Help! She Hates Thanksgiving!

Dear Vicki: Thanksgiving is less than one month away and I’m dreading it. I hate Thanksgiving. It’s so much work! I remember my mother used to cook for days to be ready for Thanksgiving dinner. And then it took hours to clean up after it. She never complained, but it must have bothered her when Dad and my brothers went off to watch football while my sister and I helped Mom clean the kitchen. My girls are teenagers now and while I’ve made the “traditional” Thanksgiving meal all of their lives, and they have helped me, I’ve dreamed about doing things differently. I want to honor the idea of being grateful – that’s the most important part – and I want my family to have a wonderful holiday, but when I suggest changing it up a little in the food department to make things easier, my husband refuses to break with tradition. Secretly, I’d like to boycott the whole holiday this year, but then I feel guilty. Am I a horrible mom? Signed: Hates Turkey

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Dear Hates Turkey: The short answer is that, no, you are not a horrible mom. Actually, you seem like a pretty honest mom to me. You care about your family and want to do well for them, but you also want to make it easier for you and your girls. That is very reasonable and actually very loving. The fact that you really want to make a good Thanksgiving holiday for your family but are feeling guilty that you might not be doing enough for your family suggests that you probably have a good amount of Earth energy in your personality. Earths care about making and keeping people happy. They want to do the best they can for their friends and family. But a balanced Earth will also know when and where to draw the line so they don’t become a squishy doormat. Congratulations on knowing when to raise your hand and ask for change!

And then there is your husband. People who value traditions and want to stick with them usually have a Metal personality. As we have said here many times, Metal people focus on the past. From that perspective, they determine what has worked before, what has not, and what should be carried forward. “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it,” is a common Metal anthem. This sounds like your husband, right? The Thanksgiving traditions have worked for him, so why change them?

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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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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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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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