The October 26, 2015, issue of Time Magazine published a cover story entitled “Help, My Parents are Millennials.” The author of this article referenced BabyCenter’s findings from a survey of 2,700 US moms between the ages of 18 and 44 years and completed in February. One finding in particular caught my eye. According to the BabyCenter’s survey, 80% of millennial moms (18-34 years old) felt it “important to be ‘the perfect mom.'” The same was true for 70% of moms in “Generation X” (35-44 years old in this survey). Let me restate that: 70-80% of moms between 18 and 44 years old strive to be “the perfect mom.” Unfortunately, this means that 70-80% of these mothers experience extreme self-doubt and “a lot of guilt” about falling short on the impossible and mythical task of “perfect parenting” (read 6 Myths of the Perfect Parent). There is no such thing as a “perfect parent”…and that is a good thing! Don’t get me wrong. I do not condone intentionally selfish parents or uncaring abusive parents. However, when parents strive to do their best job as a parent and fall short (which they will), their children will benefit from their shortcomings. Children gain amazing benefits from their imperfect parents. Let me explain by noting a few of the benefits children receive from imperfect parents.
- Children of imperfect parents learn how to manage stress and frustration. Studies suggest that effective parents remain “in sync” with their children about 20-30% of the time. Parents and children just can’t be perfectly “in sync,” in tune, all the time. Life carries too many distractions. That means parents are “out of sync” with their children 70-80% of the time, a frustrating experience that may leave children feeling unheard, unappreciated, or insignificant. These minor breaches in connection allow children to learn ways of managing frustrations and stresses in a healthy manner. Times of being “out of sync” with a parent encourages children to learn independence, how to soothe themselves, how to meet their own emotional and physical needs, and how to wait, go without, or modify their goals as appropriate.
- Children of imperfect parents learn to accept and love in spite of flaws. In general, our children experience our love and affection, justified anger, appropriate discipline, and emotions that make sense in a given situation. However, life is filled with distractions. In the midst of life’s messiness, we will miss the mark, fall short, misunderstand, feel misunderstood, disagree, have bad days, get tired, feel overwhelmed, get hurt, etc. At those times, our children may experience another side of us—a less attractive side. They may experience unjustified anger, irrational sorrow, or even our intrusive overwhelming preoccupation with their well-being. They will learn great things from such shortcomings. They will learn that everyone has good and bad qualities, healthy and “not-so-healthy” reactions. They will learn that our love is greater than our mistakes. They will learn to accept us in spite of our flaws, love us in spite of our shortcomings…just as we accept and love them in spite of their flaws and shortcomings. And, by learning to accept us in spite of our flaws, they will learn to accept themselves as well…warts and all.
- Children of imperfect parents learn to forgive and be forgiven. Sometimes we will need to apologize to our children for our mistakes, to ask their forgiveness for our wrongs. This provides a powerful lesson in forgiveness. Our children learn that everyone can humble themselves to admit a wrong and ask forgiveness. They also learn the grace of offering forgiveness and the joy of restored relationships. If we, the parents, can seek forgiveness, our children will learn to do the same. When parents forgive, children learn to forgive.
Perfect parents are a myth. Even more, the myth of the perfect parents is dangerous. It adds stress and pressure to an already difficult task. And, perfect parents hinder their children’s opportunity to grow. But an imperfect parent…now that’s a different story. Imperfect parents strive to parent more effectively but realize their own imperfections. They focus on developing a parent-child relationship filled with acceptance and repair. In so doing, their imperfections become opportunities of growth, maturity, and intimacy with their children. (Read Open the Door for Change to learn how relationships promote growth.)
The green-eyed monster of jealousy can raise its ugly head in all of us. Who hasn’t felt a tinge of jealousy when our loved one gives the attention we desire to another? That green-eyed monster can even possess our sweet little preschoolers, twisting their faces with pain and filling their actions with anger. It’s not surprising that preschoolers experience jealousy. After all, preschool children become very attached to their loving parents and even need that attachment to survive. So, when they see their parent giving the attention they need and desire to another, the green-eyed monster shows up. Preschooler’s also define themselves, at least in part, by their possessions, what they have at the moment. Some developmental specialists even say a preschooler’s identity is “bound up in their possessions.” So, when one preschooler takes another preschooler’s toy, the green-eyed monster of jealousy rises up.
little boy and girl playing with mobile phones
Perhaps the green-eyed monster is not all bad. In fact, the green-eyed monster may be more informant than monster. He informs us of our children’s affections and love. He reveals our children’s need for “Mom and Dad.” He communicates our children’s fear of losing their parents’ attention, care, and comfort. Jealousy reveals our children’s potential insecurity in relationship to us (his parents). In other words, that little green-eyed informant reminds us that our preschoolers need us. He presents an opportunity for us to learn about our children’s inner world of emotions, fears, motivations, thoughts, and desires. He creates an opportunity for us to connect with our children and teach them important life lessons. How can we respond to the opportunity brought to our attention by the green-eyed informant? I’m glad you asked.
- First, sit back and take a deep breath. Realize that jealousy is a normal emotion. You do not need to squelch it, crush it, or push it under. Instead, strive to understand it and its source. Become curious and let this green-eyed informant teach you about your children’s affections, thought-life, and motivations. The more you understand your children, the better you can help them overcome their jealousy.
- Several emotions, like fear and insecurity, can lurk under and fuel your preschooler’s jealousy. You can help alleviate these underlying fears and insecurities by assuring your children receive the love and attention they need. I don’t mean you have to give your children constant, 24/7 attention. But, your children do need daily attention. They need to experience your delight in them. They need to hear you acknowledge them and appreciate their contribution to your life and home. They need to see you enjoy their company and presence. Delight in, acknowledge, appreciate, and enjoy your children every day. Then, when the green-eyed informant shows up, take the opportunity to do each of these things again!
- Teach your children to acknowledge the green-eyed informant and its underlying emotions. Help them label the emotions and talk about them. In order for your children to have the ability to talk to someone about their emotions or to calmly address whatever contributes to their emotional state, they need to possess the language of emotions. To rethink an emotional experience and gain a more accurate picture of how to respond or act on an emotion, your children need a language of emotion. Take the opportunity presented by the green-eyed informant to teach your children the language of emotion.
- Teach your children gratitude for “what they have” and “who they are.” Gratitude for what they have will help free them from grasping at possessions or longing for what someone else owns. Teaching children to recognize the blessings in their life will help them focus on the more important aspects of life, like family, friends, love, and life. It will help build their trust in a God who provides. This gratitude will decrease the frequency with which the green-eyed informant shows up.
These four practices will transform the green-eyed monster in your preschooler into a green-eyed informant, a friendly little guy who can help you grow closer to your preschooler and allow you to help your preschooler mature.
People often enter into marriage armed with weapons of mass destruction. (We also possess tools to help our marriages flourish. Read about them in 4 Tools for a Happy Marriage.) These weapons will sink your marriage if you do not disarm them. Unfortunately, many people do not know the potential danger of these weapons. Many do not even know they carry such dangerous weapons into their marriages. As a result, they accidently discharge them with their spouses and sink their marriages. To avoid the dangers these weapons present to your marriage, you must become aware of them and disarm them. What are the weapons of mass destruction in your marriage? Let me briefly describe four.
- Disrespect can blow your marriage apart. Disrespect does not appear all that dangerous when seen one “tiny” incident at a time. However, these “tiny” incidents add up. Words and actions of disrespect, no matter how small, accumulate. Your spouse may ignore disrespectful words and actions for a time, even laugh them off. Still, those disrespectful words and actions are not forgotten. They lodge deep within your spouse’s heart and mind. Like a time bomb waiting to explode, they build up pressure and move forward in a silent countdown until…they blow your marriage to smithereens from the inside out. Disarm this dangerous weapon with respect.
- Passivity will destroy your marriage as well. A lack of involvement in the practical, day to day activities of nurturing and maintaining your marriage will leave an emotional emptiness in your spouse. As you give away your responsibility to care for your marriage, the emptiness in your spouse will grow larger. If you do not become actively involved in nurturing, caring for, and growing your marriage, the emptiness in your spouse will become a vacuum. Nothing can fill that vacuum but your active involvement in your marriage. If you do not step in and become actively involved, that vacuum will grow until your relationship implodes. The foundation of commitment and trust will disappear as the walls of love collapse inward into an empty abyss of darkness. Prevent this collapsing vacuum from destroying your relationship by becoming actively involved in your marriage.
- Resentment will also sink your marriage. Any anger you harbor against your spouse or parents will grow into resentment and bitterness. That resentment will distort your vision. It will interfere with your ability to see your spouse’s positive contributions. Instead of recognizing acts of love you will perceive self-seeking benefits. Instead of admiration you will see manipulation. Instead of cooperation you will see nagging demands. I know it’s hard to believe, but resentment and bitterness will distort your vision dramatically. Eventually, you will blindly fire this resentment at your spouse like a torpedo. You will repeatedly fire torpedoes of resentment into your spouse’s loving, admiring, collaborative efforts and sink your marriage in the deep waters of bitterness. There is only one way to disarm resentment—forgiveness (read 5 Steps for Forgiving Family).
- Pride will also devastate your marriage. Pride will render you insensitive to the needs of others. An exaggerated sense of your own self-importance blinds you to the needs of others, makes you disinterested in their pains and their joys, and leaves you insensitive to their needs and desires. You will trample on your spouse’s feelings while focused on your own needs and desires. You will crush opportunities to connect as you revel in your own sense of importance. And, as you do, your marriage will experience nuclear devastation. Avoid this nuclear devastation by humbly seeking your spouse’s best interest.
These four weapons of mass destruction can destroy your marriage if left armed and unattended. Take the time now to disarm them. Humble yourself. Forgive those you need to forgive. Get involved in your marriage. Show your spouse deep respect. In so doing, you will save your marriage and build a great, lasting joy!
Did you know you possess a “mini-toolkit” for building a happy marriage? You received it free of charge a long time ago. The tools in this kit may have sat dormant for years, but each one can help your marriage grow. When you start to effectively use these tools, you will build years of security, intimacy, and joy into your marriage. Review them carefully and use them often.
- Respectful words tighten up loose connections with your spouse. Polite saying like “thank you,” “please,” and “I’m sorry” will bring a level of closeness to your marriage you never imagined possible. Add in respectful actions like holding a door open for your spouse, accepting your spouse’s opinion, or speaking well of your spouse in public will bring even tighter connections.
- Forgiveness, on the other hand, loosens bolts of resentment. Every spouse needs to practice forgiveness to let go of the hurt of accidental miscommunications and misunderstandings, statements made in anger, and insensitive actions. The wrench of forgiveness has freed many a marriage from the rusted “bolt-grip” of resentment and anger. Use this tool often.
- Active involvement allows each spouse to drill into “the thick of things” and fully participate in a growing marriage. Your active involvement in your relationship will help you know your spouse more intimately and enable you to show your spouse the depth of your love. No one wants a giant paperweight, a slug, for a spouse. We want a spouse who jumps in, gets involved, participates in decisions, and helps with the tasks of growing a marriage and family. Pull out that drill and drill into “the thick” of your relationship.
- Blessings act like a vice to secure your individual lives into an intimate bond. When you bless instead of curse your spouse’s heart will soften. You will experience a growing intimacy in response to blessing. You can bless your spouse with compliments, encouraging words, gratitude, and affirmations. Each time you offer a blessing, you strengthen the intimacy of your relationship.
These four tools—respect, forgiveness, involvement, and blessing–will tighten connections, loosen resentments, reveal deeper love, and strengthen secure intimacy in your marriage. The greatest news—you already possess each of these tools. All you have to do is start using them. So, pull out that toolkit and start working on your relationship today!
Want to reduce anxiety and family stress? I learned a surprising way to do it. A study by Adam Hanley has documented a daily activity that reduces anxiety by 27%! This same activity increased “mental inspiration” in his test group by 25%. And, all this happened in response to a simple six minute activity—washing dishes! Wait, don’t quit reading yet. I know it sounds crazy; and, truthfully, it did include a little more than “just” washing dishes. Let me explain. In this study, two groups were asked to wash dishes. One performed the six-minute task in the usual way. They simply washed the dishes and let their mind wander from distraction to distraction. The second group was encouraged to focus on the sensory experience of washing dishes. They were told to focus on the smell of the soap, the feel and shape of the dishes, the sensation of the water and soap on their hands, etc. Doing the dishes in this manner, a “mindful manner,” resulted in the positive impact. It increased the perception of time slowing down, an enjoyable perspective for all of us who feel rushed. Focusing on the here and now sensations of washing dishes also decreased anxiety by 27% and increased “mental inspiration” by 25% compared to the control group.
This study focused on dishwashing, but the results suggest that performing any household task in a “mindful manner” (one in which you focus on the here and now sensations) may have a similar effect. Prior to this study, mindful activities have been shown to decrease negative moods and contribute to improved sleep. This study suggests mindful activities also give the pleasurable sensation of time slowing down, decreasing anxiety, and increasing mental inspiration. With all these benefits, why not make it a point to be mindful during all your household chores? While you’re at it, teach your kids to complete chores in a mindful manner. Imagine…a family that completes simple household tasks while focusing on the here and now sensations of that task, will become less anxious, less moody, filled with more mental inspiration, and find they sleep better. Sounds like a good deal to me!
The bond between a father and daughter is precious relationship. The father-daughter relationship brings one of the greatest joys a father will experience. It also brings many benefits to his daughter. A woman who had the joy of a positive father-daughter relationship experiences greater confidence. She is more likely to graduate from college and enter into a higher paying job traditionally held by males. She is less likely to become sexually active as a teen or experience teen pregnancy. When she marries, a daughter of an involved father is more likely to experience an intimate, fulfilling, long-lasting, and satisfying relationship. We could go on listing the positive effects of strong father-daughter relationship—like a daughter’s decreased chance of depression and greater satisfaction with her appearance–but, knowing the benefits of a strong father-daughter bond is only the beginning. What we really need to know is how to develop that strong bond? What can a father do to create the kind of father-daughter relationship that will increase the chance of his daughter receiving all these benefits? A professor and former graduate student from Baylor University have answered this question! They asked 43 fathers and 43 daughters (who were not related by the way) to pinpoint crucial moments of change in their father-daughter relationships. Remarkably, the fathers and daughters agreed as to the most important turning point in their relationships. Engaging in shared activities was the number one turning point in their relationship. Shared activities allowed fathers and daughters to develop a closer, more intimate relationship. It allowed them to spend time together and share something meaningful to both of them. Shared activities added meaning and joy to their relationship. Shared activities include everything from working together to church functions to extra-curricular activities, traveling together, working on school projects, and, the biggest one, sports.
There it is. The way to build a strong father-daughter relationship is through shared activities. What are you waiting for? Get out there and get involved in your daughter’s life. Do some work around the house or in the yard together. Volunteer together. Coach her softball team. Play chess. Go hunting. Take a trip. Spend time with your daughter doing something you will both enjoy. You will cherish those times forever and she will reap the benefits into adulthood!
Pope Francis made several important and insightful statements about the family during his unscripted remarks made “from the heart.” You can read several of these comments in the Catholic Herald or the New York Times. I would like to take a moment and expand upon one of his statements…and, if it I may be so bold, modify one word. Specifically, Pope Francis stated, “The family is like a factory of hope.” I love the idea that family produces hope. I agree wholeheartedly. At the same time, I would like to modify one word—factory. Factory brings to mind a precise method of assembling or manufacturing a product to consistent specifications within a specific timeframe. Every product in a factory begins with the same raw materials, goes through the same process, and becomes a finished product that meets the same specifications as every other product produced by that factory. Families are not so precise, not so mechanical. Families are messy. They vary. They start with different raw materials and require a variety of processes, even from within the same family. I think families are more “like a nursery of hope.” I’m not speaking of a baby nursery; I’m speaking of a plant nursery.
The family is like a nursery of hope. Like a plant nursery, families prepare the soil to grow hope. They nourish it with rich doses of acceptance and love to increase its fertility. Families then plant the precious seed of hope in the soil they have prepared. They meticulously plant it to a depth unique to each particular seed. They spend time carefully adjusting the nutrients in the soil of their family to match the unique needs of the seed they plant. Each family studies their particular seeds for those characteristics that mark them as unique and then adjusts the home environment accordingly. If the seed requires more time poured into it, let it pour. If it prospers with more encouragement toward independence, encourage. In other words, the family becomes a student of the seed, learning as much as possible about the seed and what will best promote it to grow in hope, love, and maturity. Through their study of the seed, the family learns what branches to prune, how to discipline, so the tree will grow deeper roots of wisdom, a broader trunk to supply strength, and branches that reach toward higher dreams. Throughout the growth of each family member, the family provides support, nourishment, and protection so hope can grow from seed to fragile sapling to mighty tree. When hope reaches maturity, the family watches in awe as a bud blooms on their tree of hope and transforms into a fruit unique to that family—a fruit they can admire, a fruit they can share with the world, a fruit from which they can take further nourishment, and a fruit which they can use to plant more hope. Truly, the family is like a nursery of hope. Tend to it with special love and care.
Do you enjoy parenting? I do…most of the time anyway. There are times I’d like to throw in the towel; but overall, I really enjoy parenting. My kids are in the process of “leaving the nest” and I’m going to miss having them at home to parent. As they prepare to leave, I have thought about what I have enjoyed about parenting. I realize I’ve experienced some “joy robbers” and some “joy starters” when it comes to parenting. Sometimes I even allowed the “joy robbers” to take over. I’d like to share these “joy robbers” and “joy starters” with you so you can enjoy parenting “to the max” and avoid the mistakes I’ve made along the way.
First, the Joy Robbers:
- Overscheduling. When you overschedule your children they get tired. You get grumpy. Everyone gets a shorter fuse. Overscheduling makes everyone in the family feel like they are constantly on the run and constantly under pressure. Slow down. Schedule in some down time. Overscheduling is a joy robber.
- Expecting perfection. If you expect perfection from your children you will experience disappointment and frustration. They are children…and children are not perfect. What’s more, you are a parent…and parents are not perfect. We all make mistakes. We all fall short. Rather than expecting perfection, encourage everyone to do their best and accept one another in spite of shortcomings. Expecting perfection will rob you of joy.
- Living through your children. We cannot expect our children to live out our unfulfilled dreams. They may not be interested in becoming the star quarterback we dreamed of becoming…or the lead in the musical…or the straight “A” student…or the artist…or the popular jock…you get the idea. Asking them to do so (even subtly) will only lead to frustration. Let your children live their own dream based on their own interests and strengths. Get a life of your own. Living through your children is a definite joy robber.
- Focusing on frustrating moments. Life is filled with frustrations, irritations, and hassles. However, life is also filled with moments of fun, joy, and amazing connections. Joy robbers focus on the frustrations, irritations, and hassles. Count your blessings. Make it a point to “shout out” gratitude. Focusing on the frustrating moments will do nothing for your joy.
- All work and no play. Parents and children need time to play. Sure we need to get some work done; but maybe we can build play into the work. Sometimes we can even set the work aside for a time and enjoy one another’s company while we play. Go ahead and play because all work and no play is a joy robber!
- Spend time with your children. Joyful parents discover the most intimate and joyous times with children come during the most mundane and unexpected moments like driving to the grocery store, getting ready for bed, playing catch, or cooking dinner. You miss joyful moments when time together is rare. Time spent with children is the first joy starter.
- Tune in to your children. Become a student of your children. Learn about their interests, strengths, weak areas, and fears. Take time to meet their friends and teachers. Be accepting of what they dislike about you and the rules they disagree with. The more you tune into your children, the more joy you will discover as a parent.
- Appreciate the little pleasures. Make it a point to express gratitude to your children every day. Appreciate the little things they do around the house, even if miniscule. Give a “shout out” of gratitude for the times you spend together, the talks you have, or the activities you enjoy. Thank them for spontaneously doing a chore or following through on something you had to ask them to do. Focus on those things you appreciate rather than the hassles. There are plenty of both; but your joy will grow as you focus on gratitude.
- Play. Make time to play with your children. Play builds intimacy. Play empowers us to resolve conflict. Play is fun! You can play board games, catch, music, or just joke around. Make it a point to play with your children—it’s a great relationship builder and joy starter!
I like Pooh…that sounds bad. Let me rephrase and start again.
I like Winnie the Pooh. He brings us a great deal of wisdom. For instance, consider the wisdom in this sketch and Piglet’s request to “be sure of you.” Very wise, especially when it comes to family. Sometimes we just need to know our loved ones are there.
Our spouses need to be sure of us. They need to know our ears are attuned to their whispered needs. They need assurance that we will respond to their subtle requests by turning toward them in love. They need to feel our touch reminding them of our presence and involvement in their lives, assuring them that we yearn to walk hand in hand with them through life.
Our children need to be sure of us. They want to be heard and acknowledged by us no matter how quiet and inept their voice might sound. They need to know we are available to them. They seek assurance that we delight in them and rejoice when they approach us. They long for us to take their hand and gently guide them through the dark woods.
Assure your spouse and children of your presence in their lives. Remind them of your desire to respond to even their subtle needs and desires. Constantly communicate your unending love and delight in them. All it takes is a smile, a hug, or a word of affection…but the joy and comfort it gives will last a lifetime.