5139 NE 94th Ave., Ste C, Vancouver, WA 98662 info@projectpatch.org 360.690.8495

When Your Ex Gives Harmful Gifts

It’s Christmas morning and your heart is beating wildly.  It isn’t because you want to know what’s in your gift, it’s because you are dreading what’s in your kid’s gift from from your ex, their other parent.

Divorce has a way of complicating nearly everything.  Gift giving can easily become competitive, guilt driven, about overcompensating and even passive aggressive against the ex spouse. Read More

Surviving the Holidays – When Your In-laws Are As Crazy As Your Parents

This is a repost of something I wrote in October 2013.  I dusted it off again for this year.

Tis the season of hurt feelings, tra-la, la, la, la…

I love the holiday season in which I cram too many of my favorite things into a 5 weeks.  Thanksgiving always sneaks up on me and I’m just ready to sleep by New Year’s Eve.  Luckily I live on the west coast so we can watch the ball drop at 9 PM and go to bed.

I also approach the holiday season with a bit of nervousness knowing feelings will be hurt and good intentions won’t be enough. I’ve tried to make the most of the holidays by trying to be everywhere and that only drove my family crazy.  We’ve tried the other extreme of trying to “check out” but were left with a nagging guilt about not being with people we cared for.

We have it pretty easy because both our parents aren’t divorced but it’s still complicated because we have to travel to see family.  I feel a bit guilty venting about my holidays because so many of my friends have it way more complicated because of divorce, remarriage, distance, kids being married and a bunch of other things.

For those that hate math…SKIP THE NEXT PARAGRAPH.  Trust me, don’t read it.  Just continue after the blah, blah, blah.

Permutations – thats the concept I learned in high school math in which you try to calculate all the possible combinations.  So for a person that has parents that are both remarried
you would need to eat four thanksgiving meals which just isn’t possible.  So you end up trying to create equality with options you create 4 options.  If I did the math correctly you now have 24 choices.  For those that suddenly are energized by math, the formula is to the right and if you promise to come back, I’ve included a link to Kahn Academy with a video that explains how to calculate the permutations for your family.

Some still try every possible combination using creativity. Thanksgiving brunch at his moms, early lunch at her dad’s house followed by dinner at his dad’s house followed a shopping and late thanksgiving at her mom’s house. Stop watches are running to make sure each person get equal grandchild time but no one leaves satisfied.

I know I’m exaggerating a bit but balancing the holidays can be a challenge, even for the sanest of families. Like it or not, it’s something that can cause irritation or even wounds. It gets even harder when you have kids because grandparents choose to compete with other grandparents.  Sure they like to see us but we are there mostly to deliver the kids.

Now add unreasonable expectations, dysfunction, unresolved conflict, badly officiated football games and over-eating…

(I’ve just re-read my post and it sounds like I hate the holidays…I don’t…but I do know they are complicated and complicated things require some planning.)

Holidays are a time to create your own family traditions.  It’s easy to focus on pleasing other people and continuing your parents traditions but it also is about figuring out what you and your wife want to saddle your kids with in terms of traditions and guilt.  This process can be really energizing or can add to the family conflict.

What can you do to make it easier?

This is a boundary challenge. It focuses on what we can control, what we don’t have control over and also those relationships and things we need to protect ourselves from. It requires us to accept our limitations. For many it also requires us to protect our family from family negativity.

Boundaries are a concept that John Townsend and Henry Cloud have been writing and speaking about since 1992.  Boundaries are something that need to be established, thoughtfully created by a couple and further developed by a family. People without boundaries can be walked all over and tend to get into a victim mentality. Setting boundaries helps protect your family but also can be really helpful for other people. They know where you stand and can interact with you without wondering whether they are overstepping. For these reasons it is really important for couples to sit down together and establish those boundaries and then as a unified couple, share those boundaries with the extended family.

The process of setting boundaries isn’t easy but neither is trying to keep everyone happy.

Communication is is one of the most important areas to focus on in navigating the holidays.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Communicate well ahead of time. Talk before your parents and her parents are sending you plane tickets or setting your plans.
  • Communicate your goals for the holiday. Talk about what sort of experiences you want your kids to have, what you want them to remember about the holidays when they are adults.
  • Be unified as a couple. Communicate your plans as a unit and be careful not to throw your spouse under the bus just because you are scared of offending your parents. She doesn’t say things like, “I really do want to come for Thanksgiving but Tim and his mom are so co-dependent that they can’t be apart for the holidays.” He can’t say things like, “Susan turns into a little kid when she is at home and would fall apart if she wasn’t home for Christmas”
  • Ask your extended family what their preferences are. Simply say, “We really are looking forward to family time over the holidays but realize we can’t be everywhere at the same time. If everything would be ideal, how would you like to see us spend the holiday? Do you have any suggestions for how we can balance all our different needs during the holidays?
  • Be honest about your limitations whether they are financial, the amount of time your kids can handle in the car or the amount of food you can eat.
  • Build in buffer – Plan for down time, have some cushion in your budget, make sure to over-estimate your travel times.  Buffer keeps things from getting frantic and will lead to less arguments and regrets.

Here are some ways other couples have structured their holidays.

  • Alternate and Rotate – Spend Thanksgiving with one set, Christmas with another and New year at home. Rotate positions each year. Due to complication from divorce some families rotate who comes over for Christmas morning, another set of parents for Christmas dinner. It can be tricky but a rotation at least demonstrates trying and fairness.
  • Invite everyone to your house. Yes, this may be crazy but at least you don’t have to travel.
  • Find neutral ground – invite families to a beach house, go skiing, take a cruise. Do something in which everyone is invited but no one owns the space.

Don’t just let the holidays happen to you, make a plan, communicate well, remain flexible and most of all, don’t let the holidays mayhem rob your family of closeness and time to appreciate one another.


Focus on the Family: Holidays and the In-laws

TwoOfUs.org – Balancing Blended Families During the Holidays

Getting Your Marriage Unstuck – An Interview With Dr. Barry Ham

There are few things more lonely than being stuck in a loveless marriage. I meet couples who probably wouldn’t be together if it wasn’t for the kids. Their relationships aren’t abusive and typically both are well meaning wonderful people. Yet, their marriage feels lonely and is a disapointment.

I met Dr. Barry Ham at the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC) meetings.  His booth was next to ours on the exhibit floor.  He was also presenting a breakout that I wasn’t registered for but sounded really interesting. During our time together I discovered Barry to not only be a fun person to talk to but a person that could really help me and a lot of the parents I know.  His wife Andee was able to sneak me into their overbooked session in which he shared “Eight Strategies for Getting Unstuck”.

I was thrilled that Barry agreed to record an interview.  We couldn’t find anyplace quiet in our convention center and even the corners of the building had music playing.  Eventually we took some chairs outside and huddled around my digital recorder.

Please take a few minutes and listen to this very important interview and enjoy the sound of planes, people and birds.

Here are some of the key things that I took away during our conversation.

  • We marry pursuing the dream.  We want to be fully known (mistakes, blemishes..) and inspire of our our faults to accept and love me.  But then we find there are conditions to that acceptance.  We tend to protect ourselves or present an ideal image of our selves and hide our true selves and eventually will find ourselves very lonely.
  • Because we sweep things under the rug and don’t deal with the broken expectations we end up over time waking up to the realization that this isn’t what we signed up for or want.
  • Parents hit the “parenting crisis” doing life with the kids as the focus of our attention and couples begin to drift apart.  Since couples may at this point feel let down from blown expectations from one another, they begin to transfer those expectations of being completely loved to their kids.  Kids become the center of the family life for 18-20 years and when kids leave the parents have nothing together.
  • There are stages of marriage (newlywed, children, middle years, late legacy years).  People function fairly well during the stages but the transitions between the stages are often their undoing.
  • When we get blindsided we typically think it is our spouse who dropped the ball.
  • “I’m not good enough” is a great place to begin if we know that God’s power and resources allow me to be a great parent and spouse even when I’m not good enough.  We can do this though God’s strength which allows us to be much more connected spouse and kids.
  •  Our assumptions cloud how we respond to things.  If we think our spouse is uncaring, we will interpret things to support that assumption.  It’s a self-fullilling prophecy.
  • Couples need to know they have more choices than getting a divorce or being unhappy.  How do I engage and get unstuck and get the marriage to the place I originally dreamed it could be.
  • Even if the couple isn’t both working on the marriage there are things that can be done.
  •  I’m not going to stand in the corner and wait for the person to love me, I’m going to do what God says and love them.


The Webpage :  Livingunstuck.org

Information about his two books:

  • God Understand’s Divorce: a biblical message of grace
  • Unstuck:Escaping a Lifeless Marriage

Weekly “Relationship Tip Tuesday” – Send an email HERE to and ask to get the tips.






Living Backstage

Backstage is a mess. Front stage is pretty amazing with all the lights, well rehearsed words and actions. Backstage is full of props, anxious performers and frantic rehearsal. The stage is all about being in the present, giving that moment all you have to offer. The backstage is dominated by fear, not just the future, but hoping your friends didn’t catch the mistakes in your last performance.

[shareable]Backstage is rarely glamorous but it’s where we spend most of our time and where our greatest impact comes from.[/shareable]

I had a load of expectations when I was on the Dr. Phil Show. I’ve never been met at the airport by a limo driver and had no idea what to do when the one armed older gentleman took my bags and I followed feeling like a jerk. It was pretty fun to pull up to the hotel, studio and airport in style.  I also kind of like to hear people  say, “Yes, Mr. Hagele” and be ushered into special doors.

However, being backstage for that show was brutal. My stomach hadn’t been settled for several days and now I was surrounded by tables full of food that I couldn’t eat. It was freezing and I was afraid to drink coffee since I didn’t know when I could use the restroom again. Instead of drinking coffee, I held the cup tightly trying to stay warm. My thoughts were jumbled and my confidence low.

Then came the make-up and wardrobe. I like my suit, but suddenly my Men’s Warehouse 2 for 1 suit seemed embarrassing and I felt like a bumpkin. I sat in the room, clutching my coffee staring at myself in the mirror for several hours. Occasionally I was put at ease by Julie, a producer and Anthony who does so much at the show. I tried to look relaxed and confident but I’m sure they were worried when they saw me clinging to the full coffee cup.

Several hours later, the show was recorded and I was back in my “green room” gulping down hot coffee, stuffing cookies and chocolate covered strawberries into my mouth. I was ushered back through long halls to “my driver” and whisked through Hollywood to the airport.

I’m glad the experience helped a girl and her family, encouraged others and furthered the work of Project Patch but the backstage experience was one of the darkest experience I’ve had.  You can watch the 45 second highlight real of the front stage from that recording but I don’t have footage of the backstage coffee cup terror.

The reason I’m sharing this is that most of us compare our backstage experience with other people’s main stage. I’m careful to edit what other people see and share my highlight real. I compare the most challenging and dark places of my life with everyone else’s best moments.

If you look at my social media trail it would look like all I do is travel to interesting places and do fun things with my family. This is because I only share my main stage moments and hide my backstage. It would seem weird, dangerous and kind of needy to post a picture of me driving slowly to work because I’d rather stay in my car then stepping into another demanding day at work in which I feel overwhelmed and inadequate.

Comparing our backstage to others front stage does several things:

  • Makes us feel “less than” others, inadequate or somehow flawed.
  • Sets me up for dissatisfaction and I avoid challenges because I think they are a sign of not being good enough.
  • Makes me search for shortcuts.

Our kids really struggle with comparison. They wonder what is wrong with them that everything seems so hard and that they feel so insecure. The reality is that everyone except a the drunk, high or emotionally unavailable people feels that way. We all spend most of our time backstage.

How do we help our kids become more comfortable with the backstage?

  1. Share our own awareness of the power of living backstage versus main stage.
  2. Make sure we reward back stage work and bravery over performance.
  3. Teach skills for living back stage in the midst of fear and uncertainty.
  4. Help them process mistakes and failures so they don’t keep us from taking the stage again.
  5. Pull back the curtain on what they see on social media, TV, movies, magazines and all the other things that make life look overly easy and meet.

There is a concept that Brene Brown shares in her newest book Rising Strong that all children struggle with belonging and wanting to be part of something.  It’s no surprise that kids often say, “I’m the only one who…” when they compare their life to their friends.  Everyone else gets to go to the movie, dye their hair, stay up late, get an iPhone, their own car at 16…

Brene recommends using the phrase, “The story I’m telling myself” to peek behind our emotion and frustration.  When our kids says they are the only one not being allowed to go the THE party it may sound like this.  “The story I’m telling myself is that you don’t trust me and think I’m a baby, I’m going to lose all my friends because of this.”

This process isn’t so we shoot holes in their story, but is to make sure that we understand why this is so significant to them and help them start searching for the truth that starts when out thoughts our brought to light.

It feels awkward to talk this way and your kids will not learn how to do it until you learn how. Once again, it starts with us as parents doing the hard work so that our kids learn how. I guess this puts us back stage again as awkward parents hoping that we don’t blow it but knowing this is the most important things we will ever do.