The Success of the “Good Enough Parent”

Donald Winnicott, a British pediatrician, coined the term “good enough mother” in the 1950’s. Today, however, many parents fear that “good enough” just isn’t good enough. They strive to become the “perfect parent.” But becoming a “perfect parent” just isn’t possible. In fact, striving to become the “perfect parent” will backfire and create even more difficulties. In fact, a study that involved over 700 parents found that the pressure to become a “perfect parent” contributed to parental burnout. In this study, 57% of parents reported symptoms of burnout in relation to their role as a parent. High self-expectations about what children “should be doing” and what opportunities they “should have” contributed to the pressure to become a “perfect parent.” Comparisons to other children and families also contributed to unrealistic expectations. Many parents see other families on social media smiling and having fun or in public as they put their best foot forward and think, “How are they doing all that? Why can’t I do it? What’s wrong with me?” We forget that we only see the positive side of their family life. In reality, they may be emotionally and physically exhausted and thinking the same thing about you.

Parental burnout had several negative repercussions in this study. First, parental burnout led to parents feeling more depressed and anxious. They became more irritable toward others in their lives. This interfered with their ability to have positive interactions with their children. Second, parents experiencing burnout tended to have children with more mental health issues like anxiety and depression as well. Children need healthy parents. The healthiest children also have parents who take time for self-care in order to manage their own emotional, mental, and physical health.

A third finding in this study, and the one I find most interesting, involved findings around what contributed to the healthiest children in the study. Specifically, “the more free play time that parents spend with their children and the lighter the load of structured extracurricular activities, the fewer mental health issues in their children.” Isn’t that interesting? When parents take time to engage their children in free play, it benefits their children. To have time for free play as a family will mean less time involved in structured extracurricular activities. In other words, the healthiest children and families did not succumb to the social pressure to achieve, the cultural expectation of over-scheduled lives, or the demand for involvement in multiple structured activities to prepare for future opportunities. They simply enjoyed one another. They probably still engaged in some structured activities, but a limited amount. They did not allow the cultural pressure for achievement and success to drive their family. Instead, they enjoyed time with one another in fun, playful activities. They didn’t feel the need to become the “perfect parent” with the “perfect child” who experiences “perfect success and achievement” in all areas to prepare for college and their future. Instead, they celebrated being a “good enough parent” with a happy child who experiences success in some areas while laughing and playing in even more areas. They enjoyed The Blessings of a B Minus…and the blessings of a healthy, happy family and child. Doesn’t that sound inviting?

Marriage Advice from Couples Married 40+ Years

Maintaining a healthy, happy marriage can prove challenging in a world focused on self, personal career, instant gratification, and “me.” It actually requires a shift in focus. This begs the question: what is the “secret” of a healthy, happy marriage? That’s what researchers asked 180 couples who had enjoyed a healthy, 40-plus year marriage. Here are the top four answers given…well, actually six with two ties.

  • Tied for the fourth most common answer is compromise and love. Compromise is that “give and take” of a marriage. One person can’t always receive while the other gives. Happy marriages focus on compromise, developing a solution that satisfies “us” instead of “me.” Compromise flows when both partners are more interested in their relational health and their partner’s happiness and well-being than they are about their own wants and desires. Love speaks to the need for each partner to feel valued, respected, and cared for. It involves knowing that your partner cares more deeply and will compromise to promote your happiness. A partner knows their spouse loves them because their spouse turns to them first when celebrating a success of any kind and when mourning a loss of any kind. Love seeks out the one they love first.
  • Number three brings in another tie between communication and shared values. It is not surprising that these two go together. Two people enter a marriage with their own values and learn to negotiate shared values from there. This demands communication, lots of healthy communication (and compromise as noted in #4). Couples forge their shared values through living together, talking together, and talking some more. This level of communication demands that we value the other person enough to believe they have a legitimate point of view, a point of view as worthy as our own and a point of view worthy of deep consideration. With this attitude and with lots of communication, a couple develops a shared sense of values that holds them close to one another.
  • The number two secret of a healthy marriage is practicing unselfish, even sacrificial, giving toward our spouse. This flies in the face of the hyper-individualized society in which we live. An unselfish spouse considers their partner as “more important than themselves.” They do not merely look out for their own personal interests but also for the interests of their spouse” (Philippians 2:3). In seeking to meet the needs of their partner, an unselfish spouse willingly makes sacrifices. Such sacrifices are a lost art today, but an essential ingredient in a long-term, healthy marriage according to those married for 40-plus years.
  • And the number one secret of a healthy marriage? Commitment. Commitment remains essential for a long-term, healthy marriage. Every marriage will experience good times and hard times. Affection and attraction may wax and wane, as will your sense of emotional closeness. However, the commitment to “stay the course,” to “take the long view” and “hold on,” contributes to the rekindling of affection, the deepening of trust and, as a result, intimacy, and a maturing of attraction. Commitment is the glue that keeps all these ingredients in play and growing over time.

There you have it, ingredients for a long-term, healthy, and happy marriage straight from the mouths of those who have over 40-years of healthy marriage. Which ones do you need to improve in your marriage?

A Social Media Surprise

A study that tracked 800 participants between the ages of 10- to 18-years by collecting data five times arrived at a surprising finding…a finding that may bring relief to many parents. This study suggests that teens who used social media actually spent more time with friends offline as well. That’s good news because face-to-face interactions (offline interactions) seem to be associated with positive mental health. Face-to-face interactions also provide opportunities to learn and practice positive social skills. What a surprising relief! Using social media did not reduce offline, face-to-face interactions. Instead, “higher social media engagement was linked with increased time spent with friends in person” as well.

(There was one group of teens for whom this was not true. If a teen struggled with social anxiety, using social media at a high rate puts them at risk of developing poorer social skills.)

Another study explored how digital communication impacted connectedness, positive social comparison, authentic self-presentation, civil participation, and self-control. This study suggests that teens fare better, have more positive digital communications that exhibit the above traits noted above when their parents actively engage with them around positive online communication and “know their way around technology.”

Social media and digital communication are rather new parenting challenges. It’s good to know that social media use does not reduce offline face-to-face interactions (except, perhaps, for those struggling with symptoms of social anxiety). However, that does not mean we simply let go and ignore how our children utilize social media and technology. In fact, as the second study suggests, our children learn to manage social media and technology in a healthy manner when they have an actively engaged parent who also manages their social media and technology use in a healthy manner. With all this in mind, let me offer two suggestions for all parents:

  1. Utilize technology and social media yourself but do so in a healthy manner. Don’t phub your children through “technoference.” Make sure your actions reveal that you love your children more than your phone, tablet, or computer.
  2. Remain actively involved in your children’s lives. Set healthy, age-appropriate boundaries on technology. Recognize that setting healthy boundaries will require some discussion as your children mature. Play games online and offline with them. Get to know their friends. Text, not just to check in on them or give them a directive, but also to communicate something fun in the moment. Most importantly, remain actively engaged in your children’s online and offline lives.

Five Things Teens Want You to Know

Ellen Galinsky, author of The Breakthrough Years, surveyed over 1,600 people between 9 years old and 19 years old and their parents. She collated their answer into five important messages teens want adults to know about them.

One, teens want adults to understand their development. All too often adults view teens as “deficient adults”–immature, moody, or risk-taking little adults. Unfortunately, that’s like calling a toddler ” a deficient preschooler.” Toddlers and preschoolers, like adolescents and adults, are two unique developmental stages in а person’s life. In the adolescent’s unique stage of development, exploration and adventure are necessary. They help the teen individuate, learn about their likes and dislikes, limits, and passions. One researcher noted that teens were “learning to be brave.” I believe they are also learning to be safe, to live their values, to impact their world.

Two, they want adults to talk WITH them, not AT them. They don’t want adults to simply tell them what to do. They want to discuss what to do. They want to be heard and considered in the process of finding a solution together.

Three, teens don’t want to be stereotyped. Even tweens and teens are unique, different from one another. Each teen is an individual with unique strengths and weakness, abilities and needs. Unfortunately adults (all of us I fear) too often lump all teens into same category… and the categories are often negative. For instance, adults often talk as if all teens are impulsive, at risk of addiction to any variety of things, hormonally driven and sexual obsessed, and rebellious. We forget that many teens have come up with creative solutions to community problems because they are willing to break with “the way we’ve always done it.” Many teens volunteer and show extreme kindness. Many teens do not use substances and love the outdoors. Teens have as much unique individuality as adults… Maybe more.

Four, teens want adults to understand their needs. In particular, teens want adults to understand their growing need for autonomy as well as their need for relationships and caring connection. They want adults to understand their need to feel supported & respected, especially by the important adults in their lives. And teens want to find ways to make an important contribution to their home, community, world.

Five teens want to learn stuff that’s useful.  They want to learn skills like goal setting, collaboration, communication, emotional intelligence, and perspective-taking. These skills build success overtime. They contribute to better relationships, effective work environments, greater work success, and healthier marriages and families. Who wouldn’t want to learn these skills!

Now you know these five facts teens want you to know. Think about ways in which you can apply this knowledge into the relationships you share with the teens in your life. You’ll find a greater joy in the relationship when you do.

Social Media and a Better Body Image

Body image is a growing issue among young women, women like our daughters and our wives. However, a study from York University’s faculty of health showed a way to help improve body image. This study involved freshman college women (first year undergraduates) who were divided into two groups. One group continued to use social media as they always did. The other group took a “one-week vacation” from all social media apps including Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and others. The study began with surveys assessing the baseline of self-esteem and body image. The participants completed these surveys again after the on-week intervention.

The results? The young women who took a one-week vacation from social media use exhibited an increase in positive self-esteem and body satisfaction. The increase in positive self-esteem included all areas of self-esteem assessed, including performance, appearance, and social effectiveness. Additionally, those who exhibited the greatest improvement in self-esteem and body satisfaction were the most vulnerable, those most focused on a “thin ideal.”

Why does taking “a week off” social media contribute to an increase in positive self-esteem and body satisfaction? Good question. First, a week off social media means spending less time making comparisons to others. It limits the fear-of-missing-out that grows out of those comparisons. It also means less time viewing filtered images of other people’s bodies. Secondly, less time on social media may mean spending more time socializing face-to-face, sleeping, getting outdoors, getting exercise, or some other healthier activity. In other words, the time spent on social media may get replaced with healthier activities.

What does all this mean for you and your family? That’s the important question for me. If you, or someone in your family, struggle with body image and self-esteem, you might try taking a week off of social media. Maybe you can even take a week off of social media as a family. You might replace the time spent on social media sits with family time playing games, getting outdoors, interacting with actual eye contact. All these activities will contribute to greater family joy and intimacy. I’m checking my summer now so I can include a one-week social media vacation for my family. When will you schedule your family social media vacation?

To My Children: Thank You

Full disclosure: I love being a parent. Granted, parenting has its times of struggle. Over the years, I have experienced fears and concerns that threatened to rob me of joy in the process. I have experienced moments of frustration and disagreement also. But the ongoing times of joy, pride, and celebration far outweigh any negative moments. Still, I have two beautiful adult daughters who continue to add joy to my life. As I recall their years of growing up, I realize that I need to thank them. They helped me become a better person as we journeyed through our lives together…and I continue to become a better person through their involvement in my life today. So let me give you thanks.

  • Thank you for enjoying life with me. We have enjoyed music, food, play, and more together. I am so grateful that you were, and are, willing to share life with me.
  • Thank you for teaching me to listen more deeply. You opened me up to better know the value of patiently taking the time to listen and understand. You helped me understand how easily we can misunderstand and the power of listening to reach understanding.
  • Thank you for expanding my horizons. I have seen more of life than I had ever dreamed possible because of you. I have experienced more music, more ideas, more people, more places than I ever would have without you. You have “opened my eyes” to many aspects of the world I would have missed otherwise.
  • Thank you for helping me clarify my values and priorities. Sometimes you did this by asking questions; at other times by pushing against those values I do my best to exemplify. Most the time, however, your mere existence forced me to clarify my priorities and values. Your presence compelled me to examine my values as more than lofty ideas but as a lifestyle in which my everyday actions and words needed to match my beliefs for all to see. Thank you. 
  • Thank you for laughing with me and for making me laugh. I find great joy and happiness in the memories of laughter we have shared and in the assurance of future laughter I know we will share.
  • Thank you for celebrating with me. We have had and will continue to have wonderful celebrations for whatever reasons we can conceive of.
  • Thank you for teaching me about parts of the world (places, people, ideas, information) that I knew little about. I enjoy learning from you and have learned things I would have never known in a thousand years if not for you.  You both traveled (sometimes far away and sometimes near) and came home with wonderful stories of amazing places and beautiful people. I love to hear those stories about your experiences in the world.
  • Thank you for including me in your “worlds.”  I sit with “wide-eyed joy and anticipation” to witness concerts, talks, or writings of which you are a part. When you were little people often referred to you as “my daughters.” Today, I feel pride when people refer to me as “your father.” It is a joy to become known first and perhaps only as “your father” as I step into “your worlds.”
  • Most of all, thank you for your love. Knowing you love me means the world to me. Thank you for expressing that love in little everyday ways. Thank you for sharing your lives with me. Thank you for your love.

What Makes a Marriage Healthy?

What makes for a happy marriage? That’s a good question. Many times, I meet couples in which one person thinks the relationship is fine while the other person is ready to end the relationship and leave. One seems happy and completely unaware that their partner is not happy. In our individual-focused culture, you can see how this might happen. One person’s needs are being met and, for them, that’s what marriage is about–their happiness. They enjoy their happiness, focus on their happiness, and never look deeply at their spouse’s happiness. They may even provide their spouse what would they think would make them happy. They provide financial security when their spouse desires quality time sharing important conversation and emotions with one another. They provide service, cleaning the home and doing tasks around the house, when their spouse desires physical affection. But, focused on “my” idea of happiness and “my” own sense of happiness, they miss their spouse’s need for something different.

Overall, individual happiness is not a great indicator of a healthy marriage because a healthy marriage involves two people in relationship. A healthy marriage is about “relational-connectivity”–behaviors and beliefs that focus relationship not individuality. What does that entail? Here are three factors involved in relational-connectivity.

  • Commitment. In healthy marriages, both spouses have a high sense of commitment. They maintain a long-term view of the relationship and nurture the permanence of the relationship. As a result, they turn toward their spouse for emotional support, mental stimulation, and physical affection. They turn to their spouse to celebrate positive happenings in their life and to express sorrow over hardships. They nurture this commitment by:
    • Dreaming about the future together. This may include supporting one another’s dreams as well as developing dreams as a couple.
    • Making future plans together. This may include something as simple as making weekend plans together. It may also include planning yearly vacations and getaways. In addition, it may include planning the trip of your dreams or planning a trip for your anniversary…or planning a trip “just because.”
    • Turning away from other options for intimacy and emotional support and seeking that support only from your spouse.
    • Prioritizing their marriage. We tend to focus on and nurture those things to which we are most committed. We nurture our marriage with kindness, affection, and time when we prioritize it.
  • Practice Being Other-centered. The spouse of a selfish person finds it more difficult to stay in a long-term relationship. On the other hand, having an “other-centered” perspective allows one to see their spouse and their needs as well as respond to meet those needs. An other-centered spouse nurtures their marriage with:
    • Acts of kindness for their spouse.
    • Knowing and “learning to speak” their spouse’s love language.
    • Engaging in behaviors they know brings their spouse joy.
    • Serving their spouse.
    • Making sacrifices, large and small, for their spouse.
  • Compassion. A compassionate spouse is there when their spouse needs them. They recognize times in which their spouse needs extra time, extra rest, or extra affection…and they provide it. A compassionate spouse is also ready to forgive. Ironically, a compassionate spouse is also ready to apologize when they see they’ve hurt their spouse. And they are ready to “bear the fruit” of that apology, to make the necessary change.

Our culture tends to be very individualistic, and this focus on the individual presents a danger for a healthy marriage. A healthy marriage is countercultural. It is relationally focused. It is “other-centered,” committed to relationship, and compassionate.  Open your eyes and become aware of your spouse. Prioritize your marriage. Commit to your marriage. You and your spouse will both be glad you did.

Smile, It’s Revolutionary

Smiling is revolutionary. Smiling at someone when they walk in the room makes them feel welcome. When we display a genuine smile, people around us start to smile as well. Smiling can also turn things around for the one smiling, moving them from a negative, pessimistic outlook to a more positive outlook. (Feeling negative? Pessimistic? Put on a Smile) Now, a study from the University of Essex found another amazing result of even a brief smile.

In this study, participants were shown an “expressionless face” and asked whether the face was happy or sad. When the researchers activated the participants’ facial muscles to elicit a genuine smile, even a weak smile lasting only 500 milliseconds, it contributed to that person perceiving happiness in the “expressionless face.” Isn’t that amazing? Simply smiling made a neutral face appear happier. So, if you’re on safari for the elusive smile in your teen or spouse, start by smiling yourself (LOL-On Safari for the Elusive Smile).When you do, you’re more likely to find the smile in them.

Smiling will not only help you perceive greater happiness in your family and those around you, it will also initiate a little spiral of joy. After all, seeing happiness in another person elicits happiness in the viewer (in this case, you). Feeling that little bit of happiness may contribute to a slight smile on your face, which can make the whole family feel happier. (Smile for a Happier Family) It’s a win-win. You smile and see happiness sooner and so add happiness to your day eliciting a smile from you that your family sees and feels happiness grow as a result. It’s a wonderful spiral of joy that begins with a simple smile. Smiling really is revolutionary.

Give a Shout Out for Marriage

Marriage gets a bad rap at times. For instance, reality TV and sitcoms offer a very strange and twisted idea of romantic relationships. Many give marriage gets a bad rap. But marriage is great, even fantastic. I realize that some people fear marriage because they have witnessed marriages that have ended in divorce. However, the divorce rate has gone down. And, when both people in a marriage invest some energy, time, and attention to their marriage, marriage is great. In fact, nothing predicts happiness in America like a good marriage. Neither education, work, money, or sex predict happiness as well as a good marriage. Studies suggest that a good marriage are a “whopping” 545% more likely to be very happy than those who are unmarried or in a poor marriage. That’s a lot of happiness.

In addition, those who are happily married have about 10 times more assets at the age of 50 than their unmarried peers. And it’s more than money. Married people report a greater sense of meaning in life and significantly less loneliness. Might I humbly add, regular date nights with a spouse are also associated with even greater happiness, greater frequency of sex, and greater sexual satisfaction. In fact, happily married couples report the greatest sexual satisfaction.

All in all, a happy marriage improves our lives. That being said, marry wisely and invest in your marriage because an unhappy marriage robs us of everything a happy marriage provides. What do you need to invest in your marriage to keep it thriving and happy so you and your spouse can reap the benefits?

  • Invest time. Spend time with our spouse every day. Talk about your day. Talk about your dreams. Sit together and read. Walk quietly holding hands. Do household chores together. Spend time with your spouse.
  • Invest your attention. Give your spouse your attention. You don’t have to give them attention 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but give them attention every day. When your spouse approaches you, respond with your attention. I don’t mean fake attention or half-hearted attention. Invest your whole attention in your spouse when you interact.
  • Invest admiration. Admire your spouse every day. Compliment their appearance, their cleaning, their cooking, their work…. Acknowledge their kindness, their inner and outer beauty, their character. Don’t let a day go by without admiring your spouse.
  • Invest your service. Be an active member of the household. Assist with chores. Participate in family activities. Do something nice for your spouse once in a while, something unexpected and kind.  As a matter of fact, do something kind for your spouse often. For instance, you might serve breakfast in bed, give a back rub, bring home a gift, send a note of love, give a random hug.

As you can see from this short list, investment isn’t a burden. It’s a joy that results in greater intimacy and a happier marriage. And a happier marriage will change your life. It will improve everything from your physical health to your finances to your emotional health to your sexual satisfaction. Go ahead and invest. See if you don’t reap these amazing benefits. Then, like me, you’ll give a shout out for marriage.

The Long-Term Impact of Junk Food on the Teen Brain

Family life is busy these days. Families run from activity to activity stopping to grab something quick and easy to eat on the way. Unfortunately, those “quick and easy” meals are often high in fat and sugar. A University of Southern California study found that a high-fat, sugary diet during teen years may contribute to lower levels of acetylcholine in the brain. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter essential for memory, learning, and attention. This study suggests that a diet high in fat and sugar lowers acetylcholine which then interfered with memory…and not just for a short time but for a lifetime! It contributed to a lower level of acetylcholine that did not reverse by merely reimplementing a healthy diet. As a result, memory did not improve with the shift to a healthy diet. The damage was done and, in this study, was only reversed with the use of medication. The authors of the study noted that “more research is needed to know how memory problems from a junk food diet during adolescence can be reversed.”

I don’t want to sound alarmist. But I do want to encourage families to think differently about their teens, their diet, and time. After all, families can avoid this whole mess by taking the time to promote a healthy diet in the home. That time invested in promoted a healthy diet for our teens is well worth the effort though. They will reap a lifetime of benefits from a healthy diet. In addition, our teens need a healthy diet to thrive physically and mentally for today and as they mature.

What can you do to make sure they eat a healthy diet? First and foremost, eat at least one family meal a day as many days a week as possible. Family meal preparation tends to result in our children eating healthier foods and a healthier balance of foods. Eating as a family not only promotes healthy eating habits, but it also promotes positive family relationships. This one suggestion may prove the most effective means of improving your adolescent’s healthy eating habits.

Second, keep healthy snacks in your home. Encourage your children and teens to eat fruits and nuts for snacks. Try hummus or veggies when hunger strikes. Greek yogurt, guacamole and tortilla chips, trail mix…. You get the idea. Keep healthy snacks on hand and ready. These healthy snacks can even provide tasty nutrition while you’re on the run.

Our adolescents (and our children) need a healthy diet to lay the foundation for the healthiest development possible. A healthy diet may demand some time and effort to put in place, but your adolescents will reap the benefits for a lifetime. They will experience healthier brain development and functioning. They will learn healthy eating habits that will support them physically and mentally for a lifetime. And you’ll enjoy watching them mature.

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