Helping Their Son Succeed

Dear Vicki: I’m writing because my husband and I have run out of ways to help motivate our son James. He is 12 years old, musically talented, and loves photography and drawing houses. Currently, James wants to be an architect, photographer or a musician. The problem is that he has lots of ideas, but rarely puts anything into action. It’s like he gets stuck at the starting point and can’t get going. Not surprisingly, he struggles with his schoolwork and getting organized. He daydreams a lot and we constantly need to remind what he should be doing. Sometimes we even have to sit with him to make sure he gets things done. We had him tested and while the results came back in the normal range, we still need to make lists for him regarding what needs to get done each day. Fortunately, he’s an only child so we do have the time to focus on him. I work part time as an accountant and my husband is a computer designer, writer, and programmer. What will it take to help James accomplish things and succeed? Signed: Weary and Worried in Washington

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Dear Weary and Worried: It is very understandable why you are worried about your son’s apparent inability to accomplish things. We have an accomplishment-driven culture these days that readily equates success with manifestation: What have we done lately? And while this works well for several of the elemental personalities, not all of them will thrive or feel comfortable in this kind of environment. I think that may be part of the issue for James.

Your description of him perfectly fits that of the primary Water personality. Water people definitely dream and create, and sometimes their act of creation produces a physical manifestation like a painting, photograph, or drawing of a house. But Water people often don’t have the structure to stay with projects long enough to actually manifest something that is not an act of creation itself. This includes chores, uninspiring homework, etc. And while manifestation starts with an idea or a dream, in most cases it needs to be brought down to the physical to be real.

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Move to New City Brings Out the Worst in Her Sons

Dear Vicki: I have two teenage sons who used to get along well, but lately seem to be at each other’s throats. Jack, age 17, can come off like a know-it-all but, in his defense, he is very smart. Timmy doesn’t like Jack correcting him or telling him what to do, especially in front of others, but he’s still young enough (14 years) to make poor choices. I think Jack is just trying to help him, but when he does, Timmy really blows up; he has a very quick temper. I know that siblings can fight, but I’m concerned because since we moved to a new city for my husband’s job a few months ago, they seem to be fighting more and more. I thought the boys would be excited by the move, but apparently not. Any suggestions on how to help them get along? Their constant squabbling over everything is getting unbearable. Signed, Battle Weary Mom

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Dear Battle Weary: To paraphrase Shakespeare, the course of sibling love never did run smooth, at least all the time. Siblings are often each other’s first friends, but also sometimes, first enemies. In the case of your sons, I’m sure you know that some fighting and competition is natural, especially in two boys so close in age. But if it gets out of hand it can hurt them both, so let’s look at what might be going on between them and see what we can do to help.

I suspect there are two primary dynamics at play between Jack and Timmy and, unfortunately, neither works to Timmy’s advantage. First, Timmy is the youngest, so from that perspective Jack will always appear to have the “upper hand” as the older brother. Second, if we look at their individual elemental personalities, I suspect they relate on the Controlling Cycle of the Five Elements model. In adults, Controlling Cycle relationships can take on a sense of support, but in children, it usually feels exactly like it sounds: controlling.

Based on your descriptions and the dynamic that has developed between the boys, I believe that Jack is a primary Metal personality. Metal people are usually very smart, know they are smart, and are very happy to share their wisdom with everyone. Stressed Metal personalities can become critical, controlling, and dismissive, and moving to a new city is stressful for people, whatever their age. For Metal personalities, letting go of things that matter is never easy, either, so a move to a new city will likely be especially hard on Jack. This may be partially why you are seeing his “know-it-all” behavior more with Timmy now. Metal people value control to keep their life stable. That sense of stability and control has gone out the window for Jack because of the move, so he is probably struggling some now and Timmy is bearing the brunt of it.

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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 Son and New Husband Clash

Dear Vicki: I hope you can help. After 10 years as a single mom/widow, I recently married a guy I really love who brings a great deal of stability to my life. Brad is a smart go-getter who I believe has a lot of Wood in his personality. Unfortunately, my teenage son is also a smart go-getter who has a lot of Wood in his personality. When Brad and I first started dating, he and Gordy (my son) got on great. They played football, discussed sports, and even went driving together in Brad’s sports car. But that all changed when Brad moved in after the wedding. Now, life here is like The Battle of the Titans. I had such hopes for a happy and harmonious family life, but this is absolutely crazy. I love them both, so what can I do? Signed: Weary in Wisconsin

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Dear Weary: You have described life with two Wood people very well; it can be a constant battle. And since both guys love you, it’s not surprising that they were both on their best behavior during the courting period. Woods like to make good impressions because what people think about them matters a lot. From Brad’s perspective, he knew you and Gordy were a package deal, so would have put almost as much energy into impressing Gordy as he put into wooing you. And from Gordy’s perspective, the idea of a cool step-dad after no father figure for 10 years was probably appealing. But as you have discovered, the reality of day-to-day life with two Wood guys living in the same house can be a challenge. So let’s look at ways to make this situation work for everyone.

As you know if you’ve read anything about the Five Elements model, the elements all relate via the Nurturing or Controlling Cycles. For example, while you don’t mention what element you think is primary in your personality, your desire for “a happy and harmonious family life” suggests that you have a lot of Earth energy. Home and family matter deeply to Earths, and conflict of any kind is painful for them. Woods and Earths relate via the Controlling Cycle, with Wood controlling Earth. But because Earth is involved, it is a gentle type of control (unlike, for example, Water controlling Fire where Water actually diminishes Fire by putting it out). In nature, Wood “controls” Earth by using its root system to stabilize the ground. Brad’s presence feels stabilizing to you because, at an elemental level, it really is. And in some ways, Gordy probably felt stabilizing to you, too. As you have discovered, the problem isn’t you with either of your guys, it’s the two guys together. That’s because they have the same elemental personality.

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Adult Son Distancing Himself from Mother

Dear Vicki: I’m writing about my son Jacob. He graduated from law school four years ago and moved to New York from our small town in Pennsylvania. Growing up, Jacob was a quiet, studious child. He was something of a loner, but always seemed to appreciate the love and attention my husband and I showered on him. We supported him through college and grad school, were always so proud of him, and felt his continued gratitude. But since he started work as a corporate attorney, he has changed. He often won’t return our calls, interrupts or loses his temper when we do talk, is pretty critical, and has generally turned into a not so nice guy. Children change as they grow, I know, but this seems very dramatic. He has put a lot of pressure on himself to advance in his career, but why is he so different? It feels like we’ve lost him. Did we do something wrong? Signed: Puzzled in PA


Dear Puzzled: You are correct: Children do change as they grow. They learn about the world and their place in it. They make new friends and grow from these new relationships. They take continuous steps to become more independent. But they usually don’t change so dramatically over the course of just four years, so I think there has to be something else going on with Jacob. Let’s see if we can figure it out.

You don’t mention what primary element you think he is, but the fact that he was a quiet, studious child means he would likely be a Water or a Metal. His choice to practice law, however, would require the structure necessary to withstand the rigors of law school. That structure would be seen in both Metal and Wood. The overlap here is Metal, which also fits with the fact that the attention to detail necessary to practice corporate law usually sits in Metal. And this is just a guess, but your worry and concern about your son, and the fact that you so easily assume you might have done something wrong in raising him, suggest that you are probably a primary Earth element. This means that you and Jacob relate on the Nurturing Cycle of the Five Elements model with your Earth feeding his Metal.

On the surface, this should be good news for both of you. Earths love family, children, and helping people. Metals often expect attention and support, especially from Earths. Your relationship of parent to child also supports this natural flow of energy from Earth to Metal in the model. So what isn’t working? Why has he changed seemingly out of the blue?

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