Her Mother Wasn’t a “Good” Mother

Dear Vicki: I work full time as a corporate accountant, have a houseful of teenagers, a busy husband, and now my widowed mother has moved in with us. On the surface it’s going well, but deep inside I feel a great deal of resentment toward her. She was not a good mother when I was growing up. She wasn’t warm and cuddly. She kept us clean and fed, and she read to us nightly, but beyond that we were on our own while she painted and pursued her career in art. She wasn’t like my friends’ mothers who baked brownies and knit them sweaters. I never felt mothered by her, but now she is expecting me to mother her. I’m having a lot of trouble with that. Signed, No Cuddles

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Dear No Cuddles: Every child needs mothering, and everyone can mother in some way or another, but what that looks like will be very different depending on the elemental personalities involved. To manage all that you’re managing and succeed as a corporate accountant, I suspect you are a primary Metal personality. Metal people are usually very structured, very organized, and find it easy (and often necessary) to stick to schedules. The fact that your mother was an artist who didn’t bake brownies or knit you sweaters while you were growing up suggests that she is probably a primary Water personality. Water people are the artists of the world; they will devote hours to manifesting mind-blowing creations, but usually don’t have the structure (or interest) to run a household.

In the Five Elements model, Earth feeds Metal on the Nurturing Cycle, so an Earthy kind of mothering would have seemed attractive to you. However, as a Water person who prized time alone to create, your mother could have thought she was giving you an incredible gift by allowing you time alone, as well. I suggest you consider the possibility that, while your friends may have had mothers who focused a great deal of attention on them, your Metal personality might have found an abundance of attention pretty suffocating. I’m in no way suggesting that your childhood was perfect, but if you examine it from the perspective of what your elemental personality values, you may find that in some respects it was a good match for you. That said, what matters most is how you relate to your mother now, so let’s find ways you can improve that relationship.

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Her Husband Shares Too Much!

Dear VickiI’m writing about a problem I’m having with my husband, Scott. He’s an elementary teacher and a truly loving husband and father. As an attorney, I often work long hours and he is always there to take care of our children, and me. He’s perfect in so many ways, but he does have one trait that concerns me and I’m hoping you can help me understand why he does what he does. When we’re with friends, Scott tends to share aspects of our life at home that I would rather not have shared. It’s nothing incredibly personal, just little things that I feel other people don’t need to know. I’ve mentioned this to him before and he says he’ll change, but he hasn’t. I realize I’m becoming increasingly disturbed by this, so what can I do? Signed, Private in Pennsylvania

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Dear Private in Pennsylvania: This is an interesting issue. On the surface, if Scott is sharing minor details with others, it shouldn’t matter. And it probably wouldn’t matter to many of the element personalities. But it’s no surprise that it matters to you. As an attorney, you are most likely a primary Metal personality, and Metal people really value their privacy. They also tend to compartmentalize aspects of their life – clearly delineating what is public and what is private – to keep them separate. Most of the other elemental personalities don’t see a need to compartmentalize nearly as much, and I think that’s at the root of the issue with your husband.

You say you want to understand Scott, so let’s start there. As an elementary teacher who is devoted to his family, it’s a good bet he is a primary Earth personality. For Earth people, life is all about connecting with others, and it turns out that sharing parts of themselves are easy ways to facilitate this connecting. They are also much less discriminating than some of the other elemental personalities, so are likely to share information in greater detail than others might find comfortable. For the Earth personality, a connection is a connection, no matter how it’s created or where it’s found. When your husband shares information or events from his life, it’s a mechanism for weaving a bridge between himself and others. And this can be such an automatic occurrence, he probably doesn’t ponder the issue of appropriateness before he speaks. So, what can you do?

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Retirement Really Changed Her Father

Dear Vicki: When my mother passed away 10 years ago, my father chose to keep the family house and has done just fine living there alone. At least until now. Recently, he’s become a bitter, hopeless, and rather narcissistic old man, which is so not like my father. He was career military; always very logical, rational, kind, and even-keeled. But since he retired three years ago, that part of him has slowly disappeared and now he seems impossible to please. He’s also very sad, more so than he ever was, even when Mom passed. Is he becoming senile? I worry about him all the time, and often take meals over to him, but he hardly asks about me or his grandchildren when I’m there. Instead, he complains and almost seems to resent my presence. It breaks my heart. What can I do to help him? Signed, Worried About Dad

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Dear Worried: It is possible your father is becoming senile, so having him checked out by a competent health care professional would be a good idea. But that might not be what is going on for him at all. What I suspect might be happening is that, with his retirement, your father has moved from the life phase of outward productivity to a phase of slowing down and introspection. His choice of a military career suggests that he is a primary Metal personality, someone who embraces order, hierarchy, and perfection in everything. And while our primary elemental personality is ours for the totality of our life, we do move though different phases as we grow and age. This is a fascinating aspect of the Five Elements model: the idea that each of the elemental personalities can be seen in a specific phase of our life. I think a brief exploration of how this works might help explain what is going on for your father.

In the Five Elements model, regardless of our primary elemental personality, we all move through five distinct phases in life. Birth and early childhood are associated with the wintery time of Water when potential is unlimited. Young adulthood, a time of exuberance and rapid growth, is associated with the intense spring energy of Wood. The process of maturation is associated with the warming summer sun of the Fire element, while the final ripening of our life relates to the fields of late summer and the Earth element. The end of our life cycle – the harvest of all gained from this cycle and storage of what will be used in the next cycle – relates to Metal. However, for many ancient teachings, instead of ending with Metal, our final stop is said to be a return to Water, as seen in the innocence and playfulness of a young child mirrored in the elderly. That’s why many philosophers claim that both birth and death sit in the Water Element.

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Should She Lend Him Money?

Dear Vicki: Brad and I met our senior year at college and have been friends for over 5 years now. We both found jobs in LA after college where I love working as a station chef for a well-known restaurant and he’s in computers. It’s never been romantic between us; we just have fun hanging out and are there for each other in tough times. He helped me through the loss of a very special aunt, I stood by him when his programming job was eliminated. Last week he announced that he’d developed what he thinks is a fantastic new software program but needs start-up funds. He knows I inherited money from my aunt, so asked if I would back him and assured me it will be a great investment. I really like Brad, and I really, really want to help him, so do you see any problem with lending him the money? Signed: Likely Lender in LA

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Dear Likely Lender: It’s a wonderful gift to have a great friend like Brad. Friendships like yours are very important personal relationships; we all need them in our lives. However, you are contemplating entering a business relationship with Brad, and that is a horse of a different color (as the old saying goes). It’s clear you like Brad, but how well do you really know him? Do you know what kind of business man he will be? Does he have any financial savvy? Is he a good salesman? Does he understand marketing? These are things you should know before investing in his business. But since you really, really want to help Brad, let’s look at whether a business relationship with him might be a good idea for you.

It’s an easy guess that your primary elemental personality is Earth. Wanting to help someone is a very Earth thing, as is excellence in the kitchen. It’s no wonder you love working as a station chef; it truly is right up your alley. Brad, on the other hand, sounds like he could be a primary Metal personality. Skill with computers and software design usually requires the precision and detail-orientation that are very characteristic of the Metal personality. In the Five Elements model, Earth and Metal relate via the Nurturing Cycle, with Earth feeding Metal. This is another big reason you really want to help Brad – an Earth personality’s attention and energy naturally flows toward Metal personalities. It would also explain why Brad came to you for help. Metal people are used to Earth people helping them. But just because a partnership of some sort feels natural to both of you, is a business relationship a good match?

In many ways, the difference between a friendship and a business connection can be seen in the expectation and timing of what is exchanged between the people involved. In a friendship, one of you may call the other more frequently for a while, then the other may be the one who calls more often. He helped you when you lost your aunt, and then some time later you were there when he lost his job. Friendship is a seesaw kind of give and take that is quite organic. A business relationship, however, should be anything but organic. And that is the issue here.

Business relationships should be defined by clear representations of what each person is bringing to the arrangement. There should be specific time frames, definitions of success, and minute details regarding what each party will do and by when. Issues like interest on the loan, timing of payments, penalties for missed payments, etc. need to be discussed and agreed on. And all of this should be in writing and signed by everyone who is part of the business relationship. The good news is that Metal people will love this kind of detail and concreteness. The bad news is that Earth people usually won’t. They don’t want to “insult” someone by creating a contract that implies the person won’t make good on their word. It feels unkind. They also aren’t likely to demand that the person they care about stick to the agreement if they know they are having trouble.

However, the act of putting down in writing what each person can expect from the business relationship actually serves to protect the personal relationship, especially when Earth personalities are involved. Not only will you naturally want to trust Brad, unless you have a strong secondary Metal or Wood personality (both of which bring a lot of structure), you won’t be particularly facile regarding what you should expect from Brad in a business relationship. Without that structure, and maybe even with it, you risk the possibility of damaging your personal relationship with Brad if things don’t work out well and he loses the money from your aunt. History shows that half of all new businesses fail within 3 to 5 years, so you absolutely should never loan out money you can’t afford to lose, either. A very wise Metal person (Shakespeare) once offered this warning: “For loan oft loses both itself and friend.”

The bottom line is that there are reasons people suggest never lending money to family or friends. When the payments aren’t timely or the venture isn’t successful, what to do about the lost money gets very messy, very quickly. Damaging your personal relationship with Brad will be especially hard on you as a primary Earth personality because lasting relationships are everything to Earth people. If you have your heart set on lending the money to Brad, at the very least please enlist the assistance of an attorney to draw up a contract between you and Brad regarding the terms of the loan. But think long and hard about doing this because, as Shakespeare warned, you run the risk of losing both the money and the friendship if things don’t work out well for Brad. Best of luck to you (and Brad)!

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He Can’t Stand Her Clutter

Dear Vicki: My sister recently shared something that has me really upset. After less than a year of marriage, her daughter and new son-in-law are having marital troubles. Betsy is a nurse, Stuart is an architect, and the problem is that Stuart has very little tolerance for clutter around the house. But sweet Betsy excels at creating clutter because she loves her doll collection and has plastic sacks of projects (sewing, knitting, etc.) strewn all over. Really, the few times I’ve visited I have to agree that their house was sort of a cluttered mess. But my sister said that the final straw was when Betsey wallpapered Stuart’s home study with a cheery floral print. Apparently, Stuart not only didn’t like her choice of paper, he was also quite miffed that she left the ladder and brushes in his study. I love my niece, and she seems very happy in this marriage, so how can I help her? Signed, Anxious Auntie

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Dear Anxious Auntie: The issue of “clutter” is an age-old problem that frequently defies definition because one person’s cozy decorating is another’s overwhelming clutter. As individuals, we have fairly ingrained behaviors regarding how we manage our personal space. But when we marry, or even just decide to cohabitate with a group of friends, we suddenly merge two (or more) personal spaces into one. Sometimes that goes smoothly, but usually it’s a humbling lesson in the art of compromise. How many marriages hit the rocks because the cap isn’t on the toothpaste? How many squabbles stem from dishes left in the sink? The short answer is a lot, so let’s see what we can do to prevent Betsey and Stuart from becoming another statistic in the category of failed marriages.

Based on your descriptions, it seems likely that Betsey is a primary Earth personality and Stuart is a primary Metal personality. Nurses are walking examples of the tender caring that Earth people love to shower on others. And Stuart’s skill at architecture speaks to the logic and rationality inherent in Metal people. The good news is that they are in love. The not so good news is that Earth and Metal people will usually clash on what they want in terms of the look and feel of the space they inhabit.

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