Parenting

Insights and inspirations about parenting.

How To Fight Fair

Why do you think a man will agree to play sports with the possibility of getting hurt? Why do people march willingly into battle, even in the face of the enemy?

These are examples of conflicts that contain something that protects us and gives us confidence in the face of uncertainty.

Rules.

In sports, there are understood rules. There is a referee to keep players protected. If someone gets a little too heated and loses his head, the referee will call a foul, or a technical. In war, there are rules of engagement that give structure to an otherwise hostile event.

So it is with couples who fight. If they become out of control and unpredictable, their fighting is unproductive, even destructive. However, if couples established agree-upon rules, the conflict can be resolved much easier because both parties feel safe.

These are some rules that couples can sit down and adopt before the conflict arises. If followed, they change “fighting” to a constructive discussion that leads to mutual understanding.

  1. No yelling. Fighting can be passionate and if it gets too loud, it just turns into a screaming match. When one person yells, it’s like a barking dog. The other dogs have to join in, and they just get louder and louder. One person trying to out-do the decibel level to be heard over the other. Then they both end up yelling on top of the other person so that no one can hear the other.
  2. No name calling. Along with yelling, using derogatory statements or mud slinging is against the rules. I call “foul” because you have made this a personal attack and lost reason. We don’t attack the person, but the issue.
  3. Stick to the issue. When hot heads take off running, the contentious couple often start bringing up other grievances. It’s not fair to air a laundry list. Tackle one issue at a time.
  4. Similarly, don’t bring up old arguments. It’s like going back to the landfill, digging up old garbage, and flinging at your partner. The past is over, and the present is what you need to focus on.
  5. Take turns talking. This is probably the one that couples struggle with the most (along with the next related point). If you want to be respected for your opinion, you have to offer the same to the other person. You can’t ask for what you aren’t willing to give.
  6. Listen. When it’s your turn to listen, use all your energy to be in the moment. Don’t let your thoughts distract you. Don’t be formulating your rebuttal while your partner is talking. Even if you don’t agree with what the other person is saying, they deserve to be heard, just like you. Their point of view is their reality, even if it’s different that yours.
  7. Pick a good time to talk. Discuss your disagreement when you both agree it’s a good time to talk. You both need to be rested, relaxed, and ready. That means you might need to say, or email, “Honey, there’s a problem about overcharged on our credit card we need to go over. When would be a good time for you?” The wrong way to go about this is to corner your partner, like when they walk through the door after work (“We need to talk right now about your mom coming to visit!”). This is a sure-fire way to put your spouse on defense and the sparks to fly. I’ve never been a fan of the saying, “Never let the sun go down on your anger.” If I were to try to hash out a problem with my husband when it’s 11:00 p.m. and we’re both worn out, I can promise you that the problem would just grow and we would make it worse. Go to sleep! Get refreshed and pick a better time when you’re on the top of your game.

If you create a list of rules of engagement, both parties will be more likely to feel fairness, a shared amount of power, and safety when disagreeing. It may be easy to agree to the list when you’re both calm, but when emotions start to rule over reason, one of both may resort to hostility again. In that case, it’s very important that you also discuss what will happen in the heat of the moment. One of your can form a “T” with your hands, to indicate a “foul” or “technical” to remind the offending party that they broke a rule. Or just reaching over and gently touching the other person’s hand and saying, “Honey, remember we agreed not to call names” is a kind reminder.

Connecting with your kids through cell phones

Let’s fact it: cell phones get a bad rap. I’m the first one to line up and criticize the addictive behaviors kids are learning through over-dependence on cell phones. Kids exhibit withdrawal-like behaviors when they’re not plugged in for over 15 minutes. And let’s be honest: moms and dad are sometimes worse.

Electronic devices such as cell phones can distance us from meaningful relationships. They entice us to live in a virtual world, to disrupt healthy sleep patterns, to introduce electronic bullying, stalking, and predatory opportunities, and might even expose young children to harmful levels of radiation.

Okay, now the good news. Like all technology, cell phones are amazing if we tap into the good stuff and manage the bad. After raising 5 teenagers, these are the ways cell phones have enriched our family relationships:

  1. Wonder where your kid is? “Find My Friends” is an app that lets you see your kid’s precise location. No way to lie about where they are. If your kids balk at the “stalking parent” approach, make it a condition of having their phone in the first place. They have nothing to hide, right?
  2. Speaking of finding friends, there are so many times when I need to find my child to pick them up at school, or find them in a crowded public place. Finding them via text or calling saves me HOURS of wasted time. I remember years ago, before cell phones, my family went to Disneyland. We split up and had one Walkie Talkie per group. We thought we were so cool!  So did everyone else at the park who couldn’t find their group. Cell phones have made everyone go a little less crazy finding their kids.
  3. Cell phones offer some really fun games. We love group games like Headbandz or Charades, but any solitary game can pass the time waiting at the doctors, or attending a sibling’s LONG and BORING musical Jr. high concert.
  4. Speaking of games, there are tons of educational benefits awaiting on a cell phone. When my kids had to memorize a huge list of words for school, we used a flashcard app, and I’d test them on it. Educational games are great, but be careful to limit their time and not let the games replace human contact. We tend to justify “learning” games, but human-to-human interaction has been proven as the best learning relationship.
  5. Safety and escape plan. There was an interesting blog post that highlighted the need for kids to have an emergency plan in case they got in over their heads with social pressure. He called it their “x-plan” which means an escape plan using their cell phones. Teens can type “x” to their parent’s number which is a secret code for “help me I need to get out of here.” If you get that “x” text, you call your teen back immediately with a bogus story. “Hey something has come up and I need to pick you up right away.” The teen can feign disappointment, but he’s secretly relieved to get out of a party that has turned into drinking, sexual activity, or anything he’s not comfortable with.
  6. Speaking of safety, I  have such a peace of mind knowing that if my teen was on an outing and got lost, perhaps even where it would turn into a critical situation like in the mountains, he would have his cell phone with him to dial 9-11 or phone a parent to help rescue him. My daughter did just that on a side of a road in the middle of Nowhere, Idaho after hitting a deer.
  7. The camera function on a phone is indispensable! Teens have become genius at capturing important information and images using their cell phones. It might be written instructions, a map, or a recipe that they can pull up later to easily reference. It’s the best! If you have a child who has missed a family event, like dinnertime, you can take a picture of the plate of food, text it to them with the message, “We missed you at dinner. Hope you can make it tomorrow.”
  8. Google Maps. Needs I say more? Never get lost again. For someone who is directionally challenged, this would have been a life saver as a teenager.
  9. Send your kid “love notes” via cellphone. Emojis are the new adolescent language. Teenagers can turn cold and prickly during their pubescent years, but will still accept texts with happy, loving messages.
  10. Another spin on #9 is to set up a family group text and send daily inspirational messages. You can do this through “Messenger” as well to include videoclips. These are private messages to your kids with a scripture of the day, an inspirational quote or meme, or anything that brightens their day.
  11. Put on music or podcasts while you and your kids are cleaning the house. It makes a huge difference to take your mind off the drudgery of cleaning by singing and dancing along or learning interesting stuff from a podcast.
  12. Now that I’m a grandma and have kids around the country, can I just end on this major point? Face time, Google hangout, or Skype on my phone is a way for us all to stay connected no matter where we are. I love technology when it melts the miles between us. You can even prop up the phone while you are playing a game or eating dinner to have the faraway child feel like part of the family, if only for a while. For free!

My husband and I were very careful to monitor our kids’ cell phone usage, as well as other electronic devices. We even started them on phones that were call and text only, no WiFi. But as they grew older and learned responsibility, the world opened up through these devices and became a tool for connection. The trick is to be ever-vigilant and in control rather than the other way around. Parents should be their kids’ best examples of putting away devices when a real face time is needed.

Differences Among Us: What an Opportunity to Teach Children Compassion.

There’s a lot going on since the presidential election and installment of our new President.  A lot of talk, a lot of debate, even hostility between people who should be friends. Conflict brings out the best (and worst) in people.

But conflict shouldn’t be seen as something to avoid or to divide us. It should be viewed as a natural part of life, an opportunity for maturity and growth as individuals, friends, communities and nations. Difference is what makes us stronger and gives us an opportunity to teach children compassion.

Brene Brown is a women who has a strong message about diversity and kindness. I wish there was more kindness going on right now. Respect for one another. Believing the good in others. Understanding another’s point of view rather than proving how I am right and you are wrong. Parents owe this to their kids and to themselves.

Here is a link to her message about how to teach children about compassion with all the political rhetoric.

Raising well-behaved children

We usually wait until something annoys us before we pay attention.

It’s the “Squeaky Wheel” syndrome.

For example, if we sailed through all green lights this morning to work, we probably didn’t give it much thought or paid attention to our amazing luck and good timing.

But if we hit EVERY red light, we are super annoyed. The universe is against us! We notice more when things go wrong.

It’s the same with children. They may sit behind you in the car quietly, but the minute they kick the back of your seat…BAM! You suddenly come to life in the form of Cruela de Vil.

Remember that a basic human need is to be recognized.  If children don’t receive a healthy dose of positive reinforcement (8:1) per day, they will resort to any kind of recognition, even negative, or give up.

This is a sign of a discouraged child.

Rather than wait until they misbehave, “catch” your child being good. It’s the difference between raging at red lights or being grateful for the greens.  It takes more effort because you have to pay attention to the good and put energy into recognizing what is going right. But it pays off in the long run with well behaved children.

It’s a universal law: we get more of what we focus on. And it’s universally practiced in raising good kids and kids who want to be good.

To catch your children being good, I’ve listed the first letter of the word in an acronym.

Call kids by their name (and I mean by good names!). Not their full name you use when they’re in trouble: “Andrew Scott McFarland!” but use their name to recognize who they are. I love to use endearing pet names. “Muffin Cakes” “Tiger” or “Lovey Dovey” can turn a child to putty in your hands. What pet nicknames did your parents use that made you feel loved?

Ask questions about what they are doing/feeling. Open ended questions that invite longer conversations. Don’t give up if your child just mumbles. Ask at different times of day and in different ways. “What was your best and worst part of today?” “If your day was a movie, what would the title be?” My kids tend to clam up right after school but right as I tuck them into bed, they are bubbling with information. But don’t force or interrogate. If they don’t want to talk, respect that.

Thank them. Thank them for what they have done, are doing, or will do. In other words, “Thank you for picking up your socks,” you might note, and if they haven’t done so yet, say the same thing.  They might respond, “I didn’t pick them up.” And you get to smile and say with delight, “But I know you were going to so I wanted to thank you in advance.” This really works. It’s shaping behavior through what you expect with positives. People respond much better with positives and the potential you see in them.

Compliment them. In private and in public. In most cases, children swell with pride to hear adults sing their praises in public. Compliment what they have done, but also who they are…the lasting characteristics. And compliment what they are working towards, not just accomplished. This uses encouragement and praise, the dynamic duo.

Help. Offer to give them support when they are floundering. But don’t do it all for them. Show your confidence in their ability. Just support or scaffold what they need help with and let them do what they can.

So catch your child being good at least 8 times for every 1 correction. Start counting today to see how much you notice the good over the bad. The more you focus on the good, you’ll be amazed at how many green lights you and your child will sail through in life.

Father’s Day Trivia

How are your facts about fathers? Here are 20 trivia questions about fathers to celebrate with the special men in your life on Father’s Day.(Try not to peek at the answers at the end until you have tried them all). It would be a good game to play on Father’s Day to honor men who nurture, provide, and love children.

When you are done, consider asking more questions, but personal ones to your dads to learn more about them, their likes/dislikes, fears, funnies, history, favorite memories, and dreams for the future.

Questions:

1. Who do the “Founding Fathers” of our country refer to?

2. Who is known as the current “Holy Father” according to the Roman Catholic Church?

3. Roses are the official flower for Father’s Day. A red rose is worn in the lapel if your father is living, and this color rose if he is deceased.

4. Who is known to have initiated the Father’s Day celebrations, or who is called “The Mother of Father’s Day”?

5. In the USA, Father’s Day is celebrated on this day.

6. Who is the “Father” of our country?

7. Father’s Day the fourth-largest card-sending occasion with this many cards given out last year.

a. 80 million

b. 60 million

c. 95 million

d. 150 million

8. “Father Time” is also known by this name.

9. In Greek Mythology, this King of Thebes killed his father and married his mother. His name has become synonymous for this hidden desire to do the same to one’s parents.

10. The myth of “Father Christmas” has been taken from this country.

a. Denmark

b. Sweden

c. The Netherlands

d. Germany

11. Name the top 5 gifts for Father’s Day (besides a card).

12. This 1950’s TV show about fatherhood starred actor Robert Young.

a. “Father Knows Best”

b. “Father Does Best”

c. “Father Loves Best”

d. “Father Laughs Best”

13. Which actor voiced the famous movie line, “Luke, I am your father”?

14. According to Greek mythology, who was the father of gods and mortals?

15. Who was the famous literary father of the young girl nicknamed “Scout”?

16. Who was the father of Disney’s Arial, the Little Mermaid?

17. Which President signed into law that Father’s Day would be nationally recognized?

a. Woodrow Wilson

b. Richard Nixon

c. Theodore Roosevelt

d. John F. Kennedy

18. What is the word for “father” in these languages?

Afrikaans

Arabic

French

Hungarian

Italian

Polish

Spanish

Welsh

19. This 1991 movie called “Father of the Bride” starred this comedian.

20. What famous evangelist said this: “A good father is one of the most unsung, upraised, unnoticed, and yet one of the most valuable assets in our society.”

Answers:

1. Those at the 1776 Philadelphia convention who signed the Declaration of Independence.

2. Pope Francis

3. White

4. Sonara Smart Dodd, daughter of a Civil War veteran, who wanted to honor her father.

5. The Third Sunday of June

6. George Washington

7. c. 95 million

8. The Grim Reaper

9. Oedipus Complex

10. c. The Netherlands

11. Necktie/clothing, tools, sporting goods, electronics, candy

12. a. “Father Knows Best”

13. James Earl Jones

14. Zeus

15. Atticus Finch

16. King Triton

17. b. Richard Nixon

18. Afrikaans : vader

Arabic : babba

French : papa

Hungarian : apa

Italian : babbo

Polish : tata

Spanish : papá

Welsh : tad

19. Steve Martin

20. Billy Graham

Back to Basics

Being raised with a small farm and a big work ethic, I have always appreciated how a back-to-basics approach to parenting is the answer to what ills many families today.

Simplifying our over-complicated, over-stimulated lives is what children need.

They need to count the stars, find shapes in clouds, run their hands through shifting mud, make shapes in the sand, listen to birds calling their young, and count their footsteps through pastures and fields.

Children with very little are rarely poor; it is those with too much who are creatively poor, who lack imagination and are short on grit.

Watch this insightful video that beautifully contrasts “The Poorness in our Wealth.”

Behind every great kid is a pushy parent

Here’s a link to a revised version of this article that was published by ksl.com

When I was young, my mom required that all 5 children learn to swim until they could pass the Jr. Lifesaving class. I hated it. I hated water and the smell of chlorine. I hated diving for those weighted rings.

I looked up at my mother sitting in the spectator balcony and glared at her whenever I could. My body language clearly stated, “I can’t believe you are making me do this. You are the meanest mom in the world.” She just smiled back and waved at me.

About the time I was enrolled in the Jr. Lifesaving class, the movie “Jaws” came out. By today’s movie-making standards, the special effects are cheesy, but to my 11-year-old, fearful-of-anything aquatic, impressionable brain, it was horrifying. I couldn’t put my head under water (let alone take a bath) after seeing the film. When the swim instructors lined us up behind the diving board and it was my turn to arch over the horizontal bamboo stick to dive into the water, I couldn’t do it. I stared into the deep, blue abyss and could only see a set of teeth on a open shark’s mouth, waiting for me to dive into its hungry cavity.

I couldn’t do it. It was humiliating and traumatic.

But my mom didn’t seem to care no matter how much I whined and crumpled on the floor. She wanted me to pass the class since she had almost drowned as a girl and her lifesaving skills saved her. I eventually passed the class and never looked at another swimming pool for a long time.

Fast forward.

I now swim multiple times a week for exercise. You heard me right. I choose to swim for fun. I love it. Every time I get in the pool, I look up into the empty balcony bleachers with a smile and think, “Thank you mom, for not giving up on me.”

Being  a “pushy” mom or dad requires True Grit. Courage. Fortitude. A Backbone. When life gets hard, kids tend to give up. If we insist they stick with it, we are called “mean.”  Someone wrote, “My kids just told me I’m the meanest mom in the world and I’m freaking out. I don’t even have a speech prepared.” Parents! If your child hates you for something that is really, really good for them, take a bow, accept the nomination, and thank your audience. 

Parents raise successful kids by being pushy in these three ways:

Push Toward Good.

I once knew a parent who buckled under their 5 year old who refused to take his prescribed medicine. Some things are hard, some things don’t taste good, some things are boring (like brushing our teeth), and some things hurt (like getting immunized) but we insist our children do it anyway because it is good for them.  

My sister has taught voice and piano for 30 years and out of the hundreds of students, only two loved to practice. The rest think it’s hard and boring. Many kids dropped playing the piano after the first year. Those who became good were not prodigies or genius musicians; they had pushy parents who made them practice 5 days a week, year after year.

Recently, I helped my daughter register at a university. However, she became anxious and lacked confidence to navigate a new campus. As we sat with her adviser, fear took over. I realized I needed to not only reassure her, but to push.

Adviser: So what is your major?

Daughter: (shoulders slumped, eyes down) I don’t know.

Me: Integrated Studies.

Adviser: (wondering who is this pushy mom) So what will be your two areas of emphasis?

Daughter: I’m not sure.

Me: She declared Spanish and Business.

Adviser (looking directly at my daughter so I didn’t butt in) Will you start Summer of Fall?

Daughter: I don’t know.

Me: (pausing first before butting in) She’ll start Summer.

Adviser: (giving me the stink eye and then turning to my daughter) Do you have your transcript?

Daughter: Yes, but I don’t know how to download it.

I stayed out from that point on, but I’m telling you, we sometimes have to hold our kids hands and baby step them toward the unknown, scary future.  To that adviser: Don’t judge.

Push Away from Bad.

Children have a lot of choices these days and they’re not all good. Some may seem good  but turn into problems if there are not diligent parents afoot. It’s okay to tell your young child they don’t need a cell phone with Wifi or unlimited data. It’s okay to push away bad media programming that infiltrates our homes and electronic devices. A wave of filth is threatening families but we can push it away. Say “no” to children who tell you everyone else’s parents are letting them do it.

Tell them you love them more than that.

Push Back from Pressure.

Unlike many children, there are superstar kids who excel at everything and want to do it all. They overbook their lives, or their parents overbook it for them, to achieve greatness and an impressive resume. There is so much pressure to raise trophy children and compete with over-achieving friends.

Raising a great kid who is successful means they lead a balanced, happy, well adjusted life. Children need a childhood. They need play time, laugh time, creative and social time. If your child wants to be the drummer in a rock band, be on the high school basketball, swim, and baseball teams, be student body president, and sing in the prestigious school choir, it’s time to push back. Life is full of great things to do, but we need to teach our children that it’s not realistic or healthy to try to do it all. We all need to learn how to choose and prioritize.

 

So if you are a pushy parent, take it as a compliment. You know that you’re doing something right and you’re in good company.

Pregnancy Myth Busters

You’ve heard of the kid TV series “Myth Busters” right? One of those fun, educational shows where the group of geeks try out myths to see if they are real or not. Well, there are a lot of myths, legends, wives tales, whatever you want to call them, floating around about pregnancy. Everyone’s got advice and some crazy story about how to predict the gender.

It think it’s because pregnancy itself is so mysterious. What is really happening inside the womb and to the mother’s body? Is it a boy or a girl? Why am I so sick with this second pregnancy, but not the first? We all want answers!

Well I am speaking about which myths about pregnancy are true and which are not on BYU radio on the Matt Townsend show on Tues, April 19th. Here’s a sneak peak.  See how well you score and be sure to tell others what an expert you are now (not!)

Predicting gender: if you are carrying your baby high, it’s a girl. Carrying low? Stock up on blue. False.

Craving sweets? According to some, that means you’re going to have a little girl. Salty and sour cravings indicate a boy. False again. Predicting gender is never a trustworthy science, unless of course that involves an ultrasound.

You can’t get pregnant while nursing. False, mostly. Although nursing decreases the chance of ovulation, it doesn’t guarantee it. And there’s nothing more shocking than a new mother of a 5 month old who finds out she’s pregnant…again!

You shouldn’t have sex while pregnant because you might harm the baby.

False unless you have a specific medical condition and your doctor warns you against it.

You shouldn’t take hot baths while pregnant.

True, actually. You should avoid saunas, Jacuzzis or anything that raises your body temperature over 102 degrees. But you can take a bath in warm or slightly hot water. Some people even naively think that they can’t take a bath at all, that it will drown the baby! That’s another myth I’d like to bust right here.

You should abstain from alcohol during pregnancy.

True, although some studies have shown that up to 2 glasses of wine per day is not harmful. However, most doctors will tell new mothers to be on the safe side and abstain.

You will crave pickles and ice cream.

No. But cravings can occur, and are usually harmless. Husbands: be prepared for the Big Mac midnight runs. (At least mine had to on more than one occasion).

Cravings mean your baby “needs” that food. False. There are, however, some women who crave laundry detergent, paint chips, or clay. These odd cravings (called pica) have been associated with iron deficiency and you should talk to your doctor immediately if you experience them.

Gender predictor: if you mixes Drano with urine, it can determine the sex of your baby. The prediction is if you pour it down the toilet, and it turns blue, you have a boy; pink, it’s a girl. False. There’s another myth down the drain. I think this myth originated with the Drano Company to increase profits.

A fetus is sealed away in the uterus, unaffected by what’s going on outside. False. A baby can feel the stress from the environment and become distressed as well. It can detect sounds and emotions as well as ingest chemicals from tobacco and drug use.

Going to prenatal check ups is extremely important.

Yes, yes, and yes! Don’t skip this essential part of pregnancy. A doctor’s supervision might just be the key to your baby’s survival, health, and even your health. You’ll be checked for gestational diabetes, get a few ultrasounds to detect the development of the baby, and monitor any prescription drugs you are taking that might affect the fetus.

Your water always breaks when you go into labor and will gush like a faucet.

Nope. It doesn’t always break before and sometimes it’s just a trickle you don’t even notice.

The pregnant couple will sometimes feel disconnected and disoriented to one another.

True, and if not, it may happen shortly after becoming new parents.

Having wide, curvy hips make child birthing easier.

False.  It’s the size of the pelvis, not hips.

Drinking castor oil, eating spicy food or jumping on a trampoline will kick-start labor.

False. Sorry. The baby will come when it is good and ready.

Pregnant women should avoid exercise.

False. Sorry again. Exercise is actually very good for the baby and mom, but should be done moderately and with a doctor’s approval.

The second birth will be easier.

True, but not always. Still, it’s a nice thought when considering having more than one child.

You will feel an instant bond with your newborn baby.

False. New mothers and fathers may not naturally feel a euphoric sense of love and connection with their baby. Don’t worry if that is the case. Give it time. If post-partum sets in, see a doctor.

Couples should wait at least 6 weeks after childbirth to have sex.

True. Have fun.

International Women’s Day and Gaslighting

Post script: I was interviewed in BYU radio about this topic so if you’d rather hear than read about it, here’s the link to stream it. 

Today, March 8th 2016, is International Women’s Day. Although we barely recognize it as a holiday in the U.S., apparently it is a big deal in other countries. My daughter is living in Russia, and she has been advised to stay off the streets yesterday and today to protect herself from all the drunken celebrations.

So, in my own way, I’d like to celebrate women (without the drunkenness). One of the best ways I can think of is to empower women who feel they have lost their voice. Who feel they are of no worth. Who are victims in domestic violence.

What happens in the home is the tutor for future generational relationships. There is a strong correlation in research between those who witness or experience abuse during childhood and subsequent violence toward children in adulthood.

Approximately 15.5 million American children living in a 2-parent household are exposed to partner violence within the past year.  Approximately 7 million of these children witness severe partner abuse such as being beat up, choked, burned, or life threatened with gun or knife. Women are more often the victims.

Today’s households more frequently consist of persons who are not related (such as a romantic partner) and these relationships tend to increase violent behavior. Not surprisingly, adults involved in interparental violence frequently have poor parenting skills.  Mothers are distracted by basic issues of safety and survival.

Today, I want to highlight “Gaslighting” or emotional manipulation, as one of the main types of domestic violence. It is often the overlooked one because it is not a tangible form of abuse. The term is based on the movie “Gaslight” with Ingrid Bergman who is brainwashed and manipulated by her husband and starts questioning her sanity. Men are more commonly the abuser, as depicted in this movie.

The spouse says, “You’re crazy. You’re worthless. You’re a terrible wife and a whore.” The victim may not believe that about herself to begin with, but after so much time, it becomes part of the picture of her self worth.  Physical abuse leaves scars that are evidence of abuse. But emotional abuse leaves scars that often never heal and don’t leave any proof that she is victimized.

So the victim starts to question reality. Her whole self concept comes from her spouse.

Robert Stern, from Yale Center of Emotional Intelligence, stated, “When the person you love persistently tries to redefine your reality and nothing you do or say makes a difference, you begin to see yourself through their eyes. Maybe I am forgetful. Maybe I am stupid. Maybe I am crazy. You start mistrusting or second-guessing yourself.”

Who would ever date, or even marry someone who is so despicable, you ask. Well, an abuser rarely starts that way. He or she is usually very charming. Very doting on the partner, buying her gifts and showering her with words and tokens of love. She begins to depend on these acts as “signs” of his love. He wants to know her every move, not out of anything manipulative, she thinks, but because he loves me so much and needs me every hour of the day.

Hogwash, I say. This is just behavior of a future stalker.

Anyone who says he can’t live without you needs to live without you.

And so the path to gaslighting starts with control and isolation, even while dating. He convinces his wife to quit her job or sabotages her so she has to quit or get fired. He often gets her to move away from family and friends or makes her choose between them and him. “Your mother never liked me. How can you stand to be around her when she disapproves of our relationship? You’re better off without her.”

An example of one husband is when he kept calling his wife when she’s out with friends with excuses like something was wrong with their daughter. She’d rush back and he’s say, “You’re home so early. Were you not having fun?” The wife said, “On one level, I knew I wasn’t crazy, but he wore me down. After a few years, I felt totally hopeless and worthless. He was literally destroying me. I started to feel like suicide was my only way out.”

Abusers use jealousy a LOT to control. They twist “love” by saying they don’t want their wife out with others because they love her so much and don’t want to lose her. He frequently texts and calls and demands to know where she is. During dating, she thought this was flattering because she was so important to him.

Now, it’s become a dependency chain he’s carefully wrapped around her throat.

Belongings and personal items start to disappear and the abuser will blame it on her absent mindedness or forgetfulness. He often brandishes weapons as a sign of intimidation and control. “You never know when I might need to use this.”  Or he keeps a weapon under his pillow so it’s nearby, always in her mind.

Often gaslighting is accompanied with physical and sexual abuse, but not always.

Why don’t women just leave, is the most common response by those on the “outside” looking in. The partner has so severely eroded his wife’s self esteem she feels she can no longer function outside the controlling abusive partner. It takes about 7 attempts to leave before an abused partner finally breaks free for good.

Women who don’t want to lose their children will stay in abusive relationships. Especially those who are only emotionally abused have no proof, not documentation, to show judge or lawyer and vindicate themselves. The abuser will threaten his wife by telling her if she ever leaves, he will take the children by showing she is mentally unfit to be a mother.

Or he’ll tell her if she ever leaves him, he will kill himself, her, or the kids. So she stays out of guilt and fear.

Another might be religion. Partners who attend organized religion stay together in abuse marriages longer. A husband may use religious dominance to justify his emotional control. “God gave you to me; you belong to me and you need to do as I say.” They tell the wife to stop seeing her family because the Bible says to “leave mother and father and cleave unto your spouse.” One wife admitted, “I was like his slave, sexually and physically. But I hid it because I was embarrassed and I didn’t want the marriage to fail.”

Finally, a big reason is money. He has controlled everything. Financial abuse is estimated to be in about 99% of emotional control cases. Some make their partner account for every penny, or only give them an “allowance” if they do some extraordinary act set up by the abuser (for example, she has to get on scale and lose a certain amount of weight) or they run down the wife’s credit rating so she is trapped.

Ginny Graves, author, of an article called “How I Broke Free” with stories of 6 survivors, shares 5 money tips to help protect the abused partner. So I’ll end with these tips to empower women everywhere in the world.

  1. Maintain full access to all credit cards, bank accounts, etc.
  2. Make all money decisions jointly.
  3. Get individual credit cards.
  4. Know S.S. and bank account numbers of you and your children.
  5. Be alert to emotional abuse signs regarding money matters.

Happy Women’s Day. And may it truly be a happy day for all women.