Some Parental Confessions

I remember having many doubts and questions while raising my children. I can remember thinking, “I have no idea what I’m doing” and, “This is too much. I’m overwhelmed.” On many occasions, I was exhausted, uncertain, overwhelmed. Have you ever felt that way? Have you made similar statements to yourself as a parent? Parenting can “take it out of us.”

So how do we get through those periods of doubt and confusion? We seek help. I don’t mean seeking a therapist (although that may prove helpful at times). I mean seeking out friends or family members. A healthy parent needs a support system, a village to provide support and answers to the many questions we encounter.

Supportive friends and family help us recognize the normalcy in the struggle of parenthood. I remember wondering (no, I remember worrying) about the normalcy of various behaviors my children engaged in while growing up. Every time, a friend whose children were much older than my children, would talk about times his children did the same things. It was a relief to learn my children’s behaviors were normal and I “wasn’t ruining them.” Supportive friends and family also taught me what types of activities and interactions with their children they found helpful. In addition, we could share our frustrations together, differentiate typical behavior from atypical behavior, behavior to worry about from typical behavior, and support one another in the journey of parenthood.

Supportive friends and family offer us time for self-care. We can turn to friends and family for periods of child-care that free us up to “take care of ourselves.” That may simply mean grocery shopping without an infant in arms or going on a date with our spouse. Knowing other couples with children may provide opportunities to share time watching children so each couple can go out as a couple. Or you might take turns with rides to school, practices, or activities, freeing one another up to take care of other things.

Supportive friends and family foster resilience and a sense of confidence. Having support strengthens us and empowers us to continue growing, even when we feel tired. They also can help assure we maintain a healthy balance in our parenting, pointing out ways we can improve in our parenting and ways in which we are doing well.

You can foster supportive friends and families in several ways.

  • Be the support you’re seeking. Offer to help a friend with their children, to take their children on an outing with your children. It can turn into an opportunity to do the same for one another. Encourage other parents you know.
  • Get involved in groups that include other families. That may include community groups, sports groups, music groups, dance groups, or MOPS to name a few. Church also provides an excellent source for family and parent support.
  • Meet your neighbors. I know it can prove difficult in today’s environment, but get to know your neighbors. Many neighbors become wonderful supports in helping raise children.

All parents need a village of support to empower and energize them in the task of parenthood. Who makes up your supportive village?

Naps Are For Kids, Right?

We encourage our babies and toddlers to take naps. But adults? No, naps are for kids. Or are they? I remember laying down with my children many times to get them to take a nap only to “doze off” myself. Is that bad? Researchers don’t think so. In fact, they suggest that naps may prove beneficial for adults as well as children. In one interview, the person being interviewed went so far as to report naps as virtuous.

What makes naps so good? We all get that “lull” in our attention and concentration in the afternoon. That represents a low point in our ultradian rhythms. It points to a need to let our body rest and recover from the natural work it has done and is doing during the day. When we take a short nap and allow our mind and body to recover, it sharpens our mind and helps us solve problems more effectively.  In fact, one study noted that those who took a short nap were better able to solve a math problem they struggled with prior to their nap. Naps also make us more productive; and they improve our mood.

There is a caveat though. The most productive naps are only 20-30 minutes long. These “short naps” allow us to rest and recover without suffering the sluggishness of trying to wake up from a deep sleep. Also, it is best to nap prior to 5pm so your nap does not interfere with your nighttime sleep schedule.

All this being said, a nap may be good for you and your family. It can help everyone stay in a better mood and so have greater patience with one another. It may help your family solve problems more easily, reduce conflict, or recover from conflict more quickly. And don’t forget that a nap can just make a person feel better. So why give all the good stuff to the kids? If you’re feeling overwhelmed, grumpy, or struggling to respond in a productive manner to the many things that arise in the day, take a nap. In fact, enjoy a family nap. It’s OK. It’s more than OK. It’s healthy for you and your family.  

The Key to Emotional Health in Adolescence

Adolescence is a time of challenge and opportunity, a time of growth for parent and child. At times you and your child may feel like pulling your hair out during their adolescent years. And, at other times, you may feel like pulling one another’s hair out. But there is a key that can help nurture health for parent and child during the adolescent years. It’s a key that the parent holds but both parent and teen benefit from it. Psychologists call this key “authoritative parenting.” Several studies have shown authoritative parenting beneficial for raising children. Among other things, studies suggest it promotes a positive self-concept and better self-control in children as well as better relationships between parents and their children. Why? Because it sets health, age-appropriate limits AND it offers warm relationships.

What makes a warm relationship between parent and child? In a warm relationship, parents show delight in their children. They are responsive to their children. Not only do they respond to their children on a consistent basis, but their responses match the children’s needs of the moment. Parents listen, observing their children’s behavior as well as hearing the message behind their words, and respond in a way that communicates understanding and affection. Warm parent-child relationships also involve sharing time together enjoying positive interactions.

In addition to warm relationships, authoritative parenting also involves healthy, age-appropriate limits. Children are not allowed to do whatever they want when they want. Instead, parents establish and enforce limits for their children’s safety and health. These limits help assure predictability and security for their children. Ironically, children more easily explore their world and their interests from the safety of well-established and lovingly enforced limits. Exploration helps them learn and grow. So, in effect, lovingly enforced, age-appropriate limits nurture our children’s ability to learn and grow.

Together, warm parenting combined with healthy, age-appropriate limits make up authoritative parenting, the type of parenting that promotes a healthy adolescence for both parent and adolescent. Know what I like about this? You can learn to practice authoritative parenting. You can practice warmth in your relationship and learn to lovingly enforce healthy limits. Here’s a few basics.

  • Listen intently to your children’s verbal and nonverbal communications. Even their behaviors are communicating something for you to “hear.”
  • Remain responsive to your children’s communications and needs.
  • Establish healthy, age-appropriate limits and lovingly enforce those limits.
  • Show consistency in your responsiveness to your children and in the enforcement of limits.
  • As our children mature, allow the limits to change. Let them become increasingly “in charge” of their own decisions and consequences.
  • Enjoy your maturing adolescent and your relationship with them.

The Power of Speaking with Vulnerable Honesty

Every married couple will experience disagreements and conflict. However, how we say what we say can calm a conflict or escalate it, arouse defensiveness or cooperation. It can push away or draw near, disempower or empower. Consider these statements and possible alternatives.

“I hate staying in every night. We never do anything together.” That feels like an attack. It will more easily push the other person to defensiveness or shutting down. On the other hand, imagine how different a response you might receive if you start from a place of vulnerable honesty, making a less harsh statement while communicating your deeper desire for connection.

  • “I miss spending time with you. Would you like to go to dinner and a movie tonight?”

“Do some work around the house, would you? I’m not your servant.” Once again, the harshness will likely arouse defensiveness from the other person. And the attacking statements do not address the deeper desire and need. Once again, a statement from a place of vulnerable honesty might get a better response.

  • “I’m feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs done. I really need your help. Could you clean the…?”

I think you get the idea but let me share one more just to make sure. “What’s your problem. You haven’t touch me in months.” Unfortunately, a statement like this pushes the other person further away. Try starting from a place of vulnerable honesty and clearly state your desire and need.

  • “I miss hugging and snuggling with you. Let’s snuggle up on the couch and watch a movie or read books while snuggling tonight.”

Notice the differences? The first statements were harsh, accusatory, and attacking. The alternatives speak from a place of vulnerable honesty by clearly expressing a true need or desire. Then, they offered a simple solution, empowering both people to take action to meet the need. As a result, the alternative statements will more likely motivate a positive response and lead to a better end. But it all beings with speaking from a place of vulnerable honesty.

Encourage Your Child’s Anger

If you want your children to achieve challenging goals in their lives, you may have to encourage their anger. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean letting them blow up or “rage” around the house. I mean accepting their anger and then teaching them how to manage that anger as a motivating factor in their lives. After all, anger, like all emotions, plays an important role in our lives and the lives of our children.

  • First, anger reveals our priorities and values. It also alerts us to important situations that require action. We really only get angry over things we value. Situations and things that don’t matter to us don’t arouse our emotions either. We only get angry or happy or sad about those things we value, things important to us. So, when your children express anger, consider what priority and value that anger is communicating. Help them identify the priority or value their anger reveals. Is it a value of respect? Safety? Fairness? Does it reveal the hurt of not being included? Help your child discover and understand the value underlying their anger.
  • Second, anger energizes us to respond and align the situation with our values and priorities. This energy can help motivate our children to pursue a goal or align a situation with their values. In fact, at least one study found anger improved a person’s ability to reach a goal while a “neutral “emotion did not. Anger increased effort. But, we have to channel the energy and motivation of anger toward our priority in a healthy way. Unfortunately, children often use the energy of anger without considering the value or priority they want to communicate. They strike out in anger because they feel disrespected. Or they strike out in anger when they feel excluded. In doing so, they miscommunicate. Rather than communicating a priority of respect, they arouse further disrespect or fear. Rather than communicating a desire for inclusion, they push the other people away.
  • So, after you help your child identify the value underlying their anger, you can brainstorm actions they can take to effectively communicate their values or achieve the goals related to their values.

Practicing these three steps with your children will teach them to accept their anger, understand the value behind the anger, and utilize its energy to achieve their goals. In this way, anger becomes an ally, a motivator, even a teacher rather than a hindrance.

They Know More Than You Think

Our children are geniuses. They know so much more than we think. In some sense, this is good. It helps them learn and grow. In other ways, not so good because they know much more about what is going on at home than we might imagine. For instance, a study published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies revealed how much children between 3-years-old and 6-years-old know about their family’s relationships and conflicts. They were able to describe negative and positive aspects of their family’s relationships. They could give detailed descriptions about family dynamics—good and bad dynamics. They could explain the emotions of various family members by giving detailed descriptions of facial expressions, tone of voice, and behavior. In other words, children are watching AND learning.

Based on this finding, we have to ask ourselves: Are our interactions and conflict management styles teaching our children how to interact and manage emotions in a positive way? Are we giving seeing and learning healthy skills as they watch and learn from our behavior, facial expressions, tone of voice, and interactions? What will they learn about relationships from us? What will they carry into their families based on the lessons they learn by watching us? Be aware and make sure your children learn more positive lessons by watching you.

The authors of this study also found that conflict between a parent and their child often remained unresolved. As a result, the child turned to a sibling or a pet for comfort during tension with a parent. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my child to feel like a family pet offers more comfort than I do. So, resolve the conflict to keep the relationship open for comforting and support. You can resolve the conflict in a variety of ways, depending on the situation. For instance,

  • You can sit down and talk after everyone has calmed down. Talks about what happened and why it created a problem. Then discuss how to manage similar situations in the future in a more productive and healthy manner.
  • Apologize if and when you need to. Apologizing to our children when appropriate teaches them important lessons about responsibility, justice, and humility.
  • Reaffirm your love for your child. Make sure they know you love them even when you disagree with them, get upset with them, or even discipline them. Affirm your love verbally and nonverbally every day as often as you can.

Children are keenly aware of the family dynamics in our homes. They watch us to learn about marriage, relationships, conflict resolution, compromise, and many other life skills that they will take with them into their own marriages and families. Make sure the lessons they learn from you are the lessons you want them to know for life.

To Keep Your Marriage Stronger, Longer

Do you want to have a life-long, happy marriage? I do….and I have good news. According to research, this one daily behavior will contribute to a long, happy marriage. The findings came from analyzing data from 732 couples between the ages of 64- and 74-years-old. What is the behavior that contributes to a joyous marriage well into late adulthood? Well, the research involved having couples increase the frequency of intimacy in their marriage. Those that increased the frequency of their intimacy reported increased marital quality.  Not that surprising, right?  Couples that enjoy intimacy report greater positivity about their marriage. Physical contact protects the quality of a marriage.

Another study noted that a particular type of intimacy promotes well-being in marriages: kissing. Just like the old song: “K-I-S-S-I-N-G.” Kissing decreases a person’s level of cortisol (a stress hormone) while increasing oxytocin (a hormone that encourages bonding). Kissing also relaxes people and builds a deeper connection between those kissing. Decreased stress. Increased bonding. Greater connection. Each can add to a person’s sense of well-being. And, of course, previous blogs talk about the importance of hugging.

Spending quality time intimately conversing with your spouse will also increase the well-being of your marriage. Sit down and have a conversation with your spouse. Discuss your hopes and dreams as well as all the things you admire and adore about your spouse. “Look into their eyes” and tell them the depth of your love.

Let me ask again. Do you want a life-long, happy marriage? Then enjoy intimacy with your spouse. Kiss. Hug. Hold hands. Enjoy meaningful conversation with one another. Go with the flow and “see where it goes.” Not just once, but practice, practice, practice. Not only will you promote better marital quality, but you’ll have fun as well.

Middle School & Mental Health…Like Riding a Bike

If you have a child in middle school or approaching middle school, you’ll want to know this information to help protect their mental health. You already know that middle school is a time of change and transition. Middle school age youth encounter transitions in their physical bodies, their social lives, and their sense of growing independence. With all this transition, it’s no surprise that the middle school years represent potential mental health challenges.

A study involving more than 1,200 students between 11-years-old and 14-years-old found that riding a bike at least three times a week for a minimum of 6 weeks experienced an increase sense of well-being. Each student learned about cycling safety and outdoor bike maneuvering skills. They had fun riding their bike—raising their heart rate and having fun. The benefits of this activity seemed to arise from two things.

  • One, the positive experience and physical activities of riding a bike.
  • Two, the social experience of riding with other people.

I told you that you’d want to know this information if you had a child in middle school or nearing middle school. You can help increase your child’s sense of well-being by helping them learn to ride a bike and start the habit of riding a bike. Maybe they’d enjoy a spin class or simply going out to enjoy a bike ride several times a week. Whatever way your child might enjoy, bike riding may increase your child’s sense of well-being.

All Work & No Play…

You’ve heard it said that “all work and no play make Jack a dull boy.” I always wondered who “Jack” was…now I know he is all of us. But “all work and no play” does more than make “Jack a dull boy.” It also makes “Jack” an unhappy boy. In fact, a study involving participants from three different countries found that working hard for achievement had no impact on happiness. On the other hand, study participants who focused on creating the freedom to do things they enjoyed experienced a 13% increase in well-being. They experienced better sleep quality and life satisfaction as well. And those who focused on relaxing so they could engage in the hobby of their choice reported an 8% improvement in well-being. They also experienced a 10% decrease in stress and anxiety.

In other words, when “Jack” balanced his life and allowed himself the freedom to “play,” he experienced greater well-being and happiness. Balancing our lives to include opportunities to relax and pursue personal interests results in greater happiness, relaxation, and life satisfaction.

Why, then, has achievement become so important in our society? Why do we believe that achieving at school, competition, or work is the secret to happiness? We have seen time and again that this “achievement strategy” without the balance of relaxation, fun, and relationship actually leads to greater stress, isolation, and sorrow. Yet we continue to pursue achievement. Why? I believe there are at least 2 reasons (and I hate to admit to them).

  • Fear. We fear the future. We fear “not having enough.” We fear being unimportant and forgotten. In response to our fear, we strive to achieve. We believe that achievement will guarantee our security now and into the future. Unfortunately, we believed a lie. Achievement, at best, only brings achievement. We may have success but no time to enjoy the success, money but no one with whom to share the pleasures. We already said that “all work and no play make Jack a dull boy,” but “Jack” also finds “it’s lonely at the top.” The very actions we take in response to our fear lead us to a place in which we have lost the two most important components for relieving fear—contentment and relationships.
  • Pride. We take pride in our achievement. We come to believe that the company, the team, the church can’t get along without us. We are important, needed…absolutely needed. Without our efforts and wisdom, everything would fall apart. It’s not true. It’s only our pride whispering a lie into our hearts. I learned this lesson early in my career from an excellent supervisor. I worked with families who were in need. I became enmeshed with meeting their needs and trying to solve their problems. One day my supervisor asked me, “How long did they survive without you? How long did they survive before you came along?” The fact is, they survived a lifetime before me; and, as my years of work progressed, I learned that they survived after me. I could only serve, not heal. I could help, not save. And really, being available in a healthy way to help was, and is, enough.

Fear and pride interfere with our well-being and life satisfaction. They drive us into the compulsion to achieve. They steal us from our families. Our spouses and our children suffer as a result. However, balancing achievement with the freedom to relax and pursue those things we enjoy will increase our well-being and our life satisfaction. It will increase our ability to be present for our work… and probably achieve more as a result. Even more important, it will increase our ability to be present for our family and that will increase our spouse’s sense of worth and our children’s sense of security. It will allow us to be involved more with our families. That, by the way, is the best goal worth achieving.

An Amazing,Daily 7-Minute Investment

Did you know that a simple, 7-minute investment made on a daily basis can change your relationship with your child? It can also change your child’s life forever. This simple investment involves giving your undivided attention to your child for at least 7-minutes a day. Wait…before you quit reading, consider what it feels like to receive someone’s full attention. It informs us of our value. It communicates how much the person loves us. It leaves us with a sense of joy and contentment. Don’t you want your children to experience your love as well as the sense of value, joy, and contentment that results from your undivided attention? For all the benefit your child gains, this investment is really simple. It involves only 3 steps and about 7-minutes.

First, set aside a consistent time in which you can engage your children every day. You might schedule this time first thing in the morning, at bedtime, or while eating a meal or snack together. You pick the time that works best for you and your child. During this time, focus on them. Put away any distractions. Turn off all cellphones, TVs, and gaming equipment.  Listen and follow your children’s lead in the conversation. You can ask a question to get things started, but your most important task is to listen intently with the goal of learning about your children, their day, and their lives.

Second, focus on the positive. You can make it a time of gratitude. You can talk about positive things that have happened or about dreams of the future. You might explore ways in which your children have overcome various obstacles or managed stressors they encountered. Admire their ingenuity and resilience. But save discipline, “suggestions,” or lessons for another time. If you do have to offer some criticism in the moment (and I emphasize, only if it absolutely must be addressed immediately) sandwich it between some positive, loving statements. The important aspect of this time together is to celebrate your children, their strengths, and their interests. You want them to experience how much you delight in them and value them.

Third, voice your admiration of your children’s efforts in doing the things they enjoy as well as their efforts in managing the obstacles and hardships of life. Point out how their effort has led to improvements in talents and strengths and, in turn, led to even greater satisfaction and contentment. Express your pride in their persistence. Make it all conversational with the direction and topic determined by your children and their interests at the time. The goal is to let them know you recognize their efforts and that those efforts reap positive results, even if they experience temporary setbacks.

Three steps, 7-minutes…that’s it. But they will change your relationship with your children today and far into the future. They will also change your children’s lives for years to come. The icing on the cake? You will enjoy a wonderful time growing closer to your child.

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