family dynamics


“Most of us assume that others see things (or they should) exactly the same way we do.”  -Taylor Hartman.

This must be the basis for most relationship battles whether it’s your partner, kids, parents or associates.  We are not all the same.  We all have different drives, goals, inner workings.  And, I can’t read your mind.  However, I can try to understand you.

As Violet first entered therapeutic boarding school, she did a personality test to better clarify needs, wants, drives.  We did it too and LOVED IT.  So helpful, fun, makes all of the “what the ----?” feel more organized.  

At the turn of the 20th century, there was a surge in psychology around the existence of the “individual personality.”  Freud took a stab at it with the id, superego and ego.  Jung decided it was about people sensing, intuiting, thinking and feeling.  Stemming from Jung’s research, the Myers-Briggs gals created that doozy of a personality test.  They categorized personalities into preferences – extroversion/introversion, sensing/intuiting, thinking/feeling, judging/perceiving.  Interestingly enough, this “instrument” was devised to help find appropriate placement for women who were first entering the workforce during WWII.  Much of this early research was based on identifying the different types of personalities and behaviors, not as much WHY people did things.

Violet’s school uses The Color Code, by Taylor Hartman.  If you can get your paws on an actual book, DO IT.  It will pretty much blow your mind.  As with any self-helpie book - absorb what sounds accurate, ditch the rest.  Some of the test has questions that seem outdated, but the detail in the book is incredible.  You can also go to his newer website, but they charge for the good stuff!

Who hasn’t done some cheesy magazine quiz or astrological chart?  I get sucked in, no doubt, even when I think it’s “hooey.”  But this one happens to be different.  It’s an awesome tool for self-awareness and regulation, managing relationships, communication and conflict resolution – being your most effective self. 

The Color Code acknowledges behaviors, but takes it further to MOTIVES.  Finding WHY anyone is doing something is much more interesting than WHAT everyone is doing.  The assumption also becomes, we are not all alike, and if you can identify what drives people, you have a major leg up.

The colors he uses are all indicative of what your core motives are for doing things and making decisions.  There are primary and secondary colors – one you were innately born with and the other learned.  For example, I may be born with one core set of motives, but born into a household of another.  There, I live a childhood where other drivers are present and so I learn them too.  But the reality is, my core motives will always dominate. 

Some basic principles –

·      All true core motives are innate, you are born with them.

·      You can learn other traits.

·      Core motives ALWAYS fundamentally drive your choices.

·      They are as subconscious as breathing.

·      Learning that every child and every adult speak their own language is crucial.

In this method, they use the term “healthy” for the people who most use the positive traits from the color and “unhealthy” for those stuck in the negative traits associated with the color.  Pretty straightforward.

The colors and what fuels them –

·      RED – Power

·      BLUE – Intimacy

·      WHITE – Peace

·      YELLOW – Fun

Here are some random things I pulled from the book and put together.

·      RED

Healthy - “Reds are the lifeblood of humanity.  They are the movers and shakers of the world. They enjoy competition and challenges.  They sleep, breathe and eat action.  They model those leadership skills we would all like to emulate.  Reds are tenacious, decisive and the standard measure for intellectual prowess.  They are the confident leaders, doers, visionaries, winners.”

Unhealthy – “They are known for their dominating nature.  Reds are known to parade their values and opinions in the face of all others.  Reds are highly critical and impatient with human inadequacy and inefficiency.  They are demanding, always right, and lack an orientation toward intimacy.  They argue at the drop of a hat.  In spite of the apparent confidence, Reds are deeply insecure.”

·      BLUE

Healthy – “Blues represent honesty, empathy, self sacrifice, loyalty, sincerity and self discipline.  They are fiercely committed to relationships and are completely loyal.  Doing for others gives them great satisfaction.  Blues love with a passion.  They see intimate relationships and creative accomplishments, rather than material things, the finer things in life.  They openly reveal their own insecurities and are empathic to others.”

Unhealthy – “Blues are highly critical of themselves and typically skeptical about their creative talents.  They hide their skills for fear that they aren’t good enough, or will be enviable to others.  They worry and feel guilty about not doing everything perfectly.  They can be moody and complex.  The biggest enemy to a Blue is themself.”

·      WHITE

Healthy – “Whites most completely represent the Peacemaker.  They are the satisfied ones.  They complement every personality type because they are so blendable.  They are the children that travel through life with an even temper.  They tolerate pain and disagreeable behavior regardless of their own personal discomfort.  Whites offer us all a model of gentle human dignity and kindness.”

Unhealthy – “Whites can be timid and shy, which prevents them from living life to its fullest.  Whites doubt themselves and need proof that they are accepted.  They fear confrontation and therefore avoid decisions.  They are often dependent upon a stronger personality for excitement in life.”

·      YELLOW

Healthy – “Yellows love life.  They are spirited, exciting, and have an innate ability to be happy.  They have a mental attitude that allows them to be appreciative of what they have, rather than being miserable about what they lack.  They seek any opportunity for a silver lining.  They enjoy life regardless of what they are doing and are confident the best is yet to come.  Yellows are the people connectors and have a zest for living that is contagious.”

Unhealthy – “Because of their enthusiasm, Yellows tend to start the most amount of projects, yet complete the least.  They take the easy road and cut corners.  They don’t like the pressure of being responsible.  They are restless, undisciplined, and messy.  They are too trusting and suffer from their own naivete.  Yellows can’t understand why everyone wouldn’t want to have fun all the time.”


Check out this link to do the test – an adult and child version available.


So what’s the real point?  Now I know which colors I am, so what? 

At Violet’s school, they encourage us to approach every situation with this in mind.  Your kid is NOT driven by the same factors as you are, so spinning your communication to adjust to their “fuel” is the most effective.  Question still remains, if the colors are fueled by certain things, how do they get the fuel?

Reds want power, but truly feel it from acknowledgment, respect, loyalty, appreciation.   

Blues seek intimacy through affection, promotion of their creativity, loyalty, sincerity, morality.   

Whites want peace through quiet time to process, kindness, patience, good listening, feeling protected.   

Yellows want to feel like life is fun and they need positivity, adoration, social playfulness, levity and praise. 

Back to the original quote - here is a dialogue between two people in total denial that anyone should see the world differently from them…

“Mommy, the teacher yelled at me and everyone thinks I am dumb and then Marsha tripped over the chair and blamed me and I didn’t do anything!  I hate that school, I hate everyone.  Just leave me alone!!!”

“Vi, come here!  Talk to me.  Don’t worry about that teacher.  That was then, this is now, let’s shake that off and focus on something positive!  How about we make something cool to distract ourselves, doesn’t that sound fun?”

Ehhh, can you GUESS which colors we both are?  Violet started school as an unhealthy Blue/White.  I am a full blown Yellow/Blue, both unhealthy and healthy.

This little girl just wanted me to listen to her.  She needed the intimacy of me being on her side, in her corner.  Instead, I made her feel like I was blowing her off, completely invalidating her feelings.  I was coming from a good place, but ignorantly convinced that what would fix me would fix her.  My fun was not going to help her pain.  My lack of empathy felt disloyal to her.  I should have asked if she needed quiet space.  Or just sat and listened, hugged her, made her feel safe. 

This is NOT easy, not for me at least.  I remember saying to my husband, “I just cannot even understand her at all.  I would never react to things the way she does and I don’t ever know what to do.  It’s exhausting.” 

Yes, it is exhausting.  It’s exhausting to be so self centered that I had been completely convinced that anyone was CRAZY who WOULDN’T want to do things my way.  How could they NOT want to have fun all the time???

Violet would get stressed out by the chaos created by my idea of fun.  She would be overwhelmed and need space and quiet.  And I would just never have considered this before.  How insane.  And how totally annoying.

This Yellow sentence runs through my mind the moment someone seems upset, “Can’t they see that negativity doesn’t change anything?  Get positive people!  You’re wasting precious time!  You can’t control the thing that’s irking you, just your attitude!  Instead of sitting there alone and sulking – don’t you want to laugh and play and have friends come over and run around giggling?” 

No they don’t, and that’s ok.  Look - there are some positives in this attitude too - but if you are trying to help someone, you can’t do what would only help YOU.  Learning about this has freed me to parent much more effectively.  It has also helped me find some strengths that may not have been in my family of origin’s wheelhouse.  

Instead of blasting music all day long, I’ve learned that silence is calming.  I don’t force my multi-tiered socializing weekend plans on them ALL the time.  I try to limit playdates to create some reliable structure on the other days.  I try to listen more intently, without immediately trying to fix everything with dance parties and confetti.  I am focusing on MY Blue traits - being intimate and genuine, doing things for others, being creative with my kids, being open and revealing.

I am also watching Violet blossom into her healthy traits of both Blue and White and it is incredible.  She is a genuine, humble, creative kid.  She openly reveals her vulnerabilities and is an empath to others, making her an excellent leader at school.  She is an out-of-this-world communicator and when I really listen, she kills me!  These tools are allowing me to see who she really is and help elevate the greatness in her.  Such a huge eye-opener for our relationship.   

Ahhh yes, this applies to so much more than my mother-daughter thang.  It is just fascinating to think about all those close to you, the differences, and how they impact everything. 

Soleil my super White/Yellow daughter is totally content with being in her room and drawing or playing alone for hours.  On the down side, she would rather be at home than at the beach, which is hard for me to grasp.  She is also the silver lining master.  You tell her something bad happened and she finds the tiniest sliver of positivity to focus on.  "Soleil, you fell off your bike honey!  OH NO!  You cracked your front teeth!"  Her, "Well, at least a little of 'em are still in there!"

Our son Axul might as well be jaundiced he is so Yellow/Blue.  He wants an audience to laugh and think he is hilarious, and I happily fill the role.  A perfect example of this Yellow boy?  Soleil was predicting futures one day and asked him, “Whaaaat do you see in your fuuuture?”  Zero hesitation, “I see happiness.”  He was 5.  Major optimist.  His Blue side also needs lots of affection - he was an uber mamma's boy up until recently.  He also loves "perfect" cleanliness, order and is a serious germaphobe.

My husband is a straight up Red/Blue.  He wants to get somewhere quickly and efficiently while I am obsessing over how fun we can make it in the car on the way.  I must drive him nuts.  I lighten him when he is too serious, but we miscommunicate on the regular.  He might see my motives as frivolous.  I could see his as too focused on the endgame, not enjoying the doing. 

Every type has positives and negatives, clearly.  The challenge then must be, how do you embrace all the positive traits of yours, steal some from others, and also be intuitive enough to field other peoples’ colors?  This is true character development.

 So color me up.  I want to be a rainbow of all the great traits.  A strong leader who does things and follows through.  Someone who is also a great listener.  A sincere, loyal, giving, passionate, creative, kind, peaceful, fun, optimistic and enthusiastic mom, wife, friend, and woman.  Who wouldn’t??? 

When I read about the positives of the Yellow I smiled with pride, then immediately frowned upon further perusal.  I am disorganized and messy?  I don’t follow through?  I don’t care about money but always want to play?  I love to hear how much everyone loves me?  Please.  THAT IS NOT ME!  No way!  I am much more mature than THAT. 

I saw another amazing woman speak, Allison Mooney, who does her own rendition of the personalities.  At one point she said – “If anyone is in denial as to whether or not this type fits – look in your purse.” 

In mine?  Gum wrappers, a free piece of gum, an old unpaid parking ticket, one single dollar, two decks of playing cards, crayons scattered about, tattered love notes from my husband and my kids.  AND THAT IS A DEFINITE YELLOW.  For the good and the bad of it. 

Fine, it’s me.  And I’ll work on that part.




“Relationships with siblings are ineradicably fixed in our psyches.”  (Belinda Sharp)

Oh siblings.  The implied permanence of the sibling relationship makes the connection so damn serious.  You just can’t escape them no matter how you try.  No matter how much hurt, how much love, you are still just…connected.  How can you not be? 

By the time children are 11, they spend 33% of their free time with their siblings--more time than they spend with friends, parents, teachers or even by themselves. (Penn State University study, 1996) 

33%???  That’s crazy!  We must learn so much about relationship management from our siblings.  Nurture, competition, rivalry, emulating, sharing, manipulating, pushing boundaries, acquiescing, pecking order, conflict resolution, who you are when faced with crises – it’s endless.  The sibling exchange has also been called the “rehearsal for adulthood.” It truly must be one of the most pivotal relationships of our lives. 

I knew it was grossly important for my kids to reunite with their sister, have resolution around her absence and what that meant for them.  I wasn’t quite sure how we would DO at it, but it was time to try. 

Violet went to Wilderness in June, graduated in September and transitioned into a therapeutic boarding school.  Now it was Thanksgiving break.  Our other two children hadn’t seen their sister in nearly 5 months; they were dying for her.  It was time to get the band back together.  I was completely petrified.

INTERJECTION:  Wilderness and the 3 local visits with Violet at school were FULL of hope for me.  They were all very “successful” – no disrespect or uncontrollable outbursts.  I was extremely optimistic that things would be better from here on out.  I feared struggle but did not anticipate it.  I have learned that this is an insane rollercoaster of thrilling growth and depressing regression.  A hard ride to endure, yet thus is life when change is the mission.

The younger kids, Soleil (6) and Axul (5), seemed so very excited to see Violet.  However, all the kids are SO different from each other.  Ax was very vocal and overt, and Sol was extremely internal.   She didn’t want to discuss Violet, didn’t want to draw pictures for her.  As the visit came closer, she seemed quiet.  I could FEEL her concern.  She loved her, they both did.  But there was a rift between the two girls. 

Among the children, Soleil had gotten the brunt of Violet’s acting out.  They both wanted attention from Daddy most of all.  Violet had been Daddy’s only girl for a year and a half (stepdad who has never NOT acted as the real dad) and Soleil arrived, dethroning her.  They looked different and they acted differently. 

Violet woke up scowling, needing silence for about 20 minutes while she shook the night terrors off.  Soleil was the kid who woke up singing, skipping into the kitchen for breakfast.  You can imagine how annoying the singing would be.  Well, I can, and I am the morning girl too.

When Violet was in a good mental space, Soleil worshipped her.  Copied her dance moves, wore her clothes, liked what she liked, tried to be old like her.  When she was in an insecure spot, Soleil’s confidence grated on her.  Soleil had her feelings hurt a lot, and developed some walls to protect herself.  None too great that you couldn’t see her die-hard desire for Violet’s love peeking over the top of them.  Painful.

We got to the school and all reunited.  Nervous stomach.  Axul was all over Violet asking questions, jumping around, following her like a little puppy.  Soleil was hugging Violet, but standoffish.  Violet noticed.

We drove to a house we rented in the beauteous blue mountains.  There wasn’t a TV.  There was a roaring fireplace where we did puzzles, art projects, read.  We hiked together, played hide-and-seek, cooked.  Played jump rope outside.  Chased and laughed and screamed. 

First day?  Great.  Easy, calm, sweet, lovely.  The second and third day became difficult.  Hide-and-seek would be so hysterical that it would get edgy.  The screams too loud, the touching too rough.  I could feel the eggshells creeping back in and my attention getting sucked up by Violet’s mood maintenance.

Thanksgiving dinner came and there were just too many old triggers with everyone together.  Violet had tools and strategies written out, goals in place.  Didn’t matter.  Her emotional strength could not rise above the familiar frustrations of the 3 child dynamic.  I started getting worried. 

The impending doom culminated in a full-scale-screaming blow out.  I panicked and called in reinforcements (school therapist) who said to bring her back to school if she couldn’t calm down.  Uggggh, nooooooo.  How could it STILL be this hard?

The kids did not want to see her struggle, they didn’t want to see US struggle with her.  There hadn’t been screaming in our house for 5 months and it was scary.  My husband and I argued.  Felt like we dipped right back into the same old place. 

We had a family meeting to reset.  We all decided to try and make everyone feel heard and ready to proceed together for the next day.  We made promises, agreements, structure.  We were going to try to have fun, and that was it. 

After bedtime, in the quiet moments with my husband, I cried.  I was SO disappointed.  I wanted everyone to just love each other and have fun being together.  WHY COULDN’T WE DO THAT?  I felt like a bad person when there was arguing and yelling.  I didn’t want the kids or my husband to resent me or Violet for re-introducing the drama.  It was just not what I thought it would be.  That was a bitter pill to swallow.

Soleil did not seem to be latching back onto Violet.  It was probably a defense mechanism, a protection, but I wanted to fix it.  I knew it wasn’t right for me to force the issue, so I had to back off.  I had to let her be who she was.

“Mommy why doesn’t Soleil seem happy to see me?”

“Babe, I see what you’re talking about.  You know what?  Everyone is different.  I think we just have to let her warm back up on her own time.  The good news is, when she does?  You can trust it is genuine because she clearly isn’t gonna fake it.”

The sibling relationship.  SO SACRED.  These are the people who knew you when you were formulating your first words and thoughts.  Your first giggles and interests.  Your first terrible dance moves and mistakes.  Your first understanding of love and family.  The idea that my kids weren’t connected was killing me.  I have always adored my brother.  I have so many amazing memories with him.  I didn’t want any precious love or time to be lost. 

From the time they are born, our brothers and sisters are our collaborators and co-conspirators, our role models and cautionary tales.  They are our scolds, protectors, goads, tormentors, playmates, counselors, sources of envy, objects of pride.  They teach us how to resolve conflicts and how not to; how to conduct friendships and when to walk away from them.  Sisters teach brothers about the mysteries of girls; brothers teach sisters about the puzzle of boys.  Our spouses arrive comparatively late in our lives; our parents eventually leave us.  Our siblings may be the only people we'll ever know who truly qualify as partners for life.  (Jeffrey Kluger, TIME)

As we were leaving the house and driving Violet back to school, the kids giggled in the back, harboring a secret.  They finally told me that every night of our days together, Soleil had snuck out of her bed to sleep with Violet. 

“Are you mad at us Mommy?  Please don’t be mad!”

I sat silently trying not to cry.  Was I mad?  My heart throbbed in my chest.  Nope, this wasn’t mad.  This was quiet peace and understanding.  She did love her.  She did forgive and miss her.  She just wanted to tell her herself, in the silence of sleepytime, without anyone looking.

One day my husband and I will be gone.  Our children will have their own families who know and love them.  But no one will ever know their youth the way they will know each others’.  No one will have as many funny stories and insights into how they were formed to be who they are.  Seems like it’s a part of my job to take care of it, no?  Let our legacy be siblings who love each other.  I promise to try my hardest. 

Reuniting, forgiveness, repair. 

Oh Siblings.  Partners for life.,9171,1209949,00.html