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.