relationship with a boy she was in love with and monogamous with? Would I be okay with her not going to the college of her dreams to be close to the boy she loved? These are the questions I ask myself and they guide the decisions my characters make.

Thanks Gayle, for giving us insight into your work and the teen psyche. Now, readers, you have a chance to share your thoughts and ask Gaye questions. Just click on 'comments' below this post and follow the prompts. You can even sign in as 'anonymous,' it's as easy as that. If you want to experience firsthand how smart and funny Gayle is, and her commitment to teenagers, spend some time on her blog.

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Testosterone Levels Decrease in New Fathers

As mothers, we've experienced the hormonal roller coaster of pregnancy, labor, delivery and postpartum emotions. We felt more attached to our growing baby as our progesterone and estrogen levels rose early in pregnancy and remained high, supporting the development of a healthy, well-nurtured baby. Then our oxytocin levels spiked while we gave birth - just the beginning of the mommy brain we formed. All of these dramatic hormonal changes made us more involved with our infants, during pregnancy and as new mothers.

Studies are now showing that men, too, are hardwired to be caring parents - their testosterone levels drop significantly when they become fathers and their estrogen levels climb somewhat. There is also an increase in their level of prolactin, the nurturing hormone, and a rise in cortisol, which creates greater alertness and sensitivity to danger for their newborns. The increase in cortisol combined with the decrease in testosterone leads new fathers to avoid risky behaviors that could otherwise interfere with the responsibilities of parenthood.

Image: Louisa Stokes /

The decrease in testosterone leads to physical changes that increase new fathers' abilities as caregivers and help them bond with their new infants: their immune system functions better, helping to avoid infections, their lower level of libido leads to a lesser urge to go out and reproduce, there are reduced levels of competition with other males, the risk of prostate cancer is reduced - and new fathers can even hear the cries of their infant more easily.

So while macho men may attract us when we are single, it's their decrease in testosterone that keeps us together as a family unit, raising our children. It's nice to know that our husband's commitment to us and the kids is part of his evolutionary destiny.

How about your guy? Did you notice a change in his feminine side after the birth of your children? And if he's already become a grandfather, did you see another spurt when he began taking care of the grandkids? Jump in and use the comment button below.

On Wednesday we'll be hosting another Virtual Book Tour here on the blog. Please check back in then as we chat with Gayle Forman about her young-adult novels.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Loved Ones with Dementia: How to Connect

Today's blog is a family affair - the post was written by Ellen Woodward Potts and the photo is of her husband, Dr. Daniel Potts, and his father, Lester Potts. Dr. Potts, a neurologist, has been inspired by his father’s journey through Alzheimer’s disease. Ellen's family members have also struggled with dementia and she writes a blog that honors and supports caregivers. Here's what Ellen has to say:

'As dementia progresses, it becomes more and more difficult to connect with our loved ones. I often get questions about this from caregivers, friends and family alike. This inability to connect causes family and friends to visit less frequently, leaving the person with dementia and the caregiver socially isolated at a time when they need the most support.

How can you connect with a person with dementia? Often, the creative arts are the key. Don’t stop reading! You don’t have to be an artist, musician or have any type talent at all to employ these techniques! They’re very simple and easy to use.

Music: People with dementia usually remember things from the distant past, so choose your songs accordingly. What were her favorite songs from her youth? What music did the person listen to in her late teens and early twenties? If you don’t know, google “top forty songs” and put in the year when the person would have been 18 or 20 years old. You will get a list of what was popular at the time. Play and sing along with these songs, and you may be amazed at what happens. If nothing happens, keep trying! Sometimes, this process takes time.

Additionally, if the person is religious or was in her childhood, try singing and playing the religious songs of her youth. At a point when my father-in-law with Alzheimer’s disease had not spoken in several months and was in an in-patient hospice unit, we began singing familiar hymns. Amazingly, he could sing along! This is a relatively common experience. This excellent video with Validation Therapy pioneer Naomi Feil is an example of this. Music can help bridge the communication gap with people in any stage of dementia.

Art: Lester Potts, a rural Alabama saw miller, was the quintessential child of the Great Depression. He was all about work. He would have considered painting pictures a waste of his time. As Alzheimer’s disease stole more and more of his cognitive ability, he began attending a dementia daycare center where a retired artist volunteered his time. The results were astounding. At a point when he could no longer hammer a nail or change a light bulb, he became a watercolor artist, although he had never painted before. Even in late stage Alzheimer’s disease when he had lost the ability to speak, he could paint visual images of his childhood. Art offered him a method of communication when his verbal abilities had failed.

To do this at home with your own loved one, start with some very simple artist’s supplies, not children’s crayons and coloring books. You can buy the “Paint by Number” kits or just let the person paint whatever he wants. Inexpensive canvases and either watercolors or acrylics are best. There are often starter artist's kits available that are perfect for this.

Dance: I heard a story recently about a woman who had been a ballet dancer in her youth, but had dementia from strokes in her later years. She lived in a facility and used to twirl down the halls. Most of us danced in our youth, either at school dances or as part of a hobby. If your loved one is still able to walk, play music from his heyday and dance! If he is not able to walk, the “dancing” does not have to involve his legs. Let him move his arms to the music or take his hands in yours and pretend to dance.

Bibliotherapy: This is a fancy word for an easy concept — reading familiar things. Think of the poetry or the stories the person may have memorized or read in her youth. If she was religious, think about favorite or familiar scriptures. Make certain to read from the version of literature or scripture your loved one would have read in her youth, not a more modern version.

Expressive arts therapies like these have been clinically proven to improve mood and behavior apart from medication, and have no known negative side effects. Even in the mainstream medical community, the value of these therapies is being touted. The upcoming medical textbook, Geriatric Neurology, to be published later this year by Prentice Hall has an entire chapter on the benefits of expressive arts therapies. More importantly, the expressive arts offer caregivers, family and friends alike the ability to connect with people who often are considered to be beyond our ability to reach them.

Remember, the goal is not the quality of the product or the performance, but connecting with your loved one in ways that are not possible otherwise. If you are diligent in using these techniques, amazing things can happen.'

Learn more about the wonderful work Ellen and Daniel are doing. Their foundation, Cognitive Dynamics, is dedicated to improving the lives of dementia patients through education, the creative arts and championing human dignity.

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Monday, September 12, 2011

9/11 Ten Years Later

Ten years ago, this photo took my breath away. Just like the pictures of the collapsing towers and the fliers with the smiling faces of lost loved ones. What powerful images of despair, suffering and the staggering losses of 9/11. But there were also stories of rescue, heroism and survival.

At dinner the other night, my 5 year old grandson was amazed by his brothers' conversation about terrorists seizing control of planes and crashing them into the World Trade Center. Being so young, how could they understand the impact? But as adults we know that the world changed dramatically that day.

After the heroic acts of police, firefighters, emergency responders and recovery workers during the disaster, Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome became a public health issue. Survivors with PTSD continue to struggle with intrusive thoughts triggered by a plane overhead, the sound of sirens or nightmares. Flashbacks, depression or anxiety continue to haunt them. And others suffer from chronic health problems or respiratory and allergic reactions from exposure to toxic dust.

Partners, parents and children still feel the void and mourn the loss of family members. For many who were lucky enough to survive the tragedy, there often remain feelings of helplessness, sometimes accompanied by shame, guilt, or a sense of responsibility. In fact, the whole world reacted. And each anniversary of 9/11 triggers frightening memories and painful emotions.

How do you move forward without forgetting? It can help to weather tragedy in the midst of family, friends and community. Like in other traumatic situations, support for discussing the events and sharing feelings can relieve pain and suffering. Putting energy into giving back to others who are struggling can be a source of comfort. And pulling together is a classic coping mechanism. The civility, cooperation, support and goodwill in New York were instrumental in healing the national psyche.

While some people remain vulnerable, others are resilient and can regain psychological balance more quickly. They tend to bounce back to the same strengths, anxieties, hopes and bad habits - and are grateful for a return to normalcy.

Some are too young to remember, others can't forget. Many at yesterday's ground zero memorial were there to find more closure so maybe they could, at last, enjoy a measure of relief. And all over the country, thousands upon thousands gathered to unveil monuments, pay tribute, pledge allegiance and celebrate resilience. May this strength be an example to all of us.

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Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Learning to Flourish

Now that the kids are back in school and their homework is starting, we've got some news about a book you might like to read yourself. The field of Positive Psychology - with its emphasis on creating a meaningful, healthy life - is especially important to us here at NourishingRelationships. Recently a pillar in the field, as well as a friend and mentor, Dr. Marty Seligman, enlarged on his work with Authentic Happiness and established a revision of his theory in his new book, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being.

In his revised theory, Seligman has added two more elements to his original three constructs that make up a life well-lived. All five, each with the support of essential character strengths and virtues, come together to create well-being. He uses the mnemonic PERMA to stand for these 5 components of thriving: Positive Emotions, Engagement, Positive Relationships, Meaning and Purpose, Achievement. Lets take a look at each of these to see how they might relate to you:

Positive Emotions involve pleasure and enjoyment, often during a satisfying sensory experience. You may feel a positive emotion while eating a delicious meal, hearing a beautiful symphony, walking on the beach, sharing a hug with your grandchild. Days full of these positive emotions make up what Seligman terms a pleasant life.

Engagement comes with flow, the experience of being so involved in an activity that you lose track of time and place. During this type of total absorption you feel at one with what you are doing. You may be fortunate to experience flow from your work or a hobby that you love. This type of immersion Seligman has labeled an engaged life.

Positive Relationships are necessary for well-being and therefore comprise one of the two new additions to Seligman's theory of thriving. Here on our blog and at our website,, we give practical tips to develop and maintain positive relationships with your family. When the pressure rises from caring for growing children and aging parents, the deep relationships you have built with a significant other and close friends can help buffer your stress and enhance your well-being.

Meaning and Purpose entail a commitment to something larger than yourself - the circle can include family, community, country, humanity, spiritual guidance. You may be involved in volunteer activities that bring deep satisfaction and the recognition that you can make a difference in repairing the world. Seligman has described this as a meaningful life.

Accomplishment is the second addition in this revised theory and the final tenet of well-being. Striving to achieve a goal strictly for its own sake can motivate a determined person, using her talents, to overcome difficulties. And the sense of triumph that comes from mastery over a challenging test is priceless.

Will these Positive Psychology tidbits encourage you to enjoy your own learning experience as the new school year begins? Knowing more about the constructs of well-being can help you decide how to focus your personal and family life. We hope our efforts together can be the driving force for you to thrive as you live a pleasant and engaged life, connected to others, complete with meaningful and purposeful accomplishments. What could be better?

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Monday, September 05, 2011

Dog Days of Summer

If you're reading this post today, there's a good chance you've decided not to travel this Labor Day weekend. Was it the desire to nest close to home with your family and enjoy the final dog days of summer or the extra expenses involved in a trip? This year, with the sluggish economy continuing, most families are especially attuned to the rise in prices. According to the AAA, gasoline is more expensive this year - as are plane fares and hotel rooms. And the poor jobs figures that came out on Friday indicate unemployment is still above 9%. So if you're having a tough time, our free ebook - Taking Control of Stress in a Financial Storm: Practical Strategies and Resources for Success - is still available to you.

To receive a complimentary copy, click on the link and download our gift of Taking Control of Stress in a Financial Storm: Practical Strategies and Resources for Success. You'll find practical tips for reducing stress, getting some control over your expenses, understanding the role financial instability plays in your marriage, creating new ways of flexible family living within this turbulent economy and investing in your own physical and emotional well-being. Use the tips we provide to create solutions for your family distress in these tough times. You can let us know about the changes you're making through the "comment" button below.

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