Relationships with Integrity: Honour, Duty, and Downton

Have you ever had to choose between your own happiness and your responsibilities to your spouse and family?

Relationships with Integrity: Honour, Duty, and Downton

Lady Sibyl: Oh, Granny, even the English aren't in control of everything.

Lady Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess: Well I hope we're in control of something, if only ourselves.


The fifth season is in production. The fans eagerly await. Who doesn't love Downton Abbey? The show has drama, scandal, and characters with substance. It is faithfully watched for so many reasons: the period costumes, the love stories, the sense of occasion, the fascinating perceived and actual differences between the classes and of course the sense of honour and duty.

What I find most interesting as a therapist is this idea around honour. Obviously this trait is both admirable and at times highly flawed in its execution throughout the narrative of the show. And although people fight for country, marry for duty, turn down opportunities for the good of the family, I believe these choices are definitely seen as archaic in this day and age when the individual ranks higher than the collective. Where fame is sought for fame's sake and all press is good press.

I realize the public shaming, the snobbery, the divides are not something to strive for, however, I do believe some of the depictions of true honour and integrity both upstairs and downstairs when it came to families, work and country are something to be admired.

I have met with clients in my counselling room who have been struggling with decisions. They come to a crossroads where their ideas around happiness and what will fulfill them conflict with their commitments and responsibilities to their spouses and to their families. This leads to difficult conversations about doing the right thing. For many this can come at a personal cost—sacrificing a pursuit because uprooting the kids would be too difficult, reconciling with an in-law for peace at an upcoming reunion, distancing from an inspiring co-worker when the connection and feelings are starting to verge on the inappropriate, etc. And the choice becomes clear—to sacrifice and put others first.

It is also a good time to reflect on identity. What type of person do you want to be? And how does that person react to or engage in the circumstances presented? What will you decide when things are difficult? Selfish pursuits, like affairs or putting money or fame ahead of the family's well being, stand in opposition to the honourable choice.

George Washington once said that “Human happiness and moral duty are inseparably connected.”

So perhaps there is something to this.

These tough choices need to be acknowledged and celebrated, recognized that they can bring their own brand of happiness to your life. In John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley: In Search of America he said “we value virtue but do not discuss it. The honest bookkeeper, the faithful wife, the earnest scholar get little of our attention compared to the embezzler, the tramp, the cheat.” We need to celebrate the many people making tough choices to live out a life that fits with what they value and honour and then take encouragement from it when the tough choices present themselves in our lives. Celebrate the Bates over the O'Brien.

Cue the Downton theme song.

If you enjoyed this article, check out:  Crazy Stupid Arguments and Most Memorable Movie Therapists


Is Your Child Feeling Test-y With Exam Stress?

Have the Student in your House Try This One Thing!

Is Your Child Feeling Test-y With Exam Stress?

"I was probably more scared of my high school exams than I was of the Oscars. At the time you think it's everything and if you don't do well, your life's over. Opportunities are gone. So the more you do it, the less the fear is present.”

~Hugh Jackman

Exams are very stressful. I have been out of school for over 15 years and I still have dreams where I am taking tests that I never studied for.

If your children need help relieving the big stressed out feelings inside, here's one thing they can do . . .

Right before the exam, have them take out a piece of paper and write down their feelings and worries about the upcoming exam.

In a study published in the Journal of Science, researchers Dr. Sian Beilock and Gerardo Ramirez found that stressed out students didn't perform as well as their less anxious classmates. Dr. Beilock said that for these students, “their worries use up some of their working memory capacity, leaving less of this cognitive horsepower to apply to the task at hand.” The experiment with students revealed that simply writing out emotions about anxieties and worries about the exam raised the marks of the students by one grade point.

It works a little like this—by sharing these emotions, it gets those feelings of worry out there and stops them from thinking over and over again about the stress. The students are then able to focus on the information they need to recall.

So although the students in your house likely prefer to cram until the minute they walk into their exam, encourage them to put down the books right before, pull out a piece of paper, and give it a try. By putting their fears into words, they can move on to acing that test!

Did you know that helping with homework actually hinders your kid's grades?

You'll get an A+ in understanding your child's grades after reading this simple breakdown of how to read a report card



The Awkwardness And Rewards Of Expanding Your Social Circle

Do you find meeting and making new friends is like going on a first date?

The Awkwardness And Rewards Of Expanding Your Social Circle

The only constant is change. Life guarantees transitions. Often these transitions mean changes in your social group. There are times of in between with friendships, ones of substance and those more superficial, times when you have established close friendships and other times when you feel surrounded by acquaintances. It can feel like you don't have friends when your loved ones aren't in close proximity or when just making contact is difficult with family life.

I have moved a lot in Ontario and abroad, and each time I have had to cultivate new friendships and work through the awkward courting stage with new friends. Sometimes you just gel inexplicably and naturally with new people. You finish each other's sandwiches—anyone else got Frozen on a loop in their house? These connections often occur when you aren't necessarily needing it. It's like they always say for romantic relationships—you meet someone when you aren't looking!

Recently, a culmination of events have put some changes in my social situation. I live in a place where people are constantly moving, so, not surprisingly, I have had two sets of dear friends move far away in the last six months. The other change is in our familywe have had a baby. My children are five years apart, meaning even for friendships with the parents, I am in some new situations and I am back to baby groups after a significant hiatus. Many of the moms in attendance have smaller gaps between children, so their toddlers have initiated the introduction two years ago and now their new babies also keep them connected. The moms of my daughter's peers have mostly moved on from play group and school hour activities. As I am meeting new moms, I feel like I am having first dates to see if we click. Is it a match? Do we have enough in common if not speaking about our children? Will there be a second date?

Is is just like dating to meet new friends? And when you meet a potential, are you then nervously waiting to see if it will progress?

Perhaps you have to cover the bases. Maybe they are:

First base: seeking each other out at events, becoming Facebook friends, exchanging numbers.

Second base: making play dates.

Third base: doing something without the kids, likely in a group.

Home run: hanging out just the two of you sans kids, not feeling awkward and totally being yourself.

Let's be honest, this isn't University or the twenty-something years when being social was much of the focus. As a parent, it is difficult to find the energy to make new connections. Frankly, some invites for drinks out I receive with some ambivalence. I know I will enjoy it if I go, but it is hard when energy feels low or time seems in short supply and, sadly, most things are scheduled for after my bedtime these days.

Maybe you have relocated (the average Canadian will own 4.5 to 5.5 homes in their lifetime), had a baby, changed jobs, switched your child's school, gone through a separation or divorce where friends seemingly divided themselves into sides, etc. The reasons that have you starting afresh could be endless. I have had clients that have struggled to find their groove in new or different communities and groups. My advice is to hang in thereit will pass. I advise them to keep putting themselves out there, invest in making new connections, withstand the struggles brought with newness, and embrace the new possibilities. I wouldn't trade the many friends I am blessed with around the world, frankly, for the world, and if I hadn't been forced to make changes, I wouldn't have them. Risk, endure, invest, and great friends willing to round the bases will appear.

How have you made new friends in new situations?

Check these out for more articles on meeting people and thriving during times of change.