California Tranquility = Minivan?

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We have friends from California that recently came into town.  We discussed our views on parenthood and of course we shared our views on tranquility parenting.  Our friends then asked if tranquility parenting involved “giving up” and getting a minivan since its one of the least stress causing ways to travel with a pack of children.  We reluctantly agreed. See we all grew up raging against minivans and how we would never get one.  Unfortunately, we got a minivan right after our second child was born.  It was a good deal, easy to move kids in and out and insurance was much more affordable in comparison to the SUVs we looked at.

Our California fiends are from Orange County.  Car insurance in Orange County California seems to be at an all time high right now.  So when we mentioned that part of our tranquil thought process was including ownership costs into the equation both of them started to pay a little more attention.  We agreed that a minivan wasn’t ideal but it really was what was best for our family at this time.  The sports cars or luxury SUVs would just have to wait.  They reluctantly agreed as well.  We even had a mini discussion about what we found valuable in one minivan over another one.  Within the hour we had our friends from Cali agreeing to go looking for a new minivan when they got home.  Honestly, we don’t know if we should be happy or upset with ourselves right now LOL!

Wills, Trusts & Guardianship

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Does talk of wills, power of attorney, guardianship, and trusts make you nervous? Relax – getting your legal affairs in order to ensure you have planned for the future needs of your children in case of an unforeseen accident isn’t as confusing as you think. Attorney Candice N. Aiston, Esq., who works with families to plan for prosperity and protect their loved ones, is here to explain the documents that can save surviving family members, particularly children, major legal troubles in the event of your untimely passing. So take a deep breath and envision the world you could leave behind – it’s the first step to preparing your family for whatever the future may hold.

Tranquil Parent: What are the most important legal documents for parents to have in place to care for their family?

Candice: There are three documents that are absolutely essential for all families:

    1. Will: Every parent should have a will that appoints a guardian and an alternate guardian. As a mother, I cannot imagine that while dealing with the sadness of losing their parents, my kids would be placed in foster care while a court decides where they should live. The right attorney will help you to set up a Guardianship Plan and assist the appointed guardians in legalizing the guardianship should it ever be necessary.


    1. Advance Directive (Healthcare Proxy or Living Will, in some states): This is the document that spells out your wishes regarding illness and death. You can appoint a Representative or Agent to carry out your wishes. Remember Terri Schiavo? Her case would not have dragged on for all those years if she had put her wishes in writing. This is especially important if you want your agent to be someone who is not your legal spouse.


  1. Durable Power of Attorney: This document allows the person that you designate to have access to your finances in the event that you are seriously incapacitated or injured. This is really important if your child’s guardian will need immediate access to funds in order to care for the child. It also makes things easier when a spouse needs to access funds in the event of the other spouse’s incapacitating illness or injury.

Some families should have a trust, depending on your family situation and value of assets. It can save you a lot of time and money by avoiding probate, which can be very costly.

Tranquil Parent: What can parents do to make sure their kids are cared for in the way that they would want?

Candice: There are four different ways that parents can make sure their kids are taken care of, should the unthinkable happen.

Choose the right guardian. You should sit down with your partner/spouse and discuss the following questions:

    • Does the person like your kids?


    • Do your kids like the person?


    • Do you have similar parenting styles?


    • Do you have similar values?


    • Do they have sufficient financial resources?


    • Is the person financially responsible?


    • Is the person’s location satisfactory?


  • Is the person in good health?

Make sure that you have a financial plan. This is usually done by purchasing life insurance. For a small investment each month, you can provide for your family for life. The last I checked, you can get a $1 million policy for under $100 per month. Look at what it costs to raise your kids and the things you want to provide, such as college or a wedding fund. Consider whether one parent would need to pay for childcare if the other parent passed away or if you would want to pay off your mortgage with the proceeds.

Have a proper Guardianship Plan. This means more than just appointing a guardian in your will. My office draws up a Guardianship Plan for our clients and sends letters to every guardian named so that everyone knows what to do in the event of an emergency. We even give our clients emergency cards to carry in their wallets, so that authorities are alerted that you have children and who they should call to pick up the children. Guardians are told that they should contact my office in so that we can carry out the legal steps necessary to make the guardianship official.

Write Life Letters™. Life Letters™ are letters that you write to your guardians and to your children in order to guide them through life. I encourage clients to keep a journal with their Estate Planning Binder with these letters written in them. It’s a good idea to use the first few pages to think about the immediate things that the guardians should know. Does your child have allergies? Is there a specific thing that the guardian can do or say to comfort your child? Put that right in the beginning. Then, consider all of your values and all of the hopes and dreams that you have or your children and start writing them down for the guardian and for your children.

While no parent wants to dwell on the thought of a tragic accident or illness, think about the peace of mind you will have with these choices made and fundamental documents in place. Make a New Year’s resolution to begin the process or refine your current will today.

Dealing With Difficult Grandparents

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I wanted to touch on how some of the challenges new parents face in dealing with their own parents can relate to deep-seated issues that need to be addressed if your relationships are going to improve.

One comment gave some great examples of issues that have come up with a mother-in-law. One issue was the mother-in-law wanting to bottle feed a newborn immediately at birth and insisting that breastfeeding was gross and disgusting. Another example was grandparents refusing to abide by the well-established car seat rules, installing the car seat in the front seat so the baby could “see better and be happier.” These two examples are obviously extreme and are areas on which parents should not even considering giving in.

Issues like this often suggest to me that something deeper is going on than the issue of whose rules will prevail. In the field of family therapy, it is well established that there are certain life passages that elicit very strong emotional pulls and can often trigger deep issues that have been dormant for some time. Think of the family system as a mobile. Whenever someone or something in the family changes, even slightly, the mobile swings wildly, upsetting the equilibrium of all of the members. Births, weddings, funerals and any other important life passages seem to be times of high tension and drama for most families.

My own mother became extremely emotional and irrational while attending the birth of my first child. I did not understand at the time that she was experiencing extreme menopausal symptoms, issues with my father’s health and her own issues related to her child becoming a parent. Passing through this life stage triggered something in her that made her feel old and useless and unnecessary. I must admit that I was not very understanding in my dealings with her and there are still painful memories attached to that time in life.

In defense of this particular MIL, whom I must admit is very difficult to defend, I would suggest the possibility of being non-reactive. In other words, begin to pay attention to the way you would have handled the situation in the past and find a new response. Do not immediately take offense, but begin to study what is going on in the situation. As am example, while biting your tongue, you might recite silently in your head “The one who talks next loses,” or “Words once spoken can never be recalled,” to calm yourself.

The bottom line is, the parents get to set the rules and need to establish safety, but as you are able to recognize that there are deeper issues at play here, you might find it possible to take the role of a researcher with this MIL. This can lead to both personal growth and a better shared understanding of what must be done. Begin to ask questions about what it was like for her when her children were born, who was there, what it was like. Ask about the way the children rode in cars, what the practices were in caring for her children. Do so as a researcher, as though looking in on the two of you in conversation, rather than as someone who feels attacked. As you learn to handle these issues differently, things are very likely to begin to change in ways that surprise you.

I realize this is very difficult to achieve and I am hopeful that my next post on making “I” statements will be useful in this regard.

If everyone can work at being particularly understanding and non-reactive during these particularly tense family times, assuming good intentions, families can move through these times of transition peacefully. In a future post I’ll offer some tips about getting in touch with those initial responses and doing some work on your own responses.

The I Rule

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During a recent wonderfully intense family visit, I gave some unsolicited advice regarding the care and tending of my precious grandchildren! My daughter, who has been taught by the expert, was quick to bring this error to my attention, using perfect “I” statements. Alas, I took offense, defended myself, and was just a little bit hurt. We were able to talk through the situation, and I managed to remember that an “I” statement is meant merely to express one’s feelings and try to come up with a workable solution to a problem area.

I make this admission to acknowledge that even years of training cannot always ensure perfect conformance to healthy behaviors. My hope for myself, and for you, is that practice, practice, practice, and the strong desire for better relationships will win out. Each time we are aware of the fact that our reactions are just that – reactions – we are a step closer to finding out healthier ways of relating to those we love. One exceptional tool for managing our emotions and presenting them in a way that can help encourage open and non-defensive dialogue is the use of “I” statements.

Taking the blame out of conflict

Before learning about “I” statements, I would often feel hopeless and discouraged. I would get that gnawing anxiety in my gut and try even harder to make things work. I did not realize that trying to change the behavior of another person is not within my control. “I” statements taught me to analyze what it was I was feeling, what I wanted and needed and helped me find a way to communicate those feelings, wants and needs to another.

What is an “I” statement? It is a way of communicating to someone that is assertive. It allows one to bring up and discusses a problem without accusing or blaming the other person as the cause of the problem. Think about your last conflict with a family member or co-worker. How often do those discussions begin with the word “you”? And how often do they deteriorate into a conflict that often grows beyond the disagreement at hand? No one likes to be accused and no one responds well to a discussion that begins with criticism or blaming comments. Let’s use an example to see how to use “I” statements effectively. In this scenario, you are upset with a friend or family member who calls you 5 or 6 times throughout the day, and you would like to find a way to limit the calls without losing the relationship.

The “I” statement format

Here’s the basic format of an “I” statement-driven conversation.

When you ______________

I feel ____________________

Because I _______________

Would you consider _______________________?

(Or/so _______________________ )

The format is designed to help you state your position to another individual that is healthy and does not attack them and put them on the defensive. It is a fantastic tool for helping to set boundaries when you feel anxious or upset with someone else.

“When you” must be followed by a non-blaming statement of fact. This is perhaps the hardest part of the exercise. The normal reaction when angry or upset is to attack the other individual. If you can find a way to state the subjective behavior, it is less likely the person to whom you are talking will be angry and return the attack. To test yourself, ask how an outside observer or someone with a video camera would record the event. Example: “When you call me 5 or 6 times during the day…” Blaming statements: “When you check up on me…” or “When you don’t trust me…”

“I feel” must be followed by a true statement of your feelings. If you use the word “like” or “that” to follow “I feel,” you are not stating a feeling, but once again starting the attack. If you say “I feel that” or “I feel like,” the very next word is usually “YOU” and is not a feeling. If the feeling expressed is anger, consider finding what is underneath the anger, and express that. (Anger usually covers hurt, sadness, frustration, etc.) Example: “I feel annoyed,” or “I feel overwhelmed,” not “I feel like YOU don’t trust me.”

“Because I” is an attempt to further clarify what is the issue for you. It is important here, also, to stay away from blaming the other. The point of this exercise is to state your own position, in a non-blaming way, and offer suggestions. Example: “Because I want to be able to get my work done,” or “Because I don’t like talking on the phone.” (Not “Because I want you to quit pestering me.”)

“Would you consider” is an attempt to offer reasonable ideas to try to resolve the problem. Example: “Would you consider limiting your calls to two per day?” or “Would you consider letting me call you once in a while?” or whatever might be a reasonable idea for the situation.

Now is the hard part. Sometimes the person with whom you are communicating will not consider alternatives and will not be rational and discuss the problem. Sometimes, it becomes necessary, for your own mental health, to set a boundary in spite of the other person’s refusal to cooperate. In that case, you might need to use the “so” option. Example: “So, I am only going to answer my phone from 6:00 to 7:00 each day,” or “So, I will need to screen my calls and talk to you twice a day.”

Using this type of statement does not guarantee that the other person will agree or cooperate. Sometimes it is necessary to make the statement solely for yourself. If you manage to do so without breaking any of the rules, you should not have to feel responsible for the behavior of the other person.

Putting it into practice

It is very useful to write out this exercise several times before using it in a real-life situation, especially where emotions are high. Practice in situations that aren’t emotional first, or with cooperative people. Discuss it with your partner, friend, or parent to see if they will cooperate.

Here’s how it would look, using the above example:

“When you call me 5 or 6 times each day, I feel annoyed, because I don’t like talking on the phone. Would you consider limiting your calls to one or two times a day?” Or “When you call me 5 or 6 times each day, I feel annoyed, because I don’t like talking on the phone. I’ve asked you several times to limit your calls and that doesn’t seem to be working, so I am going to start screening my calls and answering one or two per day. I’m sorry that I have to do this, but I need to take care of myself. Maybe later we can go back to a different alternative.”

Learning to use “I” statements effectively has the power to change your life and relationships. You will, on occasion, however, need to stand your ground firmly when the person to whom you are speaking refuses to listen or takes offense. It does take practice! It was my daughter’s persistence in using “I” statement, rather than letting my reaction rule her behavior, that allowed us to continue our discussion and find a solution that worked for both of us.