Baggage Check Live: Paprika Coming Out of One's Ears

Oct 08, 2019

Licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Andrea Bonior will be 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.

She’ll discuss her recent columns and answer any questions you may have about relationships, work, family, mental health and more.

Waiting for the chat to go live? Read Baggage Check columns.

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Hi, all! It is so nice to see you here. What is on your minds this week?

A few of you have written in about seeing me on The Lead With Jake Tapper. Thank you for the kind words. I don't want to annoy people who want this hour to be an escape from the increasingly surreal world of politics, so I'll refrain from posting too much else about it. Suffice it to say, though, that yes, the latest off-the-rails tweet yesterday made me want to say "Just kidding!" about every word I said on air. Sigh.

Onward and upward, though. What have you got for me?

I love my son in law, but he loses his temper with the two (perfect precious) grandchildren and says things like "You little s__t". It just tears at my heart but I don't feel like I can intervene. I live 5 hours away and only see them once a month. Sometimes I feel like I am the one who stresses him to this point.

I know mother-in-laws tend to get a bad rap in our culture for being too intrusive, and so it is always wise to tread carefully. Especially if you feel like you are the one who stresses him. But what you describe is concerning. Not having perfect language is one thing, but losing your temper while cursing at your kid-- and having it be a seemingly regular thing-- is a road to potential child abuse (if it's not already.) Even if it's you stressing him, that doesn't mean that your grandkids deserve to be the outlet for his frustration. What happens when he gets stressed by work, or his partner, or some jackhole in front of him at the tollbooth? He needs coping mechanisms that don't target his kids.

So, where is your child-- his partner-- in all of this? Do you think he or she is okay with these episodes? I think your best preliminary option is through there. Be as non-intrusive and respectful as possible. Be "curious" and "wondering" and "concerned" rather than telling them immediately coming down with your disapproval. Do it in a relaxed and private conversation-- and I wouldn't recommend text or email given that you don't want some record of this getting into his hands.

"Honey, you know how much I love Drew. But something's been nagging at me. There've been a few times when I've seen him lose his temper at the kids, calling them little s__ts. That really stung, and I wondered how often it happens. I know how stressful raising children is, and I don't want to overstep my bounds or add to that stress. But I also can't stand by and watch that when it happens."

A member of a chat group I participate in recently threatened another member that he might commit suicide, over a reproach for a comment (the latest of many inappropriate ones he makes, for which he's been reprimanded and even banned by moderators before). Another chatter leaped in to defuse the situation, telling the chatter not to write such things even in jest. A few minutes later the first chatter posted that he planned to keep on living. The first chatter has not been heard from since then (possibly banned again). What course of action do you recommend if this occurs again? Report to moderators? Report to local police, out of concern for his safety? Other?

Hoo boy.

First of all, let's hope that the First Chatter (aka Inappropriate Commenter) stays away for good.

There is some confusion here with the "first chatter" piece-- you used it twice but I think you meant two different people-- but I do think letting moderators know (especially if it is a big site, where the moderators have some experience) if it happens again is important. Perhaps there can even be something in the bylines where it is established that out of concern for safety, those types of comments will be taken seriously. Not meant as a threat or any type of punitive thing, but just to let people know that tossing off a joke about being suicidal is not the best course of action.

Whether to take it one step further really depends on the nature of it and your relationship. If you know for sure it is a joke (but can any of us)? then talking to the person directly about it-- as the other chatter did in this situation-- could work. But if someone threatens something with specificity or imminence-- they say how they're going to do it, or that it will happen soon-- then erring on the side of safety is crucial. I know not everyone agrees with me on this and thinks that I overreact. But suicide, sadly, has a much higher prevalence than most people realize, and a majority of those who die by suicide have given off pretty distinct warning signs-- and are not in treatment at the time of their death. Which tells me even more that there is a gap there that as friends and family and observers we can possibly do more to fill. 

I would much rather have an awkward overreaction to someone's comment than to have someone take their own life after I decided to do nothing. And hey, if the awkward overreaction dissuades them from making a joke like that again, then that's not a bad thing either! 

So this may be a bit random, but you've got a great community and I thought I maybe could get some suggestions here. My current meds are making my depression much easier to live with, but I was already carrying some extra weight and some more is creeping on. The gym gives me so much anxiety, what are some good YouTubers to try to do some gentle fitness at home? I don't want people who will yell at me...

Not random at all!

I am so glad that the current meds are helping your depression. Yeah, I get your gym aversion!

Does anyone have any non-yelling fitness gurus who have helped on their own path to increased exercise? (I've done my time with Tony Horton over the years, but I know that he can be-- like all of us-- an acquired taste!)

I also wonder if you can think outside the box in terms of hiking, climbing, dancing.... chatters, what say you?

Some of the posts most days are about people in miserable relationships. But they stay in them. If you're not happy in your marriage or relationship, and the problems are more than the the routine, manageable irritants that afflict everybody living under the same roof, why stay? Do you have any advice for making the calculation?

Well, I think the reasons why people stay are not always the reasons why they actually should stay. But it's also hard to get inside someone else's head in terms of a pros/cons list, because what may matter most to me or you may be different than what matters most to someone else. We all weight things differently.

Inertia, material comfort, not wanting to rock the boat, being scared of the unknown, imagining you can't find anyone "better," not wanting to disappoint other family members, being conflict-averse, not thinking you deserve better, not having a good visual of what a healthy relationship looks like, blaming something besides the relationship for your own unhappiness, thinking that you can change someone else, feeling guilty of hurting the person you'd be leaving..... I've seen it all. Not only do these things create barriers in taking action in leaving, but they also distort someone's lens in actually analyzing whether leaving is even the right thing to do.
I imagine there are lots of chatters who have been there, and only recognized in retrospect how toxic things had gotten, and how they wish they could (or would) have left sooner!

How can someone determine if the person who made a suicide comment did it manipulatively, i.e., in order to his own way by bullying the others?

Honestly, there's no way to know for sure, especially from the perspective of watching it unfold as an observer (rather than working with someone directly within a therapeutic relationship.)

And that's why it becomes a risk analysis at some point.

Try Jazzercise, seriously. The most uplifting and positive community you will find. I always feel better after.

Nice! Thanks.

I feel that way about Zumba.

Hi Dr Bonior! My in-laws are fantastic--welcoming, supportive, great at boundaries. It's my parents who are the difficult ones! They take it very personally when other people have feelings. I've been acting as the go-between for my wife so that she doesn't have to deal with my parents directly, but she doesn't think this is sustainable--she doesn't think it's good for my relationship with my parents. Do you have any general tips on how I can help my wife navigate her own relationship with my difficult parents? (btw I'm so happy you're still here!)

Well, I think I need to hear more about what your wife actually does want here. We know what she doesn't want-- and it sounds totally understandable-- but what is she actually after? A somewhat close relationship with your parents where she learns to accept some of their nonsense and draw her own boundaries around it? A way of not dealing with them at all that doesn't have to involve you?

A magic wand that turns your parents into entirely different people?

In terms of general tips, it really is about establishing her own boundaries-- from ways of exiting conversations that have gone bad, to speaking up for herself when she feels invalidated, to getting time and space away from them when it is needed. But without knowing exactly what she's after-- and the specifics of what they do to thwart that-- then I can' tell you exactly what that will look like. Are you still out there?

Have any other chatters dealt with this?

...has already done damage. That's verbal abuse, and I'm pessimistic about how much a parenting class could do. How could anyone think this is OK parenting? Heartbreaking.

I share your concern, though I do think that tone matters a bit. I can imagine a pretty sizeable difference between someone muttering this under their breath as they walk away from a situation and try to calm down versus someone screaming it at their children in the throes of a scary, escalating explosion.

In either case, though, it's not a time to remain quiet because it could absolutely get worse.

Since you brought it up. The criticism of Dr. Lee and her colleagues has been that you can't "diagnose" someone without a full workup. In most cases that would be your primary source of information about the subject. But Trump has been a public figure for 40+ years. There are thousands of hours of audio and video recordings of his thoughts and behavior. What would you learn about Trump from an interview that you don't know now?

It's an excellent point, but the way I see it, just to play devil's advocate, let's imagine that this has all been an act. An act that-- I might add-- has paid off pretty well for him and worked wonders for him reaching his goals in many respects. Suddenly, we're not looking at the same internal workings, are we?

(I must say, the way that some of this dysfunctional behavior has been absolutely embraced by a subset of people-- embraced with fervor, even-- actually is a weakness in the argument that he is truly ill. At some point, it's basic positive reinforcement at work, isn't it? Now, is the mechanism that makes people support all that, is that mechanism itself sick and dysfunctional? Without a doubt. But his behavior wasn't created in a vacuum.)

OP - I think an example or two would help here.

I was curious as well!

Getting out is not only difficult, it can be the physically most dangerous time in ending a relationship.

Yes, and that is an excellent point. I was in the mindset of generally dysfunctional relationships rather than abusive ones, but in the latter case, that's really important to remember. Caution is needed, and a safety plan and support are imperative. It is certainly easy to understand why people can be frightened to leave when realistically they could be in increased danger, and they need to be aware and ready to protect themselves as best as they can.

I'm the married mom of 3 kids, ages 16, 14 and 12--some of each sex. I'm not the mom I'd like to be thanks to an abhorrence--a tooth grinding, fist clenching abhorrence--of repeating myself. I don't get it. I don't get how a clear, polite explanation of how and when something needs to work, has to be done, or is properly done gets ignored. To me, not listening is the same as declaring that you do not love or care for the person who is asking you do to something. It is a big F.U. to the asker. I always give a clear and cheerful and polite explanation for why I'd like or need something done a certain way. I'm not barking out commands the first or even third time I ask something. For example: Please always neatly hang up the horse halters because we need to be able to locate them in a hurry, they are expensive, and they get ruined if they are on the floor or ground. Or, please make sure you wear bug spray and sunblock whenever you go outside in the summer because there have been cases of mosquito to human West Nile virus in our area and our family is particularly prone to skin cancer. Please take reasonably small bites and chew with your mouth closed. Please put on a clean shirt every morning (a problem for one son particularly), please wear deodorant every day (all 3). The results? Flung halters, sunburn and bug bites, barbarian eating, stinky teens with grimy clothing. By the time I'm saying something for the 4th time I'm in a rage. I'm throwing halters, telling them to leave the darned table and snarling through gnashed teeth to Go. Up. Stairs. And. Clean. The. Hill. Up! They're good kids, pretty hardworking, pretty polite, pretty organized, pretty normal by all metrics. I'll add that while I love my husband and he's a good, helpful, smart, kind guy who is involved with the kids and our business, he's a PhD in hard science and is definitely the classic Absentminded Professor. I'm often repeating dates, times, projects, schedules and What I Said to him too. I'm tired of repeating myself. Help.

I feel your pain-- really, I do-- but I think you are making yourself hurt more by unduly conflating two things here.

You say:

"To me, not listening is the same as declaring that you do not love or care for the person who is asking you do to something. It is a big F.U. to the asker."

And yes, I totally understand that it FEELS that way. But that doesn't make it true. There are all kinds of reasons kids and teens don't listen-- from their own minds swirling a million miles an hour to a problematic dynamic of "I don't have to listen the first time, because there'll always be a fourth time" to attention issues to tuning you out to rebel, to who knows what. But none of them indicate that these kids don't love you, nor should they be interpreted as an F.U.

That is a recipe for making yourself miserable.

That is not to say that you have to accept the situation as is-- clearly, it is leading to all kinds of frustration and is becoming a pattern that isn't working for your home. But, I would argue that your taking it all so personally is making it harder. It is being imbued with all kinds of Big Emotions that shouldn't be there, and it is getting in the way of communication and respect and an ability to be the big picture-- and it is probably elevating your cortisol level to "Warning! Meltdown Impending!" proportions.

You need a better system. It could involve positive reinforcement, charts, or even "fines" for duties unmet. There is lots of advice about this stuff online, but I'd honestly recommend a couple of sessions with a family therapist because this is so emotionally loaded and to some extent your kids (and your husband) need to understand that this is a serious, big deal to you. You're raging, they'v probably started tuning you out. You need some help in trouble-shooting that cycle.

Honestly, I wonder about you own self-care too. What you describe is familiar to every stressed-out parent-- but you deserve to have some ways of managing your emotions so that you can return to a level of not feeling so overwhelmed by all of it.

I am a teacher. I love my fellow teachers and my students, I have been here for almost a decade. We have a new principal. Last year was a mess as he came in and made sweeping changes, without consulting teachers. He is young and this is his first time being principal. Everyone was trying to give him the benefit of the doubt, as we knew that our previous administration had been too quick to say "no" to changes proposed by teachers. This year he is adding more administrative paperwork to our workload and requiring us to attend weekly meetings before school plus occasional after school meetings. It is becoming increasingly obvious that he has no respect for the experience of the teachers here. If you disagree with him about policy he reacts as if he is being personally attacked. I know of at least 10 teachers that are polishing their resumes. I am torn. This school has been a great place to work for many years and principals don't last forever. But it is barely October and I am as exhausted as if it were late spring. Teacher morale is down. We've stopped eating lunch together as we are all in our classrooms trying to manage our workload. Plus when we do get together it turns into a cloud of negativity quickly. What factors should I consider in deciding whether to stay or go?

This does sound absolutely exhausting, and stressful. And I know that "exhausting" and "stressful" can almost become a baseline in the teaching world at times, so to have added dysfunction coming from the administration is just awful.

Is there really no one in his inner circle who can serve to be a reality check? Is it worth coming together as a united front to discuss some of your concerns? You don't ask about that in particular, but rather about whether you should stay or go. But I still have hope for speaking up and seeing whether that could change things.

As for staying or going, it does come down to how negatively being in this position is impacting your day-to-day life and emotional health, and whether there is realistic hope of change.

Any teachers out there?

often one or both parent stays for the sake of the children.

Absolutely. Thanks. (To be clear, it's not always in their best interest by any stretch, but that can be what it seems like to the person at the time.)

I came from a family of shouters and a family that let it all hang out. I never doubted I was loved and I had an extremely happy childhood. This was in part because my temperament was just to wade in and join the carrying on (had a boyfriend who came from a similar family who hated it and would shut himself in his room). My father did, actually, about five times in my life shout at me 'you F___ing little girl'. One of them was when I wouldn't give him back his car keys but the rest was when I was a little girl. Did I like it - no - but I didn't take it seriously either. It was heat of the moment 'paprika coming out of his ears' as mum said (he was Hungarian). If I'd had a different temperament it would definitely have scarred me but it didn't. Some things bother some people - shouting has never bothered me - it passes me by as interference. What does bother me is someone steamrolling to try and get their way. If someone is trying to run roughshod over me or someone else that really gets me tweaked and I have a hard time reacting with poise and grace and ... get a bit shouty myself.

It's helpful to hear this take.

Of course, I think we should all take pains to substitute sugar-- or at least salt-- for the paprika whenever possible, when raising children (or dealing with anyone, for that matter!). But you do raise a good point that it's hard to generalize exactly about how things come across in any given family. Thanks.

Do any of the kids have ADHD (diagnosed or undiagnosed) or maybe something else that makes them and their listening/learning/doing style different than yours? Another thought - are any of the kids learning the habits of their Absentminded Professor father?

Excellent question!

Okay, let's imagine. Unless he dropped his mask for you -- and why should he? -- how would you discern "an act" from his true thinking and behavior? And if he actually told you "Ha, fooled you too," how would you know that he's not just telling you what he thinks you want to hear? And suppose he doesn't want your help and advice, and was somehow compelled to meet you? What would you really learn? This guy controls the nuclear codes. He's not entitled to much benefit of the doubt.

Oh, to be clear, I'm not giving him much benefit of the doubt. I think it's ridiculously unlikely that it's all an act. I'm just saying, for the sake of argument, that that would be one example of when an armchair diagnosis wouldn't just be unethical but also objectively invalid. 

And even if he was on my couch for a full diagnostic assessment, that wouldn't necessarily be 100 percent valid either. No argument there. Especially with personality disorders-- there are all kinds of tricky spots that could threaten validity.

To be clear, I have a major problem with his behavior and I don't see it as fit for the presidency. But I think that's a separate issue than what a clinically accurate diagnosis would be. (Trust me, the nuclear codes piece gives me every bit as much of the willies as it gives you.)

I have realized that I suffer from anxiety and possibly depression that is more pronounced during the time leading up to my period. I have two children (2 & 4) and I noticed this started after having them. My question is who do I see to get medication recommendations? My general practice doctor or my ob/gyn? Thank you.

It's good that you are able to pinpoint this pattern, because it will save so much time in trying to figure out the best course of treatment. I would recommend starting as specialized as possible, with your OB/GYN. They will likely have more experience in this than a GP. Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) is what we call this in the clinical psychology world-- and you are not alone.

I wrote in a couple months ago feeling really low about my mom potentially being baby crazy over the possibility of my sibling having kids. Well, I finally saw her in person and brought up that our mutual friend called her that, and she was super dismissive and said "you know I don't care if you guys have kids, he was just exaggerating." Which, yep, he does like to be Mr. Go Between and repeat stories so I have had to somewhat temper what I say because everything gets back to my parents. There is a lot of difference between just planning to make it possible to get home from vacation in case of a birth vs. losing your mind over the possibility of grandkids. Anyway I feel much better about the whole situation and wanted to thank you for such a caring response when I was feeling sad and overlooked.

I am so glad that you feel better about the situation! It is striking how much that extra layer of the mutual friend's reporting may have distorted the situation, like a bad game of telephone.

Thanks so much for writing back.

Hi Dr. Andrea, I recently found Baggage Check and I've really come to appreciate the thoughtful advice you share. I hope that WaPo continues Baggage Check online. I'm an online subscriber from the Midwest, so I'm unfamiliar with Express. I'm hoping you can help me with the parenting struggles I am current facing. My 12 year-old daughter is exhibiting a lot of classic middle school behaviors. She is pulling away from us, engaging more with her friends and is quite sensitive to anything she perceives as criticism. I've been doing a lot of reading and my understanding is that while this may be difficult for parents, it's normal and healthy. My problem is that she seems to be at the extreme end of things - she barely speaks to her father or I (her mother), when I try to interact with her she rebuffs me and she's quite defiant. I don't think she's depressed - she interacts with friends and is invited to their houses to hang out, she's involved in a sport that she really enjoys and her grades are quite good. When I talk to her about her behavior and/or how she's feeling, she says (through clenched teeth) that everything is fine. It's clearly not. Her attitude seems ungrateful and she simply isn't that pleasant to be around. I think part of her issue is that once she gets upset, she doesn't have the skills to reach out to us and/or remaining antagonistic is a defense mechanism. I'm at a loss as to how to reach her - I give her space, I try to maintain a neutral tone when talking to her, I try to focus on her and her perspective instead of focusing on me, but with no avail. I'm considering family therapy or therapy just for her. Her behavior may not be screaming out for therapy, but I feel like she needs to feel like there's someone on her side. So I guess my question is - should we try to find a therapist? And if so, how do I approach her about seeing a therapist without making it sound like she's the problem. I want her to know that we as a family need help getting along better. Signed, I'm Terrified Things will get Worse

I think it's wise to take this seriously. Not that it's not normal. Not that it absolutely indicates something is wrong under the surface. But you don't want to establish a precedent where being "quite defiant," "barely speaking" to your parents, and "rebuffing" any attempt at conversation is deemed acceptable.

Yes, teenagers (and in this case preteens) can be surly and prickly and need their emotional space. But you also have the right to have a baseline of respect and civility and prosocial behavior in your home, because once that is lost, things can go downhill pretty quickly-- especially if she's not very adept at being able to manage difficult feelings without lashing out at others (another not uncommon teenage quality!). So whether her behavior is normal or not, I think it does need to be addressed.

I like the idea of presenting a few sessions with a counselor as an opportunity for her to open up to someone who will have her back and be on her side. That you know that you both don't always communicate well about what's going on in her life, so you wanted to offer her that opportunity. If she balks with the same gritted teeth "nothing's wrong" song and dance, that's when you come in with a discussion of the fact that your interactions don't feel good to you and you want for you BOTH to be able to work on having your home feel a more pleasant and considerate place. So you could float the idea of family therapy at that point-- she may end up going along with the individual therapy as the lesser of two evils!

I hope you don't seriously believe that, because it would reflect dreadfully on your competence as a psychologist. And if you don't believe it, stop propagating that nonsense. If someone does that in a few isolated situations, it might be an act. But Donald Trump is so blatantly mentally ill, and has been behaving this way so publicly for so long, that if you don't recognize this as mental illness, you're gullible and naive to the point of being incompetent. Which i don't think you are. So stop with the "devil's advocate" BS. You're destroying your credibility.

I'm flattered you are so concerned about my credibility!

I said myself that it would be ridiculously unlikely-- not sure how you missed that. But, if we're trying to pretend that we have absolute certainty about something, then even something ridiculously unlikely needs to be entertained, since it pokes a hole in that notion of absolute certainty.

But my whole point-- which I see you missed as well-- is that we don't need absolute certainty about a diagnosis to say that the behavior is dysfunctional in and of itself.

"Her attitude seems ungrateful and she simply isn't that pleasant to be around." This is what jumped out at me, and it is problem of parent perspective. I remember being that age, and I would not have reacted well to my mother thinking that I was an ungrateful brat. Because children can tell what you are thinking, no matter how hard you try to present a careful exterior.

It does seem that it's become a vicious cycle that is perpetuating itself.

It's interesting too, now, thinking about it-- seeing that question next to the one where the parent is raging at the lack of chore follow-through but still able to see their kids in a positive light overall. Two different dynamics going on. Not saying either parents' perspective is wrong, but it does take more work to climb out of the dynamic where even being around each other more generally has gotten unpleasant.


Yes to all Andrea says - I also think having instructions up on the wall can be helpful, like you with really young kids - getting ready in the morning etc. When the halters are all in a cluster on the ground - point to the list. Some people are also just not good a procedures and pilots have pre flight checklists. This will help your husband too. And do get him in the habit of checking the calendar.

Thank you!

I see too many people staying in bad relationships because it's important to them to be in a relationship with anyone. They are afraid to be alone. As a single person it is very hard to not have a partner but I want to be in a health relationship versus to accept being mistreated.

Yes. Partner-as-place-filler because being alone is so aversive in its own right-- I think a lot of folks struggle with that! Thanks.

I also had trouble re-entering fitness after a bout with depression. I found that taking regularly scheduled gentle, slow-flow yoga classes helped me ease back into the gym by re-establishing a healthy and, for lack of a better term, "collaborative" relationship between my mind and my body.

Thank you!

A lot of people have mentioned yoga. I'm going to rapid-fire some of the exercise suggestions that we have gotten (still getting used to flying solo here without producer.) As usual, you all have really come through!

I've spent the better part of the last two years recovering from several different things. Prioritizing movement of any kind at any level for varying capabilities of intensity means if sitting up is work, then I do it as long as I can. If a walk around the block leaves me sweating, I do one and then after recovery (however long that takes) I do another. I build slowly and carefully because at this point another injury is just not acceptable - my mental health requires a lot of movement. I love Sean T. He is quite positive and friendly and funny. His instructions for proper body mechanics are good. He always has a modified person shown clearly. I'm turning 60 soon and the folks in his videos are decades younger. I modify the modifications and can't complete the number of repetitions at the speed they do, but I'm moving and building muscle. And having a good time. Try his Hip hop abs routines. I'm not sure if I built more abs dancing or laughing at myself dancing.

Laughing while dancing-- few things are better! Thanks!

I'm not personally a fan of youtube workouts, but I have liked "sets" of exercises put together by people on Pinterest or something similar. You get a similar 'guide' rather than having to plan it all on your own For a completely different idea, look into volunteering to walk dogs at your local shelter! You and the pups get exercise, you're helping a great cause, AND animals are great for mental health in general (if you already like them, obviously)

Love it. Thank you!

To the writer looking for ways to exercise, have you thought about purchasing a reasonably priced stationary bike for home? Amazon sells many varieties if you are not intimiated by doing some assembly. I found that removing as many obstacles to exercise helps me to get it done. I started slowly - literally 15 min. a day and added 1-2 minutes a week until I built up to 45 - 50 min. on really good days. The weather or traffic play no role in my exercise. Another element I added was buying a cushy seat, and putting the bike in front of the TV or alternating with a tablet/laptop with a favorite Netflix or Amazon Prime show that I can only watch while exercising. Remember, you don't have to be a champion, you just have to show up and pedal. Need an easier day? Fine. Just pedal for 20 min. and if you want to stop then, then stop. Two years later, I've lost 90 lbs, and I am smaller than I was in high school when I ran track. Consistent exercise benefits more than your mental health too. Good luck!

90 pounds-- what an accomplishment!

And great point about how the exercise itself will likely give an additional antidepressant boost. Thank you!

The meds that I take sap my energy in weird ways and I was never a really high-energy person pre-depression. So going to a gym was never something I did, but I do find I feel better when I move around. When I am not getting enough exercise via life (walking etc) I go to Gilad Janklowicz online. He is pretty goofy and I find the workouts are about the right level for my mild-to-moderate exercise-y ways. It is a mix of mild aerobic exercise with some light lifting. He has a pay channel but I think there is some free content out there too.

Thank you for the rec! I am so glad that you've found something that works to help you.

Does your gym offer yoga classes or is there a studio nearby? So many benefits physically and mentally. I've only experienced a couple of instructors, but each puts a big emphasis on 'you do you,' safe space, no big deal if you fall out of a pose, we're all learning... super helpful. I find the classmates pretty friendly, also.

Yes! I think many yoga classes can feel particularly welcoming in a way that the typical gym may not be. Thanks.

I ended a long relationship that had no big red flags, but made me unhappy because we were fundamentally incompatible. I had sunk so much time into the relationship I thought I had to tough it out until we decided to get married and then it would be easier. In retrospect, how ridiculous does that sound? My epiphany came after another conversation that left me in tears. I had resisted ending the relationship because I thought I'd be miserable, but at that moment I realized I was *already* miserable.

I'd be the last to call that ridiculous, because it's something I see all the time. I think it can be hard for people to understand just how strong that inertia can be, that idea that you just have to "get through" until some magical milestone like marriage will make things better.

I am so glad that you had your epiphany sooner rather than later!

...and mine had a temper. He prided himself on never hitting us, as his own father had, but he hollered. And yes, it scarred me. Well into adulthood, I was intimidated whenever someone raised hizzer voice at me. I assumed that if somebody was angry at me, it was my fault. PS He also called me a b_tch when I was in my thirties. He later apologized, but that was just part of the regular cycle. Eff him.

I'm so sorry you went through this. But thank you for writing, because this is an important counterpoint. No two yellers are alike, just like no two people receiving the yelling.

I hope you have been able to get some support through the years!

Is there a reasonable member of the local school board or even the superintendent to speak to? If there's no worry about reprisals these people would be able to step in.

I am not in the teaching world (well, not in the non-university teaching world, that is) so my gut feels like that could be starting a fire that felt like too much, but I might be wrong? I do like the general idea of there being someone else who could reasonably give perspective here. Thanks!

What argues strongly against that position is the numerous reports from people who know him and have worked with him is that he's much worse in private. What we see in public is his best portrayal of a rational public official.

That is true, for sure.

Too bad, though, that few (if any!) of the people who could actually do something by sounding the alarm are choosing to take a stand and do it.

Maybe consider choosing some things that are high priorities and focus on those while letting the smaller stuff go? Seriously, some people just need to learn by doing rather than being told, especially teenagers who aren't focused on long term goals like not having skin cancer ten years from now or not contracting a serious illness that is statistically rare, even if it's brutal should you be one of the unfortunate few. Not that you shouldn't remind them of the important things, but is it possible that they're tuning you out because they feel like that's just your base mode? Constantly finding something they're doing wrong that they think isn't a big deal? Deodorant, for example, is probably going to become a bigger deal for each kid once being stinky starts becoming a noticeable social deficit.

Thanks for this. It's a great point. There may have to be some prioritizing here about what battles to take on, and a possible relaxation of some standards.

I call my cats that all the time. Bad cat mommy! (just a little humor) Stay with us Andrea! You rock!

hahah Thanks.

Presumably your cats consider it a term of endearment!


SOUNDS like every 12-year-old girl's relationship with her mom, dad, or both (including my own). Mom might hate it, but nothing in her letter really sounded like anything but typical middle-schooler.

Could be.

But it did seem to go a little further than that, though. It's tough to establish some general standard, as one household's sullen defiance is another house's harmless lack of chit-chat.

Curious whether other members of your family (like siblings) were able to take your dad's temper with such equanimity.

It's a good question!

This question put a smile on my face. My paternal grandmother was difficult while my maternal grandmother was loving & easy-going. When my parents were newlyweds, my dad used to tease my mom by saying: "I don't know, Marion -- I don't have any trouble with *my* in-laws..." (thereby complimenting my mom's mom, who she adored). This is my dad in a nutshell.

Aw, that is sweet!

And it brings to mind our discussion many moons ago about how there should be a word (in English) for what those in-laws are in relation to each other....

Body project - some of their videos feature people who are not the usual 0% body fat types. I have a podcast running while I exercise so I can't speak to the tone of the instructor

Many thanks!

There's so much out there on YouTube and so many different varieties of exercises, that it's hard to make a single recommendation. If yoga is your thing, Yoga with Adriene is incredibly popular. If you'd prefer weight training, I've been enjoying BodyFit by Amy. Another thing to consider is getting equipment, depending on the resources you have available. Strongly recommend a Peloton if that's within your grasp--incredibly supportive community with a variety of instructors for different personalities and goals. Perhaps a treadmill is more your style, or a rower. The point is, there are a ton of options available for varying interests. Try some out, see what you like, and feel comfortable doing it at home. I'll say that I used to be anxious about going to a gym until I finally just went. People tend to just focus on themselves. I was happy doing that, shifting every six months to something new, until time became too much a luxury. Now I love the gym I've built at home (though I always have my eye on something else).

Wonderful advice here. Thank you!

Have you read "How to Talk to Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk"? It was life changing for me, both at home and at work (oddly enough). One quick tip - use one word reminders. I found that if I went into a long explanation of what needed to get done, my teens tuned me out. Now, for example, if they have forgotten to hang up their wet towels after showering I just say "towels" and leave them to fill in the blanks. Not perfect by any means, but it helped me a lot.

Very helpful. I've read excerpts and heard a lot of people helped by that book. Many thanks!

I hope someone mentioned that those relationship terms exist in Ukrainian.

Now I am trying to remember! (And of course when I glimpsed "Ukrainian" I thought we were going into a totally different topic with this post.)

I feel like Yiddish was mentioned, though.

I can’t remember for sure, but it might be in “How to Talk so Kids will listen...” ... it suggested that (especially with teens) DON’T overexplain. They already know why you want them to do things. So, say as little as possible: “Halters.” “Deoderant.” I do this with Mr 13 year old and it is quite... peaceful. Even if I have to repeat five times “shower.” Also, if they go to school stinky a few times, the other kids will put an end to that particular lapse....

Yes! Clearly you are not the only one who has been helped by that-- thanks!

"machatunim" in Yiddish, taken from Hebrew. You don't have to be Jewish to use it.

That's it!

Along with tone, I think age may be a big factor here too. Are the kiddos infants (aka if the tone is joking/loving they don't know the meaning of the actual words)? Teenagers/adult (with the same tone caveat)? I come from a family where I call my dog 'dumb@ss' in a loving tone often enough that he responds to it as well as his real name. My BF and regularly have conversations along the lines of, "you're a little s___" "Yes, and you love me for it" Of course, this is all done well within everyone's boundaries. Gendered swears (b__, etc) are never used, not in front of 'little ears' or other people who don't like that language.... we've always teased as a form of affection in my family, so using "$25 college words" was just an evolution as the kiddos grew up. We're also a military family, so YMMV

Thanks! Yes, so many variables in terms of how things are meant/taken-- even if they are the same words.

Can a group of you go to the school board? Get the parents to advocate? You need outside help here.

Another vote for the potential of the school board.

Getting the parents involved.... depending on where OP lives, that could be adding a wee bit more drama than they bargained for!

"Please always neatly hang up the horse halters because we need to be able to locate them in a hurry, they are expensive, and they get ruined if they are on the floor or ground." "Please make sure you wear bug spray and sunblock whenever because there have been cases of West Nile virus in our area and our family is particularly prone to skin cancer." "Please take reasonably small bites and chew with your mouth closed." "Please put on a clean shirt every morning (a problem for one son particularly)"; Please wear deodorant". Why all the "pleases"? It's almost parodic. Shorten your message: "Halters hung up!" "Mosquito repellent!" "Clean shirt!" "Deodorant!" That is not barking. It's not-nagging. They've definitely begun tuning you out.

I think we have a quorum that some excess needs to be trimmed from OP's requests. Thank you!

Layman here, but to me, at least, by now I suspect the OP has managed to implement an accurate, self-fulfilling prophecy. Imagining, "I tell you once and you do it," is simply not a realistic goal (with children or for that matter...anyone). I agree with the suggestion of therapy.

Thanks. I definitely see the self-fulfilling prophecy at play here.

I'm reading Tara Westover's "Educated." It's her astonishing story of being raised in mountain isolation by two parents who are clearly deranged, and despite being entirely uneducated (not homeschooled, NOschooled), she ultimately finds her way to college, then Cambridge University and a doctorate. For anybody having trouble dealing with routine life disappointments, her story is amazing. I nominate her to be a guest in your chat.

Thank you for this suggestion! I have not read this book, but I am the world's biggest memoir/biography enthusiast. (Not a shocker given the line of work I chose.)

To the OP - thank you for the sentence "They take it very personally when other people have feelings." A lightbulb just went off in my head as this succinctly explains why I haven't had a close or genuine relationship with my parents since about the age of 8. And why I spent my 20s trying to implement every suggestion from Hax, self-help books, and a personal therapist about improving relationships to no avail. Thankfully by my 30s I found the strength to give up, not care, and talk about nothing but the weather. Thank you for this handy reference when I need to get across the reason for a distant relationship.

I am so glad that that resonated with you! A lot of chatters helping each other today. Love it. (As sorry as I am for your years of frustration.)

I'm an overweight 65 year old woman who has been exercising for years. A half-hour or hour of exercise does not burn that many calories, but it makes you feel better (endorphins and all that). Yoga is good for that too. I go to a gym after work several days a week and I see plenty of overweight or even obese people there, and no one is giving them dirty looks.

Another vote for yoga. Thanks. And so glad the endorphins are paying off for you!

It's a great mix of cardio and hand weights/stretching, to upbeat music, with people who don't take themselves too seriously. You can also adapt it for various physical needs like a bad knee or while pregnant (speaking from experience).

Another vote!

I vote for yoga. I find the meditative aspect at least as helpful as the physical one. There are lots of YouTube videos for beginners.

Yes, for sure. A lot of people find their way to meditation by starting with yoga. Thanks!

It's great that you are looking to take care of yourself - depression can be so hard to handle because the illness actively fights solutions (medication, exercise, eating health, etc.). Definitely don't go for an activity that is going to raise your stress levels. I love yoga, and there are plenty of good yogis on YouTube - I really like Yoga with Adrienne (her dog, who shows up in a bunch of her videos, is cute). Also, don't discount walking/hiking. All you need are shoes (and if you're so inclined, podcasts or tunes that lift you up).

Another rec-- much appreciated!

YOGA!! It's great in the home - I particularly like Brett Larkin (lots of free on Youtube and paid membership) and Yoga with Adriene (also fee youtube). I'm a yoga teacher and am focusing on how yoga can really help women in midlife. It's great for the body - but what amazed me is the mind-body connection and how it goes beyond the body. A lot of people come to yoga for the physical side and find more. I'm not saying that'll definitely be the case for you - and the physical aspects of yoga are amazing. You could also check out a studio or two - they can have very different vibes from the gym.

You all really came through. And there are a ton more I may not have time to post-- but it does seem like yoga for the win.

yoga! I like Denise Austin. Am a big Jillian Michaels fan too because you see her struggle sometimes and sweat. I have found running groups quite accepting. Look for a couch to 5K group or fitness walking: many running stores offer programs like this.

A lot of people really vouch for Couch to 5k. Thanks!

Is it possible that part of the upset on the letter writer's part comes from the son in law using a curse word? I think there's been a big change in the frequency and perceived harshness of a lot of words and they may not view it the same way. My immediate family (parents, spouse, kids) curses a lot, but it's in line with a general teasing tone/no one gets upset, but I don't think I'd ever curse in front of my grandparents.

I think we've certainly seen a change in how certain curse words come across-- they've been neutralized (while other words have gotten more venomous.) So it's a great point.

That said, it seems like whatever is said is part of an angry, losing-temper moment. So it may not even matter the actual content of the words, as much as how weaponized they feel in terms of their tone. 

I'm fascinated, watching all the excuses being made for using not only abusive but vulgar language in families and toward children. But, why? I am sure those who love to talk this way will not be swayed, but I think it's important to teach our children to behave themselves in dignified ways, including in their speech, and, of course, to get respect when these kids are older, you must be giving it to them throughout their lives. Maybe an argument can be made for this being "affectionate" (though I cannot wrap my head around it), but, respectful? Maybe we can agree there.


I do think that 'abusive' and 'vulgar' can be on different axes and don't always automatically go hand in hand.... but they most certainly run the risk of overlapping in the case of OP. Love and respect, as you mention, are paramount and that's what seems to be dangerously missing in these exchanges.

You say, "I don't think she's depressed - she interacts with friends and is invited to their houses to hang out, she's involved in a sport that she really enjoys and her grades are quite good." This doesn't mean she isn't depressed. I had lots of friends and was involved in extracurriculars that I loved, plus a PT job and got good grades--but I was still depressed. I asked my mom to see a therapist, and she was like, "What do you have to be depressed about?" So, please at least offer this to your daughter. Depression can show itself as irritability.

It's an important point. Thanks. Many people-- whether kid, teens, or adults-- know just how to keep an even keel, looking quite functional and even happy on the surface, even when they're struggling mightily on the inside.

I hope your help came sooner rather than later!


Are you unionized -- NEA or AFT?

Good question!

I hope so.

OP seems to be of the mindset that if she says one thing once then IT. SHALL. BE. DONE. But, really, are most teens like that? And the things she lists are just not big deals to teens. And just because they don't do something, doesn't mean they aren't listening. They are just making choices about what is important for them. Start letting them make their own choices and living with the consequences. You can suggest bug spray and sunscreen, but then they live with the sunburn and bites. Horse halters? Have them replace them/be responsible for them. If they aren't where they aren't supposed to be and the kid misses the lesson because they are late due to missing halters, is that such a bad thing? As another poster suggests, the smell will take care of itself through normal social channels.


I know it is hard sometimes when the teens themselves don't necessarily care about the consequences-- but that's when creating a little behavioral reinforcement system may make them care more.

In our teacher training course, we are taught that you must say something three times before it is heard. It isn't personal, it's just how kids work as part of their development. When I first started teaching I had six sections of the same course. By the end of the day I had made any important points 18 times! I often felt unheard by my last class of the day, but sometimes I hadn't even told them the information yet, it just felt like I had.

Oh, man, that sounds exhausting.

I get the underlying point, though I think there is an important variable in terms of age of the child-- and whether you are trying to wrangle a whole class versus give your child individual instructions.

Is it harsh to say that the kids aren't listening to mom because there aren't any consequences, other than yelling that they can tune out? Horse halters aren't hung up? OK, you don't get to ride the horse today No bug spray? Enjoy your itching No sun screen? Enjoy your sunburn, or if you're truly worried about long term health: Enjoy staying inside today Dinner starts at X time and you will not be fed unless you're clean and at the table As mentioned by other chatters, the hygiene issues will work themselves out through their peers. Is this too harsh?

I don't think it's too harsh. I think that whole line of exploration-- how do I create real-world consequences that motivate my kids to take more responsibility-- is worth looking into. Thanks!

Sending lots of good thoughts your way! I had to "make peace" to find my path. (A) I had to own I am not an "exercise person", so what activity could I embrace that would celebrate being comfortable in my own skin? (B) Where was I needing enlightenment relative to the best path/source/information? My solution was to schedule a personal training session while on vacation. 1 on 1. Private. Answered my questions. The conclusion that has worked for 3 years is yoga and nature walking. Hiking felt like (to me) mileage was the goal. Nature walking was a paradigm shift in tune with my need to breathe deeply and be present in the moment. Stopping to embrace the view, observe a creature, or cleanse negative thoughts were not counter-intuitive to the activity.

Thank you! Lovely points.

OP, do you realize how emotionally manipulative this sounds? If you don't do what I ask, you don't love me. That's a nightmare for a kid.

I don't know whether OP is actually conveying that to the kids, but it is how they feel. You raise a good point that if that is being conveyed, though, it makes the whole situation even more loaded.

Got this, too. Still affects me...Sigh.

I am so sorry.

Being invalidated while you are struggling-- it's painful.

And it's something that I hope at least this little space on the Internet can help be a balm against.

It is (past!) that time again. Boo! Thanks to all of you for being here-- it was another great chat with a lot of folks helping each other.

And I almost forgot-- next week we will have another guest for the latter part of the hour! I won't usually have two guests this close together, but I am thrilled to announce that we'll be welcoming Amy Morin next week. She is a social worker and author of the blockbuster "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do." Can't wait to see you questions for her-- and of course, for the usual chat as well.

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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