How can you increase gratitude and generosity in your family? And even better, increase both gratitude and generosity with one simple action?! A recent study out of Cornell University offers an answer! Give the gift of a meaningful experience. That’s it! Rather than buying your spouse some flowers or a necklace, go for a walk together. Instead of buying your children the latest video game, enjoy a family outing to their favorite restaurant. I’m not disparaging the flowers or the video game; but, according to the study from Cornell, the experiential gift will produce more gratitude and more generosity in the recipient than a material gift. It’s that easy! So, the next time you want to buy your spouse or children a gift, consider an experiential gift. The recipients of your gifts will love them. They will experience gratitude and likely behave more generously when thinking about that thoughtful experiential gift. In effect, the whole family will benefit.
Of course, any experiential gift you give needs to take into consideration the interests of the recipient. But, with that in mind, here are some experiential gift ideas to get you started.
Go to a concert together.
Enjoy a picnic together, even if the weather means having indoors.
I recently started reading a biography of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), the 32nd president of the United States. (If you’re interested, I’m reading FDR by Jean Edward Smith.) Self-assured and optimistic in the midst of hardship, FDR “rescued the nation from economic collapse” and “led the nation to victory” in WWII. Elected for four terms, FDR “proved to be the most gifted American statesman of the 20th century.” The author of this biography made several very interesting observations about how FDR was parented. Perhaps we could learn some lessons from FDR’s parents for our own generation. After all, we could definitely use any suggestions that might produce men and women of character in the world today. We can learn lessons from FDR’s mother and from his father. This post will share two ideas we might learn from his father. (Read What We Can Learn About Parenting from FDR’s Mother for more parenting ideas.)
Speaking of FDR’s father, the author said, “The regard in which he (Franklin) held him (his father), amounting to worship, grew out of a companionship that was based on his ability to see things eye to eye, and his father’s never failing understanding of the little problems that seem so grave to a child.”
FDR adored his father for two reasons. First, they spent time together engaged in mutual, meaningful activities. His adoration “grew out of a companionship.” Children spell love T.I.M.E. Spending time with our children will communicate how much we love them. Second, his father took the time to understand his child’s problems, even if they seemed insignificant through his own adult eyes. By “understanding the little problems,” FDR’s father accepted FDR’s concerns as important enough to address and thus FDR as significant as well. He validated FDR’s significance and value in his own life and as a person. All our children need that.
“Sara was asked if she had thought her son would ever become president. ‘Never,” she answered. “The highest ideal I could hold up before our boy [was] to grow to be like his father: straight and honorable, just and kind.”
This, to me, is a beautiful description of the kind of fathers we need in our world. We need fathers who live a life of character, a life worth emulating, a life that is the “highest ideal” one could hold up for our children. Fathers need to be men of character—”straight and honorable, just and kind”—so our sons have someone to admire and emulate and our daughters have an image of how a “good man” lives his life and treats women.
Our world needs fathers like FDR’s father today; fathers that might help produce men of confidence and kindness. Great fathers live out the three aspects of parenting mentioned in these quotes:
They spend time with their children.
They take time to understand and empathize with their children’s problems (no matter how small the problem might seem to our adult senses).
They exhibit personal character that represents the “highest ideal” we could hold up for our children to emulate.
As fathers practice these three aspects of parenting, they will prove great fathers…and great fathers produce great children.
I recently started reading a biography of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), the 32nd president of the United States. (If you’re interested, I’m reading FDR by Jean Edward Smith.) Self-assured and optimistic in the midst of hardship, FDR “rescued the nation from economic collapse” and “led the nation to victory” in WWII. Elected for four terms, FDR “proved to be the most gifted American statesman of the 20th century.” The author of this biography made several very interesting observations about how FDR was parented. Perhaps we could learn some lessons from FDR’s parents for our own generation. After all, we could definitely use a more men and women of character in the world today. So, here are two lessons we might learn from FDR’s mother. (Read What We Can Learn About Parenting from FDR’s Father to learn two more parenting tips.)
Writing of FDR’s mother (Sara), the author noted that “families as wealthy as the Roosevelts usually entrusted newborn babies to the care of experienced nurses and old family retainers. Not Sara. As soon as she recovered from childbirth, she insisted on doing everything herself: ‘Every mother ought to learn to care for her own baby, whether she can afford to delegate the task to someone or not.’ And although a wet nurse was available, Sara nursed Franklin…” herself.
Parents learn to care for their own children through sensitive observation. Every parent becomes a student of their child through everyday interactions and careful observations made during daily childcare. This creates intimacy in the parent/child relationship that will enhance your child’s desire to please, obey, and follow in your values. It also builds security in the child, making them feel significant and important.
“Sara (FDR’s mother) was determined to keep her son from being spoiled by too much attention yet at the same time wanted to show her affection. ‘We never subjected the boy to a lot of don’ts,’ she wrote. ‘While certain rules established for his well-being had to be rigidly observed, we were never strict merely for the sake of being strict.'” Later the author noted, “America’s confidence in FDR depended on Roosevelt’s incredible confidence in himself, and that traced in large measure to the comfort and security of his childhood. As his daughter put it, ‘Granny (Sara) was a martinet, but she gave father the assurance he needed to prevail over adversity. Seldom has a young child been more constantly attended and incessantly approved by his mother.'”
Did you notice the balance between structure and relationship? FDR’s mother was described as a “martinet,” a strict disciplinarian. She “rigidly observed certain rules for his well-being.” But, she was not strict merely for the sake of strictness. On the contrary, she offered unwavering “approval and constantly attended” to his needs. She pursued a relationship with FDR based on her careful observations of his needs but was not afraid to enforce the rules for his own well-being. Structure and relationship—the two pillars of strong parenting and secure children. Our children would benefit from a more careful and thoughtful balance between firm structure and deep relationship today.
Our country benefited from FDR’s confidence and assurance. The author of FDR seems to believe much of FDR’s confidence and assurance came from his childhood and the parenting he received. Our children, and our communities, would benefit from parents taking the lessons of Sara’s parenting. Our children will mature confident and self-assured as we implement the same three principles describe in FDR’s mother:
Become students of our children through careful observation.
Establish firm structures in our children’s lives.
And, pursue a deep relationship with our children based on approval and attention.
In our family we started celebrating the “Christmas Pickle” several years ago. I tried to find the reason for the Christmas Pickle when we began this celebration. Rumor has it that the pickle is an old German emblem of good luck. So, the tradition began. Hide the Christmas Pickle in the tree and the first to find it on Christmas morning gets the luck. They can open the first present, receive an extra gift, or enjoy good luck for the coming year. Which reward the observant family member received depends on the tradition your family chooses to follow. I don’t know about this theory of origin. I find more references to pigs being symbols of luck than I do pickles. And I’ve never heard of anyone hiding a Christmas Pig in their tree. (Although…maybe we could sell some Christmas Pig ornaments and….No, it wouldn’t work.)
Another tradition expounds the tale of two Spanish boys trapped in a pickle barrel by a cruel innkeeper over Christmas break. St. Nick set them free by tapping the barrel with his staff. So why not use the Christmas Staff for good luck, not the pickle? I was still not satisfied.
I found one last theory for the Christmas Pickle. A man fell ill while in prison during the Civil War. As a dying wish he asked for a pickle. (Go figure. I wonder if he wanted dill or sweet.) Anyway, a kind-hearted guard found him a pickle. The man not only enjoyed the pickle, but, in time, recovered from his illness and returned home. In honor of the moment when, in the throngs of death, he savored a pickle, the man began hiding pickles (real pickles, by the way, as ornaments were not in style for another 15 years) in his Christmas tree…a tradition to recall his good fortune. I think I would have just stuck with savoring a pickle now and again.
I never discovered a reliable origin story for the Christmas Pickle. I just make my own up…different every year. So why do we still celebrate the Christmas Pickle. Because it’s fun. It’s a way to slow the Christmas season down a little and savor the tree while we look for a pickle. It’s a way to laugh as a family because we look for a hidden pickle in the tree. It’s another way we draw closer as a family as we laugh, celebrate, and enjoy one another’s company. I love it when I can watch my children laugh and celebrate. I imagine God enjoys it when He can watch His children laugh and celebrate as well, especially in celebration of the birthday of His Son too! So go ahead. Hide the Christmas Pickle and laugh, enjoy the pickle search, and draw closer to your family.
Our children don’t like to hear it, but we need to say it…and they need to hear it! It’s true. They need to hear us tell them “no” at the appropriate times. They need to hear “no” so they remember they can’t have everything they desire or do everything they want to do. They need to hear “no” so they learn the limits of appropriate behavior and the boundaries of safe behavior. They need to hear “no” so they can learn to say “no” for themselves. (Read Prelude, Fugue, and Variation to learn more.) In fact, Magda Gerba revealed great insight when she said, “A child who is never told ‘no’ is a neglected child.” So, do not neglect your child, tell them “no.” But, make your “no” effective with these two components.
Effective “no’s” are well-timed. Saying “no” at the wrong time can make things worse. I remember going to a children’s camp where, at the beginning of the week, the camp leaders explained the rules: “No throwing rocks.” “No going into the woods.” As the leaders stated these limits, these “no’s,” I saw the campers eyes light up with the realization that there were rocks to throw and woods to explore. The “no’s” had the opposite effect of the leaders’ intent. The “no’s” aroused previously unknown possibilities in their awareness. Rather than preventing unwanted behaviors, they presented the possibility of new behaviors. The “no’s” were ill-timed. A well-timed “no” increases safety, like “No darting into the street” or “No texting and driving.” A well-timed “no” promotes health, like “No cookies before dinner” or “No staying up all night to text.” Remember, an effective “no” is well-timed.
An effective “no” needs to be part of a larger and thoughtful repertoire of variations on “no.” In fact, an effective “no” may not even sound like a “no.” One of the most effective ways to say “no” is to add a “yes.” For instance:
Rather than “No hitting,” try saying “Keep your hands to yourself.”
Instead of “No cookie before dinner” try “We’re saving the cookies for dessert.”
“No yelling in the house” could become “Please use your indoor voice” or “You can yell all you want outside.”
Rather than saying “Don’t you get angry at me” try “It’s OK to get mad, but you can still speak politely and act nice…even when you’re mad.”
“No running” may become more effective as “Please walk with me and keep me company.”
Our children need us to speak “no’s” into their lives for their safety, health, and overall well-being. Following these two principles—making your “no” well-timed and developing a large and thoughtful repertoire of variations on “no”—will make your “no’s” even more effective.
When I was in college, one of our professors preached a sermon on “Vitamin B.” It was a sermon on the “Be”-attitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. It was a fun sermon. Thinking back on this “got me to thinking about” what “vitamin be’s” might benefit our families and children. Here is the “Vitamin Be” complex needed to maintain an open, intimate relationship with your teen; the “Vitamin Be” complex that will encourage our children to remain open with us, to approach us when they have a need or some issue they need to discuss. Read over the whole “Be-complex” and see what you think.
“Be” calm. When our children approach us, we need to stay calm. Our children may approach us to talk about all sorts of topics…and some topics may surprise and even shock us. Work hard to avoid any outburst of shock, anger, embarrassment, or laughter. When you stay calm, your children learn that no topic will overwhelm you. They will know that no topic will overwhelm you with fear. Instead, you are able to remain present and open with them. As a result, they can remain open with you.
“Be” open. There are no subjects off limits in a family. I love Mr. Rogers’ quote:
“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”
So, be open. Accept whatever topic comes up. Whatever you can talk about becomes manageable. We can fix the problems together. In addition, that conversation brings us together. It increases our intimacy. And the intimacy increases our influence.
“Be” empathetic. Remember your children are younger, less mature. Make every attempt to see your children’s concern from their perspective. See their concern through the eyes of their developmental level, the emotions of their maturity, and the wisdom of their limited experience. If you don’t understand it completely, ask questions.
“Be” confidential. We hope our children talk to us about those subjects sensitive to them. They need us to respect their privacy and keep their confidence. Listen to them intently but don’t share what you hear. No need to post the “cute story” on FaceBook or tell your neighbor about your teen’s brave struggle. Keep it between you and your child. When you keep their confidence, they learn to trust you! Trust builds intimacy.
“Be” perceptive. Sometimes our children will not tell us they want to talk. They may not know how to approach the conversation. Be observant and perceptive. Notice changes in their mood that might indicate a need to talk. Notice when they “keep showing up” and seem “to be underfoot.” Be aware that their actions may be dropping a subtle hint about their desire to talk. Drop the hint that you’re open to talk. It may just prove to be one of the best conversations you ever had.
“Be” available. Of course, no conversation will occur unless you’re open and available. So make sure you are available. Spend time with your children. Be available at bedtimes, mealtimes, and any other time you can. Participate in their interests. Make a point of attending their activities.
“Be” attentive. Being attentive means listening intently. Listen without distraction. Listen completely rather than thinking about any advice you might want to offer. Listen!
There it is—the “Vitamin Be” complex that will help you keep an intimate, open relationship with your teen!
Play offers innumerable benefits to your marriage. Let me name a few.
Play allows you to spend time with your spouse and enjoy your spouse’s company. This builds intimacy.
Play can deepen and broaden your marital relationship. It provides a time in which we are absorbed in your marital relationship.
Play helps to heal any breaches or damage done to your relationship. It helps to repair the quality of your relationship.
Play facilitates acceptance and openness.
Play contributes to feelings of acceptance and relational safety. In fact, some would call play the antidote to shame and fear. Play can take away shame and fear and allow you to find greater acceptance and security.
Play builds trust. Rather than judging motives or assuming negative intent, couples who play together are more likely to give one another the benefit of the doubt and find the humor in mistakes.
Play can help resolve conflict. Those who play together are more able to admit mistakes and make amends.
Play builds understanding.
So, take time to play this week. Go out with your spouse and enjoy some fun. Joke around. Play some games. Laugh. Laugh some more. And enjoy the play as it strengthens your marriage!
I remember hearing people telling me, “Think before you speak.” As a child and teen, I could avoid saying hurtful things, stupid things, and unnecessary things when I remembered to “think before speaking.” Unfortunately, I sometimes spoke before thinking…and then suffered the consequences. Well, that advice holds true for parents as well as children. Parents, we need to think before we speak. We need to think about what we say and how we say what we need to say. In fact, how we say what we say will influence how our children learn and grow. Let me offer some examples.
Instead of making general statements, be specific. Notice and acknowledge effort. Acknowledging effort encourages persistence in our children and sends the subtle message that hard work is important. For example, rather than making a general statement like “Great job,” say:
“That took a lot of patience.”
“I can tell you worked hard on that.”
“I really like the combination of colors (or “materials” or “details”) you chose.”
“That must have taken a lot of time and hard work to finish. You must be proud of it.”
Instead of asking an open-ended question offer choices. Choices teach our children they have power; they are active agents in their world. Choices encourage them to take ownership of their power and accept responsibility for their decisions. For example, rather than asking “What do you want for a snack?” say:
“You may have an apple or a cookie. Which do you prefer this time?”
“Would you prefer green beans or broccoli with dinner?”
“Do you want to wear your red shirt or your black shirt today?”
Instead of asking “Why?” or making a demand to “Stop” some inappropriate behavior, validate their emotions or desires. Validation communicates the value and importance of their emotions and desires. It helps our children recognize their worth. Instead of saying, “what’s wrong with you?” or “stop that,” try saying:
“You seem really sad. What’s going on?”
“You are really angry, aren’t you?”
“You really want playing with your Legos, don’t you?”
Instead of telling your children about the behavior you don’t want, describe an alternative behavior you do want. By offering alternative behaviors, we teach our children the behaviors we value. Rather than saying “Don’t talk to me like that” or a general “Be careful” or “For the last time, you can’t have…,” try saying:
“Be polite and use a calm voice please.”
“Use both hands when you pick up the pitcher, please.”
“Look at this fire truck. You can play with it instead of Tommy’s truck right now?”
Paying attention to how we say what we say does take some effort. It means paying attention to our words, thinking ahead to potential situations, and not speaking in anger. Although it takes some effort, you’ll love the benefit of watching your children grow and mature!