Her Mother’s a Better Grandma than a Mom

Dear Vicki: I need help relating to my mother. When I was growing up, she never acted like my friend’s moms; we had no cookies, no cuddles, nothing warm and fuzzy. Instead, we had rules and order in a well-run household of five (she had three children). But now that I’m grown, she treats my children very differently. They get cookies and treats! Honestly, if I wasn’t so busy at my accounting firm, I’d be a little worried she is spoiling them. And where was this side of her when she was raising me? Signed: Daughter of a Changed Mom

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Dear Daughter: This is an excellent question because it offers an opportunity to discuss an aspect of the Five Elements personalities called “lacking.” As we have said in this blog many times, we are born with all five elements in our personality make-up. But one of the elements takes center stage as our primary element and it’s through the filter of this element that we live and interact with the world around us. Sometimes, however, even though we are born with an element in a primary position, something in our life can make it unsafe or undesirable for us to express that elemental personality. Then as we age, life shifts enough for us that we can eventually begin expressing the suppressed element. When that happens, it can look like we’ve experienced the mother of all personality changes (pun completely intended).

I suspect that your mother might have been born a primary Earth personality and for some reason in her childhood, it became necessary for her to suppress it. Perhaps her parents were concerned that she was a clingy child (Earths usually need close relationships more than other elements) and chastised her for that behavior. Or maybe organization and process were so highly valued in her family that she worked to manifest those traits, which are attributes of a Metal personality, to win the approval so desired by her Earth. If that structured behavior was sufficiently reinforced for her, she well might have carried her Metal approach to life into her mothering since raising a family the “right” way would be very important to both a Metal and an Earth (lacking or not).

Now that you’re grown and are a mother yourself, your mother might feel it’s safe to venture into the “warm and fuzzy” Earth arena with your children because you are providing structure for them. I say this because, as an accountant, you likely have a true Metal personality style yourself and Metals believe structure is very important. In a way, your easy ability to create the well-run household she tried to create as a mother might be allowing her to explore her natural Earth personality.

Of course, this will feel very odd to you. As a Metal child, you would have naturally expected Earthy mothering from your mother because Earth and Metal relate on the Nurturing Cycle of the Five Elements model with Earth feeding Metal. You might have resented the lack of cookies and cuddling from her that your friends received from their moms. But hopefully, your Metal personality appreciated the structure your mother brought to the home and family. You should also be grateful that your Metal personality mom would not have brought the over-involvement and smothering attention that can easily occur when there is too much Earth energy in a parenting style.  It’s probably not lost on you that, in fact, you are likely mothering your children the way you were mothered.

In truth, it sounds like you don’t have time to bake cookies and fuss over your children a lot yourself, so it could be a blessing that your mother is available to do so. Your children certainly appreciate their Earthy grandmother and it takes some of the pressure off of you. It does sound like a win-win for all as long as you can move past the fact that your children are receiving a benefit from your mother that you didn’t have. And I’m sure you can; Metal personalities detach easily once they see it is the right thing to do.

But there is one more important point to consider here. Your mother expressing more Earth energy in her personality is a blessing for your family, but it is also something to celebrate for her. It means she may finally be comfortable expressing her true self, which is an important step: At a personality level, she is coming home to herself in a very healing way. And honestly, it can be a healing for you, too, if you allow it. It’s never too late for cookies and cuddles, whether you are a Metal or Earth mother or daughter. I encourage you to embrace and enjoy both!

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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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Mother’s Death Leaves Her Brother Adrift

Dear Vicki: Our dear, sweet, loving mother passed away last year and it has been a tough road for our family. She was the glue that held us all together, but for my brother Arnold she was also a lifeline to reality. Arnold is in his early twenties, still lives at home, and never went to college. He is a quiet, sensitive guy who worked in a convenience store and loves photography and drawing comics. He could easily get lost in his art or watching superhero movies, often forgetting to eat or even get to work on time unless Mom reminded him. Since she’s been gone, Dad stays at his law office late and Arnold has lost his job. I have my own family now so can’t really move back home to help out. I think dad will be okay, but I’m really worried about Arnold. How can I help him? Signed: Sad Sister

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Dear Sad Sister: My condolences on your loss. It’s never easy to lose a loved one, but it’s especially hard to lose a mom. Most mothers have a lot of Earth energy in their personalities – family and home sit in the Earth element – and they often are exactly what holds everyone together. Earth people love focusing on home and family, and making sure everyone’s needs are met. No doubt you all miss her love and affection, but Arnold is also missing more than that. He is missing the structure and boundaries that she would have provided for him because of the way they related on the Five Elements model.

It’s very likely that your brother is a Water personality.  Everything you said about him, and some things you didn’t, describe Waters perfectly. They are quiet and sensitive people, usually passionate about art or some other solitary endeavor, and not very interested in the type of learning that requires a structured environment like college or even a tech school. They do love to learn, but in their own way, on their own time. As you can tell, structure isn’t something Waters have an abundance of, or necessarily appreciate. In nature, if the two most structured elements attempt to structure water, it rarely goes well. Water will rust metal and rot wood. In nature, only sweet gentle earth can successfully provide structure for water in the form of riverbeds and shorelines. And it’s the same way with people and relationships.

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Jealousy: Can the Five Elements Help?

Dear Vicki: My high school daughter Sammie, who I think is an Earth, has a close friend who’s started comparing herself to several of their classmates. Sammie says Tracy is jealous of their friends who have better grades, cuter boyfriends, nicer cars, etc. She even told Sammie that she wished her mother was as nice as I am. Tracy has become more and more angry about the perceived inequities in her life and it’s threatening their friendship. Sammie feels like there’s a “boogeyman” affecting her previously nice friend. I’d like to offer Sammie suggestions on how to handle Tracy and wonder if the Five Elements might help. I’m assuming jealousy is a Wood thing, right? What can Sammie do to help Tracy out of this Wood place? Thank you. Signed, Wants to Help

Dear Wants to Help: It’s easy to assume that jealousy sits in Wood because success matters to Woods. However, cute boyfriends and nice cars can be a status thing, and status matters to Metals. And nicer parents would matter to an Earth because family connections sit in Earth. So, no, jealousy isn’t automatically a Wood thing. Jealousy can visits any element, but what creates jealousy will differ by element. We can all appreciate what someone else possesses, has accomplished, or the lifestyle they have created, but the strong emotion that’s behind jealousy is usually fueled by the priorities of our main element. For example:

Waters value time for study and discussion and the freedom to go with the flow. A Water who is over-committed or too busy might be jealous of someone who has more free time and less structure than they have.

Woods do value success and personal accomplishment. A Wood who finds themself unable to make things happen no matter how hard they try might be jealous of someone else’s phenomenal success or good luck.

Fires value attention and excitement in their lives. A Fire who is unable to maintain an active social schedule due to work commitments might be jealous of someone who does have the time to mix and mingle.

Earths value deep and lasting connections with people and the ability to spend time with them. An Earth who lives far away from close family and friends might be jealous of someone who lives near their loved ones.

Metals value being right and acknowledged for their wisdom. A Metal who did not win an appointment to a prestigious committee or council might be jealous of the colleague who was appointed.

Because Tracy is predominantly coveting externalized accomplishments (good grades, cute boyfriends, nice cars), it seems likely that your original assessment is correct: She is probably an out of balance Wood. And if she is expressing her jealousy in an angry fashion, you can assume she probably has too much Wood. Sammie can help by building Metal energy around Tracy because it’s Metal that helps prune back Wood. As her best friend, Sammie can encourage Tracy to wear white or give her a hematite crystal to wear, all of which will build her own Metal to address her abundance of Wood.

Sammie can also bring her own Metal by being logical in the face of Tracy’s complaints. Logic really is a good counter to out of balance Wood as long as it offers suggestions and counterpoints, not flat denials of whatever is bothering the Wood.

If Sammie and Tracy are able to balance Tracy’s Wood, she might well be able to take the necessary steps to help herself obtain better grades and cuter boyfriends; that level of accomplishment is not impossible for motivated and balanced Woods. Obviously, Tracy won’t be able to change her parents, but if she is more pleasant to be around, she might find that her family will be nicer toward her. She will certainly be back to being someone that Sammie enjoys again.

One last point: I’m sure you will monitor how all of this affects your daughter. There could be more contributing to Tracy’s problems than Sammie knows, so professional help might be needed for Tracy. Also, Tracy and Sammie relate on the Controlling Cycle, and it is Tracy’s Wood that controls Sammie’s Earth. If Sammie becomes less of her sweet Earth self, an indication that she is becoming deficient in Earth, she may need to step away from Tracy until things are better. This is a complicated issue, bit one thing is for sure: Sammie is lucky to have a wise mother who can help her dispel the “boogeyman.” Blessings to you!

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Metal Employee and Motherhood

Dear Vicki: I’m writing because I’m having trouble with a woman who works for me. I run a small accounting firm where Greta has been a valued employee for eight years. I don’t know as much about the Five Elements as I do about accounting, but I suspect Greta is a Metal. She has been on time, thorough, precise, and steady the whole time she has worked for us. She also remembers birthdays and listens when people have problems, so is well liked in the firm. However, earlier this year Greta had her first child and since returning from maternity leave, she has made several minor mistakes in her work, seems preoccupied, and has allowed her desk to become more messy than usual. She has a major thing for sugar now, too, and actually brings cookies for the office. I’m concerned about this change as it has required me to be much more hands on than I used to be and I don’t like the distraction. I want to focus on innovations for our business. Is this a motherhood thing for Greta or something else? More importantly, will she ever get back to the stellar employee she once was? I’d hate to fire her, but it may come to that. Signed: Responsible in Rochester

Dear Responsible: You are facing a situation that many employers face when an employee becomes a mother: Things change. Greta has a new top priority now, which is her child. She also has hormones flooding her body that reinforce this shift in priorities. She is bound to be different, but that doesn’t mean she won’t remain a valuable employee. You don’t mention how long Greta has been back from maternity leave. If it’s only a few weeks, I suggest you cut her some slack a while longer. She is most likely running on fewer hours sleep than usual since babies wake often during the night. She is also trying to juggle the numerous demands associated with her changed family and still do an excellent job.

Excellence matters to Metals, as you have seen over the past eight years with Greta. And that hasn’t changed for her; she will still do her best for you. But you will need to give her time to make order out of the wonderful chaos her baby has added to her life. As a Metal, Greta will find the process and structure necessary to juggle her work and family life successfully because that’s what Metals do. They excel at creating a hierarchy that allows everything to work smoothly. However, right now Greta isn’t just a pure Metal. She is a Metal with a strong secondary Earth. Let me explain.

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