Archive for July 28, 2012

Don’t Leave Your Family the Leftovers

When I first started dating my wife, her family [affectionately] decided I was like the family dog—I ate all the leftovers. I love leftovers. Some foods just taste better as leftovers, like spaghetti or soup. Also, some meals are best prepared with leftovers in mind. It’s easier to make a big roast beef and have leftovers. Although this is a good model for food, it is not a good model for family life. In family life, we do not want to leave our family the leftovers of our life. Have you ever noticed how easy it is to give our families the leftovers of our life? Think about it. We go to work or church and put on a happy face. We meet, greet, and schmooze while out and then come home lethargic, sporting a sour puss face, to sit silently in front of the TV. Or, maybe you have had the experience of laughing and having a good time while eating lunch with friends from work. Then, after work, you come home tired, irritable, and in “no mood for that now” when your wife or daughter tries to tell you a long story. As a counselor, I’ve had times when I put my best energy into other people. I patiently listen and empathize. Then I come home and wish my family would leave me alone. All they got of me was the energy, time, mood, and joy that I had left-over after a grueling day. It really isn’t fair. So what can a person do to give their family the prime rib of their life? How can we give our family the best of our time, energy, mood, and joy? Here are five ideas:
     ·         Look at your day and decide when you feel at your best. Some people are morning people. Some are night owls. Whatever you are, give your family some time during that part of the day. Maybe you will give of your best by sharing breakfast with your family. Other people may give the best of themselves by sharing a midnight snack. Whatever time of day you find yourself at your best, share it with your family if possible.

·         Sometimes it is not possible to share the best time of your day with family. In this case, create a transition zone to recoup your energy, time, mood, and joy. Take 10-15 minutes between work and home to relax. Do something that will help you put the day’s stress behind you and rejuvenate you for the rest of the day. This may mean listening to music, taking a 20-minute “power nap,” having a quiet one-on-one with your spouse, practicing yoga, going for a walk…whatever brief activity helps you feel re-energized and able to give your best to your family.

·         Give your family the day. Whether you pick one day a week (perhaps the Sabbath) or one day a month, make a habit of giving a whole day to your family on a regular basis. Martin Seligman describes an exercise he calls “A Beautiful Day.” You might enjoy modifying this “Beautiful Day” exercise for your entire family: Imagine a perfect family day. When would you get up? What would each person enjoy doing together? What would you eat so each person could have something they enjoy? What activities would you engage in so each person could share some activity they really like with the whole family? How would you end the day? As a family, take an evening to imagine and brainstorm the perfect family day. Then, look at your schedules and pick a day to enjoy that “Beautiful Day.” Take pictures, laugh, and enjoy one another’s company as you enjoy your “Beautiful Day.” Later in the month, sit down with the pictures and a favorite family snack while you relive your “Beautiful Day.”

·         Take a family vacation. Maybe your vacation will last a day…maybe two weeks. Maybe you will travel…maybe you will hang out at home. Either way, a vacation is a wonderful time to escape the stresses inherent in your daily grind and simply enjoy your family. Forget about the chores, the deadlines, the homework, and the daily hassles. Put them all aside and give your time, energy, best mood, and humor to your family. Whether you go camping in your back yard for two nights or take a cruise in the Bahamas, enjoy at least one vacation a year with your family.

·         Find a family hobby. Consider some activities that your whole family enjoys and work them into your schedule. These hobbies may include reading, sports, music, visiting museums, hiking, biking, building things, or any number of other activities. Whatever you choose, finding a family hobby allows the whole family to spend time together engaging in an activity that everyone enjoys.

There you go…five ideas to give your family the prime rib of your time, energy, mood, and joy. Give them a try. Sit back and enjoy a full course meal with your family…no leftovers!

Becoming Your Child’s Royal Subject

Do you ever feel like your children are the ones in charge? Like you are their royal subject? In some ways, our children do hold a great deal of power. From the day our little prince or princess is born, they begin to shape our life. We sleep when she sleeps, eat when she eats, and change our schedule of activities based on her schedule. Our child’s royal reign does not end as she grows older. Even when she reaches her teen years, we find ourselves waiting up at night (with at least one eye open) for her to come through the front door safe and sound after an evening out with her friends…or, we arrange to eat dinner early so she can make it to the high school football game on time.
Yes, in many ways we become the royal subjects of our children. Really, it’s not such a bad thing. In fact, I believe it is good and right that we become subject to our children in some areas. Don’t get me wrong. Parents remain parents. Parents have to maintain a role of authority…but there are areas in which a parent becomes subject to their children; and, parent and child both benefit from this role. When we become the royal subjects of our children, we learn what it means to “not look out for our own personal interests but also for the interests of others.” We practice the art of “considering other people’s needs as more important than our own.” Consider this example. A mother generally learns the difference between her child’s cry of hunger and her child’s cry for a diaper change. When she hears her tired baby cry for a diaper change, she does not force her baby to sleep or eat. She does not decide that her baby’s need for a nap is more important than the baby’s “expressed” desire for a diaper change. No, a mother becomes her child’s royal subject. She submits to her child’s need and meets that need. Psychologists call this a contingent response: a response that is dependent on the child’s needs…a response that strives to meet the child’s expressed need. When parents become the royal subject of their child’s true needs, she will learn to trust others and develop a trust in her own ability to influence those around her to help meet her needs. In order for parents to practice giving their child a “contingent response,” they must become their child’s royal subject. This involves three things.
     ·         First, as a royal subject, make yourself aware of your child’s needs. Learn about your child and her fears, worries, vulnerabilities, joys, anticipations, and dreams. Discover what interests her and what bothers her. Learn about her daily activities and her upcoming activities. Pay attention to what arouses her fear and anxiety. Notice her moods and what precipitates those moods. Learn how your words impact her and what words elicit the best response from her. Discover when and where she is most likely to talk to you about her daily life. Pay attention to how she responds to you and adjust your response accordingly. In other words, give up your desire to make your child what you want them to be and study the person they are. Think more highly about her interests and do not let your interests dictate hers.

·         As your child tells you about her needs, accept them as legitimate. They may seem small and irrelevant to you, but they are significant and often overwhelming to your child. Give up your adult understanding long enough to listen to your child and understand her fear, joy, or anxiety about the situation. Empathize with her concerns and begin to ask questions to help you gain an understanding of her perspective of the situation. Give up your need to be heard and your desire for your child to have a pain-free existence. Instead, be vulnerable enough to accept her need, understand her perspective of that need, empathize with pain, and listen…listen…listen.

·         After you have shown your child that you understand the situation from her perspective and you have empathized with her concerns, then you can move into mutual problem solving. Do not solve the problem for her. Give up your need to have the perfect answer and become your child’s hero. Instead, allow her to problem solve and discover a solution with your guidance. You might even begin by simply asking, “What do you think you’ll do about that?” Then, have a conversation about the situation that can help her understand the problem in a new light. Develop a solution together.
Children teach us many things. By learning to have a “contingent response” to our child’s needs, we learn to “do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard [our child] as more important than ourselves, not merely looking out for our own personal interests, but also for the interests of [our child]” (Philippians 2:3-4). In this way, we become the royal subjects of our children so they can learn the best way to live and grow into mature adults.

Book Review: Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married

Gary Chapman, author of the 5 Love Languages series, hit another homerun for relationship success with his book Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married. In this book, Chapman shares lessons he learned while helping couples for over 35 years as well as from his own experience. Written for those who are dating or engaged, Things I Wish I’d Known explores 12 relationship facts that every couple needs to know in order to find marital happiness. Unfortunately, many young or engaged couples misunderstand these 12 relationship facts and this misunderstanding leads to marital conflict and stress. Gary Chapman candidly explores each of these 12 relationship facts and how to respond in a way that will promote marital happiness. Some of the facts explored include: “Being in love is not an adequate foundation for building a successful marriage,” “how to solve disagreements without arguing,” “mutual sexual fulfillment is not automatic,” “I was marrying into a family,” and “personality profoundly influences behavior.” Two of my personal favorites include “toilets are not self-cleaning” and “apologizing is a sign of strength.”

In an age where we spend months and thousands of dollars preparing for our wedding, this book offers a great investment in preparing for a lifetime of marriage. Each chapter has practical tips you can discuss with your date or spouse-to-be in an effort to truly prepare for marriage. Truly, I would have found this book helpful in preparing for my own marriage. I hope you will take the opportunity to read and discuss this book with your future spouse in preparation for a truly happy marriage. Find this book and others like it at Favorite Picks & Resources.

Stop Apologizing & Bear Fruit

Have you ever apologized and felt like it didn’t help? I have. In fact, I think it does no good to keep on apologizing over and over again, especially when you know what you did was wrong… especially when you know you need to apologize. Perhaps you missed your child’s game because you took a nap and didn’t wake up; or, you forgot to bring home the milk you promised to pick up. Whatever it was, you apologized but things just kept getting worse. You may have found yourself asking, “What do they want from me? I said I was sorry!” Let me offer a suggestion. In order to strengthen your apology and reconcile the relationship, you need to stop apologizing and “bear the fruit of repentance.” You need to show that the apology is more than just words; it’s a heartfelt desire to make a change. How can you assure your family that you are bearing the fruit of change? Let them smell the aroma of your apology and taste the sweetness of the fruit of your repentance. Here’s how:
     ·         Acknowledge what you did was wrong and that it had an impact on the whole family. Recognize that your family members had to compensate for your wrong actions. Recognize the work they did, and continue to do, to make up for your mistake or wrongdoing. Thank your spouse for being available to take your children to their activities when you chose to watch TV. Thank your children for “picking up the slack” left by your wrongdoing. Acknowledge that your actions resulted in the family having to do more work. Admire the work they did and appreciate how well they did it.

·         Change your behavior. I realize this takes effort and you may not reach perfection overnight; but, put in a genuine effort to change. As part of your apology, identify an alternative behavior that you will strive to achieve and describe that behavior to your family. Develop a plan to help you move toward the “new and improved behavior.” Seriously, sit down with your family members and develop steps that will help you engage in the new behavior. Be diligent in working to change your behavior.

·         Reveal your commitment to change by participating in family talks, walks, and activities. Become an integral part of the family. Commit to learning about the interests and needs of other family members. Make it just as important in your life to know your family’s interests and needs as it is to know your own. Participate in your family by generously giving them your time and energy.

·         Giving generously to your family will demand some sacrifice on your part. You might have to sacrifice some of “your personal time.” You might need to sacrifice some of the energy you invest in “your thing” so you have more energy to invest in your family. I’m not saying you have to give up everything you like; but, set some limits around your own interests so you can invest more in your family. Doing this will inform your family that they are more important to you than anything else.
The diligence with which you perform these four tasks will give your family a taste of the true flavor of your apology. The joy with which you perform these tasks will let them know if the fruit of your apology is ripe and ready for enjoyment or rotten and ready for the trash. As you commit to these tasks on a daily basis, you will find that you also enjoy the juicy fruit of repentance. After all, the fruit of a sincere apology will fill the whole family with the sweet taste of intimacy, joy, and pleasure. So, stop apologizing and bear some fruit.

Parents: Sowing & Reaping

“You reap what you sow.” I was thinking about this ancient saying the other day. We often tell our children to be careful what they sow because it will come back around to them in the reaping. In other words, there are natural consequences to our actions—a good lesson for our children to learn. But, parents can learn from this saying as well, especially in regards to how we treat our children. Think about it, we “reap what we sow.” Our children pick up everything we do and say. Worse yet, they repeat everything we say and do…good or bad. I have noticed that children not only repeat what their parents say or do, but they do so with little to no restraint. For instance, an adult may limit their swearing to times when they are very angry. But their preschooler hears that curse word and repeats it indiscriminately, without restraint, at the worst times, in the most inopportune moment. On the positive side, imagine a child watching you engage in acts of kindness or generosity and then practicing those virtues with abandon. Or picture your child overhearing you energetically speaking highly of others and doing the same. “You reap what you sow.”
I read a Jewish folktale in which a father kicks the grandfather out of their home. The grandfather roams the streets as a homeless beggar. One cold night, he sees his grandson playing in the yard. He explains who he is and asks for a blanket. The grandson runs into the house and asks his father for a blanket to give the old man. His father sends him to the attic to get one. When the grandson does not quickly return, his father goes in search of him and finds him cutting a blanket in half. “Why are you doing?” his father asks. “I am cutting the blanket in half, Father, so that I can give half to my grandfather. I am going to keep the other half for you. When you grow old and go out to beg in the cold, I’ll give you this part of the blanket to keep you warm,” the son replied. The father was stunned…but he realized that he was reaping what he had sown. It’s a “cat’s in the cradle” sort of thing.
The moral of the story: parents reap what they sow.  How do you want your children to “turn out”? How do you want them to behave? What character do you want them to develop? Begin to model that character today because your children are watching, learning, copying, and practicing…and we will “reap what we sow.”

Book Review: Why Marriages Succeed or Fail

Why Marriages Succeed or Fail…And How You Can Make Yours Last by John Gottman, PhD

John Gottman, professor and researcher at the University of Washington in Seattle, began studying couples and relationships in the 1970s. In this book, he shares what he has learned over years of research in the “love lab.” He brings couples into the “love lab” and observes their heart rate, pulse, blood flow, sweat, facial expressions, and the emotional content of their words as they have a disagreement. From this research, he has learned what leads to success or failure in relationships. In Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, Gottman identifies the four horsemen of the apocalypse that can disrupt a marriage as well as four keys to strengthen a marriage. He also reviews three types of relationships and myths about them, how thoughts impact marriage, and the difference between men and women in relationship. Gottman notes that the “magic ratio” of five positive experiences to every one negative experience is crucial to establishing a successful marriage. In other words, successful marriages honor one another fives times more often than they dishonor one another. Why Marriages Succeed or Fail is filled with questionnaires to help each person assess their marriage and practical ideas to promote stronger marriages. An excellent resource to help strengthen your marriage. Available through Favorite Picks & Resources.

Preventing Anxiety & Insecurity in Children

Check out this amazing quote: “In our half-century of international research, we’ve not found any other class of experience that has as strong and consistent an effect on personality and personality development as does the experience of rejection, especially by parents in childhood.” Ronald Rohner of the University of Connecticut made this statement after reviewing multiple studies of families and children. To rephrase—nothing has a stronger and more consistent impact on children than the experience of rejection by a parent. That is a bold statement! He goes on to explain that children who feel rejection by their parents tend to feel more anxious and insecure, behave in a more hostile and aggressive way toward others, and even experience difficulty forming secure, trusting relationships as adults. This researcher also noted that perceived rejection activates the same part of the brain as actual physical pain. Rejection hurts and the person who experiences rejection can relive that pain over and over again for years.
Children can feel rejected for many reasons. Perhaps they truly do have a rejecting parent. More likely, children have parents who do not actively reject them. Instead, they have parents who do not look up from the paper when their children talk to them…or parents that expend so much time and energy at work that they have no energy left for family…or parents who spend more time with their buddies, their hobbies, their yard, or their project than they do with their children. In each of these cases, children may feel rejected. Why? Because children sense that whatever takes up a parent’s time or attention is the parent’s top priority…everything else is simply rejected, even if that something else is them.
Of course, the flip side of rejection is acceptance. When children feel the unconditional acceptance of parents, they feel more secure and confident, they will more easily develop trusting relationships with others, and they learn to resolve difficulties without hostility and aggression. How can you make your child feel accepted? Here are a few hints:
     ·         Spend time talking and playing with them each day. Instead of you directing the play, let them lead. Play what they want to play and follow their lead in play.
·         Notice and describe their actions. Whether you acknowledge that they set the table or colored the dog red, your children learn that you notice them…and, if you notice them, you accept them.
·         Find ways to tell your children “yes.” Of course, you will have to say “no” sometimes, but look for the “yeses” as well. For instance, you may have to say, “No, you can’t go swimming today” but can you add in a “yes” like, “You could go tomorrow (or some other day)”? You will have to say, “No, you can’t play with that.” But, you can add a “yes” by simply saying, “Here, why don’t you play with this instead?” Finding ways to tell your child “yes” informs them that you want them to enjoy life, you accept their curiosity, and you accept their desire to remain active. You simply help them direct that energy in a positive direction.
·         Spend time with your child. Nothing spells love and acceptance like “T-I-M-E.”
·         Laugh with your children. Tell jokes. Be silly. Enjoy a funny show. Make fun of yourself a little bit at times. Teach them to not take life “too seriously,” but to enjoy life along the way.
·         Encourage your children.
·         Surprise your children with little spontaneous gifts or cards. These gifts can range from bringing home a rock for your little rock collector to downloading a new song for the budding musician in your family to cooking a special treat for the young culinary artist.
·         Spend time learning about your children’s interests and asking them about those interests. Pick up a book on that interest. Take them to a related store. Hook them up with another person who has a similar interest. Take up the interest yourself and use that interest as a vehicle to spend time with your child.
·         Did I say spend time with your child?
Engaging in behaviors and interactions that make your children feel accepted will yield amazing dividends. Your children will feel more secure and confident and, as a result, engage in more appropriate behavior. They will more easily develop trusting relationships with others, avoiding dangerous relationships and relationships that can derail them into negative behaviors. They will learn to resolve difficult situations with integrity and honor. They will grow up remembering a loving family and wonderful times.

A Superhero’s Gadget For Your Family

Did you ever notice that superheroes have the greatest gadgets? Think about it: Thor has a Hammer; Wonder Woman the Golden Lasso; Captain America his Shield; Spiderman the web shooter; Batman has too many gadgets to mention (whatever you need in any situation, including his “Batarang”); Ghost Rider has an enchanted chain; Green Lantern his power ring; the Dare Devil a billy club; and of course, Iron Man created his suit. Thinking about all the superhero gadgets got me thinking…. My family, every family, needs a super hero weapon to protect and defend against the enemies of intimacy, to pull out the truth and defeat the forces that divide to conquer. Well, after a diligent and thorough search through the galaxies (well maybe just my office) I have found the perfect weapon…one worthy of true superheroes. This weapon can right wrongs and bring the truth to light. It can defend against the enemies of intimacy and defeat our nemesis, “emotional distance.” What is this super gadget/weapon? The Sticky Note! That’s right…the sticky note is the family’s superhero gadget. Think about the power of a sticky note:
  • When you have accidentally hurt a family member’s feelings, you can write a note that says, “I’m sorry” and put it where they will see it. Of course, speaking to them and apologizing in person is still necessary, but the sticky note serves as a good follow up to really make the apology “stick” and help right the wrong done.
  • When you have to leave for work before your family awakens, bring the truth of your feelings to light by leaving a few sticky notes that say, “I love you” around the house.
  • Hide a sticky note that reads, “I miss you” when you have to be away from your family for a business trip. You might also write, “I love you,” “Have fun today,” “Just saying hi…” whatever creative expression of admiration, affirmation, or encouragement you can imagine. Hide these dynamic notes in various places so your family will find them and feel a surge of powerful love from you during your time away.
  • When your children are preparing for day camp or overnight camp, hide a few sticky notes that they will find during their time away. Leave messages like, “Have a wonderful day” or “I’m thinking about you.” Use any messages that will encourage or express the joy you feel because they are your children. (Do the same for your spouse as they leave for work.)
  • When you know a family member is feeling discouraged, put a sticky note someplace where they will find it and write, “I’m proud of you” or “I am glad you are in my life.” The power of an encouraging word will boost their mood and strengthen their resolve.
You get the idea. The sticky note can be used to pass on written words of apology, affirmation, adoration, encouragement, and love. Those words, written on the sticky note, have the power to encourage, excite, lift moods, reassure, energize, inspire, comfort, motivate, and strengthen each member of your family as well as your family as a whole. You can hand the sticky note directly to your family or use its “super sticky power” to attach it to some surface where they will find it as they go about their day. I guarantee that this family super gadget (the sticky note) will have enough super power to bring a smile to each family member’s face! 

The Chick-fil-A Family Interaction Model

Don’t you love Chick-fil-A? I like the spicy chicken sandwich…and the original chicken sandwich…and the grilled chicken sandwich…and the breakfast burrito (sausage—my apologies to the cow)…and….Well, you get the point. But, you know what I like best about Chick-fil-A? It doesn’t matter how complicated the order, how many times I change my order, or how crowded the restaurant, when I pay the cashier she politely says “Thank you.” Then, when I thank the cashier for my food she smiles and replies, “My pleasure.” She even says it with conviction, like she really means it. I think she does mean it! She says, with all sincerity, that it was her “pleasure” to serve me, to take the time to prepare my food and hand it to me at the counter, my table, or my car, wherever I happen to be. I love to eat there just to hear them say it… “Thank you” and “My pleasure.” 
Perhaps families could benefit from taking more than supper home from Chick-fil-A. Perhaps we could learn a lesson on customer service and practice it within our families. What would happen if “Thank you” and “My pleasure” became as common in our homes as they are in Chick-fil-A? Imagine if every act of kindness received a “thank you” and every thank you received a “my pleasure.” Take a moment and imagine how the atmosphere of a home might change if family members truly served one another out of “pleasure” rather than obligation. I cheerfully get my daughter a drink and when she says “thank you” I reply with a sincere, “My pleasure.” Or, when I finish mowing the grass on a hot day, my wife hands me an ice-cold drink while telling me, “Thank you for cutting the grass.” I reply with “My pleasure; and thank you for the drink.” “My pleasure,” she replies. Husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, children and siblings quoting the honoring words of the Chick-fil-A employee, “Thank you” and “My pleasure.” We might become known as the “My-pleasure-family-group.” We might also find that family members actually do take more pleasure in serving because they know their service is recognized and appreciated. Then, when thanked for our service we can sincerely reply with “my pleasure.”

Parenting Preschoolers, Marshmallows, & Success

What does parenting preschoolers, eating marshmallows, and success have in common? Apparently a lot. Daniel Goleman describes a fascinating study involving preschoolers and marshmallows. A researcher engaged a 4-to-6-year-old in play. After a short time, he told the child he had an errand to run. He plopped a marshmallow on the table and said, “If the marshmallow is there when I return, you can have two marshmallows.” The researcher then left the preschooler alone with the marshmallow for 15-20 minutes. Some preschoolers covered their eyes. Others turned around and “ignored” the marshmallow. Some even petted the marshmallow as though it were a stuffed animal or licked the table around the marshmallow. Of course, some ate the marshmallow. Those who did not eat the marshmallow until the researcher returned enjoyed two marshmallows. When the preschoolers prepared to graduate from high school, the researchers did a little follow up research. They discovered that the preschoolers who did not eat the marshmallow (waited until the researcher returned and earned a second marshmallow) were described by teachers and parents as more competent than those who quickly ate the single marshmallow. They scored an average of 210 points more on SAT tests. They tended to present as more positive, self-motivating, self-confident, and persistent. They exhibited the ability to delay gratification in pursuit of a goal (like waiting to get a second marshmallow). These habits, with delayed gratification as the centerpiece, can go on to contribute to thriving marriages, greater career satisfaction, and better health. This “marshmallow study” suggests that persistence and the ability to delay gratification sets the foundation for children to flourish and cope with the pressures of life. So, how can we help our children learn persistence? How can we help our children learn to delay gratification?
Researchers from Brigham Young University have recently helped us answer this question. They published a study that followed 325 two-parent families (with 11-14 year old children) in an effort to discover the origins of persistence. They found that both parents contributed to persistence. Interestingly though, persistence gained through fathers led to higher engagement in school and lower rates of delinquency over time. What did these fathers do that had the greatest impact on a child’s level of persistence? They did three things that all parents can do:
     1.      The fathers engaged in warm, loving relationships with their children. They were available to their children and engaged them in interactions. They listened to their children. They played with their children.

2.      The fathers held their children accountable for their behavior and emphasized the reasons behind the rules. They loved their children enough to teach them right from wrong. They pointed out inappropriate behavior and disciplined that behavior. At the same time, they explained why that behavior was inappropriate and explained alternative desired behaviors.

3.      The fathers gave their children an appropriate level of autonomy. They did not hold them back; nor, did they push them beyond their ability. This demands knowing your child. What are their strengths? What are their weaknesses? What are they developmentally able to do or not do? To learn the answers to these questions, a parent must take an interest in their child. They must become a student of their child and their child’s development.

Although this study pointed to the benefit of fathers in building persistence, both parents can practice the three ingredients noted above. When you do put these skills into practice, you increase the chances that your child will grow in their ability to stick to a task until it is done and pursue a goal until they achieve it. That is the beginning of success!

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