The Life Cycle of a Label in Your Child

The labels our children acquire have a life cycle of their own…and that life cycle has a tremendous impact on their identity. Unfortunately, labels are often conceived without thought. They might be conceived in anger or in jest, but they are conceived, nonetheless. You’ve seen it happen. A parent tells their child to quit being “stupid” or accuses them of being “lazy…” and a label is conceived. Or an infant gets a nickname that sticks, and a chubby baby acquires the label “Chubby” that sticks even into adolescence.

As the child develops, the label develops as well…and gives birth to their own thoughts about themselves. The labels give birth to the DNA of their self-image. “Stupid” and “lazy” are no longer simple statements conceived in anger or frustration but an integral part of the child’s thoughts about themselves. The label conceived gives birth to a self-identity of “stupid” or “lazy.” “Chubby” matures into an enduring belief about “who I am,” even as the child physically grows into a healthy young adult. The label has grown. It has taken on a life of its own, a life that our children (and ourselves) struggle with as adults. The labels of “stupid” and “lazy” battle with the hardworking achievement of an intelligent adult for that person’s primary self-image.

Of course, not all labels are the same. Some might give birth to a more positive self-image. But labels conceived in anger or in jest end up giving birth to hurt and self-deprecating inner thoughts. I once knew a young man named Sterling. His family called him “Sterile” for short, never realizing how disempowering this nickname could be. However, one day while I was visiting a church with Sterling, an older man asked his name. He replied, “Sterling.” The man smiled and said, “Like silver. You are as precious as Sterling silver.” The young man’s face lit up with a smile like I had never seen on his face before. Perhaps a more encouraging nickname would have been Silver.

All of this begs the question: what labels do you conceive in your children and the children around you? How might those labels impact your child’s self-image as they grow into adulthood with that label embedded in their thoughts? Think carefully…and act wisely.

Legos…and Marriage?

The pastor who facilitated the wedding of my daughter and son-in-law offered a very insightful message to the young couple during the ceremony. I wanted to share part of his message with you because his message can help us all build a healthier, more intimate marriage.

The pastor began by telling the newlyweds (and those of us in attendance) that marriage is “kind of like” Legos. When we purchase a Lego set (like the Millennium Falcon), we swell with excitement. We can’t wait to see the completed spacecraft. But we do not purchase the completed spacecraft. Instead, we purchase a kit with all the little Lego pieces we need to complete the design ourselves. The kit also includes instructions telling us which piece goes where and the order in which the pieces go together. Of course, we’re excited to have the Lego set, but the greater joy comes as we follow the instructions and assemble the pieces. Then, when the design is complete, we put the finished product in a showcase for all to see.

The greatest joy, I believe, comes not so much in the finished product but in the process and anticipation of assembling the pieces. We witness the progress made. We admire how the pieces fit together. We enjoy the intricacies of the inner workings of the assembled pieces. We come to know the “in’s and out’s” of the project on a deep level and we admire those little things we learn about the Lego Millennium Falcon others might miss.

I’m sure you can see the analogy. Getting married is like buying a new Lego set. We are excited to start our new life together, our “project” of building a new life together. But, we don’t have a “finished marriage” at the end of our marital ceremony. We only have the kit with all the pieces and instructions we need to build a beautiful marriage. Now we can enjoy building our marriage. In fact, wherever you are on your marital journey, you can still enjoy the process of building your marriage into the final showpiece. Wise “marriage builders” follow the directions that lead to the best possible fit of the marital pieces—pieces of service, working as a team, mutual respect, resolving conflicts in love, mutual sacrifice, gratitude, thinking of your spouse not just yourself, adoring, admiring, etc. The greatest joy comes not in the finished product but in the continuing process of building, assembling, fitting together in love. Patience, perseverance, and attention are all involved in putting together a Lego masterpiece…and a marital masterpiece.

To my daughter and her husband, may you always remember to follow the instructions in building “the Lego set” of your marriage. May you learn from Legos to build your marriage with intention, patience, attentiveness, and wisdom. And may we all join you in that journey by doing the same in our own marriages as well.

“Two Wrongs Don’t….”

“Two wrongs don’t….” I’m sure you can finish that statement. I hear parents say it to their children all the time. Ok. Just in case, I’ll finish it. “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” You knew that, right? In fact, two wrongs usually just make it worse. Two wrongs add insult to injury. On the other hand, I often hear adults make statements that add wrong to wrong, insult to injury, in their marriages. For instance,

  • I’ll respect my husband when he starts respecting me.
  • I’m not cleaning again until he starts doing his part.
  • They ignore me to play on their phone, so I just play on my phone and ignore them.
  • I’ll listen to her when she starts listening to me.
  • I’ll do more around the house when she quits nagging.

Did you catch the irony? We tell our children that “two wrongs don’t make a right,” but then we add wrong to wrong to prove a point to our spouses. Let me just say it, “Two wrongs don’t make a right,” even in marriage.  Refusing to respect your spouse until you feel respected only makes things worse. Any time we add wrong to wrong we multiply the pain and add another brick to the wall separating us from our spouse.

Can I suggest a better response? It’s not the natural response or even an easy response. But it’s a response that opens the door to reconciliation and greater intimacy. I’m suggesting that you respond with grace. Give your spouse the good you don’t believe they deserve. Return a blessing for an insult, a positive for a negative, good for bad. Respond in grace.

  • When you feel disrespected, respond with respect.
  • When you feel your spouse is not doing their part in keeping the home clean, talk to them for sure…but keep on cleaning, without complaining, in the meantime.
  • If you feel ignored when your spouse plays on their phone, put your phone down and sit next to them. Put your arm around them.
  • If you feel as though your spouse is not listening to you, intentionally make the effort to listen to them, understand them, and respond to the things they say.
  • When you feel your spouse is constantly nagging, kindly, without complaint, take care of the things they are nagging you about.
  • If you’re feeling like your spouse never shows you physical affection, give them a morning and evening kiss and a hug throughout the day.
  • Respond with grace.

Why respond with grace? First and foremost, because doing so is an expression of love and you love your spouse. At least you did at one point. And responding with grace may spark that love anew.  Secondly, it opens the door to reconciliation and growing intimacy. Third, because “two wrongs don’t make a right,” but grace in response to a wrong creates the opportunity for change.

Don’t believe it? Give it a try and see if grace doesn’t change your marriage over the next month. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

The Value of a Wandering Mind

People hate to be bored, especially children and teens. Adults, though, hate being bored as well. When boredom hits, people pull out the cell phone to play a game, check the mail, read an article…anything to escape the boredom. But a series of experiments suggest a different course of action may prove just as effective if not more effective than the cell phone. In this study a group of university students were asked to sit for 20 minutes in a room without their belongings. They could think about anything they wanted to think about, but were not to sleep, walk, exercise, look at a phone, or check the clock. Before they started, they predicted three things:

  1.  how much they might enjoy waiting and thinking,
  2. how interesting or boring it might be prove, and
  3. if they might be so engaged as to lose track of time.

After the 20 minutes of waiting and thinking, each participant was asked to report how engaging, pleasurable, interesting, or boring the experience actually was.

Interestingly, the participants reported being much more engaged and interested than they had predicted. They had underestimated the pleasure and value of waiting and thinking.

The researchers found similar results when students were asked to predict if waiting would be more enjoyable with or without computer access. Then they were randomly assigned to 20 minutes with or without computer access.

Although the students predicted that having computer access would prove more enjoyable, the groups enjoyed the experience equally, whether they had computer access or not. In other words, 20 minutes of mind wandering thought was as enjoyable as 20 minutes of computer access.

In a similar vein, previous studies have suggested that allowing your mind to wander actually improves mood, strengthens a sense of connection, enhances creativity, and strengthens goal setting.

What does this mean for you and your family? The next time you’re bored while waiting in line, waiting for the bus, waiting for a program to start, waiting… forget about your phone. Let your mind wander. Enjoy the opportunity to let your mind go free. Think about anything you like. You might just find you enjoy thinking.

Let me add one more thing. Share your thoughts with your spouse and family. It will likely stimulate some interesting conversation. More importantly, you will nurture your family intimacy with that conversation… and all starts with enjoying the thoughts of your wandering mind in the “boredom.”

2 Challenges Every Marriage Faces…& What to Do About Them

Every marriage faces challenges. I only want to discuss two of those challenges in this blog.  Both challenges naturally arise as a couple moves along their marital journey.

The first challenge involves busy-ness. Each person in the couple becomes busier at work, in the home, and in the community. Each one takes on more responsibilities and gets involved in more activities. Work promotions increase work demands. A bigger house requires more time in upkeep and maintenance. Children demand more time due to childcare needs and increased activities. Involvement in community groups often means more participation in meetings, planning, and activities. Even church involvement can result in more responsibilities and busy-ness. This busy-ness can begin to interfere with couple time. It can start to pull each person in a different direction, straining the intimacy of the couple.

The second challenge occurs as each person becomes more comfortable with their spouse. They may begin to take less notice of their spouse’s contributions to their home and their marriage. What used to come across as important contributions becomes mere expectations that go unnoticed unless they’re not complete. In addition, each person often fails to spend as much time trying to “impress” their spouse once they have been married for a while. They might wear sweats more often than attractive outfits. Socks get left on the floor and dirty dishes are scattered throughout the living areas. The house gets slightly more unkempt as the schedules get busier. Niceties and politeness begin to slip while expectations and demands begin to rise. In other words, we begin to take one another for granted.

A third challenge that exacerbates the first two challenges involves our growing “affection” for our cell phones. On average, adults spend about 4 hours a day on their phone. This is 4 hours taken away from dedicated time with our spouse.

These challenges, though, present opportunities for strengthening your marriage if responded to wisely and intentionally. Here are 3 ways to respond to these challenges and strengthen your marriage.

  • Intentionally set aside time together as a couple. John Gottman suggests the “magic 5 hours” to create time together with your spouse (you can learn about the “magic 5 hours” here). I want to emphasize three daily times to create space for togetherness with your spouse. One, give your spouse a hug and a kiss each morning. Then spend a few minutes talking about your plans for the day.  Two, give your spouse a hug and a kiss each night before bed. Tell them you love them. Spend a few minutes talking about your days. Three, set aside 20 minutes each day for uninterrupted conversation with your spouse. Use this conversation to talk about things that will nurture the intimacy in your marriage, not daily plans but dreams and things you admire about one another.
  • Intentionally look for aspects of your spouse that you admire and adore. Then intentionally take the time to tell them what you admire about them. Intentionally seek out opportunities to thank your spouse and compliment your spouse. Make it a habit to do this every day, multiple times a day.
  • Intentionally set aside your phone at times to spend quality time with your spouse. Create “tech-free” zones and “tech-free” times in which you focus on your spouse and your relationship. (Learn more in Smartphones, Priorities, & Terrible Outcomes Even for Parents, My Cell Phone Is Ripping Me Off, and Take Charge of Your Smartphone Before It Takes Charge of You.)

These challenges naturally arise in any marriage. Don’t let them sap your marriage of love and intimacy. Use them to intentionally nurture love and intimacy with your spouse. You’ll both be glad you did.

The Lesson of Generations–Family Camp, 2022

“In Our Home We Will Laugh and Love.” It’s true. That’s what we all want…a home filled with love and laughter. The lessons learned at this year’s Family Camp will empower every family that attended to fill their home with more laughter and love. Several lessons stood out for me, but I’ll only share a few. Each one comes to us through various components of humor found in the Bible.

  • Things strike us as funny when they suddenly present an unusual and surprising contrast. With that in mind, the contrast between the apostles’ character before they knew Christ and their character after they came to know Christ is sacred humor. For instance, James and John, the “Sons of Thunder” who suggested raining down fire upon unsuspecting souls, became the apostles known for self-sacrifice and love. I have to smile when I think about how drastically they changed after they knew, really knew, Jesus. The change found in knowing Christ leads people to greater love, more passionate service, and deeper self-sacrifice. Aren’t those beautiful traits for any happy family?
  • Irony is also an important component of humor…and what could prove more ironic than recognizing who Jesus uses to accomplish His amazing work. He doesn’t only use the powerful, the rich, or the influential by worldly standards. In fact, more often than not, He specializes in using the humble, the seemingly weak, the outcasts—like me! Each one in our family is important and has a crucial role to fill in the family and the world around them, from the youngest to the oldest.
  • Sometimes God even seems to enjoy some “dark humor,” just look at the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. The lesson for our family is not in the dark humor itself though. The lesson is that God can empower each of us to do His work…and He never leaves us alone in that work. As a family, we can celebrate that we are His hands, His feet, and His mouth in loving and watching over one another.

That is only three of the many lessons we learned at Family Camp this year. One other lesson stood out for me, one not related to anything spoken. I’ve been around long enough now that those who were children when my wife and I first took our children to Family Camp are now playing games with their own children at Family Camp. People who once attended as children are now leading us in various activities at camp. It is wonderful. Families have grown and continue to enjoy their time with one another and other families. Family Camp is filled with generations of families that built “homes in which we laugh and love.”

We have experienced several difficult years between a pandemic, political strife, and ongoing conflicts. But through it all, families remain. Children grow up and have their own children. Parents come to enjoy their grandchildren. Each generation lovingly offers their gifts to the other generations—children offer the gift of new life and energy for growth, young adults the gift of hope and zeal, parents the gift of guidance and support, and grandparents the gift of wisdom and encouragement to name a few.  Generations of families that build “homes in which we laugh and love” continue to love and grow, no matter the circumstances in the world. This is perhaps the greatest lesson I take from Family Camp this year, a lesson that communicates God’s providence and love.

Thank you Terri and Jim for organizing a wonderful week, Tim Hartman for the funny and insightful messages, Liz and Andy for the music time, Nadine for fabulous meals…and all those who helped make such a memorable weekend for so many families.

A Gratitude Practice…Are You Up to the Challenge?

I’ve been reading and thinking about gratitude lately. The more I learn, the more amazed I become. Gratitude has a powerful impact on the health and happiness of our families. So, I thought I’d share a little about what gratitude is…and what it is not. Then offer a gratitude challenge for your family…if you’re up for it.

Gratitude is not simply a feeling. It is an action, an intentional action taken to acknowledge a gift received and express thanks to the giver.

Gratitude is not a one-time event or a destination. It is a practice. We do not “arrive at” a life of gratitude; we “practice” a lifestyle of gratitude.

Gratitude is not simply “counting our blessings.” in fact, if we focus merely on the individual blessings of our lives, we risk promoting entitlement and arrogance rather than a humble life of gratitude. No, gratitude is a humble practice that broadens our perspective, enhancing our awareness of the vast beauty and kindness around us.

Gratitude, rather than a focus on what “I have received,” builds connection. It opens our eyes to the “giver” and the generosity of their gift. It heightens our perception and appreciation of the value inherent in the people and circumstances around us.

Gratitude is not giving begrudgingly or from obligation, which merely laces it with feelings of opposition and offense. It is not something we politely offer in passing, without thought, disingenuously and inauthentically. True gratitude is a practice in thoughtful action, authentic expression. In fact, an authentic expression of gratitude has the power to lift a person’s mood and strengthen their resolve.

As with any good practice, it takes time to cultivate gratitude. It takes time and practice to refine our gratitude skills. It takes active participation in the practice of gratitude to develop the mindset and poise that nurtures the habit and natural flow of gratitude.

I invite you to begin practicing gratitude with your family by keeping a “Family Gratitude Journal” for the next 2 weeks (make it a month for a real challenge).  Once a day, maybe at dinner time or bedtime, look over the last 24 hours and write down:

  1. Three things for which each family member is grateful. Don’t write the same thing every day. Write something different each day.
  2. One to two nice things each family member did or said to someone else—this may be a person within the family or outside the family.
  3. One way in which each family member can acknowledge their gratitude over the next 24 hours. That might include a simple “thank you,” an act of paying it forward, or choosing some personal change that reflects your gratitude. Be creative and allow for the possibility of your life, not just your words, to speak of your gratitude.

You might keep this journal in a traditional paper notebook or choose some other creative way to record your gratitude. For instance, you could make construction paper leaves for each spoken thanks and form a tree on a wall in the family room. Or you might make a paper chain in which you write a record of gratefulness on each link. You get the idea…be as creative as you like. Then, after the challenge, let us know how this challenge changed your family. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Husbands, Reduce Your Wife’s Stress for a Better Life

Let’s face it, guys. Most of us want our wives to feel less stressed. And, chances are, we’d do almost anything to help alleviate our wives’ stress. It makes for a calmer home. After all, “happy wife, happy life,” right?

You can imagine, then, how pleased I was to discover this simple, enjoyable way to reduce my wife’s stress. Researchers from Ruhr University, Bochum, Germany confirmed the efficacy of this stress reducing activity in a study involving 76 people in romantic relationships. All the participants engaged in a stress-inducing test by keeping one hand in a bath of ice water for 3-minutes while maintaining “eye contact with a camera.”   Half the couples were instructed to embrace one another before the ice water hand soaking. The other half did not embrace one another.

Lo and behold, women who embraced their romantic partner prior to the “stress-inducing experience” had a lower biological stress response than those couples who did not embrace. They had a lower cortisol stress response. Ironically, this did not happen for the men, only for women.

I thought perhaps this was a fluke. So I looked around a little more and found another study that involved women anticipating a “small electric shock.” (I know, who volunteers to receive a “small electric shock”?) Anyway, this study found similar results. When a women held the hand of her husband, she perceived less stress while anticipating the shock than one who held the hand of a stranger. And the happier the marriage, the more stress relief the women felt while holding their husband’s hands. The more love, the happier the marriage, the less stress…a good reason to build a strong, loving marriage. There you have it—less of a biological stress response and less perceived stress. If you want a wife with less stress, a happier wife contributing to a happier family life, give her a hug. Even better give her multiple hugs a day. Hold her hand. Show her physical affection often. It’s simple. It’s enjoyable. And it will lead to a more stress-free wife. What a wonderful expression of love and a wonderful gift to give your wife.

Mighty Little Deeds of… Kindness?

Kindness is powerful. Even more powerful because it appears so meek, wrapped in the common, unassuming actions that even a child can perform. A polite response. A genuine show of gratitude. An offer to help.

The simplicity of the act tempts us to disregard its power. After all, anyone could do it. Hold a door open for someone. Pass the vegetables. Pour a glass of tea for someone.

Still, however unassuming and inconsequential an act of kindness might appear, it remains a powerful force. Simple acts of kindness reveal the giver’s humility and willingness to give of their time and energy graciously and humbly in service to another. Who doesn’t like a humble person who graciously offers an act of kindness like taking out the trash or helping to carry the groceries?

Kindness also communicates the inherent value of the recipient. It acknowledges the recipient as worthy of the time and energy sacrificed to offer them a kindness. Sharing a cup of water or a meal. Letting the other guy have the parking space.

Kindness unveils the beauty of both the giver and the receiver. The giver in their benevolence and generosity. The receiver in their kind response of gratitude and appreciation. A simple “thank you” or a smile with a friendly wink of the eye.

Yes, kindness is powerful. Kind acts lift the spirits of both the giver and the receiver. These mighty little deeds promote connection between people. They inspire us to act in kindness to the next person we meet. They restore our faith in humankind.

These mighty little deeds of kindness can build a stronger marriage, a safer community, a healthier world. In recognizing the power of those mighty little deeds of kindness, I have to ask you a question. What mighty little deeds of kindness will you give your family today?

Let Them Play for Academic Success

Did you know the United Nations has actually stated that “every child has the right to play”? I don’t disagree, but I would go a step further. More than simply a “right” to play, our children have a biological need to play; and parents have an intuitive desire of their children’s need to play.

Why do children “need” to play? Because play promotes healthy development. A review of the research suggests that play helps children develop knowledge and understanding through hands-on activities. It increases their attention span and their productivity, both of which benefit their academic success.

The same review revealed that play helps our children develop emotionally and socially as well. Play allows them to practice social skill like cooperation, communication, sharing, and problem-solving. It allows them to role-play, safely experimenting with their identity development. And it provides a safe and effective avenue for relieving and managing stress. One child development expert even said that play “makes a child a head taller than himself” in regard to maturity.

The researchers of this review also noted that play helps children develop movement and motor skills. Physical, social, emotional, and mental development—play helps in all these areas.

Another interesting study about play published in 2011 explored the impact of an afterschool physical activity program for 170 seven- to eleven-year-old children. They discovered that physical activity (AKA-play), improved the children’s “cognitive performance.” In other words, physical activity led to greater academic success. In addition, those who engaged in 40 minutes of activity did better than those engaged in only 20 minutes of activity.

What does this all mean for our families? Quite simply, if you want your children to achieve to their full potential in school, let them have time to play with other children. Sure, academics is important. But if you want your children to focus better during school, perform better in the classroom, and develop better thinking skills, encourage them to play. Let your children play so they can have greater academic success. And, as an added bonus, spend some time wisely playing with them. You’ll both love it!

« Older Entries