Archive for April 23, 2011

The Family Celebration of Dingus Day

It happens every year on the Monday after Easter.  A friend of mine shows up for our morning exercise group armed with a squirt gun filled with water. Smiling, and with great stealth, he walks toward the women in our group and douses them with water. He even brings an extra squirt gun for me to use (although I usually just save my squirt gun firing for home). Why does he soak women with water? Because it’s Dingus Day! 
That’s right…you read correctly, Dingus Day. Dingus Day, also called “Wet Monday,” is a Polish holiday celebrated the Monday after Easter. On Dingus Day, men find creative ways to sprinkle women with water. (Don’t worry, the Tuesday after Easter women soak the men; unless you women want to get your revenge early.) My friend uses a squirt gun in our morning exercise group, but tells great stories about other ways to accomplish the task of soaking women. You can use a hose, a bucket, water balloons, or any other creative means available to soak another person. “Water traps” that involve water balloons dropping on the first person to open a door or drinking fountains set up to squirt the person trying to get a drink can be arranged. (Click on Smigus-Dyngus and Water Prank to see how others “accomplish the soaking.”) If your family celebrates Dingus Day, you may find yourself awaken by a glass of water poured over your head. (If you are awaken this way, don’t get angry. Just remember that “revenge is sweet.”) All in all, Dingus Day is a fun day of discovering creative ways to get someone wet. Well, that’s not true. Dingus Day is much more than just getting other people wet. After all, why would I even bring it up if that’s all it was? (If you know me, don’t answer that question).  I bring it up because it’s more than just a fun day of getting men and women wet. It’s a family and community celebration of dancing, singing, and joining together. Just check out this website about the Dingus Day celebration in Buffalo, NY, the Dingus Capital of the World.
Dingus Day also has religious meaning. Sprinkling with water represents the new birth, cleansing, and purification found in Christ through His death and resurrection. In fact, the word “Dingus” can be traced back to a medieval word meaning “worthy, proper, or suitable.” In the Christian tradition, people are baptized into Christ’s death and raised up to new life–a new birth, cleansing, and purification. One Polish American has said that on Dingus Day, “our ancient ancestors ‘bickered’ with God to make us worthy (Dingus) through the waters of baptism, and were thus ‘brought back or redeemed’ by Christ.” Dingus Day celebrates the cleansing and restoration found in Christ by creatively washing (read “soaking” or “drenching”) one another with water.
That’s why I decided to write about Dingus Day here. It offers a fun family celebration that communicates the values of new life and being made whole while having a fun water battle. So, go ahead…get wet. Have the epic water battle of all time and enjoy time with your family on Dingus Day, “Wet Monday”…today!

Parents as Perpetual Students

Family shepherds model their parenting style after the Shepherd described in Psalm 23. David, the author of Psalm 23, tells us that his Shepherd “makes him lie down in green pastures” and “leads” him “beside still waters.” The word used for “lead” means “to lead someone helpless and needing guidance, to lead by the hand.”   Our Shepherd knows that we, His sheep, are helpless; so, He takes us by the hand to lead us to places of nourishment, rest, and safety. The Shepherd knows the needs of His sheep and how to best provide for those needs, even when His sheep do not know or understand.
As family shepherds, we need to lead our children in a similar manner. We need to take them by the hand and lead them to places of nourishment, rest, and safety…especially when they are helpless or do not fully understand or realize what they truly need. That means we have to become students of our children’s life and world. Here are some topics worthy of our study.
      ·         Family shepherds study their children’s unique needs. Each child has unique needs in regard to rest, nourishment, alone time, and family time. Sometimes our children get so caught up in play that they forget to rest or eat. They become “cranky” with hunger or tiredness. They become irritable without time alone or lonely and moody without time with friends or family. Even as teens, our children may have a tendency to “overbook” and become overwhelmed and stressed. We need to become students of our children to learn about their limits so we can lead them in a proper balance of rest, nutrition, and activity. As they grow, they can support them in discovering how to balance those limitations more independently.
·         Family shepherds learn about their children’s day. They gain knowledge about when their children get up and when they go to bed. This may sound strange, but, nonetheless, it is necessary in today’s world. We need to know that our children actually go to sleep at bedtime rather than begin a marathon text session with friends that can last into the wee hours of the morning. I meet many teens who stay up until 2 or 3 in the morning texting friends, playing video games, or watching TV. This, then, interferes with their school performance, social interaction, and physical health. Parents (family shepherds) monitor these activities and prevent them from interfering with their child’s rest. They create environments that promote healthy sleep. This may mean removing obstacles to healthy night time rest (such as TV’s and X-Box’s) from the bedroom. It may also mean keeping cell phones and IPods in the kitchen after an agreed upon time. Learn about this technology and how it can interfere with night time rest.
·         Family shepherds learn about their child’s daily activities as well. When their children go out, they find out where they are going. They learn about the places that their children frequent. They may even visit the places their children frequent and get to know other people who go there. Family shepherds may participate in many of their child’s activities throughout the day as well. Of course, children will have activities that they engage in alone. Still, family shepherds participate in many activities with their children. They may participate by actual involvement or by simply observing their child’s participation. Either way, their children learns that their parents are part of their life and their world, likely to show up at any activity or place that they frequent.
·         Family shepherds learn about their children’s world. Parents become acquainted with their children’s friends and the parents of those friends. They get to know the teachers and coaches involved in their children’s lives. They observe what interests their children and learn about those interests so they can promote a healthy involvement and growth in areas of interest.
Family Shepherds (parents) are perpetual students. We continually invest time in learning about our children.  

Your Child’s Currency for Love

Children have two currencies for love: TIME and ATTENTION. When parents give time and attention to their child, the child believes he has a place of importance and value in his parents’ lives. Unfortunately, parents often get so caught up in their busy lives that they only give their children distracted attention. Distracted attention is half-hearted attention, attention split between two or more things. Parents give distracted attention when they invest their energy in a project while pretending to listen to something their child is saying. The parent can hear their child’s words, but the meaning just doesn’t register. After giving distracted attention, the parent knows that their child spoke to them, but they probably can’t remember what was said. The distracted parent often responds to their child’s statements with words like, “Oh yeah,” “OK,” or “Really?’ without really knowing what the child said. Children who receive distracted attention on a regular basis feel insignificant and unimportant. Eventually, they will quit coming to the parent. And, they will learn to give us the same distracted attention the parent gives them.
Sometimes parents give their children selfish attention. A parent offering selfish attention pays attention just enough to formulate a response. This may mean only listening to the first half of what they say. Selfish attention often listens just long enough to get a response before rudely interrupting them to “share wisdom.” A parent giving selfish attention may also pretend to listen to the whole story, but really have a response figured out after the first sentence. Parents who give selfish attention seem to believe that their answer is so important that they have to say it immediately. They can’t sit back and listen for the sake of focusing on and understanding their child. No, those who offer selfish attention need to look good, have an answer, and reveal their insights. The child who receives selfish attention from a parent on a regular basis may feel unheard and grow angry or resentful toward the parent.
Other parents give critical attention. They pay close attention to their child, but do so to discover what he does wrong. Parents that offer critical attention often offer insults and criticisms to their child. They respond to their child with statements like, “Can’t you see I’m busy you spoiled brat?” or “Don’t you get mad at me, I’m your mother!” or “You don’t even care how much I sacrifice for you-you’ve ruined my life, you ungrateful…” In these instances, a child does get attention, but the attention is critical of them. As you can imagine, a child who receives critical attention often feels inadequate and unworthy.
Family shepherds give their children genuine attention. Here are three components of genuine attention.
·         Genuine attention is undivided attention. When a child requests attention, verbally or non-verbally, the family shepherd puts aside other distractions and gives their child undivided attention. You may be thinking, “I don’t have time for that.” Sometimes you may not. When your time is short, you can even explain that you are very busy, but you can only give them 5 minutes of undivided attention right now. In these instances, a child who receives your undivided attention for several minutes is often satisfied. On the other hand, we can generally offer undivided attention more often than we admit. After all, which is more important: our children or the game, our children or a hobby, our children or the lawn? What we prioritize receives our undivided attention. Children deserve our priority.
·         Genuine attention tarries. I like the word “tarry.” We rarely use it today, but I like it. I like to “tarry” at the park on a warm day, “tarry” on the beach when the sun is bright, “tarry” with a friend during good conversation. Our children need us to “tarry” with them. They want us to have unhurried interactions with them as often as possible. In the currency of love, they want quantity of time, not just quality. They want the quantity of 25 old, ragged dollar bills (quantity time) instead of the one new, crisp 5 dollar bill of great quality. Every chance you get, “tarry” with your children.
·         Genuine attention is sensitive and responsive to their child. We don’t talk about the weather when a child seeks attention by asking about supper. We strive to remain sensitive to their need, their mood, and their request when we give them attention. Sometimes this is difficult because they do not clearly verbalize their true need and desire. They may express anger when they are actually upset and hurt by a friend. A sensitive parent pays attention to the hurt, not just the anger.
We all give distracted attention, selfish attention, and critical attention from time to time. We get overwhelmed with life and offer distracted attention or so tired that we offer critical attention. What is important is the overall pattern of attention we offer our children. We need to work to give genuine attention most of the time.

Forgotten Family Arts: The Thank You Note

The world seems to change at an alarming rate. Just yesterday I thought of a mouse as a tiny furry animal; today a mouse is a near-obsolete piece of technology used with a desktop computer. I remember listening to records-the flat ones that required a record player with a needle to play. Today, we simply download music to our IPhones and put head phones in our ears to shut out the world. These changes have resulted in some lost arts. For instance, storytelling seems to be replaced with TV. Imaginative games of cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians are replaced by video games like “Assassin.” And, when was the last time you hand wrote a letter rather than using email, twitter, texting, or Word?
The family has some lost arts as well. For instance, teaching our children to honor gift-givers with a thank-you seems to be a disappearing art. Remember writing those simple thank-you notes you would write as a child after birthdays and Christmas celebrations? Thank-you notes may still exist, but they are often texted, emailed, or simply typed on the computer. The joy of being honored with a hand-written “thank you” (made up of misshapen letters created by a 5 year old) next to a simple picture far outweighs the emailed “thanks.” Preparing the hand-written, thoughtful “thank you” takes time. It honors the person who gave the gift, strengthening your relationship with them.
How do you write a thank you note? Start by getting some postcards or half-sized stationary. Stay away from full sheets because you want to write a simple “thank-you note,” not a novel. Grab a pen, not a pencil. You want your words of gratitude and honor to last longer than pencil markings. Now, what to write…
·         Begin by greeting the giver. A simple “Dear….”
·         Express your gratitude. Simply thank them for the gift. Statements like “Thank you for the beautiful shirt” or “I really appreciate the book you gave me.” If you received a gift of money, you may want to thank them for their “generosity” rather than the specific amount–“I appreciate the generous gift you sent” or “thank you for your kindness.”
·         Say something nice about the gift and how you will use it. People like to know that you have found the gift useful or helpful. So, let them know what you like about the gift or how you will use it. You might say things like, “The sweatshirt you gave me will really keep me warm on the cool nights this fall” or “I’ve been waiting to buy a new album and your kindness will allow me to do so.”
·         Make a personal connection. If you saw them at your birthday party, let them know how much you enjoyed seeing them. If you received the gift in the mail, let them know you think about them and note a time you hope to see them in the future.
·         Wrap it up. Thank them one more time for the gift. Finish up with a closing and your name–“Thinking of You, John” or “Love, Hanna” or “Yours Truly, Kaitlyn.”
Pretty simple, right? Come to think of it, I have fallen behind on “thank you notes,” too. This is an art I need to practice more myself. I think I’ll go get some cards right now so I’m ready to go. Thanks for the reminder.

Four Steps to Make Your Family Miserable

Usually I write about ways to create a happy family filled with times of celebration and intimacy. However, some readers may prefer a more miserable home environment, a family that “prepares children for the real world,” a harsh world. Although I believe the best way to prepare a child for the “harsh realities of the world” is to provide a home filled with loving relationships, joyful celebrations, and gracious interactions, I don’t want to be accused of prejudice or being “too soft.” So, let me just offer some advice (perhaps, tongue in cheek) on how to make your family a truly miserable place–the kind of place children can’t wait to leave when they turn 18…the kind of place that causes spouses to fantasize of creative ways to escape.
First, to create a truly miserable home environment, make yourself number one. You know, watch out for “numero uno,” the “Big Kahuna.” Focus on your personal needs and desires while disregarding everyone else. Think about the things you want to do and ignore everyone else’s interests. Refuse to watch anything but the things you want to watch on TV. Roll your eyes when someone asks you to do something for them. Protect your seat, your time, your “whatever”…at any cost. As you practice this self-centered focus, you will discover that the second ingredient for making your family miserable occurs rather naturally. So…
Don’t waste any time; add the second ingredient for a miserable family, impatience. That’s right, practice impatience. Become impatient when family members don’t do just what you want. Start to yell impatiently when another family member sits on “your chair” or eats “your cookie.” A strong impatient attitude will serve as a springboard for harsh language and criticism. Don’t worry, let the harsh language flow from your impatience. Let it escalate all the way to name-calling and character assassination. You can use simple names like “stupid,” “lazy,” or “no good.” You can combine name-calling with criticism by saying things like “You’re just like your father” or “Why can’t you be more like ‘so and so.'” As you practice this you will find it comes more and more natural. You will even begin to lose sight of any good qualities that exist in your family members. When that happens, you will have moved your family to a new level of misery.  
Third, rather than show respect to other family members, criticize every little thing they do. This can grow out of impatience; but can also occur in response to unrealistically high expectations. With unrealistically high expectations, you can always criticize your family for “not doing it good enough” or “not doing it right.” If they make the bed, you can criticize them for the wrinkles in the sheets or the haphazardly placed pillow. When they help clean the kitchen, you can criticize them for leaving the wet dishtowel on the table. Whatever they do, always assume they didn’t do a “good enough job” and probably didn’t even try to do it right. Inevitably, they will do part of the job right. Ignore that part; disregard it. Whatever you do, do not recognize what they did right. Focus on what they did improperly, left undone, or forgot to do. Never offer thanks. Never show gratitude. If, in a moment of weakness, you thank them for doing part of the job right, you will set yourself back two steps in your movement toward misery.

Finally, do everything you can to make family members feel as though you could leave at any moment. Never let anyone grow secure in their relationship with you. This will include making veiled and open threats about leaving. “If you keep this up, I’m going to leave” or “I’m out of here” represent two direct threats of abandonment. A more veiled threat might be “I wish I wasn’t here” or “I should have never married you.” Of course, you could combine the threat of abandonment with criticism by making comments like “You’ve ruined my life. I may as well just disappear.” Whatever you do, never let them think you are happy with your current life with them. Instead, let them know how miserable you are “in this house.” (Of course, a miserable home was the goal and you may find yourself rather happy to achieve that goal…but, don’t let on.)
There you go…four steps for creating a truly miserable family environment. If you like misery, have fun with these steps. (Oh wait, if you have fun you would not be miserable. Well, you know what I mean.) If you’d rather enjoy a secure family environment filled with joyful celebration and intimate relationships, do the opposite of the four steps described above…practice self-denial, encourage one another, respect one another, express gratitude, and share your love.

Teaching Your Child to Handle Emotions

Emotions are healthy–even emotions like anger, frustration, and sadness. They teach us to avoid harmful situations and learn from our mistakes. They allow us to express needs and seek out support. They help us learn about the world and people around us (Recognizing the Benefits of Emotions). Still, children need help from parents to learn how to manage their emotions effectively. Parents begin to help children manage their emotions by accepting the emotion. But, we can’t stop there. We have to offer more assistance. But, how? Here are some ideas suggested by John Gottman, PhD. (read the benefits of using these ideas). 
     1.      Be aware of your emotions and your child’s emotions. Recognize and value emotions as a crucial ingredient of a successful life. Emotions help us express our priorities. They move us to action. They give us energy to change what we don’t like and pursue what we do like. Emotions motivate us learn about the world around us. You can enhance your awareness of your child’s emotions by watching his body language, paying attention to his facial expressions, and listening to what he says.
      2.      Recognize emotions as an opportunity to develop intimacy. Emotions in and of themselves are not bad or inappropriate. They are simply emotions. They present fantastic opportunities to teach values and to deepen relationship. As a parent empathizes with her child’s emotions, the child feels validated and, in turn, feels safe enough to move toward a more intimate relationship. Successful parents respect their child’s emotion. So, do not make fun of or minimize your child’s emotion. Don’t threaten or abandon your child when he expresses emotion. Instead, acknowledge your child’s emotion. Talk with him about that emotion and show concern for him in the process. 
3.      Listen carefully as your child talks about his emotion. Empathize with him and validate his emotion. This will demand patience as your child is immature in his ability to manage emotions. In fact, you are helping him grow more mature in his ability to manage emotions through this process. Let him talk about how he feels and accept that he may feel differently than you. Listen carefully to discover his emotions.
4.      As you discuss the emotion with your child, label it. If he doesn’t like the label you choose, keep listening. Help him find a way to name the emotion he feels. The ability to simply label an emotion helps us manage it more successfully.
5.      Finally, set limits around behavior and help your child problem-solve. Let him know that it’s alright to feel angry, happy, ecstatic, sad, frustrated…whatever. However, not all behavior is ok. “You can feel angry and still not hit me or call me names.” “You can be happy to win the game, but you need not gloat and humiliate your brother because he didn’t win.” I’m sure you get the idea. After listening, empathizing, naming and validating your child and his emotions, you will most likely gain the opportunity to problem-solve with him. After all other steps, you and your child can explore potential solutions to the problem at hand. As you explore solutions, remember that you do not need to fix or solve every problem that arises.
Practice these five steps as often as you can. As you do, you will see your child grow more mature in his ability to manage his emotions everyday.

Banking at the Family Bank of Honor

Yesterday I had a wonderful evening with my family. Throughout the evening I made several deposits into our “Family Bank of Honor.”  Everything just seemed to flow smoothly…very smoothly. I complimented my wife’s new shirt and told her how nice she looked…two deposits into the “Family Bank of Honor.” During a commercial, I got myself a drink and grabbed one up for my wife as well…deposit number two. I asked my daughter, very politely I might add, if she could start the dishwasher…deposit number three for politeness. And, my daughter started the dishwasher without complaining…deposit numbers four and five. You get the idea. We talked and joked around. We spoke politely, did considerate things for one another, and enjoyed physical closeness. Even bedtime was marked by loving “goodnights” and hugs…deposit, deposit, deposit. Overall, we had a great family evening filled with loving, honoring deposits into our “Family Bank of Honor.” By time we finally went to bed, I bet we had accrued over 50 deposits into the “Family Honor Account.” I fell asleep feeling good, even a little cocky, about the honor we had accrued in the “Family Bank of Honor.” What a family man, Mr. Honor himself, a loving husband and father, who has instilled an ongoing culture of honor into his family.
Perhaps (well, maybe “Definitely” would be a better word than “Perhaps”), I was feeling a little too confident, too complacent in my perceived success. I woke up this morning feeling a little grumpy (I say “a little,” my family says “a lot”…you say “tomayto,” I say “tomahto”). Anyway, I think the first words out of my mouth were “Who ate the last grapefruit” in a less than honorable tone…withdraw five deposits. My wife calmly pulled a grapefruit out of the refrigerator. I offered no apology, no thank you, just a grunt…withdraw four more deposits. My daughters were chatty and I was irritated so I gave them a dirty look and said in a harsh tone, “would you be quiet!” Withdrawal again…at least ten since I gave them “the look,” a harsh tone, and an unwarranted demand. That’s a total of 19 withdrawals and I hadn’t even finished breakfast. I eventually left for my morning activities, spent some time alone, and came home in a better mood; but not before making significant withdrawals from the “Family Bank of Honor.” It seems that the deposits of yesterday barely covered the withdrawals of today.
Now I sit here writing about my poorly managed emotional banking. I contemplate the fact that even though I made several deposits yesterday, my account fell under the minimum balance this morning. I broke the bank. What’s the lesson? Simple, make as many deposits into the “Family Bank of Honor” as you can…every day…every chance you get. Really, making deposits is easy. It means being polite, thoughtful, and considerate. Think about the other person and do something kind for them. Give up the last piece of pie and give it to one of your family members. Make as many deposits as you can because a single withdrawal cancels out several deposits. And, we all have those days when we make huge withdrawals, even the best of us. With that in mind, make at least five deposits for every one withdrawal. On average, that’s five positive experiences for every one negative experience. That’s what I learned. 
Fortunately, I have a very gracious family. They forgive me. They show me grace, which, come to think of it, is a huge deposit into the “Family Bank of Honor.” In fact, that deposit of grace inspires me to do some work of my own, to make some new deposits today. Aye, that’s lesson number two–I can make up for this morning’s withdrawals by making new deposits today. The first deposit I will make is an apology for my terrible attitude and grumpy actions. Then, I think I’ll load the dishwasher or play a game of cards with my daughters or give my wife a hug. What the heck, why not do all three? In fact, deposits are rather fun. Deposit, deposit, deposit…fun, fun, fun. I think I’ll work to accrue a deposit overflow. I’m on my way. I got family banking to carry out, honor to accrue, and love to show.