A Mid-Century Man

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A Mid-Century Man

My baby brother is officially a mid-century man. He is turning fifty. How he got there is beyond me. Nine years my junior, it seems like only yesterday when he was a toddler, crawling up and down the narrow little hall-way of our modest home in New York. He sure has come a long way since then.

I’ll never forget the day he was born. Nine years old, myself; I was in the bathroom getting ready for school when I heard my father take the fateful call in the kitchen. “I have a son”, he said. I could hear Dad’s voice quake with joy as he uttered the words. I intensely gazed into the mirror at myself and quietly muttered, “Oh s#*t, a son.”  Faced with the birth of a male sibling and immediately ousted out of my position as youngest…that was a day of great transformation for me. I was officially bumped into middle-child position in my nuclear family; but that Shakespearean-soliloquy is meant for another day, another blog.

I can not say I am extremely close to my brother. Almost a decade his senior, time and space has created a gap between us that has been somewhat hard to bridge. I would have to say I admire him greatly, although from afar. The upside of that vantage point is an appreciation of the big picture of his life-experience. So here is the fraternal view from where I sit…

The half century point of my brother’s life, like any human’s, is probably one of reflection and introspection. “Does my life manifest my talents?  Does my life demonstrate my contribution? Does my life embody a legacy for others to carry forward?” I believe my brother’s response to these questions would have to be a resounding “Yes”.

He went to work for IBM after graduating from Tuft’s University with a degree in Chemical Engineering. While young in his job, he completed an MBA at New York University, which launched an incredible career path. He travels all over the world, creating and sustaining vital,  global business-relationships. He and his wife of many years (also a Tuft’s and NYU grad), have fantastic children with accomplishments of their own.

As if all the above weren’t enough, my brother possesses a gentle, unassuming air, a honed skill in appreciative inquiry, and a passion to pursue various hobbies and creative interests. Most of all, he embodies an awesome, entrepreneurial spirit that has remarkably inspired others.

All I can say is, “Mario, you are a great brother and although you are always “the baby”, I can authentically assert that I look up to you as a role model for how I wish I could be. Happy 50th to you!”


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The Gender Revolution

We are in the midst of a powerful sociocultural shift: a Gender Revolution. No longer can we ascribe the same old traits for purposes of defining gender. Historically, our sex was the first thing noted about us and then our early personalities were expected to conform in some predetermined framework to our gender. If we were girls, we were socialized to be “feminine”. If we were boys, we were socialized to be “masculine”.

Many of us suffered in our development simply because, and for a myriad of reasons, we did not fall into any one assumed gender-category. Guess what? We are now encased in a Gender Revolution which demands a redefinition and recognition of what makes a person male or female. And guess what? One is no longer easily distinguishable from the other!

A stay-at-home dad? Households where Mom and Dad ebb and flow between parenting and working roles? Male nurses? A high-powered female CEO who doesn’t want to marry or have children? Society has taken huge leaps since the June Cleaver days. It’s a good time to take a look at and redefine shifting views of men and women’s place in the world.

Attitudes towards gender roles are more varied than ever. Nearly every school of thought, whether it’s business, theology, sociology, marketing, psychology, or family studies, has its view of where men and women “belong” and naturally, these views are not without controversy. The Web is rich with sites that bring to mind an ongoing tug-of-war of “he said, she said”. However, one observation is clear: in today’s world there is way more to gender roles than trite, stereotypical archetypes.

While most of us can agree that change takes time, we have seen gender roles evolve in leaps and bounds. Many people are positively transforming with the idea of being taken care of by a male nurse; they are seeing the value in having their sons play with dolls and they are championing their daughters to become firefighters or serve in the military. There continues to be an ever-strengthening movement where the boundaries between the masculine and feminine are becoming more fluid and easily transmuted.

As far as gender is concerned, it is no longer a case of the tail wagging the dog. We are increasingly less pressured to have to engage in self-limiting activities to prove our gender. I, for one, am relieved and excited about the possibilities for women and men alike.


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Mother’s Day and Mythology

Mother’s Day is typically celebrated for loving mothers everywhere. The day is dedicated for remembering all the sacrifices and kindnesses mothers, old and young, have demonstrated to their offspring.

But for many children, Mother’s Day is a myth. It is a fantasy; an idea or illusion a child wistfully carries in their mind, but never truly experienced. The population of these children who are older, are the ones who linger by the Hallmark cards for long periods of time: reading and replacing; reading and replacing. They finally settle for some benign message that ultimately says “Have a Nice Day”, but nothing more. This blog is dedicated to all those children. There are plenty of them out there and, for them, Mother’s Day can trigger some powerfully painful emotions.

The children who contend with Mother’s Day Mythology are usually the children who have not received love via compassion from their moms. They may have been overtly or covertly abused. They may have been overtly or covertly neglected. They may have even received some virtuous traits from their mom’s role modeling, but they still suffer. Many are in therapy or many need to be. Sad children, young and old, affected by insensitive mothers and who may now struggle with attachment challenges, low self-esteem, fear of abandonment, fear of rejection, …too many adverse effects to list here.

Here is what I want to say to children who have not yet risen above their maternal yearning:

  • You are a lovable and valuable human being.
  • You are whole and nothing is missing.
  • You have special gifts and talents that deserve to be encouraged.
  • You deserve unconditional love and regard.
  • You are not to blame because your Mom struggled in her parental role; she probably wasn’t mothered very well, herself.
  • You are not to blame that you may not have loving feelings for your Mother.
  • You can blame your Mother every which way from Mother’s Day and it won’t change a thing for you, unless you change.
  • You can grieve the loss of a loving mother, whether your Mom is alive or not.
  • You can still find a loving mother-symbol in other relationships.
  • You can still be a wonderful Mother, even if you didn’t have one.
  • You can forgive your Mother and release yourself from the myth.
  • You have strength, wisdom, determination and fortitude as a direct result of your painful mother-experience.
  • You have everything it takes to be your own loving mother.

I humbly and respectfully invite any child of this particular experience to add to this list. I am certain there are many more attributes to be shared. You deserve to be heard on Mother’s Day.

If you have or had the gift of a loving mother, please take a minute and send some loving thoughts to all the children who wish they did too.

Thank you for reading my blog and Happy Mother’s Day.


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Compliant Children of Divorce: Unwanted Lessons Learned

It is nothing new to remind the reader that children of divorce are learning some very important lessons through the role modeling of their separating parents. Children of divorce probably watch their parents lead by example more closely than the general population of children. Why? Because they simply do not know what to do, what to say, or how to feel. They may have heard the word “divorce”, but may have very limited internal resources with which they can make sense of the concept. They are in the midst of a family breakdown over which they have no control and no idea of how bad the breakdown might ultimately become.

As a mental health professional, I worry  less about the children who “act-out” during their parents’ divorce. These kids get the attention, albeit negatively, and parents are more likely to recognize the cry for help. I worry much more about children who “act-in” and, as a result, the parents mistakenly think are fine.

Here are some very subtle and unwanted lessons compliant children of divorce are at risk to learn:

“I should contain my upset. My mother/father is really upset and I am afraid that my being mad, sad or scared will be the last straw. If I seem to be fine, my parents won’t be more upset and so I won’t be left.” Children who learn the unwanted lesson of holding in their own feelings are at risk for future depression, anxiety and difficulty in making healthy attachments.

“I should act like nothing is wrong and I am okay. If my parents think it is okay to break up our family and divorce each other, I will just divorce myself.” Some children of divorce go beyond repressing their own legitimate anger and sadness and actually “break away” from or deny their own unique family experience. This sets them up to live in a distorted reality that they can perpetuate into adulthood.

“When they ask me if I am okay, I will just say ‘yes’. When they ask me if anything is wrong, I will just say ‘no’. They hardly pay any attention to how I’m truly feeling anyway. I may not be very important to them.” This unwanted lesson teaches the child that he/she is not very lovable. A wounded self-concept can carry forward into the child’s own adult relationships where they are either neglected or treated poorly.

When children of divorce become tentative and resistant to discuss the pain they feel about the shift in their family, they may be struggling with feeling ashamed that their parents are breaking up. The feeling of shame is an overwhelming emotional burden for a young child to face and resolve. As a result, these kids develop a style of communication that is guarded and limited. This wall of defense temporarily protects the compliant child. The challenge is that deferred feelings are just that. They don’t go away just because the child is denying them. Sooner or later these unpleasant feelings will arise and more than likely, come out “sideways” through other problems: drug and alcohol abuse, insomnia; poor academic performance, running with the wrong crowd, bad love relationships, suicidal thinking, criminal behavior…just to name a few.

Please consider seeking the support of a Collaborative Child Specialist who can offer uncoupling parents valuable insight into the compliant child’s experience. Pay attention to the child of divorce who appears to be and acts like he/she is just fine. They may be learning some unwanted lessons which will not serve them well on their journey through life.


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Holiday Stress: Not Very Merry

The holidays, magically coined to be a time of wonder, joy, and togetherness, are actually not-very-merry for many people. Though we generally struggle to manage stress throughout the year, the holidays can intensify underlying issues and painful emotions. The American Psychological Association conducted a study in 2006 and found that while 78% of respondents reported feeling often happy around the holidays, about two-thirds sometimes or often felt stressed and fatigued.

These have been some tough times with the Great Recession. Couple that with higher rates of depression, anxiety and the commonplace reality of the dysfunctional family; the Currier and Ives winter-wonderland fantasy can quickly melt away into a chilly, greyish slush of stress. What can we do when we feel not-very-merry during the holidays? Here are some tips:

  1. Go back to basics. Stay out of the malls and away from online shopping and create something with your own hands. Cards, cookies, cakes, jam, knit items, seedlings that will grow in the spring…these activities will fire your neurons up and left in your brain, moving away from negative emotions and generating a better feeling outcome.
  2. Think about others who are struggling and do some small act of charity. Whether it is dropping off a toy for a child in the hospital, dropping a dollar in the Salvation Army kettle, cooking a meal for someone who is sick. Engage in random acts of kindness and remain anonymous.
  3. Take care of yourself: get exercise, don’t binge on sweets; and most of all, get plenty of sleep.
  4. Give yourself permission to say “No”.  It is okay to be mindful of what you can realistically fit into your schedule and when you need to do nothing but put your feet up and rest.
  5. Be careful with alcohol use. Even recreational use of alcohol is typically increased during this time of year. Don’t forget that alcohol is a depressant and it interrupts restful sleep patterns.
  6. Ask for help and delegate. Be conscious of your limitations and don’t sacrifice your well-being to please everyone else. That’s no fun for you or them.
  7. Know your triggers. If you are spending time with extended family and friends, remember your hot-buttons with those select few who can be trouble-makers. Keep the conversation light and simple and refuse to get drawn into dysfunctional drama.
  8. Remember the phrase “holy day” as the basis of the word holiday and engage in some form of spiritual practice: meditate, pray, count your blessings (even if on one hand), visit a new house of worship, light candles, hike in nature, listen to music, play games together…whatever resonates for you.

As you move through the holiday season, remember its universal theme on a personal level: envision peace in your inner world and practice good will onto yourself. All the best to you and yours!