Archive for the ‘Parents’ Category

Caring for Cancer Caregivers

In Health and Body, Parents on June 1, 2010 at 9:51 pm

Dear Yenta,

This past year 3 friends I love lost their moms to cancer. In the middle of all the chaos I didn’t want to intrude or get in the way. I offered my full support but it never felt like enough to me. They were at chemo appointments & hospitals and I wish I could have been so much more helpful! There is a history of 6 different cancers in my own family, so this isn’t the first time I’ve watched people go through this and I want to offer more to those I love. So what do you give a caregiver who gives of themselves completely but doesn’t know what to ask for or how to ask for help themselves?

-Looking in from the outside


I went to a hipster meditation session once that seemed trivial until the leader asked everyone who had lost someone this year, or who knew someone who lost someone this year, to please raise their hand.  I would say 98% of the hands in that room went up, and the 2% were probably not paying attention.

Death is par for the human course, and is something everyone is dealing with, all the time.  Some, however, are doing so in excruciating, hands-on ways, and others more from a distance.  What do we do to help those braving the frontlines of mortality and illness?  We start with ourselves.  There is nothing more incredible than a friend with poise, calm and the ability to give, who arrives at a traumatic scene, a hospital, a chemo bedside, a funeral or a wake.

Humans are full of fear.  The fearless are the ones that comfort the needy without question.  We need to cultivate our own fearlessness so that when a friend calls us panicked, or a family member falls ill (God-forbid), or we bear witness to the horrible, our fearlessness somehow, through loving action, becomes contagious.  This is done through self-care, through facing our dark sides, through working on our own stillness so we may offer the same to others.

It is a balancing system.  The fearless care for those in need until depleted, then someone swoops in, someone like you, and holds the caretaker in their arms until a virtual rebooting takes place and they can continue the job of caring for the sick.  What you give a caregiver is a presence that says, “this is your time.”  For more ideas see:  How Do I Support Them Through Chemotherapy?

There are also admirable projects like “Care Chronicles,” a symptom management workbook for caregivers and patients.  Coined by a woman named Sarah Banks in memory and honor of her mother, this cancer management workbook is meant to help ease the difficulties of both the caregiver and patient.

“Caregiving for my mom,” writes Ms. Banks,  “was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life…  I’ve created this workbook, because I don’t want anyone else to have to go through what my family has gone through. I had an idea. A way to make my mom’s life a little easier. A way to feel a little more in control. Because after the chemo would make her sick, or when she’d fall out of bed at night, or we’d stay up till 4am at the ER, or she was so dehydrated she couldn’t pronounce a word…I had never before felt so helpless and out of control. I don’t want that for others.”

To support Sarah Banks’ campaign, click here.  She is raising money to self-publish packets to distribute to hospitals and doctors’ offices to offer answers to your precise question. There are only 27 days left to meet her $8k goal.  One thing you can do for your friends and family members as they go through this:  make a pledge to a cause like this one in their name, and tell them you just made a step towards easing the suffering of others.

For more information and help, check out:  Everyone’s Guid to Cancer Supportive Care: A Comprehensive Handbook fort Patients and Their Families by Ernest and Isadora Rosenbaum.

Ask Yenta!  E-mail a question to merissag[at]gmail[dot]com directly, or using to ask anonymously.

Merissa Nathan Gerson is a fan of
Ask Your Yenta

Letting Go of Ugly Voices

In Breakups/Divorce, Mental Health, Parents on May 24, 2010 at 3:54 pm

Change the script! "I am $10 Princess." Photo courtesy of Victor Jeffreys II,

Hi Yenta,

I recently separated from my husband of four years, who emotionally abused and financially used me. While I am trying to get my life back on track, I am living in my parents’ house for emotional and financial support. As I move forward, I don’t want to keep reliving all the negative things he did or said to me.

However, my parents repeatedly bring up all the ways in which he was a terrible husband and son-in-law. I understand that they also feel manipulated and betrayed (he used them financially as well), but every time they begin on these tirades, I feel guilty for bringing him into their lives. I’ve expressed this to my parents & asked that they not talk about him for the time being, but they can’t seem to stop themselves. What can I do to make this easier on my parents and myself?

-Homeward Bound

Dear HB,

Ugh, this sounds completely awful. Good for you for wanting to let the voices of the past go.  In the meantime, let’s map a plan for dealing with your present.

The rule about Mom and Dad is that they will always be them.  You cannot fix or change their behavioral patterns, you can only alter your own approach to both engagement and the subsequent emotions.

In this case, it sucks that your parents can’t put a lid on it.  When it comes down to it, you tried to express your need for a change in topic, and they couldn’t seem to respect that need.  That means you need to act outside the box in order to protect yourself, most specifically, your heart.

How to make this easier on yourself and your parents?  At this point you have no other choice than to move on.  Moving on means continuing to do what you have done to let go of this man and asserting your autonomy.  It is hard work, and work that needs to be continued daily.  Like an alcoholic attending regular AA meetings, you need to fully commit to letting go.  In moving on, and in moving out, you will eradicate those tirades from your life, but more importantly, you will give your parents hope and something new to focus on.

I am a weathered respiter.  Ie, I often return home after long arduous travel to reboot before refiring into the world.  There is, however, an important time limit to living at home.  When you are no longer resting, but choking on the confined role of “daughter,” run.

Going home is good until going home destroys you, then going home is bad.  This is a fine line because being in the den of your childhood can be destructive without warning and in ways you didn’t expect.  There is the normal drag of memory and regression, and then there are things like tirades relating to the past.  You get to choose to release yourself from this dull pang.  Only you know your threshold for parental drama.  Find that threshold and when it is crossed, make a change.

Tunnel vision is the number one side-effect of living with parents.  Make an effort to speak to people, go to places, and cultivate practices that expand your vision so that your girlhood is not the full scope of your perspective.

Make a plan and stick to it.  You want to move out?  Figure out what that will take and then do it.  Do what you can, even from your high school bedroom, to affirm your trajectory towards womanhood and autonomy and slowly those voices and tirades will shift.  You have to do the work, though.  You have to move on so they can move on.

Little things that maintain drive:

Write out your goals and tack them to your mirror.

excercise, Yoga, Dance – anything to keep your connection to your body.

Nutrition.  Good food feeds good thoughts.

Meditation. This will help you focus on the present and release the past.

For those who believe: Prayer works wonders.

Anything else to keep you inside of yourself and connected to your intention.

For help, try reading:

Self-Reliance:The Wisdom of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Inspiration for Daily Living Edited by Richard Whelan.

The Little Book of Letting Go:  A Revolutionary 30Day Program to Cleanse Your Mind, Lift Your Spirit and Replenish Your Soul by Hugh Prather.

Ask Yenta!  E-mail a question to merissag[at]gmail[dot]com directly, or using to ask anonymously.

Merissa Nathan Gerson is a fan of
Ask Your Yenta

SM ISO Babysitter/Girlfriend

In Dating, Drama, Mental Health, Parents on April 14, 2010 at 11:47 pm

Mother, may I? No, thank you! Photo courtesy of Victor Jeffreys II,

Dear Yenta,

I am dating a man 12 years my senior, who is going to court soon to gain custody of his 6-year-old son. Though he previously had custody every other weekend, he has not had a relationship with him for several years due to difficulties with the mother. When he did have custody, he relied heavily on his girlfriend at the time to help care for his child (much to the chagrin of the birth mother). He has made remarks about me playing a similar role in his son’s life. He refers to his son as “the kid” or “the little crumb snatcher” and has nightmares about hitting or molesting his child (he was molested as an adolescent by his sister’s husband). My concern is this: while I don’t mind occasionally helping out & I am sensitive to his fears, I don’t want to be used as a babysitter and/or chaperone. I also think he should bond with his son without me there. How should I deal with this situation?


Dear Insta-Momma,

Honestly, I think you should get out of this situation. It is bad news when a man with serious issues from his childhood chooses to pass off the hard stuff to his woman. This man needs to be in therapy to remedy his nightmares, face his past, and therefore step up as father of the year.

Children grow attached to people, like women who care for them. I think we forget this when we find single Dad’s sexy, that we are dating a man AND his children. If your boyfriend is pawning off parenting on his girlfriends, then his kids are finding attachments to temporary women. Are you looking for marriage? Is this a fling for a moment or an investment forever?

Motherhood is for life. It isn’t a job you get real vacations from, or sabbatical. It is a heart contract, an action contract, and a commitment between you and the children you choose to raise. For this, we have birth control, condoms and choices. Ie, to marry or not to marry, to date or not to date, to bring life into the world, not to bring life into the world. I am, as I witness the horror of shows like 16 And Pregnant, more and more an advocate of abstinence.

Since abstinence is irrelevant, as the children already exist, and since you will probably continue to date this guy no matter what I say, here are some options. For one, set limits. Let this man-friend of yours know that you are happy to be involved – to a point. Make those limits crystal clear and if he crosses your threshold, express it. Yes, how you need to treat this guy is a lot like PARENTING. This involves being clear and being firm so that the child/boyfriend is steered in the proper direction.

Also, a gentle suggestion that he seek a remedy beyond your arms for his nightmares would be a smart move. Not only for you and for him, but for those kids. Violence and abuse recur in cycles for precisely this reason. Fear of hitting someone often results in hitting someone, because the energy bottles up and the thought is planted. Chances are he will hurt someone at some point unless he battles those demons.

It sucks, royally, when people we love were hurt in their pasts. But unless you truly love this man and want to weather many storms, remember that his past is his and you shouldn’t be the one shouldering the pain of his torment. That pain is his to resolve, and yours to know of, to rub his back, to support him, but not to carry as your own.

For parenting/step-parenting resources, see below:

Package Deal: My (not so) Glamorous Transition From Single Gal to Instant Mom by Izzy Rose

The I Hate Being a StepMom forum.

Ah! Mom, Don’t Get Plastic Surgery!

In Health and Body, Parents on February 7, 2010 at 7:30 pm

Dearest Yenta,

I was at my parent’s house looking for a book and came upon a surgical plan for facial plastic surgery for my mother. I’m not sure if she ever went through with it — they did a damn good job because I can’t tell. But I feel sad for her (I think she is beautiful naturally), angry (this is something that she should have at least run by her kids), and ashamed (I think cosmetic surgery is superficial). Should I just suck it up and not say anything? Or do I ask her about it?



You never know what she'll look like when she comes out!

Dear A,

What we think we know of our parents is generally the tip of an iceberg. This is a scary/nauseating realization: that we may not even know our own guardians. In this situation, the plastic surgery is first and foremost, your mother’s business. It is her face, her youth complex, her body afterall. I don’t know that she has any obligation to run the prospect of realigning her face by her children.

Ideally, yes, it would be nice to be informed if someone we love takes a knife to their affect. I used to cry hysterically when my father just shaved his beard: the shift in a face I knew terrified me. Your sadness is totally understandable. But remember, plastic surgery can mean a million things. It can indicate self-hatred, yes, but it can also be done for complex health reasons. Example: I know a woman whose eyes were drooping with age. Eventually her own eyelids were blocking her vision, so she had her eyes done. Click here for more on reasons for plastic surgery.

A pamphlet, is also, just a pamphlet. If you feel so close to your mother that you think she should share this information with you, why not approach her about it? “Mom, I found this. Is it yours?” But approach, if possible, without judgment or desire to change your mother. Ask her about her motives, try to understand where she is coming from before attempting to change or shun her decision. Some of her adult issues are hers and cannot be changed and altered.

The best you can do is say “I love you! I think you are gorgeous just as you are!” Maybe she will hear you, maybe not. Ultimately, your blanket view of plastic surgery as superficial will prevent you from hearing, seeing, or understanding your mom’s motives. Even though you like her the way she is, she might not like her, which can be an intense thing to learn about your parent. Work to just listen to her.

Just like you want to be seen as an autonomous adult without a judgmental eye, so do your parents. You never know what kind of skeletons people have in their closets, so be gentle as you approach her not as a baby, but as a mommy with a real history.

Maybe ask how she would feel if you wanted to do the same, it might, at the very least, push her to probe her moral assessment of the surgery. Show this video of Heidi Montag’s mother’s reaction to her daughter’s facial rearrangement for fodder.

For Positive Accounts of Plastic Surgery Experiences, click here and here.

On Plastic Surgery Gone Wrong, click here or here.

On Religious Perspectives on Plastic surgery, click here.

My Mom Married a Dope

In Drama, Mental Health, Parents on January 28, 2010 at 5:41 am

Eek, stay out of that one. Photo courtesy of

Help Yenta,

My amazing mother is in an awful marriage. Her husband is lazy, racist, sexist, kinda mean and none of us can stand him. Oh and he is a loud talker! She obviously loved him at some point and he is the only person she has been with besides our dad, but oh man he sucks the joy out of any family gathering. He hasn’t worked in years, she supports him with her job. They are in debt, the house is falling apart and now she is sick and my brothers and I are taking care of her, because he is caught up in his next ‘get rich quick’ scam. She seems miserable and knows she made a bad choice with this guy, but she is way too stubborn to admit it. Whenever the subject is broached she gets angry and leaves the room. When we try to talk to him he just takes it out on my mom. Please let know what the heck we are supposed to do.

Frustrated in Colorado…

Dear FIC,

There is a season and a time, so says a great book, for everything. This is not, I don’t think, the time to be attempting to rearrange your mother’s love life. One thing that is hard in life is sitting with the shit choices others make. Whether this means choosing a dumb partner, cutting your thighs with a razor blade, or consuming alcohol to numb the pain, there are times when your job is to just stay out of it.

Why? Because you might drown in your attempt to save your mother from her bozo boyfriend, and then two lives sink together. With any type of addiction or bad behavior, the addict or culprit has to want to make a change, has to want to see a shift. Until then, you are barking up a hollow tree.

This doesn’t mean we should flush the afflicted, ignore their suffering, and stop with our love. Quite the opposite. The best way to help your mother is to tend to her illness. Her lifestyle choices are hers, and chances are you can’t shift them. Even if you could, you would have a better chance convincing her to leave this man if she was able to really settle into knowing that you love her.

People want to have control over things that they can’t control. But when someone is actually physically sick, that type of health always takes precedence.

So put on your best set of emotional blinders and sideline this jerk she chose, and put all that concern and love into tending to her health. Crap husband or no crap husband, your love might keep your mother alive, and a live mom can be the best kind.

For more help:

1) Even though this book is about marriage, it’s major theme is differentiation and self-care. Read Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Passion Alive in Intimate Relationships by David Schnarch, PhD.

or, with a grain of salt to curb the cheesy content, try Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by Melody Beattie

2) Find a local Codependants Anonymous meeting. Click here to find one near you.

3) See a counselor. Click here to find one.

Have a question? Ask anonymously via attn: merissag[at]gmail[dot]com.

Freeze My Eggs?

In Career, Parents, Sex on December 30, 2009 at 6:42 am

Dear Yenta,

I’m 27, I’m single, and I’m really busy with my career. Should I freeze my eggs now? If so, how much does it cost and how do I do it?


Photo courtesy of

Dear Impatient,

According to a number of sources online, you are too young to be freaking. I do, however, like your forward thinking. The concept of freezing eggs means you don’t want to rush. Too many women flip out about the ticking clock in their uterus, and jump into loveless fear-based marriage.

As for freezing your eggs, women and fertility don’t necessarily follow some kind of code. As stated by the Advanced Fertility Center of Chicago: “Every individual and couple is unique and could be more fertile or less fertile as compared to the average for their age. Some 30 year-olds already have significant egg quality and/or quantity issues and some 43 year-olds can be fertile.”

If you want to freeze your eggs now, go for it, but there is only a 50% chance of pregnancy and the price is steep, $10-$15,000 a frozen crop. For more on freezing eggs now to have babies later, read this article.

To freeze eggs and for more information about the whole ordeal, try They have locations in Austin, Boston, New York, Beverly Hills and Seattle.

One friend said she would never freeze her eggs, because “that’s just like giving up.” Another suggested letting life take its course, and if time runs out, head for an adoption agency. Tons of children need mommies. In the end, though, know that you never know how long your eggs will stick around, possibly well into your forties.

You don’t know whether you even have any viable ones at this moment, and statistically, if you buy numbers, you are not in the “danger window” at 27. Even though the body is unpredictable, and infertility comes without forewarning, I would say write back when we are both 37, then those freezers might make a bit more sense.

Home for the Holidaze

In Mental Health, Parents, Uncategorized on December 14, 2009 at 6:36 am

Dear Yenta,

I find myself dreading the upcoming holiday season. I love them but
time with my family can be SUCH an emotional drain.

Do you have any suggestions for establishing and maintaining
boundaries? Or quick answers for people asking you to justify your
life choices?

-Homeward Bound

Dear HB,

One woman once said you should never go home for more than two days. Two day visits rock, no space for conflict, just long enough to really enjoy every minute. But, if you need to be home longer…here are some pointers on how not to regress to age thirteen.

1) Spend a night reflecting on what you are doing with your life and why. Make sure you have some semblance of an answer before going home. This answer does not need to be shared with anyone out loud, it is the one you hold on to as the questions start firing.

2) Look at all of this as if you live inside a shell. Inside is all mushy and sweet, outside is the veneer you show people. Another word for this is learning to live like a Washingtonian. Use your best political face to show love and white lies.

3) Only answer when you feel like it. You have every right not to answer a question. Or, what people hate, is “I don’t know.” This is a great answer if you can stand by it and the frustration it will provoke. People who have made commitments they resent, will then resent you for your lackthereof.

4) Learn to see yourself with two sets of eyes, theirs and yours, and train yourself to know the difference. What they can’t see can’t hurt them, and what you remember of who you are is crucial. Don’t confuse their eyes for your own.

5) Boundaries. The only trick here, again, is pre-meditation. Know in advance how far you want to go with information, and set the limit. People hate boundaries. They will try to trick you and knock your walls down. Stand firm if those walls are there to maintain your sanity.

6) Trust your gut and give away only what serves you. Exiting a Buddhist retreat and entering family life from your own independence aren’t such different experiences. One retreat leader explained that you might want to run home and tell your husband or girlfriend or mother everything and then find, upon arrival, that they don’t get it or don’t care. They taught us to guard our experiences and to be slow in unfolding information about the time we spent in silence. You might feel like telling the girl in the checkout line all about your retreat, but never want to reveal a word to your own children. The moral here was learning to trust one’s voice. You might find your mouth cemented shut in some cases, without warning, and running wildly in others. Just listen to your body and proceed with the questions and answers from there. Pain = negative. Warm lull = positive.

So, whatever you have made of your life was done so for a reason. Family sometimes understands, and sometimes does not. They sometimes want to put a leash on you in fear of losing you to the new world you have entered. So spend some time remembering who they are, what their needs and hang-ups are, and also recalling who you are and what you stand for.

For example: One brilliant friend of mine went home to her evangelical parents and they all looked at her, shaking their heads. “Aren’t you worried about rotting in hell for all of those tattoos you have?” they asked. And she calmly answered, “I appreciate your concern, but these tattoos mean a lot to me and connect me to God as I understand it.” Boom.

As you approach each conversation go into it with awareness and self-respect, watching your words and theirs, knowing that everyone’s attempts to cut you down to size have to do, 90% of the time, with their own insecurities.

For family it is even harder, because they were once closest to you and the shifts in intimacy levels as we age unnerve some people. Keep this in mind as they get rough, remembering the origin of their words. Be protective of you. Whatever you have become is probably gorgeous, and needs to be revealed at its own rate.

Papa, Pay for my Shrink?

In Mental Health, Parents on December 3, 2009 at 10:00 pm

Dear Yenta,

I owe my Dad 8000 dollars, but don’t want to pay him. Instead I want to deduct the money from the therapy that I pay for that I think he is responsible for…
What should I do?


Dear Jilted,

If Daddy did the damage, then…

Money and therapy are tricky topics because they are self-defined for each individual involved. For example, if your Dad was a poor rail worker who busted his ass and burned holes in his hands to put food on your table, and now you are mad because he wasn’t home more, then you are an asshole. If your Dad is rich, neglected you, screwed women on the side, smacked you when he wasn’t getting any from his mistress, then keep your eight grand and do it your way.

There is a school of thought that parents who screw their kids up and can afford to unscrew them should then be responsible for the financial burden of healing. You sound like you know what to do. Does your Dad want to help pay for your self-help? Can you solicit him? Will this do something good for your family? Are you self-indulgent or self-aware? Figure out the reasons you are in therapy, and what you seek to gain from all that talk. My guess is that your father himself will benefit from the guru you seek.

If your Dad is rich and loves you and wants you “better” from whatever is paining you, and if therapy will bring you to that sunny happy place, then send Papi the bill. In the end, though, it’s up to him how he wants to handle the $8000.00 hole you dug.

Daddy, Don’t

In Parents on November 29, 2009 at 11:00 pm

Dear Yenta,

My father emailed me out of the blue saying, “I’ve booked a ticket.” Without a word of discussion about my holiday plans to spend Christmas with my Englishman’s family he tells me he’s flying over the pond. Having worlds collide (my father meeting my boyfriend’s mother) on one of the biggest holidays of the year would shoot my nerves to the moon. What do I tell my father?

In A Quandary,

Dear In A Quandary,

It is never too late to set boundaries with a pesky family member. Often when drawing limits for people, they lash out angry and afraid that you are rejecting them. Over time, the more limits drawn, the more they see that you are still there, still loving them, just in a capacity and fashion that works for you.

Can you tell your father no to this, explain that it is too much for you to share this time so unexpected? It is ok to be honest, explain that you yourself are meeting your man’s family for the first time, and that bringing your father along is not appropriate for this Christmas visit. Even if he is hurt, at least he will know a rule, “Call before you book your ticket.” He needs to know that you are a woman now, with a life of your own, which means knocking before entering.

To lessen the blow, make it clear that you do love him and do intend to see him by making plans in a way that works. For you. This way he sees that even though his impulsive behavior doesn’t yield the results he is looking for, there are other ways to your heart. It sounds like your Dad really loves you but might be afraid to be less intense about it, in fear that you might walk. Show him you love him and watch him learn not to squeeze his baby girl so tight.