Sara Dimerman

Sara Dimerman is a psychologist and provides counselling to individuals, couples and families. She is one of North America's most trusted parenting and relationship experts and the author of three books: Am I a Normal Parent?, Character is The Key and How Can I Be Your Lover When I'm Too Busy Being Your Mother?: The Answer to Becoming Partners Again. Learn more or listen to advice from Sara and her colleagues by searching for 'helpmesara' podcasts on iTunes or visiting Follow Sara on Twitter @helpmesara.
How to Deal with Awkward Moments
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Remember the time you loaned a neighbour your ladder but had to bug them to return it? Or the time you were out at a restaurant with friends who ordered two bottles of wine and then just divided the bill in half even though you and your spouse shared one glass between you? How about the time your daughter condensed all of her science binder into two pages of organized study notes and was asked by a friend if she could borrow the pages so that she could make photocopies? Often the awkwardness of these moments leaves us speechless.
I’d like to offer some thoughts on what to say:

When friends don’t return borrowed items:

You were doing the neighbourly thing by loaning out your ladder to the family next door. I’m sure that most neighbours would do the right thing and return it in a timely manner. But what if they don’t? What if a week or a month goes by? The next time you see your neighbour outside, you might say, ‘hey neighbour, you finished with my ladder?’ They might slap their forehead, apologize and admit that they’d forgotten about it. They may promise to return it that evening. When they don’t, you may leave a sheepish message on their voice mail reminding them about the ladder again. At this point, you are likely wishing that you hadn’t loaned it to them in the first place.

Try this: knock at their door and say ‘Hi, I’ve come to get my ladder.’ Be prepared for a slightly rude comment, such as: ‘Wow. That ladder must mean a lot to you’. They may even storm outside with you, retrieve the ladder and shove it into your hands without so much as a ‘thank you’. Even though it is your ladder and your neighbour is in the wrong, the borrower has turned things around to make it seem as if you—the lender—has the problem. Remind yourself that this isn’t true. If someone doesn’t have the decency to return things in a timely manner and appreciate your generosity, then they should be embarrassed about their behaviour, not you. Don’t stop being generous to people who appreciate it, and absolutely assert your rights.

Splitting the tab

Splitting bills at restaurants can bring about some awkward moments. Some people feel uncomfortable asking for separate bills—perhaps because they don’t want to be perceived as being stingy or cheap. However, my take on this is that everyone is entitled to order off a menu according to his or her means. Why should you have to worry about what your friend is ordering? It’s especially difficult when the restaurant’s policy is not to split bills. You may feel doubly uncomfortable about using a calculator to divide the bill according to what you ordered. Ordering alcohol can really jack up a bill, so this can be an especially contentious issue.

Try this: honesty is the best policy. My policy is that if you are dining out with good friends, then they should respect your restrictions. If not, then perhaps they’re not the friends you thought they were. Before you even place an order, you may say something like ‘I hope you don’t mind if we ask for separate bills this evening. We have a budget we’d like to stick to.’

When you don’t want to lend something:

If your daughter relays uneasiness or annoyance about a friend asking for something that she has put a lot of effort into, you should first validate and acknowledge her feelings of being taken advantage of, especially if this is not the first request of its kind. You can also acknowledge that this is a difficult situation, because although your daughter likely wants to be perceived as being generous and kind, she also doesn’t want to be seen as a pushover.

Try this: you may want to discuss the difference between having a reciprocal sharing arrangement with a friend—so that each feels that the other is putting in equal effort—or being asked for a one-time favour compared to this type of request being made on a regular basis. If it’s regular, you may want to help your daughter find a way to express her feelings, such as: ‘I’d love to be able to help you, but I’d feel resentful because I’ve put in all the work. So, I’m sorry but I can’t.’

Awkward moments are a part of life, but after you’ve tackled a few in a way that yields positive results, you will build increased confidence in your ability to manage them.

Image of awkward moment from Shutterstock.

Comments | Tagged under advice, help
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Is It OK to Pull Your Child Out of School to Travel?
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I don’t believe I am alone in saying that one of the things I like least about travel are airports—especially during peak periods when students and their families flock south to escape the cold of winter. There are always long line ups, delays and—depending on the weather conditions at home—chaos. My preference is to travel during the school year when both airports and tourist attractions are less attended. The problem with this, of course, is that my daughter will miss days at school. Things are even more complicated now that our older daughter has graduated university and is in the working world.  When we want to travel as a family, we need to also consider when she can get time off. Being self-employed has many pros, one of which is that my husband and I can both plan time off work as we wish, so at least that doesn’t have to factor into our equation.

When a good friend approached a teacher to talk about her daughter missing two weeks of school for a trip to Europe, the teacher was actually encouraging. She told my friend what I believe too, which is that depending on where you are vacationing, there’s a whole lot to learn by actually being up close and personal with historical places, monuments, and different cultures and people. Actually seeing the Mona Lisa in The Louvre or standing beside the Eiffel Tower can’t compare to learning about it in History class. This, along with the opportunity to practise one’s French and the exposure to different cultures and traditions, all enriches a child’s life. I realize that not everyone is going to Paris on vacation, but even taking a road trip with one’s family to another part of the country can be eye opening and complements learning at school.

Planning a trip with your children at a time other than when there is a planned break from school is not taken lightly by most parents. There are several factors to consider when doing so. To make your job easier, I’m suggesting the acronym FLAG to help you remember some of the most important considerations when making your decision.

Frequency. How often do you take your child out of school to vacation with you? If it’s infrequent, then your child will likely not fall behind their classmates as a result of your vacation. If, however, they miss school too often as a result of travelling, then your child might get the impression that you don’t believe school is important.

Length. How many days of school will your child be missing? If it’s just a few, then there will be less to catch up on. If they are missing a whole week or more, then this might make catching up more difficult.

Ability. How capable is your child, and more importantly, how capable does your child feel about being able to catch up to the rest of the class upon their return? If they hate missing even one day of school for fear of missing a class, then their anxiety might not be worth the trip. After all, they are the one who has to get caught up.

Grade. Depending on their age and grade, there may be more or less work to catch up on and concepts may be more or less difficult. It stands to reason that missing a few days of kindergarten, for example, may be less problematic than missing a week of grade eight.

Whatever you decide, happy vacationing!

Image of boy in airport from Shutterstock.

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