Sunday, May 1, 2011

Work Hard to Live Happily Ever After

Having kids changes your relationship dramatically! Of course, you're all laughing at me right now and calling me "Captain Obvious", right? How can it not? You're more tired, the physical demands are immense, the emotional demands are even greater, there are financial strains and at the end of the day, we often don't have much left to give to our partners. Of course, kids also bring immense joy, fulfillment, fun and so many wonderful blessings!
Parents must push through all of those blessings and burdens and prioritize time with each other. Taking care of your marriage is essential on so many levels that I don't know where to start.

First, modeling a loving relationship for your kids is very important. How will they ever have loving relationships if they don't know what one looks like? Next, kids need to know that the whole world doesn't revolve around THEM. When parents put each other first, the kids learn to respect adults. They learn that they sometimes have to wait and that the world doesn't operate only for them. There are others who come first. This is so important in the fight against "entitlement".

Another key reason for parents to take care of their marriages is so that their kids will feel safe and secure. When Mom and Dad are doing ok, the kids are ok. The parents are the foundation of the family. When the foundation is solid, all is well with the world!

People are living longer and healthier lives than ever before. We are raising our kids for a much shorter percentage of our married lives. Wouldn't it be great if at the time our kids are all launched that we are so excited to travel and enjoy spending time alone again with our spouses? To me, that's the ultimate goal!!

The road to that goal isn't always easy. In fact, it can be a pretty bumpy road at times. That's true for most couples. The key is commitment. You don't leave when the going gets tough, you stay and work hard. That's the message I hope you want to teach your kids, as well, as benefit from yourself.

So, treat yourself to the marriage of your dreams and give your kids 1,000,000 gifts in the process!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

To Spank or Not to Spank?

Les Brown's radio show had many people call in this week about the merits of spanking and, of course, those on the other side of the debate as well. Good Morning America reported this morning that 20 states in the U.S. still allow corporal punishment in schools. Parents sign a consent at the beginning of the school year and then have no recourse when their kids come home from school with bruises and severe markings on their rear-ends from being punished by their teachers, coaches, etc...



Whew! I needed to get that out! My goal every day when I wake up is to teach parents skills in raising their kids that those kids will then learn from and become amazing adults as a result.

When is spanking ever applicable in adult life? When our bosses annoy us do we get to spank them? When our roommates in college don't do their dishes do we get to spank them? When our neighbors let their dogs poop on our lawns do we get to spank them? NO!!! So, what could our kids possibly be learning when their teachers or parents spank them? They may be learning that when we get mad we should hit! Or that using a paddle is a good way to make lasting marks on a kid's bottom. Our kids may also learn to become incredibly angry and resentful at authority figures because of the violent reactions to their misbehavior. From my perspective, these are not useful lessons, obviously.

What can parents and teachers do instead that will make a more positive impact?

When kids are acting out, they should experience the natural and logical consequences of their choices. For example, if my child is acting disrespectfully, we will leave the birthday party or she will be removed from the room until such time as she makes a different choice. I know that this sounds simplistic, but there are always 1,000 available tools OTHER THAN SPANKING that can teach our kids to behave better.

On Les Brown's radio show, some of the callers were saying that without spanking kids, they are likely to be undisciplined, entitled and poorly behaved. I beg to differ! When parents set appropriate limits and are consistent with those limits, kids grow up to be respectful, compassionate and well-behaved!

Here are a few of my favorite tools that can be used instead of spanking:
  •  Removal from the situation 
  • Loss of privileges when they show they cannot handle the responsibility that goes along with those privileges 
  • Lead them by the shoulders without a word to remind them of the toys they didn't pick up 
  • "Uh oh!" - when we need to remind them to use nicer words
  • "Respectful ignoring" so we don't encourage bad behavior
  • "Let me know when you're ready" - when they're not listening
  • Use humor to diffuse a tense situation rather than escalating it
  • Give them the words to say when they don't know how to say something respectfully 
  • ...and so many more!

 Make a point to arm yourselves with as many parenting tools as possible so as to put spanking 1,000th on your list or remove it from your list altogether!!! Remember, your kids are watching and taking notes at all times!!!




Sunday, February 27, 2011

Mother-In-Law Madness

Mother-In-Law or Monster-In-Law?

Q: How many mothers-in-law does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: One. She just holds it up there and waits for the world to revolve around her.

Mothers-in-law have historically gotten a bad rap. Why? For some the jokes are likely true, but that's not true of all mothers-in-law. Whenever I do speaking engagements and the subject of mothers-in-law comes up, the room explodes into fireworks. I've asked myself, "why is this such a hot topic?" So, I've decided to write an article and do some research on this subject.

I have been married to Jeff for almost 26 years. I'm incredibly lucky to have Terry as my mother-in-law. She's loving, supportive, non-intrusive, non-demanding and has made me feel loved like a daughter, not just a daughter-in-law. I truly admire her for how hard she works to ensure that her relationships with her kids and grandkids are filled with love and quality time together. She's also very smart and incredibly funny. She should absolutely give mother-in-law lessons! Even so, things haven't always been perfect. Inherent in the "in-law" relationship are complexities, to say the least.

I know that I'm very lucky and not everyone is. I hear stories from my clients and my students all the time about the difficulties they have with their mothers-in-law. Lack of respect, lack of understanding, lack of kindness, selfishness, demands...I'm sometimes astounded by the stories I hear. I've decided if I can write an article (and maybe a book, later on, with my mother-in-law), perhaps I can help bridge the gaps in these challenging relationships and teach some of the do's and don'ts for mothers-in-law, daughters-in-law and sons-in-law how their behaviors might be creating the difficulties.

Here are a few items from my research so far:

  • Mothers-in-law (MIL's) have better relationships with their Daughters-in-law (DIL's) when they engage in inclusive behaviors such as sharing family stories, calling her "daughter", etc... 
  • MIL's and DIL's better relationships occur when the MIL is seen as warm or sweet in personality.
  • A better relationship is associated with a good relationship with the MIL's son or daughter.
  • A better relationship is associated with the spouse displaying loyalty to the DIL before the MIL. (That one's going to cause some fights tonight!)

 There is so much more information that I will save for my article. Stay tuned. In the meantime, I'd love to hear from you about your relationships. E-mail me at  and put "mother-in-law" in the subject line. Thank you, in advance, for your input and sharing.

  Wishing you balance,





Friday, February 11, 2011

Tiger Mother Thoughts Continued

I'm going to share some more thoughts on The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua since now I have actually read the book.  Amy Chua actually allows herself to be quite vulnerable and shares even the ugliest sides of herself.  She admits the flaws in her philosophy, although, still holds on to the basic pillars of her beliefs in Chinese mothering. 

My overall reaction is sadness.  Watching Ms. Chua hold on to an argument with her daughter at all costs, including the cost of her relationship and self-respect.  To me, it simply shows stubbornness, not a cultural lesson at all.  The other impression I walked away with was that Ms. Chua experiences profound anxiety and uses her compulsivity and control of others to alleviate her own discomfort.  This, too, was a great cause of sadness for me. 

I appreciate Ms. Chua's honesty and even believe that perhaps Western parents should expect more of our kids than we do, but I do not condone her methods on any level.

This subject has been belabored in the media in recent weeks, so I will be quiet about it now.  I just thought that my previous blog post was unfair because I hadn't read the book.  I rest my case!

Wishing you balance,

Bette Alkazian, LMFT

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Bette Chimes in on the Tiger Mom

Many of you have heard about "The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother".  This is a new book recently released about "Chinese parenting" wherein parents are demanding of extreme high achievement from their children, regardless of what they have to do to get there.  The author, Amy Chua, has been under fire throughout the media for her parenting style and has been called abusive, among other things.  She was interviewed on television and then came back for another after the onslaught of media attention and outrage.  Time Magazine even came out with a cover article that asks, "Is she on to something?" 

The good news is that she's gotten people thinking and talking about parenting.  I always love that! She's raising two very accomplished daughters...who are we to argue with that?  But at what cost?

First, I have to confess that I have not yet read her book.  I am planning on it, but the buzz is now, so I thought I would chime in based upon the interviews I've heard and the articles I've read.  So, I apologize in advance if some of my information is without context or misinformed. 

Parents often tell me that the tools that I caution parents against actually work, so they're not willing to stop using them.  I always say, "I don't argue with something that works for you. It's just my opinion and everyone has to do what works for them."  However, there are sometimes unforeseen consequences of those choices that parents later come into my office and wonder how to remedy the aftermath.  I wonder what those will be for Dr. Chua and her daughters.

Amy Chua has admitted to calling her children "trash" and other insulting things in an effort to make them strong and motivate them.  From my perspective, that just creates anger, hurt, resentment and models very disrespectful treatment of another human.  Especially one that she loves!  I focus on modeling the kinds of behaviors we hope our kids will emulate when they become adults.  Calling anyone anything unkind is not a behavior I would want my child to copy.  Dr. Chua would probably argue that she hopes her daughters will raise their children in the same manner. 

Dr. Chua (she's a professor at Yale, along with her Jewish husband) has also chosen a very difficult path of parenting her children in a style that is common for Chinese families, but she is raising her children in America.  Therefore, she doesn't have the support of her community and the other parents around.  This can potentially cause her children to feel "different" and socially outcasted.

Ok, rather than judging, let's look at the aspects of Dr. Chua's perspective that may have some merit.  She says that "she is shocked and horrified at how much time Westerners allow their kids to waste - hours on Facebook and computer games - and in some ways, how poorly they prepare them for the future. It's a tough world out there!"  Herein lies the fear that motivates her.  She's afraid her own daughters will not be motivated nor equipped to handle life as adults.  I get that!  Many parents are over-indulging their kids and cushioning the blows that life hands out.  Are we crippling our kids or loving them and trusting that they'll figure it out when the time comes?  In addition, she lives in a world of achievers - being a professor at Yale is no small feat, not to mention that she is surrounded by students who all got into Yale!  She wants her own children to achieve on a similar level and this is how she has chosen to accomplish it.

There has to be a healthy place in the middle somewhere between coddling and playing taskmaster.  Dr. Chua describes forcing her 7 year old daughter to play a song on the violin over and over, through dinner and into the night with no breaks for water or the bathroom until she mastered the piece.  One could argue that this teaches perseverance and the understanding of pushing through the discomfort to achieve mastery.  Again, at what cost?  Will she grow to hate her mother?  Will she grow to hate the violin?  Will she become angry and bitter because she wasn't given the love and compassion she really needed at that age?  (At least in that situation)  From my perspective, a child can learn the same lessons, but it doesn't have to happen all in one night.  The same lessons of commitment to an instrument and perseverance toward mastery can all be taught and learned without abusive words and/or actions. 

I believe that this whole brouhaha could end up being a blessing.  Why not swing the pendulum a little more toward higher expectations of our kids, rather than overindulging them on all levels?  We can certainly learn from Dr. Chua's perspectives, however, let's keep things moderate by avoiding abusive tactics and unkindnesses toward our kids!

Wishing you balance,