Archive for February 26, 2011

The Mirror in a Parent’s Eye

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” That’s the question of fairy tales. In real life, children ask, “Mirror, mirror in your eyes, am I worthy of your love?” and “Mirror, mirror in your eyes, please accept me-call me fine?” Children do not look at a mirror on a wall to determine their worth, they look into their parents’ eyes. They find their worth, lovability, and acceptance in the image they see reflected back to them from their parents. The reflection they see of themselves in our eyes becomes their personal identity.
·         Do your children look into your eyes and see disapproval and disregard more often than admiration? If so, they will come to believe they have no value, nothing to admire.
·         Do your children feel disrespected and ignored by you more often than adored by you? If so, they will come to see themselves as disrespected and disrespectful.
·         Do they see you avoid them or mock them more often than you praise them and compliment them? If so, they will come to see themselves as worthless.
·         Do your children see you spend more time with Sunday afternoon football or the Sunday paper than you spend with them? If so, they will see themselves as second rate and unacceptable.
If we want our children to see themselves as acceptable, valuable, beautiful, or lovable, the first step is to assure them that we see and treat them as acceptable, valuable, beautiful, and lovable. When our children look into the mirrors of our eyes, they need to see us reflect back delight, acceptance, pride, and an abiding love. Are the mirrors of your eyes polished and clear? Do they reflect the image you want your child to become? Here are nine suggestions to help you reflect a healthy image to your child.
      1.      Reflect caring for yourself. Get enough rest and eat a healthy diet. Living a healthy lifestyle assures that you have the energy and strength to reflect a healthy image of your child.
      2.      Reflect delight for your child. Remember how you felt at the moment of your child’s birth? Remember the delight and awe you experienced as a new life, your child, entered into the world? Recall that emotion and delight. Think about how much your child means to you. Consider the strengths and talents they possess. Allow yourself to remain awed at their life and abilities.
      3.      Reflect interest in your child. When they come home from school, look up from the computer and greet them. Ask about their day. Let them see the sparkle of delight in your eyes as they tell you about their day.
      4.      Reflect pride in your child. Compliment them on a job well-done. Acknowledge their courage when they behave well in spite of peer pressure. Recognize the times that they obey you, especially when they disagree with the rule (such as curfew or “lights out”). Admire their character every chance you get.
5.      Reflect respect for your child. Make requests that include “please.” Offer a “thank you” when they complete a chore or get something you ask them to get. Remember to say “you’re welcome” when they express thanks to you. Open doors and let your children go through first. Listen respectfully. Speak graciously. 
6.      Reflect value for your child. Keep your promises. Let your child know that you value them enough to give them your time and attention. Pick them up without complaining after they spend time at a friend’s home. Have their friends over to your house and give them a snack.
7.      Reflect admiration for your child. Verbally express your love for your child. Say “I love you” sincerely and often. Admire your child’s beauty. Let them know that you believe they are attractive and point out one or two features you find most attractive.
8.      Reflect a belief in your child’s potential.  Tell them that you believe in them. Encourage them in their academics, hobbies, spiritual life, etc. Even when you discipline, do so with a belief that they can live up to the moral ideals and values of your family. Use discipline to teach them of their potential. Make sure you discipline them out of love, not anger. As you discipline, offer an alternative, positive behavior to replace the negative behavior exhibited.
9.      Reflect acceptance and approval of your child. Hug your child every day. Affirm your love for your child…even if you have to discipline them…especially when you have to discipline them. Talk about things that interest them, even if they do not interest you. Proclaim your love and pride in your child in front of others.

Family, A Haven in a Heartless World

“The family is a haven in a heartless world.” ~Attributed to Christopher Lasch
Each morning my family leaves our home and enters the discouraging, oppressive world of work or school. That may sound harsh, but true none the less…just watch the news. Students enter the “sacred halls of education” through metal detectors and security guards to sit in classrooms as canine police sniff out lockers for paraphernalia. In the classrooms and hallways, kids strive to satisfy an unquenchable thirst for attention at the expense of their peers. Queen bees slander other students and top dogs humiliate those under them on the social ladder. Each month, we witness multiple news reports of bullying and media harassment; or, we listen as our children tell us about all the “drama” that goes on between students. 
At work, we find ourselves pushed to work longer hours, accomplish more, and meet productivity standards established by financial demands rather than human need. Even shopping has become potentially dangerous. Congresswomen and judges risk getting shot in the mall. On a smaller level, fights and arguments break out in stores as stressed staff wait on angry customers. Police and security guards patrol the halls of most malls. Is it any surprise that we come home exhausted, frustrated, and agitated from a day of work, school, or shopping in the “heartless world”? But, we do come home. Home sweet home, a haven of rest amidst the chaos of life.
Hopefully, our home does provide a haven of hope, an oasis of encouragement and peace. Family provides the shade from the hot desert sun, the refreshing drink that quenches our thirst, the cool lotion that soothes our burnt skin… alright, enough with the cliché metaphors (sorry, got carried away). Let’s get to the point. How do we make our families a safe haven, an oasis of peace and restoration? We do so by establishing three distinctive traits in our home and family life.
First, turn your home into a place of honor. Honor one another with polite speech, encouraging words, and loving praise. Listen attentively to one another. Serve one another without complaining. Treat one another with kindness. Express gratitude for kindness received. Learn about something that interests another family member. Do something nice for family members on a regular basis. All these actions, and more, show honor and, practiced regularly, establish honor as a hallmark in the family.
Second, turn your home into a place of grace. Give one another the gift of your time. In the midst of your busy life, remain available and attentive to one another. Give the gift of your attention, acknowledging the value of each family member’s presence in your life. Give respect and kindness even when the other person does not deserve it. Sacrifice your own desires in order to satisfy the needs and desires of your family. Expect nothing in return. Simply treat your family with love. You will find that such grace breeds more grace and more love, more respect and more sensible living.  
Third, transform your family into a celebrating community. Celebrate successes, failures, and everything in between. Enjoy another’s company during meals. Laugh together. Play together. Have a game night, movie night, or some other activity night. Celebrate birthdays and holidays. Make up your own days of celebration. Give gifts for no reason at all. Actively seek out ways to enjoy celebrating with your family any chance you get.
By practicing these behaviors in your family, you transform your home into a celebrating community of honor and grace that will serve as an oasis of rest and peace, a haven in the midst of a heartless world.

Going the Distance in the Family Marathon

Family relationships are an ultra-marathon, not a sprint. Having all the skills and techniques in the world will only go so far unless you develop the endurance to “go the distance.” So, here are a few suggestions to help build endurance and help you “go the distance” in your family life.
  • Slow down to increase endurance. Slow the pace of your life so you can spend time with your family. Just hang out with individual family members or with your family as a whole. Have meaningless conversations. Spending time expresses value for the one you choose to be with. Family members consider you presence a sign of enduring love and care.
  • Fill your speech with kindness. Kind words have tremendous power to build an enduring family. So, encourage one another. Say “please,” “thank you,” and “you’re welcome.” Go the distance-keep your words kind and polite, even when irritated, angry, or tired.
  • Every day, list at least one way you saw each family member make a positive investment in your family. Keep the list in a notebook or on your calendar. This will demand that you maintain a relational focus and keep your eyes open for positive contributions, even when you start feeling tired, angry, or begin to lose focus. Find a way to thank them for their contribution to the family on at least a weekly basis.
  • Every day, list at least three things you appreciate about each family member. What character traits do you find endearing? What mannerisms do you enjoy? What do you admire about them? Keep that list each day and tell them one thing from that list each day.
  • Make weekly goals about how you will show family members how much you value them. How will you show your love for each family member this week? How will you let them know how valuable they are to you? Once again, you will build endurance as you find creative ways to express this value week in and week out. It will demand some variation and creativity on your part; but, the results are amazing.
To really “go the distance” requires prevention as well. A yearly checkup can help to diagnoses various health conditions before they get bad, making treatment easier and more effective. The same is true in relationships. In fact, a yearly relationship check up can save a marriage, strengthen parent-child relationships, and lead to more satisfying family relationships. And, a family check up is free. That’s right, you can monitor the progress yourself. Here are some suggestions.
  • Each year write a letter to your spouse and children telling them how much they mean to you. Include 2-3 things you admire about them and an example to support each of those traits. Areas of admiration may include personality, areas of growth, or other things about them that have special meaning to you. After writing the letter, share it with that family member. Make the sharing a special occasion, an opportunity to spend time together talking, reminiscing, and enjoying one another’s company.
  • Ask your spouse and children what you can do to improve your family relationships. The following questions might help. The answers to these questions can be difficult to hear. However, we grow through constructive feedback. Asking for feedback shows your desire to grow personally and as a family. It shows how much you value your family and family member’s opinions.
    • What can I do to make you feel more loved? Respected? Secure? Understood?
    • When you think of me, what is the first thought/image that comes to mind? How do you think of me?
    • What do you think I value most?
    • Is there one characteristic you would like me to develop? An area you want me to work on improving?
    • What are some things I can do to show you how much I value having you in my family?
    • How do you envision our future together? What can we do to achieve that goal together?
By following these simple steps, you can add depth and longevity to your family relationships. You can “go the distance” and experience greater relationship health and happiness.

Becoming A Master Hugger

“Sometimes it’s better to put love into hugs than to put it into words.” (Author Unknown) That’s why parents need to become hugging experts. I don’t mean learning to hug as a past-time or a passing fad. No, parents have to become master huggers. In fact, I invite you to join the National Association of Master Huggers, the NAMH (don’t worry, I just made it up and there are no dues or fees to become a member). In order to become a full-fledged master hugger in this elite organization, you need to proceed through three levels. (Click on picture to right to see video of Juan Mann’s journey to “Master Hugger.”)
The novice level involves physically hugging your children. Hug your children on a daily basis. Put your arm around their shoulder when you stand or sit together. Physically hugging your child communicates love and value. It brings a sense of safety and security to your child. Your affection creates a greater sense of self-worth in your child’s life. As a novice member, you enjoy several benefits. For instance, experts tell us that loving touch may actually decrease promiscuity in girls (McDowell) and violence (Leman) in boys. Babies who receive loving touch grow better. Adults who comfortably give and receive loving touch are more open, tend to have lower blood pressure, and even live longer. 
Members reach the apprentice level when they learn to hug their children verbally. Children love to hear their parents express pride in their effort or ability. They long to hear their parent recognize them for who they are and what they can do. When we acknowledge our children in these ways, we verbally hug them. We also offer a verbal hug when we acknowledge their emotions and help them find a way to label and manage those emotions. Other methods of verbal hugging include talking about your child’s interests, acknowledging your child’s talents and strengths, admiring their effort at a task, acknowledging their courage, or providing a “verbal snapshot” of some positive behavior. Giving your children multiple verbal hugs on a daily basis will help them feel safe, secure, loved, and valued. Apprentice benefits include a stronger, more intimate relationship with your child. 
The final step to becoming a master hugger in the NAMH involves hugging your children with your thoughts; in other words, holding them in mind. Master huggers hold their children in mind by keeping their children’s interests, strengths, and needs in their thoughts…even when their children are not with them. Master huggers hold their child’s daily activities in mind and ask about them at the end of the day. They remember their children’s friends and inquire about them from time to time. Master huggers recognize the current challenges in their children’s lives. They not only keep those challenges in mind, but they verbally acknowledge the courage and persistence their children display when facing those challenges. Holding your child in mind, hugging them with your thoughts, expresses how much you value them and love them. (click on picture to see them “hug it forward” in New Zealand.)

When members learn to hug their children physically, verbally, and “mindfully,” they become Master Huggers, members of an elite group of men and women changing family generations…one hug at a time.

My Michelangelo

Michelangelo is quoted as saying, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” I love that quote. Researchers describe a Michelangelo effect between spouses when one spouse brings out the best, the angel, in the other. My wife is my Michelangelo. Other people look at me and see a slab of rock; but she sees something more. She looks into that slab of rock and sees a statue waiting to take shape, dreams and aspirations waiting to emerge, an ideal self waiting to be set free. At times, I think she believes I am more like that ideal person than I really am. She compliments me like I’ve already achieved more of my ideal than I really have. Not only does she see and believe in my ideals and dreams, she actively helps me reach for them. She supports me and even assists me in reaching my goals. All the while, she talks about how much she enjoys doing things with me. 

Don’t get me wrong. She still recognizes my limits and shortcomings. In many ways, she compensates for them. When I feel frustrated with so much bureaucracy, she handles it. When I become overwhelmed with all that needs done, she takes some of the burden. Sometimes I become obsessed with worry and she “talks sense to me.” Other times I prepare to jump head first into the mix and she brings needed caution and forethought. All the while, she encourages and compliments.

Yes, my wife is my Michelangelo. She has taken a slab of stone and helped find the statue inside. She did not decide what statue she thought I should become. Instead, she realized the ideal self I wanted to become and encouraged that ideal. She recognized my dreams, accepted those dreams, and supported me in reaching for those dreams. In the process, she lovingly chisels away at the fears and inhibitions that interfere with my dreams. She helps add shape and substance to my dreams and makes me a better person for it. I only hope I can do the same for her.

So, to my wife I say: “Thank you for being the Michelangelo to my slab of marble. Thank you for honoring me enough to envision the ‘angel in the marble’ and patiently, lovingly helping to ‘set him free.'”

You Are Truly Rich

A woman from our church family passed away at the end of January. She was 98 years old. She was a retired school teacher and students from fifty years ago still called her Mrs. Carlson. Friends and those who met her during retirement, called her Eva. Those who had the privilege of growing up in the church she attended call her Aunt Lou. Everyone loved her. She was one of the most gracious people I have ever met. People who have known her their whole lives honestly look back and say that she never said a harsh word about anybody. She only had words of kindness, encouragement, and grace.
She and her husband taught me a lot about family. They had no biological children of their own, but children in their neighborhood gathered on their porch to share time with them, children at church called her Aunt Lou, and women my age look to her as a mentor and example of a loving, gracious woman. I recall going to Eva’s home for Sunday dinner. She always prepared a great meal. Afterwards, she helped her husband clear the table and he washed the dishes. Her husband, a tough WWII vet, stood over the sink washing dishes and sharing loving words of gratitude with his wife. He looked at me and said, “You remember this, your wife is kind enough to cook dinner, you wash the dishes.” These are simple words of wisdom to recognize, in a very practical way, how family members contribute to family life. Eva smiled and gave him a kiss. Sharing grace and gratitude made their marriage strong.
When my wife and I started a family of our own, Eva would always ask about our children. She asked about our children’s interests and education. No matter what, the conversation always ended with her saying the same words, “You are rich…truly rich!” She was right, family gave me “true riches.” Anyone who has family is “truly rich.” She knew the value of family because she had built her own family on shared grace and honor, not just with her husband and her brothers’ families, but with her “family” at church and in the community. We can all learn the lesson that family makes us rich, truly rich. And, we build those riches on grace shown to one another.
Perhaps you have an Eva in your life. If so, you have been truly blessed…you are truly rich. If you would, share your stories about the “Eva’s” in your life. As you do, you will be sharing your riches with us all.