“You Can’t Handle the Truth!” …Really?

People value honesty. Love rejoices in the truth. Married couples expect honesty. Yet how many times do we “fudge the truth” to avoid the conflict? Or, “tell a little white lie” to keep the peace? Think of the question, “Does this dress make me look fat?” Hmmmm…. We fear our partner will misread our intent and become angry in response to our honest reply. We avoid telling our honest opinion for fear it will damage our relationship. But, is it true that we “can’t handle the truth”? Well, a recent study suggests our fears may be unfounded. People may handle the truth better than we think. Specifically, this study revealed three findings about honesty in relationship.

  • Honesty leads to more social connection than simply paying attention to what we say. 
  • Honesty leads to more enjoyment than simply paying attention to our manner of communication.
  • Honesty leads to a greater sense of meaning than simply paying attention our manner of communication.

These results were not only true immediately after the interaction but remained true at a two-week follow-up. In other words, “You can’t handle the truth” is not true.

The truth is: honesty leads to greater social connection, more enjoyment, and a greater sense of meaning. If you’re like me, you want all three of those results (greater connection, more enjoyment, greater sense of meaning) in your marriage. So, be honest.  Tell the truth in love and grow a stronger, healthier marriage.

I’m the Boss Around Here Mom

Do you have a “bossy child”? You know the type. They like to be in charge. They don’t just play with their friends, they direct their friends. At times you might even cringe at how they speak to the adults in their lives. If this sounds familiar, you probably have a “bossy child.”  No fretting though. It’s not all bad. We want our children to mature into assertive young adults who can take on leadership roles in their home and community. Your “bossy child” has already acquired some of the skills necessary to do so. They are naturally assertive. In fact, it is probably a good idea to stop labeling them as “bossy” and start calling them an “assertive child,” a “take charge kind” of person. Talk about their leadership qualities rather than constantly scold them about their bossiness. Just by changing the label you have begun to change how you view them…and how they will view themselves. Rather than scolding them for being “bossy,” you can teach them how to treat others with dignity while being assertive. Rather than squelching their natural ability to “take charge,” teach them how to lead with grace and politeness. Instead of getting upset that they demand their way, teach them the proper times to comply. Rather than fight against their natural ability, work with them to shape that ability into a mature strength. (Read Parental Assumptions & the Cycle of Discipline for more on how our labels impact our parenting.) Here are some ideas to help you do this on a daily basis.

  • Offer your children choices, lots of choices. When we offer our assertive child a choice, we are acting in authority. Our child has to comply, but they also get to remain in control and decide how they will comply. You can make many choices available to your child every day. They can choose whether to wear the blue shirt or the green shirt, either way they wear a shirt. They can decide whether to take a bath before or after dinner. They can choose the vegetable for dinner—”corn or green beans,” “cauliflower or mixed vegetables.” They can control the order in which they pick up their toys. You get the idea. Give your children lots of choices.
  • Give your children chores over which they can practice control. Give them a job and let them do it independently. Teach them one way to do it but let them do it in their own way, as long as it gets done. For instance, you could let your children separate the laundry, fold the clothes, run the sweeper, clean the living room, or load the dishwasher.  They may choose to do it in a different order than you. But they still will have grown in independence. (Remember, Chores Are the Gift of Significance.)
  • Acknowledge times when they accept authorities and follow the directives from adults. Strong-willed, assertive children may struggle to do this. Acknowledge that struggle. Talk about the benefit of accepting authority in life. Let them know there are times when all of us follow the directives of others.
  • Don’t be afraid of giving consequences. There will be times when they push against the directive no matter what you do. As an authority, you need to give a consequence at such times. A consequence could be as simple as losing a privilege or having their toy or game placed in a “time out” where they cannot play with it. You know what consequences impact your children the most. Don’t be afraid of giving appropriate consequences in response to defiant opposition or extreme bossiness. (If the thought of giving a strong limit & consequence arouses fear in you, read I’m Afraid to Discipline for some insight.)

If you have a “bossy child,” rejoice. Celebrate your “assertive child.” Take joy in their ability to “take charge.” Admire their “leadership quality.” Then practice the four ideas above and you’ll watch them blossom into an assertive leader who gives those who follow them dignity and respect.

A Teen Epidemic & Containment

The epidemic of depression and suicide is spreading among our teens (13-18-years-old) like wildfire, especially among girls. Consider these statistics:

  • Suicide rate has increased 31% from 2010 to 2015 among teens. Even more disturbing, the suicide rate has increased 65% among adolescent girls over the same time period!
  • Symptoms of depression have increased 58% among girls from 2010 to 2015 (Excessive Screen Time Linked to Suicide Risk).

In searching for potential causes of this rapid increase in depression and suicidal rates among teens, researchers realized that cell phone ownership increased dramatically over the same time period. In 2012, about half of Americans owned a cell phone. By 2015, only 3 years later, 92% of teens and young adults owned one.  This does not mean that cell phones cause depression, but an association between does exist between the two. Interestingly, this same research does not reveal a link between homework load, academic pressure, or financial problems and the rapid rise in depression and suicidal rates among teens even though it looked for such links (The Risk of Teen Depression and Suicide is Linked to Smartphone Use, Study Says). On the other hand, the study did reveal that:

  • 13-18-year-olds who spend 3 or more hours a day on electronic devices are 35% more likely to exhibit a risk factor for suicide than those who spend only an hour or less on electronic devices,
  • 13-18-year-olds who spend 5 hours or more a day on electronic devices are 71% more likely to have a risk factor for suicide than those who spend only an hour on electronic devices.  
  • 48% of teens who spent 5 hours or more per day on electronic devices reported suicide-related behaviors compared to only 28% of teens who spent an hour or less on electronic devices. (OPEN LETTER FROM JANA PARTNERS AND CALSTRS TO APPLE INC.).

Fortunately, recognizing the link between electronic devices and depression and suicide offers us a way to contain the epidemic of depression and suicide rates among teens…not a complete cure, but a way to reduce the spread of an epidemic robbing us of our teens.  With that in mind, I offer four suggestions.

  1. Limit screen time to 2 hours per day or less. Our teens have not developed the skills to manage the addictive nature of electronic devices. (Perhaps many of us as adults have not developed those skills yet either.) Limiting screen-time to 2 hours per day keeps a teen in the area NOT associated with an increase in depressive symptoms or suicidal behaviors. This may involve teaching our teens to limit time spent on social media, turn off alerts, not spend down-time watching videos, limit video game time, and check social media less often. (For more, consider The Burden of a Smartphone.)
  2. Model limited use of electronic devices. We can’t expect our teens to use their devices less when they see us, their parents, wrapped up in our phones and devices. I thought I would never use electronic devices for 3 hours in a day. Surely, I was in the “safe zone.” Then Apple put “Screen Time” in the phone settings and my time usage started popping up. I discovered that I can easily average 3-4 hours per day on my smartphone! Clearly, I have to learn how to limit my time on the phone in order to model a healthy use of electronic devices to the children in my life. Do you?
  3. Encourage non-screen activities like sports, outdoor play and exercise, face-to-face interactions, church, non-screen hobbies, and family games. Teach your teens to have fun without screens. Let them learn by experience that face-to-face interactions are more enjoyable than social media, “real-life games” are more enjoyable than “virtual games,” and hands-on hobbies more enjoyable than screen-time games.
  4. Take a vacation from electronic devices. A study from UCLA noted that after only 5 days of a “device-free outdoor camp,” children performed better on tests for empathy than did a control group.  Another study showed that a month without Facebook led to greater happiness.  Take a vacation. Do it as a family and invest time previously spent on devices engaging in “real-time” interaction with one another and “real-life” experiences. (For more ideas, check out Don’t Let Them Take Over.)

We all have work to do in balancing our lives in a world where electronic devices impinge more and more on our daily lives. But the work we do to limit electronic devices in our lives and the lives our family members,’ could save a life…maybe even the life of your teen!

Apologize? But I Didn’t Do Anything!!

My wife was mad…at me. She was made at me and I didn’t even realize she was mad. I said something to comfort her and she took offense. I really didn’t want to hurt her; I wanted to comfort her. But she heard what I said differently than I had intended. She was hurt. She was angry. When she told me she was mad, my first impulse was to explain. I wanted to clarify the misunderstanding and defend my actions. Unfortunately, that only made the situation worse because then she thought I was not listening. As you can imagine, the more I tried to explain and clarify my actions the worse the situation grew.

Middle age man doubtful and very serious.

Suddenly I realized…it doesn’t really matter if I’m right or wrong. It doesn’t matter whether I intended to hurt her or not. She was hurt by what I said. I needed to apologize for hurting her. With that realization, I started over. “I’m sorry….” No excuses, no explanations, no defense. Just a simple apology. Then I listened to understand how she had interpreted my statement as an offense. As I listened, I understood. With that understanding, I apologized more fully. Amends completed, we hugged one another; and she enjoyed the comfort I had originally intended to give.

I learned something important from this incident…well, I learned a couple of things from this encounter.

  • Sometimes my wife (or my children for that matter) do not hear what I say in the way I intend. They misunderstand. In their misunderstanding they are offended or hurt. I honor my family when I pay attention to how they might understand what I say and when I say things in as clear and loving a way as possible.
  • When I say something that hurts a family member, I need to apologize for hurting their feelings, even if it was unintentional. That honors my family. It shows them how much I value them.
  • My relationship is more important than being justified. I would rather connect with my family than prove myself right and make them angry. I would rather celebrate our connection as a family than celebrate my victory in the argument. Go for the connection and celebrate family.
  • Sometimes I have selfish reasons for apologizing. I might apologize to end the conflict. Or I might apologize with a “but” attached—an excuse, a defense, a casting of blame. Such an apology lacks sincerity. It is selfish. It refuses to accept responsibility. It denies the need to change. A sincere apology, however, simply expresses regret and a desire to make sure it doesn’t happen again. No excuses. No defense. No casting of blame. Just a simple, sincere apology with a plan to make it different in the future. (Read The Hardest Word for more.)

When we make a sincere apology, we remove the stain of our mistake. We come clean. We pull down the barriers that divide us and we grow closer to one another. We enjoy a greater intimacy.

A Powerful Way to Improve Your Marriage

A study of 91 couples revealed a surprise about marriage. Understanding your partner was NOT enough to make your marriage stronger and healthier. Just understanding what your partner is thinking and feeling does not lead to a better marriage. Better marriages result when a person not only understand but cares enough to do something with that understanding. Having compassion and a motivation to respond to their partner based on understanding was necessary to have a better marriage. In other words, responsiveness proved more important than mere understanding in strengthening marriages. How do we become responsive?

  • Listen….not just to the words but to the emotions and intentions behind the words. Listen to understand the needs. Listen with a heart of compassion and an eye (or should I say “ear) toward empathy.
  • Respond to their emotion. Acknowledge what they feel.
  • Act upon the need of the moment.

When we are responsive to our partners, they will feel validated and cared for. They recognize their importance in our lives. They feel safe and stable in our relationship. As a result, our marriage improves. So, don’t stop with understanding. Engage in a compassionate response as well. (For more on responsiveness and building intimacy in your marriage read The Music In Your Heart.)

Bucking the Weaker Trend

According to a study conducted in Chelmsford, Essex, 10-year-olds reported a decline in physical activity between 2008 and 2014. The study’s authors believed this was the result of increased time on computers and greater parental concerns about children safety when engaging in “riskier” activities like climbing trees or wandering from home. 

“So what?” you might ask. “What’s the difference if children show a decrease in physical activity?”  The real concern is the consequences of this decrease in activity. To uncover the potential consequences of decreased activity, the study also looked at changes in height, weight, standing broad jump, sit-ups, handgrip, and arm-hang in 10-year-olds between the years of 1998 and 2014. Over that 16-year period (1998 through 2014), children have grown taller and their BMI has remained the same. However, they have experienced an overall 20% decrease in muscle strength and a 30% decrease in muscle endurance!  Children have become weaker. They have also become less tolerant of discomfort.

There is a way you can buck this trend though, a way to keep your children stronger and more tolerant of simple discomforts. Encourage them to engage in physical play outside. Give them significant household chores to complete. Encourage them to work with you in the yard or in the house. Let them experience the joys of hard work and the reward of completing a hands-on job. When they do these things, they will gain a greater sense of competence than any they can learn through video games. They will grow more aware of their body and be better able to maintain their own physical safety. They will acquire a stronger and healthier self-image than the self-image learned from watching television. They will grow stronger…not only physically but emotionally, mentally, and spiritually as well.  Then, maybe in another 16 years we will earn how 10-year-olds have not only grown taller but stronger.

A Powerful Sacred Pause

My friend stood at an ATM machine getting money when someone walked up behind her and began to “grope her.” She was furious. Being an independent strong woman, she turned around and hit him with her purse in one smooth movement. He fell to the ground. She prepared to tell him off when he held up his red and white cane saying, “Wait…I’m blind. I was trying to find the ATM machine.” Now, my friend, being a kind and compassionate woman, suddenly felt guilty for having decked a blind man. She apologized and helped him up. What changed? Her perspective of the situation changed. She went from thinking someone was trying to take advantage of her to thinking someone was in need due to physical challenges. How many times does this happen in marriage (perhaps to a lesser extent and with no physical attacks I mean)?

  • You walk into the house and say “hi” to your spouse. He ignores you. As your irritation swell up and you get ready to yell, you realize he is on the phone. He looks your direction and smiles as he mouths, “I love you.” In a moment, your realization meets his smile and your irritation turns to joy.
  • You and your spouse are having a discussion in the kitchen while you cook dinner. As you look at the pan stirring noodles, you hear your spouse say, “That was stupid.”   Thinking you were called “stupid,” you look up to complain. Your spouse is standing over a jar of spaghetti sauce with sauce dripping down her shirt. She smiles, “I forgot it was already opened.” Anger turns to laughter. 
  • You walk into the kitchen to find the sink full of dishes. Frustrated, you begin to rinse them and slam them into the dishwasher. When your spouse walks into the room you say sarcastically, “Thanks for cleaning the kitchen.” Your spouse apologizes and explains that the children have been sick and throwing up all day. You notice the stain of vomit on her shirt. Anger becomes compassion as you give her a hug.

In each situation the only thing that changed was the perspective of the situation. Sometimes we need to take a breath before reacting. We need to take a sacred pause, to slow down and practice a little patience before we explode. The sacred pause allows us look to our spouse and ask a few questions, find out more about the situation, and learn more about what’s happening from their point of view. That sacred pause, that moment of patience, can turn anger into compassion or frustration into joy. That sacred pause can save your marriage.

4 Parenting Mistakes to Avoid

Let’s face it. Parenting is hard work, an emotional and mental endurance workout. It comes with great hopes and joys as well as difficult challenges and struggles. Unfortunately, it does not come with an easy-to-do manual.  Each child is different…and each child demands something different from their parent. Although I can’t tell you the one perfect thing to do as a parent to assure your children becomes healthy and mature adults, I can tell you about four common parenting mistakes to avoid. Avoiding them can help you enjoy more of the hopes and joys of parenting than the struggles and disappointments. So, here we go…four parenting mistakes to avoid.

  • Enabling. Parents enable their children by indulging them, satisfying their every desire and “bailing them out” in an effort to save them from discomfort.  Saving your children from consequences and discomfort only leads to children who avoid challenges and hard work. It contributes to entitled children. Ironically, enabling our children in this way also contributes to lower self-esteem.  So, instead of enabling your children, begin to empower them. Teach them personal responsibility. Let them experience the consequences of their behavior. Let them “suffer” the reality of not having every need satisfied. Let them grow strong. (Three Simple Steps to Discipline Children)
  • Inconsistency. Consistency provides predictability and security in family life. Children thrive when they feel secure. Inconsistency, on the other hand, leaves them guessing and frustrated. They begin to second guess themselves and feel inadequate to meet demands that they can’t even quite figure out.  In other words, inconsistency hurts our children. Consistency, on the other hand, leads to growth. Children grow more mature and experience more happiness when we strive to maintain consistency in our homes—consistency in rules, consistency in routine, consistency in love, consistency in attention, consistency in expectation…consistency. (All Parents Fail Without This Ingredient)
  • Invalidating their feelings. Everyone has feelings. Feelings give us important information about priorities, needs, and concerns. They energize us to meet those priorities and communicate our needs. We invalidate our children’s feelings when we minimize them, contradict them, or lecture them rather than empathizes with them. When we invalidate our children’s feelings, they feel misunderstood at best and possibly even feel like there is something wrong with them for having feelings. As a result, they may become more defiant or experience mood problems like depression or anxiety. Empathize with your children’s emotions. Listen. Understand. Empathize. Then, and only then, discuss and problem-solve.
  • Phubbing. Phubbing is snubbing someone by looking at your phone: phone snubbing or phubbing. Multiple studies reveal that cellphones interfere with relationships. They make the person being “phubbed” feel invalidated, unimportant, and disregarded. Our children whither when they feel disregarded and unimportant in their parents’ lives. They begin to “act out” to gain attention when they feel ignored. Quit “phubbing” and start loving. Give your children healthy attention. Interact. Play. Engage. Enjoy…and they will realize their importance and significance. (A Sense of Belonging Phubbed & The Power of Your Thumb)

Avoiding these four common mistakes will not assure a perfect child…but they will help you a better parent.

Join Your Family in Song

My daughter was just learning to walk when we started singing “Go Down Moses” while dancing around the living room. My other daughter stood up to sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” as we solemnly buried a bird that had committed kamikaze against our front window. The toddler we babysat looked at me with anticipation and followed the directions of our impromptu lyrics calling her to step onto a small step and “jump” before laughing and asking to do it again.

When our children seem upset and begin to cry, we sing them a song to help them calm. When they can’t sleep, we sing them a lullaby. When they need to clean up their rooms, we might follow Barney’s cue and sing “Clean up, clean up….” We teach our children the alphabet through song. The list goes on. Music works wonders for a parent…and it continues working right through the teen years.

Children start remembering melodies as early as 5-months-old. At 11-months-old they are more receptive to a person singing a familiar song, even if that person is a stranger. Infants and children feel soothed by music and even begin to use music to calm themselves at a very young age. Who hasn’t heard their very young child, upset about having to take a nap, lying in their crib singing a song rather than crying? Even teens calm themselves through song.

Music brings us together. Whether we sing like a songbird or croak out a tune, it communicates that we are paying attention to the one we sing to and the ones we sing with. It signals that we are all part of the same group, we belong. Music draws us together and bonds us. It allows us to share emotions and even synchronizes us physically.

Why not use music in your family? Sing a song together. Listen to music together. Enjoy music together. Your family will love it. You will experience greater joy and intimacy with your family. Give it a try: “Sing. Sing a song. Make it simple to last the whole night long….” 

Why Do I Have To Do Everything?!

Have you ever asked this question? You’ve made the bed, washed the clothes, and cooked dinner. Now, resentment builds as you wash the dishes and clean the kitchen. In frustration you ask yourself, “Why do I have to do everything around here?” Or, maybe you’ve cut the grass, trimmed the hedges, washed the car, and grilled supper. Now you’re being asked to run to the store. You wanted to sit down and rest. Frustration wells up and you think, “Why do I have to do everything around here?” Perhaps this question has been verbalized during a conflict over who does what around the house…”Why do I have to do everything around here?” or “I do everything around here!” I know I’ve said those very words.  One day, however, I had an epiphany. A light went off in my head as a new insight flashed through my mind. It’s my fault.  My frustration and fear about “having to do everything” was my fault. By complaining about “everything I do,” I rob everyone in my family. I rob them of opportunities to serve and then I became resentful that they allowed me to rob them! As this insight became clear in my mind, I began to smile at how silly my complaining seemed. Then, I decided to make a change. That change led to happier relationships in my family. Let me share what I learned.

  • I do not live with mind readers. No one in my family knows when I feel overwhelmed or when I want help unless I ask. I have a responsibility to ask for help when I want it. I hate asking for help. I like to feel independent. But it’s crazy to resent people for not helping me when I haven’t even told them I need help. Actually, I often tell them I don’t need help even when I want it. You’ve probably had a similar conversation. “Do you need help with the kitchen?” “No, I’m alright.” “OK, I’m going to do some stuff downstairs (translate ‘watch TV’).” In frustration I reply, “That’s fine. I don’t mind” with a more cynical tone than I had intended. “You sure you don’t want any help?” “I’m sure,” comes the short reply and a roll of my eyes. Now I’m cleaning the kitchen feeling like a slave and my spouse is downstairs watching TV trying to figure out what they did to get “yelled at.”  Avoid the whole scenario. Ask for help.
  • I’m not called to play the house martyr. Sure, I can make sacrifices for the good of my family. I can put aside my own selfish needs and serve my family, but I do not have to become a resentful martyr. Instead, I can honestly state my needs. (I know, radical idea, right?) My family needs me to become honest about my needs. If I need their help, if I feel overwhelmed and require assistance, if I just want a break and would like their help…I need to come clean, be honest, and tell them.
  • It’s alright to accept help and it’s alright to expect help. Everyone in the family has a contribution to make to the household. By not stating my need and accepting help, I rob my family of the opportunity to make a significant contribution to the household. I don’t want to rob them of the opportunity to express their love for family through service. I don’t want to rob them of the pleasure of some other activity because of my frustration (see first bullet above). I want to accept their help and have the joy of working together as a family to maintain our household.
  • I need to be honest with myself. To be completely honest with you and myself, I have to acknowledge that I’m not the only one “doing everything around here.” Other family members are doing various jobs around the house as well. My spouse and children make huge contributions to the household.  I need to develop the habit of noticing what they do and thanking them for doing it. I need to develop the habit of gratitude. I need to be grateful for what other family members do.

Four realization and four actions…each one made me smile. And, my smile gets bigger and bigger as I practice each of the four actions—asking for help, being honest, accepting help, and being grateful for help. Give them a try and you’ll be smiling too. 

« Older Entries Recent Entries »