Maria’s Musings & Advice: Not His Valentine

Dear Maria,

I became friends with someone I go to church with. I appreciated his company in the months I was adjusting to being single again and to spending time alone when my daughter was with her dad. But over time he developed feelings for me that are not mutual. Our interactions have become awkward because: 1) he’s socially awkward on a good day, and 2) I don’t want to hurt his feelings.

He’s resorted to avoiding me and then sending me long emails telling me he’s sorry and listing all of the things he wished he’d said in person.

I responded to his email with a firmer response than I have mustered in the past. I reiterated that I was not going to change my feelings about being more than friends, and that I wanted him to stop avoiding me and sending long emails later. I also expressed concern that he was navigating a lot of things alone and suggested he seek the help of a professional.  I feel good about my stance and the kind way I conveyed it.

My question is: What do I do now? I want to remain kind and sensitive to his feelings. His strange behavior has strained our friendship. I want both of us to feel comfortable in our congregation, but it’s still awkward.

Sincerely,

Not His Valentine

Dear Not His Valentine,

Mutual attraction is like a sharing a sense of humor. You either get it or you don’t.  This could be a meet-cute, he hopes, with every email:

Instead, he just doesn’t get it:

He came along at a vulnerable time for you (thanks!), but you both came at it from two different directions (awkward!). What do you do now?

You’ve done all you can. You’ve been honest about your feelings, in a kind way. Your earlier fuzziness, however, unintentionally encouraged him. He focused on the little non-verbals that fueled hope that his feelings might be reciprocated. As you healed from your separation and divorce, your new-found clarity and emotional strength helped you be brave. Your reply to his email, and his reading of it, were painful moments on both sides of the screen. Yours in summoning the courage to press “send”; his in facing the truth of the written word. It was the right thing to do. There was no way around hurting his feelings. That’s a casualty of unrequited love. As you move ahead, continue to keep your words and actions in alignment with your truth. Integrity, m’dear. To thine own self be true. And all that adult-ing stuff.

You may have some grief going on, too. You may not like him that way, but his support and companionship were there for you at a critical time. This may be your work for now: to grieve this loss, and to maintain healthy boundaries with him. By doing these, you’ll come into greater alignment with yourself, and you’ll release him so that he can move on.

I caution you in your efforts to help him through this break. You mentioned that you advised him to see a professional. That could be very helpful for him; he needs to lean on other people now. Any further counsel from you runs the risk of being misinterpreted. At church, keep a kind but polite distance, and keep other people around when you interact. Hopefully the awkwardness will diminish in time. In the long run, though, it may be too much to ask that you resume your friendship. He will probably not be able to go there. If he continues to contact you via email, or you feel threatened in any way, take the necessary steps to be safe. Here are great guidelines and resources from the Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

I couldn’t find a decent break-up song that is sung from your perspective. This one was about as honest and grown up as it gets:

Congratulations on emerging from a difficult life passage as a stronger and wiser woman. That’s a happy ending!

Dear Readers: what music helps you through difficult, but necessary, losses? Let us know in the comments!

 

Dear Readers: In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.

Maria’s Musings & Advice: Is This My Big Break?

Terrifying and amazingDear Maria,

I have an opportunity to make a career change. I have been in administration and marketing for most of my career. I am not too far from retirement, but still want and need to work for several more years. I have an opportunity to get involved with an artist’s studio, leading classes, conducting workshops, and also doing art I love. I’m kinda scared. This would be a big change for me, and even though I love the work I would be doing, I feel intimidated by all I need to learn. I feel like I should be a real expert before I become a teacher. What would you do if you were in my place?

Signed,

Is This My Big Break?

Dear Is This My Big Break,

Do it.

This is something you’ve wanted to do for a long time. You’ve put in your time in a structured, reasonable, safe work environment. You have pursued your art in your spare time. If you can swing this from a financial standpoint, do it! Whoever is offering you this opportunity has seen your work, and is confident you are up to the job. Trust them.

Creating art is tricky. We put so much of ourselves into our efforts, we wonder if anybody else could ever love and appreciate our work as much as we do. Then, the funny thing is, when they do, we push away the compliment and can’t believe it could be true. But it is. This person recognizes something in you, and wants to help bring it into the world.

Here’s one way this happened for me. My husband and I saw U2 in concert in 2001, just a few months after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. We’d never seen them live. I can now tell you: Bono is one of the most charismatic performers I have ever seen. My husband said: “This isn’t a rock concert; this is a spiritual experience.” (Read Steve Braden’s take on the concert. He got it.) During the show, my heart full, I asked myself (and it’s always wise to pay attention to what you ask yourself), “What can I do with this?” The still voice within answered: “Write.” From that moment on, nurturing and developing my writing became a priority. Later, I confessed to a wise friend, “I’m drawn to Bono, but not in a romantic sense.” He replied, “What is awakened in him, is awakening in you.”

On a creative, spiritual, emotional, intuitive, however-you-want-to-describe-it level, my experience at the concert summoned my inner writer/artist. Perhaps you’ve had a similar encounter. There is a creative connection between you and this person who has affirmed your art and talent. They showed up at the perfect time to midwife your work.

And we need it! Our culture is rife with mistrust and misinformation. This darkness breeds fear. There is, however, a counterbalance of artistic expression and creativity on the rise. I’m surrounded by people who feel called to create. This movement is blessed. Our nation needs to be reminded of the “better angels of our nature” as Abraham Lincoln said. Beauty lifts us. Your creative efforts are not selfish, but a public service!

no time to think smallElizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic is all about “creative living beyond fear.” Creativity invites us into the unknown, so fear is a natural response. Fear protects us from harm, but it can also immobilize us. Elizabeth Gilbert suggests that we view fear as a companion on the creative journey. Fear gets to come along for the ride, but it doesn’t get to drive, read the map, fiddle with the radio, etc. “Above all else,” she tells her “dear old familiar friend [fear], you are absolutely forbidden to drive. Then we head off together—me and creativity and fear side by side by side forever—advancing once more into the terrifying but marvelous terrain of unknown outcome.” Dig into her book for directive permission to make this change.

If you expect to be fearless in this creative endeavor, cut it out. Courage is fear that has said its prayers. That might be where you are. Say your prayers, and walk into your new life. We’ll thank you for it.

courage-is-fear-that-has-said-its-prayers-dorothy-bernard-53-20-85

Dear Readers: In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.

Maria’s Musings & Advice: No Complaints!

wpid-IMAG0889.jpgDear Maria,

A friend of mine complains a lot. She talks about problems at work, with her husband, even little stuff like bad hair days or when her computer locks up. I try to bring up more pleasant topics, like movies or a break in the weather, but she ends up gossiping about an actor, or predicting that more winter is on the way. I’ve gotten to the point where I avoid her calls, or seeing her. What can I do to help my friend cheer up?

Signed,

Get Over It

Dear Get Over It,

There’s a lot of this going around these days. I wonder what’s behind your friend’s attitude—was she always like this? Or has she slipped into a rut of negative thinking? If she’s recently turned to the dark side, you might say: “Dear One, I’ve noticed lately that you’ve been dealing with a lot of junk. Things are really getting to you. What’s really going on? Maybe we can come up with some ways to help make things easier for you.” There could be some deeper issues at work—grief, fatigue, hormonal changes, feeling restless or bored, financial concerns, for example—that she hasn’t discussed. Underlying stressors like these make it harder to take day-to-day annoyances in stride. Try to dig down to what’s going on under her crabbiness, and if she can process some of her feelings with you, things may lighten up.

If your friend has always been this way, however, you may be the one who has changed. Perhaps you were going through a stressful time when you met your friend, and she was a willing sounding board for your complaints. Misery loves company, the old saying goes. Did the two of you enjoy good b**ch sessions? For me, there was a time when I based friendship on shared criticism. That is, we hated the same people, music, movies, politics, etc. Bonding was about complaining together. If someone didn’t share my snarky or cynical take on things, I didn’t make much effort to get to know them.

Then, when adulting set in, as a wife and parent, so did the anxiety. I mentally rehearsed, over and over, exactly what I didn’t want to happen. Stuck in that rut, conversations with close friends became dumping grounds for my frustrations, anger, or regret. Somewhere in my middle age-ness, I realized that focusing on the negative wasn’t really helping me, or those I loved, very much. Worry disturbed my sleep, and the dark imaginings of “What if?” just created more anxiety. With the help of some counseling and spiritual practice, I’m now aware of this pattern of thinking and can make better choices about where I focus my attention. I sleep better these days. It’s easier to let life’s slights go. It takes practice, but things are getting better. The power of positive thinking, a phrase I once sneered at, is true. You get what you’re looking for.

Perhaps you’ve experienced a similar shift of your own. You’re bothered by your friend’s complaining, but deep down, there’s growing awareness that a relationship that once fit no longer does. There’s a mix of sadness, impatience, and powerlessness underneath your frustration with your friend. These are symptoms of personal growth. Be patient with your feelings. Maybe the space you’ve put between you is what you need right now. You don’t have to take what she’s dumping. In the end, our one obligation is to be kind to each other. Be kind to your friend, and to yourself. Focus on the good in you, and in her. See where that leads.

 

Dear Readers: In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.

Maria’s Musings & Advice: Hiding Out

Dear Maria,

These days, I’m staying away from friends who don’t share my political views. It used to be okay to hang out with these people, but now everyone is on edge. It’s just easier to not see them than being in a conversation that might get ugly. Is it okay for me to avoid these people? I feel bad, but relieved, when I do.

Signed,

Hiding Out

Dear Hiding Out,

There’s an old saying about not talking politics or religion if you want to enjoy a conversation. Who knows when that phrase was coined, but it seems relevant now more than ever. We’re all weary from a vitriolic, divisive campaign, and the business of governance seems to have lost the civility it once had. Kind of like the get-togethers with friends—there was a time when you could agree to disagree. Now, hot button issues are front and center for many people. It’s hard to be with people who don’t share our views. We can avoid the tension by avoiding them. I understand, and have done it, too.

The way I see it, there are people we cannot avoid, like coworkers and family, and those we can, like neighbors and friends. At work and with family, focus on what you have in common rather than what sets you apart. Perhaps some of your anxiety comes from pre-interaction dread. Do an end run around potentially tense conversations by bringing up safe topics. If you feel trapped in any situation, consider my earlier advice to a letter writer with a very difficult mother-in-law (reprinted, below). With neighbors and friends, it’s important to keep a good vibe going, but not at the expense of your peace of mind. Be discerning about the time you spend with them, and when you do, follow the suggestions, above and below.

Whatever you decide, try not to make it an all-or-nothing proposition. Some days you’ll have the energy to risk the conversation, other days you won’t. Pay attention to your instincts and let them guide you case by case. We’re in for more turbulence ahead, I’m afraid. So, buckle up, lead with love, and respectfully speak your mind when you’re ready to engage. Take a nap when you’re not.

Dear Maria,

My mother-in-law is the quintessential thorn in my side. She says awful things about people she doesn’t know, based on her naivety, judgmental heart, and sometimes based on her racist beliefs. It is beyond difficult to see her, to do anything with her, to listen to her hatefulness (which usually comes out as a passive aggressive and arrogant). At times I offer suggestions on trying new things, she always says no. She says she doesn’t like such and such. But she never tried whatever it is, I cannot understand how a person can blow off trying things, and then say they don’t like it. How would you know if you didn’t try? I asked her as much, and then got rudely trounced on. She in effect blames me for things and presses my buttons to the Nth degree, and she is worse about it lately more so than ever. I don’t know how to reason with her.

I don’t want to be her friend, I just want to be able to not feel uncomfortable every time I have to see her, for my husband’s sake. He’s an only child, and to her, he’s still her baby. She makes everything about him, which is frustrating, because he isn’t perfect, and she acts like he is.

What is the best I can do to help this situation? Should I convince my husband to intervene? What if he refuses? Do I think more about my own peace of mind first, my husband’s? I am sure I have said some things over the years where I sounded judgmental of her with her racist remarks. Do I apologize for things said long ago? What would you suggest?

Signed,

Not Happy with Mother-in-law

Dear Not Happy with Mother-in-law,

She sounds like the inspiration for all bad mother-in-law jokes, ever. If she reorganizes your kitchen without permission, or conspires with your husband to keep secrets from you, run for the hills!

Difficult relatives are an issue in every marriage. There’s extra tension when it’s one of the moms, and your visits have become stress minefields. Your letter doesn’t give much detail on how your husband reacts when she goes on a rant, but I suspect he’s very practiced at remaining mum during the tirades. He may think you ought to behave the same way: avoid the bully and hope they’ll go away. Instead, you’ve tried to engage her as an adult. But, she doesn’t see you as a grown up, just as she still sees her son as her baby. She holds the floor because she’s the matriarch, pure and simple. There is no changing your MIL. Accept this as a given.

IMG_13091759670007Talk to your husband about this situation. Instead of enlisting his help to change your MIL’s mind, strategize ways you can make the visits more bearable. Is there an activity you can do together—play a game, go to a movie, scrapbook family photos—to take the pressure off of making conversation? If she starts in with the negative comments, leave the room. It’ll be uncomfortable at first, but keep at it. (If you both do this, you may affect some change in her behavior.) Perhaps your husband feels he’s caught in the middle. Do you both need to visit every time? Send your husband on his way and skip a visit now and then. I think part of your resentment may stem from feeling trapped and obligated. The visits are primarily your husband’s responsibility, so give yourself a break.

I consulted my friend and colleague Kenneth Pruitt for additional insights on handling racist remarks. He is Director of Diversity Training at the Diversity Awareness Partnership. He reminds us that “being firm and convicted about issues of race will cause conflict…it just will.” You’ll have to decide how much you want to engage her on these issues. As Kenneth suggests, those who are racially conscious “have to determine for themselves what their work is and what others have to work out for themselves. I may not argue with my grandmother, for example,” he writes, “but I’m sure not going to be vague about where I stand. And if that makes her uncomfortable, perhaps that’s a really good thing.” For more resources on this issue, visit the Diversity Awareness Partnership website.

Bottom line, we recommend that you take self-care really seriously. There are some important boundaries that need to be set with your husband, and with your MIL, for you to gain health and well-being. Minimize your contact with her, and when you do visit, don’t engage the negative comments. When you’re with her, pay FB_IMG_1441171138385attention to how the sunlight streams in the window, or the song playing on the radio, or the cool drink of water in the kitchen. In other words, be very intentional about finding beauty in the moment. Work on your own head by identifying one or two things you appreciate about your MIL—they could be as simple as her tasty cherry pie, or that she gave birth to your husband. Think on these things when you think of her. Practicing appreciation can help soften how you react to your MIL, and that will bring you peace of mind. Remember: All of us are doing the best we can with what we know. Use what you know to take care of yourself.

Dear Readers: In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.

Maria’s Musings & Advice: Online Harassment

hands-typing-7Dear Maria,

I’m wondering if you have suggestions for helping your teenager handle online harassment from peers. My high school-aged kid has a former friend who regularly posts things about her on various social media sites. Sometimes it’s direct, using my teen’s name, making negative comments about her, and encouraging others to do the same. Sometimes it’s thinly-veiled, stuff that someone else may not know is about my kid, but she knows and their peers know. Regardless, it all hurts and is doing serious damage to my teen’s confidence and social life. It’s hard for my daughter to defend herself online because anything she writes in response gets shot down by this kid and their peers. As parents we can see that over the long run, the kid who is harassing our teen is on a path for self-destruction, but in the short-term we don’t know how to best support our kid.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions you have.

Signed,

Mom Who Wants to Support and Empower Her Teen Against Online Harassment

Dear Mom,

Remember, back in the day, when the circles of people our children interacted with were small? When they were little, we could easily connect the dots to who-said-what, and call on other adults (teachers, troop leaders, sitters) to help with hurtful situations. Now, teens interact on so many different platforms. The connections can be amazing, and damaging. It makes my head spin. Here are a few hard-learned insights of mine, and the wisdom and guidance of Tavi Gevinson, speaker, actress, and founder of Rookie magazine.

Tavi shares your signature sentiments, but she’s 20 years old! She’s a cultural critic and feminist advocate who’s smart, savvy, and stylish. Here’s sage advice in a Rookie magazine article on gossip. Two takeaways: One, in many cases, the gossip is best confronted in a social media-free exchange. Believe it or not, when the telephone was first invented, critics feared it would lead to the decline of civil conversation, due to the loss of face-to-face interaction. They had a point. Today, I wish teens would use the phone, not just texting or online forums, to clear the air. Two, with malicious gossip (page 4 of the Rookie article), the author suggests not reacting to the gossiper, and enlisting the help of an interlocutor, if possible. My daughter has survived a few rounds of online gossip and lies. In two cases, my husband and I called the parents of the gossiping child. It stopped immediately. In another case, school administrators intervened and counseled the students involved to dial down the drama and call a truce. Our daughter resisted the help, at first. We let her handle things on her own, until it became clear that intervention was necessary. (She was relieved when we did.) You’ll know when the time is right to step in. Plus, it’s an opportunity to model for your daughter how to take a calm stand in an escalating situation. With my maternal super audio and visual powers, I can tell there have been other instances that she hasn’t let us in on. I trust she’s handling it as best she can, and learning along the way. (Additional resources can be found through the National Center for Victims of Crime website.)

wpid-IMAG0722.jpgIt’s painful to see our children suffering. I wish I could download all my life lessons to my daughters. But, they’ve taught me that they learn best through their own experiences. What we can do is model what real friendship and love looks like, especially while they are hurting. We can listen and comfort, and shore up their strength as their own, best advocate. It’s okay to be hurt, but not to succumb to anonymous potshots. Their true self is not the broken person their critics portray them to be. For every person who doesn’t appreciate them, there are dozens who do. As moms, we’re in a key position to reflect to our children their innate goodness and worth. When I praise my daughter, she shrugs it off with, “You have to say that—you’re my mom.” But I’ll keep on praising, trusting that I’m contributing to a reserve of inner strength that will come in handy throughout her life.

In the midst of their hurt, let’s give them space, but not let them become isolated. Teens want to be left alone, but sometimes I think it’s a test to see how hard we’re willing to work to get to them. They’re worth the effort, and to be loved by people who are proud to do so. Our homes can be a haven where feelings are safe and they feel loved and accepted.

Learning to take the long view is part of adult-ing. Continue to counsel your daughter to keep her eyes on the horizon, all while offering Kleenex and hugs. Be with her while she’s hurting, but lift her gaze to the healing. Share, where appropriate, your own experiences. She may shrug it off as, “Well, that’s the way it was for you, but it’s different for me.” Still, you stand in testimony to the fact that a person can and will survive mean gossip, and emerge a better person. Our challenge and charge as mothers is to nurture our children into capable, confident adults who live with integrity. Unfortunately, that formation includes painful experiences. Check out Tavi’s powerful TED talk for guidance on self-image, and empowering young women to make their own decisions:

Thank you so much for your letter; I’m in solidarity with you, and welcome our readers’ comments. Moms, what do you suggest? What works to help your child with online harassment?

Dear Readers,

In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.

Maria’s Musings & Advice: Mom’s confounding Christmas morn

holiday_8Dear Maria,

For Christmas, my husband and I gave our teenage daughter a very nice gift. It was an iPad, something lots of people her age would like, or at least I thought. She opened the package, pulled the plastic cover off the screen, and then shoved it back in the box without even turning it on. She seemed angry about it. I was so confused and hurt. We tried to talk to her about it, and all she said was that she isn’t into electronic stuff. I let it go for a few days, then asked her about it again. She said she was disappointed that I didn’t know she didn’t want electronics. I guess moms are supposed to know everything their children want. I was so hurt. I’m glad my husband stepped in at that moment. He took her to the store to exchange the iPad for something else, or for the cash. I don’t know. I didn’t have the heart to ask. I guess she’s happy now.

I think I have two questions for you: Was my daughter being fair? And, how can I get over my hurt feelings?

Signed,

Shoulda Checked My List Twice

Dear Shoulda,

My condolences on your Christmas morning. What kid doesn’t want an iPad? I could ask my own 16-year-old about this, but I don’t want to give her any ideas.

As a fellow mom, who some years hit the mark on Christmas, and other lonely mornings sat shaking my head, you have my sympathies. It was easier to delight the girls when they were younger. In their teens, their interests seemed to change so often, It was hard to keep up, but I tried. As you did, too, mom.

Don’t be hard on yourself. I think all my readers will join me in affirming your good and generous attempt to make her Christmas Day. You have hereby fulfilled your maternal duties. At its best, a gift is freely given, and we can’t control how it will be received.

heart-handI can’t judge if your daughter was being fair. Would you have preferred that she pretended to like the gift? And never told you how she really felt? Talk about hurt—you’d be dealing with a double-whammy of disappointment. While I’m stumped as to why she didn’t want an iPad, I’m kind of impressed, too. She’s choosing against the mainstream. That kind of strength will come in handy in life. I do hope that, despite her disappointment, she said the words, “Thank you.” You can’t force her to like the gift, but you can insist she be gracious about it. Graciousness, too, comes in very handy in life.

As for your hurt feelings, I wish I could give you a hug. You’ve experienced that lonely feeling when we realize, with painful clarity, that we cannot completely know our offspring. They were born to us, and through us, but not to be us. There are parts of your daughter that will remain mysteries to you, just as there are parts of us that our own mothers will never know. That’s normal; that’s adulting. A friend of mine once paraphrased a famous quote, “The truth will set you free, but it will hurt like hell in the meantime.” This is the bitter part of motherhood. Try and accept your daughter’s honesty as part of the sweetness.

mom-and-pieTherefore, as part of your recovery, I hereby grant you permission to do something wonderful for yourself, up to and including buying an iPad of your very own. Or the equivalent in spa days, a spiritual retreat, wine, books, movies, sweaters, lunch with friends, etc. Find out what you love, what feeds your soul, and go do it. Moms tend to place ourselves at the end of the line, the last on the list, the one who never did care for pie, anyway. So, from one mamma to another, be good to yourself. Take a day off, put your feet up, and know you’ve done your best. Then, buckle up, and brace yourself for the next shocker. Believe me, it’s on its way.

In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. Let’s hear from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.

 

Maria’s Musings & Advice: No divas, please

Advent day 16 strong 1Mary, Jesus’ mother and I, we kinda have this thing. I was born on one of her feast days, and my parents named me “Maria Regina.” Over the years, I’ve come to know and appreciate Mary as an intercessor, as a friend, and as a fellow mom.

There’s a gospel passage in which a woman in a crowd following Jesus says, “Blessed is your mother,” and Jesus replies, “No, blessed are those that hear the Word of God and observe it.” Ouch. That stung a little.

Then I realized that Jesus was doing what she’d taught him. Over time, as we raise our children, we learn that the job isn’t about us as mothers—it’s about our children living their own lives. Moms run the risk of projecting onto their offspring what they would have them do. Or, they take their kids’ behavior as a reflection on themselves: “If I were a better mom, they wouldn’t have pulled that.” As our children grow, we come to understand that the story of their lives isn’t our story. When regret rears its head, we need to remind ourselves that we did the best we could with what we knew at the time. Then, we have to let go, and trust they’ll make good choices. And if they don’t, we pray and hope they’ll find their way back—not to what we would have them do, but to what is authentic and good and true for their own lives.

So, here’s Jesus out on the road saying, “No, it’s not about my mom. It’s about all those who hear the Word of God and observe it.” Mary’s whole life was not about Mary, it was about saying “yes” to being a conduit of God’s grace in the world.

When she visits her cousin Elizabeth, Mary prays the Magnificat, a lyrical expression of true humility.

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.  Surely from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty one has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” Luke 1:46

We mistake humility as pushing aside our strengths, beauty, or accomplishments. Someone compliments us, and we deny it: “It was nothing.” “This old thing?” “I got it on sale.”

Mary models true humility to us—she acknowledges her gifts, and gives the Creator all the credit. She doesn’t downplay herself, but rejoices, saying, “Look at me! Isn’t this great? Is God awesome, or what?”

Well, who does this little girl from Nazareth think she is? She boasts: “All ages to come will call me blessed.” But she doesn’t say it in the spirit of “Am I the bomb, or what?” She proclaiming: “Look what God has done for me! So of course, all will see and say I’m blessed!”

A diva might say, “Look at me, I’ve got it going on.” When divas perform, it’s not about their music, or their incredible voice. It’s about how hard they’re working, on stage, to deliver the money notes. Well, pardon me, ladies, but it’s not about your efforts—it’s about your talent. Get out of the way. Surrendering to your talent means you’ve worked hard and accomplished much, yes. But, in the end, the work prepares you to give birth to beauty bigger than yourself. And Mary was all that. Mary was no diva. Mary knew God was doing great things in her, for her, and through her.

Perhaps most comforting in Mary’s story is that her life plans didn’t change, even as the angel Gabriel presented a vision of her life to come. She was already engaged to Joseph. She’d planned to make a home, and raise children. The circumstances of her life didn’t change, and yet, her “yes” changed the world.

We are invited to a similar yes. It’s not about making bold, dramatic changes to live an authentic life. it’s about saying “yes” to our talents, to goodness and truth, right where we are. In that yes, our lives will be transformed. We are invited to be, as Mary has been called, a reed of God.  To be that through which the Great Creator flows, so that love, compassion, healing, mercy, joy, and peace will be experienced in our world. Mary held this great mystery in her heart. And she taught her son well.

I know you’re busy, but try to spend a few minutes today doing something you’re good at, that makes you happy. Let that chuckle of delight rise from your heart. Great stuff!

Take a moment to reflect:

Today I am grateful for:

My intention for today:

My to-do list for today:

In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. Let’s hear from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.

Maria’s Musings & Advice: Can’t Stand the Whining


Dear Maria,

I read through some of your past columns, and can’t stand the whining. People are petty. They should be grateful that their kids are healthy, or that they have a job, or that their biggest problem is a neighbor’s barking dog. With all the troubles in the world, some people just need to get over it. Am I right?

Signed,

Tired of First World Problems

Dear Tired of First World Problems,

Thanks for reading my column. Let’s take your question one step further and ask:  Why it is that you’ve let the petty problems of others bother you so much?

I understand where you’re coming from. Today I was on my way to do some shopping, when I heard an interview with a Syrian refugee on the radio. This man now lives in Germany. His story is heartbreaking. I felt so helpless and sad for him, and his country. Then, my judgement turned inward, as I saw myself driving a heated car on a smoothly paved road on my way to buy gifts with a valid credit card. Who am I to have this freedom and comfort, when others are suffering so? I’d been stressing about my long to-do list, while this man, separated from his home and family, with no home to return to even if the civil war ends there, pleads on national radio for comfortable Americans, like me, to just pay attention. My eyes filled with tears. My own concerns reduced, as you say, to petty.

So, you’re right: Why do we let the petty things bring us down when there are more important things to concern ourselves with? Because they are happening to us. We have only our lives to live. I suppose we are all searching for meaning, and when things don’t go our way, we can’t help but wonder why. Bonus: we live with the illusion that we have control over others, or our circumstances. “If only my boss, husband, dog…would behave better (that is, do what I want them to do), then my life would be easier, and things would make sense.” When problems arise, we dig back and blame others or ourselves for missed opportunities, bone-headed decisions, conspiracies working against us, or bad timing, etc. “If only…” starts way too many sentences.

We can easily assess another’s situation, but it’s much harder in our own lives. That’s why trusted friends, and sometimes advice columnists, offer safe spaces to sift through the issues. The answers may seem obvious to you, and the problems petty, but not to the writer. As you perused my past columns, I hope you discovered this theme: We are each, individually, in charge of our response to circumstances. We cannot control anyone else’s. So, I invite you to consider why it is that you’ve reacted this way to those who’ve written in for advice?

Maybe you’ve had some car moments like mine today, where the world felt like a nasty, chaotic place, and you lost your bearings. Maybe raging against conflict that carries an obvious solution is something you can control, when global strife feels so overwhelming. Maybe you’ve got something going on in your life that is disrupting your idea of a normal, predictable life. Or you’ve lost someone or something precious to you, and you cannot even bear the sun rising in the morning, for fear that the new day will bring with it reminders of what’s missing.

heart-handOur petty fretting and complaining may be in defense of our inner, vulnerable selves. Lashing out protects us, in a way, and holds at bay feelings like fear or grief or loneliness. “If I can fix this problem in front of me,” our inner selves say, “then maybe the world isn’t spinning out of control.” Maybe judging other peoples’ problems, or their right to feel deeply about them, helps as well.

This column has been more “musings” than “advice.” I don’t have the answers, I just offer some perspective. I hope my letter writers find something worthwhile in my responses. I hope my readers discover insights that apply to their lives even if the questions don’t. Your question was an important one to ask, and a tough one to answer. Thank you for writing.

Readers: Please add your reactions, thoughts, and responses to “Tired of First World Problems” below.

Today’s reflection from Prepare Your Heart for a Great Christmas:

December 15

The Lord waits to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you. Isaiah 30:18

The stress and anxiety of decking the halls can send us climbing the walls. Yet, the gifts, decorations and food we slave to prepare are really only faint shadows of the wonderful gifts God has given us in our talents, relationships and in creation.

Faith calls us to look at life through this lens: all is gift from God, and it’s all pretty terrific, if we just pay attention! Faith gives us the opportunity to view ourselves, others, and life (even with all its stresses), as gift. Our concerns, joys, frustrations, can be transformed.

This is the hope of Christmas. The baby born in Bethlehem brought life, innocence, potential and trust to a world hardened by death, deceit, suffering and broken dreams. Christmas means new beginnings, and hearts filled with hope.

In moments of longing or emptiness this season, remember to invite God into those feelings. God’s love will provide the nourishment you truly need to sustain you today and the rest of this hectic and holy season.

Take a moment to reflect:

Today I am grateful for:

My intention for today:

My to-do list for today:

In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. Let’s hear from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.

Maria’s Musings & Advice: Difficult People and a Coworker’s Drinking

 

Pee WeeDear Maria,

I have found myself in a situation in which someone says something either rude or insulting to me. The problem is when I defend my feelings and they respond by saying they were just kidding, now I look like the jerk.  What’s the best way to handle this?

Signed,

I Don’t Get It

 

Dear Don’t,

Passive aggressive, no? I hate when people do this, though I’ve been guilty of it, too. Humor becomes a weapon when used to mask true feelings or grievances. Rarely does it communicate these issues effectively, and often leaves the target confused and hurt, as you are. It’s a childish way of handling things. You, however, have responded like a grown-up, rather than starting an “I know you are, but what am I?” PeeWee Herman-esque exchange.

It’s not clear to me what role this person holds in your life. If it’s someone you see on occasion, ignore them and their hurtful remarks. “Consider the source” a wise teacher once counseled me. If you’re in an important relationship with them, such as a spouse or close friend, try a one-on-one approach. Instead of confronting them in the moment, ask them to meet for coffee, or write them a letter, and explain your perspective. If they minimize your feelings, what does that say about their relationship with you? Finally, if it’s a boss or coworker who is treating you this way, write down three examples of this behavior and request a meeting. Bring your notes to the meeting, and ask your colleague for a change in behavior in the future. It’s important you have a record of having addressed this issue directly with him or her. If your boss or colleague does not comply, take your concerns to HR if you wish. In all situations, keep your emotions out of it as best you can and critique the behavior, not the person. When you know you’re going to see this person, take a few deep breaths to calm yourself, and remember: what they say or do is really a reflection on how they see themselves. You’re taking good care of yourself. Keep going, even if it means removing this Don Rickles from your life.

Dear Maria,

I think my co-worker may have a drinking problem. She brags at lunchtime about the partying she does over the weekends. She showed up drunk to a company event, and though she wasn’t falling down or anything, she was slurring her words and fell asleep during a guest presentation. It’s a small company we work for, and there’s no official HR department. She’s been here longer than any of us, including her boss. We used to get along, but now she won’t answer emails I send and doesn’t get me the info I need to do my job. I can’t figure out if she’s upset with me, or if the drinking is becoming a problem, or a combination of the two. I don’t want to go to her boss because I’ll be labeled a snitch and everyone will figure out I was the one who complained. Any suggestions?

Signed,

Is it 5 O’Clock Yet?

Dear 5 O’Clock,

It’s one thing to party on the weekend, and quite another to show up drunk at work. I suspect you’re not the only one who sees this behavior, but they are reluctant, like you, to speak up. I know a little bit about dealing with alcoholics (and I welcome my readers to add their comments), and one thing I have experienced is that the rules always change. With alcoholics, you never know from one day to the next if you’re in their good graces or not. And if you do fall out of their favor, they won’t tell you in a constructive way. They’ll either passive-aggressively shut you out, or during one of these storied parties they’ll find a way to get in a few good digs or a full-blown rant against you if you’re around and they’re drinking enough.

Job-for-coffeeI suggest you separate the two issues: 1) the stalled communication; and, 2) the drinking during work hours. First, ask for a private meeting with your co-worker. Calmly offer concrete examples of communications that are going unanswered. Ask if you need to clear the air about anything. (Leave your suspicions about her drinking out of it.) Hopefully, she will be receptive, you will have a constructive conversation, and you’ll see improvement in the future. If she shuts you down, and her behavior doesn’t change, then the next step is to talk to your boss. Again, focus on the work-related concerns and see if steps are taken to help improve communication between you two. It’s important that your boss knows that you first addressed the situation directly with your co-worker.

Addressing the drinking is a different issue entirely. Interventions may not go well for the intervenor. Alcoholics function in systems that tacitly allow the drinking to go on. Those around the alcoholic accept increasingly alarming behaviors as normal. Then, a car accident, or a job loss, or a serious injury occurs. Everyone wonders, “How could this have happened?”, when the truth is they DID see it coming in the progressively sloppy actions of the alcoholic. It takes immense courage to be the one who calls out the inappropriate behavior of the alcoholic, because the intervention includes the entire system of people the alcoholic interacts with. The size of the company and the absence of an HR department give you little protection should you air these concerns to your supervisor. Have there been enough instances of suspicious behavior during work hours to merit waving a red flag at management? Are you willing to risk possibly being ostracized by your coworkers and seen as the “bad guy”? Or, are there others who’d be willing to stand with you? Do you want to engage in the drama that will surely follow a public airing of these concerns? Shining a light on your co-worker’s behavior may be the right thing to do, especially if she’s a danger to others or herself. As with most principled stands, however, there’s a price to be paid. Only you can decide if the trade-off is worth it to you.

As you mull over these questions, I recommend taking the high road and initiating the conversation described, above. Be your professional best through the process, and watch how people react: your co-worker, your boss, etc. These observations will give you valuable information about the organization, and if this is an environment you can (and want) to work in. Dust off your resume in the meantime and be open to new opportunities that come along. Her stone-walling is affecting your performance, and you can’t let that impact your professional development. Good luck!

Dear Maria,

A lifelong friend of mine is going through a very traumatic time. Her husband of 50 years died suddenly, and her daughter has been diagnosed with cancer. Now, she had a car accident and sustained pretty significant injuries. The problem? She is an absolute terror to her family and medical staff. She’s screaming at the nurses and her family. She’s mean to everyone who is trying to help. Honestly, she’s used to having things her way and has been pampered all her life. Now, no one knows what to do for her. They all try to help, and always leave angry, hurt, and confused. What can I do to help her be kinder to the people who love and care her?

Signed,

On My Last Nerve

Dear On My Last Nerve,

How much can one person take? I’m so sad for your friend. Grief is a powerful emotion, and she’s dealing with losing two people at the top of the Most Painful Losses List, if one exists. There is no how-to process with grief; we all do it differently. But one aspect of grief that we all share: we never know when the feelings will hit us. A song may come on the radio, or a clerk will use an expression our loved one used to say, or we notice while fixing dinner that we’re cooking hard boiled eggs the way mom taught us. These little, daily life reminders hit hard, the tears come, and steal our breath. For someone like your friend, who’s used to being in control, grief is a messy, chaotic, feels-like-you’re-herding-cats emotion. There’s no schedule or clean way to do it. Which is why, for many people, grief goes unresolved for years, tucked deep inside and revisited when the next big loss comes along.

On top of this, she suffers a serious car accident–another loss of control and safety. Automobiles create a false sense of security, with the airtight windows and radios. We plummet down the highway at high speed under the illusion of control. Conditions change in the blink of an eye, and accidents happen at a sickening pace: slow enough to see it coming, and too fast to stop it. Then the pain, slow healing and physical therapy, possibly. Her future is unclear, and all she may know for certain is that more pain and grief are on the way.

I’d be a bit snippy if I were in her place, too. With the heavy emotional weight she’s carrying, it’s hard to find a way to gratitude. On the up side, she has loved ones trying to help, and quality healthcare to guide her recovery. She may be, even before this traumatic time, the kind of person who has difficulty accepting help. If she’s fiercely independent, assistance in what she once did for herself is frustrating. Every act of kindness is a humiliating reminder that she’s dependent on another.

So, what are you to do? Some consolation comes in knowing that the professional staff has no emotional investment in your friend. They deserve to be treated kindly, of course, but her meanness doesn’t get to them the way it does with family or friends. They’ve cared for all kinds of temperaments, and have been trained to deal with difficult personalities. As long as your friend is being treated at a healthcare facility, she should receive the attention she needs from people who are compassionate through a thick skin.

Let that shit goAs for her family and friends, this behavior may or may not be surprising. Each person will have to figure out how much they will tolerate. A wise person once advised me to put on a “duck suit” when going into an emotionally-charged situation. Water doesn’t get to a duck. For me, the goal was to let painful remarks roll off my back and not take things personally. Perhaps you can zip into your duck suit before you visit your friend?

As overwhelming as this time is for your friend, it is also an opportunity for personal growth and reflection. Hopefully, she will find inner reserves of strength she didn’t know she had. If she allows herself to cry, her tears will become less frequent, given time. You may be the one holding the tissue box. Perhaps this onslaught of pain will teach her empathy and compassion. Sometimes the keys of life have to be pried from our terrified grasp before we find joy in surrender, and new life on the other side of loss. (Joan Didion, who endured similar losses, wrote a powerful memoir of her experience called The Year of Magical Thinking. Her reflections may encourage your friend.)

I’m so sorry your friend is such a PITA. Let her story unfold. For your part, put on your duck suit, do what you can, and let that s**t go. Hold your friend in thoughts and prayers of healing and peace. When you think of her, imagine her happy, not quarrelsome, self. No amount of fretting will help, and you can’t stand sentry between her angry barbs and the people around her. They all have a part to play, too. Their interactions with your friend are part of their stories. Let them play out.

 

Dear Readers,

Maria and her muse celebrated her birthday this week, so we revisited some past questions for this week’s column. These questions are situations that can be exacerbated during a high-stress time like the holidays. Look for a new batch of musings and advice next Thursday!

In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. Let’s hear from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.

Maria’s Musings & Advice: Sustenance for The Holidays

br-mickey-mcgrath-on-thanksDear Maria,

I write a weekly advice column on my blog. It’s published on Thursdays, and on Fridays it goes out to my readers via email and on social media. This week, I missed my deadline because of Thanksgiving and other work commitments. Have I blown it with my readers? Do you think they will forgive me?

Signed,

Thinking They’re Thinking the Worst

 

Dear Thinking,

Stop that! Of course, your readers forgive you. There’s nothing to forgive, really! Every week, you have a forum to share your support and views on many topics. Be grateful for your readers, and the wisdom they’ve shared in response.

Here’s an idea: How about sending them a quick list of things you’ve read, seen, or heard that are sustaining you as the holiday season begins?

Dear Maria,

Couldn’t have said it better myself. 😉

Arrival: The new movie starring Amy Adams as a linguist hired by NASA to translate messages received from visitors from another world. Notice I didn’t say “aliens”.  The movie raises pertinent questions regarding communications between cultures (and planets), how time works, and the intersection of our personal and professional lives. Amy Adams soft-spoken, powerful performance gives us a hero who doesn’t need violent weapons to make her point.

We Gather Together: or How to Have a Happy Thanksgiving 2016: Laura Munson, a mentor and friend, has written a warm and hopeful post about loving the people in your life whom you don’t see eye-to-eye with politically. She drills down to the heart of what matters at our gatherings, and encourages us to focus on the love. Keeping it real, as she always does.

Jon Batiste: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert’s music director and leader of his band, Stay Human, is love expressed in every note. I’m grateful Colbert brings Jon’s music to a national audience on a nightly basis.

His beautiful rendition of The Beatles’ Blackbird, performed on the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ performance on the Ed Sullivan Show (in the same theater that is now home to The Late Show), is a gentle call to arms and a lovely reminiscence of the moment a dream takes hold of the heart. Check out his new Christmas album. It’s destined to be my Christmas ’16 soundtrack. Along with…

Amy Grant’s Tennessee Christmas: The music on this Cd feels so cozy. We’re fireside with a woman who loves Christmas—a wise and warm Amy, seasoned by the season, and by life. The music is at turns intimate, melancholy, and comforting. All the things Christmas seems to be. Read the rest of my review here.

Christmas in The Kitchen with Mitzi McDonald and Keltic Reign: A warm and wonderful family holiday show now in its twelfth year. (Hmmm, 12 Days of Christmas, perhaps? A magic number.) Steve and I got a preview on the night before Thanksgiving with Mitzi and friends performing God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen for strings and piano. Glorious, good tidings of comfort and joy. Something like this:

Upside Down Apple Pecan Pie: I’m not an accomplished cook, but I can follow a recipe and handy video guide. This dish was our Thanksgiving dessert, and people seemed to enjoy it (or maybe they were being kind). Well, I liked it, and it filled the house with wonderful smells (after I remembered the cookie sheet under the pie pan). A perfect combination of my husband’s favorite (apple) and mine (pecan). I was excited to have followed through on a recipe I’d saved for someday. And TJ’s Pecan Pie filling is delish!

Garden Glow: Christmas lights delight my inner wee one. And, my mother-mind hears my little 2-year-old daughter exclaim “Yites!” whenever I see them. This lively and charming display at the Missouri Botanical Garden will warm your heart, baby, even in the cold outside.

GCB 08 coverThou Shalt Give Thanks: In The Year of Living Biblically, author AJ Jacobs gained many insights during the year he sought to “follow the Bible as literally as possible.” AJ created some personal commandments as a result of his experiment. The first: Thou Shalt Give Thanks. AJ learned the power and importance of “giving thanks for the 100 things that go right everyday, rather than focusing on the few things that don’t.”

This lesson is echoed in Prepare Your Heart for a Great Christmas.  The reflections begin on Thanksgiving, and carry us through the Feast of the Epiphany in January. Daily inspiration to help you stay sane this holiday season!

What’s helping you this holiday season? What music, movies, books, reads, traditions, displays, etc. are sustaining you? Comment below! More inspiration to come in future columns. Stay tuned!

Dear Readers: In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.