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Patch Pro: Figuring Out Family Conflicts

Ask this week's experts questions about family conflicts.

With the holiday season in full swing, conflict among some family members might be unavoidable. 

For two days at Patch, our pros will answer your questions about family conflict.

This week, our pros are:

  • Megan Bearce, LMFT, who specializes in supporting high-achieving women of all ages, but also works with men, couples, and parents of gifted kids. She has offices in Wayzata and Edina. 
  • Jenny Reimann, MSW, LICSW of Reimann Counseling Clinic in Maple Grove, serves as a private practitioner working with a broad spectrum of clients.
  • Craig Rens, MA, LMFT, and Clinical Director of . He is a licensed individual, couples, and family therapist and is specifically trained to treat and improve couples and family relationships regardless of their current condition. 

On Tuesday, Dec. 4, and Wednesday, Dec. 5 our experts will take questions from Patch users about family conflicts. 

So go ahead and ask away! Leave your questions in the comments area below and they’ll check back regularly through Wednesday to answer your questions.

Editor's note: The contents of this post and comments are for informational and educational purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for professional psychological, psychiatric or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. 

Chris Steller (Editor) December 04, 2012 at 08:07 PM
When something serious happens, the criminal justice system gets involved and really determines outcomes for those involved, but is there a separate social-work process that takes place to help the family members affected? I'm thinking of an incident in which a mother and stepfather have been jailed for publicly shaming their daughter, with the children now in foster care with their father. http://patch.com/A-0cgg
Craig Rens December 04, 2012 at 08:09 PM
Great suggestions from Jenny and Megan. It sounds like you want the best for your kids and would like them to find something they are good at that helps them grow and mature into happy, healthy individuals. I really like the idea of volunteering, part-time jobs (depending on age), and non-traditional events that encourage face-to-face gathering vs. screen time. I also like how Jenny put that kids have a hard time recognizing that they are actually enjoying something. One last add, you said your kids try things for a year at time? That actually sounds like a good period of time for a child to commit to. While they may not be a four year basketball player, for example, they are at least trying different things and getting themselves exposed to different group and system dynamics that will aid them in the future. Good luck. You sound like a good parent!
Craig Rens December 04, 2012 at 08:18 PM
I'm not completely clear on your question, Chris, but what usually happens is child protection or similar group within the county system will get involved in situations where there are child endangerment issues. Support services will be then be recommended or required by those folks or the judge. Support services could include family therapy, in-home services, parenting classes, etc.
Megan Bearce, LMFT December 04, 2012 at 08:18 PM
Chris, I can't speak directly to this but when I was living in Los Angeles part of my private practice was counseling people through the California Victims of Crime Program. There is one here in Minnesota: https://dps.mn.gov/divisions/ojp/help-for-crime-victims/Pages/crime-victims-reparations.aspx. The website list the requirements for eligibility and what is covered (it does include mental health services). I would hope that part of her journey will include counseling. Good question. Maybe Jenny or Craig know more details of the process here.
Jenny Reimann December 04, 2012 at 08:23 PM
Chris, Though this is not my area of expertise, I will offer a bit of my experience. The issue that you speak of would be in the area of child protection. Once the child is placed in Child Protective Services, they are assigned a case worker that helps them identify the services that are needed to provide a safe environment for the child, this may include parent classes, family counseling, individual counseling, etc. I have included a link to the Minnesota Department of Human Services-Child Protection site. They address the role of child protection and services that they offer, that include family counseling, depending on the situation. http://www.dhs.state.mn.us/main/idcplg?IdcService=GET_DYNAMIC_CONVERSION&RevisionSelectionMethod=LatestReleased&dDocName=id_000152
Craig Rens December 04, 2012 at 08:24 PM
Chris, After reading Megan's comment, I wonder if you are referring to a county's victims/witness support or assistance programs? For example, here are two links to ours in Wright County: http://www.co.wright.mn.us/department/attorney/victimwitnessassistance.asp http://www.co.wright.mn.us/department/sheriff/victimassistance.asp
Simon D December 05, 2012 at 02:57 PM
Do you think the fact that so many are now employed in the behavior analysis/treatment fields that maybe we are overanalyzing, overdiagnosing, and overmedicating normal childhood misbehavior in the name of qualifying and quantifying the existence of said professionals, at the expense and detriment of children?
Jenny Reimann December 05, 2012 at 03:25 PM
Good morning, Simon. There are many mental health professionals in the field, that is true. Whether that leads to overdiagnosis, overanalyzing, and overmedicating, that is difficult to know for certain. Those qualified to provide therapy, diagnosis, and/or prescribe medication are held to their board standards to follow ethical guidelines, that include providing appropriate treatment. I prefer clinicians who offer parents options when working with their child as well as encourage parents to get different professional opinions when they are dealing with a concerning diagnosis or medication for their children.
Lily December 05, 2012 at 03:29 PM
Question for the Therapists -I have a son that struggles a lot with school, and it makes this busy holiday time even more stressful. He knows what he needs to do to make things better - the teachers, us, his tutor all tell him what he needs to do. I spend hours studying with him (sometimes 6-8 hrs for one test). I feel like I'm teaching him material for the first time. His notes are mess - sloppy and incomplete, we end up redoing them at home so have something to study from. He struggles with the vocab and I think then missing the main points. He's also just plain stubborn. Yet he's smart, he tests well on standardized tests, but it's not reflected in his homework. He's too busy, he'd rather be doing sports. He fights me every step of the way. Please help. Any suggestions. This should be that hard.
Jenny Reimann December 05, 2012 at 03:36 PM
Lily, It sounds like you are doing a lot with your son to get him on track; and I am sure that it is very frustrating for you. First, I am curious about his age and second, what the teachers are suggesting, and third, how long has he been struggling. You are right, it shouldn't be this hard. Initially, I recommend meeting with the teachers to discuss your concerns and to develop a plan.
Lily December 05, 2012 at 03:45 PM
He's 12, a 7th grader. To top it off, he also has a border line ADD diagnosis (the inattentive type), and I've got a 504 in the works, although the teachers are resisting the idea because they say we're already doing the things we'd put in a 504 (sitting in the front, giving him a test he can write out to eliminate options that can't be correct, etc) but I don't feel it's enough. His teachers are saying they tell him things, he's saying he doesn't hear them, his teachers used to say he was naughty and had to tell him many times to stop talking, but that hasn't been a problem recently. He just seems to be in the clouds at school, he writes notes in his planner but he's rarely clear on what they mean and doesn't take the time to clarify. I've asked him a million times to stay after school, meet w/teachers to clarify, ask questions, etc. he never does it.
Megan Bearce, LMFT December 05, 2012 at 03:53 PM
Simon, I highly recommend the book Misdiagnosis And Dual Diagnoses Of Gifted Children and Adults by James Webb as one of the best out there. He, the members of SENG (www.senggifted.org), myself and small groups of therapists, parents and educators around the country are passionate about helping avoid this very thing. I speak to parents on the topic as it relates to teenage girls. It's a great book for educators, parents and therapists as there are many things that are misdiagnosed if other factors are not ruled out. For example, diet has a major impact on behavior; Not only what is eaten but sudden drops in blood sugar can look like ADHD. A child bored in class due to advanced academic ability may be disruptive or daydream. Some kids with high ability in one area may actually have a learning disability in another (Twice Exceptional www.2enewsletter.com) and the LD get the focus. I will refer parents to the Pediatric Integrative Medicine Clinic in Chaska led by Dr. Culbert, a pioneer in the field. The center uses "biofeedback, mind/body medicine, holistic therapies, nutrition and lifestyle approaches" as alternatives to traditional medication. It is an on-going discussion of why the increase in bi-polar and ADHD diagnosis in children. Is it environment? Diet? Vaccines? Excess electronics? Chronic stress? misdiagnosis? I don't have an answer. I would tell people if they feel they have been given a Dx that seems wrong, always get a 2nd or 3rd opinion
Jenny Reimann December 05, 2012 at 04:03 PM
Lily, thanks for the additional information. Based on what you said I would suggest a couple of things that will both give you and your son support. You didn't indicate that he was formally diagnosed with ADD, so I would first suggest he get evaluated via testing with a psychologist. That will provide you with a clearer direction. If you have done this, I would recommend that you meet with a therapist who works with children dx with ADD, or simply works with those who are inattentive, who will work with both you and your son to come up with creative ideas that produce change. Also based on the outcome of the testing, medication may be discussed. This is also something you can work through with your therapist. I hope that helps guide you a bit.
Megan Bearce, LMFT December 05, 2012 at 04:11 PM
Lily, Check out www.mcgt.net. This is an invaluable group for parents who struggle with issues like you are describing. As a member you have access to an amazing listserve where people ask questions just like you did and the responses can be really helpful in navigating educational challenges. There is one woman in particular who is very knowledgeable on the issue of 504's and school's resistance to them is often discussed. My understanding is that once it is in writing they have to follow it. I would call the school today and follow up on it to get them to move faster. Here is a site that has step by step guide about the process: http://www.help4adhd.org/en/education/rights/504 it's daunting but from the little that you shared it sounds like it's a reasonable request. Who determined he is "boarderline ADD"? A full evaluation if you haven't had one could also show other sorts of processing delays or disorders. A few I'd recommend are Dr. Teresa Boatman and Mary L. Wandrei, PhD, LP at Affiliated Counseling Center. Both specialize in working with high ability kids. I'm not sure if that would be covered under the 504 so you'd need to get more info. Best of luck on your journey. It sounds like you are both working really hard to figure this out. Ideally the 504 will help!
Lily December 05, 2012 at 04:14 PM
Thanks for the feedback everyone. We are on a waiting list to see a LMFT as well, hope to get in next month. I ordered the book and checked out the newsletter- hopefully something will work. I do wonder if we was misdiagnosed. He does take Adderall XR on school days only, but I question whether it's working (we just started it this year). He plays a lot of sports and excels at all of them, he never takes his meds for those. He hates taking his meds, he's embarrassed that he has too and doesn't feel he needs it.
Megan Bearce, LMFT December 05, 2012 at 04:19 PM
Mary sees clients for therapy in addition to testing. Dr. Andrea Johnson does great work with boys/young men, has testing experience and knowledge of working with ADD so they could be good options if you want to interviews others in the meantime while you wait.
Craig Rens December 05, 2012 at 05:35 PM
Hi Lily, Has your son always had this issue? Or is this more recent?
Craig Rens December 05, 2012 at 05:38 PM
I just got back to the questions. Keep them coming everyone. I'll be taking part until 4pm today.
Simon D December 05, 2012 at 06:55 PM
Megan and Jenny, thank you for responding to my previous question, it was pointed out to me that it was worded in a way that could have sounded like a personal attack, but I was applying it to a situation I've encountered in the past. My son is friends and in classes with two kids (that we know of) on Ritalin. It seems nowadays that teachers have a shorter fuse when it comes to classroom behavior. I had a teacher contact me once to say my child was laughing in class, even after she told him to stop, and asked if he'd ever been to a counselor or seen a professional concerning disruptive behavior. After talking to my son (an A student no history of trouble), I ask the teacher if my son was trying to disrupt the class purposely, maybe faking or forcing the laughter. After answering no, I asked if she understood that genuine laughter is involuntary, and that this isolated incident wasn't a behavioral issue but rather a natural spontaneous reaction at an inopprotune moment. She disagreed and thought we should talk to a counselor. We ignored her, and haven't had any issues since that one two years ago. I just think in public schools they have a tendency of overreacting to and overanalyzing disruptiveness, looking at it as a medical problem rather than as a "kids will be kids" situation that teachers don't want to deal with themselves.
Jenny Reimann December 05, 2012 at 07:07 PM
Simon, I have had parents go through similar experiences with their children in schools as well. As parents, we know our kids better than anyone. It is important not to take feedback, regardless of where it comes from, at face value. If you have a teacher, doctor, or friend remark on your child's behavior, assess the situation. They may see something that you don't see, but they also may be overreacting. It is good for parents to ask themselves some questions when assessing: Does this sound like my chid? Is this actually disruptive? Have we seen this before? What, if anything, has changed in his/her life? What other factors might be the cause of this behavior (including age appropriate behavior)? One of my favorite Freud quotes is "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar". Something to keep in mind.
Craig Rens December 05, 2012 at 07:48 PM
Simon, One of the problems is, in my humble opinion, is that the general practitioners that often do the prescribing of stimulants for ADHD do not conduct detailed assessments and interviews with school staff and both parents to determine the consistency of information that indicates problems in multiple areas of functioning for the child. Many times those children you may be referring to in class are only medicated and not even brought to therapy to help them learn behavioral interventions in tandem with stimulant treatment. Further, When someone presents with ADHD like symptoms in most therapist's offices, professionals that I know rarely just say this is ADHD. Like my collegues, what we often do is refer for psychological testing because it is a BIG deal to label a child and to put them on a stimulant. Also, there are so many similar mental health issues that can look like ADHD including abuse issues, anxiety, trauma, not to mention there can be medical issues contributing to the inattention of hyperactivity. Because of this, I believe it is essential that any parent considering stimulants get through testing and evaluation from specialists preferrably a psychiatrist that only prescribes medications related to mental health disorder. What do you folks think?
Resident of Oakdale December 05, 2012 at 08:09 PM
Question: My husband & I have hosted Christmas Day for his family the past 15 years. We have three children, ages from 7 to 19. My mother-in-law "MIL" died this summer from brain disease. Her health deteriorated in under a year. Her aunt "MJ" has always spent Christmas Day with us - nearly each of the 30 years we've been together. MJ has been estranged from her own adult children for years. The last 5 years have been especially miserable since MJ's husband died. The only one who's talked to MJ each Christmas Day was my MIL. Aunt MJ yammers on and on about her dog which gets old fast. She's made horrible remarks implying my mother-in-law wasn't sick, didn't need medication, had no reason to be tired, etc. Not okay given MIL was only 70, and declined so fast. So sad! MJ constantly complained about her own poor health and played victim for having to take care of herself. Her comments are rude and mean-spirited and often said in front of our kids or my sister-in-law who was close with her mom. It felt downright abusive when she'd talk like that directly to my MIL. So here we are, facing our 1st Christmas since my husband's mom died. My father-in-law is SO sad and misses his wife. He feels we are obligated to invite MJ to Christmas. I really don't. I want to focus on a nice day with my husband and kids. My kids deserve to have wonderful memories of Christmas. This woman doesn't seem to even like children. I feel anxiety and anger toward this bully. Any advice?
Craig Rens December 05, 2012 at 08:50 PM
Hi Oakdale Resident, I brought in one of my staff members, Nancy Tomanek, who is also an LMFT to respond to your question. Here's what Nancy had to say: It's always tough to address family dilemmas especially around the holidays. It's reasonable to want an enjoyable family gathering, therefore only inviting those who are enjoyable to be around. There is also the pull of family obligations and reaching out to those who would otherwise be alone at the holidays. Is there a way to limit the visit with the Aunt? Could she be told to arrive later as a means of limiting her stay? Maybe stop by and visit with her individually instead of at a large family gathering. There are times when it is beneficial to have a heart to heart discussion as she may not be aware of the impact of her words and attitudes.It really is a tough call and not everyone will be happy with the decision.Christmas is a time for reaching out and connecting with our loved ones, sometime this means looking past indiscretions; sometimes it means setting new boundaries.
Jenny Reimann December 05, 2012 at 09:33 PM
Hi Oakdale Resident, The holidays can be such a difficult time after we lose someone. Not only are we grieving for them but we are also left with family dynamics that have a different feel now that the loved one is gone. I agree with what Nancy stated regarding boundaries and setting some new limits. Whether that means you and your husband talk with her ahead of time, plan a shortened holiday with her, or visit her outside of your home. It will be a delicate situation, however, and you may have to reevaluate what you decide, or even hold off a year to make the change. At minimum I suggest a game plan for the immediate family on how to respond to MJ if she attends, and if she is hurtful. Could you change the subject? Pull MJ aside? Let MJ know how much your MIL was loved? You do have options, so start by discussing with your husband. I do wish you a peaceful holiday.
Resident of Oakdale December 05, 2012 at 09:58 PM
Thank you for your input. I've considered calling her daughter "SE". She doesn't work or have young children as I do. My thought is to find a positive way to remind her maybe it's her turn to take the reins. My mother has Alzheimer's - between that and what my MIL went through, I think anyone with a living parent should embrace that person. My mother still manages to tell me each time I see her in person that she loves me, is proud of me and so very happy for my kids who are thriving. That's what I'm used to... Your response would be helpful if these were rational people. Unfortunately, that is simply not the case. They don't do "heart to hearts". They hold grudges. For decades. I feel that I've paid my dues and have earned the right to enjoy the holidays. I don't mind hosting Christmas Day, yet it is a lot of work each year. I've run out of patience with this relative. I loathe and dread seeing her. I pretty much decided that the day of my MIL's funeral when MJ and SE stood in front of me and droned on about what awful children my husband and his sister were as little kids. All I could do was stare at them in disbelief. Was that really all they had to say? My fear is I will say something I'll regret or have an outburst. I'd be so mad at myself. Honestly, could you try to be my advocate and give me some advice other than "suck it up" advice? It's really confusing to me the loyalties of my husband and father-in-law in this situation.
Craig Rens December 05, 2012 at 10:11 PM
It has been a pleasure answering your questions. Thank you Patch Readers, Patch Staff, Megan, and Jenny for an enjoyable couple of days!
Megan Bearce, LMFT December 05, 2012 at 10:29 PM
I like what the others have said about setting boundaries. I like to explore the motto "Just because you can, doesn't mean you have to." with clients and see what the conversation brings forth. Another question: "What is the worst thing that could happen with any given choice?" You and your family can best answer those. Change can be hard for people no matter what that change relates to and so some people might be upset while others could be very happy or relieved, and I'm also hearing that not changing feels really hard too. Best of luck with whatever you and your family decides for this year.
Megan Bearce, LMFT December 05, 2012 at 10:29 PM
thanks for all the questions! It was fun to be a part of this panel the past two days. Happy holidays.
Jenny Reimann December 05, 2012 at 10:57 PM
I would like to say thank you too. I had a great time answering the questions from readers. Thank you to the Patch, the readers, Craig, and Megan. Have a wonderful holiday season!
Wendy Erlien December 05, 2012 at 11:28 PM
To close out this week's Patch Pro edition, just a quick "thank you" to all our experts for participating and "thank you" to the readers for their questions. It is appreciated!

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