The T.A.P. Garden Could Save Your Marriage

A couple of friends recently went to Haiti with Team Tassy to “Run Across Haiti.” His wife sent beautiful pictures and wonderful descriptions of the work they did while in Haiti. One post in particular caught my attention. I wanted to share it with you. With her permission (thank you Kristen Mauclair), here it is…a gardening metaphor that could save your marriage!

No relationship is easy… including ours. Today, after taking a tour of SAKALA (an educational, community center and beautiful garden in Cite Soleil), I had the honor to teach a lesson of agriculture to Haitian students. Children so eager to learn what it means to make a garden grow.

It came to me that there are really 3 basic principles to cultivating plants 🌱 or crops… fruits 🍉 or vegetables 🥒 … Time, Attention, and Patience.

  • TIME to see the results…
  • ATTENTION to detail: watering, nourishing, harvesting the good…
  • PATIENCE when planting fails; starting over is a must… and patience to wait until the effort shows!

This was something I hoped the kids would take with them after our lesson… because ultimately… these 3 principles apply to life in many ways… developing a garden, excelling in school, growing a business, maintaining relationships… and as I thought after our garden visit… TEN YEARS OF MARRIAGE!

And, as it is, marriage is not easy. It takes TIME, ATTENTION, and PATIENCE. Our ten years have not been easy, but we’ve learned it takes work. Days have come where I’ve worked more than him and days when he’s worked more than me. There have been times when we’re on the same page, and MANY where we aren’t even in the same library. 😉 And… lots of days were spent NOT working at all.

Marriage is incredibly difficult AND rewarding. It’s uncomfortable AND comforting. It’s the best days AND worst days, but if there is NO effort from both parties, the garden will die. Time… with one another. Attention… to who we are together and who we are as individuals.  Patience… in knowing we will FALL, but will not FAIL… because starting over IS an option.

I’ve learned…’I am sorry’… ‘I forgive you’… and ‘I love you’ … are the most powerful 3-word phrases when used wisely. 10 years of marriage… work. I’m proud of myself and proud of us. I’m proud of what we stand for and what we’ve been through.  No relationship is easy… including ours.

I (John from Honor Grace Celebrate) would only add …the marriage that grows from an investment of time, attention, and patience is a joyful garden filled with beautiful plants bearing amazing fruit.

The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From the Tree…Or Does It?

We hear certain folk truths all the time. Three folk truths I hear for parenting are: “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” “Like father, like son,” and “He’s a chip off the old block.”  But a recent study published in the British Journal of Psychology (Read How Far Does the Apple Fall From the Tree for a review of the study) reveals the actual truth is more nuanced than folk wisdom suggests. In this study, researchers looked up 418 German and Swiss families to see “which parents most strongly transmitted their values to their children.” They discovered that parents who encourage AND live out prosocial values like helping, supporting and caring for others, and kindness passed on their values more effectively than those who promoted values like power, position-seeking, and achievement.  Interestingly, children also adopted positive traits unrelated to kindness, like curiosity and respect for tradition, from parents who promoted caring values. The authors of the study believe parents who focus on prosocial values also exhibit greater sensitivity and caring toward their children; they “practice what they preach” so to speak. This creates a stronger bond and a stronger bond contributes to children adopting their parents’ values. In other words, children are more likely to replicate the values of an empathetic, supportive parent than one who pushes for achievement and position. Interesting, isn’t it? Adds a whole new dimension to our efforts to raise kind children while pushing them to be “number one,” undefeated, the best in the class… it just might not work.

How does this change the folk wisdom mentioned above? Perhaps we need to rewrite the saying. “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree of caring, supportive families…but for the harsh, power-driven parent it may roll down the hill into who knows what.” Not quite as quick and snappy…but it does express a more complete truth.

Book Review: Forgiving Fathers and Mothers

A mature adult life and healthy marriage begins with leaving home. I don’t mean simply moving out and living in a different house, paying your own bills, and maintaining your own social and vocational life. Many 16-year-old teens can do that. To truly become a mature adult who can contribute to a healthy marriage, we must leave home on a much deeper level. We must leave home emotionally. For some, the task of leaving home emotionally is relatively simple. For others–those who have experienced neglect, abuse, or abandonment–this task can prove monumental. Leaving home emotionally necessitates that we face the realities of our childhood, forgive our parents for any shortcomings they might have exhibited, and embrace the love they did share with us during our life. Forgiving our Fathers and Mothers by Leslie Leyland Fields and Dr. Jill Hubbard provides a tremendous map for doing just that. The guidance they offer in their book guides the reader out of the prison of pain, bitterness, and resentment that traps many who grew up in abusive homes. It is filled with courageous stories and insightful strategies to help lead the  reader out of the common behaviors used to run from the pain, “reclaim the past,” and enter into a “land of freedom.” The stories are inspirational yet tempered so we can all learn the lessons they offer. The insights are wise and practical. The way to freedom, though filled with ups and downs, pain and healing, struggles and victory, passes through forgiveness and into the land of peace and wholeness. If you have experienced trouble leaving a traumatic childhood behind, Forgiving our Fathers and Mothers offers hope and practical guidance. Following the strategies offered in this book will lead you into the freedom of a whole life and a fulfilling marriage.

Add Meaning to Life by Building Routine?

Meaning and routine…those are two words we don’t often think of together. Instead, we think of routine as dull, the “same old thing,” and “stuck in a rut.”  Who finds meaning in that? Research, on the other hand, suggests that we gain a greater sense of meaning in our lives when we practice routines. Yes, routines…like starting the day with a simple prayer or daily exercise, walking the same route to work each day or reading a chapter before bed, Friday night pizza or a cup of coffee each morning…routines! Rather than making life dull and predictable, research tells us that such routines actually make life more meaningful! (Read Everyday Routines Make Life Feel More Meaningful and A New Psychological Insight Makes Me Feel Much Less Boring for more). “How can that be?” you ask.

  • Daily routines help us develop a sense of coherence, a sense of self that remains the same over time and place. Routines help us define “who I am” and “what I do.” We become a person who enjoys coffee or a person who enjoys taking a walk. We come to know ourselves as a person who enjoys quiet times of prayer. Whatever routine we develop becomes part of our identity, our sense of self that remains the same across time and place. Of course, this means we need to use caution in developing our routines. We will do best to develop routines that contribute to a positive sense of self. After all, who wants to be the person known as a grumbler because they start every day with complaint? A positive daily routine, on the other hand, can help us develop a stable and positive identity.
  • Daily routines also build a sense of predictability into life. Having a sense of predictability, having an idea of “what comes next,” provides a sense of safety, especially for children. This sense of safety provides an anchor that frees us to take healthy risks in other areas of our lives…which leads to the next point.
  • Daily routines free us to pursue significant goals in our lives. Over time, the routines become a natural part of our day. We don’t have to waste mental energy remembering to do them or even how to do them. Instead, we can focus our energies on goals we consider significant and important to living out our values.
  • Of course, having the energy and thought to pursue more significant goals also gives our life a greater sense of purpose. We can thank daily routines for making this possible.
  • Daily routines for families also provide regular times to develop family relationships, which translates into greater family identity and family intimacy.

In other words, routines have a ripple effect. Positive routines help build a positive identity and a sense of predictability which allows us to pursue significant goals and build a greater sense of purpose. Family routines help build family identity and family intimacy. So, if you really want to help your family and your children build a greater sense of meaning in life, build family routines! Here are a few your children and your family might enjoy.

  • A daily family meal.
  • Bedtime prayers.
  • Taking time each night to read with your children.
  • The “good-bye kiss.”
  • The “I’m home kiss.”
  • Fishing on the weekend.
  • Friday pizza night.
  • Worship weekly.

You get the idea. The kinds of healthy routines you can develop are limited only by your imagination. Whatever you choose, get on out there and establish some family routines. Your family will benefit from gaining a sense of identity and personal meaning. Your children will benefit from a greater sense of identity and personal meaning. You will benefit from enjoying it all!

My Cell Phone is Ripping Me Off!!

Let me just give you the quote right here, at the beginning of the blog. “The mere presence of one’s smartphone reduces available cognitive capacity and impairs cognitive functioning, even though people feel they’re giving their full attention and focus to the task at hand.” This is the finding of a study out of the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas, Austin. In this study, participants were assigned to one of three groups while taking a series of tests geared to measure the brain’s ability to hold and process data. One group took the test with their cell phone turned off and left on their desk face down. The second group had their cell phone turned off and in their pocket or a personal bag. The third group had their cell phones turned off and in another room. Those participants who had their phones in another room did significantly better than those who had their cell phone on the desk and slightly better than those who had the cell phone in their pocket or bag. In other words, “the mere presence of one’s smartphone reduces available cognitive capacity and impairs cognitive functioning….” The presence of our cell phone takes up our mental space and “dumbs us down.”

The process of pushing thoughts about who might call, who might text, when might it ring, or “I could look that up” takes up space in our brains and takes our attention and concentration from some other task. When we take our cell phone on a date night, it robs us of the mental space needed to have intimate conversation and enjoyment with our spouse. In other words, our cell phone robs our spouses of the full attention and intimate interaction they deserve.  If we really want to have an intimate date with our spouses, leave the cell phone in the car…or at home.  Give your spouse your full attention. Concentrate on intimate interactions with your spouse. Don’t let your cell phone rob you of a precious date!

Motivating Children with Tin Men Eating Artichokes

Why did the tin man eat artichokes? That’s a good question…and the answer is coming up. An even better question is how to motivate our children to follow through with chores and other desired behaviors. Parents have struggled with this “age old problem” since the beginning of time and one answer involves tin men eating artichokes. In fact, I recently reviewed a series of four studies revealing how parents can use the tin man eating artichokes to motivate their children. Curious?  Yes, that’s the answer. Curiosity helps motivate. Polman and colleagues showed this in four experiments (Read study here). In the first study, 200 people were given a choice of eating one of two cookies. One was covered in chocolate and sprinkles. The other was a plain old fortune cookie that contained “personal information” about them.  That fortune cookie aroused their curiosity and 71% chose to discover the “personal information” rather than enjoy chocolate and sprinkles.

In the second study, participants were given a choice of watching a “high-brow film” versus a comedic, entertaining film. When given a simple choice, the high-brow film gained a many viewers. However, when researchers promised to reveal the secret to a magic trick only in the high-brow film, the number choosing the high-brow film increased significantly. Seems curiosity outweighs pure entertainment for many.

Next, the researchers wanted to see if curiosity would encourage people to use the stairs rather than the elevator. After measuring the average number of elevator versus stair users, the researchers added curiosity to the mix. They put a question at the bottom of the stairs noting the answer would be found in the stairwell. It was a simple question: “What animal preceded man into space?”  They put four true answers in the stairwell. Only those taking the stairs could discover this answer.  Yes, you guessed it. When curiosity was added to the mix significantly more people took the stairs!  (The answer was frog, guinea pig, rabbit, and fruit fly by the way.)

Finally, in a fourth study, the researchers wanted to see if curiosity could increase the sale of fruits and vegetables. They did this by writing a joke above the produce and giving the answer only at the wrapping area.  For instance, the question over the artichokes was, “Why did the tin man eat artichokes?” The answer could only be discovered by wrapping the produce for purchase. When a consumer did so, they learned the tin man ate artichokes because he “always wanted a heart” (hahaha). Once again, produce sales went up when simple jokes added curiosity to the purchasing process.

What does this have to do with your children? We might try using some curiosity to encourage them to do their chores or eat their vegetables or…anything at all. We did this when our daughter was in kindergarten. She had difficulty getting her morning routine done in time for school. So, we made puzzles out of pictures of her favorite cartoon dragon characters.  We didn’t tell her which dragon it was but for each task of her morning chore she received a puzzle piece. Much to her delight, she received the final puzzle piece when she completed the final task and could see the whole dragon. Just imagine how many different ways you might use curiosity as one tool to encourage your children to do their chores: the answer to a joke at the bottom of a bowl of fruit, the discovery of some secret when they finish a chore, the opportunity for a surprise when they make their bed…. The list is only limited by our imagination. So, get your creativity and start building curiosity.

Aww, That’s So Cute!!

Did you ever watch and listen to a group of teen women (or any age really) looking at pictures of puppies, bunnies, or babies? Each picture is followed by the unsolicited chorus of “Aww, that’s so cute.” If you’ve never had that experience, stop by my house sometime and watch my daughter looking at pictures.  Anyway, a grant given by the Department of Defense explored similar pictures to help married couples “cope with the stress of separation and deployment.” They recruited 144 couples and showed each spouse a stream of images in which pictures of their spouse were embedded. In one group they embedded images of their spouse within a stream of neutral images like a button. In a second group they embedded images of their spouse within a stream of “positive” pictures like puppies, bunnies, or the word “wonderful.”  Both groups viewed the stream of images every three days for six weeks. The group who saw their spouse’s image among the pictures of puppies, bunnies, and words like “wonderful…”

  • Showed more positive reactions to their spouse over the six week study than the other group, and,
  • The spouses reported greater overall marriage quality. (Read more about this study here.)

So, what does this mean for your marriage? How can you use this information to benefit your marriage? First, remember that “interactions between spouses are actually the most important factor” in building a strong marriage. Even the researchers conducting this study agreed with that statement. Beyond that, you can use begin to incorporate cute objects like “puppies and bunnies” into your pictures to enhance the quality of your marriage. Take pictures of one another with cute puppies, bunnies, stuffed animals, or babies. Superimpose words of admiration on the photos of your spouse. If your spouse has to go out of town, send a picture of you holding the family pet, a favorite stuffed animal, or with a word like “wonderful” written on it. You might even hide pictures like that around the house. This could add a whole new dimension to taking pictures at the zoo. You might pose with a koala bear in the background or stand next to a friendly peacock. The cuteness factor may just enhance your marriage. Have fun with this idea. Be creative. Enjoy combining pictures of your spouse (and pictures of the two of you as a couple) with various cute animals and admiring words. You might just find yourself falling in love even more!  “Aww, that’s so cute!”

4 Tips for Raising a Violent Narcissist…OR NOT!!

Have you ever wondered how to create a self-absorbed, entitled, child who becomes violent when they don’t get their way? Probably not. I mean, who wants their child to become a violent narcissist. But, you might raise an entitled violent child unintentionally, by accident, if you don’t watch out. Dr. Calvete and her team of researchers wondered about a possible link between narcissism and violence in adolescents. To explore that possible link, they interviewed 591 adolescents and identified four elements that contribute to the creation of a violent narcissist (Read a review of this study here). Just to make sure you don’t unintentionally practice any of these four elements in your family, let me briefly describe each one.

  1. A distant relationship between parent and child was linked to narcissism in children. A lack of quality time as well as a lack of affection between parent and child contributes to a distant relationship. If you want to raise a narcissist, keep your parent-child relationships distant.
  2. A lack of positive communication helps keep the relationship between parent and child distant. Children who experience little encouragement, acknowledgement, constructive discipline, or intimate connection have a greater chance of becoming an aggressive narcissist.
  3. Exposure to family violence was linked to adolescent aggression directed toward parents. Children learn and practice what they see modeled in the family.
  4. A permissive parenting style sets the stage for an entitled adolescent, one who thinks he deserves everything he wants right here, right now! When he doesn’t get what he wants, he might just become angry and aggressive.

Nobody wants to raise a violent narcissist. We want to raise loving, caring adolescents. To do that, we have to avoid the four elements above. Better yet, replace them with these four family ideals instead.

  1. Develop an intimate family. Spend quality time together. Eat together. Play together. Worship together. Go places together. Share healthy affection like hugs, high-fives, or fist bumps with one another. Learn about one another’s interests. Ask about one another’s day. You get the idea. Develop an intimate family.
  2. Develop a kind and gentle family. Listen before advising. When problems arise, problem-solve together. Learn how to express anger and hurt in a calm manner. Learn to self-soothe. Do not instigate or provoke. Work together to achieve goals. Accept responsibility for mistakes. Lovingly hold one another accountable.  Be kind and gentle, tenderhearted with each other.
  3. Learn positive communication skills. Season your speech with grace. Speak with kindness. Offer encouragements and praise. Address difficulties politely. Offer constructive criticism in a loving manner with the goal of promoting growth. Enjoy intimate conversations. Compliment. Offer words of affirmation and admiration.
  4. Practice authoritative parenting. Authoritative parenting creates an environment in which love and affection thrive and grow within the loving structure of clearly defined limits and boundaries. Both love and limits, relationships and rules, bonding and boundaries are needed to have a healthy, loving family. Practice both in a loving manner.

Put these four family ideals into practice and you will not raise a self-entitled violent narcissist. Instead, you will be the proud parent of a kind, compassionate, and caring young adult.

Raise Kinder Children

Want to raise kinder children? Me, too! A recent study (Reading May Make Us Kinder, Students Research Into Fiction Habits and Personality Types Reveals) conducted by a post-graduate student at Kingston University suggests a simple way to do it! The study asked 123 adults their preference: reading fiction or watching TV. The same adults were tested on their interpersonal skills like considering other people’s feelings and their desire to help others. Those who preferred reading fictional stories showed greater empathy, greater consideration of other people’s needs, and a greater desire to help other people than those who preferred TV.  In fact, those who preferred TV came across as less friendly and less tolerant of other people’s viewpoints. The author of the study suggests reading makes people think more deeply about characters and, as a result, develop empathic skills and kindness.

Here’s the take home message of this study for all parents. If you want to raise kinder children, children who show empathy and consideration in their desire to help others, chuck the remote and read some books. Turn off the TV and read. Read TO your child…read WITH your child…EVERYDAY.  Go to the library, find books that interest your child, and read. You can take turns reading out loud to one another. Or, you can both read the same book and discuss what you’ve read.  Whatever you choose, JUST READ.  Did you catch the take home message for raising kinder children? Encourage your children to read.

The Power of LOL

Our communities and our families are being devastated by addiction. Drug use is destroying –families and we need to do everything we can to stop its contagion. I know this may sound simplistic…and in a way, it is; but I have an idea to help stem the rise of drug addiction. Now, I know that what I am about to suggest will not remedy the problem. It is not a magic bullet. It will only be a small part of a much broader solution. But, what I am about to suggest can play a role in stemming the scourge of drug addiction…and you can begin right in your own home with your own family. What is it? Give your family mega-doses of social laughter. Laugh as a family. Laugh with other families. Giggle, chuckle, or let out a “belly busting” laugh. Laugh Out Loud.

Research has found that laughing together increases the release of endorphins and other peptides in the brain, especially areas involved in arousal and emotions. Because laughter is contagious, its joy can spread through your family like…well, laughter! As it spreads, endorphins are released. Everyone experiences the pleasure and calming effect of this laughter-induced-endorphin-release.  This promotes feelings of togetherness, enhancing bonding and connection among those laughing. If we can teach our families to enjoy the natural endorphins of laughing with your family (LOL), why would they want something else? And, who would want to lose the enhanced connection with family that comes through laughter. So, start laughing together early. Laugh often. Laugh hard. Laugh out loud.

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