Baggage Check Live: "Develop a family culture of movement and adventure."

Dec 19, 2017

Licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Andrea Bonior was online to take your comments about her advice column, Baggage Check, and any other questions you might have. These comments may appear in an upcoming column running in Express and online.

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Here we are in Week 2 already, and we've got a lot of great questions. Keep them coming! Also, with the holiday schedule, Baggage Check will not be published next week, so we will not have a chat either. So, drink your egg nog, keep your feet toasty, and cultivate some hygge (not a typo!) and we will resume in the new year (Jan. 2nd.) For now, though, ask away! 

I had a friend who went through a very ugly divorce a few years ago. My husband and I were friends with her husband too, and each of them was confiding in us & we were trying our best to stay out of it as best we could (there are children involved as well). I tried to be a supportive friend during this time. After a couple of years of my friend not showing up for coffee dates we had, or constantly checking her phone for texts from her new boyfriend, I decided the friendship had run its course and that we would quietly go our separate ways (she lives 1/2 hour away from me, so it wasn't like we were regular parts of each other's lives to begin with). All of sudden, I received an email from her -- in response to an email I had sent 2 years earlier! Her email didn't inquire about how I was doing. It just said she was looking through old messages, found this, and wondered why we weren't friends anymore. What is the kind response? I'm not interested in maintaining a friendship with her any longer but I don't want to hurt her feelings.

It's almost like a performance piece-- being two years late to respond to an email and asking the other person in that very email why you haven't had contact in two years. Oh, the irony! Of course, you had plenty of good reasons to take your leave of this relationship that had nothing to do with your inbox. Her lack of insight into her behavior and lack of showing any interest in you-- over two years and even in the email itself-- simply provide Exhibits A and B for your defense. I admire your prioritizing the kindness. And sometimes kindness involves giving someone constructive feedback about their behavior. I'll give you a break, though, not just because that's high on the awkward factor for email communication, but also because she's high on self-centeredness with the death blow supplement--being low on self-awareness. So I'd venture that even if you were to use this opportunity to tell her why you really didn't want to be friends with her anymore, she wouldn't take it in any productive way that could improve things for the future. Thus, go boilerplate. Bland, nonspecific, and civil. The only tricky part is figuring out the balance between niceties versus leading her on for future contact (so don't say "It's nice to hear from you," strange as that might seem to omit.) How about: "Yeah, it's been a long time. Looks like our lives have just taken different turns over the past couple of years! I'm in a different place now, but will always wish you the best. Hope you are doing well." Has anyone else had to seal the deal this way with a friendship termination letter? (I never get to hear how these things turn out afterward!) 

How does one carefully, tactfully - and without causing major emotional issues for the future - curb and control weight issues in kids? Our 6yo has put on some weight - to the point of the doctor mentioning it, and causing clothing issues. (Full disclosure - hubby and I are always battling the fight ourselves, and are careful to TRY to model smart choices.) Otherwise happy and healthy, my little one is an EXTREMELY picky eater so we tend to call any part of an eaten meal a victory - but it tends to be carb and fruit heavy. I’m sensitive to peer pressure and fat shaming starting early (we have already heard a few comments from classmates that make us raise our eyebrows). How can we help our child?

First, I'm sorry. About the other kids' comments, about your worries, all of it. We know that parental attitudes around food can produce so much baggage-- in either direction-- so I commend you for paying close attention to this. I'm thinking your best inroad into managing her weight would be focusing on physical activity. You don't say anything about how she likes or doesn't like movement, dance, sports, outdoor games, nature, etc. But if you don't want to turn this into a good-food/bad-food battle that might set her up for issues later on, it seems like exercise (without it being called that, and without it being viewed as connected to how much one ate or didn't eat) could be the area where you can actually effect the most change in the short-term. I also think that setting our kids up to love physical activity and not associate it with burning calories (or punishment!) can be one of the best gifts we can give them. At 6, the options are endless-- from regular family hikes to parkour classes to yoga to team sports to dance or gymnastics (though the latter can sometimes be hard on those who don't fit a certain ideal.) Even a daily walk after dinner, a weekly parent-child yoga class or a morning ritual of dancing to a favorite song can start to set the stage right. Your doctor or a nutritionist might have food advice for a picky eater who veers toward the carb-y, but in my mind the most important psychological piece is to develop a family culture of movement and adventure. Even better, that can help ensure strength and endurance and flexibility-- fitness-- even if the scale isn't always complimentary. You might already be doing this, though, so I'd love to hear more.

One of my coworkers is really difficult to work with. In fact, she's outright nasty to me at times, and will say rude comments or single me out in public. Some days are fine, but some days I feel bullied. Management hasn't done anything about it (even though this happens in public sometimes), but other coworkers have noticed and mentioned to me that she seems to exclusively be mean to me. I usually ignore it and brush it off, but it continues to happen. It has made me really paranoid and anxious at work, anticipating what she will do next, and I am worried she will somehow affect my chances at a promotion. What should I do? I've tried standing up for myself, and I want to talk to her about it but she often gets  defensive. Do I go to HR? Talk to my manager? Although I feel weird about bringing my manager into this because it may look like petty drama on the outside looking in, especially since I feel that she is being unprofessional.

But wait. How does your coworker's unprofessional behavior morph into "petty drama" if you actually stand up for yourself with your manager? It is blatant enough that other coworkers have taken notice and spoken to you about it, and I'm guessing it's definitely affecting your ability to do your job ("paranoid" and "anxious" states are not known for instilling rockstar productivity). So, bring it up. Not in a reactive, emotional way, but in a planned, measured way with specifics about actual times and examples that her behavior was inappropriate. Make it clear you are not looking for revenge or for her to be reprimanded, but rather for this obstacle to be removed so that you can do your job in peace. You absolutely deserve that, no?

While traveling abroad I found a wonderful gift for my future-brother-in-law, only to return home to discover that the engagement is off (my sibling's doing.) he's a great guy with not many friends - Should I still give him the gift, or would it only make his heartache worse?

This depends on what you're looking for, moving forward. Do you have an expectation of keeping up a relationship (in any form) with this person? Holiday cards? Facebook friendship? Occasional emails? Sharing each other's HBO GO password? I think if you are looking to make a clean break with this person, then the gift-giving is tricky, unless you were to accompany it with some sort of "farewell" type message in the card. If it just seems like a holiday gift, though, then it could set up some ambiguity about how close this person will remain with your family, or perhaps cause complications with your sister. I do think it's appropriate to send a note in some form that acknowledges the breakup and says that you are sorry to hear it, sending good wishes. But depending on the value of the gift, that could get hairy.  

There is a fairly significant age gap between me and my boyfriend of four years. He has a child in college and I am in my early thirties. I would like to have kids and after years of open discussion and self examination, he told me that he is willing to start a family with me if the alternative is losing me--though having more kids is not his first choice as he is older and thought he was done with that part of his life. My initial reaction was to not believe that it was a good idea to have kids with someone who felt like they were under duress. He was hurt by this, saying that while it's true he's not excited about the prospect (late nights, diapers, chauffeur duties) he also knows that he will love the child and be a good father. He also pointed out that I have made compromises (career and location) to be with him and this is another form of compromise, one he is willing to make for me. I suppose that's true, though it feels like a more significant compromise than the ones I have made. He is a reliable man who does half of all housework (sometimes more) and who is an amazing father already (one who was more involved with the day to day realities of child rearing than many men are.) Since he has raised a kid before, he knows what it would entail to start a family with me, which seems to be reason enough to believe him when he says he is willing to do it even though it’s not his first choice. But conventional wisdom says you should want to have kids with someone who wants to have kids with you. I could use an objective view on this—am I crazy to consider accepting his (somewhat reluctant) willingness to become a father again?

I am going to venture that no two people within a couple are exactly alike in their desire to have children, even if both of them fall into the "Yes! Absolutely" category. There's a pretty wide range there. What's missing here is the exact spot on the spectrum he's occupying between "reluctance" and "duress." You've used both terms, though there's a gaping ocean of difference between them. Also, only you know the characteristics of his personality that will determine whether this is something he'd adapt too quite well given his love for this prospective child, or something where the original misgivings he had about it-- or his feeling like it wasn't totally his choice-- will continue to eat away at him over time while he's cleaning up his sixth bout of your child's struggle with the norovirus. In other words, with some people this is a totally workable situation and with others it could spell big trouble later on. Do I think it's a dealbreaker where you should absolutely not proceed? No. But I also don't know him, so I don't know whether "I don't necessarily want it, but I'll do it" means "I'm fine" or  means "I am guaranteed to hate that we did this someday."

Take a small amount for what your like and savor it: roll it around in your mouth, enjoy the flavors and let that bite be very satisfying. In fact, eat your food slowly and preferable in company rather than bolting it in the car. We in the US have a very conflicted relationship with food - we're either good because we had cabbage or bad because we ate cake. Don't swing so wildly - savor your food as much as possible, whatever it is.

 

In response to today's Baggage check column.

Yes, this is so great! We are not the best about being truly mindful eaters here in the U.S. There is a lot of judgment and worrying and guilt wrapped into it. Truly enjoying the experience even in small doses is such a good way to fight that. Thanks for chiming in.

Please read 'First Bite' by Bee Wilson. It is great at helping us connect the dots on what creates our own eating patterns and how they get passed on though the generations - yet it is written in an engaging style with good first person stories as well as being well researched. It won't give you a formula I'm afraid but will help you with the bigger picture. Oh and - yes, getting moving with your daughter is a fantastic idea.

Thank you! I can't claim first-hand knowledge of this particular book, but would love it if this could be helpful.

What is the best way to tamp down sibling rivalry? The constant fighting between my kids is driving me batty, and I am looking for solutions that don't involve adopting one (or more) of them out. Right now we do a lot of divide and conquer, and we try and give them some one-on-one parent time so that they feel heard and loved. We also don't put up with tattle tales. But, in the last few months the crescendo of short people voices and pranks has my nerves fried.

As much as I love the idea of a lot of one-on-one time to make sure each kid isn't feeling starved for attention (and therefore even more jealous of his or her siblings), I think sometimes it can be a double-edged sword, as it doesn't provide practice for actually having to co-exist day in and day out. That's ultimately what they have to keep working on, and the more sensitized they are to it, the more they will drive you crazy. So, I would start to identify some of the variables that are at play. When are they at their worst? Do sleep, food, physical confines, temperature, and time of day play a role? Can you get them to actually talk about what they're feeling at the time and if they notice why they are being more irritable/jealous/ABSOLUTELY HELLACIOUS? (Perhaps rephrase that last part.) Can you get them to set small goals of working out conflicts or allowing this particular car ride/meal/game time to go on in peace? The more on board you can get them-- even with rewards involved-- the better. And I'd try to go heavy on the positive reinforcement, even if it seems silly ("Thanks so much for not screaming when he elbowed you!") and-- assuming a lot of the fighting is attention-seeking-- go heavy on the ignoring stuff that is not dire, not only to give yourself the ability to mentally detach but to not give them the reward of getting your attention for it. I hear you, though. This is the day-to-day trenches stuff of parenting that can be absolutely maddening!

It's that time of year - we'll all be together for Christmas, and my sister will be drinking. We don't have anything against drinking, and enjoy a glass of wine on a special occasion, but we think she has a problem. Her version of "a drink", of which she has several, is more like a giant party-size jumbo margarita glass filled to overflowing with wine. We've found empty wine bottles hidden in the house after she leaves. She has a spotty work history, but is currently working. We think it's affected her health and life in many ways, and now that our parents are older and in poor health, it's even more stressful to them. We've tried talking to her directly, encouraging her to get help, etc. but she ignores us and doesn't see the issue as "it's just a few". I'm getting anxious just thinking about seeing her, and frustrated about the stress she puts on our parents at a time when they should be focusing on herself. She's in her 50s - is it hopeless?

It's absolutely not hopeless, but you must recognize that there are limits to how much control you can exert in this situation.  That's the tough part, but it's fundamental to loving someone who has (or quite likely has) a substance abuse problem. You've tried talking to her about it, and you should still keep doing that. But until she is willing to see that she has a problem, you have a right to protect your own self from the pain and stress of this in whatever ways you choose-- limiting your visits, limiting the (overt) alcohol available in your house, setting conditions on how much you will actually watch her drink, etc. Continuing to try to support her in other ways-- encouraging her to take care of herself socially and physically, independent of the drinking-- is a way to stay connected and feel like you are at least doing something. I am sorry this is such a stressor for you.

Maybe its just me, but I'd be VERY weary of bringing a child into the world with someone who's first choice would be NOT to have one. That just seems like a recipe for disaster later on. Caring for a child can be absolutely exhausting and is full of sacrifice. People who are 1000% gung-ho about having kids can often find themselves saying "Why exactly did we do this?" later on. For someone who wasn't sure about it in the first place- it just seems like it could generate a heaping pile of resentment and anger once the going gets tough.

I totally hear you. But I also think there's a difference between someone for whom having kids is a very close second to not having them, versus someone who truly doesn't want them. I also think plenty of people who aren't 100 percent totally on board can go on to feel like parenting is the best choice they ever made. I don't really know where that prior guy truly fits, and it did seem like he had done some serious soul-searching about it (and knows firsthand what he'd be getting into.) I do think you're right, though, that the chance of later resentment should be taken extremely seriously. Thanks for chiming in!

You and your parents might consider going to Al Anon - it will help to have people to talk to who have 'been there - done that' and also it help you with seeing what is reasonable for you to do to help the situation.

This is a great suggestion. Thank you!

Hi, I'm of the introverted variety and my office mates/ bosses / significant other are very much extroverted. Every year at this time of year the pressure mounts to attend gatherings. I would rather slam my hand in a door than do this. Any tips on how to politely decline or get through the festivities if there isn't an out? Thanks

Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. And plan in advance. Thus, you choose to go to a couple of things that are most important because they matter to your significant other, or to your career aspirations, or just because they have really good spinach dip. And you communicate your inability to attend the others in a timely, respectful, apologetic manner. And you look for ways within those functions to give yourself a little break-- escape routes to the restroom or terrace or to a "phone call" when you can't stand any more small talk. Don't worry about cover stories too much, though. You have the right to determine how you spend your time, and with some collaboration and understanding of your significant other, you shouldn't have to spend this whole season wishing you were slamming your hand in a door instead!

Out of curiosity, how do you know the child in question is female? Maybe that part got edited out...

Apparently it got edited out-- IN MY BRAIN! I could swear I saw 6 year-old . But  I didn 't, actually. It was my own oversight, or  the patriarchy, or something. Thanks for catching that, and for reminding me that even after 13 years at this I may still make gender assumptions without realizing it. Sorry, everybody!

I really like the advice you gave on this question. I used to be the one hiding empty bottles (although usually beer) at my family's house. The sister will hopefully find herself in treatment or a support group for her problem, but she's going to have to come to that decision on her own. And unfortunately things usually need to get REALLY ugly in their lives before that happens.

Sounds like you are the (unfortunate) voice of experience. Glad that you presumably came out on the other side. Thanks so much for your take-- and here's hoping that her rock bottom won't be too awful.

He is not saying I hate the idea of children. He's apparently saying I love you and will have another child with you. My husband didn't want a third child and yet he is as good a father with her as with the first two (he was 41 and the youngest was almost 6). My brother really wasn't that interested in having children (he's a school teacher so gets enough of them) and told his wife either none or two; he didn't like the idea of a singleton (he's the youngest of 5). But why aren't you married yet? While having children out of wedlock is not as big a deal as it used to be the reasons behind not getting married can tell you a lot about the real state of your relationship.

This is a really interesting take on a couple of fronts. I appreciate it!

Thanks again for a fabulous chat. I love how many questions came in, and am sorry I couldn't get to all of them. Have a wonderful break, restful holidays, and I will see you January 2nd, in print and back here!

In This Chat
Dr. Andrea Bonior
Dr. Andrea Bonior is a licensed clinical psychologist and the voice behind Baggage Check since its start in 2005. She serves on the faculty of Georgetown University and is the author of the Publisher's Weekly best-seller "Psychology: Essential Thinkers, Classic Theories, and How They Inform Your World" and "The Friendship Fix.”
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