Monday, October 18, 2010

Can I De-Friend My Mom?

Dear Jocelyn,
I feel I made an error in "friending" my parents and some other family members on facebook! I am about to be a college graduate and I live on my own, paying my own bills. I often receive chastising wall posts and guilt-trip ridden messages about my status posts from parents and even an uncle. At first it was mildly annoying. Now, I feel that I am not being treated like an adult, and that I have to monitor my self-expression for fear of public embarrassment. For example, any time I mention my excitement over owning my first gun I can expect warnings about hypothetical legal situations and even messages questioning my judgment about life and death matters!! How do I go about reminding my parents that I am no longer a child? I understand their well-wishes for me, but it's gotten to a point I feel to be inappropriate, and short of keeping quiet or blocking them (neither of which sounds at all appealing), I'm at a loss!!
     -Frustrated on Facebook

Dear Frustrated,
Facebook has certainly changed the rules for our culture. As little as ten years ago, the parents of an 18-year-old son or daughter who had left for college would only receive a phone call once a week, describing in glowing (or sometimes not-so-glowing) terms classes, friends, and other news. Even six years ago, when I was in college, Facebook was only open to other college students, so someone might post about "being wasted" and not worry for a moment that it might get back to his parents.

I could easily pontificate on the advantages and disadvantages to using websites like Facebook; however, I will attempt to stay on the topic at hand. The problem with having "friends" on Facebook beyond your close friends (relatives, church acquaintances, coworkers, childhood friends, etc.) is that when you publish information on your profile, you might be addressing it to one group of friends, but everyone can read it, including your over-protective parents. You have several choices:

1) Un-friend everyone except close friends. The advantage to this is obvious: only friends that you pick would be able to see your musings or funny wall posts, and I assume they will not be sending you messages about the inappropriateness of such content.

2) Stop posting anything that might be offensive to any particular person. While some might gasp at the thought of censoring oneself, just think about it: in real life, you do not tell everyone everything. While you might mention over-indulging in alcohol to a friend, you probably would not share that with your parents. And, to use the example you provided earlier, if your parents are nervous about guns, you might not casually mention to them your eagerness to purchase one. So, before posting any new status update, you can think to yourself, "Do I want everyone person I know reading this and commenting on it?" If not, then simply refrain.  Another option along these same lines is when you post a status update that some people might object to, block that specific person from seeing it (the lock button to the bottom right of the status update controls that setting).

3) Post as you wish, and use it as an opportunity to build boundaries. Since I am not aware of your typical posts (and therefore do not know if any are actually inappropriate, or if you simply have over-reactive relatives), if you do not believe your status updates and wall postings to be inappropriate for the general public, then if someone objects, use this as an opportunity for differentiation (a fancy counseling term meaning “learning how to be different from someone else”). This is a problem that dates back long before Facebook. Countless children have gone off to college and come back home to visit, only to discover that the relationship with their parents has changed, and neither party knows how to deal with the changes. This is part of becoming an adult. As a child, your identity was wrapped up in your family. As an adult and soon-to-be college graduate, your family has begun to take a smaller role in your identity. So, when your mother or father sends you a scolding message about gun safety or studying, take the time to talk to them calmly and say, "I appreciate your concern, but I am an adult and can make my own decisions. I value your advice, but when I need it, I will ask you for it." This is an extremely difficult thing to say, but believe me: if you say it early and often, it will save you years of trying to express it later (as a working woman, a wife, a mother, etc).

Whatever you choose to do, think carefully before doing so and attempt to execute your decision as maturely and politely as possible. The way we handle our decisions, and usually not the decisions themselves, is what shows us to be an adult, and a child no longer.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Female Problems Turning into His Problem?

Dear Jocelyn,
My girlfriend is a wonderfully sweet woman who is fun, encouraging, and challenges me in my Christian faith. However, no one is perfect and we have our fair share of fights. Don’t know how to say this, but…she tells me these arguments most often coincide with her PMS. That doesn’t excuse the selfish, inconsiderate things that I have said to her, but can you please help me understand what she’s going through? Doesn’t it affect every woman differently? How can I be supportive and understanding while not excusing hurtful, sinful things said?
-Perplexed by PMS

Dear Perplexed,
I am quite relieved to hear you say that your girlfriend informed you of the correlation between irritability and her cycle, and that it was not your own conjecture—it is quite annoying for a woman to have her anger dismissed as "just PMS." However, since she was the one to say this, it is quite sweet of you to investigate ways in which you can reduce your conflict.

You are right that hurtful things said by her during this time are not excusable. C.S. Lewis once said that pain or lack of sleep or other stresses do not make us more irritable, but they merely remove the layer of niceties that allow us to mask our sinful nature. In other words, such things reveal our sin, rather than causing us to sin.

There are two ways to deal with this issue: one is to help you understand what she is going through, and another is to help you figure out what to do with that information. Being a woman myself, I asked my husband to help me think of a comparable scenario for a man. He said to imagine that you are at work, and your boss is putting a great deal of responsibility on you. You feel unequipped for the challenge and inadequate. Then, you meet with your girlfriend and she says something you perceive as demeaning or disrespectful. It might be easy to snap at her or say something hurtful, correct? With women, that point in their cycle is fraught with hormonal changes, fatigue, and pain. While externally they may appear fine, internally it is a difficult few days. So when you say something that she would normally laugh at or brush off, she may react quite differently because of this stress.

Now that you know why this is happening, let us discuss where to go from here. Because you two are dating and are not married, I would advise that you discuss with your girlfriend your concern over the large number of fights you have while she is in "that time of the month." Tell her that you do not want to fight needlessly (after all, I'm assuming these fights are not about anything substantial) and you think it would be best to be apart for a few days while she is feeling like this. This is not the advice I would give a married couple, but the circumstances are very different since you are dating.

I am unable to tell from your letter how severe and frequent these fights are. If she occasionally snaps at you and there are occasional, small fights every few months, these are quite normal. If, however, she consistently says hurtful things and causes rifts between you two every month, I would advise she see a therapist for a few sessions. I am not advising this because I believe she is mentally ill in any way; rather, I know that therapy can provide a helpful venue for talking about issues and learning simple anger and stress management techniques to help her cope with the stress of her menstrual cycle.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Is Everybody Just Working for the Weekend?

Dear Jocelyn, 
I am a Christian, and I have a difficult time enjoying my work. I have a great job, great environment and co-workers, but the work that I do on a day-to-day basis does not strike my interest in the least. I'm thankful for having a job, and I definitely produce satisfactory work, but still find it difficult to motivate myself to work hard and excel past normal performance. Are we, as Christians, supposed to find something that we are passionate about for a career, or are we supposed to 'work to live' as opposed to 'live to work'?
-Bored at Work

Dear Bored,
I once heard it said that the problem of thinking we must "enjoy" our work is a modern problem. Think back hundreds of years—my guess is that most serfs and farmers did not enjoy their year-round, backbreaking labor. They toiled diligently in order to provide for their own—a very noble cause. 1st Timothy 5:8 states: "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever."

I, however, do not believe that desiring to enjoy our work is solely a modern concern. Throughout history, we have countless examples of men and women who enjoyed what they did and believed it to be a calling, not just a job. Think about St. Paul, who was a full time missionary. Or Michelangelo, who produced numerous works of beautiful art (and likely enjoyed doing so!).

There is a compromise between believing that one must work solely to eat and provide, and believing that one can only be fulfilled by finding their calling. There are some people for whom their career path is clear before them—these have "always known” they wanted to become a writer, police officer, doctor, etc. Those people have been blessed to have a path stretched before them to follow. For some people, though, the path is a little more muddled. And for those who belong to this category, I do not think it wise to simply be unemployed or underemployed until they stumble upon their true calling. If you are unsure of your perfect career path, find a job that suits you and your talents. It might not be ideal or make you feel fulfilled, but it will keep you sheltered and fed, and allow you time to think about a job that might better suit you. I recommend you remember that whatever you do, you ought to do it for the glory of God. That doesn't mean being wildly enthusiastic about boring work, but rather reminding yourself, when you feel dissatisfied about what you are doing, that God has blessed you with a good job, and you should try your best. As the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:7, “[do] the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will, as to the Lord and not to man.”

If you are interested in pursuing different jobs, I recommend reading this book to aid in your search:48 Days to the Work You Love.  It is an excellent guide to learning what you are passionate about and how to pursue that wholeheartedly.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Is Grabbing Extras Unethical?

Dear Jocelyn,
I am a firm believer in taking extra packets of ketchup, mustard, hot sauce, sugar, salt, pepper, and artificial sweetener when they are available. However, a friend recently gave me a funny look as I packed my purse with packets. Is it ethical to take more than I need? Personally, I think if they leave them out I should be able to take all I want.
     -Packet Hoarder

Dear Hoarder,
This is a tough question, as I have been known to take more napkins than I need, or an excessively liberal number of ketchup packets. However, although the question may be difficult, it is one that requires an honest, if somewhat uncomfortable answer. The short answer is no, it is not ethical to take more ketchup, salt, or sugar packets than you need. If you ask any restaurant owner, they will inform you that the availability of such condiments is not to encourage a free-for-all, but to provide easy access to commonly asked-for items. In fact, to purposefully take more than you need for that meal can be considered stealing, since the restaurant's goal is to provide you with such items for a single meal, not the rest of your life. Think of it this way—if you invited a friend over for a cup of tea, and she proceeded to take two packets of sugar for her tea, then twelve packets "for the road," you would probably be offended, correct? At the very least, you might think it a bit strange. While it is easy to view a business as impersonal and inhuman, it is in fact run by people who should be given the same consideration you might give a friend in that circumstance.

That being said, it is not necessary to carefully calculate your exact ketchup usage for that meal's French fries. A good faith effort to take what you will probably need is all that is required. If you are dining in an establishment, and you have leftover condiments, the polite and ethical thing to do is to put them back (if it is sanitary to do so—I would not necessarily put napkins back). If you are taking your food home, take what you think you will need. It is not necessary to return the unused packets in that circumstance. Consider the earlier example—if you stopped by a friend's place and had to leave before drinking your tea, she might give you a to-go cup and several sugar packets. She might even send you with a few extra "just in case." When deciding how much ketchup to take home, the most important consideration is the attitude and motivation you have for taking that amount.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

How Would You Answer?

It's time for "How Would You Answer?"! It's your turn to try answering questions. Below is the featured question for this contest. Email me at (or use the form to your right) if you have an answer for them! The best responses will be posted next week by Wednesday. After that, I will take a vote of the single best response, and that person will win a free copy of the book, "Boundaries"!
Dear Jocelyn,
Under what circumstances would you recommend relocating for a relationship? I want to date a friend of mine who lives in another city, and I think the only way this will move forward is for us to live closer to each other and spend more time together. I'm trying to decide whether moving to his city would be a good idea or if I should try other options first.
-Willing to Relocate

Monday, August 30, 2010

Busy Toddler Means No Free Time!

Dear Jocelyn,
I am having trouble juggling the demands of my toddler, running my home, and my part-time work. It seems like I never have enough consecutive minutes in the day to get anything done. Do you have any tips for time management?
     -Busy Mom

Dear Busy,
Moms everywhere run into problems with time management. Children have a way of messing up schedules, throwing off priorities, and looking adorable while doing so. When you were single, or married without children, you likely found that you had time to clean at your leisure. You probably also did not have cheerios dumped on the floor and fingerpaint on the wall. So the problem is two-fold—you have more tasks to do, and less time to do them in. There are several time management tips that will keep you more on track:

1) Schedule, Schedule, Schedule! Develop a schedule. This does not need to be a minute-by-minute, “set in stone” schedule. Rather, find five minutes (maybe give your toddler a piece of tape and let them have at it!) and think about what you want your week to look like. Are there daily chores that need to be done? Weekly? Monthly? Write them down on a generic calendar (one that has four Sunday-Saturday weeks) so you can see what a typical month should look like. Write down what chores need to be done, and when you'd like to do them. Include your part-time work (maybe half-hour segments several times a day). Your child will benefit from organization and structure. Having a bath at the same time every day, playing at the same time, etc., can help him settle into a daily pattern.

2) Be realistic: While you would like to raise a perfect child, be a star employee, and have your home looking like Martha Stewart's, that is not realistic. Think about what is reasonable—can you commit to doing laundry twice a week? 10 hours of work a week? Sweeping/vacuuming main areas as needed? Keeping the dishwasher loaded/unloaded? Make a priority list of what needs to be done, and do those items first. Things like dusting ceiling fans or organizing clothes can wait until your child is a little older.

3) Incorporate your child into your work: Find ways to let your child "help" you. Invest in a mini-broom, or give him a dust rag and let him follow you around. This will keep your toddler busy, and hopefully train him for the future when he really DOES help you around the house!

4) Relax! If you don't stick to your schedule, or if some chores get overlooked, it’s okay. Most people do not expect the house of a new mother to look perfect. Allow yourself to lean on support from others. Consider hiring a maid occasionally, or schedule playdates for your child so you can work.

Monday, July 19, 2010

How To Help a Grieving Boyfriend

Dear Jocelyn,
Recently my boyfriend had his mother pass away unexpectedly. It took his whole family by surprise. Since she has passed, I feel like he is hiding his feelings and pushing me away instead of sharing during this very sad time...Advice on how to help him cope?

Dear Concerned,
Mourning the death of a close family member is unique to each person who experiences such misfortune, although certainly feelings of sadness or shock are fairly common.  This is a new experience for your boyfriend, one in which he has no practice.  My guess is that your boyfriend is not communicating with you because he simply does not know what to communicate.  Sometimes we feel things and cannot even describe them, which can turn some people inward.  The best thing for you to do is follow your boyfriend's lead.  Be there for him.  If he wants to be sad for a while, be sad with him.  If instead he wishes to distract himself with comedies or other entertainment, laugh with him.  

When he is ready to communicate, he will do so.  You don't necessarily need to say the exact right words or do the exact right thing - perhaps the attentions of a devoted girlfriend are just what he needs right now.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Plus One Etiquette

Dear Jocelyn,
What is the proper etiquette for inviting significant others to a wedding? Should everyone get a “plus one”? Only people who have been dating for x amount of time? Couples in which the bride and groom know both of them?
What should I do if I feel like I deserve a plus one but do not receive one?
- Plus/Minus 1

Dear Plus/Minus 1,
Wedding etiquette is extremely important, since weddings have a tendency to turn people maniacal (and I'm not just talking about the brides). Horror stories abound, from brides who transform into Mr. Hyde as the date approaches, to relatives who decide a wedding is an appropriate place to be intoxicated, and relatives who thoughtlessly provide the bride with a list of demands for her special day.

That being said, many different etiquette queens have weighed in on this subject. I will defer to the advice of Emily Post and Miss Manners. Emily Post says that spouses, fiancées/fiancés, and live-in partners must be invited, issuing an invitation to a boyfriend or girlfriend is up to the bride and groom's discretion.

Miss Manners goes a step further and says that “plus one” is not appropriate, and that all invitations should be issued to a particular person. For instance, if a bride would like to invite an old college friend (we'll call her Amy Brown), and is aware that Amy has a beau (we'll call him John Black) that she would like to have included, she should call Amy and ask for his name and address. Then, she should issue separate invitations to Miss Amy Brown and Mr. John Black.

The reasoning behind these mandates is that a wedding is a special, usually formal event for two people to make a lifelong commitment to each other in front of God and their loved ones. It makes sense that the bride and groom should have discretion in inviting or not inviting whomever they wish, and should not be coerced into issuing invitations to people they do not know. In addition, the cost of many weddings precludes them from inviting more than a certain number of guests.

In response to your question about deserving a “plus one,” I do not know if you actually deserve it or merely feel entitled to it in some way. If you are married or engaged and your spouse/affianced has thoughtlessly been left off the guest list, I would advise you to gently approach the bride or groom (whomever you feel closer to) and ask if the invitation was meant to include your significant other. If they reply no, then it is your decision—would you prefer to go to the wedding alone, or miss it on principle? (For the record, if I were invited to a wedding without my husband, I do not believe that I would attend.) While it may seem rude, the couple to be wed has every right to order the guestlist as they choose.

If you are simply dating, I recommend you plan on spending several hours without your boyfriend or girlfriend while you are attending the wedding. While you may ask if your invitation included a “plus one,” realize it is not rude at all for the couple to issue invitations only to the people they know and desire to have at their wedding.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

New Feature!

"Ask Jocelyn" presents a new feature - "How would you answer?" About once a month, I will present a question for anyone to answer. I will feature the best answers on my website for people to comment and vote on.

If you would like your question to be answered by the audience, please send it to me and say that this question can be answered by "How would you answer?" You can email your questions to me at or via the feedback form on my website.

I look forward to seeing your queries!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Psychotherapy Friday: Assertiveness

Today's Topic: Assertiveness
Most people would prefer to be assertive rather than passive or aggressive. However, these same people often don't act assertively with friends, co-workers, or family. Why this disconnect? Before I explain the inconsistency, let's start with the definition of assertive behavior.

Assertiveness is the ability to express your feelings, opinions, beliefs, and needs directly, openly, and honestly, while not violating the personal rights of others.

Why do people not act assertively?
There are many reasons. The main reasons I hear from passive people are fear of not being liked or fear of being too aggressive. As for aggressive people, they believe that if they are not aggressive they won’t achieve their goals or be respected.

So why act assertively?
Why not be passive and avoid confrontation? Why not be aggressive and get your way? Because assertiveness is the only method of communication that values all people equally. Passivity lowers the self in relation to others, and says, "I am not good enough to speak up to others." Aggression inflates the self in relation to others, and says, "I am better than them, so I’ll get what I want!" Assertiveness considers the self equal to others, and says, "I can state my opinions and needs while still respecting others."

How do I act assertively?
One of the most important parts of being assertive is being firm. This is done by the words you choose, the way you say them, and your body language. Let's take an example: Mary's boss is asking her to work unpaid overtime for the third time this week. However, Mary needs rest after a busy week at work. Here are the three different ways that Mary could handle this:

Passive Mary: (Eyes to the ground, slumped shoulders, and soft voice) "I guess I can work the overtime. No, really, it's no problem."

Aggressive Mary: (Glaring at boss, raised voice) "Of course I can't work the overtime! Why would you ask me that? I can't believe this place!"

Assertive Mary: (Maintaining eye contact, firm voice, squared shoulders) "I'm sorry but I can't work overtime again. If it were paid I would consider it, but I need to go home tonight."

Take the time to learn how to act assertively. Ask a friend or family member if you can practice with them, or simply practice in front of the mirror. Start slowly—after all, it takes time for those around you to learn how to respond to your newfound assertiveness!

Additional Resources
The Mayo Clinic
The State University of New York at Buffalo
Mental Help

Monday, June 14, 2010

He's Just Not That Into You

Dear Jocelyn,

I have a guy friend who I've known for a really long time. We've had some rough patches where he had feelings for me and I didn't return them and vice versa, but we made sure that our friendship lasted through it. Things started falling apart within the past year when I started realizing that I was always the one to initiate conversation and plan times to hang out. I got really mad at him and told him how I felt. I asked him if he even wanted to be friends anymore. He said that he wanted to be friends that hang out and keep in touch on a regular basis, but since he never tries to talk to me first, I feel like he was lying. Even though we always have a really good time when we do hang out, I still feel like if I didn't make an effort to see him, I never would. Part of me thinks that he just still has a lot of growing up to do and that I should give him a break since he hasn't really done anything to me, but on the other hand, I'm sick of making excuses for him.

Just the other day I saw him and I didn't go up to talk to him because I was so angry. He didn't come over to talk to me either, but he kept looking at me like, "Why aren't you talking to me?" When he was about to leave, we made eye contact and he yelled across the room and said “Hi” and asked me how I was. I made it obvious that I didn't want to talk him and I'm pretty sure that he understood. I hated being rude to him, but I don't want to have to seek him out anymore to tell him how I feel. Should I continue to ignore him and drop the friendship if he doesn't make any effort to talk to me? This is someone I've know all my life and it's really hard to think about never talking to him again, but I want to do what is best for me.
     -Hurting Friend

Dear Hurting,
It's hard to tell from your letter that you two are friends, considering the pain and anger you described. While I think any friendship you have had for your whole life is worth fighting for, this friend sounds like he's perhaps moving on. You described feelings of confusion over his words and his actions, so let me give you a simple rule: People do what they want to do. Although your friend stated that he wants to spend time with you, if he really wanted to, his actions would demonstrate that. There could be valid reasons why he is not initiating time with you, but it is not your responsibility to find them out. It is his job to work through those and take the appropriate action. All you can do is respond to what he is doing—which is nothing.

Since you've already shared with him how his actions make you feel, I recommend simply not initiating friendship with him anymore. You expressed some anger in your letter, which I think stems from your hurt over his lack of consistency between words and actions. Understand that he is probably not being intentionally malicious; he is just immature. There is no need to act angry or rude toward him—simply show him the consequences of his actions by not spending any more time on pursuing a friendship with him. You should be polite and civil to him, just like you would any other acquaintance. It is now up to him to show you whether he values your friendship anymore. Take the time you’ve been spending to ponder his actions, and use it to make new friends. 

Friday, June 11, 2010

Psychotherapy Friday: Automatic Thoughts

Today's Topic: Automatic Thoughts
Automatic thoughts are those paradigms we have of the world, or ways we see others that we are not even conscious of. They influence our reactions to happy news, sad news, stress, etc. For example, if you hear news of a friend becoming pregnant, you might have different reactions based on your worldview. You might be overjoyed, because you think of pregnancy as a good thing. Or perhaps you feel sad for her, if you consider children to be difficult.

Listed below are ten common Automatic Thoughts with examples. Each is paired with a truthful statement the person could tell himself to avoid negative thinking:

1) All-or-Nothing Thinking: John recently applied for a promotion in his firm. The job went to another employee with more experience. John wanted this job badly and now feels that he will never be promoted. He feels that he is a total failure in his career.
     a. Truth: You can be successful even if you don’t reach a particular goal.

2) Overgeneralization: Linda is lonely and often spends most of her time at home. Her friends sometimes ask her to come out for dinner and meet new people. Linda feels that it is useless to try to meet people. No one could really like her. People are all mean and superficial anyway.
     a. Truth: No two people are the same; some are mean, and some are nice. Be sure not to make generalizations about people.

3) Mental Filter: Mary is having a bad day. As she drives home, a kind gentleman waves her to go ahead of him as she merges into traffic. Later in her trip, another driver cuts her off. She grumbles to herself that there is nothing but rude and insensitive people in her city.
     a. Truth: We need to notice the good in people, and try to let go of the bad.

4) Disqualifying the Positive: Rhonda just had her portrait made. Her friend tells her how beautiful she looks. Rhonda brushes aside the compliment by saying that the photographer must have touched up the picture. She never looks that good in real life, she thinks.
     a. Truth: Notice the good! If someone compliments you, just accept it.

5) Jumping to Conclusions: Chuck is waiting for his date at a restaurant. She’s now 20 minutes late. Chuck laments to himself that he must have done something wrong and now she has stood him up. Meanwhile, across town, his date is stuck in traffic.
     a. Truth: When something goes wrong, don’t necessarily assume it is your fault. Things happen—assume the best.

6) Magnification and Minimization: Scott is playing football. He bungles a play that he’s been practicing for weeks. He later scores the winning touchdown. His teammates compliment him. He tells them he should have played better—the touchdown was just dumb luck.
     a. Truth: You are just as responsible for the good stuff that happens as for the bad stuff! Focus on the good!

7) Emotional Reasoning: Laura looks around her untidy house and feels overwhelmed by the prospect of cleaning. She feels that it’s hopeless to even try to clean.
     a. Truth: Try to not become overwhelmed by emotions. Think to yourself, “Is this really hopeless? Or will it just take a while?” Make an effort to view the situation objectively.

8) Should Statements: David is sitting in his doctor’s waiting room. His doctor is running late. David sits stewing, thinking, “With how much I’m paying him, he should be on time. He ought to have more consideration.” He ends up feeling bitter and resentful.
     a. Truth: Things happen to people that are sometimes unavoidable. As in #5, assume the best! Assume he has a good reason for being late.

9) Labeling and Mislabeling: Donna just cheated on her diet. “I’m a fat, lazy pig,” she thinks.
     a. Truth: We all make mistakes. Focus on the action, and not the person. “I should not have eaten that food, but I can still accomplish my weight goals.

10) Personalization: Jean’s son is doing poorly in school. She feels that she must be a bad mother. She feels that it’s all her fault that he isn’t studying.
     a. We can only control our own behavior. While we can have influence on others, if someone else is doing badly, it isn’t our fault.

Next time you have a negative reaction to news or an event, ask yourself if your thinking fits one of the above examples. Then challenge that thinking, and consider other ways of looking at the situation.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Workplace Honesty

Dear Jocelyn,
My office is very relaxed in terms of employees working regular hours. It is not uncommon to arrive late and then make up the time by staying late. On Fridays it is rare that anyone is around after about 4 pm. With the absence of a time clock and no one really holding employees accountable for working the appropriate number of hours a week, it is easy to fall into a relaxed work ethic. Is it really that dishonest to work a little less than expected?
     - Cheating the Clock

Dear Cheating,
While honesty is certainly important in the workplace, I do not believe it to be dishonest to work at a relaxed pace as long as you meet your employer’s expectations. Many employers are not concerned that their employees work exactly 40 hours per week; rather, they are concerned about employee productivity. If you have a set amount of work each week (i.e. finish x, y, z, and nothing else), then if you finish early, you have satisfied your obligations. If you have ongoing work, then you should find out if your supervisor is satisfied with the amount of work you do each week.

A relaxed work environment might just be one of the side perks of your workplace.  Don't feel guilty about working hard and leaving early.  As long as your boss is satisfied, you are not cheating him.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Psychotherapy Friday: Anger Management

Today's Topic: Anger Management

Anger management is important for everyone to learn. Whether you are quick or slow tempered, aggressive or passive, outspoken or shy, you will experience anger during life and need to know how to deal with it. Many people assume that if they do not express their anger in an aggressive or outspoken manner, they do not have problems with anger management. This is not true—you might simply be stuffing the anger deep inside, where it can come out in different forms later.

To understand anger management, one must understand anger. Anger is simply an emotion – it is not necessarily good or bad. It can indicate to us when something is not right. If someone walks up to me and punches me, I will become angry, because it was not right for the person to strike me. Anger can tell us that something is wrong, even when we can't figure out exactly what it is. Anger management does not work to necessarily reduce anger; it works to express anger in an appropriate manner.

To express anger appropriately, remember these guidelines:
1) Count to ten before saying or doing anything: Anger can cloud your judgment. Something that seemed like a "good idea at the time" can wind up with bad consequences (for example, yelling at someone or breaking dishes). Count to ten slowly while breathing deeply. This will allow your body time to reduce the adrenaline that contributes to the feeling of anger.

2) If you have a tendency to be outspoken, be quiet. If you have a tendency to be quiet, speak up! Those who are naturally outspoken usually need more time to think about their words. Those who are quiet tend to keep to themself what they want to say, and tend to regret not speaking up.

3) Determine whether anger is really the emotion you are feeling: Often, people think they are angry when they really feel sad, hurt, or upset. Anger can be a more acceptable emotion to feel (especially for men), and can mask the true emotion.

4) Figure out where the anger stems from: There are times that you become angry when that is not the proper response to the situation. For example, if you are single and a friend announces they are getting married, the proper response is happiness. If you feel anger, that probably comes from a deeper issue that you haven't resolved. Are you hurt that they are getting married, not you? Do you view yourself as someone "more deserving" of marriage than your friend? If so, acknowledge these issues and work on them.

Obviously different situations call for different responses. For example, if you are punched in the face, you probably do not have time to count to ten, ponder your motives for anger, and wonder if you are simply sad instead of angry. But instead of punching back, you can take the opportunity to leave the situation before doing something you will regret.

What are some ways you deal with anger?

Monday, May 31, 2010

Time to Move On?

Dear Jocelyn,
It’s been three and a half years since an icky breakup with an ex-boyfriend. At the time, he made it very clear he did not want to hear from me again, and I respected that and moved on with my life. However, I regret that I never got the chance to apologize for acting like a jerk at times and treating him so badly, and I also have a few small things that belong to him that I never was able to return. Now, I am in a happy and stable relationship with someone else, and I wonder if it might be an appropriate time to contact my old beau very briefly, simply to apologize for my behavior and ask if he wants those small things returned. My current boyfriend is okay with me contacting him, but warned me not to do it if my only motivation was to feel better about myself. It’s true I’d feel better with some sort of amicable resolution, but I really feel I owe the guy an apology. I don’t want to pursue a continued friendship with him, but I do want to clear the air. Do you think that would be acceptable or just a bad idea? Also, if I never contact him again, what am I supposed to do with his belongings? Just throw it all out?
     - Seeking reconciliation

Dear Seeking,
Your boyfriend is right that reconciliation should not be sought after simply to ease your conscience. In situations like this, it is good to ask yourself what good would come out of your contact. Your ex-boyfriend asked to be left alone, which you respected. This allowed him time to heal and move on without interference from you. At this point, it might be helpful to hear an apology from you, which may allow him to let go of any lingering bitterness he might hold.

I suggest you write a short apology in a letter and mail it, along with the belongings, to your ex. This will allow you to return his possessions and express your sorrow for your wrongdoings. It will also give him the choice to read your letter or throw it away, depending upon his desires. I would not call or attempt to see him in person, which might be an unwanted intrusion. If he does not respond after the package is sent, then do not attempt any further contact - you have done your part.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Psychotherapy Friday

Dear Readers,
I have decided to implement Psychotherapy Friday as a way of sharing general tools and tips for handling life situations. Each Friday, I will cover a particular topic, such as anger management, boundaries, stress management, etc. Please write in or comment on this post if you have any topics you would like for me to cover. Enjoy!

Today’s Topic - Self-soothing
Self-soothing is a term that covers any method you have of calming yourself after a stressful or upsetting event. Think of how a mother treats a crying infant. She will pat him, walk him, and whisper loving things to him. As we grow up, we are supposed to learn ways to soothe ourselves, using what are commonly known as coping skills.

Coping skills can be either good or bad. One way people cope with sadness or stress could be taking a bubble bath; another way is to overindulge in alcohol or drugs. The trick is to choose healthy coping skills—ones that have no negative side effects.

Here are some commonly used beneficial coping skills:
-Deep breathing

Having the ability to soothe yourself in a healthy manner is extremely important for mental health. Since stress, sadness, and anger don't simply disappear, your mind will find a way to handle it, whether it is good or bad.

What are some of your favorite coping skills?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie?

Dear Jocelyn,

My ex-boyfriend and I broke up several months ago when we stopped ignoring the fact that we couldn't ever marry due to theological differences. Recently he (an officer in the US military) contacted me and let me know his unit's future assignment, saying before he went overseas he would give me his information. I essentially told him I still had feelings for him and wouldn't (couldn't) write him but now, 2 days before he leaves, I sort of want to email a goodbye/release saying I wish him the best, he'll do a great job, etc. Does that seem more likely to bring closure or stir up things that should be left alone?
     -Former military gf

Dear Military,
That is a tough situation.  I can understand both the desire to protect yourself and him emotionally, but also the desire to tie up any loose strings before he goes overseas.  While I generally recommend cutting off contact after a break-up, if there are bitter feelings, it is wise to make amends before he leaves so that you will not have any regrets.  

If, however, the break-up was reasonably amicable, I recommend remaining incommunicado with your former boyfriend.  You only broke up a relatively short time ago; emotions are usually still raw after that period of time.  It might be a long time before you two can be friends, if either of you even desire to be friends.  Indeed, it is perfectly acceptable - often preferable - for exes to remain estranged after parting ways.  Now is not the time to stir up old feelings.  If he has a good support group, they will provide him with all the goodwill he needs as he starts on this new assignment.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

It's Never Enough

Dear Jocelyn,
I’m a twenty-something that lives about 3 hours from my parents, and I go home every couple of months for a weekend or a few days—pretty frequently. My parents often get upset and guilt-trip me for wanting to spend time with my friends when I am home. I’m not trying to avoid my parents; I want to spend time with them and I tell them so: let’s pick things to do, or nights I should stay home, etc. But although it’s not always said, it’s always implied that I’m scheduling them in and they won’t see enough of me, although I feel like that’s not true. They say they are fine with me seeing my friends, but then when I leave, they start saying things like, "Well, I wish we had done this," and "Once again, this didn’t get done." What is a good way to get rid of the guilt-trips?
     ~Tired of being guilt-tripped

Dear Tired,
I wish I had a magic word you could say to stop people from laying on guilt trips, but alas, I do not; if I did, I would be a very rich woman.  There are several ways to deal with this, so I will lay them out:

I recommend you first tell them what you told me.  While it sounds like they are passive-aggressive, you should give them the benefit of the doubt and see if they will change their behavior.  You might say something like, "Mom, Dad—I love coming to visit you, but whenever I leave you say things that make me think you are upset with me for not spending more time with you.  I want to be able to spend time with my friends when I am here, and don't want to run into this conflict every time I come home."

Another option is more indirect, but still firm.  Before you arrive home, ask your parents what they would like to do with you that weekend.  Tell them when you will be busy and when you will be available.  Then, when you are leaving and they start making comments about you not being there enough, say, "I wish you had told me before I came that you wanted to do this, but you didn't.  If you tell me next time I'll be able to make time for it."

As for what to do with those feelings of guilt, that is something you will need to deal with yourself.  I recommend reading the book Boundaries: When to Say YES, When to Say NO, To Take Control of Your Life for ways to handle situations like this.  It sounds like you are single, and unfortunately this is not something that is likely to stop once you get married or have children—in fact, it will probably become worse.  If you take charge now and set up clear emotional boundaries with your parents, it will help you immensely in the long run.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Overwhelmed By Stuff

Dear Jocelyn,
My mother lives by herself in a large house filled with stuff, a lot of which is my late father's. She knows that she needs to get rid of it, and she’s not even that attached to most of it…but she doesn't do much about it. We both think she would be better off in a smaller place without always having to worry about mountains of clutter. I am out of ideas to help. I offer to go through stuff with her, and we’ll get a few boxes done, but I live hours away and this is infrequent. Her friends offer to help and she says she’ll take them up on it when she gets her act together. I know she is overwhelmed with the sheer amount of stuff and I’ve even thought of calling one of those home makeover shows, but I think that would make her very upset. It’s her stuff, so she has to be the one that goes through it. Help?
     -Way Too Much Stuff

Dear Stuff,
What you're dealing with here is not simply the issue of a pack-rat who does not know how to get rid of things. Your mother is not only overwhelmed by the large amount of clearing out she needs to do, but she is possibly also dealing with grief and depression. You did not say how long ago your father died, but I assume it was in the last several years. It is very difficult to cope with the loss of a loved one, and to get rid of their items can feel like losing them all over again.

However, while this can be difficult, it is an important step. Living in a cluttered environment with old reminders is not healthy. Sit down with your mother (whether in person or over the phone) and gently tell her you are concerned. Explain to her why you think it is important to clean out these items. Offer hope that, once the house is de-cluttered, she might feel better and begin to move on. Since she is probably too overwhelmed to oversee a clean-up crew, you might arrange a time for you to visit where her friends can come over and tackle the mess. This way, you can be there if her feelings of grief become too strong and she needs to take a break. This is a time for, not “tough love,” but firm love. Help her make a definite plan and stick to it.

In addition to all of this, you should encourage her to see a therapist to deal with her possible depression. A therapist can guide her through her grief and help her develop a plan for moving on.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

When Our Thoughts Lead Us Astray

Dear Jocelyn,
I am having trouble figuring out what keeping a chaste heart means. So, I am dating a man whom I care for very much, and to whom I am very much attracted. I've chosen to keep my virginity until marriage, which we both have earnestly agreed to honor. However, I know that in the same way God calls me to keep my heart and mind chaste...clean...modest. Well, I'm human, and it's rather impossible to keep out thoughts that are more intimate than modest. I am attracted to this man for who he is in so many ways, especially as I see Christ alive in his words and actions and choices; why do my thoughts lately seem to stray in one direction? By virtue of the fact that we are looking towards marriage but definitely not there, how in the world do I keep my interior life in line with this season of courtship, and what is appropriate right now? I would sincerely welcome any practical thoughts or suggestions.

Dear Smitten,
What an excellent question! This is an issue that almost every Christian struggles with at some point or another. You stated in your letter that you are attracted to the spiritual side of this man, and asked why it seems that your thoughts are straying to (I'm assuming) the physical aspects? My dear, because that is how God made us! I would hope that you would not be interested only in his ability to pray or study the Bible. Humans are multi-dimensional creatures—we are spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical. You are drawn to him physically because God created relationships to encompass our whole beings, not just one facet.

Now that I have answered the why, let me answer the how. Like I said, it is natural that you are drawn to him physically. But as you know, these thoughts have a proper time and place, and it is not the right time or place for them yet. Thoughts oftentimes lead to actions, and since you are not married to this fine fellow, it is not time for these actions yet. One practical way you can deal with thoughts as they arrive is by redirection. When these not-so-chaste thoughts arrive, think, "Thank you God for such a wonderful man. Now, what chores need to be done around my house? How are my finances? Did I remember to feed my pet yesterday?" In other words, distract yourself with other matters.

When we struggle with things, it helps to deal with the origin of the issue. It seems as if you are becoming emotionally intimate with your beau. While this is a natural part of the road towards marriage, we must remember that intimacy in a relationship can be compared to the four legs of a table. (Thanks to the book Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity for providing this example!) The four areas of intimacy (physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental) are meant to grow at the same time. As we become more intimate in one area, the other three attempt to keep up. However, before marriage, it is necessary to restrain growth in physical intimacy while pursuing the other three. (This is usually why dating—while wonderful!—is filled with tension.) It is when one area is growing too quickly that we find difficulty controlling the others. There are two ways to fix this: slow down the intimacy, or get married. Seeing as how you said you weren't ready for marriage yet, let me address ways to slow intimacy.

-Involve other couples in your dating: Find a godly marriage you admire—perhaps a couple in the church. Ask them to double date with you and your gentleman. You will be able to get to know him better while both hearing the wisdom older Christians can provide.

-Communicate in other ways: Not all communication needs to be face to face. Talk over the phone, write emails—even write letters! In this way, you can gather more information about him while reducing the growth of emotional intimacy.

-Visit in public places: You can have a great deal of privacy while being in a public place. A coffeeshop or park can provide the perfect opportunity to share your thoughts while making it impossible to become physically intimate.

A combination of these three ideas (and others) should help you slow down the relationship. Just remember—these methods are not meant to work forever. If and when you do decide to become engaged, I encourage you to not dawdle on your way to the altar. Once you are married, it will become much easier to find balance in your relationship.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Ready To Give Up

Dear Jocelyn,

I will be 28 next month, and I've barely dated (I'm female). You advised one of your earlier readers to let guys do the pursuing, but that hasn't happened in 11 years. I'm not pretty, I'm introverted to the point of being socially inept, and I'm nervous because I don't know anything. I tried online dating, but I was up-front about the fact that I was Christian and waiting until marriage, and I only attracted creepy guys who took it as a challenge. I don't want to lead anyone on, but I am not even sure what I would want out of a relationship. Marriage seems daunting, and the idea of having a child scares me, but it would be nice to at least have had a boyfriend at some point before I die. Any advice, or should I just give up?

Dear Lonely,
You have my sympathies. I spent some lonely time in the dating world, and I know many other girls who have too. At a certain point, the idea of letting the men do all the work and pursuit seems hopeless, since they are not doing any asking. But let me point out two things: 1) A woman can do many things to attract a man while "waiting" for him to pursue her, and 2) a man that you have to go out and drag in is probably not the kind of man that you want.

I have difficulty evaluating the situation since I don't know you—therefore, I do not know if your assessment of your beauty is realistic or simply low self-esteem. However, I do know that women are notoriously bad judges of their own beauty. I also have seen many women whom I think of as relatively plain, who have flocks of men surrounding them because of their self-confidence and sparkling personalities. So let me share what you can do while the men around you are getting their act together.

First, find some things about your looks that you can change. Enlist some well put-together friends to help you. Get an attractive haircut, buy some new clothing, and perhaps invest in some subtle makeup. Some women think they are misrepresenting themselves by doing things differently, but I simply call it good advertising. Your outer looks often represent your inner feelings. So if you dress dowdily, hunch over, and don't fix your hair, what does that say about your inner self? Conversely, if you sit up straight and confidently, dress neatly and attractively, and spend some time on the outer appearance, it can speak volumes.

Next is to seek some professional help. Many people think therapists are only there to help with depression or anxiety; what they don't know is that therapists can help with a multitude of issues. Seek a therapist with a cognitive behavioral orientation and ask her for help with developing social skills and graces. There is a link at the right of my blog where you can find a therapist in your area. This therapist might also help you explore your self-esteem issues.

Finally, put the word out. Tell friends and coworkers you are interested in finding someone. Get out and meet people! Go out with friends, go dancing, go do interesting things. Chances are much better for you if you don't limit the men you meet to co-workers and the Domino’s deliveryman. If you try online dating, I advise using specifically Christian websites. While I think it is admirable that you are a virgin, that is perhaps more appropriate to share after several dates, rather than on your dating profile.

One last word—it is fine that marriage and children are daunting for now. You simply are not ready at this point. Focus on dating, and when you meet the right man, you will be prepared. I recommend reading the book How to Get a Date Worth Keeping for excellent advice by Henry Cloud. Please do write back in several months from now and let us know how things turned out.

Friday, May 14, 2010

No Question Today

Dear Readers,
Due to recovering from a medical procedure, there will be no "Ask Jocelyn" post today.  Please feel free to peruse my past posts and enjoy them.  "Ask Jocelyn" will resume Monday morning.  In the meantime, write in all your questions about love, relationships, work, and sticky situations.

See you Monday!

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Dear Jocelyn,
Social media websites (like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and others) have made it easy to reconnect with people. With great ease, many of one's old friends can reestablish contact, including those that were not always "just friends." Considering that all of one's activities and speech need to convey loyalty to one's present spouse, what guidelines would you suggest for interacting with "old flames" that now just seem rather friendly?
     -Online reunion attendee

Dear Attendee,
Indeed, social networking sites have made it possible to be "friends" with just about everyone—family members, real friends, acquaintances, someone you met on a bus once, and of course, exes.  While this strange new world seems like it requires new rules, remember that the same wisdom that guides you in "real life" also applies to online activities.  For instance, are you and your spouse friends with ex-flames?  Do you occasionally go out with them or see them?  If so, it seems perfectly appropriate to accept friendships from other ex-girlfriends or boyfriends.  However, factors such as how the relationship ended or the former level of intimacy can complicate matters.

I propose the following guidelines:
1) Share with your spouse any friendly overtures, such as friend requests or private messages, from former romantic partners.  Ask if they have any problem with you responding to them.  If they say no, simply don't respond—after all, the feelings of your spouse should be more important to you than the feelings of an old beau.
2) Keep online chats and messaging to a minimum.  Long messages back and forth for weeks or months between you and the girl you dated in college is akin to calling her up several times a week and chatting for an hour.  While a few private messages are probably not harmful, it is best to keep all communication public—by that, I mean posting on the person's wall or profile.  This way, there is no hint of secrecy or intimacy.  Whatever you post is there for the world (and your spouse) to see.
3) If the former inamorata persists in messaging you and connecting in a private manner, take advantage of the impersonality of the Internet.  Simply brush them off with short replies, or say you do not have the time to respond to lengthy messages.

The most important thing is to consider the feelings of both you and your spouse. If both of you are comfortable with what is going on and you do not sense the awakening of old attractions, then that is what matters.  But just as you ought to take precautions with opposite-sex friendships in the real world, so should you be careful when renewing friendships online.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Infant Milestones

Dear Jocelyn,
What are some important upcoming developmental milestones for my child (currently 1 year old)? At what point should he understand the concept of "no"? Are there any educational activities I can do with him to encourage his psychological development?
     -First-time Mom

Dear First,
I'm glad you asked this question - it gave me an opportunity to pull out my old developmental psychology textbooks! Here are a few sample milestones your child should reach by the first year of life:

-Your child should be able to understand the basic meaning of the word "no." He might not like it, but he should understand it.
-He should be trying to imitate sounds and attempt to speak.
-He should be using his larger muscles in play (throwing things, picking up larger objects, etc.).
-He should be able to understand basic commands and questions ("Do you want a cracker?").

As a disclaimer, I must say that children reach milestones at different times.  Even if your son is slow to walk or talk, it is not a problem.  The ages at which children can do certain abilities are averages - meaning some children are faster and some are slower.  I would only recommend seeing your pediatrician if your child does not reach any milestones appropriate for his age. 

You asked what you can do to encourage his psychological development - the best thing you can do at this point is love him. Thankfully, one-year-old babies are not easily psychologically damaged. When we do see infants showing signs of psychological damage, it is due to neglect. These babies are left for hours at a time, not changed or cared for, and not loved. These sad cases result in listless, apathetic infants. The good news is that I can tell you are a loving mother. How? You took the time to write an advice columnist about your son. The only thing you need to concern yourself with is not letting anxiety overrun you. Children can sense emotions, even the ones we think we hide. So if you want a normal and healthy child, relax and show him how much you love him. This will give him the security to explore, develop friendships, and eventually leave the nest.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Performance Reviews

Dear Jocelyn,

They are restructuring in my company this upcoming fiscal year, that starts in July. I work in a different office than my direct supervisor and have little contact with him. For this reason, I have no way of knowing how my performance is perceived. Going into a time of uncertainty in the workplace in this economy is fairly scary, so would it be appropriate to ask for a performance review or something of that nature? I've been working here for 3 years (1.5 years in the new office) and have never had a performance review or any feedback.
     - A Concerned Employee

Dear Concerned,
It is certainly appropriate to ask for a performance review, especially after 3 years at a company. Performance reviews are an excellent way to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, and identify goals for your continued employment. Additionally, if your performance has been excellent and your supervisor is made aware of that fact, it might help when the layoffs occur.

The best way to do this is to contact your supervisor and simply tell him you are interested in receiving a performance review so you can learn how to improve your work. Ask if he is able to do it, and if not, who might best handle it. You might also ask coworkers who have been at the company for longer for advice on how to obtain a performance review. Once you have scheduled the meeting, research good questions to ask. You might also find it helpful to begin looking at what other jobs are available – it never hurts to be aware of the job market if there are impending layoffs.

Monday, May 10, 2010

When a Friend is Going Too Far

Dear Jocelyn,
I have a friend who identifies themselves as a Christian. In the past, we have discussed the ideas of boundaries in dating relationships and the correlation between physical and emotional involvement, an area where this person has previously struggled. More recently this person has entered a dating relationship and although she is reluctant to admit it appears to be struggling in this area. The guy she is dating has a different view on boundaries and relationships and has expressed interest in progressing the relationship physically. As this person's friend, how should I bring this up? Is it even my place to discuss this with them?
     -Trying to Help

Dear Trying,
It is admirable that you are looking out for your friend. Since she professes to be a Christian, it is perfectly fine to discuss your opinion with her. I recommend finding a time when just the two of you can talk privately, and ask her if you can offer your opinion on something. This is a way of having her invite you to talk. (Most people will say yes, but I suppose if she declines hearing it you have your answer!) I recommend not starting out with your concerns over the relationship, or physical boundaries - this can cause many people to immediately become defensive and stop listening. Instead, tell her some positive things you've seen in their relationship, and then tell her your concerns. For example,

"Sue, I love seeing you and Bob together. You two really seem to get along well. However, I've been concerned that you two are perhaps on different pages regarding physical intimacy. I really like you, and I don't want to see you do something you might regret later. Can I share some thoughts I had about this?"

This approach will work with most people, and keep them open-minded enough to actually hear what you have to say. It is important to speak up in situations where you are concerned for a friend's well-being, be it emotional, physical, or spiritual. After this conversation, you should be able to judge her response and see if this is something you can continue to discuss with her, or whether she wants you to butt out.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Inconsiderate Neighbors

Dear Jocelyn,

I have neighbor issues. The people behind us routinely allow their children ranging in age from pre-school to middle school run around unsupervised starting at 8 am. Not only do these kids yell and scream, but they run through our yard, bang on our windows, and beat a wiffle ball bat against their porch. The parents also feel that 8 am on Sunday morning is the appropriate time to use loud electric hedge-trimmers to trim their hedge and perform other noise-producing outdoor tasks. Aside from getting revenge by disturbing the peace ourselves at midnight or attempting to train the children and adults by spraying them with hoses and squirt guns, how can this situation be handled?
     - A House of Sleep Deprived Graduate Students

Dear House,
Your letter illustrates the saying "Good fences make good neighbors." This seems like a very common problem between early birds and night owls. It is commonly accepted that it is impolite to call people outside the hours of 9am-9pm. It makes sense that this rule should extend to noisy children and yard work, as well. While I do not know your desired waking time, if it is past 9am you cannot expect your neighbors to tiptoe around so you can sleep late. However, 8am, while well past the time most people with children are up, is an inconsiderate time to make excessive noise.

For a first step, try visiting your neighbors with a big batch of cookies. Explain politely to them that you all think their children are lovely, but they often wake you by running through your yard, banging on your windows, etc. Ask them to please make sure their children stay off your property. If they continue to trespass after repeated warnings, call your local police (make sure it is the non-emergency number) and ask if you have any recourse for this situation. They might even be violating a local noise ordinance, although I cannot imagine 8am would be considered “night” under the law.

As for the yardwork, you may ask them politely to wait another hour until weed-wacking, but this is less likely to yield any results. Try to find a good set of earplugs and perhaps get to sleep earlier.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

What's the Big Deal About Co-ed Roommates?

Dear Jocelyn,
I am a female Christian and am deciding where to live next year. I have some friends, 2 guys and a girl, with a room open in their house. We'd all have separate bedrooms and I'd be sharing bathrooms with the girl. This seems perfectly fine to me, but am I missing any red flags? My mom likes my friends but is a little worried what people are going to think. I’m frustrated because it’s not like it’s an episode of “Friends” where we are all going to wind up dating and/or sleeping together; they are Christians as well. What is your opinion of a platonic co-ed living situation?

Dear Housemate,
That is an excellent question that reflects the conflict between social mores and Christian morals. I do believe that an unrelated and unmarried man and woman can live in the same home without sinning; however, I do not consider it to be wise (especially for Christians) for several reasons:

Your Christian Witness
All four of you might know that you are not sleeping together, but consider what typically runs through the mind of someone who hears of co-eds cohabitating: either there is sexual activity or immodesty of some sort. It might become harder for you to advise your other Christian or non-Christian friends to abstain from sexual immorality if they are suspect of your living situation. 1 Corinthians 10:23-24 says: "'All things are lawful,' but not all things are helpful. 'All things are lawful,' but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor." I believe in today's culture, where casual sex is the norm, that you would not be encouraging others in sexual purity by living with two men.

Your Chastity
As I said in the beginning—I fully believe it is possible for men and women to live together and not sin. However, I do also fully believe that this situation provides more temptation to sin. Living together produces emotional closeness. If you have had female roommates, you have probably found that you felt closer to them after living together. In this situation, you are going to be around two men your own age every day—while you may not be attracted to them now, it is quite possible you will eventually find yourself attracted to one of these men, in which case everything suddenly becomes very complicated.

 Your Modesty
While I'm certain you intend to remain fully clothed in all common areas, chances are that in the year or more that you will be in this living situation, you will find yourself in less-than-modest clothing around one or both of your male roommates. Nightclothes immediately come to mind—picture walking to the kitchen in the middle of the night in skimpy pajamas, thinking that no one will see you. And then picture running into one of these men in his boxers who thought the same thing. While this scenario might never occur, it is wholly possible.

Personally, when I had roommates I liked the freedom to wear and do what I wanted without concern of propriety and modesty. I am not aware of any benefits to having a male roommate, but I am aware of many downsides—mostly practical, but some moral. I advise you to find several nice Christian females and stay out of this potentially sticky situation.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Throwing Rocks

Dear Jocelyn,
The apartment complex across the street constantly lets debris from their property fall onto the sidewalk. Over the months there have been limbs, rocks, garbage, sand. This time it's a 3'x3'x4" pile of golf-ball-sized stones that has been sitting there for a month, obstructing the sidewalk. I finally had time to go to their leasing office and complain about it the other day. The employee at the front desk claimed to be unaware of the rock pile (seriously) and said maintenance would take care of it. The next day I discovered the rocks were still there and I went to follow up. The employee was really rude to me and seemed gleeful to tell me that she knows the rocks are still there but maintenance won't be taking care of it. She then lied to me by saying it's the City's responsibility to take care of sidewalks. I think this is ridiculous because people can't just throw trash in the street and expect the government to clean up their mess. Anyway, I found the whole exchange infuriating. My proposed solution is to remove the rocks myself, bring them into the leasing office and dump them on the floor, and then inform the staff that they should take care of their debris problems in a more timely manner. Am I over-reacting?
- Potential Rock Thrower

Dear Rock,
Breathe in - breathe out. Breathe in - breathe out. Feel better? While this situation does seem frustrating, you are getting worked up over something that ultimately does not matter. So when you find yourself becoming enraged and gravitating towards a pile of rocks to throw, do some deep breathing and go to your happy place. That being said, there are ways to address this situation without possibly commiting a misdemeanor. Contact this employee's manager and share the exchange. This should not be done out of spite, but because a manager needs to know when an employee is treating others rudely. If, heaven forbid, she is the manager, contact the owner, or the company that owns the apartments. In other words, find her boss. Then contact the city—after all, if this apartment complex is abusing the city's funds, they should be notified so they can address the issue. It might be helpful to remember that this employee that angered you probably represents a type of people you do not like—perhaps those who are lazy, or who lie. So in a sense, you are over-reacting by focusing your anger towards that group of people onto this one example. Be satisfied in your ability to report the problem, and let the authorities take it from here.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

How to Cut Down on Constant Complaining

Dear Jocelyn,
I have a problem with my mom (I know I'm the first!). She has a tendency to be a very negative person. For example, if she is struggling with something she would rather spend time complaining or emphatically stating that she is incapable of doing it rather than trying. I try to be uplifting and encourage her to give it her best, but she seems to enjoy being down (about almost everything). I'm getting tired of listening to constant complaints! HELP!
-Losing Patience

Dear Patience,
Let me share share with you a trick I've learned—whenever an incessant complainer begins on a litany of sadness, ask, "So what are you doing about it?" Your mother, for whatever reason, struggles with negativity and probably draws comfort from other's reactions to her complaints. Alas, this comfort is not doing anything to help fix her problems. As a caring child, you have tried your best to encourage her. However, it sounds like your mother is very assertive about controlling the conversation, so it is time to take charge. Next time she complains, tell her, "I love you, but it discourages me when you complain about your problems instead of doing something to solve them. I'd rather just hear what you plan to do to fix them, or what I can do to help." In the future, when she begins to grouse about her life, say, "Well, I can't wait to hear what you do about this problem. Until then, let me tell you about what's going on in MY life..." At the very least, you will be sending the message that you do not want to hear about all the things she thinks she can't do. Hopefully, though, seeing how you take charge of your own life will help her stop focusing on her unfortunate circumstances.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Spare His Feelings?

Dear Jocelyn,
I have gone on a few dates with a nice Christian man who is excited about pursuing a relationship with me, but after giving it a chance I know there's no interest on my part. Last night I dodged his attempts to make weekend plans and (truthfully) said I needed to go to bed, but then a different guy called and I readily talked with him for half an hour. How do I tell the first guy I don't want to see him anymore, since my own behavior tells me I'm not interested? Complication: I promised to attend a ticketed event with him next weekend but I’d rather not go on dates with him anymore…would it be kinder for me to offer to pay for my half and cancel or go as our last hangout?
-Not Interested

Dear Not Interested,
Now that you know how you feel about this young gentleman, you should act immediately. A common misconception people have is that the longer you date someone, the more obligation you have to continue going on dates with him. This is not true; whether you have been on 2 dates or 100 dates, you do not have an obligation to remain with him.

Call your suitor post haste and thank him for the fun times you had together, then tell him you are not interested in dating anymore. This is hard to do, but the kindest thing you can do is be clear - you do not want to fumble through a 5 minute phone conversation and leave him more con

fused than when you began. Then tell him that if he does not wish to bring another friend to the event, you are willing to pay for your ticket but will not attend.