Archive for April 30, 2018

Are Gentlemen an Endangered Species?

I work with several young, single women who are convinced that good men are an endangered species. As we discuss their belief I realize they are speaking of “gentlemen.”  I offer them an old definition (1869) of “gentlemen:”

“always truthful and sincere; will not agree for the sake of complaisance or out of weakness; will not pass over that of which he disapproves. He has a clear soul, and a fearless, straight forward tongue. On the other hand, he is not blunt and rude. His truth is courteous, his courtesy, truthful; never a humbug, yet, where he truthfully can, he prefers to say pleasant things.”

Yep, that’s the guy. They believe he is an endangered species if not already extinct.  They support their argument with the fact that I offered a definition from 1869! So, we discuss a more modern definition, one from the Urban Dictionary:

“the man whose conduct proceeds from good will and an acute sense of propriety, and whose self-control is equal to all emergencies; who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity; who is himself humbled if necessity compels him to humble another; who does not flatter wealth, cringe before power, or boast of his own possessions or achievements; who speaks with frankness but always with sincerity and sympathy; whose deed follows his word; who thinks of the rights and feelings of others, rather than his own; and who appears well in any company, a man with whom honor is sacred and virtue safe.”

I like that definition better than the old one but, alas…they still insist this man is possibly extinct.  I will not accept such pessimism. I am sure “gentlemen” exist today. The news may highlight those who are not “gentlemen” and sitcoms laugh at men who are not “gentlemen” but I believe “gentlemen” still exist…and in rather large numbers. I’ve seen them and met them on multiple occasions, more numerous than I can count. With that in mind, I think it is time for all true “gentlemen” to make themselves known to the people around them. Of course, this can only be done in the true manner of a “gentlemen” so let me suggest a few methods for making your status as a “gentleman” known.

  • Build a reputation of integrity. Speak the truth but do so politely with kindness. Let your word be your word. Be on time. Keep your promises. Communicate your commitments and your intents clearly. Then let your actions prove your words. Never lead anyone on.
  • Practice chivalry. Hold the door open for others. Offer to get the car rather than assuming the women and others in your life will run through the rain. Be courteous to all. Stand boldly for what is right. Advocate for the vulnerable and underprivileged. Seek justice for all. Never criticize or insult; compliment and encourage instead.
  • Be courteous. Stand when a woman enters a crowded room and offer her your seat if none is available. Never criticize a homemade meal or a gift but show gratitude instead. Walk beside your spouse rather than ahead of her. Offer her the support of your arm on precarious terrain…and the strength of your character in difficult times of life.
  • Listen intently because you know the value of the person speaking and want to know them more intimately. Etiquette tells us that “to be a good listener is indispensable” to be a “gentleman.”
  • Promote other people’s dreams and goals, especially those of your spouse and children. Gentlemen serves others graciously, not only in daily life but in their pursuit of dreams.

I do believe “gentlemen” still exist. In fact, I know they do! I know you are out there. Join me in making the presence of “gentlemen” known in our families and our world today. And let us teach our sons to do the same.

Do You Parent Like a Manager or a Consultant?

Are you more like a manager or consultant in your parenting? Think about it. A manager is responsible for controlling the activities, dealings, and education of another person. A consultant provides expert advice and guidance. Which describes your parenting style more accurately: manager or consultant? Do you feel responsible for controlling your children’s activities, dealings, and education? Do you believe busy children stay out of trouble and so arrange their schedules to allow them to remain actively involved in multiple adult-organized activities? Are you building their resume today for college and life? Do you oversee your children’s homework, nagging them to complete it? Do you monitor their grades on the school site, making sure they hand in their homework and do well on each test? Do you constantly remind and cajole them to do their chores or to assure they do the chore properly? You’re likely a manager.

A manager gets exhausted. They have constant pressure worrying about whether the one they manage (their child) will do the job right. They constantly double check, micromanage, oversee. It is exhausting. Constantly looking over their children’s shoulder becomes a “pain in the neck.” And, their children get irritated. They begin to slack off. They don’t get to make choices and feel micromanaged so they give up. They lose motivation. They don’t truly experience the consequences of their actions. Instead, they focus on their parents’ actions, blaming the consequences on their parent who “must not be doing enough.” The children even begin to feel helpless in many areas…except video games. In video games they engage a fantasy world in which they have total control over their own destiny. If they mess up, the consequence is swift and they continue the game having learned their lesson. Unfortunately, this sense of control and learning does not generalize into the real world of home, friends, and school where they remain unmotivated and non-committal.

On the other hand, do you allow free time? Do you encourage them to choose their activity when they complain of boredom? Do you allow them to make choices like which clothes to wear (within respectable boundaries), when to complete homework, what extracurricular activities they want to engage in? Do you trust them to complete their homework and do well in school while making yourself available for questions? Do you encourage your children to become involved in the household chores by giving them important tasks and then trusting them to complete those tasks? Do you find ways to give them choices around tasks and chores?   Do you calmly discuss your children’s thoughts about various tasks and then let them make a choice? Do you let your children suffer the consequences of their bad choices, like the bad grade for incomplete homework or the loss of privilege for household chores left undone? You’re likely a consultant.

A consultant is often tired as well, but rarely exhausted. They worry less and receive greater cooperation from the person they manage (their children). Their children learn to make choices and manage their own sense of boredom. They learn to entertain themselves. They find activities of interest and become self-driven in pursuing those areas of interest. They learn the consequences of their choices. They learn from their mistakes. In the process, they learn to trust the consultant (you, their parent) and seek you out more often for advice. Your relationship grows. Your influence grows. Your children become more cooperative and self-motivated as they gain a sense of control over their own lives. They mature and become more independent through your consultation. They even develop a sense of direction and goals for their lives as they find interests that motivate them to learn.

Whether you parented more like a manager or consultant yesterday, you can choose your parenting style from this day forward. Which will you choose?

How to Discipline Before You Even Need To

I don’t know about you but I hate to see my children upset, struggling, or in pain. Still, sometimes they misbehave and suffer as a result of that misbehavior. They make foolish choices and struggle with the consequences. As hard as it is to watch, it’s in their best interest to let them suffer. I have, however, discovered a way to limit those moments of suffering and thus our own struggle with watching them suffer. Limit them, I say, NOT eliminate them. It’s a way to teach them disciplined behavior and how to make wise daily actions before trouble begins. It’s not 100% successful, but it certainly made a huge difference in our home and in any home in which I’ve see it implemented. I’m talking about establishing daily routines.

Routines will help your children and your family discipline before you even need to. Many of the benefits of routines stem from the predictability they add to family life. When children know what to expect, positive things happen. One great benefit of routines is watching your children learn disciplined behavior before suffering the consequences of poor choices! Let me share a few other benefits your children will experience when you establish healthy routines.

  • Children become more cooperative and less oppositional with routines in place. Power struggles decrease as routines become the norm. Morning routines replace nagging. Bed time routines replace fighting. Children learn to follow the routine because “that’s what’s next” and what’s next is a healthy, wise lifestyle choice.
  • Children gain a sense of mastery and independence with routines in place. As children learn the routine, they require less prompting. They learn to do more on their own. For instance, a dinner routine which includes setting the table, clearing the dishes, and loading the dishwasher becomes a family activity in which everyone participates and learns how to complete each step independently if needed. A morning routine contributes to competent self-care and an independent ability to prepare for the day, which will be a great benefit to the whole family in middle school, high school, and college.
  • Children gain a sense of security from healthy routines. Routines add predictability to the day. When transitions and changes occur, those routines add stability. Predictability and stability equal safety and security for children. Children who feel safe and secure in the family listen better and misbehave less often. For instance, children who know their parent will read with them before they go to sleep experience a sense of safety in the relationship that allows them to open up and talk about the important events of their life and day.
  • Children gain a stronger identity through routines. Routines help define who we are as a family and as individuals. We are ‘readers’ who read together every night. We are ‘independent people’ who don’t need our mom to get us up for school every day. We are family, supporting one another as we talk during family meals. We are ‘campers’ who go camping one a month. We are ‘people of faith’ who practice our daily and weekly prayers and services. You get the idea: routines build identity.
  • Children bond with family through routines. Family dinners, bedtime routines, routines of taking leave, routines of reunion, and holiday routines all provide the opportunity to bond with family and express love and affection for one another. They provide the time to share experiences, talk about the day, and practice values together.

Overall, routines provide the structure and opportunity to teach appropriate behavior. They allow you to discipline even before it’s necessary! (For more ideas on the benefit of routines and what routines you can establish read Mundane Opportunities for Quality Time and Add Meaning to Life by Building Routine.)

A Gift to Build a Longer, Happier Marriage

Want to give your spouse a great gift? If you do, I have the perfect idea. This gift will promote your spouse’s physical health and even contribute to longer life. It will also enhance your relationship, leading to a happier, longer-lasting marriage. To top it all off—the icing on the cake so to speak—this gift is free! The gift I’m talking about is the gift of becoming a more conscientious person. Hold on…let me explain. A study involving 2,203 couples over 50-years-old showed that conscientious people had better health and lived longer. “But wait there’s more…,” the gift aspect. A husband’s conscientiousness predicted his wife’s physical health above and beyond the influence of her own personality. A wife’s conscientiousness had the same impact on her husband’s health. In other words, you can contribute to your spouse’s long, healthy life and long, healthy marriage by becoming more conscientious. That’s a great gift! How can you become more conscientious? Here are a few ideas.

  • Take responsibility for your own emotional, physical, and mental health. Establish an exercise routine. Eat wisely. If you smoke or take unnecessary drugs, stop. Learn how to manage your thoughts and emotions. If you need help doing these things start by reading a book like “The Resiliency Factor” or “The Power of Habit.”
  • Get organized. Set some goals. Be sure to include relationship goals like dates, vacations, and time together. Set a goal to write your spouse a love letter or a letter of appreciation. Make a “to do list” each day. Make sure to put at least one thing to express love to your spouse on that “to do list.”
  • Plan ahead. Rather than making impulsive purchases, for example, plan ahead. Set a goal to save the money for the purchase rather than buy it impulsively on credit.
  • Keep your promises. In fact, make sure you can follow through on a promise before you even make it. Become known as a “person of your word” who others can trust.
  • When problems arise, take the time to address them before they grow. This can be as simple as putting your dirty cup in the dishwasher or as complex as resolving a disagreement with your spouse by apologizing for a wrong you committed. Address problems as they arise.

To become a more conscientious person takes some time and effort. However, the dividends are more a longer life and a happier marriage for you AND your spouse. That’s a gift worth the effort.

The Beatles Knew It!!

“Say you don’t need no diamond ring and I’ll be satisfied. Tell me that you want the kind of thing that money just can’t buy. I don’t care too much for money, money can’t buy me love…. Can’t buy me love…” The Beatles sang those words in 1964.  Over 50 years later science is telling us why those words ring true. Jason Carroll, a Brigham Young University professor of marriage and family studies, and his team of researchers surveyed 1,310 married individuals to gather data on the relationship between materialism, perception of marriage importance, and marital satisfaction (read review of study here). They confirmed the Beatles’ words, “Money can’t buy me love.” Specifically, the more highly a person valued money, the less they seemed to value relationships including marriage. Materialism was “possession-oriented” rather than “relationship-oriented” when pursuing happiness. In other words, the more a person held to the priorities associated with materialism the less they held to the priority of marriage. Materialism crowded out marital priorities, creating a shortage of time for communication, conflict resolution, and intimacy—the stuff of happy marriages. Materialistic people sought happiness in possessions rather than people; they invested time and energy into getting things rather than investing time and energy into nurturing a healthy marriage.

If you find materialism creeping into your marriage, “buy it out” with these tips:

  • Do an honest self-appraisal. Confirm your own priorities. Sometimes people are not aware of how the pursuit of money has unbalanced their lives. They really “believe” marriage is of greater importance than money. But, their investment of time and energy reveals a different story. It reveals they have slipped into a pattern of materialistic pursuits. Take a hard look at how you spend your time, the activities in which you invest, and the focus of your energy. Do you spend more time pursuing material gain or family closeness? Your actions reveal your lived values. Make sure your lived values are the values you truly hold.
  • Reinvest in what is really important. Family and relationships bring greater happiness than material gain. Things break, rust, fall apart, and quit working. Relationships in which we properly invest will grow, support, and strengthen both us as individuals and couples. Invest in your family. (Read The Meaning of Our Lives for more.)
  • Prioritize generosity as a family. Studies reveal that generosity is linked with increased happiness. Generosity teaches us to let go of our pursuit of materialistic gain and focus on how we can invest in people. Practice generosity toward others in your family. Practice generosity as a family toward those outside the family. Teach Your Children to Live Happy will provide several ideas for practicing generosity as a family. By practicing generosity you shift the focus from “things” to people, from possessions to relationships…and find yourself and your family happier.

Holding Tightly With an Open Hand

My youngest daughter had a wonderful opportunity to sing at DCINY under the direction of Eric Whitacre in Carnegie Hall. She was ecstatic. It demanded a great deal of work and courage on her part. She had to fill out the application, try out, rehearse independently, and then rehearse with the choir. She also made arrangements with her teachers to make up missed classwork, arrange travel to New York, arrange a stay in a hostel, and manage her time while there. She did an amazing job. I’m very proud of all she did, including her work to grow as a vocalist and as a person who cares for and loves people from all walks of life.

My oldest daughter is preparing to move across the country to begin her next stage in life. She has worked hard to get an opportunity to study music’s impact on identity for oppressed populations.  She too is thrilled with the opportunity. She has worked hard to get to this point. She has already begun to make the arrangements necessary for a successful move. It’s exciting to consider who she might meet, where she might go, and what she might learn.  I’m very proud of all she has done, including her work to grow as a pianist/musician and as a compassionate advocate and scholar.

I love watching my daughters grow and experience life. I anticipate other wonderful experiences in both their lives. It is all very exciting. At the same time it’s a bit…well…sad. Don’t get me wrong. I am thrilled to watch my daughters grow and encounter new experiences. But, their growth also means they become more and more independent. They do not need me as much anymore. They are learning to manage their own lives without my help. They are learning to do it “all alone.” Go figure. Years of working to get our children to this point and now it’s here. Now, it’s time to let go. Well, maybe I’m not really going to just let go. I’m going to hold on tightly, but with an open hand as I watch my daughters take flight. I’m going to hold on tightly with an open hand so I can watch them “soar to new heights.” I’m going to hold on tightly with an open hand while trusting the relationship we have nurtured to keep us emotionally close, no matter how physically far they travel from home and how independent they become. I’m holding on tightly with an open hand so we can learn from one another, so we can share in the new experiences of life as each of us grow older. I’m holding tight with an open hand as we learn to relate together as adults who serve and encourage one another, support and strengthen one another. It’s an adventure, a frontier we have not yet fully experienced as a family. But it holds great opportunities for all. So we walk this adventure together, holding on tightly to one another with an open hand.

One Key Factor Promotes Lasting Relationships

One key factor promotes lasting relationships. What? At first I was surprised then curious…so I read on. They key factor promoting lasting relationships was confirmed by a team of researchers from the University of British Columbia. They had analyzed the data on “thousands of couples” involved in two large British surveys and the Gallup World Poll.  After accounting the couples’ ages, gender, income, and health conditions, they “found” one key factor promoted lasting happiness marriages and relationships. One key factor! Specifically, happiest couples all said their significant other was their closest friend. In other words, having a deep friendship with your spouse increased happiness and life satisfaction (Read Science says lasting relationships rely on a key factor for more).

Other researchers have confirmed this finding. In particular, Dr. Gottman noted that the “determining factor in whether wives and husbands feel satisfied with sex, romance, and passion in their marriage is, by 70%, the quality of the couple’s friendship!” That’s right, friendship in marriage even improves sex life! (Read Improve Your Sex Life…BEFORE You Hit the Sheets) Gottman even identifies the building blocks of friendship in marriage: building love maps, sharing fondness and admiration, and turning toward one another to work as a team. So, if you want your spouse as a best friend and if you want happiness in a lasting marriage…

  1. Enhance your love maps. A love map contains all the relevant information about our partner’s lives, from birthdays and anniversaries to greatest fears and dreams. It represents what we know about our spouse’s physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual life. Of course, love maps needs constant updating as the experiences and feelings that make up our maps change as we go through life. So take time to talk with your spouse every day. Find out about their day, their challenges, their joys, their sorrows. Learn about them. If you’re stuck on how to do this, try the “20 question game” in this short article on love maps.
  2. Sharing fondness and admiration builds friendship as well. Sharing fondness and admiration is a habit of mind in which a person identifies and verbalizes appreciation for their spouse on a daily basis. This may be as simple as saying “thank you” for what your spouse did during the day or as intimate as noting character traits that you admire in your spouse. You can make fondness and admiration a part of your marriage with a simple math equation (Don’t worry, it’s not new math!).
  3. Turning toward your spouse rather than away involves responding positively to their requests for attention, affirmation, affection, or connection. Of course friendship grows when spouses respond to one another’s bids for connection on a regular basis rather than turning away. Gottman actually found that couples who turned toward one another 86% of the time remained married after a six year period whereas couples who divorced in that time period only turned toward one another 33% of the time. Responding to our spouse’s builds friendship. Turning away because of preoccupation, lack of concern, or just putting our energy elsewhere destroys friendship (Read RSVP for Intimacy in Your Family for more info on turning toward).

The one key factor in a happy, lasting marriage is friendship. If you want a happy, lasting marriage, keep nurturing the friendship you have with your spouse. Build that friendship by enhancing your love maps, sharing fondness and admiration, and turning toward one another every day…starting today!

If Looks Could Heal…

I stole the title for this blog from the title of a research study exploring the impact of a non-residential father’s involvement in his children’s lives (If looks could heal: Child health and paternal investment). This study explored the relationship between non-resident fathers, their children, and their children’s health. It found, among other things, that “a typical visiting father” who invested one extra day of time per month in his children’s lives “enhanced their health by just over 10% of a standard deviation.” Although this study dealt only with fathers and children who did not live together, I believe it points to an important principle of father-child relationships. A father’s investment in his children promotes their overall health and development in a positive way.  In fact, a father’s investment in his children’s lives promotes healthy children, healthy families, and healthy communities. This particular study suggests a father’s investment impacts physical health. Other studies have shown that a father’s involvement impacts other areas as well. For instance, a father’s involvement in his children’s lives will impact their:

  • Academic Life. School-age children with involved fathers become better academic achievers. They are more likely to have better quantitative skills, better verbal skills, and higher grade point averages.
  • Emotional Life. Father involvement is positively correlated with children experiencing more overall life satisfaction and less emotional stress or mental illness.
  • Social and Emotional Life. Children who have involved fathers are more likely to score high on self-acceptance as well as exhibiting greater personal and social adjustment as young adults.
  • Future Employment. Children who have involved fathers have a greater chance of becoming more successful in work as adults.
  • Social Life. Father involvement is positively correlated with children’s overall social competence and ability to relate to others.
  • Social and Community Involvement. Children with involved fathers are less likely exhibit conduct problems. They are less likely to engage in negative behaviors such as substance abuse or delinquent behaviors that might result in jail time.

A father’s presence in the family and investment in his children’s lives pays dividends for their children’s whole life. A father’s involvement benefits his children, his family, and his community. Get involved today!

(For more specific statistics related to these findings see the following sites: The Importance of Father Involvement, an interesting infograph from the University of Texas; 10 Facts About Father Engagement, from the Fatherhood Project; and The Effects of Father Involvement: A Summary of the Research Evidence, from the Father Involvement Initiative-Ontario Network.)

Rewire Your Brain & Stop Yelling

I love children. I find raising children one of the most amazing and rewarding tasks of life.  But, I have to be honest.  Raising children can be extremely frustrating as well. It can take you right to the edge of sanity. Raising children can make parents want to pull their hair out. Many a parent finds themselves yelling at their children in frustration and then feeling bad about yelling. If you’re like me, you probably realize that yelling isn’t even very effective in the long run. It “scrambles” our children’s brains. They can’t think in the face of yelling. It traumatizes our young children when taken to the extreme. Some studies even suggest it might increase the likelihood of aggression. Most parents don’t want to yell but struggle to stop. How do we stop? It seems like the brain is wired to yell in frustration. If you’re in this boat, I have some good news: 4 steps to help rewire your brain to stop yelling…or at least limit the times you do yell.

  1. Reduce unnecessary We tend to yell more than we think. We often create an environment of yelling in our homes. We yell “Time to eat,” “Dinner’s ready,” “Turn the music down,” “Close the door,” “I’m coming,” and all sorts of other simple comments. We really don’t need to yell these phrases. A much more respectable and polite method of communicating the same message involves approaching the other person and calmly let them know “Dinner’s ready” or “Don’t forget to shut the door please.” Become aware of all the unnecessary times you yell in the home and begin to change those times. Replace those times of yelling with connection: approach the other person, maybe touch them on the arm, and simply talk.
  2. Tame your internal voice. Parents often have an inner voice screaming demands at them throughout the day. It may not be loud, but a harsh demanding internal voice will increase internal stress and chaos. To stop yelling in the home, we need to tame our internal voice. Take five minutes a day to sit down, breath, and meditate or pray to help create an inner calm. That inner calm will quiet your internal demanding voice. The calmer you can keep your internal voice, the fewer times you will use your external voice to yell.
  3. Increase connection. Take time to connect with your child every day. The more connected you are to your children, the more often they will listen. You can also use moments of frustration to connect with your children. In fact, these are powerful moments of parent-child connection. So, when you feel like yelling, connect physically by gently direct your child out of the traffic area (if needed), get down on their level, look them in the eye, and gently touch their shoulder or arm. Then connect emotionally by labeling their emotion. Finally, after connecting physically and emotionally, restate your directive or limit.
  4. Slow life down in general. Sometimes life gets so rushed and serious. When it does, yelling increases. So make time to laugh with your children every day. Take time to connect rather than rushing about. Put in the effort to patiently bless your children with your time and delight rather than blurting out angry words in frustration. Your children will love you for slowing down…and you will yell less.

There you have it: four tips to rewire your brain and tame your yelling. Give it a try over the next month and enjoy the results.