Distance Growing Between Son and New Husband

Dear Vicki: I read your post last summer about the woman whose new husband and son butted heads all the time. I have the opposite problem and wonder if you can help me. Last year I married Ted, a divorced father with joint custody of two very active teenage sons. My 10-year-old son Sam and I moved in with Ted and the blended family thing is working pretty well except for one big problem: Sam is miserable and pulling away from Ted. In an effort to bond, Ted wants to play ball with Sam and take him to sporting events or even war movies, but Sam just isn’t into those things. He likes his time alone to read and draw. I’ve tried to explain to Ted that Sam is different from his sons, but he just rolls his eyes and questions whether we’re going to raise a wimp. How can I help Ted and Sam get along? I love them both and want everyone to be happy in our home. Signed, Worried in Washington

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Dear Worried: First, let’s focus on the positive fact that Ted wants to do a good job raising Sam. That means he cares. Second, Ted is approaching the challenge of getting along with Sam like someone who has a lot of Wood energy in his personality. Competition is key to a Wood’s approach to life, and nothing says competition like sporting events and war movies. But Sam clearly isn’t a Wood person. Preferring time alone to read or draw sounds a lot more like a Water personality.

In the Five Elements model, Wood and Water relate to each other on the Nurturing Cycle, so you’d think the relationship between Ted and Sam would be naturally nurturing. And it can be.  However, this particular Wood/Water relationship is a parent/child connection (or at least step-parent) where the child’s Water feeds the parent’s Wood, and this will make a subtle difference in the dynamics of the relationship. We’ll come back to that later, but first we’re going to talk about the most dramatic issue between Wood and Water, and that’s the concept of structure.

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Best Friend Can’t See Her Boyfriend is Cheating

Dear Vicki: I’m writing because I’m pretty sure that my best friend’s boyfriend is cheating on her. Bev and I have been besties since grade school. She’s sweet and kind, loves people and animals, and is studying to be a nurse. She and Jake (who spends more time skiing or playing ball than studying for the college business classes we share) have been together for a year and she’s convinced he’s “the one.” The problem is that lately I’ve seen Jake hanging with Ellie, the “hot” girl from our high school class, a lot. I’ve hinted at it to Bev, but she just smiles and says they’re old friends. They certainly look like more than friends to me, which really makes me angry! So what do I do? I want to shake Bev and tell her she deserves better than Jake. Why can’t she see it? Signed: Loyal Friend

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Dear Loyal Friend: Bev is very lucky to have a friend like you. And as her friend, you are definitely in a difficult place. The relationship between Bev and Jake is private; it’s really no body’s business but theirs how they handle it. That said, it does sound like Bev believes it’s a monogamous relationship and Jake may have different ideas. The other issue at stake is your relationship with Bev. You do risk looking like you’re butting in if you pursue this too strongly. The last thing anyone in love wants to hear is that their best friend thinks their boyfriend is a jerk. So, you need to tread lightly here. But treading lightly doesn’t mean doing nothing, so let’s take a look at the relationship dynamics at play between you, Bev, and Jake and see what might make sense.

Your description of Bev indicates that she is clearly an Earth personality. Earths are usually sweet and kind, they usually do love people and animals, and they make wonderful nurses (and friends). You and Jake, on the other hand, both sound like Wood personalities. Your anger over Jake’s potential betrayal of your friend is characteristically Wood. Jake’s interest in Ellie, the popular girl from high school, is also characteristic of a Wood. Being important matters to Woods and they often borrow their importance from the people with whom they associate. Dating the hot girl could definitely make Jake feel good about himself. Finally, Woods are frequently drawn to business as an occupation – hard work can create significant personal success – so it makes sense as a career path for both you and Jake.

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Family Reunions: A Waste of Time if You Aren’t Family?

Dear Vicki: My partner Cam and I have been together for five years. We’ve seen each other through college graduations, lost jobs, new jobs, multiple apartment moves, you name it. We both take our careers seriously (me as an investment banker, Cam as a sous chef), but I think I drive myself more than he does. Anyway, his family is having a first-ever extended family reunion next month (probably 100 people or so) and he’s excited to go. I, on the other hand, would rather take a pass. It will involve out of state travel, a day away from work, and spending lots of time with people I’ve never met. Of course, I know the right thing to do is to go with Cam, and that’s what he wants, but it seems like a colossal waste of time for me. Work is particularly busy right now and I can think of a dozen things I’d rather do with free time, especially catch up on projects at work. I wouldn’t expect him to go to my family reunion (if we even had one), so how can I explain to him that I think he should go enjoy his family on his own? Signed: Busy in Bentonville

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Dear Busy: Unless they have a lot of Fire energy, few people look forward to spending time with a crowd of strangers. Fire energy loves the excitement of connecting with new people, especially in a fun surrounding, and you clearly are not a primary Fire personality. Given that you mention some aspect of work five times in your letter, I suspect you are a Wood personality; career success and getting ahead really matter to Wood people. Also, Woods like predictability in their life and environments, so a large gathering of strangers will seem chaotic to a Wood. It’s no surprise you would rather take a pass. However, being in a committed relationship means that sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do for the sake of your partner, so let’s see if this might be one of those times.

Given that the family reunion is important to Cam, and his profession involves a love of food, it’s a pretty easy guess that he has a lot of Earth energy. Earth people not only love food, they love family and deep, long-term connections. In fact, weaving people together in a web of strong connection brings great joy to Earths. His family is important to him, and you are important to him, so sharing the reunion with you will likely be pretty important to Cam. But I think there’s more to consider here than just whether you go to the reunion or not. I think it’s important to step back and take stock of the dynamics in your relationship with Cam and how your refusal to go with him might impact your connection.

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Work Sucks: It’s Like Herding Cats!

Dear Vicki: I work for a large advertising firm and have been very successful at making good things happen for my company. I was recently promoted, but now things aren’t going so well. My responsibilities include managing a department of what we call “creatives” (the people who actually develop and produce the ads) and it’s a nightmare. They are excellent at what they do (we have won many awards), but they miss deadlines, skip conference calls, dress in an extremely casual manner even around our corporate clients, show up late, you name it. And no amount of chastising from me seems to work. I like my work and up until now have done an extremely good job for my firm, but managing this group is like herding cats and Im clearly failing. What can I do to get them to tow the line? Signed: Hates Cats

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Dear Hates Cats: I had to chuckle at your sign off.  In truth, I suspect you don’t really hate cats. Rather, you hate situations that are “out of control,” and that gives us a good idea of your primary personality. Both Wood people and Metal people have a strong relationship with the concept of control, but their needs are quite different. Metals need to feel that they are in control and Woods need to avoid the chaotic feeling of being out of control. The fact that you are good at making things happen at work suggests that you are a Wood personality; Metals are usually better at understanding why things happen than making them happen. As a Wood, you bring a great deal of structure to everything you do. In fact, of all the Five Elements personalities, only Metal has more structure. And that structure will usually stand you in good stead in any corporate environment. Unfortunately, you have landed in one of the few places where that isn’t necessarily true. When managing overly creative people, artificially imposed structure often doesn’t work. Let’s see how we can help.

Highly creative people usually have a lot of Water energy in their personality make-up. The two reasons for this are that imagination sits in the Water element and the Water element has very little structure. Think of water in nature: it has no structure of its own but will conform to any structure offered, be that water glass or riverbed. This is both the bad and good news for you. Left to their own devises, Water people will usually go with the flow wherever that flow might take them, which allows them to follow their creative muses as need be. However, it does make managing them a bit like herding cats. But just like in nature, Water people will usually take any reasonable structure offered them, so you should be able to impose some managerial structure. The key point here is that the structure must be reasonable from the perspective of a Water, not a Wood. We’ll come back to this later.

Another issue you need to consider if you are going to successfully manage a department of Water people is how you and your “creatives” relate to each other because this will set the tone for your every interaction. In the Five Elements model, Water and Wood relate via the Nurturing Cycle with Water feeding Wood, so in theory, managing these Waters should be heaven for you. In nature, wood absolutely needs water to survive. An advertising agency is nothing without good ads, so in business, you do need your creatives. But going back to nature, too much water will rot wood every time and therein lies part of your problem. Rotting wood loses structure. Even though your creatives feed you with what you need to produce good ads, too much Water will weaken you (rot you, so to speak), overwhelm your structure, and create chaos. Because Woods need to avoid chaos, their response to this perceived lack of structure is usually to impose even more structure, which rarely goes over well with Waters. So what can you do?

First and foremost, I encourage you to build on the fact that you and your creatives absolutely can have a mutually beneficial relationship; it’s part of everyone’s wiring. So instead of coming on strong and demanding they “tow the line,” try approaching them as partners in a process that really does benefit everyone. It truly can be a win-win: you need their creativity and they need to be creative. Yes, the corporate world demands a certain degree of structure – deadlines must be met, budgets adhered to, etc. – but there is usually wiggle room in everything. Meet with your creatives and find out what they like about their jobs, and what they don’t. Create a team environment where they feel like they belong. Remember that Waters need outside structure, they can’t do it for themselves, but it needs to be reasonable to them. The Water personality is often compared to the innocence and wonder of a child, and children do well with reasonable structure. Find out what your group of Waters thinks is reasonable and try to make that happen for them. Just like children, Waters are usually appreciative of the people who create a structure that gives them space to play in the world of imagination. Plus, your Waters get paid for it!

Bottom line, if you insist on seeing yourself as their boss and implementing strict guidelines that must be followed, it will be like herding cats and you will fail. But if you can build an environment where they can work and create in a playful way, they will be happy and productive. Accomplish that and you will continue to be very successful at making good things happen for your company. Blessings to you!

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Does Her Mother HAVE to Move In With Her?

Dear Vicki: My father passed away a decade ago and since then my mother, who is in her early 80s, has lived on her own. We had to take the car keys away from her last year due to poor eyesight and this has really been hard. She used to go out with friends all the time – she was quite the social animal – and complains regularly now about loneliness and boredom. Yet when my two brothers or I encourage her to join senor clubs – many of which provide transportation in our area – she says she’s not interested in spending time with a bunch of tired old people. More concerning is that she has had several falls over the past months, so we have to do something. I’ve spoken with my brothers and they both insist that, as the only daughter, it’s my job to have Mom move in with me. My children are grown, so we have room in the house, but the idea makes me angry. I don’t want to give up my space and freedom. I run a well-respected marketing consulting business from home, so if she lived here, my work might suffer. Plus, we would be together 24/7, and just thinking about that makes me tired. My brothers are really turning up the pressure and trying to guilt me. The whole thing makes me so mad I don’t want to see or talk to Mom now. This feels like a lose/lose for me, which seems really unfair. Am I stuck? Is it just the way of the world that she has to move in? Signed: Angry in Arlington

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Dear Angry: This is a very common issue. We all age and our abilities change as we do. Back in older times, people lived together in extended families or tribes, which meant the task of caring for older generations was spread more evenly across the younger generations. This is still the norm in many places, but in the Western world we have embraced the idea of individual homes, which creates a dilemma when someone is no longer capable of taking care of themselves and their home. The good news for you and your brothers is that a multitude of options exist for seniors these days, so you should be able to find something that works for your family. However, the discussions you will need to have with your mom regarding this issue will likely be hampered by your anger, so let’s help you understand what’s going on so you can better help your mom.

Based on the fact that when you get stressed you get angry or mad, it seems likely that your primary elemental personality is Wood. The need for success, space, freedom to “do their own thing,” and an organized environment are all key aspects of the Wood personality. Woods also do well in marketing, which involves creating and manifesting a plan for the future, all strengths of Woods. What Woods don’t do very well is give up their own dreams and comforts for someone else. But, this isn’t just anyone else, this is your mother, so it’s not surprising that you feel guilty. You probably think you should want to do this for her. Maybe you’re even slightly surprised at how strongly you don’t want her living with you. But I think there is a good reason why.

I’d like to suggest you feel this way because you are a Wood and your mom is likely a Fire personality. Fire people like to be busy and are indeed “social animals.” Connections matter to Fires, especially with friends at fun events. Fires don’t do well with boundaries, so the loss of freedom your mother experienced when her car was taken away would have been especially hard for her. Movement matters to Fires and a lack of movement can put out Fire. Her response that she doesn’t want to spend time with “tired, old people” also sounds like a Fire. Fun, upbeat, exciting connections feed Fire. Slowness and lethargy kill it. And while knowing she has a lot of Fire energy may help you better interact with your mother, it’s the relationship between her Fire and your Wood that is most important for you to understand.

Fire and Wood relate via the Nurturing Cycle, so one would think you two should have a congenial relationship. However, it is your Wood that feeds her Fire, so too much of your mother (or any Fire energy) could indeed feel draining to you. Also, the child feeding the parent seems backwards to our view of family, so this might be another reason you feel a slight bit of resentment around the idea of your mother moving in with you. In truth, you have launched your own children and have been enjoying the ability to focus on your own needs, so it’s not surprising that the idea of taking on responsibility for someone else again isn’t appealing. Wood energy likes to focus on personal success and accomplishment, not nurturing or feeding others, so it really might not be a good match to have your mom living with you. Fortunately, there are other options.

You don’t indicate whether anyone has run the ideal of moving in with you past your mom, but I suspect she might not like the idea, either. As a Fire, being busy and active as long as she can will be really important. Hanging out by herself in a large home with little or no company is not a Fire’s idea of a good time. So instead of trying to assuage your guilt and manage your anger at the situation as you and your brothers see it, I encourage all three of you to sit down with your mother and express your concerns. It might well be the right time for her to give up living alone, but there are a number of ways to accomplish that. For example, you could hire someone to stay with her, which will help keep her safe. But it also means that unless you hire a comedian or another Fire, she will probably be unhappy, so a different approach might be warranted.

Fortunately for you, as our population has aged, we have acknowledged that seniors will need assistance and a veritable cornucopia of residential options are now available in most metropolitan areas.  With a little bit of research, you and your brothers will probably find a place that will be perfect for your Fire mother. It will need to be geared toward “active seniors” so that she will have others like her with whom she can engage. Facilities like this usually have movies nights, regular parties, lots of activities (from shopping trips to theater excursions), as well as counselors and an abundance of staff people to keep an eye on the residents. A place like this will be perfect for a senior Fire personality, certainly better than being cooped up alone with an angry, unhappy Wood.

More importantly, I think you will find that if your mother is someplace where she can use and express her Fire energy with others, there will be less of it when you spend time with her. This will not only feel less threatening and agitating for you, it can actually feel good. In an odd turnabout, few people appreciate Fires more than Woods because Fires remind Woods that all work and no play just isn’t a good thing. Finding a place for your mother that will keep her safe and happy can turn your lose/lose into a win/win. More importantly, you will be happy to be with your mother again. Blessings to you all!

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