Transactional Relationships



You scratch my back; I’ll scratch yours.

Frankly, I’m not a fan of this type of relationship. You scratch my back; I’ll scratch yours feels somewhat conditional. The statement implies that I will only help you if you help me.

Perhaps a more mutually beneficial relationship is Give/Take.   I think Give/Take may more accurately describe a relationship where both parties benefit but perhaps in different ways and/or at different times.   Imbalance may occur over short time periods but balance tends to occur over the long run.

These reciprocal relationships differ from the unidirectional relationship which may be either You help me/you help me some more or I help you/I help you some more. These relationships are not likely to last or may not even get started, though more limited versions of unidirectional relationships are inevitable and in many cases, desirable.

I think I’m fairly sensitive to relationship imbalance. The exception is when I enter a relationship with a subconscious expectation that the relationship is supposed to be imbalanced. For example, certain relationships at work (employer/employee) or home (parent/child) are by imbalanced by nature. Right?

I’m not so sure.

Certainly, an infant or toddler will be on the Take side of the equation, but as that child grows, they should be more able to Give. If they don’t, they become self-centered and demanding adults. Some parents of my generation have operated on the assumption that we’re supposed to be selfless parents. I completely disagree with that philosophy.  IMHO, children should become increasingly participatory in both family responsibilities and privileges, or forever stay physically, financially and emotionally dependent. Instead of empowering our kids, we actually cripple their ability to be independent and equals in the long run.

I also argue that work relationships should be Give/Take. I Give in exchange for Pay. But Pay is not enough; I need respect, affirmation, fairness, a safe environment, and an opportunity to grow and contribute.   I don’t want a unidirectional relationship with my boss, my colleagues or students. Yes, I’m there to teach, but the students’ should offer their respectful engagement and a reasonable effort in return. Yes, I’m there to mentor, but a good mentoring relationship is based on mutual respect, shared interests, trust and a mutual desire to see and help the other succeed.  I think a good employer/employee relationship has the same features. In other words, even if a student or employee has less authority, a lasting relationship is always reciprocal. After all, we form relationships with people, not just a Means To An End.

Are you taking a unidirectional relationship for granted? Change it. Improve it. Save it.

The Things They Never Tell You About Being A Mother

Being a Mom isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

It’s so much better.

I never want to take for granted the gratitude of others.   But for me, Mother’s Day is also about celebrating one’s children and being grateful to them for enabling me to be in the best role I’ve ever had.

Here’s why I’m grateful to my children on Mother’s Day:

  • Yes, being a parent can be exhausting.  But for me, it was an energizing experience overall.
  • Yes, sometimes I just wanted them to go to bed or go to school, but mostly I looked forward to every chance I could just hang out with them, get a hug or hold their hand.
  • Yes, sometimes it was just hard work, but I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else, doing anything else, ever.
  • Yes, sometimes it was just yukky, particularly during the diaper or barfing (yes we had that) stages, but I loved seeing my naked baby several times a day and getting to play with his tummy (there wasn’t really an upside to the barfing stage, in retrospect, aside from the great stories I can tell – subject for another blog).
  • Yes , sometimes it was just frustrating and aggravating, but there was 10x as much joy as frustration. Besides, there was a lesson about myself to be learned during those times though I admit it took me a long time to learn them.  I had as much growing up to do as they did, and they were my teachers.  If you think about it, kids can only do what they can do.  So blaming the kid is like blaming a dog for barking or pooping:  it only reflected my need to control or my unrealistic expectations.
  • Yes, sometimes I felt it was a thankless job, but I know how they feel about me and the unique role I played in their lives.  Any time they willingly choose to spend time with me feels like a thank you note in disguise.
  • Yes, sometimes those life stages were difficult and challenging, but I thought they were all amazing and I enjoyed every one of them (some more than others).  It was an honor to watch them grow and transform through each stage.
  • Yes, everyone told me how much work it is raising kids but no one told me what an utter and complete joy it is.  I loved almost every minute of it and, now that they’ve flown the coop, the time with them is ever more precious.

So you Moms out there who are fortunate enough to still have your kids at home:  savor the moment, all of them, and find the silver lining and personal lessons during the challenging times (if you’re not already).  Perhaps the mothering experience will be more than you bargained for too.  Happy Mother’s Day!

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The Importance of Saying “No”

I believe the benefits and importance of saying “No” are widely underappreciated.  In fact, saying “No” often is much maligned  – like it’s a bad thing.

Saying “No” can actually be a healthy, empowering act, not only for yourself but for others.  I’m not talking about the obvious No’s, like saying No to dessert, drugs, or too much alcohol or shopping.  I’m talking about when someone asks you to do something that is not in either your or their best interest in the long run.  Sometimes those requests are not even verbal, and we agree to them without conscious thought, much less conversation.

There is often much pressure to say “Yes”, including those habits we’ve adopted without thought.  For example, it is my habit to go to the kitchen first thing in the morning and start picking up and cleaning up.  There’s food, dirty dishes, trash and crumbs on the counter and stove top, and I relax with the newspaper better when the kitchen is clean.  I have been in this habit for probably decades as I can’t really remember when I started doing it.  What is the tacit agreement here?  That my family can leave a mess each night with their midnight snacks/meals/desserts and that I will clean up after them?  Apparently so! 

Why haven’t I said “No” to this?  I will likely get some pushback from saying “No” either immediately or later, when they forget or fall back into old habits.  I might argue that I’m picking my fights. In other words, I have tacitly agreed to this arrangement because it’s easier than asking them to change and then enforcing the new behavior. 

This is an agreement I can live with and have chosen to do so.  For now.  But some other agreements may not be so obviously benign.    If my son were to forget his homework repeatedly and I have to drop everything to bring his assignments to school, then maybe I’m removing his incentive to bring his own homework by protecting him from the natural consequences of his behavior.  If my husband is supposed to call the plumber, but then forgets or gets too busy, then maybe I’m encouraging him to avoid responsibility at home if I repeatedly take care of such tasks for him.  If I fail to say something when my girlfriend keeps interrupting me or arrives 30 minutes late again, then maybe I’m telling her that her behavior is acceptable to me.   If I put one more thing on my over-loaded plate at work, even if I know I can’t do a good job because I’m overcommitted, then maybe I’m telling my boss it’s OK to have unrealistic expectations of me.

If I do manage to say “No” and stand my ground and insist that others treat me with consideration and fairness, then I should also consider the unanticipated consequences of that choice too.  I may say “No” then feel guilty about asking for what I need, even if I’m standing up for myself for the first time on an issue.   Perhaps when I say “No”, if I use in a whiny, defensive, or judgmental tone, then participate in a fight or an argument, then I’m also undermining my cause by putting others on the defensive for what is an otherwise reasonable request or decision.

The benefit of No has been most apparent to me when it comes to parenting.  We have parented with an assumption that any behavior that we accepted or tolerated when the kids were little was going to be a reality that we would have to live with the rest of our lives. This assumption has largely proven true.  Though teaching manners and civilized behavior was tiring and frustrating to consistently enforce in the beginning, those discipline and courtesy problems at some point became almost non-existent.  

However, there were exceptions to this rule.  Some behaviors were resistant to change, encouragement and/or punishment.   We struggled against them for years with little progress, but when we took a step back for a fresh perspective and assessment, we learned there were medical issues involved in that were the root of the behavioral issues.  In this case, neither giving in, giving up nor punishing were effective.  We needed to listen, learn and investigate.  Then support.   

I hope the parenting example illustrates that I am not advocating that we all start saying “No” to anything and everything because we now feel empowered to do so.   Instead, I suggest that we stay attuned to our feelings, especially that nagging but quiet inner voice, to gauge to whether we’re being true to ourselves and our values, of if we’re just taking the path of least resistance.  I suggest that we do not shrink from having difficult conversations with family or co-workers, but we approach them with kindness, firmness, empathy, and confidence as we advocate for what we need or what we believe is the right thing to do.  I suggest we also listen with an open mind for what they need and want, and approach the conversation with an aim to understand and compromise.  

I suggest we also consider changing our own behavior:  if I stop doing the thing that isn’t working, then others will have to change their behavior in response.  For example, if I don’t want to clean the kitchen anymore, I can simply stop cleaning the kitchen and live with the consequences.  One possible consequence is that someone else may choose to step up to help with this chore.

Maybe I’ll go read the newspaper now….