Serve up a big bowl of happiness for your spouse and children today. Here are the ingredients.
- Start with a big scoop of acceptance. Every member of the family needs to feel acceptance. They need to know they are accepted “no matter what.” They need to know that acceptance is not conditioned on behavior, performance, or beliefs. It is unconditional. This allows them to explore, grow, and mature. Lack of acceptance, on the other hand, increases stress hormones, decreases coping skills, and even hinders immune functioning. It can contribute to physical or emotional illness. Lack of acceptance hinders change. Acceptance will open the doors for change. Acceptance promotes healthy relationships and healthy emotional development. So make this first scoop of acceptance extra big. Give a double dose to everyone in the family.
- Add a delicious topping of tolerance. Tolerance does not mean “letting anything go.” No, tolerance simply means to accept our differences, to even enjoy each person’s unique contribution to the family and world. Tolerance accepts each person’s uniqueness by encouraging each one to “come into his/her own.” Tolerance knows that our differences add beauty to our relationship and strength to our opportunities. In appreciating each family member’s unique gifts, we can become the “Michelangelo” to each one’s dreams. Be gracious with the topping of tolerance…really gracious…pour it on.
- Then sprinkle on some hope. Hope looks to the future. Hope believes fun and intimate joys wait for us “just around the river bend.” Hope anticipates adventure and excitement, laughter and joy, even though there will be times of sorrow and stresses as well. So put on lots of sprinkles. Pour on the sprinkles through your actions and your words.
- After you’ve done all this get out a real bowl and fill it with ice cream (I prefer chocolate chip cookie dough). I mean fill it up. Then pour on some caramel, chocolate, and even a little marshmallow and whip cream. Throw on some sprinkles…the colorful ones, they’re the best. Get a spoon for everyone and enjoy the treat. Tell a few family stories while you eat. Dream about your next outing. Laugh. Have a good time. Serve up the happiness!
There you have it, a big bowl of happiness. Enjoy!
Happiness is life served up with a scoop of acceptance, a topping of tolerance and sprinkles of hope, although chocolate sprinkles also work. –Robert Brault
I recently read a couple of articles about the outstanding work Iceland has done to reduce teen drug abuse. They have produced amazing results in response to an entrenched problem seen throughout the western world. Specifically, Iceland has implemented holistic programs contributing to a dramatic reduction in alcohol abuse, marijuana usage, and cigarette smoking. As a result, “Iceland tops the European table for the cleanest-living teens!” The statistics reveal the “clean-living teens.” The percentage of 15- and 16-year olds who have been drunk in the last month plummeted from 42% in 1998 to only 5% in 2016. During the same time period, marijuana use among 15- and 16-year-olds was down from 17% to 7% and cigarette smoking among the same age group fell from 23% to 3% (Read How Iceland Got Teens to Say No to Drugs). Although Iceland’s program incorporated a comprehensive family and community-based, government-supported model, the principle underlying the whole “shebang” includes principles simple enough to implement in your family. The principle: increase factors that protect your child while decreasing factors that put your child at risk. There are many risk factors in our communities today. Risk factors include things that place your child at risk—things like a lack of a secure relationships at home, harsh parenting, high parental conflict, negative peer pressure, and many more. There are also many protective factors. But, what I find amazing, the beautiful part of protective/risk factors, is that a few key protective factors help overcome many risk factors. Let me share four key protective factors that can “cover a multitude of risks.”
- A secure parent-child relationship in which the parent is warm, responsive, and supportive. This is fairly self-explanatory. We protect our children from involvement in risky behaviors like drug use when we develop a warm, supportive relationship. How can we develop a warm, supportive relationship with our children? Keep the lines of communication open. Enjoy time together. Laugh together. Make family meal times a regular occurrence (daily if possible but at least 3-5 times a week). Develop a bedtime routine that includes time to talk. Ask about their friends, school, and activities. Go to watch them in their activities. Remain available to talk about hurts, fears, and successes. Celebrate milestones. All these things will help you develop a warm, supportive relationship with your children.
- Participation in positive community activities. Children need activities. We do not need to force them into activities they do not enjoy; but we can help them find the activities they will enjoy. Based on your warm, supportive relationship (see previous bullet) you will have some idea about what your children enjoy. If not, you will have a relationship that allows you to discuss this with your children and explore. Encourage your children to get involved in some positive supervised activity. This may be sports, music, theatre, recreation, art, dance, church, the list goes on. Help your children find the activity they will enjoy.
- The support of at least one supportive adult outside the home. Sometimes our children are hesitant to approach us with a problem. In those instances another like-minded adult can prove extremely beneficial. As you involve your children in positive community activities, you can help them find that supportive person and allow their relationship with that person to blossom. This supportive person might be a teacher, a coach, an uncle or grandparent, a minister, or even an older sibling. Encourage your children to form relationships with adults you know and trust in the community.
- A stable relationship between parents. Children flourish when their parents get along. If you want to protect your children, nurture your relationship with their other parent. Learn to work together. Do not bad mouth the other parent. Cooperate with one another. Work together in regards to limits and discipline as well as celebrations. Resolve arguments and let your children witness your affection for one another (within reason of course). This will increase your children’s security and decrease the chances they will get involved in “risky behaviors.”
When you provide your children with these four protective factors you have reduced the possibility of their involvement in negative behaviors. And, you will enjoy an amazing relationship with your children.
How a parent thinks will influence how they parent. Here are six statements I hear from parents that interfere with effective parenting.
- “I know my kids better than they know themselves.” Good parents do know their children well. They learn when their children need to rest. They can tell when their children are hungry or need to go to the bathroom. They learn the nuances of their children’s moods. However, assuming we know more about our children than they know about themselves sets us up for conflict and disaster. After all, children change. They don’t like peanut butter today but love it tomorrow. Sue was her best friend yesterday but her antagonist today. And, who can really know another person’s emotion, intent, or motivation? With that in mind, we need to check our assumptions and not let them prejudice our responses. Instead, ask your children about their feelings, their motivations, and their intent. Watch and observe them in action. Let them tell you about themselves through their words and actions as you learn about them every day. You might be surprised what you learn.
- “I have to worry. It’s a parent’s job.” It is true. Parents worry and, chances are, parents will continue to worry. However, a parent’s worry doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t keep children safe. A parent’s worry does not protect children. In fact, if worry takes over it can actually harm children by preventing them from becoming involved in healthy activities that might worry their parents. A better job description for parent involves concern, not worry. A parent’s concern allows them to teach their children how to remain safe. Concern allows the opportunity for children to learn from the consequences of their own mistakes when the stakes are low. Concern allows for discussion about various activities and discussion allows for teaching. Let’s change a parent’s job description from “worry” to “concern.” Parent and child will benefit!
- “My kids are my life.” Children are an important part of a parent’s life. But, if you’re a parent who say’s “my kids are my life,” your teen will likely offer the best advice when they say, “Get a life!” (More parenting advice from teens in Parenting Advice to Parents of Teens…From Teens)When children become the sole purpose of our lives, our lives suffer. Marriages suffer. Health suffers. We don’t take care of ourselves. Our children need us to model self-care so they learn the importance of taking care of ourselves. If they see us constantly caring for them and running ourselves ragged to meet their needs they might incorporate an unhealthy message about adulthood. “It’s no fun as an adult. Who wants to become an adult when all they do is what everyone else wants? I’ll never grow up.” Give children a sweet spot in your life and heart, but don’t make them the sole purpose of your every waking hour. Get a hobby. Make some friends. Enjoy some adult activities. Get a life.
- “I love my kids too much.” I hear this from parents who are afraid to discipline. They love their children “too much” and fear their children will learn to hate them for discipline received. Truth be told, our children want structure. They actually long for discipline. They may not admit it in the moment (or even realize it in their younger years) but they will appreciate it as they mature. Discipline provides a measure of predictability, safety, and security our children need to thrive. It lets our children know we love them enough to teach them and keep them safe. Discipline establishes a baseline of limits and values our children can internalize as they mature. These limits and boundaries will promote success as they engage the world independently. Limits, boundaries, and values also teach our children that “you can’t always get what you want…you get what you need.” It allows them to learn how to manage the frustrations that accompany not getting what you want. So, do your children a favor. Love them enough to discipline.
- “We need more discipline in this house.” As George Banks so aptly said in Mary Poppins, “Tradition, discipline, and rules must be the tools. Without them-disorder! Catastrophe! Anarchy! In short, we have a ghastly mess!” Discipline and structure are an important part of a healthy home, but not the foundation or the only part. Discipline alone leads to fear. Fear of not doing good enough. Fear of inadequacy. Fear of failure. People who live in a home in which discipline forms the foundation tend to struggle with self-confidence. And, when they taste the freedom of less discipline, they rebel. Children who grow up in a home with tight structure, discipline, and schedule do not learn how to manage their time. When they leave home, they still do not know how to manage time. As you can see, unlike George Banks’ beliefs, it is too much discipline that leads to catastrophe, anarchy, a ghastly mess! Instead, balance discipline with connection, structure with relationship, limits with love.
- “Kids will be kids” or “boys will be boys.” This is true…to a point. I hear these statements used too often as an excuse for low expectations. Yes, “kids will be kids” but parents must teach them responsibility. Yes, “boys will be boys” but they need to learn respect and self-control. Rather than simply say “kids will be kids,” say “kids will be kids and kids can learn.” In fact, kids love to learn. Take the time to teach them responsibility, respect, honor, and self-control.
The UK has engaged in a longitudinal study called Understanding Society. The study started gathering data on 40,000 households in 2009. They also incorporated data from the British Household Panel Survey which began in 1991. That’s 25 years of data about families, relationship, health, and so much more! (Learn more about it at Understanding Society). Why do I tell you about this study? Because this study, with the largest household panel from which to gather data over an extended period of time, has revealed three things parents can do to raise happier children! It’s true. Happy adults were raised by parents who did three things…three things that you can do today to help your children become happy adults. Let me share them with you now.
- First and foremost, work to build a healthy, happy marriage. In particular, children become happier adults when their mother is happy in her marital relationship. Their father’s happiness in the marital relationship, although important, did not have as significant an impact as their mother’s happiness did. I would add, however, that most men in healthy marriages are happiest when they know their spouse is happy. So, to have happier children, maintain a healthy, happy marriage. Men, find ways to bring joy and happiness to your wife. Speak her love language. Share the household chores. Pursue dreams together. The healthier and more secure your marriage, the happier your wife; the happier your wife, the happier your children.
- Pursue peace. The study actually reports happiest people are raised by parents who “avoid regular arguments.” Unfortunately, simply avoiding arguments tends to escalate the tension and increase the possibility of “a big blowout.” Instead of simply avoiding arguments, pursue peace. You can pursue peace by keeping promises, discussing decisions, allowing your spouse to influence you, resolving differences before they become arguments. In other words, you can pursue peace by honoring, serving, and celebrating your spouse. Pursuing peace decreases arguments and, when disagreements do occur (which they will), pursing peace leads to quicker, calmer, and more satisfying resolutions. That will contribute to happier children. (For more on pursuing peace, read The Secret to Family Peace)
- Eat at least three meals as a family each week. Eating meals as a family offers benefits in every area of family life—physical, mental (Have Fun, Eat, &..What?), emotional, and relational (Read A Special Ingredient for Happy Families for more). Your children will have fond memories of family meals. Fond memories, by the way, contribute to happiness. Family meals provide one cornerstone of happiness for every family. Enjoy them as often as you can.
A happy marriage, the pursuit of peace, and regular family meals all contribute to happier children who grow into happy adults. Sounds like the makings of a great New Year’s resolution. I think I’ll do it. Won’t you do the same?
The year: 1938. The question posed by the Bolton Evening News: “What does happiness mean to you and yours?” Bolton is a town in northwest England. Bolton “reached it’s zenith in 1929” with over 200 cotton mills and textile industries. Recently, researchers from the University of Bolton recovered and analyzed the answers given by the original 226 respondents. Three themes emerged in the analysis of the respondents’ answers.
- “Contentment” and “peace of mind” contributed to happiness. In other words, being satisfied with what one has rather than constantly seeking more contributes to happiness. Having a healthy family filled with emotional connection and acts of honor increases a sense of contentment, even when we don’t have the most expensive shoes or the newest gadgets.
- “Family” and “home” were important to happiness. A happy marriage, healthy children, loving family contribute to happiness. A home is a celebrating community of honor and grace. As we shape our homes around honoring one another and sharing grace to one another we find greater contentment and more happiness. That is a reason to celebrate!
- Helping “other people” contributed to happiness. Actively seeking ways to help other people brings happiness. It turns our focus outward and opens our lives to relationship. Helping others as a family strengthens our family. And family, as noted in #2, contributes to happiness. (Read more in Lessons from the Past on How to be Happy.)
These three themes can still help to build happiness in your family today. Read these blogs to discover ways of building each of the characteristics into your family.
- For ideas on filling your family with “contentment” and “peace of mind” read
- The Secret to Family Peace
- Recognizing the Benefit of Emotions in Parenting
- Beatitudes for a Happy Marriage
- To improve your “family” and “home” conenctions
- Why Family Honor
- Become the Catalyst for an Honorable Family
- Help “other people”
- The Paradox of Happy Families
- Give It Away for Family Fun
You can find many more blogs to build these characteristics into your home and family. Just explore the many blogs on this site, put them into practice, and…find family happiness.
Fall has arrived…and with it the fall frenzy of family fun activities. In case you’re stumped on ideas for fall family fun, try one of these 10 ideas.
- Have a campfire. Nothing warms a cool fall night like sitting around a bonfire. Invite another family or enjoy s’mores with just your spouse and kids. You can even limit it to your spouse and make it a romantic evening. Either way, gather round and enjoy the fire for family fun. (Read S’More Family Fun for more)
- Go for a family hike. Enjoy the crisp fresh air, the colorful fall leaves, and time with family on a hike through your local park or a regional trail. (I enjoy Frick Park or the Laurel Highlands in our area. Where are the great hiking trails in your area?)
- Enjoy a high school or college football game. Put on your favorite team colors, buy some nachos, and cheer for your favorite team. You may even invite another family who supports the opposing team and give one another a little friendly ribbing at the game.
- Carve a few pumpkins. Sit down with your family and carve some decorative pumpkins. See who can come up with the most original carving. While you’re at it, roast some of the pumpkin seeds. Delicious family fun.
- Go on a hayride. You can even enjoy some hot cider while you’re on the ride. After the ride, why not find your way through a local corn maze? Laugh and have fun as you explore and discover your way through the maze.
- Enjoy some hot drinks. You can go someplace for the drinks or make them at home. Try hot cider, gourmet hot cocoa, pumpkin spice latte, or maple cinnamon coffee. Get a different drink for each family member and share. Drink up…cheers. (Read about the extra benefits of this hot drink for your family in A Family Fun Night with Amazing Health Benefits)
- Bake a pie together. While you’re at it, bake two and take one to your neighbor or a shut-in you know. (Celebrate your family with pie for a year!!)
- Attend a band festival. It is great entertainment to watch a variety of school band put on their marching musical shows. Enjoy some hot cocoa while you’re there.
- Rake the leaves in your yard into a pile and jump into the pile.
- Host a fall harvest party. Invite other families. Make it potluck and enjoy everyone’s favorite dish. Build a bonfire and enjoy the warm fire, delicious food, and great company. (Just so you know, going on a double date builds greater intimacy and a stronger marriage for both couples! Plug in for Family Hapiness )
Fall can become a frenzy of family fun with these ideas. Or, you can modify each one to have a romantic getaway with your spouse. Either way, enjoy your fall and the opportunities it brings to build a stronger marriage and family!
Every parent knows the need to spend quality time with their children. It seems almost trite to even say it. But, in this fast paced age, how can we spend quality time with our children? In the midst of school, work, sports, dance, music lessons, and the myriad other activities of life, how do we spend quality time with our children? Well, I’d like to recommend eight daily, mundane activities that offer amazing opportunities for quality time with your children.
- Car rides. We cart our kids all over the community for activities. Take “the long way” there and use that time to connect with your children.
- Household chores. I realize this may sound obvious, but we all have chores. Why not ask your children to join you in getting them done. They can help with the laundry, cleaning the room, pulling weeds, and a myriad of other chores around the house. But, don’t send them off to do the chore alone. Do the chore together. Make it a joint effort, a partnership. While doing the chore together, talk to one another. Ask about their day. Tell some jokes. Sing a song. Spend some quality time.
- Welcome home. When your children come home from school, practice, or time with friends, welcome them home. Make your welcome home more than a mere “hello” and passing glance. Give them a hug. Ask them about their practice. Go over their plans for tomorrow. Ask about their friends. Spend some quality time with your children as you welcome them home.
- Walking the dog. If you have a dog, why not walk the dog together? I know. We teach responsibility by having our children walk the dog. It’s true. But they learn responsibility as well as how much we value them and the joy of a growing relationship when we walk the dog with them. Might as well get the greater results for the same chore. By the way, if you don’t have a dog, try Walking the Dog with a yoyo together (Learn how here). In other words, spend some time playing together, even if that means buying a yoyo so you can learn to Walk the Dog.
- Shopping. That’s right. You can spend quality time with your children while doing your grocery shopping, clothes shopping, or miscellaneous shopping. You can also learn about your children’s interests while you shop. Let them teach you about some of the items you want to buy like computers, phones, music, or video games to name a few.
- Dinner preparation. Dinner preparation offers a great time for quality time. Make the food preparation and table preparation sacred times of conversation and creating together. Make table clearing and dishwashing sacred times of working together as well, sacred times of serving one another. As you engage in each of these sacred times talk, laugh, plan, disclose…enjoy quality time.
- Baking is also a great time for quality time. Bake a pie. Bake a dozen cookies. Bake anything you like. Mix it, prepare it, cook it and enjoy eating it together. Don’t forget the quality time available in clean up—washing pots and pans, utensils and dishes. This all becomes a great opportunity for quality time as you talk and share with one another throughout the process.
- Bedtime. Bedtime routines may offer one of the best times for quality time. As part of the bedtime routine you can talk about the day. Share what each person enjoyed most or is most grateful for. Talk about any trouble spots of the day. Reconnect. Share dreams for tomorrow. Encourage one another. The last moments of the day become special moments of quality time.
These eight innocuous, mundane moments of the day become transformed into quality time when we mindfully use them to connect with one another, learn about one another, and grow closer with one another.
Have you noticed your children’s superpower? It’s the superpower of giving one-word answers.
- How was your day? “Alright.”
- What did you do today? “Nothing.”
- Where you been? “Nowhere.”
- Where you going? “I don’t know.” (I know, this one is actually three words but is still fits into his superpower of giving an answer with no real information.)
- Who are you going with? “Friends.”
I’m sure you’ve experienced this superpower. I want to offer you the kryptonite recipe that will defeat this “one-word superpower.” It consists of two ingredients. First, ask open-ended questions like:
- What made you laugh today?
- What was the nicest thing someone did for you today?
- What nice things did you do for other people today?
- What’s your favorite class? What makes it so good?
- What’s your least favorite class? What makes it your least favorite?
- What’s the difference between this year at school and last year at school? How are they different?
- What was the most interesting/funniest thing a teacher said today?
- Which of your classmates would make the best teacher? Why?
- What was the most unusual outfit in school today?
- Who did you help today? What did you do?
- How did you see God today?
You get the idea. Ask open-ended questions. Second, ask those questions wisely and judiciously. To ask questions wisely and judiciously takes a little effort. Specifically,…
- Do not bombard your children with questions. Some parents fire questions like bullets from a machine gun. Slow it down. Limit the question. Ask one question and then…
- Shut up and listen. The number one way to encourage your children to talk to you is for you to listen to them. Allow what they say to guide the conversation and influence you rather than you trying to guide the conversation to influence them. Follow the conversation where they lead it. You will learn a lot about them when you do.
- Don’t force the conversation. If your children need some down time, let them have it. Let them come to you and initiate the conversation. When they do, stop what you’re doing and listen. Give them your time and attention. Doing so communicates your desire to talk with them and your willingness to do so on their terms, not just your terms. That respect will come back to you when you initiate conversation with them.
Mix these ingredients together and you get the kryptonite for your children’s superpower of the one-word answer. Use it often. Use it wisely. Use it in love.
What can the price of a cup of joe teach us about family? Last year (2016), CUPS Coffee & Tea in Roanoke, VA, taught a great lesson that applies to families and the Family Bank of Honor. (Read about the coffee shop here). The owner “felt the need to help solve all the injustices of the world” and decided to start close to home by encouraging polite manners and connection. So, he put up a sign outside his coffee shop, a menu with prices associated with how a person orders their coffee. If someone simply ordered “one small coffee” the charges was $5. However, if they politely placed their order with a “one small coffee, please” the cost was reduced to $3. But, you could get the same cup of coffee for a mere $ 1.75 if you connected before placing a polite order: “Hello, I’d like one small coffee please.” His sign went viral in a matter of days.
I think he had a great idea. “Solving the injustices of the world” begins at home. We can contribute by encouraging polite manners and connection within the family and with those our family meets. Each time we make a connection with a family member, we invest in the Family Bank of Honor. Each time with make a polite statement, we invest in the Family Bank of Honor (Learn more about the Family Bank of Honor). The more we invest in the Family Bank on Honor, the stronger and more intimate our family bond. And the stronger our family bond, the greater the potential impact on the world (Hot Sauce Vs. the Power of Relationship).
Just like that coffee shop owner, encourage your family to practice polite manners and a little connection…and change the world!
In a previous post I mentioned that the best family advice I’ve ever heard wasn’t even family advice. It was discipleship advice. And, it was given by a man who was single and even alienated from His own family at the time He gave voice to this advice. The advice comes in two parts. Part one was to “deny yourself.” Part two is to “take up your cross.” When this advice was first spoken, the cross was a way to punish, in a very public and humiliating way, those who threatened the way the world was organized under the ruling authority of the Romans. To take up our cross as a family means to live a family life that will stand in stark contrast to the world around us, to have a revolutionary family life based on principles in opposition to the “world powers” around us. Let me explain by offering a few examples.
- The world encourages us to assert our power, stand up for our rights. A family that “takes up a cross” will submit to one another in love and service.
- The world encourages us to promote ourselves and “build our brand.” We are told to climb the ladder of success on the backs of others because it’s a “dog eat dog world.” A family that “takes up a cross” will encourage one another, promote one another’s success, and build one another up rather than focus on my own success.
- The world calls us to achieve a status in which we can BE served. A family that “takes up a cross” strives TO serve one another within the family and TO serve others as a family.
- The world encourages leadership through power brokerage techniques, such as taking charge, delegation, and telling others what to do. A family that “takes up a cross” will lead through love. Each one will want to lead in forgiveness, showing kindness, and serving one another.
The family that “takes up a cross” exhibits different values than the family that lives according to “the world system.” It may, at times, lead to some ridicule or misunderstanding from those outside the family. However, it will also lead to a stronger more intimate family. “Taking up a cross” creates a family whose strength is found in humble service, loving accountability, sincere encouragement, and kindness. It sounds odd, even wrong, but taking up your cross to build a strong and intimate family is a wise and powerful action to take!