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 30, 2012

How to Work Your Way toward Valentine's Day

If you’re a Sandwiched Boomer, caring for parents growing older and kids growing up, Valentine’s Day may be just one more responsibility you have to take care of. Are you trying to balance work and family with little choice but to leave your love relationship on the back burner? Busy people under pressure often hurt the one they love. Not ideal circumstances as we approach the most romantic day of the year.

Marital relationship experts seem to focus on minimizing the negatives – don’t nag, don’t be controlling, don’t overreact, don’t withhold sex.

But why not concentrate on the do’s instead of the don’ts? Positive reinforcements can help increase attraction, motivation and connection. So if you apply these practical and easy-to-implement insights, you may begin to see positive changes, just in time for Valentine’s Day:

Express gratitude. Remembering to say thank you may sound overly simplistic, but it can help bring to mind your partner’s good qualities. Compliments serve as positive reinforcements at times when you may be preoccupied with work and kids or taking each other for granted.

Try to compromise. Be direct, yet open and flexible as you make your way through disagreements. Putting yourself in your partner's shoes and truly understanding the other point of view can help resolve conflict quickly without so many lingering resentments.

Log on Wednesday for more practical tips about achieving marital success.

In the meantime, would you like to download a complimentary eBook, Courage and Lessons Learned: Reaching Your Goals? All you have to do is sign the email list to the left of this post. You'll also receive our free monthly eZine, Stepping Stones, with lots of ideas about how to resolve your family problems.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Gabby Giffords as an Inspirational Role Model

The courage and dignity shown by Gabrielle Giffords over the past year as she struggled to cope with the results of her horrific shooting were repeated this week as she made the announcement that she will step down today from her position as the United States Representative from her district in Arizona. It was inspiring to watch her smiling face and listen to her halting but strong voice declare her thanks for the support of her constituents and her pledge to return to the people of Arizona.

Photo courtesy of Gabrielle Giffords Congressional Office/Handout/Reuters

When Gabby Giffords was first shot, we blogged here about how the country would react to this crime by a mentally ill gunman. We had some suggestions for getting support in such times of crisis and for managing the stress that comes from an uncontrollable event like her shooting. You can look back over those posts and try on some of the tips we outlined there.

In addition to killing six citizens at the town hall, wounding another 12, and forever changing Gabby's life, the shooting also generated partisan finger pointing, ironic since Giffords had been rated as one of the most bipartisan, centrist members of Congress.

Gabby has been an exemplar of self-respect in her determination to progress in her healing. It is humbling to see her commitment and perseverance as she continues on her road to recovery and rehabilitation.

As you talk with you family about the role model she embodies, you can focus on some of her beliefs, attitudes and actions. Gabby has been:

Determined to move forward
Hard working in her rehabilitation
Optimistic in her outlook
Realistic in her goal setting
Steadfast in her beliefs about reconciliation
Appreciative of the support she's received
Grateful for her friends and family
Loving to her husband
Loyal to her constituents
True to herself
Committed to living a full life

These are all qualities we hope to emulate ourselves and instill in our children. We wish Gabby the very best of luck on her difficult but inspiring journey and support her words today, I will return, and we will work together for Arizona and this great country.

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Monday, January 23, 2012

Role Model for Bad Behavior

Usually it's celebrities who provide the bad role models for our teenagers. But now Francesco Schettino, captain of the grounded cruise ship Costa Concordia, has pushed the athletes and all the Kardashians off the Internet home pages and become the poster boy for bad behavior.

Photo by Rvongher, Wikimedia Commons

As we wait to learn the fate of passengers and crew still missing after the disaster, are there lessons from Schettino's actions we can discuss with our kids?

Consider the consequences of your behavior. For personal reasons, Schettino purposefully diverted his ship from its predetermined route, bringing it closer to the island of Gigilo where it hit rocks and later keeled over on its side. Encourage your teens, before they engage in actions that might be risky, to use their good judgment to think through potential outcomes and weigh the risks against the rewards. They may be less dramatic than those Schettino faces, yet important to their future.

Recognize real danger and act to protect from it. The captain and crew first denied the actual emergency, telling passengers only that the ship's power was out. The message to abandon ship came only after the Concordia had capsized, making many of the lifeboats inaccessible. While you don't want your children to be overly tense and vigilant in all situations, prepare them to guard their safety when a threat is, in fact, imminent.

Take responsibility for your actions. Schettino defied the accepted maritime standard of conduct: when it is necessary to abandon ship, the captain accepts his position of leadership and is the last one to leave. He ignored his duty to evacuate all of the passengers before getting into a lifeboat himself. When your kids are faced with an ethical choice, help them to rely on inner strength to do what is right so they won't have regrets later.

Don't lie. When asked by the owner of the cruise line about the situation, Schettino did not at first tell them about the severe damage the rocks had made in the ship. He withheld key parts of the whole story in an attempt to shield himself. As a result, the owners were not able to arrange for adequate rescue services immediately after the disaster. If your teens are tempted to shade the facts, help them remember that you respect their decision to tell the truth.

To read about positive role models - and real heroes like Captains "Sully" Sullenberger and Richard Phillips - join our email list, to the left of this post. You'll receive our free monthly newsletter, Stepping Stones, and also a link to download a complimentary ebook, Courage and Lessons Learned: Reaching For Your Goals.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Virtual Book Tour: Mother Daughter Show

Today we’re delighted to welcome Natalie Wexler to our Virtual Book Tour. Her recently published novel, The Mother Daughter Show, is both hilarious and poignant. We know it will appeal to anyone who's ever had a daughter, and to anyone who's ever been one. So let’s get started:

Nourishing Relationships: What inspired you to write The Mother Daughter Show?

Natalie Wexler: I wrote The Mother Daughter Show partly to try to maintain a sense of humor about a situation I found myself in - the real Mother Daughter Show, a longstanding tradition at Sidwell Friends School, where my daughter was a senior.

Every year the mothers of graduating senior girls write and perform a musical revue for their daughters, and it seems like almost every year peculiar things happen between the mothers. I wanted to understand why - what was it about this situation that made people act in ways they usually don’t? One obvious possible reason was that the senior year of high school is a stressful year, for mothers as well as daughters: there’s the pressure of applying to college, the stress of wondering where your child will get in, and the emotions stirred by the prospect of your precious little girl leaving the nest.

So I wanted to explore that, but I also saw the novel as an opportunity to write more broadly about the mother-daughter relationship. I gave each of my three main characters (Amanda, Susan, and Barb) a mother of her own as well as a teenage daughter, to allow for a multi-generational aspect to the book. There are tensions between these older mothers and daughters as well, and one of the mothers, Barb, is stretched thin caring for her ailing mother while trying to control her rebellious daughter.

Also, Susan and Amanda begin to see some parallels between the way they interact with their daughters and the way they’ve interacted - or perhaps still interact - with their own mothers. (There’s nothing like having a teenage daughter to give you some empathy for your own mother!) And Barb realizes that her difficulty confronting her daughter may be a reaction against her own mother’s penchant for criticism. Inevitably, our relationships with our kids are affected by our relationships with our own parents, one way or another, and I wanted to examine that.

N R: Who is your favorite character in the book, and why?

Natalie: I suppose I feel closest to Amanda, although she is no more “me” than any of the other characters are real individuals. But she fills the role that I did in planning the show, which is to say writing funny lyrics to a bunch of existing songs. Just as I did, she gets totally wrapped up in the creative process, unable to stop herself from churning out song lyric after song lyric, even when it becomes clear that other mothers want to take the show in a different direction.

I also sympathize with Amanda’s dilemma as a longtime stay-at-home mother who needs to make money and cherishes what seems to be an impossible dream: to find a job that not only pays well but also provides an outlet for her talents and gives her a sense of self-fulfillment. That can be tough at any point in life, but it’s a real challenge for someone in their fifties who’s been out of the workforce for twenty years - and is trying to re-enter it in the middle of a recession.

N R: What turned out to be your greatest challenge in writing The Mother Daughter Show?

Coming up with a plot that worked. My first several drafts hewed much more closely to the show itself, and several readers told me that I needed more dramatic action. Apparently the mechanics of the show just weren’t that interesting to the general public! I wanted to keep the show as the background that framed the story, though, so the challenge was to come up with another plot that I could somehow shoehorn into the one I had. At first I didn’t think I could do it, but eventually I figured it out.

N R: Your own children attended an elite private school in D.C. How much of your story was drawn from real life?

Natalie: In terms of the details, not that much. To some extent I’m satirizing things that probably go on in any private school milieu (although as far as I’m aware, Sidwell is the only school that has a Mother Daughter Show - and I’ve learned they’ve decided to discontinue it). Of course, there’s a Washington, D.C. aspect that’s distinctive. For instance, a President’s daughter attends my fictional school, and the Obama girls currently attend Sidwell. But the Presidential daughter in the novel, who is an extremely minor character, is clearly not Sasha or Malia, any more than any of the characters are real people.

What I did borrow from real life about that situation is the excitement surrounding the presence of the First Family at the school, at least when they first got there (the novel begins in February 2009). In the book, tickets to the annual auction and the school play sell at an unprecedented rate, because people think the President and First Lady might show up. That really happened, more or less. Of course, as in the book, the President didn’t end up attending many school functions, apparently because he was a little preoccupied with trying to solve the nation’s problems.

All that having been said, I think many of the themes in the book transcend the private school milieu, and I hope that just about anyone - whether their kids go to private school or not - will be able to identify with them.

N R: You are an accomplished author, having written the award-winning historical novel, A More Obedient Wife and now the contemporary satire The Mother Daughter Show. Can you speak to the differences in your approach to each project?

The two novels are quite different, and the creative process was different in many ways as well. To write a historical novel, you have to immerse yourself in the period you’re writing about (in the case of A More Obedient Wife, the 1790s). That requires a lot of research, and even then you’re always worrying that you’ve gotten something wrong (at least I was!). So it was a nice change not to have to grapple with that for The Mother Daughter Show. Instead of burying myself in the library, I could just use my observations about the world around me.

Also, with A More Obedient Wife, my starting point was real letters between real people who lived 200 years ago. I saw my task as recreating, as much as possible, the lost lives and personalities of these people, while at the same time constructing a coherent plot. With The Mother Daughter Show, my goal was more to get away from what really happened. In a way, I knew the situation I was writing about too well—it was tempting to just write down what happened rather than create a well developed story. And at the same time, I knew too little. To create characters that work, an author needs to know them inside out, and I simply didn’t know the other women working on the show that well. Maybe it would have been easier to just write down what really happened, but it wouldn’t have worked as a novel.

Thanks, Natalie, we really appreciate your spending time with us today. You can learn more about Natalie and her writing on her website. And now it’s your turn, readers – click on ‘Comments’ below, follow the prompts and share your remarks or ask Natalie questions. We'll be glad you did!

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Monday, January 16, 2012

Martin Luther King and Willpower

On Martin Luther King Day, we pay tribute to the civil rights movement and Dr. King’s quest for equality. He had a clear purpose, persevering through hardship and frustration in order to reach his goals. Courage, willpower and tenacity were his strengths, and they can be yours too.

Photo by Caboindex -

You may not be facing the same struggles Dr. King did. But in January we make New Year’s resolutions and try to find the courage to engage our willpower. Who hasn’t, at the beginning of one year or another, put eat less or work out more at the top of their ‘to do’ list?

Willpower is a strength we all have. It’s like a muscle that needs to be exercised. And the more you use it, the stronger it becomes. Here are some ideas about how to build yours:

Find role models. Spend time with friends and family who understand what you need in order to get what you want. Gravitate toward those who are allies and who share your goals. Believe it or not, you can actually ‘catch’ self-control.

Reduce stress. Under pressure you can become irritable, anxious or frustrated. Know your limits, don't take on too much, learn to say no and get enough sleep. If your brain is tired, it has a harder time resisting temptation.

Reframe challenges. Turn the negatives into positives and see them as something you want to, not have to, do. Practice testing yourself first by making small changes. And then reward that, perhaps not with dessert but with a day at the spa or theater with friends.

Studies show that powerful memories and positive thoughts about what you value can enhance willpower. Problems with self-control occur when you’re caught up in the moment and distracted from your goals. You may want to be ready to run that 5K in 2 months but you’re looking at a piece of apple pie now. Thinking about values moves you away from present pleasures toward long term gains.

So start small as you strengthen your mental muscle in your quest for self improvement. Plan to go to the gym one day a week or give up just one food. You’ll find that you increase your self-control. And in the process, like Dr. Martin Luther King, you’ll build character and willpower reserve for the bigger challenges ahead.

Want more information about courage, willpower and reaching your goals? Join the email list to the left of this post - receive our free monthly newsletter, Stepping Stones, and download a complimentary eBook, Courage and Lessons Learned: Reaching Your Goals.

And log on here again Wednesday for our Virtual Book Tour featuring Natalie Wexler and her delightful novel, The Mother Daughter Show.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Breaking the Inertia and Beginning Your Walks

Now that you've taken the time for some honest self-reflection about your New Year's resolutions, have you identified what's holding you back? Until you recognize what's causing the obstacles, you can't begin to map out a plan to implement your walking program. Here are some things to consider:

Photo courtesy of graur codrin at

Have you actually committed to a walking plan? Your family and friends can provide a sounding board as well as the motivation to begin and stay with your stated objectives. Putting your goals in black and white gives them credibility and helps you take yourself more seriously. Decide on an activity that you enjoy and will stick with - walking outside with friends, using a treadmill at the gym or enjoying the quiet of a walk on your own.

Did you set realistic expectations with goals you can accomplish? If not, you may need to scrap your original list and come up with less grandiose aspirations. If your original plan of 30 minutes of brisk walking each day seems like too much for now, plan to break it up into two or even three segments. Don't beat yourself up for falling short of promises you made that were out of reach. Who hasn't made mistakes? Take it one day at a time as you revise and come up with a Plan B that works for you.

How can you break through your inertia and get started? It's always easier to keep doing the same things than to make a U-turn. You'll need to draw on your strengths, resources and what worked for you before. Use these as you face the challenges of creating a new walking regimen. You can set up reinforcements to give you that extra push out the door. Once you've gotten used to your new pattern, it will be easier to continue.

What about resetting your priorities? You can reactivate your sense of control by looking hard at your list of priorities and making changes in them. Do you really need to spend that extra time during lunch break surfing the net or play video games after dinner? Instead create new opportunities for yourself - use that time to begin your walks, short as they may be at first.

There may be limits to what you can accomplish in your 2012 New Year's Resolutions, but know you can go one step at a time. Make a commitment to cut through the inertia, set a realistic goal - without expecting perfection in your results - and make it a priority to get out that door.

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Monday, January 09, 2012

Becoming Your Own Expert

Are you tired of hearing the same ole, same ole…the "experts" telling you what to do? Everywhere you look this time of year, you can find someone waxing on about what kind of New Year's resolutions to set for yourself and how to achieve them. But really, don't you know yourself better than anyone else does? So how about treating yourself as the expert for a change and listen to your own voice.

You don't need to have anyone lecture you that adding a walking routine to your schedule will help you feel better, physically and emotionally, in 2012. You already have that awareness - but is that enough to get you out the door?

Photo by L.E. Erickson -

You could remind yourself that research has shown walking helps in weight control as well as in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Or that it works to increase your brain flexibility and decrease memory loss. Or even that brisk walking can provide a cushion against symptoms of depression.

But you know all of that. You understand that walking is the most uncomplicated exercise, the easiest to implement and one that is so flexible that you can tailor it around your own schedule. You can begin at any age or level and increase the speed and length during the year. And you can add in the benefits of social companionship or an appreciation of nature if you like.

So what's holding you back? Think about it. It could be your physical condition and a fear of hurting yourself. But more likely it's about inertia or setting your priorities. If you haven't made a public commitment to change, it's less likely that you'll actually go ahead with the new behaviors you want to implement. Identify what your own personal obstacles are and visit our blog again on Wednesday for some suggestions to help you ramp up the volume of your inner voice so you can make the changes you've set for yourself in 2012.

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Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Journaling in the New Year

With this just the first week of 2012, your new year's resolutions may still be fresh in your mind. But as Sandwiched Boomers, caring for aging parents and growing kids, chances are that won’t last. Writing down your goals and intentions in a journal can help clarify them. And checking your list regularly will help you stay motivated. Here are some ideas as you begin to explore the journaling process:

Photo courtesy of eblaser -

Identify your strengths. Create an assets inventory or a list of your accomplishments as a way to appreciate yourself. What are your natural talents? What comes so easily you often don't notice it? And what about the acquired skills you’ve used successfully? Mark this page and, when you're feeling vulnerable, review it.

Make a gratitude list. This can be a reminder of what is good in your life. Consider how positively others view you and the ways you support them. Who sees you as a role model and why? What in your life experience has led you to wisdom? Remember to honor these insights.

Embrace change. As you move toward your goals, continue an active process of getting to know your true self. Write about what you really value, care about and want - your dreams and passions? An empty journal won't help make your dreams come true but a well loved and often used one might do just that.

Journaling gives perspective and restores sanity. It can be a lifeline as well as a record.

Writing by hand can activate the mind/body connection. It gets you past the obvious and underneath the surface. And it lets you delve into issues and untangle messes. Studies show that journaling keeps you healthy by releasing mental toxins and deepening awareness. You’ll see, there’s something magical about putting pen to paper, regardless of who you are.

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Monday, January 02, 2012

Begin a Journal in 2012

Have you made your 2012 New Year’s resolutions or aligned your energy with your deepest intentions? Want to know the best way to stay on track? Keep a journal.

Photo by Skrive -

This process helps you create a plan and the tools to actualize it.

Treat your journal like a good friend who listens without interrupting, criticizing or judging. Write about anything that comes to mind, like what’s bothering you or what’s not working. Journaling can clear your head and relieve stress. It helps you work through problems as well as opens you up to new ideas.

If you’re ready to give it a try, let these practical tips guide you:

Begin to write. By getting your ideas out of your head and onto paper you can examine them objectively and pursue goals that are right for you. Think about what may be holding you back or what you're protecting. Ask questions like, what am I afraid of? Or why am I sabotaging myself? Try to write without censoring. If you follow a stream of consciousness, you’ll uncover new ideas and meaningful answers.

Isolate pessimistic thoughts. Access the negative self-beliefs that prevent you from living the life you want. And write down the deep, dark secrets you're too scared to admit out loud. Then counter these with positive affirmations. Focus on how much others value you and how you contribute to the lives of family and friends.

Release emotions. If you have pent up feelings, writing can be cathartic. It helps you regulate your negative emotions and savor your positive ones. If you let go of judgment and trust your feelings, you'll open up to a deeper, more expressive experience. Read between the lines of your journal and trust what you discover - ways that you can express yourself, resolve conflict, gain closure, find inner strength, build relationships.

If you already journal, please tell our readers still on the fence the most important reason why. And log on here Wednesday for more ideas about journaling.

In the meantime, do you want more support to move toward your 2012 goals or intentions? Sign the email list to the left of this post to receive our free monthly newsletter, Stepping Stones, and download a complimentary eBook about reaching your goals.

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