5 Simply But Carefully Stated Sentiments for Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is a holiday you’d think pretty much everyone could embrace enthusiastically. I mean everyone has one, right? But for some people, Mother’s Day is one of the scariest days of the year. It’s taboo to talk about and so few do, but alas, some people have challenging mothers (Seriously hoping my daughters aren’t currently shaking their heads but if you are, read on.).  For years I watched my husband painstakingly choose Mother’s Day cards because it was virtually impossible to find one that didn’t call out, “You’re the best human on the planet! You made me the unbelievably successful and happy person I am today.”

But what if your mother isn’t the best human on the planet? Maybe she had her reasons, maybe she was dealt a difficult hand, maybe life just didn’t play out the way she envisioned. Maybe she isn’t Cruella De Ville or Joan Crawford but she’s also not June Cleaver or or Carol Brady or even Clare Dunphy. Whatever the story behind your difficulty with your mom, what if you just can’t bring yourself to get a card that has too much BS to be delivered? And, if your mother won’t understand sarcasm or irony, you’d be wasting your time to send her, “Have a wonderful day. I hope it’s filled with all the happiness you’ve brought to me since childhood.”

But, since you are still hanging around with your mother and you’re not ready to cut the cord entirely, you do need a card. I can help. Here are 5 things you can  write comfortably on a blank card while still maintaining your integrity. Choose one with a lovely flower or sunrise (sunset seems like the wrong message) and you are good to go on the upcoming scary holiday.

1. Thanks so much, Mom. I owe you my life.

(Because, you do, despite how it might have played out!)

2. Thinking of you today.

(Again, because you probably are, without mentioning in what context.)

3. There’s so much beauty in the world. I hope you can take some time to enjoy it.

(Totally lovely but completely skirting the icky family issues.)

4. Wishing you a very special day.

(Not saying why or in what way it should be special.)

5. Happy Mother’s Day.

(Perhaps the most simply stated of all and also totally appropriate.)

Then you need a strong closer. You can pick one of these and sign your name (first name only as, again, irony and sarcasm aren’t appropriate today) with any one of these warm closings, artfully avoiding the word love. Warmly, As always, Take care, Cheers (don’t use this one if alcohol factors in), Good wishes, Thinking of you, Most sincerely, Peace be with you, Peace and blessings, Rock on, or Truly.

Good luck. And cheer up. It’s only another month or so until Father’s Day. Maybe that one’s easier.

Peace out,

Debby

PS. Feel free to use this lovely flower if you choose to make your own card. Print it out and move on with your life!

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Is Reality That Interesting?

They say write what you know but should you write what you live? People ask me why I wrote my book as a memoir and not as a novel. “Why,” they inquire mostly politely, “did you tell the truth and not tell it as a story?” They go on to add it would have been a really compelling novel and then it wouldn’t have hurt anyone’s feelings.

For inquiring minds, here’s why. I think what makes a good true-life story is that it’s reality. Yes, I could have written my tale as a fairy tale of sorts with ugly sisters and wicked mothers but I don’t see that as nearly as gripping or as valuable as reading a fascinating story you know to be true. If I had made up the characters in my story, similar to August: Osage County, for example, they might be compelling to read about but then the reader could dismiss  them as unbelievable simply because they were fictional characters.

Reality well-written is and should be the most fascinating of all genres. Our true stories are what make us who we are and as humans many of us are on a perpetual journey to understand that. Reading about the journeys others are on helps each of us to process our own trip.

So, that’s why I chose reality. I wrote what I knew, what I lived and what I believed to be story worth reading and worth sharing. What do you think? Reality or fiction for your life story?

Family Holiday Survival Tips You Need Now

Holidays can be hell when you’re a member of a dysfunctional family unit. I know this for a fact as holidays have been challenging for us for most of the last 20 years. But, I didn’t want to dread the holidays so I’ve developed some strategies for surviving the event where you may be surrounded by people you can just barely tolerate. Here are my half-dozen  survival tips for dealing with the holiday happenings.

1. Invite some people you love. Balance the scales in favor of more people you enjoy than people who drive you up a wall. For many years we’ve opened our family celebrations to our friends when they were available. That way you can, throughout the meal, turn to your friends, roll your eyes and silently thank whomever you believe in for sending some friends your way. This works for a while. In recent years some people politely said if my in-laws were going to attend my holiday dinner, they’d prefer not to. So, you have to rotate the friends you invite in order to have new people who are up for the challenge joy of being with your extended family.

2. Learn to look the other way. When my in-laws would start fighting at the table, my strategy was to turn toward my kids, whom I adored and focus just on them. It’s like meditating where you control your mind but with the control being on your focus. Of course it helps if inside your head you keep repeating this mantra: At least I’m not as crazy as they are, at least I’m not as crazy as they are…

3. See recent movies. This is a good one. When the conversation takes a turn you know is going to go swiftly downhill and end up in  an unpleasant valley, you bring up a movie you’ve seen and be ready to launch into a five-minute distraction/dissertation about the plot, the characters, why you loved or hated it, whatever you can think of to completely derail their plan to foil your fun with misery.

4. Speak loudly. When the relatives are heading into tough territory if you can overspeak them in volume and take the talk somewhere better, to something less volatile than their personal grievances, like say politics or religion, you will be happy with the result.

5. Some holidays call for wine as part of the celebration. If yours doesn’t, you may want to consider adding that.

6. Know that the sun will set on this day and tomorrow your life will be much brighter for having done so well in coping with holiday “joy.”

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Could You Attend A Functional Family Convention? If you do these 10 things…

We become part of a family and although it’s a complex machine, we receive no instructions on how to make it work well. Much like becoming a parent, you do it and you fly from the seat of your pants. There’s no instruction manual, no how-to guide, no user guide, not even a quick-start info graphic. No wonder so many families go painfully awry!

So I thought I’d remedy that today. Here are 10 things people who appreciate family do.

1. Love unconditionally. This one seems obvious but you’d be surprised how many people don’t understand how important unconditional love is. Love doesn’t just happen, it takes work. Unconditional love means loving someone regardless of what they’re like or what they do for you. It’s loving for the sake of loving, no more, and no less. Unconditional love is a gift for the giver and the recipient. It starts with loving yourself unconditionally and grows from there.

2. Seek understanding. Notice that says, “Seek understanding” not “be understanding.” My point here is  it’s up to each person to reach out to family members to try to be understood by sharing what matters to them. Great family members want others to know them well.

3. Be understanding. Here’s the other side of the understanding coin. Understanding is definitely a two-way street. Family members who wish to be understood are often the ones who understand others well. The give and take of understanding is the foundation of any great relationship. It’s particularly acute in families where if you can’t understand each other, it’s harder to just walk away.

4. Stand and fight. Yes, sometimes conflict happens and it probably should. Chances are if you never disagree on anything in a family it’s because you’re not doing much together. Family members who interact a great deal are likely to disagree from time to time. It’s okay. Those who stand and fight can also resolve problems. Those resolutions lead to stronger bonds. So great family members don’t have to shy away from problems, they can fight and win stronger ties.

5. Forgive. Following the fighting with forgiveness is a hallmark of a healthy functioning family. Forgiveness isn’t magic. It doesn’t just happen. It’s a conscious letting-go of any resentment. A conscious letting-go. Family members who want to move on after a conflict make a choice to move forward to peace of mind. Those family members help to set others free from the pain of the conflict. This one is huge.

6. Give. People who understand the value of giving in a relationship don’t hesitate to do so. They may give time, they may give money, they may share possessions, they may give a sympathetic ear, they give what they can when they can. Giving is a way of exhibiting caring. It’s a manifestation of how a person feels.

7. Take. The other side of this coin. Giving is great but, surprisingly, taking reasonably is also terrific. (In other words, there’s a difference between taking and taking advantage which is not good.) Being able to accept, whether it’s time or help or money or advice is important. It may show vulnerability and that is a good thing of sorts. Being vulnerable means to be open to hurt. Why is that good? When people are vulnerable they are exposed because their defenses are down. In a family the walls that protect us should not have to exist.  Great family members should be comfortable with being somewhat vulnerable and open to emotion.

8. Stay honest in the big moments. Honesty is fluid and that’s okay. If your sister gets an awful haircut a loving family member can choose to assure her it looks okay and that’s fine. But a loving family member doesn’t tell lies to manipulate others.

9. Eschew secrets. There’s a fine line between being trustworthy with private matters and keeping secrets that shouldn’t be kept. Loving family members don’t recruit others to keep secrets that might later come out and hurt people.

10. Be accountable, reliable, responsible and dependable. Loving family members mean what they say, do what they promised and show up.

So, how does your family stack up? If you have family members who do all of these things, consider sending this post with a thank you note to brighten their day. And if you think you could do a bit better, consider sharing this post with a note of promise to work harder so your family functions better than ever. Is there anything you’d add to this list?

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I Don’t Recognize My Sister, Nor Do I Think I Want To

My sister hasn’t spoken to me for about 25 years. As I described in detail in my book, I don’t really know why she’s so angry. She has never been willing to tell me beyond the time she and her husband (who, I believe is really the abusive control freak responsible for my sister cutting me and my entire family out of her life) took me to court over something completely nonsensical and lost. If I passed her on the street I’m not sure I’d know who she was and I doubt she’d recognize me. People tend to change a bit in that many years and besides that, I’m pretty sure she’d walk right past me if she did know it was me.

But yesterday I saw her online and I didn’t recognize her. It wasn’t her face, it was her words that were foreign to me. Once upon a time when we had a relationship. We had things in common, we liked shopping together, we we were of similar minds politically. Among other things we agreed on, we were pretty much both pacifists. Okay it was during the Vietnam War era and a lot of people were pacifists but we were and I thought it was for real in both of us.

So yesterday when I happened upon an Op-Ed piece she wrote in a newspaper I was shocked. My pacifist sister was not only no longer a pacifist, she was pretty much strongly advocating going into regions of the world and scorching and burning people, places, and things. Agree or disagreeing politically is one thing but this was a complete reversal of her belief system. She really had become a different person altogether than the one I grew up next to. I wondered, what if she hadn’t cut me out of her life? Would I even want to know this person? Yes, I know we all  have people in our families with whom we may not agree on every point. We hear myriad stories of family holiday celebrations rife with discord as the family members loudly and verociously argue their respective points of view. But the person who wrote this Op-Ed piece sounded nothing like my sister. (Yes, I know it was her; she has a very unique name.) I wasn’t at all sure I could like or embrace this person. I didn’t even know if I could have a meal with her, let alone embrace her!

So what happens if you have a family member with whom you really cannot have a relationship because you are diametrically opposed in belief systems? How do you handle such things? For me, it’s easy (I use the term loosely, nothing about losing my sister was easy) in that she won’t talk to me anyway, but in my musing, I wonder what I’d do if she  suddenly offered to come back into my life?