Archive for January 30, 2011

The Timeless Mind of a Parent

Parenting is a process, not a one-time event. It occurs over time. Effective family shepherds have a “timeless mind” that maintains an awareness of past experiences, current behaviors, and future goals all at the same time. What have our children done in the past? What relationship have we developed through past experiences? What does their current behavior reveal about their learning from that past experience? What do we want them to learn and what character traits do we want them to develop for the future? How can we use the current experience to successfully move toward that future goal? All these questions and more pass through a parent’s mind in an instant when their child forgets to say “thank you” at an appropriate time or gets too loud in a library. With amazing agility, the family shepherd moves from the present to the past, to the future, and back to the present again—an amazing feat of mental time travel, all in an instance. Consider the timeless mind of a parent, the genius of a mental time travel.
Creating a history for tomorrow: The process of parenting provides multiple opportunities to build a history of amazing moments with our children—memory files of joy and adventure, frustration and disappointment. You and your child will share emotions ranging from ecstatic joy to deep sorrow, amazing pride to disappointing anger, and overwhelming happiness to heart wrenching sorrow. Each memory and emotion you share provides the opportunity to teach your child how to manage emotions, make wise choices, and develop intimate relationships. Children gain their sense of value and worth from their history of interactions with parents. They assess their relative worth in your eyes as they observe the energy you invest in them compared to the energy you invest in work, sports, TV, or money. What parents do today build’s their children’s memory of your love for them. This remembered history impacts your long-term effectiveness as a parent. 
Back to the future: Parents, as family shepherds, keep the future in mind as well. You have probably seen a scenario like this: a mother and her preschool son are standing in the checkout line when the young boy spots a candy bar (those wily store owners, putting the candy bars by the checkout counter and right at a child’s eye level!). He asks his mother for the candy bar. When she tells him no, he begins to argue. His mother stands firm initially. But, the young boy has one more tool in his pocket. He starts to cry. Screaming, he falls to the ground, kicks his feet and shakes his tiny fists in the air. Crocodile tears begin to flow while his mother looks around in a panic. She tries to calm him, but he just screams louder. His mother doesn’t know what to do. She feels embarrassed, fearing that everyone believes her an incompetent mother because of her son’s tantrum. In desperation, she grabs the candy bar and hands it to her son. He immediately stops screaming, sniffles a few times, and then smiles as though nothing happened. What has this young boy learned for the future?
Parents have to hold the child’s future in mind. Our children will not live with us forever. They will grow up, mature, and leave home to live their own lives. So, what future vision do you have in mind for your child? After all, the actions we take today will either guide our children toward a healthy tomorrow or a miserable tomorrow. Here are some important questions to consider for your child. The answers will help shape your parenting as a family shepherd.
·         What kind of adult do you want your child to become?
·         What are your hopes and dreams for your child? Do you want your child to be better known as a great athlete or an honest person? A brilliant business man or a man of integrity?
·         What personal characteristics do you want your child to develop?
·         What are your child’s strengths and weaknesses? What impacts your child and what does not?
Take time to consider your answers to these questions because your answers will help guide your parenting.

Groundhog Day: A Do-over

In Western PA, we take Groundhog Day pretty seriously. I have a friend who visits Punxsutawney every year for the Groundhog Day Celebration. The closest I have come to Punxsutawney and Groundhog Day is watching the movie “Groundhog Day” starring Bill Murray. In this movie, Phil (not the groundhog but a news reporter played by Bill Murray) found himself reliving Groundhog Day over and over. Self-absorbed and arrogant, he spent his do-over days doing everything he “always dreamed of” until he discovered that living only for himself did not bring joy, self-absorbed living did not provide escape from the “treadmill” of life. Instead, he discovered that this lifestyle simply pulled him deeper into the despair and drudgery of a lonely, meaningless life. He then decided to do whatever he could to improve his life and become more attractive to his coworker, an attractive female. He learned about her interests so he could talk with her about them. He began to enjoy those activities that she enjoyed, just because she enjoyed them. As he focused on knowing his coworker, he became less self-absorbed and more invested in the joys of selfless relationships. Eventually, he found that showing interest in others and learning how to build true intimacy moved him off the treadmill of a self-centered life and into the joyful journey of companionship.
Phil quit living selfishly after he was forced into an automatic do-over. Eventually, he took advantage of that do-over and learned the skills necessary to pursue intimacy with others. In pursuing those skills, Phil found greater joy in life…after all, the greatest joys in life come through relationship. Like Phil, we have opportunities for do-overs as well. Every time we commit some self-centered act (intentionally or accidentally) that strains our relationships, we can call for a do-over. Each time we stop and request a do-over, we gain stronger relational skills and move deeper into the joyful journey of intimacy; and, what better place to practice these intentional do-overs than with family? Here are some of the skills that Phil learned by taking advantage of his “Groundhog Day Do-over.”
·         Be curious about those you love. Learn about their interests. When you talk with family members, spend some time focused on them, their day, their interests, and their dreams.
·         Learn to use repair statements when conflict occurs. When you do something that hurts a family member, say “I’m sorry.” When you say something that brings a painful or hurt expression to a family member’s face, stop and say, “Wait that came out wrong. Let me start over” or “I love you. Let me say that in a more loving way.”
·         Practice intentional acts of kindness toward family. Open the door for them. Give up your desire for an evening enjoying what interests your family. Offer to do a chore for one of your family members. Thank family members for cooking dinner, washing clothes, cleaning up, or any other task they complete that benefits you.
·         Practice intentional acts of kindness toward those outside your family. Your family will admire you and love you even more when they witness you showing kindness to others. Such actions reveal a strong character of integrity… and integrity is the ultimate in attractiveness.
You might add your own ideas to this list as you watch the movie or simply go through your day. Most important, enjoy your own do-over the next time you find yourself stuck in the same argument or stress-filled discussion time after time. You can begin your do-over by reading the four suggestions above.
I have a friend who visits Punxsutawney every year for the Groundhog Day Celebration. The closest I…. Oh wait, déjà vu. Haven’t we been here before? Oh well, do-over…I’ll get this right yet.

The Full Extent of Love

Preparing for a Sunday School lesson based on John 13 caused me to pause…and think. John 13 describes the story of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet. One reason He washed their feet was to “show them the full extent of His love.” As several of my friends like to say, “That raises a question.” What would I do to show the full extent of my love for my family? I do love my family…no doubt. I would do anything for them. I believe I would die for them if need be…but would I wash their feet?
·         I would work long hours to make sure they live a comfortable life…but would I clean up their dirty dishes or change a dirty diaper?
·         I would encourage them to use their talents and improve their abilities…but would I offer a simple thank you when they open a door for me?
·         I would sacrifice time and energy to watch them perform as part of a musical group or sports team…but would I sacrifice the same time and energy to patiently go over a tedious 6-month schedule of activities ahead of time? Or sacrifice the last piece of cheesecake by giving it to another family member?
·         I would shovel the driveway and salt the steps so my family can safely go about their day…but would I think to ask them about their day and then take all the time necessary to listen to their answer?
·         I would do anything to promote their eternal joy and emotional strength…but would I willingly suffer the pain I feel when following through on some necessary discipline?
·         I would gladly sacrifice my own pleasures to give my family every pleasure…but would I pick up all the little toys, socks, and gadgets with the same pleasure?
·         I would teach them my favorite activities and introduce them to my favorite shows…but would I just as willingly let them teach me about their favorite music, show, or activity?
·         I would willingly and even joyfully mow the lawn and grow fresh vegetables so we can enjoy our yard in summer…but would I joyfully take out the garbage?
·         I would sacrifice a day of work and rest to enjoy a day at Kennywood with my family…but would I clean the kitty litter without complaining?
·         I would give my life to protect my family…but would I “sacrifice” the favorite chair in the living room or the “shotgun” seat in the car?
It’s easy to show our love by doing those things we enjoy or those things that make us look good. Even though those things show our love, it’s the daily, menial acts of service, honor, and grace that show the full extent of our love. So, the question remains…I’m sure you would give your life for your family, but would you wash their feet?

Family Shepherds

I began to contemplate parenting while working with children and families in an inner city community, before I had any children of my own. Even then, I began to wonder how parents could successfully guide their children through such a dangerous maze of worldly distractions. I began to study this question even more when my wife announced that she was pregnant with our first daughter. And, I have continued my contemplation of parenting as my children have grown and matured. I’m sure I will still be trying to figure it out when they graduate from college, get married, and have children of their own. Throughout my study of parenting, I have discovered many great thinkers and writers offering amazing advice. Some of the most important lessons for me included “emotional coaching” (John Gottman), relational parenting (Sears), reality discipline (Kevin Leman), good enough parenting (Winnicott), authoritative parenting (Baumrind), shepherding a child’s heart (Tripp), natural and logical consequences, and democratic and respectful parenting (Adler). I was also challenged to “Dare to Discipline” (Dobson) and instill crucial life values into my children’s lives (Rice). Each idea provided important knowledge and excellent advice, invaluable insights and great helps.
In the final analysis I came to the conclusion that God is the Perfect Father and the greatest example of parenting. I want to father like Him, parenting in His image. As I thought about God as Father over the years, my mind kept returning to Psalm 23. In this Psalm, the writer gives a succinct model of God as a shepherd caring for his sheep, providing principles for guiding our children through the dangers of this life and into maturity. I realized that I wanted to follow those principles and become a family shepherd, parenting my children just as God shepherds His sheep.
Briefly consider a few of the principles noted in Psalm 23:
·         A shepherd meticulously and generously provides for the needs of his sheep.
·         The shepherd goes before his sheep to prepare a safe haven for them. He even works with the environment to make it as safe and nurturing as possible.
·         At the same time, a good shepherd disciplines his sheep to keep them safe. He trains them to obediently follow him. The shepherd does all of this in hopes that his sheep will someday obey naturally–not because he holds the discipline but because they have learned the benefit of obedience and the sufficiency of his love. The sheep will have internalized the shepherd’s leading in response to his love and nurturance.
Yes, parents are the family shepherds. They nurture, provide, protect, lead, train, and discipline. They become students of their children, learning how to best lead them toward maturity. Family shepherds lovingly provide for their children’s needs–physically, mentally, and spiritually. I hope you will join me as we explore practical “family shepherding” principles in upcoming blogs of the “Family Shepherd.” If there are parenting issues you would like to see addressed, be sure to suggest it in the comment area.

What’s In A Name?

A name conveys power, good or bad. My daughters came home from their first year at camp complaining, “Everyone knows you. The dean asked my name and then said, ‘Oh, you’re John Salmon’s daughter.'” Fortunately, my daughters take pride in our name; they are proud to carry our family name. On the other hand, I worked with a young man whose father left him and his mother when he was an infant. Last he heard, his father was in another state engaging in “less than legal activity.” He was angry with his father. He was embarrassed to carry his father’s name. We spent a great deal of time talking about how he could “redeem the name” for his future family and children. In the meantime, when teachers said, “Oh you’re so-and-so’s son,” he knew he had to work to change their impression of him. He had to fight against a name that carried negative connotations and brought him shame and embarrassment.
A wise man once said that “A good name is better than fine perfume…” and “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.” As parents, we can give our children a great gift when we give them an honorable name. When our name elicits a reputation of politeness, generosity, honor, and grace, people assign the same reputation to our children and treat them accordingly. We give our children a priceless treasure when we build a “good name” in our community. Unfortunately, we have all witnessed too many parents putting the burden of a disreputable name onto their children. Consider these scenes:
Scene 1: An elementary school age soccer game. The coaches patiently instruct their players in the basics while they play. Most of the parents are enjoying the game, watching their child and talking with one another. One parent, however, paces up and down the field, yelling at his child. “Kick the ball.” “What are you doing? Shoot the goal.” “You can do better than that.” “Quit being lazy, run!” In a similar scene, a parent told me about the girl’s elementary school age basketball game that local police had to attend in order to limit the parents’ disorderly conduct.
Scene 2: A school meeting–parents and school staff attending. The whole group discusses various items of business–the band trip, the football games, the music played, financial issues. Suddenly, one parent becomes upset. He stands to complain. His voice gets louder as he begins calling people names. Other parents add in with gossip about “so-and-so’s” actions.
Scene 3: Parents are dropping their children off for a trip with the local youth group. One parent pulls up in front of the drop off area and stops his large car in the middle of the road, blocking all traffic. His child jumps out of the vehicle to join the other children. The truck remains in the middle of the road, blocking traffic, as the driver talks to the parents standing in the driveway and off the road. Cars begin to back up because they can’t get around the truck in the middle of the road. The driver looks at the cars waiting to get by, but continues his conversation.
Three different scenes, but the parents in each one contributed to a disreputable name that their children will have to endure. If our behavior speaks of arrogance, rudeness, and inconsideration, people will assume our children will act the same. After all, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
So, how can we give the gift of a good name to our children? Here are a few “to do’s” to help build a reputation your family can hang their hat on:
·         Become involved in the community.
·         Show interest in other people. Talk about their interests and activities, not just your own.
·         Consider the people around you. Think about their needs and desires as well as yours. Let people know that they are important to you.
·         Act politely. Hold the door for other people entering a building. Say thank you at the checkout counter. Let the other car into the line of traffic. 
·         Allow people to do their jobs. When you watch your family in a sporting event, encourage the team rather than disparage a player.
·         Keep your promises. Live a life of integrity. Let it be known that when you say you will do something, you do it.
·         Speak with kindness. Don’t trash talk. Don’t gossip. As my parents always told me, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything!”
Just a short “to do” list to build a good reputation. Nothing difficult to carry out—just the daily acts of an honest family man. But, the dividends for you and your family are outstanding—a reputable name more valuable than silver or gold…a sweetly smelling name that attracts respect…a name worth millions.

Family Bank of Honor

“Easy come, easy go” rings true, doesn’t it? We work hard to save money. We put a portion of every paycheck aside (when we can) and it collects a little (very little these days) interest. Then the furnace goes out, the hot water heater breaks, a fender bender necessitates a new rear bumper, or the kids outgrow their clothes. We dip into savings to meet that need and those deposits disappear. One withdrawal drains us of multiple deposits. Now that I think of it, “easy come, easy go” is only partially true. Perhaps it should read “hard to come, easy to go.”
At any rate, the principle of “easy come, easy go” holds true in the “Family Bank of Honor” as well. We rarely speak directly about this bank, but we act on it all the time. We make regular, daily deposits into the “Family Bank of Honor” by practicing daily acts of kindness, respect, grace, and celebration. Every time we listen and respond in love, we make a deposit into the “Family Bank of Honor.” When we speak to one another with kindness or give encouragement and praise, we make a deposit into the “Family Bank of Honor.” A hug, a kiss, or even a loving slap on the back, represents another deposit into the “Family Bank of Honor.” Sometimes, the deposits are obvious; other times, they are subtle and less clear, like honoring one another’s efforts to connect by responding with energy and attention. Whether obvious or not, we make multiple deposits each day into the “Family Bank of Honor.”  With each deposit, we enrich our relationships and accrue more emotional savings in the “Family Bank of Honor.”
Then the furnace breaks–an argument crops up, a misunderstanding flares, an irritable day turns into a nasty remark. You know the times. We all have times when we make withdrawals from the “Family Bank of Honor,” times when we act dishonorably. Unfortunately, that single withdrawal drains multiple deposits from the “Family Bank of Honor.” One heated disagreement, occurring on a day of irritation, drains our account. We remember the one dishonorable word spoken during a heated exchange more readily than the five sentences of praise spoken in moments of calm. Hopefully, we have made enough deposits of honor, both great and small, to maintain a positive balance in our “Family Bank of Honor.”
One marital researcher, John Gottman, reports that happy couples have at least five good exchanges for every one negative exchange during an argument. He also noted that “master couples” have as many as twenty positive experiences for every one negative experience when they are normally engaged. In other words, happy couples have at least five more positive feelings and interaction than unhappy couples, five to twenty deposits for every withdrawal. So, here is the basic two-step plan for investing in the “Family Bank of Honor:”
      1.      Take every opportunity to make a deposit into the “Family Bank of Honor.” Every day, make as many deposits as possible.
      2.      Focus on making deposit rather than worrying about withdrawals. Make five to twenty deposits for each withdrawal. When you do make a withdrawal, apologize. A sincere apology becomes a deposit that puts you back on the road toward accruing savings in the “Family Bank of Honor.”
With this ratio of deposits to withdrawal, we begin to build a home environment of honor. But, the question remains, exactly how do we make a deposit of honor? Here are a few simple ideas:
·         Listen to family members and accept their suggestions
·         Keep family members’ in mind–their interests, desires, quirks, tender areas, and strengths.
·         Seek out ways to serve one another
·         Sacrifice your own desires to do something that interests a family member
·         Use kind and encouraging words
·         Be polite
For more ideas for making deposits in the “Family Bank of Honor,” see the “Family Bank of Honor” section and click on Honor, Grace, or Celebrate.

New Year’s Vision

As New Year’s Day approached, I thought about the past year and the coming year, what I accomplished during 2010 and what I hope to accomplish over 2011. (I used to make resolutions…until I made the resolution to make no resolution, which, by the way, is the only resolution I have ever kept.) After reviewing and dreaming, I develop yearly goals for several areas of my life including family. This year, I recruited members of my family to help me develop goals related to family. I approached my wife and children to ask them a few questions–10 questions for my children and 11 for my wife (spouse). At first, they thought I was off my rocker, but they still answered them. Their answers helped me discover areas of weakness, areas of strength, and directions for next year. Some questions made me nervous to ask. Others were a lot of fun. Let me share these questions and the reason for each question with you.

Questions for our children:
  • The first four questions reveal the priorities and values that our daily actions communicate to our children. They let us know if we live a life that says, “Follow my example” or a life that says, “Do as I say but not as I do.”
    • When you watch me, what do you think my top three priorities are? What do you think I value most in life? (My youngest daughter placed food in my top three priorities–what’s that tell you about me?)
    • What makes me really happy? 
    • What is my favorite thing to do?
    • What is something I always say to you?
  • The next four questions ask about our behavior in relationship to our children. They elicit how our behavior impacts our children and our relationship with our children. These questions inform us of how our children see themselves through our eyes, their level of worth mirrored in our actions toward them.
    • What did I do over the last year that made you feel important to me?
    • What did I do over the last year that brought out the best in you?
    • What did I do that made you proud to say that I am your father?
    • What do I do that makes you laugh?
  • The last two questions may be the hardest to ask. One forces us to look at times we may have hurt our children, either with full knowledge or unintentionally. The answer to this question, although potentially hard to hear and accept, allows us to make repairs to the relationship. The last question teaches us what our children desire most from us. It helps us learn what we can do to make our children feel more loved and accepted. 
    • Did I do anything over the last year that hurt you? If so, what did I do?
    • What can I do over the next year to make you feel more loved?
Questions for our spouse:
  • Once again, the first two questions, reveal what priorities and values our daily actions communicate to our spouse. These questions help us to know whether our practical values (those we act upon in our daily life) match the values we profess. The last question allows us the opportunity to repair (through discussion or apology) any breech in the relationship that we may have produced.
    • When you watch me, what do you think my top three priorities are? What do you think I value most in life?
    • Do I say “I love you” often enough? What behaviors really let you know that I love you?
    • Did I do anything over the last year that hurt you? If so, what did I do?
  • We want to bring out the best in our spouse–emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. These questions elicit how our behavior impacts our spouse’s emotions and sense of self. They reveal what behaviors actually do bring out the best in our spouse.
    • What did I do over the last year that made you feel important to me?
    • What did I do over the last year that brought out the best in you?
    • What did I do that made you proud to say that I am your husband?
    • What have I done that brings joy into your life and makes you laugh? What can I do to bring more joy and laughter into your life?
  • Of course, we want to increase the behaviors that make our spouse feel important, behaviors that bring out the best in our spouse. These questions do just that.
    • What could I do over the next year to make you feel more important to me, loved by me?
    • What could I do over the next year to bring out the best in you and help you accomplish your goals?
    • What attribute would you like me to work on and develop?
    • What mutual goal would you like us to accomplish?
Have a great 2011 sharing with life and love with your family.