Do your mental hangups effect your children negatively? - Mothering Forums

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Old 04-05-2010, 11:28 PM - Thread Starter
 
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That's a pretty board question, isn't it? I couldn't think of a better way to word it so let me elaborate.

My SIL has a lot of social anxieties ranging from mild to severe. She is anti-social (by her definition), prone to panic attacks, and a very paranoid individual. My family all live within a block of each other. I can walk to my parents house and SIL's house in under 5 minutes. If you ring her doorbell during the day and she did not know you were coming over, she will call the police on you. She wont even look out the window to see who is there.

We both have infant daughters. My daughter is older by 9 weeks. I'm wondering if my SILs mental hangups (for a lack of a better word) will effect my niece negatively. Is it likely that she will grow up to be a paranoid individual because that is how her mom is? Some example... I've noticed that SIL will "sooth" her daughter before her daughter is even upset. If something startles SIL like a dog barking, she'll immediately grab her daughter and say, "Oh it's alright sweetie!!" when her daughter did not even twitch a muscle at the disturbance. SIL dislikes dogs, but her daughter loves them (when her mom is not around). SIL says dogs scare her daughter and that her daughter hates them. My parents have 4 dogs and babysit for her all the time. So, I think she's projecting her personal dislikes onto her infant.

Does anyone have any insight on these types of issues?

A tired mommy to DD (7/09) and loving wife to DH (08/06)
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Old 04-06-2010, 12:34 AM
 
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I can't imagine how they *couldn't* impact her. But how, exactly, it comes out in the end is anyones guess. Some people are very resillient and can grow up under extreme pressures and come out laughing. Others are traumatized by things that many of us would say are maybe not such a big deal and count them as lifes ups and downs. I'm sure with some thought, you might even be able to think of siblings like that- where they have totally different reactions to growing up in the same house. So I think the short answer is- no one can predict the future and know exactly how her mother's behaviors will impact her.

With that said, I hope the mom is seeking mental health support. If she is able to care for her daughter, I think the best you (and your family) can do is to support her and provide a place for your niece to vent and see other ways of living as she grows up.
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Old 04-06-2010, 08:48 AM
 
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Regardless of the answer to your question, is there actually anything you can do about the situation? It sounds like she has some serious issues and could probably use counseling, but what is your actual point in asking this question?

'Cause it sounds mostly to me like you just want to judge her as a mother.
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Old 04-06-2010, 09:37 AM
 
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Those kinds of major hang-ups are going to affect your niece one way or another . . . could be something as minor as just the annoyance of having to deal with a mom like that, and it could end up being something more serious, that your SIL will end up getting her daughter to fear all the things she does.

My only major hang-up is a phobia of snakes, and I haven't ever tried to get my kids to have the same fear. They know I'm scared, but they know I don't have a good reason for being scared, and they can laugh at me for it -- they're still happy to touch a snake or get up close to one's tank at the zoo (my daughter checks the tanks in the reptile house for me, so I can stay away or come closer depending on what's inside).

I can't imagine being like your SIL and actively trying to push my fears off on my kids . . . that seems very cruel to me. Does she really want her daughter to be as fearful as she is?

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Old 04-06-2010, 10:16 AM
 
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Regardless of the answer to your question, is there actually anything you can do about the situation? It sounds like she has some serious issues and could probably use counseling, but what is your actual point in asking this question?

'Cause it sounds mostly to me like you just want to judge her as a mother.
I didn't hear judgment in her post at all. I think she is concerned for her niece and wants to support her.

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Old 04-06-2010, 11:27 AM
 
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Regardless of the answer to your question, is there actually anything you can do about the situation? It sounds like she has some serious issues and could probably use counseling, but what is your actual point in asking this question?

'Cause it sounds mostly to me like you just want to judge her as a mother.
Yes, why are you asking? Of course parents' hang ups affect their children, how could they not?
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Old 04-06-2010, 11:28 AM
 
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I think any parental character can affect a child, super anal cleaning for example can really make a child wakko (seen it myself). The trouble with MOST parental personality traits is that it is hard to tell if it is a clinical problem or not. Most people wouldn't blink an eye at the parent I refer to who is obsessed with cleanliness (clean is good, right?) but her son is on the verge of getting OCD symptoms!

Anyway, the trait you describe DOES seem like she is a little paranoid and would benifit from some help. I wouldn't approach it (to her or her husband) as creating some problem in her daughter but rather to improve her quality of life. Anxiety and depression (and all sorts of other stuff) DO affect the children of adults with thease traits and the intensity of effect can vary depending on the childs personal resilance, support systems etc.

I'm sure most of us wish that we had more paitence, creativity, time or SOMETHING to improve our realtionship with our children.....and there is likely something we don't even realize that some family member thinks is AWFUL that we are raising our kids 'that' way.

From what you wrote I think she could use some help for her personaly but I've seen many new mothers without any underlying issues treat their young babies in the same way and they turned out OK.
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Old 04-06-2010, 11:57 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Regardless of the answer to your question, is there actually anything you can do about the situation? It sounds like she has some serious issues and could probably use counseling, but what is your actual point in asking this question?

'Cause it sounds mostly to me like you just want to judge her as a mother.
I can see how it might come across that way and it's really not my intention. I know my niece is too young for me to directly help her but I'd like to be able to somehow support her as she gets older. But I'm not sure how.

Growing up, my cousin had a severely dysfunctional mother. Drugs, alcohol... you name, she was on it and she was not a functioning member of society. It severely effected my cousin and to this day continues to effect him. My mom said it took the entire family to try and give him a semblance of normalcy growing up. My parents even took him in when he was in high school.

So, knowing a bit of history now.. this is really why I'm asking this question. I don't want my niece to struggle the way my cousin did, even if it might be inevitable since I'm *just* her aunt.

ETA

I'm not asking for judgments on my SIL. She is how she is, and there's nothing I can do to help her. She's made that bluntly clear in the past. I'm asking 1 of 2 things... How do I support my niece as she grows... and do you have examples of how mental hang ups effect children - good or bad. Jessy1019 had the perfect example of this with her fear of snakes.

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Old 04-06-2010, 01:27 PM
 
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I understand why you're asking, and I think your niece is very lucky to have an aunt who is trying to be proactive and cares that much. As you can tell your question also probably concerned some here because they're wondering what you have in mind to do about it.

As many have said, a) yes it will affect your niece because the personalities/ways of custodial parents (and non-custodial parents) always affect how kids develop. But WHAT the effect will be... no one knows.

What you CAN do though, and I'm a big believer in trying to be a positive influence if at all possible - what you can do is try to gently hold a mirror up to your SIL and see if she maybe notices things about her relationship withher dd when seen through your eyes that she doesn't see through her own.

Like ask your SIL questions, like "What makes you think your dd doesn't like dogs? She seems fine around them at her grandparents. What is it that makes you think she doesn't like them?" I.e. question where it seems like she's projecting and see if she can notice (if indeed that's what's going on) that maybe she's projecting and not seeing that her dd is actually fine around dogs.

That's the only example you gave but it's a good example of a dynamic that CAN become problematic. If a child isn't already fearful of something, a parent jumping and acting like that thing is dangerous or to be feared can *instill* fear in a child who might have been just fine. Maybe it's not such a bad thing to be wary of dogs, but if your SIL is also very afraid of people, communicating that to a child and possibly instilling fear there can have lifelong negative impacts on a child who might otherwise have been fine with strangers/people/crowds/ the public.

So asking her why she thinks dd is afraid may either a) give you info you didn't know that shows that maybe her dd IS actually afraid of dogs, or b) maybe it'll help her see she doesn't have any reason to think that and maybe even see she might make her daughter afraid when she isn't right now. It's certainly worth talking to her about.

Again, you never know what the cause and effect will be, and there's probably not much you can do about it except to remain loving of BOTH your SIL and her dd, as well as being a model of what you think good parenting looks like. Reasonable minds can (and do!) disagree on the definition of good parenting, but if you are a good mom and a good aunt, you'll also probably have an impact on both SIL and your niece.

Also - and I don't know if this will happen, but if it does (it's happened a lot with me and my dd), if your dd does seem to have positive attributes that your SIL feels her own child doesn't, and she says it, that is a GREAT opportunity to point out some of the parenting choices you've made and how you connect them to whatever SIL thinks is positive.

For example, my dd is already trying to organize the other toddlers in daycare at 15 months. I'm sure it's partly just her personality, but there can be other factors that influence it too. Whenever a parent in her daycare points out how she's kinda like a ringleader in the group and other babies follow her, I take that opportunity to share that we've been taking her out in the world in lots of different situations since she was 2 months old. She went to a movie premier, a fundraiser, a concert and I ran a PR event with her strapped to my back for a couple hours all between 2-3 months old. That is a parenting choice I believe in, I don't expect others to necessarily like it or do it, but I do believe it's contributed to her leadership even at this really young age and I mention it because I like it when I notice good things in other people's kids and they tell me what they think contributed to that characteristic.

That's the kind of dynamic I think you can share with your SIL if she notices things she likes about your dd. OR if she has concerns about her own child, same rule applies. Use the opportunity to share what you did differently that might help her.

Best of luck to all of you!
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Old 04-06-2010, 01:38 PM
 
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I think that a lot of people have little hang ups. (I know I have a few). I try to be clear in my own head on the difference between *my* hung up and stuff that is real. I hope by doing so, I'll miminize passing silly things along to my kids.

Does your SIL have any grasp that her issues are her own and not entirely real, or is she so far gone that she thinks all her fears are reasonable? What does your brother say about all this?

If there's nothing you can do about the parents, then as your neice gets older may be you can compassionately help her see the difference between what is reasonable caution and the kind of fear based life her mother is living. I think that for her mental health, it will be important to be allowed space to love her mother while not needing to validate her mother's fears by living her life the same way.

but everything has pros and cons  shrug.gif

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Old 04-06-2010, 02:40 PM
 
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With all respect, offering yourself as a mirror to help your SIL see her faults and/or using other people's admiration of your kids to tell them what a great parent you are and how they can follow your example probably is going to backfire with someone who is paranoid or mentally ill (or perhaps even with some people who don't have either of those problems).

I would also be careful about assuming that SIL is *trying* to make her DD fearful. I doubt that it's even crossed her mind. It's her instinctive reaction.

I grew up with an unstable, ill mother. Yes, it's really shaped a lot of who I am. Mostly in very unhealthy ways, but I'm an excellent survivor so not all bad. Mirroring her faults to her would have been a joke. I've tried to (both gently and briskly) directly ask her or tell her some things, but in her world she's not done anything wrong, and I'm the crazy one. When other people (I didn't know this until I was older) tried to get her to see that her behavior with me was not healthy, she would smile and nod to them--and then tell me that they hated me, that they said that she should spank me more, that they thought I was horrible (in otherwords, doing her best to make me distrustful of those folks, and it certainly worked).

I think you do whatever you need to do to maintain a relationship with your niece. That probably means that you may NOT rub SIL's nose in it, no matter how tempting it may be. Don't treat your DN with pity, that feels gross. (well, *I* felt gross and repulsed when I sensed that from my relatives, everyone's different). As she gets older and hopefully opens up, it's helpful to have someone else acknowledge that yes, there are some things going on that don't have a basis in reality. It'll be a fine line, there's a good chance that DN is going to end up being semi- or full caretaker emotionally for her mom. Bash the mom or start trying to be heavy handed in the criticism/correction and you may trigger protectiveness. It's going to be frustrating because you'll have to follow her lead on this.
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Old 04-06-2010, 02:53 PM
 
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my best friends mother is a paranoid schitzophrenic and let me tell you my friend is sooooo paranoid! she gets up to make sure the door is locked 3x a night! she takes showers with the curtain open so she can see if anyone is coming and she is not schitzophrenic btw.

it completely and utterly will affect your neice, im sorry to say. i would encourage your SIL to seek some help...seriously

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Old 04-06-2010, 03:04 PM
 
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aha!!! nature vs nurture argument.

basically this is the genes vs environment story.

there are two things here.

one is yes the parents affect children. the environment.

two - their own personality.

putting those things together you cant really predict what might be the outcome.

so is her dd going to grow up to be fearful - maybe, maybe not. for example - abuse. children growing up in abuse. some of them grow up to be abusers. some no way - the go the exact 180 degree opposite way. how why? we dont know right?!!!!

you cant predict. a 'scared' shy 5 year old may not be the same at 15.

your neice has all your people around her - so close to figure out herself what is going on and then choose to decide what to follow.

bottom line - you just never know.

for ex. i grew up with issues of abandonment. i wasted so much time on feeling abandoned by my mother. i had a younger bro and my mom gave all her time to him.

as i grew up and we talked she said i was always the independent one, never needing help just going along doing my thing. my bro on the other hand was extremely needed and was stuck to my mom. so all she could do was take care of my bro.

i knew she didnt love me any less. she absolutely DID NOT neglect me. she just didnt show love the way i needed to feel love. was it her fault. nope!! she had no clue. today i realise how silly it is for me to hurt where there is nothing to be hurt about. my mom was not an intuitive mom. seh had to work on parenting to be a good mom.

so see what i mean. my mom didnt abandon me. she just spent more time on my needy brother. yet i took it that seh didnt want me anymore.

on teh other hand my mil's dad was extremely depressed. she herself is v. depressed. her sons all struggle with some sort of depression. for some its a chemical imbalance for which they do some treatment. for her other sons they hide their head and wont admit to their own depression. they are v. high functioning and can hide it under a facade of jokes or anger.

the best thing about your neice is that - its not her mom only that's raising her. she has her village. DN's extended family. this is why i feel the 'village' is sooooooo necessary. what one parent lacks the others fulfill.

i would not step into any shoes. i would not treat anyone differently. i would seriously work on my thougths about this as your thoughts will act out in body language and so negate your words. you know how sometimes someone insists on something and you dont believe them?!!!!

if your SIL was raising her child in isolation then it might be a bigger problem. but she is not. and that by itself is what is going to help your DN.

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Old 04-06-2010, 03:46 PM
 
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With all respect, offering yourself as a mirror to help your SIL see her faults and/or using other people's admiration of your kids to tell them what a great parent you are and how they can follow your example probably is going to backfire with someone who is paranoid or mentally ill (or perhaps even with some people who don't have either of those problems).

I would also be careful about assuming that SIL is *trying* to make her DD fearful. I doubt that it's even crossed her mind. It's her instinctive reaction.

I grew up with an unstable, ill mother. Yes, it's really shaped a lot of who I am. Mostly in very unhealthy ways, but I'm an excellent survivor so not all bad. Mirroring her faults to her would have been a joke. I've tried to (both gently and briskly) directly ask her or tell her some things, but in her world she's not done anything wrong, and I'm the crazy one. When other people (I didn't know this until I was older) tried to get her to see that her behavior with me was not healthy, she would smile and nod to them--and then tell me that they hated me, that they said that she should spank me more, that they thought I was horrible (in otherwords, doing her best to make me distrustful of those folks, and it certainly worked).

I think you do whatever you need to do to maintain a relationship with your niece. That probably means that you may NOT rub SIL's nose in it, no matter how tempting it may be. Don't treat your DN with pity, that feels gross. (well, *I* felt gross and repulsed when I sensed that from my relatives, everyone's different). As she gets older and hopefully opens up, it's helpful to have someone else acknowledge that yes, there are some things going on that don't have a basis in reality. It'll be a fine line, there's a good chance that DN is going to end up being semi- or full caretaker emotionally for her mom. Bash the mom or start trying to be heavy handed in the criticism/correction and you may trigger protectiveness. It's going to be frustrating because you'll have to follow her lead on this.
I actually agree with much of what you said, which is why I think coming at this from a place of "she's a bad mom" or "she's trying to hurt her child" is doomed for failure (and also, neither are true from what we've been told here).

But I guess what I hope OP will take away from our posts is that there is a *range* of ways that parents see things, and *sometimes* holding a mirror up - not necessarily to "faults" as much as to a different way of seeing what that parent is doing that may or may not be good or bad, just different - DOES help some people see things a bit differently. Especially when you can help a parent see how they're doing something one way is NOT getting them the result they are hoping to get - the good result they're hoping to get.

Because I work with families for a living and MANY of the parents I work with are let's just say "significantly challenged in their parenting" (which is how I get connected with them), I actually have to spend quite a bit of my time trying to find ways to show families that they have choices about how they handle things, see things, and treat their kids. And more importantly, it's not enough to show them - we have to find ways to get them to SEE it. Which is even harder than showing, because it means they recognize it, they agree with it eventually.

I've worked with parents who not only have mental health issues, they are also experienced in avoiding professionals like me. Or they've had bad experiences and start off refusing to even engage.

As hard as OPs situation is, her SIL doesn't sound that far down the road at all. If people with even more serious concerns are capable of learning and hearing and then doing differently, why not even try with OPs SIL when she's got a lot of strengths to build on and engage her around?

The key point here is that MANY do actually change in positive ways that have positive effects on their kids. Not just because of my intervention, but because when you find ways to build relationships with people because you care about them and their kids, it's amazing what sometimes they'll let into their carefully guarded worlds.

Like I said, great moms can differ wildly on what the "right way" to handle something is. But I'm of the school of thought that if you can see a parent likely heading down a path that will cause hardship, pain, possibly trauma and other harms to a child, I believe in trying what you can to see if you can help that child's life be better, usually by trying to offer the parent ideas about how the parent can feel better.

That fact that it even works sometimes (and actually we have success far more often than we don't) is what keeps me going and makes me believe that there's never a reason not to do anything if you think a child will be significantly adversely affected by something the parent is doing. And I've dealt with some parents who've done nothing short of awful (and illegal, horrible) things to children. Those parents need much more than just what our program is offering, but we are a step in that direction and we still engage them. We believe that almost no parent truly, deep down inside, wishes harm on their kids. And that's the spirit in which we engage parents. Because every single one of us has our "stuff" and most of us want the best for our kids, but some are much more challenged than others in being able to provide it.
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Old 04-06-2010, 03:49 PM
 
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I had a church friend who was terrified of her son choking on food. SO, as old as two years old, he was still eating baby food.

When he was six, we had a church picnic. She hovered over him the whole time he ate.

At age nine, he was terrified of choking on food. He pulled his food apart into tiny peices, and took a drink of water between each bite. He lost weight, it became a complete obsession for him.

By age 11, he was in a hospital with an eating disorder.
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Old 04-06-2010, 03:57 PM
 
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These things absolutely happen. And if I was that mom, terrified of choking and terrified my son might choke, I'd want those who love me to at least TRY to help me to see that my fears might actually make something that is not as big a threat as I think it is, into exactly that big a threat or worse.

I believe in the golden rule, as most here I think do. Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you.

Many here in following that do NOT do unto others because they don't want others to do unto them.

That's not me. Some of the most profound positive changes I've made in my own life have come because someone who loves me said "Hey, do you realize that when you do _____, it has ________ effect on your life and it seems to be making you miserable? Here's what I did to stop doing ____ and start doing ________ instead, and here's the much better impact it had." Or even friends who didn't have "answers" but just noted my behavior and pointed it out to me and the effect it was having, sometimes that made a huge difference without even knowing what to do about it. Noticing it is always the first step.

That's all I'm trying to say. I don't know if anyone close to that mom tried to hold a mirror up to NextCommercial's church friend, but what if there were opportunities and no one did cuz they thought it wasn't their business or they feared the mom's reaction, when in fact trying might have made a difference? NOT that it's anyone else's fault it happened, but when you care about someone, why would you not try to show them what you're seeing or try to help them see a different path that might make them and their kids happier and healthier?

Or maybe some who knew her did try, and maybe no one was able to affect that fear she had, but another fear she also had was minimized because someone reached out to her?

To me, unless it's a toxic situation that you have to stay away from for your own health, it's ALWAYS worth it to at least try. It might make a huge difference to the parent and the child one day.

I once told a woman I was in grad school with (we were more like lunch friends, not super close) that the way she talked about her dad kinda creeped me out and that it sounded like maybe they had an inappropriate relationship. This was after a lot of lunches together, hearing a lot about him, and of course I didn't say it that simply. But I did say it. I told her exactly what was troubling to me, and offered her some ideas about how she might test out my theory. We had lunch many more times after that and she never brought it up again. Neither did I. Fast forward to 2 years later, I didn't see her much anymore but ran into her onthe street. Out ofthe blue she told me "Remember when we had lunch and you said...? Well that started me on a road and I've since realized my father's been abusing me since I was a child. Until you said that, I hadn't been able to see it, but that was the beginning. It's a long road but I needed to face it."

One lunch conversation.

You just never know what might help.
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Old 04-06-2010, 06:01 PM
 
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Because I work with families for a living and MANY of the parents I work with are let's just say "significantly challenged in their parenting" (which is how I get connected with them), I actually have to spend quite a bit of my time trying to find ways to show families that they have choices about how they handle things, see things, and treat their kids. And more importantly, it's not enough to show them - we have to find ways to get them to SEE it. Which is even harder than showing, because it means they recognize it, they agree with it eventually.
Yeah, but here's the operative difference.

You are a professional, doing this with your clients. Or, as you say later, an acquaintance/stranger making a comment. That gives you a veil or an arm's length separation and can allow people to step back and see. That is 1 million times harder when it comes to family.

I've worked in a professional capacity with troubled people and families as well, but nobody can blow you off quicker than a family member. It's more personal. More primal.
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Old 04-06-2010, 06:33 PM - Thread Starter
 
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You guys have some really awesome posts here.

I was thinking... If I was doing something that could/would be potentially harmful to my DDs wellbeing or her self esteem, I would want someone to lovingly (key word, for me) tell me. Then I could analyze my behavior and see if it really was something harmful or if the person who told just didn't understand the full picture.

I think my SIL has come a long way in the past couple of years socially. She at least attends family events now, when before she would make herself so upset that she'd be too physically ill to attend. But she shuts down very easily. She refused to talk to me for a couple months back in January because we disagreed politically. She was ready to completely shut and lock me out, even when I tried to express to her that we might disagree and that's okay, but I still love her. So, I think directly confronting her over something would be very very bad.

I struggle with maintaining the balance of not saying the wrong things around SIL so I can be in her life and my niece's life. I hope that SIL can gain some confidence to deal with the world by being around me. That sounds so pompous of me.

A tired mommy to DD (7/09) and loving wife to DH (08/06)
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Old 04-10-2010, 12:08 PM
 
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BlueWolf I couldn't totally tell from your last post if you now feel like you know how you want to proceed, but I did want to respond to Tigerchild's last post and just say 2 things: 1) I had these interactions loooong before I ever became a professional in this field; and 2) you're right that it's harder when it's your own personal family... but hardly hardly hardly impossible.

It is a good approach - if you're willing to try it - whether it's family or work or total strangers. It's not for everyone, but in a situation like OPs it is a strategy that can work (and often is the most likely to work in a case like SIL here) and the fact that it's family is NOT a reason to not try.
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Old 04-10-2010, 12:20 PM - Thread Starter
 
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LROM, I think you gave some great advice but I'm not sure how to apply it. How do you do that with someone who's made a habit (?) of behaving/reacting this way? It's so ingrained in them at this point that its apart of their personality.

This thread has made me turn the "mirror" on myself. I've really taken a look at myself and thought about the things that I might be teaching my daughter that I don't want her to learn. I've realized that being so chronically tired has made me really negative and critical. I want to change that about myself.

A tired mommy to DD (7/09) and loving wife to DH (08/06)
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Old 04-10-2010, 01:00 PM
 
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bluewolf - this is how i reach out to people. its easy to do that with friends, but hard with others where you can have misunderstanding.

its mostly work i do on myself. i focus on removing all prejudice against that person. to see that person as a mom who is struggling. to have compassion for her. compassion is the key. this means you create whatever story or whatever you need to do to feel for your SIL. to not not one iota of judgement. not easy to do, but definitely doable.

because i believe we only partly communicate with words. i think most of our communic. is unconcious body language. and if both of that comes from a place of support, the person always listens. they take note. it makes all the difference. if you speak through your heart people listen. even strangers. you dont see it as criticism.

doesnt mean though that you will always have success, that they will heed. but you do definitely leave an impression with them.

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Old 04-10-2010, 01:13 PM
 
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At least from what I've read, there have been twin studies that showed that a lot of things really are genetic. Like the eating disorder thing referenced above-- food issues can be genetic (plus-cultural). If you are talking about outright abuse or neglect, yes, that definitely affects children, no question; even if you're close to it but not quite over the line; but when you get away from those kinds of clear-cut cases, the science is not conclusive that "mental hang-ups" are anything but genetic-plus-cultural. (So for ex-- someone with genetic anxiety in a culture where thinness is valued, might become anorexic, but in another culture they might become super-religious in a cult, or something like that. Even if the parents have no food or religious issues.)
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Old 04-10-2010, 11:16 PM - Thread Starter
 
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lolar2... that really makes you think. Definitely nature vs nurture... but the nurture portion can be so different just based on your culture alone. The complexity is truly amazing when you sit down to think about it.

A tired mommy to DD (7/09) and loving wife to DH (08/06)
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