Archive for November 24, 2012

A Guest Post from Abraham Lincoln

As we celebrated Thanksgiving this year, I realized that true gratitude does not blossom in times of ease. True gratitude, a true spirit of thankfulness, blossoms under fire. Not that we would celebrate and give thanks for sickness, broken relationships, financial hardships, or losses in and of themselves. But we would, as truly thankful people, find something to be thankful for in the midst of hardship. We would recognize the rich blessings we have even in the midst of difficulties. Interestingly, long before computers, blogs, and twitter posts, Abraham Lincoln wrote a short proclamation calling the United States to thanksgiving and setting apart the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving. It was 1863; the Civil War continued to drag on. Citizens and families had witnessed the devastating battle and immense carnage of Gettysburg earlier that year. The threat of foreign involvement in the war loomed in the minds of our leaders. The nation remained at war. In the midst of this chaos and pain, Abraham Lincoln called for Thanksgiving. Consider his words with me:
 “The year that is drawing toward its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and Union.”
I know that Thanksgiving has passed for this year; but maybe, in the midst of our current financial stress, broken families, fatherless children, and personal losses, our families and our nation would benefit from giving heed to Abraham Lincoln’s words once again…not just on Thanksgiving Day but every day.

Book Review: “The Blessing of a B-” by Wendy Mogel, PhD

Wendy Mogel, author of The Blessing of a B-, looked ahead with confidence to the time she would parent her own adolescent children. After all, she had successfully navigated the challenges of parenting through the childhood years. In addition, she was a clinical psychologist who specialized in parenting and had worked with families for over 30 years. She had the knowledge and the expertise…she had even written a book on parenting children (The Blessing of a Skinned Knee). However, as her children became teens, she experienced “unrelenting power struggles over every conceivable topic,” monosyllabic responses rather than conversations, battles over neatness, confusion over which battles to fight, and grief that her adolescents were posting signs to “keep her out” of their rooms and choosing to spend to time with friends rather than family. Dr. Mogel discovered that parenting teens is hard work. She discovered that parenting teens is very different than parenting children. She turned to her Jewish traditions and rabbinic teaching for help in navigating the challenges of parenting teens. Fortunately for us, she has shared her insights in this book.
The Blessings of a B- offers excellent advice to any parent who is about to experience, or is currently experiencing, the years of parenting a teen. With a candor that can only come from someone who has been there and wisdom that combines her beliefs about God, expert parenting knowledge, and developmental research, Dr. Mogel shares lessons on how to survive the wilderness of adolescence and make it to the “promise land.”  Dr. Mogel encourages parents to accept their teens as “gloriously ordinary” by protecting them from society’s performance-oriented definition of success.  Chapters cover such topics as how to set your teen free, how to live graciously with the “chronically rude,” the true lesson of homework, guiding teens “out of the wilderness” of materialism and entitlement, and making time for rest and fun. Perhaps my favorite chapter deals with letting teens learn from bad judgment and stressful situations. Overall, Dr. Mogel acknowledges the challenges of parenting a teen…and offers personal testimony to that challenge. She also offers excellent advice for navigating those challenging years and a bright light of hope at the end of the tunnel…a confident expectation that the promise land awaits us at the end of our journey through the wilderness of parenting a teen.
Click here to view Dr. Mogel’s website and more information about her.

2 Parenting Essentials

To state the obvious, parents play a crucial role in their children’s lives. They serve their children as teachers, chefs, administrative assistants, launderer, house cleaner, transportation manager, moral conscience, landscaper, mentor, and trainer of all these areas as well. I’m sure we could add to this list of parenting jobs. However, we can reduce many parenting roles into two jobs: meeting our children’s needs and allowing them to take risks. Let me explain a little more.

Parents strive to meet their children’s every need—physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. Notice, though, that parents meet their children’s needs, not their every want and desire. For example, these items are wants and desires, not needs (children can live without them):
·         A cell phone
·         A TV in the bedroom
·         The most recent fad in tennis shoes, hairstyles, or clothing
·         A Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo DS, Gameboy, or any other hand-held gaming device
·         An Xbox, Wii, or other TV game device
·         Their favorite snack everyday
·         Rides everywhere and unearned cash in their pockets
·         To be constantly entertained
What does a child need? Children need parents to provide for their physical needs like food, shelter, and clothing. Parents may have to work long hours to provide for these physical needs; and, they probably spend many hours maintaining the home, shopping for food and clothes, repairing clothes, washing clothes, preparing food, and storing food. But, parents do not stop there. They also provide for their children’s emotional, mental, and spiritual needs. They invest in making a strong emotional connection with their children by spending time with them, playing with them, enjoying activities together, talking with them, etc. They also become a student of their children—learning about their interests, sensitivities, fears, and dreams. By learning about their children, parents build a stronger relationship with them. They also gain the knowledge necessary to effectively teach and discipline their children. This knowledge allows a parent to guide their children in values and beliefs that promote a healthy lifestyle. And, children respond best to discipline from a parent who knows them, has invested time in them, and has developed a strong relationship with them. Meeting our children’s needs builds trust, relationship, and security.
Parents also allow their children to take risks. When children have parents who meet their needs, they are free to explore the world around them. They trust that their parents will protect them. They have a sense that the world is a safe place. They want to explore and learn more about their world. Sometimes this exploration will create risk—risks like crossing the street for the first time, driving across the state alone, climbing up one branch higher in the tree, or deciding whether to study abroad for a semester in college. Sometimes, parents rush to protect their children from the possible threat or harm of exploration and risk. In this rush to protect, parents prevent exploration. By discouraging exploration and risk, they nurture fear and timidity. They rob their children of the opportunity to learn from their decisions and the consequences of those decisions. They stunt their children’s growing ability to make thinking ahead to consider the consequences, problem-solve, and make wise choices. They encourage children who “play it safe” rather than children who “step out in faith” and “enjoy the adventure.” 
Parents who encourage curious exploration and risk, on the other hand, nurture children who think ahead, consider the consequences of their actions, make better decisions, and practice effective problem-solving skills. These children become more mature, have a healthy sense of independence, and a greater willingness to seek out help when needed. So, go ahead…take the risk of letting your children take a risk.

Giving Thanks for My Family

This week we celebrate Thanksgiving…at least, the official holiday of Thanksgiving. Really, healthy families enjoy giving and sharing thanks every day, all year round. In fact, doing so will bring greater happiness to our lives and our family’s lives. At any rate, this week is Thanksgiving week and I wanted to share nine things I am thankful for in my family.
     1.      I am thankful for my wife’s cheesecake. I know it may seem unimportant to you, but that is only because you have never tasted her cheesecake. Amazing!

2.      I am thankful for the humor in my family. I love to see my wife and children laugh, even if it means laughing at me sometimes. I am thankful for laughter in my family. I am not sure my children are as thankful for “my humor” as I am thankful for their humor. Being the only male in an all-female household does lead to some humor differences…or, as my daughters might say, “humor challenges” on my part. Yes, I love the humor, joy, and laughter we share as a family.
3.      I am thankful for music in my family. We all enjoy music. Sometimes we enjoy serious music. Sometimes we enjoy playful music. Sometimes we enjoy downright silly music. We sing songs, play songs, make up songs and lyrics. I’ll let you in on a little secret—when my kids were smaller, I even danced with them while the music played…but don’t tell anyone.

4.      I am thankful for mealtimes with my family. I often work evenings so we don’t get to eat dinner together as often as I’d like. However, we do eat together as often as possible and that means we generally eat three to five major meals together a week. I enjoy those times of sharing conversation and food.

5.      I am thankful for my daughters’ cookies. They make awesome chocolate chip cookies. Those cookies taste best when fresh out of the oven, warm and melting in your hand. Of course, the preparation includes eating some raw cookie dough and trying to sneak an extra spoonful when my daughters tell me not to. I am thankful for my daughters’ cookies.

6.      I am thankful for play in my family. We love to play. We enjoy playful conversation, playful interactions, and playful games. I have to say, I am not the most competitive person in the world, but I do enjoy playing games with my family and friends. “All I want to do is to make them smile, if it takes just a little while…” Usually, when we play a game everyone ends up smiling, laughing, and having a good time.

7.      I am thankful for our arguments. Yes, they happen. When I think about it, I am thankful for them. As much as I find them frustrating at the time, those arguments and disagreements bring us closer. We learn about one another. We learn how to have disagreements while still loving and sharing love. We learn how to resolve disagreements and keep the love. We learn what is really important and what is not so important. We learn to love one another. Yes, I am even thankful for our arguments.

8.      I am thankful for closeness in my family. We share a lot of love in our family. Sometimes I come home from work and find everyone in my room lounging on the bed and sharing time together. I don’t even have a place to sit down. But, everyone shifts around and makes room. I pretend to grumble about it, but really I’m thankful that we can all sit in the same small room and enjoy one another’s company. We share a closeness that means the world to me.

9.      I am thankful for my family’s faith. We love our Heavenly Father. We love worshipping our Savior. I am thankful for the times we can do that as a family. From the time my children were small, I have found no greater joy than to worship as a family. My whole family desires to do that…and for that I am thankful.
What are you thankful for in your family?

How to Change Your Child’s Sense of Entitlement into Gratitude

Children often act like they believe themselves entitled: entitled to have their needs and wants satisfied immediately; entitled to not suffer, work, or adapt to the rules; entitled to have what others have; entitled to be in control. You’ve seen it in action. Your child wants a cookie and you tell them to wait until after dinner. They complain, “Why do I have to wait? I want it now!” Our son asks for a new bike and we suggest they work to help pay for it. They protest, “But Joey already has his new bike and his parents bought it. Can’t you buy it with your credit card?” Our daughter asks to stay out later than curfew. We explain the curfew and the reason for the curfew but our daughter does not want to adjust to the rules; she wants the rules to adapt to her desires. Yes, our children often seem to have a sense of entitlement. How does a parent respond? How can we help them mature into a sense of gratitude instead of a sense of entitlement? Here are some tips to move our child from entitlement and replace it with a sense of gratitude.
Model Gratitude. If we want our children to develop a sense of gratitude, we have to model it in our own lives. Make it a practice to say “thank you” when others show you kindness and courtesy. Thank your children when they complete a task or show a kindness. Express gratitude for the blessings you receive throughout the day. Spend more time acknowledging the things for which you are grateful and less time complaining about the things you wish you had or the things that frustrate you. Let you children see a grateful person in you. Ultimately, they want to be just like you.
Give Generously. Give generously of your material blessings, your time, your energy, and your affection. Let your children see that generously sharing your material blessings ranks above amassing great personal wealth. Let them witness your generosity toward the waitress or other public servants. Let them see you give generous affection to friends and family. Exhibit a generous giving of your time in common courtesies and acts of kindness for your children to see. Meet your children’s needs with an overflowing abundance of generosity. Let your children observe your generous spirit in all circumstances.
Withhold Wisely. Yes, give generously. Meet your children’s needs abundantly and generously. But, when your children make a self-focused request that reveals their sense of entitlement, withhold wisely. When your children demand that you satisfy their every want and desire or expects you to change the rules to alleviate their need to adapt, withhold wisely. Your children will get frustrated and even voice that frustration: “That’s not fair,” “But my friend gets to…,” “You are so mean.” However, they also learn several important messages. They learn the difference between a want and a need, that not every want is a need.  They learn that the same person they trust to generously meets their needs will also, at times, deny their desires. Most importantly, they learn that the parents who generously meets their needs and wisely holds back from satisfying every desire, is acting for their benefit. They learn the difference between a want and a true need. They learn to be grateful for all that they have, both out of need and desire.
Build Traditions of Gratitude. Find ways to build thankfulness into the fabric of your family life. Offer thanks before meals. Spend time each day sharing things for which you are grateful. Learn to offer one another thanks throughout the day.   Creatively explore ways to thank others as a family—a homemade card, a family song, a poem, or other way to share thanks.
So we have it: four ways to help our children move from a sense of entitlement to a sense of gratitude. You know what they say…practice makes perfect. So, when it comes to developing a sense of gratitude: Practice, Practice, Practice!

Is Your Family Like a Scene from RV? Try Rituals

This scene from RV vividly describes how the culture and our busy lives can pull our family apart. We watch as the RV rolls down the highway for a great family vacation; which, by the way, the father, Bob Munro, initiated in an effort to meet his own employment needs. His wife rides in the passenger seat, listening to her IPod and singing along to her music. His son sits behind the passenger seat with headphones on, flexing his biceps, and “singing” along with his favorite rap. Directly across from him and behind the driver’s seat, sits his daughter. She also has her headphones securely in place and is screaming along with her favorite tune. A family of four starting their vacation, confined in an RV for an extended drive…yet living in four different worlds. They have no interaction, no talking, no connection. Everyone is together in one place, yet all alone. You know what the Munro family needs? They need a good set of family rituals, like eating together, spending time together at the end of the day, a weekly family game night, or a date night.
Rituals are like the glue that can hold families together. Practicing rituals on a regular basis builds and strengthens family relationships. Rituals provide a regular opportunity for family members to connect with one another. The whole family is encouraged to cooperate and think about the other person. Everyone participates, creating an opportunity to enjoy time together, have fun, and experience a meaningful time of connection. 
Rituals also help to build family identity. If you have a family ritual that involves a family game night, your family takes on the identity of “game-lovers,” “fun-lovers,” or “competitors.” If your family enjoys volunteering as a family ritual, you take on the identity of “helpers,” “volunteers,” or “caregivers.” Families that practice a ritual of participating in Sunday Worship become known as “church-goers” or “Christians.” Those that connect over sporting activities become the “athletes;” those who camp become known as the “campers.” The list goes on. The rituals we engage in help us build a family identity in which the whole family can take pride.
Rituals help build predictability into the family as well. A ritual occurs on a regular basis. Knowing that our family “has pizza every Friday night” builds predictability and anticipation into the weekly schedule. That predictability brings security to our children. They like to know that “our family always does that.” And, secure children are better behaved children. The anticipation of a regularly occurring ritual encourages good behavior. In addition, family members can arrange their schedule around regularly scheduled rituals, ensuring time for connection building and family fun.
Finally, rituals provide an opportunity to instill family values into the family. We celebrate shared meaning in our rituals. Celebrating birthdays communicates the value we place on individual family members. Celebrating Christmas and Easter becomes an opportunity to communicate the joys of giving, the love of God, and the humble sacrifice of Christ. The ritual of a game night communicates the importance of fun. Families that connect over rituals of sports teach sportsmanship, discipline, and graciousness in winning and losing. Rituals instill family values.
Yes, the Munro family really needed practice a few family rituals before getting into that RV. Maybe your family does too. If so, start today with the simple ritual of giving a hug and kiss good-bye when you leave the house and another hug and kiss when you return. It may sound silly, but practicing the rituals of connection pays will bring added joy to your life!

Using the Power of Awe for Your Family

Take a moment to recall the last time you experienced something immense…so immense that it made you stand in awe…so immense that it led you to change your perception of the world. Perhaps you felt a sense of awe when you watched the gymnasts compete during the Olympics. Or, maybe you felt a sense of awe after seeing a picture of the Grand Canyon or perhaps the power of a recent storm. I felt a sense of awe driving through the Laurel Mountains this weekend. Recently, I read a series of studies showing that experiencing awe gave one the perception of having more time. Time seems to expand after experiencing a sense of awe and a person feels like they have more time. With an expanded sense of time, people often exhibited more patience. They also showed a greater willingness to give their time to others and they experienced a momentary boost in life satisfaction. All this because they simply experienced awe! This made me think…wouldn’t it be nice if my family members exhibited more patience, shared their time with one another, and seemed happier for a time? Experiencing awe could facilitate this experience. When we find a way for our families to experience awe together, we encourage them to feel like they have more time and, as a result, increase their patience and willingness to spend time together. So, how can we help our families experience awe?
     ·         Visit places and events that are awe-inspiring. This might include visiting a natural formation like the mountains, the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls or the sunset. An awe-inspiring event could also elicit awe…an event like a concert (the symphony, the CLO, or the ballet) or something like the Cirque du Soleil.

·         Share awe-inspiring stories with one another. Tell your family members about something awe-some that you experienced. This could include something you saw, something you heard, or something you read.

·         In all of these events, take pictures so you can re-experience this awe at a later time by simply reviewing the pictures and talking about the event with one another.

·         You can also seek out awe-inspiring videos to share with your family. It’s fun to look and fun to share.

·         Worship together. Christian families have the opportunity to experience awe in their worship of an awe-inspiring Father. Take the time to seek out aspects of God that produce awe and share those with one another. Combining the last two points, I’d like to share this video with you…an awe-inspiring video. So, gather the family around and share a time of awe. Enjoy the benefits of sharing this awe with your family.

Parents, Do You Bail, Pounce, or Let ’em Suffer

I reread the story of the Prodigal Son the other day. You might recall the story…a son asks his father for his inheritance. This loving father gives his son his inheritance, no questions asked. The son leaves home and blows the whole thing on wasteful living. He ends up broke, without friends, and working one of the lowliest, dirtiest jobs possible. Of course, he eventually “comes to his senses” and returns home expecting to become a servant in his father’s house. Instead, he finds a compassionate, gracious father who restores his status and position in the family. I have always loved contemplating the father’s loving response when the prodigal returns home. However, this time I was captivated by the father’s actions during the prodigal son’s time away. Think about it. The prodigal son’s father may have known how his son wasted his money. He likely knew that his son was lonely, broke, working in a pig pen, and longing to eat the pig’s food.
At that point, the father had a choice. He could have sent his son some money. I’m sure he hated to see his son suffer. Like most parents, he probably hated knowing that his son suffer from an extreme need that he had the resources to relieve. In response, the father of the prodigal son could have sent his son a sum of money with a note attached—”Son, I know that times are hard so I sent you some money to help make ends meet. You are always welcome home.” What do you think the son would have done if he had received money from his father? Most likely, he would have wasted that money on “crazy living,” just like he did with the inheritance.  The father’s bail out would have robbed his son of the opportunity to learn from his mistakes. This temporary relief would have led to more long-term suffering. On a lesser note, the father would have lost more money. More significantly, the father would have to watch his son continue to spiral out of control and suffer the consequences of bad choices.
Of course, the father could have simply put up with his son’s situation. He could have endured his son’s misbehavior and grumbled to himself about how agitated he was by his son’s behavior. He might have become more and more frustrated as his son continued to waste money and spiral into bankruptcy. He could have allowed his bitterness to grow as he contemplated how his son had “taken advantage” of his kindness and generosity. When his son finally did return home, he could have waited at the top of the driveway—arms folded, tapping his foot; and, when his son confessed his wrong-doing and apologized, the father could have pounced.  He could have released all that pent up anger and frustration, unleashing a torrent of “I told you so’s” on his son. He would be justified in yelling, lecturing…and maybe even calling out a few names. Unfortunately, his son would have quit listening. Once again, the father would have robbed his son of any opportunity to learn from his mistakes. His son would turn his focus onto his father’s behavior…”This is why I left in the first place;” “all he ever does is yell at me;” “I can never satisfy him;” “I don’t know why I ever came back I the first place.” In the midst of all this, the son would never consider his own inappropriate misbehavior. By redirecting the son’s focus from his own misbehavior to the father’s emotional pouncing, the father would have successfully robbed his son of the opportunity to learn. His son may have even turned around and returned to the pig pen while the father continued to lecture and yell.
This father, on the other hand, allowed his son to suffer the consequences of his misbehavior. This father showed great wisdom. He allowed his son to suffer for his misbehavior. He did not step in to save the son from painful consequences. He did not lecture, yell, and scold. He simply witnessed the consequences, allowed the suffering, and waited for his son to realize the pain of his misbehavior. He may have empathized with that suffering, but he did not bail him out. He held onto the faith that his son would learn from his mistakes and the consequences of that mistake. He trusted his son to learn…and allowed him the time to do so. As a result, this son learned a valuable lesson about choices and consequences. He learned even more about the strength of his father’s love and acceptance.
We face similar choices with our children every day. Sometimes it is best to let our children experience the pain and discomfort of their bad choices, even when our heart aches to watch them suffer. If we bail ’em out, they will never learn. If we pounce on them with yelling, lecturing, and scolding, they will never learn. But, if we let ’em suffer now and again, they will learn a valuable lesson about behavior, love, acceptance, and obedience.