Tag: communication

This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on March 25, 2021, by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine.  

Question: I am absolutely fed up with my mother-in-law. She has spent pretty much my entire marriage to her son criticizing me as a wife and mother. My husband used to defend me more but has given up saying his mom won’t change her ways so it’s not worth the fight. Recently she called me a “lazy mom” in front of our ten-year-old. Our daughter cried on the way home and said she doesn’t want to see grandma anymore. My husband brushed it off. I’m furious as my daughter deserves to see him stick up for me (and her) and should not be exposed to that. I want to have a discussion with my husband but see red every time I start to gear up for it. How can I discuss this without making matters worse?

Answer: This is an important question to which so many can relate. You would like to not be criticized by your mother-in-law. You would like to be supported by your husband when there are problems between your mother-in-law and yourself. And you want healthy behavior about relationships and respect, to be modeled for your daughter.

Relationships with in-laws and parents are so significant. When troubled, they can be like a tormenting drip, drip, drip of a faucet or they may be like walking through a field with dangerous mines all around, always waiting for an explosion. The criticism can be at the table for every family gathering. When good, however, they can add richness to your life and the lives of your children. All your family relationships can be impacted by this difficulty with your mother-in-law. It can be helpful to see a counselor, a neutral party, to help you sort it out.

“Seeing red” when you want to talk with your husband is not getting the problem solved. Keep in mind that your goal is to help him understand what you need from him. If you go about this angrily or in an accusatory fashion, he will stop listening. Also, remember that he is in the middle. His mother may have been critical all his life, and he may feel powerless to think she can change. He will need some tools to be able to help and counseling may help the two of you stand together to resolve this.

Learning about setting boundaries is one way of making improvements. I encourage you to get a book or do an internet study on how to set boundaries or ask the counselor to help you with this. Learning to set boundaries helps you know what to do when you are not respected. The result of healthy boundaries is that slowly you will begin to gain respect. One of my favorite sayings about boundaries is “people use the people they can use and respect the people they cannot use.” If your mother-in-law can get you upset, cause you to storm out, and leave you hurting then she is the one who is in control. You can say to your mother-in-law, “I value our relationship and your time with your granddaughter, but I cannot allow you to speak to me in that way especially in front of her. Please speak to me with respect or we will need to leave.” If she continues and you allow it, she remains in control. Instead, quietly gather your things and your daughter and let her know you are leaving. No drama, no tears, just leave.

This learning process also includes evaluating those areas in which you may be contributing to the discord between the two of you. You cannot ask to be spoken to with respect unless you also speak and treat her with respect. Most often in these situations, everyone needs to do better.

Lastly, it may sound odd, but try to ignite feelings of love and kindness towards her. You can do this by looking at her life. Is she lonely, hurt, depressed; does she have needs that are not met, or were never met? People often push away the people they need most by the things they say and the things they do. Creating kind thoughts for her may help you connect with her in a more meaningful way. This takes practice, but modeling this for your daughter can have a big payoff for everyone.

Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine.

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Divorced Dad Has Disinterested Kids

 I am a divorced dad and don't see my teenage children as much as I would like due to my work requiring significant travel. We've grown apart a lot in recent months and now even when we do see each other, I feel like I don't even know what to say or ask.

This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on August 15th, 2019 by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine

Question:  I am a divorced dad and don’t see my teenage children as much as I would like due to my work requiring significant travel. We’ve grown apart a lot in recent months and now even when we do see each other, I feel like I don’t even know what to say or ask. My kids seem disinterested in maintaining a relationship with me. They often do not answer my texts or phone calls. I think sometimes they make excuses for not seeing me too. I’m looking for unique ways to help strengthen my relationship with my kids and connect again. Thanks.


What an important and difficult situation, thank you for asking about this, I am sure others can relate.  The situation sounds like you need an immediate, (take some vacation time) and go camping, fishing or anything that would give you some extended time together to rekindle a connection.  

Let’s start with communication.  Often we talk to our kids by asking yes/no questions, questions that can be answered with one word like: “How was your day?”  “Fine”  “Is Mike coming over?” “Yes.”  “Was your test difficult?”  “No.”  “Did you get your homework done?”  You know the drill.  This is not conversation, and it is especially brutal when it is on the phone.   Instead, ask the questions in such a way that they must provide more information, like:   “Tell me something about your day?” “If Mike comes over what do you think you would like to do?”  When you are engaged in what they are studying or who their friends are, your questions can be more relevant, allowing for more conversation.  Remember that conversation goes both ways.  Without burdening them with your troubles, tell them things about yourself.  How are they like you?  What was important when you were their age, or a story about something that struck you as funny.  Send them pictures from your travels.   Whatever you do, be genuine.  Teens know when you don’t really care.  Learn their favorite video games and have them also teach you to play when you are with them.  Then you can ask about what levels they have achieved, they will know you understand.  Find an app that has a game you can play back and forth, while apart.  I know a dad that always has a chess match going with his teen.  Teens also prefer texts and many don’t answer calls.  Texting a note or picture is like communicating to them that right now, I am thinking about you. 

When you are together, you will have to put in some time to plan.  Set out to make your short time together meaningful.   TV and pizza, as much a kid’s like that, do not really make for relationship building experiences.  Ask yourself; are we making memories?  Try making your own pizzas with lots of fun ingredients, or go on a hike, fishing, or roller skating.  Make some family rituals for when you and your kids are together:  like morning waffle making or bike riding.  There are a lot of ideas online.  If at all possible, take one child along on one of your travels if they are old enough to safely bide their time when you are working.  Consider adding a day to the trip to explore, and make memories.  If your teens have special events, important sport activities or a role in a play, do whatever you can, alter your schedule when possible, to be able to be there.  I have had many people say, “My father never came to one of my games”.  

It is important to have fun, make memories, it is also vitally important to be a dad who participates in the heavy lifting of parenting, when necessary.  That is why you have no time to lose, to improve those connections with your teens.  You will want them to take you seriously and to listen to you when struggles come.  One way to do this, if the situation allows, is to have a positive-parenting connection with their mother.  Parenting with two parents is no walk in the park.  Being a divorced dad, who travels for work, is doubly hard. Don’t let your work be an excuse for not being involved.   You might want to try counseling around parenting issues, which can also be done confidentially online, when you travel.  Be careful not to put your kids in the middle between you and their mother, by asking what she is doing, if she is dating, or saying things to them about her which upsets them.  Kids will naturally want to defend her, which means, you are out. 

The other night I was with family in a pizza shop. When looking around the room, I could see dads alone with kids; thinking perhaps they were divorced and it was ‘their weekend.’  One father and teenage son stood out to me, because the teenager looked over my way rather bored and forlorn.  Dad was deep in his phone as they ate, scrolling away and texting.  This went on for some time.  It occurred to me that I would not want to be sitting there either, with no company.  The message we send our children and teens, when we are constantly consumed with other things, is that they are not important.  They feel invisible to us. This is a set-up for children to develop low self-esteem, a serious and sad condition.  As parents we need to be careful of the magnetic draw of our phones and other media, when the kids are around.  The natural progression of this situation of the teen in the pizza shop is that he may pull away.  Eventually he may find more interesting company than dad.    

I hear in your question that you want better.  I’m sharing this scenario to help you to think of what other factors are in your behavior, (intentional and unintentional) which might be contributing to your children distancing themselves from you.  I wish you success, whatever you do, don’t stop trying.  Kids need us, and want us, with changing intensity throughout our lives.  As you keep trying to engage you are sending the message that you will always be open to relationship with them.

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Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine, a mental health and substance abuse treatment agency serving adults, adolescents, children and families. For more information or if you or someone you know needs help, call us at 877-888-4304 or visit our website www.healthaffiliatesmaine.com and click on “Referrals.”

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