family members

The Agony of Victory and the Defeat of Healthy Communication


Dealing with passive aggressive communication in your household?  Check out my post on Psychology Today:

Backhanded Compliments and Sugarcoated Hostility: How to Recognize the 10 Common Passive Aggressive Phrases


Is there someone in your life who consistently makes you feel like you are on an emotional roller coaster? Do you know a person who is friendly one day but sulks and withdraws the next? Does a family member or friend consistently procrastinate, postpone, stall, and shut down any emotionally-laden conversations? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, chances are you may be interacting with a passive aggressive person. (more…)

5 Steps for Turning Stressful Situations into Learning Opportunities with Kids


6-year old Ian’s parents are going through a bitter divorce. With his estranged mom and dad still living under the same roof, Ian experiences a chaotic home environment that includes domestic violence and inconsistent care. At school, Ian often has unexplained meltdowns and major over-reactions to simple requests by his teachers. This morning, when his first period teacher asked him to take out his math homework, he called her a “Bitch” and kicked his chair to the floor. (more…)

What’s Your Anger Expression Style? Take this Quiz to Find Out


Is your child the type to come right out and tell you when he is feeling angry? Does he stuff his anger inside? Perhaps he is most likely to express his feelings in sneaky ways. Or maybe, when he is mad, the whole world knows about it—and better step aside! Whatever your child’s anger style, chances are he has developed it over the years and modeled it after…gulp…much-loved family members.

Take this Anger Styles Quiz to learn about how anger is articulated in your family: (more…)

A Role Model of Imperfection


Happy Mother’s Day to all of my Mama friends!  Here’s a re-run of a piece I wrote about my own awesome, inspiring Mom last July, first published on

When I was a child, I adored every bit of my mother, from her kinky blonde hair to her bumpy thighs. Not the most flattering description, right? On the contrary—I truly thought those parts of my mom were lovable, wonderful and perfect! Let me explain.

Now that I am a mom myself, I find myself with choices everyday. Clean the kitchen floor or go to the pool? Work out or play a game of Hungry, Hungry Hippos? Spend an hour cooking dinner or swing on a swing alongside my daughter?

The answers are obvious, right? They are to me. I’ve come to the conclusion that cooking and cleaning is a waste of my kids’ childhood. And while before guests arrive, I do often engage in furious rounds of throw-the-toys-in-the-basket and silently curse the results of my “let it go” attitude, I know that I keep a clean-enough house, a healthy, if non-gourmet kitchen, and a whole lot of savored moments with my daughters.

I learned all this from the mom I grew up with. These days, her hair is smooth and well-coifed. I know this is the way she prefers it, but I am grateful that when I was a kid and wanted her to swim with me, she was okay with letting the pool water and humidity cause her some frizz. Likewise, I vividly recall the days she dedicated to taking me and my brother to baseball games and children’s museums, but don’t remember a bit whether our house was clean or messy on any given day. Neither did it ever cross my mind how her thighs compared to those of other moms. I do, however, remember thinking that the bumps in her thighs were so soft and hoping that my legs would be just like hers when I grew up.

These days, cellulite on my thighs is no longer my fondest wish. Yet, knowing that I loved everything about my mom—and that she loved us enough not to let bad hair days and imperfectly-toned legs keep her from sharing in the things we loved—still makes me want to be like her in every important way.

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>I’m Gonna Teach Her How to Flick ‘Em!


>You just never know who you’ll meet in line at Panera Bread.

So yesterday, I’m standing in line, hoping that my wiggly 5-year old daughter doesn’t knock down the cookie display, when her booty-shaking antics attract the amused attention of the man behind us.  He explains that he has raised 3 daughters himself and that my little mover reminds him of his eldest. 

This trip down memory lane brings him to share with me several anecdotes (it was a long lunch-rush line!) about the trouble that his first-born created over the years.  From demanding money (no $1’s, Daddy!) to sneaking around with boyfriends, he laughingly recalled the struggles he went through with his lawyer-to-be eldest daughter.

Just when it was my turn to order, he shared with me the line that this Blog was waiting for:

She has a daughter of her own now,”  he smiled.  “So guess who taught their grandchild how to pick her nose in public?”

He laughed with a self-satisfied grin and a classic angry smile.

As I smiled, waved and turned my back to place my order at the counter, he guffawed, “Next, I’m gonna teach her how to flick ’em!”

Sometimes, passive aggressive revenge is years in the making, but look out, girls…dad is plotting!

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>If You Say One More Word… Passive Aggressive Comments From the Back Seat!


>One of the funniest gals I know relayed this story about her son who is following in her comic footsteps…much to his demise in this instance:

The family of four is on a 5-minute drive to a nearby restaurant for a Valentine’s Day dinner.  Starting on minute one, the 4-year old son starts talking back to his father and just being disrespectful, in general.  By minute four, approaching the restaurant parking lot, the dad has had it.

Dad: That’s enough, Jack.  No more talking back.  If you say one more word, I’m going to turn this car around and take you home, and there will be no Valentine’s Day dinner for you.

Jack: Thinks for a moment.  Then, yells, “A!”

Dad:  Turns the car abruptly and begins to head back towards home.  “You are done!  I am bringing you home.”

Jack:  But Dad!  I only said “A!”  That’s not a word, it’s only a letter!

Poor Jack–he couldn’t resist that passive aggressive little dig at his dad, even at the known risk of losing dinner at his favorite restaurant.   Classic Level 5 Self-depreciation!!

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>Passive Aggression as a Cultural Norm


>In The Angry Smile: The Psychology of Passive Aggressive Behavior in Families, Schools and Workplaces, 2nd ed., we identify four reasons why people behave passive aggressively. One of those reasons has to do with a child’s socialization within the norms of his cultural and/or ethnic group.

In short, some cultures and ethnic groups set absolute standards for the need to be polite and charming, regardless of internal feelings. Children are taught to swallow their anger and never to debate, argue, confront, or even assertively express their emotions. The suppression of anger toward elders may create a level of civility and politeness that is admirable, but it can also create a reservoir of unexpressed hostile feelings and the development of passive aggressive behaviors as a means of self-expression.

Do you have any stories of passive aggressive behavior as a response to strict cultural and ethnic norms? Please share them here.

Below, please find an example posted by Donna Bee on 10/4/09:

There was no expressing of anything in our family. We are of Finnish background, for God’s sake. Anger, openly expressed, forget about it. One year, I forget how old I was, but I was mad about a million infractions on my human pshyche so I took a razor blade and cut the back end seams of my Dad’s cotton/polyester boxer short underwear…do not know if he or my Mom ever noticed, but I sure felt better….temporarily.

>Passive Aggressive Revenge!


>I’ve been hearing and reading funny examples lately of people using passive aggressive means to get revenge at those who have slighted them, broken rules, or just plain pissed them off. Here’s one that was posted by Demetrius Jones Owens on 9/23/09:

In my house growing up text messages, emails, and instant messages were not considered means of communication that were consistent. In saying this, it is to be noted that my mother’s number one communication rule was to either have a face-to-face conversation with the person or call the person to explain what was needed.

So my cousins came to visit during the summer of 2000 and were a lot older than me so they were allowed more freedom and alone time than me since I was only 13. The rules were easy for them to follow and worked well at first with them calling every few hours when they would go out and so my mother became more easy going with them going out.

The problem came one night when they wanted to go to a club that was known to have underage drinking and a lot of fights, so my cousins decide that was where they wanted to go and devised a plan how to go. The night was going fine until my mother called them while they were in the club; obviously not to give away there location they decided to text her that they were out with friends and they would be home later and to please leave door open.

The night continued and they were still out when my mother got the bright idea to not leave the door open since they decided that they would disobey her rules, and subsequently they came home to find the door locked. They called the house phone and cell phones for about 20 minutes straight trying to get in the house but to no avail, and evenly received a text message that said “text messages are not reliable. I am sending this to you at 11pm letting you know we are going to my mothers and will be back in two days, be home by 3am if going”. They looked at their phones it was 5am.

Please leave your own stories of revenge–passive aggressive style.

>The Gifts that Keeps on Giving


>The subject of gift-giving always seems to be a ripe one when it comes to collecting stories of passive aggressive behavior–especially among family members. Passive aggressive persons often select gifts not based on what the receiver genuinely desires, but rather to make a specific statement.

Read below for some great examples, including this one, posted by Robin on 5/10/09:

My in-laws never seem to be happy with any gift we ever give them. And they are not the typical parents/grandparents that are happy to receive a homemade gift from the grandchildren or something with sentimental value. Oh no. They want GIFTS! Gifts that cost money. Gifts that come in a Red Envelope or ones in a little powder blue box. Expensive, lavish gifts that we don’t seem to ever produce, regardless of how much we’ve tried.

And yes, for a very long time, we have tried to please. However, this past Christmas, with the recent addition of a baby to our family, we didn’t have a lot of time for shopping. That being said, everyone in both of our families received gifts that could be ordered online. And everybody else seemed to be grateful for our efforts. Despite the time constraints and sleep deprivation under which we were working, we thought we had come up with a good one, both thoughtful and costing money, by sending my father in law a gift package from Omaha Steaks. For my mother-in-law, we sent her a gift basket from a company that apparently weaves baskets from gold plate instead of wicker.

They apparently did not appreciate the efforts. When my husband called his parents for our weekly phone chat (notice I didn’t say, when my father-in-law called to thank us) he graced us with a not so convincing thank you and proceeded to tell us that, “you know, if you’re looking for gift ideas for your mother and me in the future, we like tickets to shows. You know concerts, Broadway plays, that kind of thing”. My husband was beside himself over his father’s audacity to inform us of what to buy him. I, on the other hand, was not surprised. After all, if tickets are what he wants, tickets he shall get… Christmas, I hope he enjoys his night out to see THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES.

Have any good examples of bad gifts? Post them here!

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