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Just Ask Me: Help! My Work Friend Got Promoted—and I’m Jealous

Dear Fran, 

I’m 31 years old and have been working in the engineering and project management industry for a little over 10 years, five at my current company. A good friend of mine started working at my company about two years ago but in the business development sector. It’s been great to have her here because we can grab lunch or a quick chat anytime.

Here’s the issue—I’ve had the same position for my entire time at this company and after only a couple of years, she recently got a huge promotion. Window office, director title, six-figure salary, the whole bit. I know I should be happy for her, but I can’t help but feel extremely jealous of her situation. She’s making more than I am by a good $30K and at her age, she is bound to keep on rising up the ranks.

I guess I also worry about our friendship. How are we going to keep up break time chats and water-cooler talk when she’s in a whole different hierarchy? How can I handle this whole thing more gracefully?

Thanks,

Don’t want to be envious

Dear Envious:

Ah, envy: that little green monster that often seems to cause so much pain. It can rear its ugly head at friends, colleagues, celebrities, bosses, family members, and perfect strangers (in no particular order). It can glom on to someone else’s courage, clarity of vision, emotional serenity, compassion, persistence, intelligence, quick wit, or success.

Let me give you a personal example. As a writer, my most powerful envy comes when I’m in the middle of a book and I suddenly find myself so profoundly moved or deeply amused by the words on the page that I have to stop and take a breath to contemplate (and envy) the author’s skill. Here are a couple of random examples that stopped me this way: Emma Donoghue’sRoomShira Nayman’s Awake in the DarkPatrick Suskind’s PerfumeJeffrey Eugenides’Middlesex; and Cynthia Kaplan’s book of personal essays, Why I’m Like This.

Now I want you to notice that, of the books that have stirred my green monster, some are bestsellers, some only sold a few thousand copies; some were recently published, some years ago; some were lauded by critics, some not so much. The truth is that while I might occasionally envy someone’s “success,” what I envy most powerfully is what I most value, certain qualities of character, and what I aspire to as a writer.

So first, I want you to be clear about what it is that you’re envying. Is it your friend’s success? The fact that she got chosen for a promotion and you didn’t? That she got a lucky break and you didn’t? The six-figure salary? Or does your envy stem from your fear she’s more skilled at her job than you are at yours?

I ask you these questions because I think it will help you to separate that which is mostly beyond your control and concentrate on that which is primarily in your control. Life is certainly not fair and your friend’s success may well be due to sheer good luck, which is painfully beyond your control.

What is in your control, and what you can concentrate on, is how to be the best you can be atyour job. Identify things that would make you promotable and work on those skills. Separate what is going on with your friend’s promotion from the realities of your position and the likelihood of moving up. If you truly feel that a promotion is due, pursue it with your manager.

Another worthwhile consideration is whether you actually enjoy and are stimulated by your current position. If you’re bored, or find yourself eyeing your friend’s (or another) field that seems more interesting or presents more opportunities for advancement, take some steps in that direction. Maybe her job change will prove to be a catalyst for you to make some changes for yourself. You don’t necessarily need to wait around for management to give you a bump up the ladder; maybe it’s time for you to pursue a new industry or a new company that will provide the opportunities that you are seeking.

Next, you call this woman a “good friend,” but I wonder if she’s a real friend. Is she someone you can actually talk to, or is your relationship merely centered around the water cooler chat? Are you worried about her throwing her new position in the hierarchy around because she already has? If so, then I’d stop thinking of her as your “good friend” and try to gracefully back away while continuing with the superficial water cooler chat.

My standards for a “good friendship,” however, are a little different. I root for my friends to reach their goals, I applaud their achievements, and I expect them to do the same for me. A quality friendship is based on whether I can talk to and confide in my friends, and whether they they can talk to and confide in me. I feel that friends are real friends because they share honest feelings with each other, and can allow themselves to be or appear vulnerable.

If this were me, and I thought she was my good friend, I’d find a time when she and I weren’t at work, and share some of my feelings surrounding her promotion. I might casually say that I’d been hoping for a promotion, too, or even confess how envious I am! I might ask her how or why she thinks she got the promotion, and maybe even ask her for some suggestions. And then I’d watch very carefully to see how she handled the situation. This is a tricky time for your friendship. If she’s really your friend, she’ll offer her support and hear out your disappointments in a loving way. If a candid conversation like that didn’t go smoothly, I’d seriously think about how close of a friend she really is.

I wish you the best of luck in your career and your friendship, and I’m glad you wrote in and asked.

Fran

Originally posted on The Daily Muse

Read More From Fran

How to Calm and Be Clear

Just Ask Me – She’s Pregnant, He Wants to Move–She Doesn’t

Originally published on The Daily Muse

Fran!

I really need some advice. I met my fiancé about two years ago and we got engaged on New Year’s Eve. I’m also eight months pregnant. Even though everything has been going so fast in our relationship and my life, I’m happy as can be.

We live in western Maryland, close to my family, and his family lives in southern Maryland, but he wants to move to Florida when our lease is up in December. He feels we would have a good life and more opportunities for our growing family. We have talked about moving, and I really want to, but I didn’t expect to move away so soon. I’d prefer to stay around here a little longer with my family, especially with my newborn.

I’m only 22 and he’s 24, and I’m just scared. I’ve tried explaining it and he doesn’t see what the big deal is. He said we will visit all the time, but I don’t see that happening. I don’t know what to say or do and I don’t want to fight about it. I just don’t think I’m ready to move! 

From,

Stressed and Scared

Dear Stressed and Scared,

Congratulations! This is a very exciting time for you, but, I’d also say it’s appropriate to be a little scared and stressed.

I’m not sure what to assume about the job situation if you’re giving birth next month, and your fiancé wants to pack you and the baby up and move to Florida because there are “more opportunities there.” Does that mean that neither of you have a job right now, and he thinks he—or both of you—will be able to get jobs there, rather than where you are?

This is a key issue, because when the baby comes—wherever you live—someone is going to have to take care of him or her. So first, you have to decide mutually who’s going to do that. If you both have jobs now, are you planning to quit? Is he? Have you discussed this? One benefit to staying where you are is that your families might be able to help with the care of the baby.

Next, it worries me that you say you don’t want to “fight” about this. Does that mean that you don’t think you have the right to express your opinion or concerns? Or that you’ve tried in the past to express yourself, about this or other matters, and found that it always turns into a fight? Does he always dismiss your concerns as “no big deal?” Have you gotten into a pattern of swallowing your feelings about important matters like this just because you don’t want to “fight?”

The truth is, conflict in a marriage is going to occur. A mature, healthy, lasting relationship requires negotiation, mutual respect, and compromise, and there is no need to fear fighting if you learn, practice, and implement fighting “fair.”

I think it’s important that you and your fiancé sit down and really sort this out. Here are some basic “fighting fairly” rules to review before you begin:

1. Be Honest With Yourself

It is essential that you understand your own feelings before you can begin to resolve any conflict. Many women are stressed and scared when they’re pregnant, and adding a move (particularly one away from family) to that is understandably overwhelming. Be honest with your fiancé when you confess your struggles, pain, and insecurities. Let him know what you’re going through so he can have the opportunity to support you.

2. Speak Quietly

No yelling. When you yell, your partner only hears you yelling, not the content of what you’re saying. This doesn’t mean that you can’t express your opinion passionately, but remember that the louder your words, the less you’ll be heard.

3. Discuss the Issue, Not Each Other

Name-calling, character assassination, cursing, insults, threats, or accusations—even as a so-called “joke”—are strictly forbidden. Stay on-topic and remember that your goal is to reach a solution to the issue at hand.

4. Use “I” Statements

Rather than saying “You always…” or “You never…” stick with something like, “I fear that if we move to Florida, such-and-such will happen,” instead. Remember that you are the expert on how you feel and he is the expert on how he feels. Neither of you should be dismissive of the other.

5. Listen Carefully

When one of you speaks, the other should focus on really listening, not just planning a rebuttal. Remind yourself not to interrupt while the other person is speaking. You might even try the “mirroring” technique and each of you try to repeat what the other says verbatim to be certain that you are hearing each other.

6. Keep it Private

Don’t bring up your parents’ or friend’s opinions, or ask for his friend’s and family’s thoughts. The two of you are the ones who are in this relationship and parents to this child. It’s important that the two of you bind together and unite. Auntie Em’s dislike of Florida is irrelevant when it comes to what’s best for your new, and growing, family.

7. Take Timeouts, if Necessary

If either of you finds you’re raising your voice or getting angry, walk away, take some deep breaths and calm things down. This is a serious discussion, and it’s going to get passionate. But you need to take steps to ensure that you’re not getting overly amped up and losing sight of the matter, or impeding your own ability to discuss it civilly.

8. Look at Each Other

Keep the setting for this conversation casual and comfortable. Make it so you can really engage each other. Look your fiancé in the eyes when you talk, and do the same when you’re listening. Hold hands and stay physically connected.

9. Fight for a Solution, Not to Win 

This is important. In the end, you don’t need to win the argument or be right. You need to come up with an answer that’s going to be the best thing for you, your soon-to-be husband, and your baby. If the word “fight” comes to mind, think about it as fighting for your family.

As you start to hash things out this way, you may find some sort of a compromise beginning to take shape. Perhaps your fiancé will agree to put off the move for a while and you can revisit the discussion after the baby comes. Maybe he will agree to have a job lined up before you move. Truth be told, after your fiancé sees how stressful and exhausting it is to take care of a newborn—the sleepless nights, the constant attention, the strain it puts on a relationship—he may be more amenable to staying put for a while, rather than adding more stress with a move into the unknown right away.

And, I do think you’re right that it’s unrealistic to think that you’ll be making a lot of visits to your families in Maryland after you move to Florida. And so as a final note, I would add to my list of things a mature relationship requires are realistic solutions to problems, not wishful thinking or denial of reality. I’m not sure what to tell you to do if your fiancé continues to refuse to hear your point of view and insist it’s no big deal.

Whatever solution you come up with to the current disagreement, I wish you the best of luck. And for the moment, congratulations. Cherish that wonderful bundle of joy!

Fran


Just Ask Me: Her husband doesn’t support her entrepreneurial aspirations

Here’s my latest “Just Ask Me,” column from The Daily Muse (www.thedailymuse.com)  Here’s the link to the actual column, and here’s the piece in full.

Help! My Husband Doesn’t Support My Business Idea

by  — June 6, 2012 — 2 Comments

Dear Fran,

I have been dreaming of having my own business for years, and in the last few years I’ve come up with an idea for a business in the health and wellness space that I think is a winner. Of course, due to the demands of everyday life (mortgage,student loans, a baby on the way), I’ve been working in a corporate job for almost eight years. But I’m finally ready to take the plunge and at leastbegin to explore my entrepreneurial side. I know it’s not realistic to quit my day job anytime soon, but I realize that if I don’t get my business underway, well, it’s not going to get underway on its own.

Here’s the real issue: My husband of five years is not fully supportive of this idea. He is a very structured person and looks at the house repairs, the cost of a new baby, and any number of practical things as perfectly good reasons for us not to go down the path of owning a business. He always promises that “someday” we can look into it, “someday” we’ll have money to invest in our own business, but that now is just not the right time. I understand that we have things coming up in our life, but if we don’t do something soon, another eight years are going to fly by.

I have no idea how to begin to resolve this conflict—it’s something that neither of us can really understand the other’s perspective on at all. Where do I start?

Eager Entrepreneur

Dear Eager:

I certainly don’t want to discourage you from pursuing your dream, but I must remind you of three statistics that you probably already know. The first is that half of all marriages end in divorce. The second is that the chances of succeeding in a small business are less than 1 in 10. And the third is that you’re about to increase your family by 50%, leading to an increase in demands on your time, budget, and energy of about 500%.

That said, the health and wellness space is growing, and with a great idea, plus very careful thought and planning for your marriage, family, and your business, you might be able to increase the odds of success on all fronts.

The first thing I want you to do is make a date with your husband to begin discussing this. Make it several weeks or a month from now so you both have a chance to prepare, and so you (or maybe both of you) have a chance to read a book called, Not Tonight, Dear, I Have a Business to Run, by Dr. Patty Ann Tublin. (Full disclosure—Patty Ann is a friend of mine, but seriously, her book speaks to the exact issues you’re up against.)

As the wife of a serial entrepreneur, I know firsthand that creating a successful business requires a commitment of time, energy, and effort beyond anything you may imagine. You may find yourself working harder than ever, and your family and relationship may suffer in ways you can’t even conceive now. Consider, for example, how resentful (not to mention tired) you’ll be if you find yourself doing laundry at 3 AM, because you’ve failed to negotiate an even distribution of domestic chores. To guard against this, Dr. Patty Ann suggests creating a “family plan” as well as a “business plan.” You might begin by thinking about these questions:

  • Are you so excited about the prospect of having your own business that you’re discounting your husband’s right to resist?
  • Can you create a business plan that starts with relatively less risky steps to help you analyze the market, find your customers, discover their needs and thoughts about your business idea, and then alter your strategy if your customers tell you to do so? Ideally, this will help both you and your husband feel more comfortable about the prospects for success.
  • Are you assuming that he will ever (or never) be willing to make personal, relationship, or lifestyle adjustments to support this?
  • Are you used to discussing openly with him questions related to your relationship, family, and lifestyle?

Next, to get you thinking about the vast array of financial, time, office, lifestyle, personal, relationship, and family issues that will impact both of you, check out Dr. Patty Ann’s “Discovery Exercise One.” Here are a handful of questions to get you started:

  • How much initial capital investment will be required?
  • What is the length of time before you can expect positive cash flow?
  • Can you test the waters while keeping your current job?
  • How stressful for you would this business be? How can you learn to deal with stressbetter?
  • How demanding will the working schedule be?
  • Will you have to sacrifice anything important to your physical, emotional, and spiritual health to succeed in this business?
  • How does this business support your short- and long-term goals as a couple?
  • How could this business improve, solidify, or sustain your relationship?
  • How could this business jeopardize or deteriorate your relationship?
  • How might this business interfere with caring for your children, or other family members’ daily needs?

As you begin to discuss this with your husband, remember that in every aspect of marriage, communication skills are key. Never assume you know how your husband is thinking about an issue until you ask him, just as he should never assume anything about what you’re thinking.

Once you begin really talking and planning, you may find, for example, that while he has understandable anxiety, underneath he’s actually quite interested and supportive. He may become more interested if you can somehow integrate him, perhaps by soliciting his ideas, or by considering making him a business partner at some point in the future, when you have some tangible success and can expand. You may find that what he’s worried about is quite different than what you think he’s worried about. And you may be surprised to find that his worries are completely reasonable and should be vetted.

When your date night is over, make another. In fact, make this an ongoing dialogue until both of you feel heard, and until you’ve given him (and allowed yourself) time and space to fully air your concerns and risks inherent in this kind of undertaking.

I’m certain that this sort of heart-to-heart will help you begin to convert the “someday” he refers to into something more tangible. And here’s one possible first step (that adheres to modern entrepreneurial strategy): Create a survey you can distribute to potential customers to help you analyze the feasibility of the business. This will help both of you feel more confident as you begin to take the steps that risk more.

I can’t tell you what to do if your husband simply refuses to discuss this or can’t keep an open mind. I can, however, warn you that resentment in a marriage is poison, and that if this is truly your dream and your husband stonewalls it, resentment is bound to rear its ugly head.

I wish you the very best of luck in your business and your marriage. Don’t forget to sleep! How exciting!

Fran

Just Ask Me: Letter from a worried mother who worries me

Children "learn" what we model for them.

Dear Bruised Muse readers, I’m posting this email series between me and “T,” because, although I found her response to some of my recent writing kind of lovely and sweet (if somewhat misguided), I also found our exchange quite thought provoking and worrying.  In my anger management classes, I’ve heard people express similar “spare the rod, spoil the child” ideas.  “T” has given me permission to post this anonymously, and I hope readers will find it interesting too.  

Dear Ms. Dorf,

I have no idea how I started reading about you, but somehow I stumbled across two posts written by you in one day. One was on McSweeney’s site (Open Letter to the Radio Lady) and one was on your own site about bereavement. As I write this, I sit here with a gigantic lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. I cannot breathe. Nothing I can say about the loss of your son can sound anything other than trite and simplistic. I cannot offer you condolences that mean anything, I do not know you, I did not know your son. Please bear with me. I am aware that what I am about to write is not entirely appropriate and may even stray over the border-line of “this woman needs help.”

I have a son. I remember waiting, almost with baited breath, until he turned seven months old. For me, at that time, that was the magic number. Once he was seven months old, nothing could possibly happen to him. Of course, as soon as he turned seven months old the magic number became 12 months. And then 15 months. And so on… He is now 26 months old. I cannot imagine my life without him. I do not want to. The thing is, ever since I became a mother, stories about children, ANY children, affect me almost as if they were my own. Happy stories make me tear up in joy, and think of ways I could somehow transfer that joy to my son’s life. Sad stories make me cry to the point of depression, and then I just want to encase him in a bubble and protect him forever. I do not know if this is ‘normal’. I know that this is MY ‘normal’.

My own childhood was complicated and abusive. I spend every day caught in a tailspin of endless second-guessing, analysing, terrified of somehow unknowingly abusing my son.

I wanted to write to you because I want to give you a hug. I really do. I want to give Michael a hug and tell him he has an amazing mom. Who, even after spending 21 years in a cycle of grief that I cannot even begin to comprehend, managed to reach out over hundreds and thousands of miles to a complete stranger and touch her life, and maybe even save it.  

I don’t know what it is about your story about Michael and dealing with the tragedy that has prompted this email to you. I know that even on the worst of my days, what I go through is nothing compared to what you deal with on a daily basis. And that puts a lot of things into perspective for me.

I apologize if any of this has offended you. If nothing else, please re-read the part in bold and delete the rest. I’m not the best at explaining what’s going on in my head and heart.

Thank you for sharing your story.

BIG hugs,

T

* * *

Dear T.

Thanks for reaching out.  I’m so glad you find me, and my resilience, and my writing inspiring.  I’m glad you feel I’ve been able to touch your life, although I would deny that a stranger (or anyone) can “save” it.  Only you can do that.

I think you may misunderstand my writing to some degree, perhaps because I’m sometimes able to take on the “voice” of bereavement, which only means it’s effective writing, not that I’m still suffering and need condolence, although I certainly thank you anyway.  Let me assure you I haven’t spent 21 years in a “cycle of grief.”  (Or even 17 years, since my son died when he was three and a half in 1994.)  Even though my loss is always with me, one way or another, I have a full, rich, happy life.  Much of my healing has been and remains in my writing.  I have found some sort of meaning in the loss, partly by starting (with my husband) a program for toddlers with special needs in memory of our son, partly by becoming a more compassionate person, and partly by studying, training, and making myself available to help others look at their pain, trauma, whatever they struggle with. One of my special gifts is to be able to help people articulate their story through writing, although I use other techniques as well, like more traditional talk therapy.

I’m not offended by your letter, but I am worried about you and your son.  I do see that you may be suffering. Of course you want to protect your son.  Every mother does.  But it does sounds to me as if you have a whole lot of debilitating fear and anxiety around your son’s safety and well-being that may come from some childhood issues you haven’t dealt with.  How difficult for you to “spend every day caught in a tailspin of endless second-guessing, analyzing, and being terrified of somehow unknowingly abusing your son.”

Here are two options:

1. With your permission, I can post your letter on my blog anonymously, maybe give a little fuller answer.  That would be interesting for my blog, maybe for you too.  However, no quick answer could possibly tackle what you’ve described.

2. Much more importantly, have you ever talked to a therapist or other counselor?   Or perhaps, if you like to write, we could figure out a way for me to help you articulate your story in writing, which might help you work through some of your pain, anxiety, and issues related to the trauma of growing up in an abusive home.  Or perhaps there’s someone in your area? Really, I recommend you do some sort of therapeutic work.

Best,

Fran Dorf

*******

Hi Ms. Dorf,

Thank you for replying to my email. To be honest, my email may have sounded a tad dramatic. A little background – my hubby has been out of town for the past couple of weeks on work, I’m exhausted with looking after my son and trying to work from home (I’m a web designer) and the day I read your posts I was just wrecked. I was extremely affected by your writing, and the loss of your son upset me greatly. Your writing moved me – and I am amazed by your strength and resilience. And to build on that by being a therapist and helping others  is truly inspiring.

Of course you can post my letter on your blog, but please do remove my son’s name as well as my own.

I think maybe I did misunderstand your post. I was thinking about the closure one, how someone who has lost a child cannot really get closure, but I think you were saying that it is possible to move on without HAVING to have closure? Is this closer to the mark?

I saw a psychologist when I was younger, (I think I was fifteen or so) and because of the way I was then, I basically manipulated her into thinking I was okay with the abuse (also because I wasn’t entirely sure she wasn’t sharing everything with my mom). My issues stem from my mother, with whom I have a very complicated relationship – I love her to bits but am so incredibly angry with her for what she did to me and my brother during our childhood. I cannot confront her about this, because she has blacked it out (she was on a cocktail of pills at the time) and because she had her own issues. I come from an Indian background where going against your parents is sort of out of the question, let alone confronting them on any level. The abuse we endured was physical (beatings) and emotional (she would sometimes make us hit her or say things like, ‘if you do this it means you don’t love me’ – this being stupid things like walking on cracks in the sidewalk).

I’ve seen a counselor more recently which has helped quite a bit. My husband and I started seeing him after I found some emails that indicated that my husband was having an emotional relationship with another woman. This started a year or so after our son was born and devastated me – I was already quite depressed from PPS, and my husband and I decided to see a counselor together. I also sought help in single sessions for my anger management (I lash out verbally when I’m angry, which is part of the problem between my hubby and I). I would have liked to have continued with these sessions but we moved to a different city. There is no English-speaking counsellor here, and the psychiatrists/psychologists all charge upwards of 150 euros an hour which I cannot afford. We live in Germany by the way. My husband is Irish and I’m Indian.

About the tailspin: I make it a point to not hit my son in anger, EVER. If I get that mad or frustrated I leave the room for a bit. When he does get smacked he gets smacked on the hand, and it’s usually the third strike rule. However, at the end of the day, I find myself analysing and picking apart my behaviour to make sure I haven’t abused him. Of course, I may well be doing it all wrong (God knows, my mom probably thought she was doing the right thing at the time) and not knowing it. What keeps me sane is my son’s behaviour. He is a cheerful, adventurous and gentle little boy, and his caregivers at the play group he goes to just love him to bits. So I take that as encouragement that I’m on the right track. I try not to let my anxiety spill over into his life.

Good grief, I really have rambled on, haven’t I? In short, I have good days and bad days, on the bad days I think of people like you, and a couple of other writers and it snaps me out of my funk. In essence, that is what I wanted to tell you.

Thank you again for your kind words.

All the best,

T.

******

Dear T.

You do sound as if you’ve had a lot to deal with in your life. I’m very glad you got some counseling and feel that it has helped.  I’m very sorry you feel counseling is too expensive now; perhaps there’s a public clinic that would cost less but still provide you with the treatment and support you may need.  Or maybe you can find a good clinician who’s willing to take a reduced fee.

It’s great that you walk away from your son when you’re feeling angry.  This is what we call taking a “timeout,” and it’s a great practice for anger control.

Now obviously there are cultural differences in the world around child rearing, but I can’t let this go without saying that I do not believe in spanking children no matter what they do, either hitting them on the buttocks, the face, the arm, the hands, or any other way.   Here are a few other of many reasons.  (Much of this is taken from here (www.naturalchild.org/) and here (http://www.askdrsears.com):

1. Children learn what parents model for them. Dr. Sears tells the  classic story about the mother who believed in spanking as a necessary part of discipline until one day she observed her three- year-old daughter hitting her one-year-old son. When confronted, her daughter said, “I’m just playing mommy.” This mother never spanked another child. Hitting children teaches them to become hitters themselves. Witness your own situation. Your mother beat you and now you hit your child and worry about abusing him.

2. Spanking demonstrates that it’s all right for people to hit people, and especially for big people to hit little people, and stronger people to hit weaker people, and you solve a problem with a good swat. A child whose behavior is controlled by spanking is likely to carry on this mode of interaction into other relationships with siblings and peers, and eventually a spouse and offspring.

3. Research supports a direct correlation between corporal punishment in childhood and aggressive or violent behavior in the teenage and adult years. Virtually all of the most dangerous criminals were regularly threatened and punished in childhood. It is nature’s plan that children learn attitudes and behaviors through observation and imitation of their parents’ actions, for good or ill. Thus it is the responsibility of parents to set an example of empathy and wisdom.

4. Punishment distracts children from learning how to resolve conflict in an effective and humane way.  A punished child becomes preoccupied with feelings of anger and fantasies of revenge, and is thus deprived of the opportunity to learn more effective methods of solving the problem at hand. Thus, a punished child learns little about how to handle or prevent similar situations in the future.

5. Punishment disrupts the parent and child bond, as it is not human nature to feel loving toward someone who hurts us. The true spirit of cooperation which every parent desires can arise only through a strong bond based on mutual feelings of love and respect. Punishment, even when it appears to work, can produce only superficially good behavior based on fear, which can only take place until the child is old enough to resist. In contrast, cooperation based on respect will last permanently, bringing many years of mutual happiness as the child and parent grow older.

6. Many parents never learned in their own childhood that there are positive ways of relating to children. When punishment does not accomplish the desired goals, and if the parent is unaware of alternative methods, punishment can escalate to more frequent and dangerous actions against the child.

7. Anger and frustration which cannot be safely expressed by a child become stored inside; angry teenagers do not fall from the sky. Anger that has been accumulating for many years can come as a shock to parents whose child now feels strong enough to express this rage. Punishment may appear to produce “good behavior” in the early years, but always at a high price, paid by parents and by society as a whole, as the child enters adolescence and early adulthood.

On hitting a child’s hand, Dr. Sears says: How tempting it is to slap those daring little hands! Many parents do it without thinking, but consider the consequences. Maria Montessori, one of the earliest opponents of slapping children’s hands, believed that children’s hands are tools for exploring, an extension of the child’s natural curiosity. Slapping them sends a powerful negative message.  Psychologists studied a group of sixteen fourteen-month-olds playing with their mothers. When one group of toddlers tried to grab a forbidden object, they received a slap on the hand; the other group of toddlers did not receive physical punishment. In follow-up studies of these children seven months later, the punished babies were found to be less skilled at exploring their environment. Better to separate the child from the object or supervise his exploration and leave little hands unhurt.

And furthermore, Dr. Sears says, Hitting Devalues the parent: Parents who spank-control or otherwise abusively punish their children often feel devalued themselves because deep down they don’t feel right about their way of discipline. Often they spank (or yell) in desperation because they don’t know what else to do, but afterward feel more powerless when they find it doesn’t work. As one mother who dropped spanking from her correction list put it, “I won the battle, but lost the war. My child now fears me, and I feel I’ve lost something precious.”

“T,” I’m sure you have a wonderful son, but it seems to me that you and your son both would be much better off if you made a serious effort to figure out the ways your childhood is still affecting you, emotionally disengage your childhood trauma from your current life, and learn other, more effective, less putative or damaging methods to deal with your son.

On the matter of closure, I think you’re much closer to accuracy with the statement that we can move on WITHOUT having to find closure.  Closer still would be the statement that instead of looking for “closure” on a loss, we can try to find meaning in the loss.  This however, does not mean that we should go around telling the seriously bereaved that they should find meaning, which could well be offensive to them.  Rather, we should allow people the space and time to take their own journey and discover what they need to discover.  We can see the proof that people do eventually find, or try to find meaning in loss in the way they so often take up causes related to the lost one, find ways to honor the lost one.  For example, Candy Lightner creates the organization MADD. (Mother’s Against Drunk Driving.)  The Dorfs start a program for toddlers with special needs called Jumpstart in memory of their son.  Another family plants a tree, or starts a local giveaway of bicycle helmets in memory of their son who was fatally injured when he fell off his bicycle.

Thank you again for sharing your story, T, and I hope you’ll consider what I’ve said about learning other ways than hitting to deal with your son. Do it for your son, in memory of my son. While I don’t think I’d call hand-slapping “abusive,” I think there are much better ways to deal with your beautiful little boy.  How about a timeout for him?  Or a system of positive reinforcement.  So, for example, if he listens to mommy three times he gets a star, if he gets three stars, he gets something (little) he wants.

I wish you both the best, and I stand by my original suggestion that you get some counseling, individual rather than couple.

Inspiration: What I loved and learned in Austin, Texas, at SXSW

Actor, inspirationalist Jeffrey Tambor adding a little human-to-human interactive to the mostly computer-interactive festivities at SXSW in Austin. For examples of his inspiration, see below.

Over the weekend, after a bumpy, scary plane ride in stormy weather, I found myself in Austin, amidst a gathering of about 80,000 geeks, hipsters, techno-geeks, networkers, web designers, bloggers, entrepreneurs, advertising types, actors, writers, directors, film and music enthusiasts and others who came for an incredible event called South By Southwest, techno-affectionately dubbed SXSW Interactive.  It originally started as a film and music festival, but the computer/interactive/startup folk (mostly young people who live, breathe, sleep, and worship at the ALTAR OF TECHNOLOGY), may have in the last few years actually overtaken the film and music folk. I went to support my entreprenadorable husband, Bob Dorf, who with his co-author and partner, Steve Blank, have just released their amazing, erudite new book, a step by step guide to starting new businesses called, THE STARTUP OWNERS MANUAL, which was making its debut there.  They hardly needed my support.  Literally thousands came to hear Steve speak, and to buy the book and get both of their autographs.

Yes, I was a hanger on, an extra, an overwhelmed but fascinated older-person, a wife.  And yes, given my own sensibilities as a writer, therapist, middle aged woman, seeker-of-calm-and-clarity, and only (so far) half-assed dabbler in the techno-arts, my take on the thing and my focus–not to mention my ability to cope with or even understand some of it–is no doubt quirky.  And yes, I do wish all that young brain power could be harnessed toward enterprises that will feed the hungry instead of enterprises like making websites for brides-to-be. Nevertheless, I had a blast soaking it all in, and I mean the soaking part literally since it was freezing and raining all weekend until the sun finally came out on Sunday and the festival started to take on the feel of a real party, a college campus on steroids.

I had a blast because of Austin itself, in which I didn’t see even one ten-gallon-hat, which seemed to me to have literally nothing to do with my vision of the state of which it is the capital, and which aggressively lives up to its motto, Keep Austin Weird, even I suspect when the hoards of youthful techies aren’t in town.

I had a blast because the whole event was part circus and part business meeting, and any time you can use circus and business meeting in the same sentence that’s okay with me.

Fran and Alison at the Museum of the Weird in Austin

I had a blast because I got to hang out all weekend with my friend Alison, Steve’s wife; and of course with my brilliant husband and his brilliant co-author, Steve Blank; and in the beautiful but reputedly haunted Driskill Hotel with a guy named Oren Jacob, filmmaker and “technologist,” who did a lot of the work on the wonderful Pixar film, “Toy Story,” (among others) and is working on a start-up (www.toytalk.com)that I suspect will revolutionize interactive toys for kids; and in a seriously weird Austin restaurant at a table with a guy who funds documentary films about important, profound subjects at the National Endowment for the Humanities; and with a crazy Jordanian cabdriver who kept swerving the cab as he pointed out the window at various freak shots, and shouting, “LOOK AT THAT! CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT?”

I had a blast because so many of the young women there were dressed in clothes you’d have to call Hipster-Mismatch-Strange. (As opposed to Tory Burch and Kate Spade, where I live.)  What do I mean by that?   Okay, so picture a skinny twenty-five year old, maybe with dreadlocks, wearing boots, striped leggings, a polka dotted skirt, a paisley shirt, maybe a fur vest.  Now picture another skinny twenty year old with pink hair, a pierced nose and tattoos, wearing red sneakers, green pants, and a sleeveless orange and blue striped dress over the pants. Now multiply that by hoards of girls, each one making her own little Hipster Mismatch Strange Statement and you’ve got it. (Okay, so let’s not even talk about the attire at Woodstock.)

I had a blast because I loved the session by Danah Boyd about the culture of fear in this interactive age, about bullying and fear-mongering by governments, and about the positive vs. negative consequences of our increased ability to connect.  Even though she offered no real conclusions I was happy to see that serious people in the generation that grew up in this teched-up culture are looking at this very scary, upsetting phenom.

I couldn’t make heads or tails out of the techno-geek session I attended called “The Secret Lives of Links,” although the guy who presented was quite lively and had great slides. I guess I went because it sounded sexy.

I loved the talk by Rainn Wilson, he of “The Office” fame, who also did a very weird turn as the funereal love interest of the mother, Ruth, in my favorite television show of all time, “Six Feet Under.”  Rainn was talking primarily about his hot and wonderful website, www.soulpancake.com, in which random people post soul-stirring, important questions, such as: “You have five minutes to address the delegates at the General Assembly in the UN.  What do you say?” and “Will technology be used to save or destroy us?” and “Does religion need to be destroyed for spirituality to flourish?” …. And then random others offer answers.  As an example of the power of the internet to stir creativity and self-expression, Rainn’s website is a wow.  I’m thinking on my question right now.

Most of all, I was deeply moved by the combination seminar-theater-stand-up-disguised-as-an-acting-workshop given by the well known character actor, Jeffrey Tambor, (www.http://www.jeffreytambor.net/) who dispensed laughter and wisdom by the bucketful, mostly while “directing” a scene between two young people (possibly actors) who seemed to have been chosen just because they showed up, whose lines were basically:

He: “No, no, no, no, no, no, no.”

She: “Yes, yes yes, don’t tell me no, you motherfucker.”

The wonderful Jeffrey brilliantly coaxed the two to do it as themselves, as bad asses, by yelling, in French accents, as femme fatales, by putting in three “naughties,” as comedy, as tragedy, and with a gun.   He even got them to sing it.

Among the many memorable bits of advice Mr. Tambor dispensed and I wrote down (since my memory isn’t too great) were:

“We’re here to be the enemy of the status quo.”  (This brings me back to my hippie roots, of course. I miss that.)

“The problem is that most of us want to be good.” (This reminds me of my favorite quote in life, from Huxley’s classic dystopian techno-vision, Brave New World, so much of which seems now so prescient: “I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”

Enjoy everything, adore everything.” (Well, we can try, on the theory that everything, even that which is awful, can be looked at a learning experience.)

“If someone goes after your confidence, call them out.” (Not sure this applies to the average person, who could easily be fired for it, but I like it anyway.)

“Confidence is the game in life and art” (I wanted to ask him if that applies to writing too, but I didn’t have the guts.)

“Do what you want. Don’t be scared that people are going to be mad at you.” 

“I get up in the morning with the vultures at my head, and I always make my bed before I do anything else.” (By which he meant he chases away the vultures who attack his confidence.  Hmm. I’m glad to hear that even a highly successful actor with a long and distinguished career has those circling vultures too.  It’s a little more difficult for me to rid myself of them, but at least I strive to be a bed-making vulture-chaser.)

Being a person whose confidence wavers moment by moment, and one who has sometimes worried that people are going to be mad at her, I was not only moved, I fell in love with the fabulous Jeffrey.

Just Ask Me: Uh-oh. Her love is probably headed for law school 3000 miles away

Originally posted in THE DAILY MUSE

Dear Fran,

I’m 23 and I’ve been dating my boyfriend for three years. We went to college together and, right afterwards, both got jobs in LA. We have an amazing relationship, I’m so happy, and I’m pretty sure that this is the guy I want to marry.

The problem: He just got accepted to law school—in New York. He applied to mainly California schools, but he decided to apply to Columbia and NYU on a whim, and he got in to both. It would be huge for him to go to a top 10 law school, but I can’t help but wish that he would stay here. I don’t want to hold him back from this amazing opportunity, but I can’t imagine life without him! 

Me moving there with him isn’t really an option either—I just started a Master’s program here. But the truth is, even when I finish it, I don’t want to move to New York! I love it in LA, all my family and friends are here, and I really see a future staying at my job.

What do we do? If he stays, I feel like he will resent me for missing out on a great opportunity. And if he goes, I’ll resent him for putting us in a long-distance relationship (not to mention, we’ll both be pretty miserable apart). How do we make the right decision for our relationship and for our careers?

In Love in California

Dear In Love in California,

Let’s get the only easy solution out of the way first. Did he also apply to a top school close by? Is going there an option?

If not, I’m afraid there is no “right” decision, partly because every option you have risks something. Assuming you want to remain a couple, all you can do is weigh the choices and try to take the least threatening alternative.

One possibility is to let him decide based on what’s best for him, vow to try not to punish him emotionally, deal with his choice (perhaps with emotional support from family, friends, even a therapist), and hope for the best. Or he could do the same for you.

But here’s my real answer. Long-term, mature, healthy relationships require at the very least the three “C’s”: communication, compromise, and compatible goals.

Your current goals may not be completely compatible, but keep in mind that couples do sustain long distance relationships all the time. You’ll communicate regularly through the magic of video technology, you’ll split the plane rides, and you’ll reunite in a few years.

Or you’ll compromise, which means one of you might have to take both an emotional and a career risk. Remember, it’s possible his career will be great no matter where he goes. And you could end up loving New York and having an even better career there. Unfortunately, this isn’t a science experiment with a control group that tells you what would have happened if you’d made the other choice. Which of course is why it’s a risk. And why it’s life.

This issue appears, however, to have uncovered communication problems between you. It strikes me that he applied “on a whim” to not one, but two practically must-attend schools 3,000 miles away. That’s some whim. Did he keep it a secret, or fail to mention it until he got in? Is that his M.O.? Or did he say, “I won’t get in, so don’t worry?” (And did you really believe this, given that he’s obviously smart enough to get into both?) Did he say, “I’m applying on a whim, but if I get in, I’m going?” Did either of you say, “but what about us?”

Analyze whatever happened for clues of his character, nature, maturity level, values, and commitment to your relationship. What does it say about him if he kept it a secret? About you if you’ve been afraid to express your concerns?

It’s possible your boyfriend loves you with all his heart, wants to marry you, and did this innocently. (I know he didn’t do it because he’s not very smart.) Perhaps he even believes that 3,000 miles won’t put a serious strain on your relationship.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that he seems to have set you both up for this, which may mean your commitment levels are unequal or he has underlying doubts, even if he can’t or won’t admit it, or doesn’t realize it.

The two of you must talk, talk, talk. Hash this out together, openly, honestly. Think about things you may not have previously considered. How will you feel if you invest years in this relationship, and he decides he wants to stay there, or he finds someone else there (a possibility that may increase when there’s such a distance)? It’s relatively easy to make promises, but is it realistic to think that a long distance relationship will satisfy your needs? Is losing him because of that a risk you’re willing to take? Does it outweigh your other concerns, such as your love of California and your job?

Also, law school is hard, especially the first year. Maybe you not being there will be a good thing and will help him concentrate. Maybe him being in law school in California would put a strain on your relationship, too.

And you say that you’re unwilling to move. But it’s possible that a separation may change your mind, and I’d encourage you to be open to that idea. In the film Going the Distance, Justin Long’s character eventually quits his job in New York to move to California to be with the lovely Drew Barrymore. There, true love wins out. But real life isn’t a movie. And I’ve found that women often feel they have do most of the compromising. (Readers, feel free to disagree.)

You two have a lot to discuss. If you do so honestly, eventually the path will become clear. Whatever happens, I do hope you’ve learned that in healthy relationships, communication and compromise are key, and that neither person ever makes unilateral decisions that are going to affect both.

I wish you (both) luck in your relationship and careers,

Fran

Gratitude: Five Things that Made My Week

1. I’m grateful for the study that came out this week that showed that  approximately 50% of Americans who get government aid in the form of social security disability, child and dependent care tax credits, unemployment insurance, Medicare, and student loans, believe they don’t. (To read more click here.)  Apparently the guy I saw on television at a Tea Party rally a few years back carrying a sign that said GET YOUR GOVERNMENT HANDS OFF MY MEDICARE wasn’t just some lone guy with a marker and a misguided brain. It’s not that I’m so happy that so many Americans seem to have swallowed the nonsense being dished out by the Republican party for the last thirty years.  But at least I can try to be hopeful that SOMEONE, ANYONE, will be able to educate these people, to use this new, actual data to help these Americans find their way again, and to maybe stop voting against their own pocketbooks.  I realize this is probably a naive hope, since faith-based beliefs are obviously not subject to actual facts but I can hope if I want to.  Seriously, folks.  The other night I was watching the hilarious Jon Stewart, and I actually heard his guest, Bruce Bartlett, who was none other than Ronald Reagan’s budget guy, call the current Republican party insane!  You can’t make this stuff up.

2. I’m grateful for Jon Stewart.  Any time. Always.  The guy is a comic genius.  (Bill Maher is also a genius, albeit slightly more disturbing one.)

3. I’m grateful for the wonderful Paul Anka. Now THAT man could croon.  We met some friends at a fantastic, authentic Italian restaurant in the Bronx, and every so often during the meal, the waiters would present someone with birthday cupcakes, while on the speakers on at top decibel there would be the memorable opening strains of Anka weeping out,”Did you have a happy birthday? Even though I wasn’t there.”  Okay, so I’m old.  But for atmosphere, this musical choice was a winner.  To hear this classic on youtube, click here.

4. I’m grateful that my two-year-old grandaughter, after trying and trying, was finally able to balance a spoon on her nose.

5. I’m grateful that after putting up a new tab in my blog (Need Advice? Just Ask Me.  Click the tab above to check it out.), I’ve received my first letter.  I’ll post that, and my answer, soon.