Archive for the ‘family’ Category

In a recent study in Cinncinatti, BFFs were found to help relieve stress in young girl’s lives.

So girlfriends can continue to be anchors, helpful supports when we’re not sure what to do or how to respond to life’s pushes and pulls.

But not just any friend will do, as I explained last week, some friends are gold and others are silver.  Let me elaborate on that metallurgy.

Photo credit: mariuszstankiewicz.aminus3.com

Some friends are gold and silver, others are . . . rusty tin.

When it comes to friendship, some women are going to corrode your ability to trust. Some “friends” are going to leave you convinced you have nothing to offer.

These friends may be hiding in the shadows, ready to appear when you return home for Thanksgiving this week. These friends may be subtle and sneaky and insipid, but regardless you have the power to invite them into your life or hold them at arm’s length.

Consider the close friends who give you safety to let you be you.  Now use them as your gold template. How do you keep the rusty tin from cutting your arms?

A few tips to preserve your heart and mind for the gold and silver friends in your life.

  • Listen, but don’t share. Ask questions until you find one value you share (see list of values ). Spend time learning about these value in their life. For instance, “How have you been spontaneous this week?”) Give yourself the freedom to hold your values closely and privately.
  • Minefield alert.  Consider ahead of time the topics or values that leave your ears ringing, the places you feel picked apart and devalued by them.  Choose ahead of time to state the minefields to yourself and then plan to avoid these topics as a way to keep the peace. For instance, my friend accuses my anti-Juice Plus stance as the main reason I get sick, so I avoid topics of eating, cooking, restaurants and working out.
  • Sally offers a good list of ways to perk up your holidays, instead of getting stuck doing (or being) the false stuff.

As the Jewish King Solomon says,

“Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.”

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

Renoir's Two Girls Reading in the Garden


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I looked up the other day and realized I was making plans for NOVEMEBER. Where has October gone?  Where has 2011 gone?  It seems like yesterday I was having iced tea instead of hot tea?  New Years and 2012 will all be here quickly.  Thanksgiving…for many that means big, steamy meals with family.  Thanksgiving also marks the coming of Christmas, Hanukah, Black Friday, reminders of what we don’t have in our bank accounts, sparkly and fragrant trees and last minute mailings.  And then…discounted gym memberships and suggestions on how-to-beat-the-winter-blues that follow New Years.

Same ‘ole, Same ‘ole

Every year, we cycle through the end-of-the-year holidays, the repetition allowing us to build traditions and also be bored by them.  Holidays are not happy times for many people.  Even for “normal” people, there is often tension during holiday plans.  Or loneliness, or a tremendous amount of stress, or sadness, or grief.  The All-American Holiday can include some difficult memories, difficult moments and difficult feelings.

Ready or Not

The hard part about what we see holidays “should” be (e.g. easy, warm, calm, fulfilling) is that the harder experiences cannot be avoided, or snuffed out by the best laid plans, creative decor, and cozy homes.  This year, I know people that will celebrate their first Thanksgiving without a much-loved family member, never to return to their table.  I know friends who will suffer through Thanksgiving with their difficult mothers or mothers-in-law, fathers or fathers-in-law, or wait for a sister or brother to criticize the way they always have, or try to connect with an estranged child, or cringe as mom and dad (or whoever) try to mask the regular angry, bitter interactions.  We could all list what friends might experience, fill in blanks of awkward or painful situations that they will face in the 2011 holiday season.  Remember to think about yourself…your own blank, your own strain or unfilled desire…and what you might like to see happen in a new and different way.

The Family Stone

When writing this post, I thought of a movie I love…The Family Stone.  An all-star cast presents a well-rounded version of what many holiday situations include – they involve people we may not like, nosy family members, lots of travel, awkward conversations around the dinner table.  This story is told over an upcoming engagement that never happens (hence the need for the family stone), but the bigger picture is what is happening in the family.  The matriarch whose

Rachel McAdams, Diane Keaton & Sarah Jessica Parker in The Family Stone

breast cancer has returned and will soon die, the gay son and his partner who are trying to adopt for a second time, the awkwardly rigid girlfriend attending this family’s holiday gathering and seems to make a mess of things, even when it is not her fault.  What most can relate to in this story may not be the specific situations, but the desire you sense from all family members to enjoy the holiday, but the difficulty in having Reality and History as guests – we cannot escape what has happened to us all in our families…Reality and History do not take breaks for the holidays.

Any Ideas?

How can friends support one another during times of holiday stress, pain, loneliness or grief?  There are no quick fixes to the issues we face, ones that usually require work and change prior to the holidays (e.g. if something is ignored all year, why would it have changed by Thanksgiving?), and sometimes may never be fully resolved.

  • Do something new.  Make a new tradition.
  • Do something new with a friend.
  • Gather with a group of friends to encourage, celebrate, give thanks.
  • Share your true angst with someone you trust.
  • New Traditions With Friends!

    (One of my personal favorites…) Don’t eat your feelings.  It can start a nasty spiral downward.

  • Say no.
  • Offer a kind word to a friend you know is going to have a hard time.
  • Invite a lonely person to join your family.  Many people do not have the All-American meal, with or without the awkwardness.
If I Can Do It…
My attempt?  For a few years now, I have filled my Thanksgiving morning with my brother and some family friends (in matching knee socks) and thousands of others running the Dallas Turkey Trot.  The run to Starbucks afterwards allows for warmth, laughter and reconnection.  A great start to my day, to my holiday season.

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Every one of us can imagine that our friendships with our female family members could be better. For instance, think of your mother-daughter friendship, either with your own daughter (should you have one) or with your mother.

Many mothers love to have their daughters close, both relationally and geographically. I know a mother that felt very close to her daughter, until this daughter moved thousands of miles away. Now, where was their friendship? How would they remain close?

Moving to Steamboat away from my family has meant many changes for me.

Instead of a crisis, irrevocably harming their friendship, this move could be the first real adult test of their friendship.

Just as I cannot know if I can do a pull-up (I can’t) unless I hang from the monkey bars and try, I cannot know the strength of a friend unless we walk through a difficult time.

This month we’re talking about “fresh starts”, an idea that assumes something about our friendship needs a restart.

Think of a family friendship that feels strained, an unspoken awkwardness, a past sticky conversation or confrontation, a feeling that you are walked over or ignored or unwanted. I think every woman wants to have a better, fresher friendship with SOME female family member, don’t you?

How can you begin afresh and initiate a healthy friendship?

  1. What do you believe about your family member right now that bothers or concerns you? Something is causing the strain, what is it? Another way to put this is what expectations do you have and how have they not been met? My friend who left her family chose to join a mission in Hyderabad, India. She wanted her mother to be excited about her new sacrifice and adventure. She wanted her to believe that she still loved her even though she was moving. She also wanted her to promise to visit. These expectations led her to a lot of disappointed, at first. Any time we face our disappointment we have fresh material for forgiveness, though this doesn’t mean we just forget what happened.
  2. How do you treat the family member who has disappointed you? One jewel I’ve held close from Harriot Learner’s book The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships is mature, loving boundary making. Learner teaches if you are about to change something in your relationship, you are also responsible to maintain warmth and connection in your relationship. With my friend who moved to Hyderabad, the distance was created by her. She would be part of a work, community, church and friendship circle that didn’t overlapped with her mother. Because she was initiating change: it was also her responsibility to move with warmth toward her mother even as she geographically moved farther away. She regularly called her mother, footing the extra phone bills, and visited every few months for the first several years. Of course, her mother may not have felt warm and close with me. Practicing Learner’s principle with success does not mean the person will feel warm and tight with you. She may feel the opposite, but it is important to know that you have done what you could to be warm and loving even as you set up boundaries to move in any way.
  3. How do you respond when your family member doesn’t like what you do? Do you try to fix your family member’s feelings or can you listen to their disapproval or feel their coldness without picking up guilt? With my friend, she had to walk through some strained moments, where her mother was clearly not in the cheering section of her move. When her mother once came to visit her in her new home, her mom left early, when she spoke on the phone she didn’t know how much to share about how delighted she was with this new culture. But, she tried to let her be her because deep down she hoped she would, one day, be able to say, “My mom let me be me, even with a cross-cultural move halfway around the world.”

My friend has lived in India for over ten years. In that time her friendship with her mother has changed.

Market in Hyderabad

Her mother visits her regularly and she visits her mom in the States. Her mother accompanies her to the local market and they cook together like they did back in Tennessee. And when my friend visits, she stays with her mother in her old childhood home.

Though, they still work to be fully themselves with each other, they are beginning to see the integrity and hope of letting a huge move re-start their friendship.

As my friend put it, “Our friendship has gotten better, better even than the friendship we had when I lived in her same town. I feel supported and respected by her in ways I could never have experienced before.”

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Earlier in my marriage Dale and I would find ourselves fencing along the same corridor.  We still have arguments that sound like same song, second verse.

The surface features change, we’re disagreeing about how often the living room should be picked up instead of when the bathroom needs to be cleaned, but the root cause is the same. So is the outcome.

Dale feels misunderstood, because I assume he’s trying to hurt me.

I feel annoyed and un-listened to because he’s assumed the requests aren’t top priority.

I’ll be full steaming ahead to make a really good point, when Dale will stop and say,

Do you think I would have done that, said that, meant that, to hurt you?

Ohhhh, yea.

My husband is not the kind of person who would hurt me, not on purpose.

It’s been years since Dale’s introduced this pause into our arguments, but only recently my therapist put it more clearly, “First of all,” she said, “Remember that you’ve married a wonderful person.”

True and easy to agree with most days.

But in the fiery frustration of the moment it’s much easier to assume he left the papers out because he knew it would bother me.  I mean, why else would he do it?!

To believe the worst, to imagine he’s plotting to annoy me, to think the most incriminating backstory, to fail to offer Dale the benefit of the doubt comes easily to me. It’s the rut I fall into most naturally.

But the times I’ve told him, “Okay, I know you would never do this intentionally to hurt me, but I was wondering (insert request here),” our conversation burst with mutual understanding and even a few grins thrown in.

Now, how does my friendship with Dale apply to girlfriends?

I wish I could say this lesson is easily applicable to girl friends. But I’ve known girls who hurt their friends on purpose: the longtime friend who snubs you at the reunion, the sister who pokes the sore topic, the colleague who drops casual hints that prove her higher pay grade. I once told a friend, “What you said really hurt me!”

“Good!” she returned.  I was completely baffled at her outright animosity.  Later, I learned she had felt hurt by me (unintentionally, but still) and was returning in-kind.

Girls do know how to hurt on purpose.  But I don’t think good friends sow seeds of malicious hurt. In fact this might be a good way to distinguish a good friend from a frenemy. If they hurt me I can bank on them doing it unintentionally.  For instance, I’ve had long time, safe friends confront me. They’ve hurt me, but not on purpose.  Their loving, humble, careful approach in asking me to consider something, with freedom and openness to hear my side speaks louder than my hurt.

Girl friends that I will keep near me do not hurt on purpose.

A few months ago a childhood friend, call her Lavinia, told her husband about a personal failing (PF) I shared in confidence.  Her husband, unaware of the secrecy of the PF relayed the story to a mutual friend, who I’d rather not know about my PF.

The day Lavinia realized what she had done, she called me.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, “What can I do to remedy this situation?”

Taking a cue from arguments with Dale, I had to ask myself questions:

  • Was Lavinia trying to hurt me?
  • Did this harm my ability to trust Lavinia in the future?
  • Was this a pattern of Lavinia’s in the past?

To each question I had to answer no.

Lavinia is a wonderful friend, someone whose heart is true, who is for me. Someone I can gladly extend the benefit of the doubt.

So I told her so, “I know you didn’t do this to hurt me or make me look bad.  Thank you for telling me what happened, for wanting to make amends.  But it’s okay.  I don’t see this as a make or break moment in our friendship.”

I could hear her sigh of relief into the phone.  After we chatted for a few more minutes I hung up and thought about how Dale had offered me the training wheels to easily coast into this moment.

I hopped off the chair to go find him and give that wonderful guy a big hug.

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One Story in A Million

I am recalling a specific instance a friend described to me:  Her parents divorced close to five years ago after over 20 years of marriage.  At a recent family event, her mother had a few of her friends over to help her prepare the house.  My friend, still processing the divorce and the impact of this fracture upon her own life, listened and watched as the group of women made snide and “funny” remarks about their husbands or ex-husbands, often commenting about what a relief divorce can be, what a pain in the a** the men are, and so on.

As I listened to this story, my heart slowly saddened for my friend, who married a few years ago with hopes of a long commitment, now watching her mom gain self-confidence and laughs with the pointed and humorous rumblings of disgust, anger and bitterness drifting from these women’s mouths.

Without diving into a formal debate on divorce or men, let’s keep our eyes on the topic of how we learn to be friends.   Obviously, there are many elements to this story, but I use it as an example to show our openness to experience no matter what our age, and from important women in our lives. My adult friend learning from her adult mother. What might my friend have learned in those powerful moments?  It’s okay to talk like this, you’re in good company.  Hope in your man and your relationship is a pipe dream?  Blame him and talk about his sorry a** behind his back when he has hurt you?  Keep the conversation going, don’t stick out like a sore thumb to direct the conversation elsewhere?

Of course there are other lessons we learn along the way.  Make fun of someone else to lift yourself up.  Share.  Be nice.  If I don’t look like everyone else, something is wrong with me or my style.  This list is endless.  Girls are mean, boys make for better friends.   Don’t hurt feelings.  Go along with it, don’t create waves or you will regret it.  Don’t kiss and tell.  Be nice to everyone.  Many of the lessons we learn teach us to walk a thin line, trust little, be prepared.  A few experiences tell us that a good friend is a treasure.

To swing the pendulum the other direction, consider someone that has been a champion teacher for you in the area of friendships.  Has someone you’ve known inspired you to be a better friend? A cousin or aunt whose life reflects what you might want in your own, a life of closeness and knowing, adventure, laughs and safety. Maybe another friend, who just seems to have what it takes to be a good friend and is willing to blunder through relationship mistakes with grace?  Maybe someone older who has literally or figuratively put their arm around your shoulder and shown you that friends can honor one another’s differences, communication and commitment can stand the tests of time, distance and age?

Family Involvement

Randy Quaid as "Eddie" in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

As we are smack in the middle of family-oriented holidays, take a moment to consider the impression that family members have made on you.  This might be a stunning thought (family members impact our lives in more ways that we can think of)…so let’s break it down and only apply it to friendships.  How do you know how to be a friend?  Who taught you?

How do you know what makes a good friend, what makes a bad friend, what friends do, what a friendship is?  For the sake of this blog, let’s start with our parents, other family members (aunts, cousins and such), and other friendships.

These are people to consider as “impressionists”:





Mother’s close friend(s)

Childhood Friend

Leaving an Legacy

The name of my private counseling practice is Legacy.  On the home page, I offer a few small details about my interest in how we develop as humans, and one thing we cannot help in this life – leaving an imprint, a legacy.  It makes sense that family members are prime teachers; their imprint is strong no matter what.  Good or bad, strong or quick, we all leave imprints wherever we go.  On other people.

As we consider the imprints other’s have made on my life and the imprints we might have made on others’ hearts, minds or spirits…let’s consider what we have learned that is good and can be put to honorable use.  Consider what might need to be thrown out because it is a barbed way of interacting with others – and promotes small crimes against our fellow female journeyers who seek to fill the never-ending needs of love and acceptance (= we are all looking for these things).

The great thing about Friendship School is that we do not have to put into practice all that we have learned, and we can recognize that not all teachers are good teachers.  Nor do we have to let our previous experiences color our present friendships.  There is hope in forgiving women who have imprinted us negatively and embrace a style of friendship that leaves a legacy of love, acceptance, inspiring us to simply, be kind to one another.

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After high school, did you have a college or work experience that led you to an entirely new community?

I left Los Angeles for the beautifully bricked, white columned campus at the  University of Virginia, bright-eyed to study American history.

The Rotunda at UVA

The first few weeks were packed with events I can’t help but call mixers, meet and greet, get-out-and-introduce-yourself activities. I saw how exciting and uncomfortable it was to be entirely  unknown, to have the chance to describe yourself in one sentence and be judged accordingly.

I had grown up in a community that invariably knew my family before it knew me. I was Fred Taylor’s daughter–a child of an elder at church, a daughter of an insurance salesman and backpacker, Mary Taylor’s grand daughter–in a lineage of faithful church service, Mina’s oldest–her friends wondered how much of my mom’s creative genius I had inherited, Engracia’s grand daughter, the one she took on walks introducing her to neighbors before picking their cumquats.My family Spring 2010 - photo credit Jeff Lefever

Every time I return home, for a holiday or even for a drive-by visit during a Los Angeles speaking gig, I remember the old patterns of who I am at home.

There are labels we find sticking to us, sometimes stuck to our back without us knowing that define us growing up, labels that make it significantly difficult to grow beyond.  I was the oldest, bossy daughter. The number one command that I broke was “Being the mother.”  Bossy Jonalyn returns home once again.

I was also the outspoken, enthusiastic, talkative one. When Myers-Briggs personality tests came out there was no doubt that I was an extrovert.  Family friends and members saw it in me even before I could take the test.  My mother has stories of my aptness to speak before I turned two and ask impossible questions. My favorite story is after a stream of my talking, she announced, “Joni, I need no questions for five minutes? Unless it’s an emergency, no questions, okay?”

“Okay, Mommy!” I cheerfully sang from the back seat.  Intent on pleasing I looked out the window and the passing trees. Thirty seconds later I cried, “Mommy, THIS is an emergency!  Can we go to the moon?”

Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s is upon us, with opportunities to return home, to visit with family who will remind us of who we were growing up, with stories of our antics and embarassing tendencies–all of which reveal something about us. But they might not always help reveal all we are today.

When I return home, I’m often amazed at how this community-dubbed extrovert, loves to be in her spare room reading.  I’m surprised that I’m not quite as bossy as I used to be.  Sometimes, I think my family isn’t sure who’ve I’ve become either.

Years ago, as I was discovering my strengths beyond my family’s description, a good friend, Lisa told me that it would be helpful to explain to my childhood friends how I had changed.

“Do you think I’m different now than I was a teenager? I asked Lisa.

“In a lot of ways you are,” Lisa replied.

What person were you at home that have since changed?  How do your friends view you? Has your family been given the chance of interaction with the grown-up version of yourself?

Take a moment before you go home to list out a few things–make them the strengths–that describe who you are.  When you arrive home consider if this list matches who your family know you to be.

This last Thanksgiving I considered my current work in the non-profit sector, how I work to listen to what people say and what they don’t say, to help others grow more healthy, more appropriately human, and I considered bringing that side of Jonalyn to my family.

Instead of fearing they’d continue to label me the bossy older sister, or the show-off, or the queen bee (all labels of my past), I gave them a taste, an update of who this woman has become today.  In my friendships, I can offer honesty and gentleness, good listening and sharp thinking.

I brought this to my brother and sister this Thanksgiving.

And surprise! I had some of the best, most grown-up (in the best sense of the word), encouraging interaction with them.  No heated discussions, no arguments, no accusations of being the bossy older sister.

Jacob plays with Finn after lunch

My brother and I had our first grown-up outing together, lunch at Thai Time.  Finn cordially dozed while we caught up. I really enjoyed hearing about his life goals, what he cares about and the food was wonderful.  Jacob even warmed up to Finn.

My sister Abby and I had such a good time talking while we made cookies, swapping book ideas (visit her wry blog at Abby’s Alley), sharing our challenges of living in a small space, that we burned the snickerdoodles.  I count those smokey fumes evidence of success.

This holiday season consider the strengths you bring to your friendships that you can also share with your family.

What did you discover in your family and in yourself? Fun, frazzled or frustrated comments welcome!

Sisters - photo credit Jeff Lefever

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