Ask Andie: Weekly Advice Column

Welcome to Ask Andie: Weekly Advice Column
Posted every Monday, Andie takes questions from real people in need of advice. Stop by for the weekly post, or check out the blog for posts about such things as how to put good advice into action in your life, insights into different aspects of navigating an oftentimes overwhelming life, and more.

My Brother RUINS Family Functions. What do I do?!

Andie Help!
 
I don’t know what to do! Every time we have a family gathering, I find it so embarrassing to invite extended family because of the way my younger brother acts. He curses uncontrollably, in front of our parents, older relatives, guests, and even the children. He never tries to control or discipline is child, all the while acting like his son is better than everyone else. His son talks back to him, and sometimes insults him, in front of everyone, and he never even attempts to correct him for the blatant disrespect his son is showing to him and everyone else. He has (out of earshot of myself or my spouse) said cruel, hurtful things to my kids, and routinely disregards my rules and wishes regarding my children and their safety. I know that I should probably cut a person like that out of my life, but he is my baby brother. My parents will never do that, so I would have to stop going to holidays at my parents’ home, and I can’t do THAT. What, if anything, should I do?
Sincerely,
Angry in Abilene



Dear Angry,

That IS a very sticky situation that you are in. I can totally understand why cutting him out is not an option for you. You shouldn’t have to give up your whole extended family just because of one person’s bad behavior, not if you can help it.

Unfortunately, it sounds like your brother has been acting out for a very long time. The best solution would be for you guys to talk about this issue. Communication is almost always the best solution. You can try to talk to your brother, even if you need to get the help of an outside, unbiased party, like a mediator. Let him know how upsetting his behavior is to you and your family. Sometimes an intervention by family members and loved ones can have a profound, and often lasting effect on a person. Simply hearing everyone he loves telling him how much his actions have hurt them can be life changing for some people.

Of course, not everyone will respond well to being confronted by their family. If talking to him doesn’t help, you can try to get your other family members to agree to take a united stance and bar him from gatherings until he agrees to change his behavior. There are 2 main pitfalls to this plan, the first being getting everyone to agree to stand their ground and not invite him. This might prove impossible. Some parents just aren’t willing to dish out a helping of tough love and then stick to their guns, no matter how much it might help their child in the long run; it’s just too painful for them to do. If you CAN get everyone on a united front, you face your next challenge: what if he says he’ll change, but then just acts the same? I mean, we have to give a person a chance to change, right? Of course we do. But if he decides to call your bluff, show him it was never a bluff. He broke your agreement; what do you do now? Ask him to attend family counseling. Only if he agrees to attend AND after he has attended at least one meeting, will he be invited back to family gatherings. And it doesn’t count if he storms out before it’s finished.

If none of these things work in your situation, you may just have to do the hardest thing of all: ignore him. It sounds simple, I know, but anyone who has ever tried to ignore someone who truly offends them with their words or actions knows, those 2 simple words, ignore him, can be harder than climbing Mount Everest in shorts and flip-flops without a guide. If you know your brother is going to be, or is likely to be at a gathering, be mindful who else you decide to invite. Also, explain to your guests ahead of time that your brother is, well, a bit of a jerk. Often times people can be a lot more understanding than we may think. After all, there’s one in every family!

It’s also very important that you make sure to discuss with your children their uncle’s antics. I’m sure you’ve already been doing this, having been dealing with him for so many years, but it’s a point that is vital and worth stating, even if it seems obvious. We can’t always protect our children from negative words said to them, or influences that are, shall we say, less than ideal. What we can, and must do, is mitigate any damage done by having open lines of communication with our kids, making sure to talk to them even about the uncomfortable subjects. And this can NOT be fun to talk about, so I would definitely file it under the heading ‘uncomfortable subjects’.

Dealing with unruly family members can be the trickiest of affairs, and even those who are normally the picture of poise and grace can sometimes be reduced to looking like a raving lunatic when presented with this mightiest of challenges. All we have control over is ourselves and how we behave. And maybe that is the lesson that you can impart to your kids from all of this, and that we can all take away. Sometimes, we can’t do much about someone else’s behavior. Every person makes his or her own choices. Which means it is up to each one of us make the choice to set personal boundaries, so that we can lessen the effects other people’s choices have on our lives. Sometimes all we can really do is learn to Abide.

I hope that some of this can help guide you towards finding the right solution for your situation. As always when traversing life’s choppy waters, you just have to keep your head up until you can get past it. Sometimes it’s easy like Sunday morning, sometimes it’s a hard day’s night, but one thing that never changes: it’s always worth the ride.

Hoping you find a way to Abide,
Rev. Andie Lynn Mayton
Ordained Dudeist Priest

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Procrastinator Problems

Dear Andie,

I am a high school senior, I am a terrible procrastinator, and it’s a big problem. I keep putting off my projects until right before they’re due and then I spend all night working on them. It sucks because I’m up until 2 something in the morning and then I have to get up for school so early. I do the same thing with my homework too. Sometimes I’m finishing it before the bell rings to turn it in. I want to be a good student, but I just can’t seem to stay focused and on task. I need to get this under control before next year when I’ll be away at college and I won’t have my mom there to ask me if I finished all my homework yet. I am SO not ready for adulting but I feel like people are wanting me to start and I don’t really know how.

Help me figure this out,
Scared to Adult

Dear Scared,

I want to say first that not only is it completely normal to be scared but it’s healthy too. You are about to enter into a new stage of life, and though I’m sure you have lots of people telling you what to expect and what’s coming and how you are supposed to be feeling, actually experiencing all of it can feel overwhelming. That fear is there to let you know that you are about to be facing new challenges in your life. Embracing the fear and overcoming it is what courage looks like. If we never feel fear, what do we have to overcome and show us that we can be brave?

You shouldn’t feel lonely on the Procrastination Train; surveys show that 86% of high school students report procrastinating on their assignments, and in college it’s 88%. A lot of us struggle with procrastination for one reason or another. For some of us it’s a fear of failure. Our brains reason that if we don’t start, we can’t fail. But that’s some flawed thinking. If you never start, you can’t finish or succeed either. Our greatest teachers are most often are biggest mistakes. We learn through our failures, so we need to fail sometimes. It’s OK to fail. For some people they have an excessive need for perfectionism. They don’t want to start something unless they can do it perfect. But perfect is that level we’ll just never reach. Nothing is perfect. You have to accept when you have done the best job that you can do and be happy with your effort. If you’ve done your best, there isn’t anything else you can do. Other people procrastinate because they suffer from low energy levels. It’s important to get your balance of the right amount of sleep, eating an (at least somewhat) healthy diet, and staying active and exercising. You don’t have to start chowing down on tofu and kale and running marathons, but you can’t live on pizza and soda and never leave your mom’s basement; your body will mutiny. Take care of your body so it can take care of you.

When lack of focus is your main issue with procrastination, there are a number of things you can implement to help you overcome. First thing, set obtainable goals. Goals you won’t be able to reach don’t do any good. Make a schedule, and then stick to it. That second part is the hard part. For instance, when you get home after school, give yourself a small window to unwind, get a snack, use the facilities, all the things we need to do as soon as we hit the front door. Then schedule in ‘Homework Time’. Set timers on your phone to help you stick to your schedule. A good way to help keep track might be to download a ‘To-Do List’ app, or something similar. My husband actually uses one to help keep him focused and on task throughout his day. Get one that has a widget feature and put that widget on your main home screen. Use incentives and rewards. You can combine these three by setting a goal to stick to your schedule and when you do it all week, go do something nice for yourself on the weekend specifically to reward yourself for keeping your schedule. Something small, don’t buy yourself a car, you didn’t get into Stanford, but something you will like. Go out for ice cream or get down to the court in time to play in the pick-up game you usually don’t make it to; whatever your thing is, go do it. It’s also important to eliminate distractions when you’re trying to work. A lot of people say things like, “Music helps me think,” and for some people and some situations it does. But if you find yourself singing along or dancing in your seat more than you are actually working, it’s probably time to turn the music off. Or try listening to a different kind of music. Something instrumental might help to keep you focused without distracting you with lyrics that make you want to boogie. When you set up your schedule, don’t forget about taking breaks. ‘Takin er easy’ is one of the main creeds of the Dude Way, and it mustn’t be forgotten. As they say, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” If you don’t balance play with your work, you’ll get burned out, and nobody wants that.

Now it’s time to go out there and remember, don’t be too hard on yourself; most people are struggling as much, if not more than you with procrastination too, and you are apparently a good egg because you want to do better. Set obtainable goals, make a schedule and stick to it, eliminate distractions, take breaks, and reward yourself for a job well done. If you still have trouble, reach out to your support system. I know you want to be grown up and do it on your own, but honestly even adults need help staying on task sometimes. Why do you think there are so many of those ‘To-Do List’ apps I talked about earlier? Don’t be ashamed or afraid to ask a parent or good friend to remind you about something you know is important. It doesn’t show weakness or immaturity to ask for help when we need it. In fact, recognizing when you need help and having the courage to ask for it is a very adult thing to do. I know a number of supposed adults who can’t or don’t do that. We build support systems of people, made up of our family and friends, people we know we can trust. Lean on them when you need them, and be there for them when they need someone, too. Even for stuff like, “Dude, don’t let me forget about dinner at my mom’s this Sunday. I can’t be late.” You already have everything you need to succeed because you’ve got a desire to do it. Hopefully these tips coupled with a little determination will help you get to the right balance you need.

Don’t Forget to Abide My Friends,
Rev. Andie Lynn Mayton
Ordained Dudeist Priest

To Home School or Not???

Dear Andie,

My oldest daughter is going into the 11th grade this year. She has always been exceptionally smart and I know she could have a brighter future than I did. Like a shining star, she has always excelled at everything she did, from school work and dance class to making friends. She always had lots of friends, but recently she has started shutting many of them out and pulling away from them because of things they do and the way they behave and act. Her best friend of the past 4 years started homeschooling, and now my daughter wants me to do the same for her. I admit to not knowing much about the subject of homeschooling. I’m worried that if I let her home school, she will miss out on the chance to graduated and may limit her college opportunities. Should I let my daughter home school and allow her to further distance herself from the negative influences she is trying to cut out of her life? If I do, will I be allowing her to throw away the future she has started building that has such wonderful potential? I just want to make the right choice for my daughter’s happiness AND her future. How do I know what the right thing to do is?

Help me figure this out!
Parenting is Hard in The US

Dear Parenting is Hard,

Boy, did you make an accurate statement with that pseudonym! Parenting IS hard, no matter where you live or how old they are, and it doesn’t seem to really get any easier, it just keeps changing forms on us. First they’re newborns, soon little crawlers, before you know it they are walking, etc. With every stage or phase of their lives, comes a new stage of parenting for us, complete with new challenges we haven’t faced yet. Oh joy! Just what we were hoping for.

Oftentimes these challenges aren’t just new to us, but they’re new to our parents as well, which makes things even worse because now the place you could always go when you didn’t have the answers, doesn’t have the answers either. Now you’re left trying to figure it out on your own, not even sure where to turn. So now it’s time to do some research (Thank you, Internet, we love you) and weigh your pros and cons. Decide what works best for your family in your situation.

For a lot of people, homeschooling is a foreign concept they aren’t familiar with. For most families, education has been a similar process for generations: your child reaches a certain age, and they go to public school until they graduate and get a diploma. That’s what you did, it’s what your parents did, it’s what your grandparents did, it’s what all your other relatives did, it’s the way education was done.

In today’s world, the face of education is starting to look a lot different than it used to. With homeschooling legal in all 50 states, more and more parents are taking control of their children’s educations, choosing to home school, rather than have their children attend traditional public schools, for a number of reasons. The growing number of online public school options available to families, makes it easier than ever to persue more non-traditional educational routes. Students can receive the same, and sometimes even better, education than they can in the public school systems available to them in their areas, and they do receive a high school diploma as well. There are sites that can help you as a parent sift through and find online school options that are official and meet the homeschooling requirements where you live. K12.com is one of the most well known options for online schooling. They offer public and private online school options, as well as independent study programs that allow students to learn to their own pace, be that slower or faster than average. For a child that is advanced or learns at a faster than average pace, programs such as these can help them thrive educationally, and even graduate early.

Another concern pushing parents towards homeschooling is the ever-increasing number of school shootings, bomb threats, and bullying violence in the United States. 2018 saw 24 shootings involving injury or death in public schools across America. That is an average of 2 shootings every month. And those are only the shootings involving injury or death; not all instances of gunfire in a school results in someone being hurt, but that doesn’t make it NOT a scary situation for children and parents. When I went to school we had fire drills and tornado drills. Now the kids have intruder drills, and they go on “lock down” it seems like once a month. When you read news stories of 7 year old kids writing “Love you Mom and Dad” on their arm in case they never get to tell their parents again, your heart breaks, and you think about the psychological scars these situations must be inflicting upon our children. Though more schools are taking a zero tolerance to violence and bullying stance, none of these policies seem to actually be doing much good. Instead, they only serve to punish the bullied child who finally decides to stand up for him/herself. The schools somehow seem to miss the bully’s behavior, even when it is reported. Then when the bullied student has finally had enough, he or she gets caught up in the consequences of the zero tolerance for violence policy that the bully managed to escape. When we send our children to school, we want them to receive an education, not to be tormented and then punished for not taking it in stride.

Each state creates it’s own laws regarding homeschooling, so it’s up to parents to research the regulations of their particular state. It may sound like a Herculean task, but all the information you need about the laws and regulations and what you need to do as a parent, is on the Internet. You can usually find it with a few Google searches and some time and patience. A good place to start would be something like HSLDA.org where they have all the homeschooling laws by state. It’s a good idea to do more in-depth research into your own state’s laws, to make sure you adhere to all the regulations required.

In addition to homeschooling, there is another option. Depending on your child’s age and your state’s laws, she may be able to take her GED exam. Many states allow children at 16 years of age with parental consent to take the GED exam. All community colleges and almost all 4-year universities accept a GED in lue of a high school diploma. A person with a GED can enroll in a 2-year college and take certain high school credits while taking their first semester courses and actually qualify to attend Harvard and other ivy league universities. This could allow her to begin her college career early. Homeschooling, and even getting a GED, doesn’t have to limit your child’s opportunities for her future.

Any decision about your child’s future is important and shouldn’t be made lightly. You have a lot of things to think about and discuss with your child. Not just about the quality of the education she is receiving, but about life and dealing with it, too. It’s important to make sure that your daughter isn’t trying to run away from some problem by electing to home school. Even in a bullying situation, we need to teach our children to address and deal with our problems, and not to simply run away. Though you may in the end decide that the best course of action is for your child to remove herself from that situation, it is still important to talk about it, and address the problem. Looking at a situation and deciding that the best thing to do is to remove yourself from the situation is not the same thing as running away from your problems. Whether she is experiencing bullying or not, having this discussion could offer that learning opportunity.

The best advice I can give in your situation is for you to do some online research into the home school laws in your state, look into the home school options that are available to you, and talk to your daughter about her motives for wanting to home school, and her plans for her future. If it were me, I would do all my research before I talked to her. Come to the table armed with the information that you will need for you guys to make an informed decision that will be best for your family. Only the members of your family can decide what’s best for your family. For our family, homeschooling was the right decision, but that may not be the right decision for every family. Hopefully, I was at least able to give you some tools to help you in making a more informed decision, and to set your mind at ease with the knowledge that your daughter can choose to be home schooled and not limit her opportunities for her future. In many cases, leaving the traditional public school system can actually open the doors for bigger and better opportunities for young people. Each family has to look at their situation and decide what’s best for them. Just remind yourself, parenting is the hardest thing you’ll ever do, but it’s also the most rewarding.

Good Luck and Remember to Abide,
Rev. Andie Lynn Mayton
Ordained Dudeist Priest

Maybe I’m Not Cut Out To Be Married…

Dear Andie,

I’ve been with someone for over four years now, and he is truly great. We’ve both been divorced before and have children from our previous marriages. We have a wonderful blended family that loves and respects one another, and we are very happy. There is just one thing missing. Every time the subject of marriage comes up, he has an excuse to put it off. First it was wait until he finds a better job. I told him I would be happy to get a job too, but he doesn’t want me to work. Running a household of 6 is a full time job, he says. He tells me all the time that I work more than he does. And with 4 kids between us, he says he feels better knowing that I am always here running things and being available to our children. He says things like, “When it’s the right time,” yet no time ever seems to be right, and nothing ever seems to be moving towards marriage other than words. It may seem silly to some people, but being a wife, and not just a girlfriend, is important to me. I wonder if maybe I’m not cut out to be married. How do I get my wonderful man to see that if he likes it, he should put a ring on it?

Waiting for my Wedding in Waco

Dear Waiting,

First of all, let me say congratulations to you and your significant other for finding each other and making your blended family work. Kudos to you both for the work I know you are putting in. Though the rate of divorce in recent years has been on the decline, this may be affected largely by the likewise decline in the rate of marriage in recent years. Being able to mesh 2 families together in a way that works for all involved is no small feat, and you both should be commended for your accomplishment.

Being that the issue of marriage is so important to you, this is something you and your significant other need to discuss. This isn’t the kind of casually bring it up while he’s watching TV one night discussions either. No, it’s the kind we all dread, the serious kind. No one enjoys having boring conversations about serious topics, but if you want to have a healthy relationship, you got to do what you got to do, right. So we do a lot of thinking, get ourselves ready, pull up our big girl (or boy) panties (or Underoos) and do the necessary work of communication.

Firstly it’s important to try to understand why he might be so standoffish on the issue of marriage. You have both been down this road before, and it’s always hard to know when is the right time to take that step. When a person has one or more failed marriages under their belt, they can, understandably, become leery of the whole idea of marriage. Since you are already living together as a cohesive family unit, it doesn’t seem that he is uncomfortable with the idea of commitment. He may simply still have trepidation about finalizing things. Seemingly he was at one point in love enough with his ex-wife to think he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her, but that obviously didn’t work out. If his divorce was messy or lengthy, he may find the legality of marriage distressing. Whatever his issue is, you need to be ready to be open to him and to listen to his fears without judgement. Men often have a hard time opening up, even at times when an important relationship suffers as a direct result of their hardshell exterior. Try to be patient and understanding and see things from his point of view, then use that same patience and understanding showing him your point of view as well. Remember that you don’t want anyone to feel attacked or ambushed. You want to communicate your feelings and needs in an open and honest way that creates a safe space in which he can feel at ease enough to explore his own doubts and fears and feelings and then be able to relate them to you.

Try to find a solution that can make you both happy. If he isn’t comfortable tying the knot yet, how does he feel about being engaged? It’s the logical next step after girlfriend and before marriage; it’s a symbol of your commitment to each other with a clear implication that he intends to one day make you his wife; and it isn’t a legally entangling senario. He may feel more comfortable taking the next step if he knows it isn’t down the aisle just yet. This journey through life is distinctly yours. There is no blueprint for these types of things and no one should try to compare their road to anyone else’s. Some couples enjoy years long engagements before they set their date, when they are both comfortable and ready. What is important is that you both feel comfortable and validated in your realtionship, that you both feel like you are being heard and that your feelings matter.

If his problem is solely the legal issue, perhaps you could have a Commitment Ceremony. It’s basically a wedding without the marriage certificate. All of your family and friends will still gather to wish you well and to support, celebrate, and bless your union. You won’t have to find someone Ordained to officiate a legal union, so you are free to choose whomever you would like to lead your ceremony. All the love, fun, and emotional commitment of a wedding with none of the legal commitment and potential messiness that can entail. Some couples find this to be a better fit in their lives than a traditional marriage ceremony.

If your heart is set on the traditional wedding ceremony, my best advice is to make sure you communicate that to him. If you absolutely will not feel truly fullfilled in your life without the official, traditional wedding ceremony and marriage, complete with legal marriage certificate, it is crucial that you relate that to him when you talk. You both deserve to be happy, and he deserves to know how important that piece of your puzzle is to your ultimate happiness. Now, I am not at all suggesting that you sit down and slap him with an ultimatum, it’s a ring or the road, buddy. Nothing like that. But if you guys love each other, anything essential to the recipe of happiness for one of you is important to the other as well. He will want to know that this is important to you and your fullfillment as a whole person, just as you would want to know the same about him.

Life is about balance, and that is in all things, including Abiding. A person shouldn’t be so easy going that they don’t make sure their own needs are being met. As humans our list of needs can be fairly long sometimes, but if you have assessed something as a need in your life, you should attend to it, well, as needed. When the rivers of life are flowing smoothly, it can be tempting to go with the flow and not muddy the waters, even when what we really need to feel whole is right there on the other side. But sometimes we have to stop letting the current carry us along and swim like hell to the other shore and pull ourselves onto the bank, so we can take a look around and get our bearings. Take the time to assess your needs and what you need to do to meet those needs. Comminucate with your partner honestly and with love and patience, and you will find your way back into the natural flow of life before you know it.

Hoping this helps you find a way to Abide,
Rev. Andie Lynn Mayton
Ordained Dudeist Priest