Advice column by Tim White, PhD, LPC, NCC.
Tim White, PhD, LPC, NCC offers advice on family planning and parenting, LGBT issues, disability issues, education and work issues, relationships, ethics and "unusual" social issues. Send questions to Tim for future columns through his website.
I'm 33, married with 2 children, 5 and 6. We are all in good health. I'm finished with graduate school and 5 years into a successful career with a good salary. My wife has a successful career too and we have both worked hard to get here. But none of it seems to mean anything. We're about to move to a bigger house in a showier neighborhood. We each just bought new luxury cars. We will be taking the family to Disney World soon. Family and friends say we look perfect.
It isn't all perfect. We all have our faces buried in screens most of the time we're at home or in the car and barely talk to each other. My kids are spoiled and tend to throw tantrums when they don't get something they want. None of what we acquire feels like it means anything. But we don't seem like we want to change, either. How does one know when one is happy and successful? — Full of Empty
Hi Full of Empty,
It is promising that you are questioning your motivations. You have not exactly been shopping this whole time, either. At least, you did not mention a trust fund, lottery ticket or other windfall. While busy finishing graduate school, working and raising kids, it might be perfectly normal to double-down when looking for security, safety, comfort and even leisure, and miss the exact moment when we began to self-treat excessively, confuse necessities with luxuries and get carried away. Conspicuous consumption can give way to or be passed on as invidious consumption, where the purpose of flaunting wealth means nothing more than provoking envy. You do not want your children to grow up identifying themselves this way and this is good insight on your part.
We do not need the latest, most popular gadgets and technologies or a certain brand of car, home, clothes or vacation. If you feel the need to double down, invest in something like retirement or college funds. Explore the functionality of the items you purchase and you will see that far less will be more than enough for just as long. The less importance you place on material things and mere amusements, the more likely it is that you will have increasingly meaningful time and experiences with the people you love, learn more and experience less stress. Your body and mind will eventually thank you.
Try reading this list with many sub references for tips on how to simplify your life. You can also explore a different kind of vacation by providing work in exchange for room and board, while you learn about another culture or language. Voluntourism is a growing travel field accessible through Holidays for Humanity or Govoluntouring, and many other agencies. Make a plan to live with less and follow through. Teach your children simply by example and they will remember how your family explored this rewarding path together.
The Constant Gardner
My neighbors in the house next door all like to play rough and yell at each other. They yell at each other even more when their doors are closed. I have a vegetable garden and do a lot of work out there in the afternoon and evening hours. I have heard the couple yelling at their 4 kids and putting them down, calling them names, etc. One of those children, a young girl in first or second grade, comes over and talks to me sometimes while I'm working. She has bruises on her arms and face, but of course she plays so roughly with her brothers, 2 of who are older, and this could easily be from playing. I've tried to draw information out of her by asking if there is anything she needs to tell me, or tell me if you are in any kind of trouble. She doesn't seem willing to talk about her home life and shuts down if I mention her bruises. Should I report this to the authorities or just assume she is telling me the truth and mind my own business? I know those investigations can cause a lot of trouble for people who've done nothing wrong. — The Constant Gardner
Hi Constant Gardner,
I saw the film; I know what Ralph Fiennes would do. But he tends to get a lot of work, so he will not be available. Next, I would try the Marvel Comics superheroes: Spiderman, Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, Thor, etc. But they will likely be at a convention or making another movie. Likewise, the DC Comics superheroes: Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, etc. are almost certainly otherwise engaged. So, if a fictional superhero is not available to swoop in and do what you are too uncomfortable to do, perhaps you could take a step or two out of your comfort zone and be the hero for these helpless children?
Yes, sometimes the routine of innocent parents is disturbed when an investigation of child abuse is initiated. Maybe the parents — or siblings — are guilty of abuse but they will not be charged and get away with it. Maybe they are even falsely accused. Guess what is worse? Getting beaten and verbally abused every night by the people you are supposed to be able to trust the most. If you need me to tell you, go ahead and err on the side of caution, for the sake of a child's safety. Call and consult this hotline; they will listen to your assessment and even help you make the anonymous report to your local child protective services agency. What will happen? I do not know. What I do know is that you will have taken action to help a child in your community and the intervention you initiate may save their life or at least improve it. If you spend hours every day nurturing and protecting potatoes and cabbage, you can do this for a child.
Crossed Not Out
I am a guy in my 40's, recently divorced with a habit of cross-dressing. I'm not transsexual, and only interested in women. However, I also happen to enjoy having a very small frame with androgynous features. I enjoy getting dressed up and going out to eat by myself, to the movies or the bookstore or coffee house, sitting alone but getting a lot of stares for my face and body. My greatest satisfaction comes from passing as a woman, when men and women notice me. Sex feelings have never been a part of it; the recognition alone is enough. My problem is that this is what broke up my marriage, and my ex-wife has custody of our 4-year-old girl. She comes to visit me on weekends and of course goes exploring. I have tried to keep the closet locked up but she manages to go everywhere. I am afraid she will find my female clothes or make-up and be confused. How can I be myself without my family finding out? — Crossed Not Out
I am certain you can establish a routine for visitation that incorporates a locking closet doorknob or wardrobe, boxes on the top shelf and you were married to a woman so I am sure her things were visible when you lived together. Your daughter will probably never notice. Oh, and she is 4 years old. Little minds are not cluttered with all the trappings that fill ours. She will be fine.
I am not as certain about you. If this harmless habit broke up your marriage as you say, I believe some details may be missing from your letter. You are excited on these outings but not aroused sexually. If your habit is confined to solitary outings for the purpose of collecting stares, it is simple enough to take the aforementioned precautions. But if this is something that you feel is so central to your identity that it should be integrated into your everyday life, then counseling may be necessary. No, not to cure your inclination; rather to help you decide what it means to you.
Editor’s Note: The opinions offered in this blog are the author's alone. Tim White, and any experts he may consult and/or quote in responses to letters, will never provide medical or psychological advice, diagnoses, treatment, or counseling of any kind. General advice, opinions, and suggestions may be offered with no obligation on the part of readers to accept or act upon the content published within this column. Anyone in immediate crisis and/or mental/physical distress should call 911 or related resources of assistance.
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