Family Relationships

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

Friday, August 17, 2012

Join us at Her Mentor Center has been our home for years and we really appreciate your loyalty. But we have created a new weblog and, from now on, will no longer be posting on this blog.

We want to stay connected with you, so please click on, and come by often. Rest assured that we'll be waiting for you there!

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Helping Kids Feel Secure

The summer got away from us – one morning our grandsons were pitching sand balls into the lake, the next afternoon they were preparing their backpacks for school. Whereas Monday’s blog post focused on kids’ stress that comes from media coverage of trauma, there are lots of other situations that can make kids feel anxious – like the first day of school.

Kids respond differently and the impact of any stressor depends on their personality, maturity, and coping mechanisms. Some have trouble explaining how they feel so it’s not always obvious, although tears, withdrawal or irritability are often clues. The behavior of others might not change yet they feel nervous or scared. And stress can affect physical wellbeing, with exacerbation of asthma, stomachaches or sleep disturbances.

What can you do to help?

Often the best predictor of how children manage is how well their parents cope with stress. They are often sensitive and struggle to understand their reactions. They may feel uncomfortable or embarrassed, too big to admit they’re worried. Encourage them to talk about how they feel and not keep bad thoughts inside.

Their relationships matter. They feel better about themselves when they are getting along well with you. And kids who do not have close friendships are at higher risk for developing stress-related problems. No matter how busy their schedule, kids of all ages need time to play with others and relax. Play helps them learn about their world, explore ideas and soothe themselves.

Kids need support, but also space to work things out. You can’t walk a tightrope for them. Sometimes they need to fall, feel disappointment, and learn from their mistakes. Parents have to acknowledge their own anxiety and find the courage to step back. Remember that they thrive best in an environment that is reliable, consistent, and non-interfering. Their job is to grow, yours is to control worry so that it doesn't get in the way as they move toward autonomy.
Kids need support, but also space to work things ourow, yours is to control worry so that it doesn't get in the way as they move toward autonomy.y.y move toward autonomy.

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Monday, August 13, 2012

How Kids Respond to Trauma

I am just back from a family vacation--three generations, five grandsons ages 6-11. I had a front row seat watching the boys compete in sports, sing rap songs, climb mountains, tease each other. No little guys anymore. With the older ones almost as tall as I am, and knowing the vulnerability that comes with adolescence, I have concerns. How do we keep growing kids emotionally safe as they become interested in the world around them--especially when the news reports regularly cover mass murders, war casualties, and terror alerts?

Studies show that close to 4% of teenage boys and more than 6% of teenage girls suffer from post-traumatic stress, exhibiting symptoms similar to adults. And the reactions of younger children are strongly affected by their parents’ response to stress. Those ages 5-12 are more likely to withdraw, become disruptive, have nightmares or complain of physical problems.

You don’t have to personally experience abuse, neglect or trauma to feel anxiety and stress. Second-hand exposure to major acts of violence can also be traumatic. This includes seeing or hearing about death and destruction after a building is bombed or a plane crashes. With the impact of mass media and easy access to the Internet, children today are exposed to lots of situations that can cause them to worry. And when your conversations focus on suffering or tragedy, you can bet that your kids are often listening more closely than you think.

You know what your family needs and how to provide a sense of security.

Explain that scared, angry or sad feelings are normal and will fade when they ask questions and talk about what’s going on. As you supervise the flow of information, encourage them to tell you what their friends are saying, so you can clarify any distortions. Reassure them that they’re safe no matter what thoughts they’re having. All this will help them reframe their ideas rather than fall prey to emotion.

Readers, tell us about how you teach your kids to keep the harmful effects of stress at a minimum. And log on again Wednesday for more ideas about helping kids take precautions and feel safe while still not letting fear win.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Women Athletes at the London Olympics

With the Olympics being held in London this summer, we are reminded of how far we've come since the Duke of Wellington was said to have determined, "The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton," referring to the discipline and strength men acquired playing sports as youths. Today young female athletes in the United States make use of the Title IX provisions to create a winning future for themselves as well.

Women competing in the Games this year illustrate many of the character strengths identified in Positive Psychology. We looked at four shown by some of the medal winners on Monday. Here are four more you can emulate in your own life.

Gratitude. With her wins in London, Serena Williams is now only the second woman in history to complete the "Golden Slam," taking the Olympic singles gold medal as well as winning at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, Australian Open and French Open. Yet Serena isn't taking all the credit herself. She has expressed her gratitude for the education she received, thanks to the support of her family. Not an amateur and wanting to give back, Serena has been generous with her winnings, supporting many educational projects in America, and funding a school in Africa as well as mentoring other aspiring athletes. You'll find that when you too express gratitude your mood improves, you feel better about yourself and more connected to the world around you.

Perspective. Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings have been playing together for nearly 12 years - and winning games of beach volleyball most of that time. They won gold medals in 2004 and, after both married, repeated in 2008, the only women's team to have accomplished that feat. But after Kerri took out time to have two children, some wondered if the team could still play on top of their game. Yet, with the perspective they've gained and the balance in their lives, they are galvanized. Playing again with more consistency, they will be vying for the championship, guaranteed either a gold or silver. When you are faced with difficult situations and important questions in your own life, consider what you have learned from your past experiences and trust yourself to make the right decisions today.

Resilience. Kayla Harrison won the gold medal in judo, a first for any American, after almost giving up the sport – and even contemplating suicide - several years earlier due to sexual abuse by her coach. But after therapy and starting again with a new coach, she regained her love of the sport and her self-confidence. After winning, she said, "I want to help kids overcome being victims…Never give up on your dreams…Things have happened. But I didn't give up." When you are dealing with a trauma or are frustrated by a setback, put all your energies into recovering from that challenge, think about what you can still control and work toward achieving your new Plan B goal.

Teamwork. Kami Craig, who played on the national championship USC women's water polo team, and Courtney Mathewson, who was on arch-rival UCLA's national championship women's water polo team, have put their competition behind them and are now working together as friends on the same Olympic team USA to defeat their opponents. Even their coach, after causing a penalty due to an error in calling for a time-out, relied on the team spirit to keep the focus, "This is a team game. When the coach makes mistakes, you need your team to pick you up. And the team picked me up today." Their teamwork has assured them all a place on the medal stand as they play in the final game later this week for the gold. Your team may consist of family, friends or co-workers but it is the dedication to the common good of that group that sets the tone for everyone's improved input.

Enjoy the rest of the London events this week, following the leadership provided by the women and men of Olympic teams from all over the world. Then choose a role model for yourself and let your own games begin!

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Monday, August 06, 2012

Women Olympians as Role Models

Since Title IX guaranteed equal funding for girls' sports programs 40 years ago, we've seen the results in school, in the workplace and in women's self-confidence. Studies have shown that girls who play sports in high school are more likely to to do better in science classes, complete college, avoid substance abuse and join the workforce. And the more time they spend participating in team sports, the higher their self-esteem.

Naturally, there has also been an effect on the playing fields. Now, for the first time in the history of the Olympic Games, there are more women than men on the United States team in London. And we can look to these women as role models for the positive traits we want to emulate. The strengths they gain from years of hard work and dedication to their sport are more than just physical. They also represent many of the character virtues identified by Positive Psychology researchers Chris Peterson and Marty Seligman. 

All this week we'll be looking at some examples of these and other strengths personified by the athletes. Consider how to integrate them into your own daily life.

Vitality. Gabby Douglas, dubbed the flying squirrel due to the actual height she achieves as well as the high level of energy she exudes in her routines, won the gold medal in women's all-around gymnastics as well as in team all-around. Her enthusiasm is contagious and she engages everyone around her with her electrifying smile. With her passion to fulfill her potential, she left home to train under a new coach and live with a "second family." Her heart is big enough to include them all in her zest for life – and for gymnastics. Search for what energizes you and go for it all the way. You'll feel more alive than ever.

Friendship. The "Fierce Five" USA gymnasts are a close-knit group, supporting each other through the Games – even when they are competing against one aother. Jordyn Wieber, who had been best in world in all-around didn't make the cut for the Olympics all-around, yet congratulated teammates Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas who did. McKayla Maroney and Kyla Ross have been friends since they were 8 and both took gymnastics at the same gym. When they all worked together as a team, they drew strength from their friendship with each other and won the gold medal in team gymnastics. You may not be reaching for the gold yourself, but the commitment you and your own friends make to each other nurtures each of you and creates emotional bonds that provide the foundation for a fulfilling life.

Persistence. Dana Vollmer didn't even make the Olympic women's swimming team four years ago. But she persevered and worked harder than ever to make the team this year. All her practice paid off when she broke the world record, winning gold medals at the London Games in butterfly as well a gold in women's medley relay, with Missy Franklin, Allison Schmitt and Rebecca Soni. When you are discouraged and tempted to give up working toward your own goal, believe in yourself and find the strength to hang in there.  

Loyalty. Missy Franklin has been approached time and again to make endorsements but has turned them all down so could remain an amateur and swim for her high school and future college teams. With her bubbly personality, Missy enjoys her friends in school and is devoted to them, to her family and to her hometown coach. Winning 4 gold medals in backstroke and women's team relay and a bronze in another team relay, she is looking forward to getting back home and hanging out with her friends. Your own sense of responsibility for your community and the value you place on generativity and giving back will help you remain true to your ideals.

As you continue to watch the coverage of the London Games this week, enjoy the spectacle of sport but also reflect on the strength of purpose and commitment that the athletes – female and male – have developed over the years. A nice Olympic ideal for all of us to follow.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Olympics 2012: The Year of the Woman

History is always made at the Olympics. But for the first time, in 2012 London, women are represented on the Olympic team of all 205 national delegations. The three countries that have never had female athletes--Brunei, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia--each have them competing for the gold.

Of course, winning is important. But with the competitors serving as role models for our children, strength of character and positive values really matters too. Aren’t we all eager to hear the athletes’ personal stories? Fortunately the same threads often weave throughout--follow your heart, love what you do, reach for your goals, don’t limit your dreams, work hard and have fun.

The first time female athletes from Brunei, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are also sending encouraging messages to the enthusiastic and impressionable young women in their countries. Here’s what some of them have to say:

Maziah Mahusin, the first woman to carry the national flag of Brunei, will be running the 400 meter hurdles and is determined to break her own record. She acknowledges that this is just the beginning: “It is my aspiration to see more young women athletes participate in sports. I think women in Brunei should not give up too easily, and must have a lot of patience and constantly motivate oneself towards self-improvement.”

Also chosen as flag bearer, Bahiya Al-Hamad, an air rifle shooter, speaks about changing attitudes in Qatar: "It's a historic moment.....Before, shooting was only for guys but now it is becoming normal for females to an extent."

Sarah Attar, a distance runner from California who holds dual American and Saudi citizenships, plans to become a "big inspiration" for women and sports in Saudi Arabia. And speaking directly to Saudi women, "To any woman who wants to participate I say, 'go for it,' and don't let anybody hold you back. We all have potential to get out there and get moving."

When Frenchman Baron Pierre de Coubertin spearheaded the first modern Olympics in 1896 he excluded women, saying it would be "impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic, and incorrect." This year the US had more women than men for the first time in history. That’s a far cry from 1900, when women first competed in Paris and comprised all of 22 athletes out of the 997 overall competitors.

Afghan sprinter Tahmina Kohistani is symbolic of the advances made by women Olympians. She is only the third woman in the history of her war-torn country and the only woman this year. "A lot of people are supporting me, but a lot of people don’t. Some time they were saying that I’m not a good girl because I’m doing sport. They think I am wrong, but I am not wrong. If I got a medal, I think I will start a new way for the girls (and) women of Afghanistan. They will believe themselves that they can do everything they want."

Bringing these women, courageous and filled with gratitude, into the London games is a big step. Let’s all recognize their place in history. Perhaps the next step will be to accelerate the process of change within each nation and nurture more female athletes.

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Monday, July 30, 2012

How I Knew I Needed a Vacation

In 2009 we featured Dr. Carol Orsborn on a Virtual Book Tour right here on the blog. We’ve known each other for years through our work online. But since Carol moved back to L.A. from New York, it’s been a treat to have lunch--no computers or iphones--just old fashioned face to face.

We’re delighted that Carol is our guest blogger today. With many of us about to travel before summer’s end, here are Carol’s recent reflections on her much needed vacation:

My husband Dan and I have been working much harder than we’d ever anticipated to be doing at age 64. And normally, I’m fine with this. But as the vision of a dream retirement–work and stress-free–fades with every down tick of the stock market, I paid heed to my spirit crying out for at least a moment’s taste of freedom. So a week ago, we headed 2 hours east of Los Angeles into the mountains of Big Bear.

As is my habit, I grabbed a spiritual book off my shelf to bring with me, eyes closed. So imagine my delight when it turned out to be poet May Sarton’s “Journal of a Solitude.” Our first morning there, in the summer camp air, it was as if May were writing the words in my own heart, each word a deliverance to sanity just to know that I was not alone in my yearning.

She writes: “For a long time now, every meeting with another human being has been a collision. I feel too much, sense too much, am exhausted by the reverberations after even the simplest conversation. But the deep collision is and has been with my unregenerate, tormenting, and tormented self. I have written every poem, every novel, for the same purpose—to find out what I think, to know where I stand. I am unable to become what I see. I feel like an inadequate machine, a machine that breaks down at crucial moments, grinds to a dreadful halt, ‘won’t go,’ or, even worse, explodes in some innocent person’s face.”

It was only a 3-day trip, but halfway through day 2, I could already feel my spirit responding to the sight of a mother duck paddling along with her 6 babies, my resilience as well as the meaning of life restored. My encounters with others were delightful. I started journaling again.

I’ve been back a couple of days now, and I’m still walking around with a silly grin on my face, having remembered why it is I do what I do, and having forgiven myself for the gap between vision and reality.

So that’s how I knew how badly I’d needed a vacation. Life transformed from a collision to a celebration. Thanks, Big Bear, for helping me to remember what life is really about.

Readers, if you’ve been able to get away this summer, send a photo and description of your most meaningful moments to We’d love to hear from you.

And thanks Carol, for reminding us of the benefits that can result from making a change. Carol is the founder of FierceWithAge, the Online Center for Spirituality and Aging. I’ve just completed her first virtual online retreat and I want to recommend it to you. Here’s how Carol describes it:

Passing beyond midlife initiates a new life stage. Knowing how determined you are to make the next stage of your life as vital as the decades that have come before, I recommend that you join in beginning August 6 for interactive, self-paced lessons delivered every weekday for three weeks directly to your inbox.

Learn more about the next retreat here. Carol, a wise and sensitive guide, is exploring uncharted territory in the field of aging. She also provides spiritual counseling to those who strive to stop being afraid of age, to instead become fierce with age.

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