Tag Archives: Washington Post

Can Wendy Whiner Change Her Ways?


I take great pride in my ability to worry. To dread events that have or have not (yet) happened. But unnamed others in my personal sphere have a different view:

As in their comments that I may occasionally resemble one of the following:

  • “Wendy Whiner” (SEE: the sketch character by that name on “Saturday Night Live” in the early 1980’s.)
  • “Debbie Downer” (SEE: due to my hyper-knowledge of every local, regional and world crisis or catastrophe, personal or public.)

At this particular moment in time – I have few active complaints. Everyone in my life is relatively o.k.

Which is in and of itself problematic.

Because of my profound skill in Anticipatory Worrying, I recognize the temporary nature of this present lull.  Soon enough the phone will ring or a text will ping and unpleasant, painful, and/or possibly horrific news will arrive.

Change is inevitable as we get older – a subject near and dear to my now-Medicare-aged heart.

But my position on how to handle sad news may be more malleable than I thought.

The Carolyn Hax advice column in today’s Washington Post contained a reader entry that made me reflect on the Wendy Whiner label.

(Pause here to note the path not taken. I should have become an advice columnist instead of a lawyer. I LOVE giving advice. Solicited or not.)

A reader of the Hax column, known as C., wrote in to give advice on “Losses and Dread” (two of my favorite subjects!) C. explained that she has had a wonderful, devoted friend for over 35 years who “truly understands how to sustain and nurture friendships.”  Because C.’s friend has many other close friends and family, C. felt that she couldn’t be as much of a source of comfort to her friend as her friend has always been to her.

This hit home to me. I, too, have a wonderful, devoted friend who also has a million (slight exaggeration only) other wonderful, devoted friends, all of whom jump up to help her whenever she is in need. I am part of the larger circle, always wishing I could be of more support.

It occurred to me that this kind of imbalance is probably quite common. Some of us are the center of the wheel of friendship and others are pinned to the outer spokes – and always will be.

C. goes on to suggest that one way to be a true friend is NOT to share your problems.

Imagine that.

C.’s tells us that her mother and her wonderful, devoted friend’s mother were the same age. Then C.’s mother died. But C. decided not to burden her friend with her sadness at the death of her mother. C. explains it better than I can.

So what I can do is NOT call her when I am sad – though I know she’d be there for me – and  I cannot dwell too heavily on the loss when we do talk. Instead I can ask her about her grandchildren and let her tell me about their antics, though I’m not a kid person. Time and circumstances will bring us to a common reference point on the loss of a beloved mother…The chance to spare my friend from going to this sad place any earlier and more frequently than absolutely necessary is a blessing.”

Kind of a friendship gift, don’t you think? To NOT bring all our woes to our close friends even when we really, really, really want to.

And the part that got me the most? From C. again:

“Sometimes our losses – or health or parents or jobs – scare our friends, and they just want to live their regular lives and not think about it – or catch it.”

O.K., so C. and I differ in several important aspects. I’m a grandmother and very much a kid person. Not all my friends have achieved this most wonderful phase of life so I try (honest I do) not to overshare adorable photos and tales of their toddler brilliance.

I am also not as selfless as C. I haven’t (yet?) reached the point where I can regularly keep my mouth closed and not burden my friends with my woes. I am too dependent on having friends to listen and offer support.

Perhaps the next stage of getting older is to recognize, as C. does, that grief shared may multiply it unnecessarily.

I always want to be there for my friends when they reach out  – and I think I am. But maybe I don’t need to add my sorrows to ones they have not (yet?) experienced. Losses are inevitable. Keeping afloat above them is not.









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Filed under Aging Parents, Communications, Female Friends, friendship, Relationships, Women, Women's Health

Leaving A Support Group After Leading It: Parenting & Young Adult Mental Health

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“If you founded the parents’ group, then why did you stop attending?”

A legitimate question I could not readily answer.

That question was posed to me in the Q and A after a Mental Health talk I gave a few weeks ago.  I had been invited by a Northern California synagogue to speak as part of their open-to-the-community “End The Silence” series on mental illness. They asked me to talk about the parents’ support group I started – and led for 6 years –  at my own synagogue in DC.

If you’ve read this Blog, you may have come across my post from September, 2014 – titled a “Different Kind of Kvelling” where I first mentioned our P/YAWS – short for “Parents of Young Adults Who Struggle.”  The Washington Post then published a version of my post in its @OnParenting section – and word spread.

One of my life goals (truly) is to foster the creation of support and strategy sharing groups for parents of young adults who struggle with mental health challenges such as anorexia, anxiety disorder, bipolar, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and schizophrenia at synagogues throughout the U.S.

So I was thrilled to come to California to explain why I started our P/YAWS group, how we ran our meetings and why our network of parents had been so helpful to me and to many others.

Many hands raised with questions during the Q and A session – most I could easily answer, but when asked if, after I stopped leading the group, I remained a regular participant, I stopped to consider. I gave a short response, which I forget (blame it on the bad cold I was getting over that night).

Now that I’m back home I’ve been pondering the real reason I no longer attend our P/YAWS meetings.

At first – so I tell myself – I didn’t attend because I wanted to give the parent co-facilitators who replaced me some space to develop their own style. Running a group like ours isn’t easy. Parents come with heavy hearts and worried minds. Sharing stories is painful. We support each other, offering ideas for doctors, therapists, meds, local and distant treatment programs and strategies to use with challenging young adults. Tears flow, laughter too; sometimes everyone wants a chance to talk, sometimes people want to talk too much. There is a different rhythm to each meeting. My personal “weapon” of choice was a strong sense of humor – perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea but it seemed to work. The group thrived.

And it continued to thrive without me.

After I stopped going to meetings, I was surprised at how relieved I felt.

For years I had been carrying around in my own heart and head everyone’s else’s stories. I could facilitate the back and forth based on what I knew –  I would ask S. how her son was doing on his new med or remind C. that the last time she came to the group, her daughter had been hospitalized, how was she doing now. Not being the sole person in charge freed me up to let go of the knowledge weighing on me of other participants’ pain.

The more I thought, the more I realized didn’t want to go to the group anymore, even as a participant.

In part because I didn’t want to scare anyone away.  Mental Illness happens on a spectrum. When a new parent comes to his first meeting, it can be because their young adult son has just had to leave college because of a mental health crisis. That parent is confident that there will be an effective medication, a promising therapy and that next semester their child will be back in school. And sometimes it works out that way. Our group has had many successful “graduates.”

But for those of us on the longer-term, “work in progress” path, our stories are more like roller coasters than linear tales of successful coping. I didn’t want the new parent to listen to my longer-term narrative and fear that their trajectory would resemble ours. It might or might not.

P/YAWS has been amazing for me and my husband. We could not have gotten through all that we did without it. From a wisp of an idea to a thriving monthly group for eight years, I’m proud of my role. It was through our group that I learned that a parent can only do so much. Most young adults with mental illness can change, can grow into stability but the parent cannot do it for them. Your young adult child has got to want it more than you do.

For now I’ve facilitated all I want to; I’ve encouraged, I’ve supported, I’ve shared plenty. I’m not letting up on my plan to prod other synagogues to create groups similar to ours. The need is clearly there.  But I’m going to be on a hiatus from participating around the table. Let others speak, share and be comforted. I’ve had my turn, time to sit back for a while in silence (unusual for me!) and apply the lessons I learned.











Filed under Adult Kids, College, College, Mental Health, Mental Illness, Parenting, Talking, Women, Young Adult Mental Health

Who Wants My Grandmother’s Dining Room Table? We Keep Memories, Our Millennial Kids Don’t.



In a rare burst of hospitable energy, I invited my friend, Liz and the new longish-term man in her life, to come to dinner on Sunday night. Anticipating our  dinner guests, ever so subtly my husband suggested that this would be the perfect opportunity for me to clean and organize my study.

The New Man, my husband noted, might be put off, if – while en route to our “powder room” – he caught a glimpse of my work area with its disheveled stacks of files and heaps of my carefully curated, extremely relevant, never-to-be-discarded or read again newspaper articles?

O.K., so I am a collector, do you have a problem with that?

If you are in my general age bracket, you may be a collector too. Of newspaper articles, vintage jewelry boxes, antique candle sticks, old sports memorabilia.

A recent article in the Washington Post  confirmed what I had suspected – our adult millennial children are not like us. They do not collect.

Millennials, the article tells us, don’t keep their old college text books in their basement like we do we did. They live simpler lives, preferring their own personal design aesthetic to inherited brown furniture.

I am coming to grips with this fact.

It is highly unlikely that my own kids will want my grandmother’s large, mahogany dining room table nor will they fight over my well-loved, but hardly used (I’m still saving it for “good”), 12 place settings of ornate sterling silver.

We boomers believe that our memories are stored in tangible objects.  Our adult kids do not wax as nostalgic over generational hand-me-downs. They value intangibles instead. Posting their experiences as they experience them, they instagram, they snapchat and then, poof, what could become a memory quickly disappears.

How will our adult kids pass down memories to their own kids if their memories never leave their iPhones?

Yet another problem I won’t be around to solve.

I do see the Millennial attraction to intangibles. They are definitely the lighter way to go.

Admission:  Sometimes I feel tied down by, rather than affectionate towards, the very tangible objects in which my family memories are stored. My grandmother’s dining room table has never been and is not now, let’s face it, an attractive piece of furniture. It is an ungainly space occupier that can seat 12 people. The last time I hosted 12 people at a sit-down dinner was never.

But a few years ago when I considered  – in a brief, wild, rebellious moment  – that I might rid myself of the old dining room table and purchase a new more contemporary one, I could not bring myself to do it.

Sad to contemplate, then, that the big brown dining room table along with my grandfather’s collection of old beer steins and my aunt’s no longer tunable piano will probably end their useful lives in a tag sale, a thrift shop or shudder to think, our county dump.

So when it came time to plan the menu for our Sunday dinner for four, I decided to go all out. Let’s put some sentimental items to work for a change!

Put an old white tablecloth that was my mother’s onto the big brown table. Use a vase we received as a wedding present 37 years ago for flowers. Hand-wash the crystal, half-moon-shaped salad plates that have quietly resided in the china cabinet for all these years. Drag the sterling silver flatware downstairs for its annual airing. Just using all of these tangible objects did make me feel a bit nostalgic.

But I firmly draw the line at cleaning and/or organizing my study.

I do plan, however, you will be glad to hear, to give a full cleaning to our “powder room” (in which, to the best of my knowledge, no one has ever applied powder)  before Liz and her New Man arrive. I figure if he is as thoughtful and kind as Liz says he is, he will also be smart enough to look the other way if happens upon my messy study. I am too attached to the reassuring existence of my carefully curated nest of newspaper articles to sort through and discard any of them – at least for now.

Why mess with my memories while I still have them?







Filed under Adult Kids, Baby Boomers, Family, Female Friends, friendship, Husbands, Parenting, Women