Archive for Honor

The Job Every Teen Has & Every Parent Struggles With

Adolescents have a job in our society. Their job receives no monetary reward; and many parents struggle with letting their adolescent do their job. The job is to become their own person, to prepare themselves emotionally and mentally to leave home. To complete this job, our teens often withdraw some from the parent-child relationship. They spend more time with their peers and disclose less to their parents. However, a study involving 1,001 13-to 16-years-old teens suggests a way in which parents can encourage better communication with their teen during this time and, as a result, promote more teen disclosure even while their teen does their job of becoming independent. The researchers had teens watch a parent and teen converse about difficult situations. The teens then rated the conversations and the parent-teen relationship they witnessed. What did the researchers discover? What did the teens say in their interpretation of the conversations?

  1. When a parent was genuinely engaged with their teen in conversation, teens felt more authentic and connected to their parent.
  2. When a parent was visibly attentive, the teen was more likely to “open up” and engage in more self-disclosure.

That’s all well and good. But what exactly does “genuinely engaged” and “visibly attentive” look like? According to the researchers of this study, these skills involve at least 4 factors.

  1. Maintaining good eye contact.
  2. Engaging in nonverbal communication such as head nodding.
  3. Engaging in verbal acknowledgment and gratitude to the teen for “opening up.”
  4. Verbally and openly appreciating the teen’s honesty as well as their effort in sharing.

I would also add factors five through eight as factors involved in being “genuinely engaged” and “visibly attentive:”

  1. Verbal validation of their struggle to “make the right choice” or “do the right thing.”
  2. Statements explicitly validating and labeling their emotion in response to the difficult situation.
  3. Asking nonjudgmental questions to clarify the situation and assure you understand. A curiosity about your teen’s thoughts and emotions about the situation. A genuine interest in how they view the situation and how it impacts them.
  4. Listen. Don’t lecture. Don’t problem-solve. Listen

These skills add up to “attentive listening” and “genuine engagement” with your teen. “Attentive listening” and “genuine engagement” with your teen results in greater intimacy and better parent-teen communication…and that’s a beautiful thing.

The Superpower of a Compliment

March 1 was World Compliment Day, but I think we need a reminder of the importance of a good compliment more often than once a year. So, here’s a reminder of the superpower of a compliment. 

We all want our families to know how much we value them. And compliments make people feel valued. So, give your spouse a compliment. Give your children a compliment. Give your parent a compliment. Let them know how much you value them.

Compliments also reduce the negative effects of stress. What? A less stressful spouse? A less stressful child? A less stressful parent? All due to a simple, sincere compliment? Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? But it is true. Give your family a compliment.

“Yeah, but you don’t know my family. They don’t care about compliments.” Research begs to differ. Research suggests we underestimate how good a sincere compliment will make the recipient feel. Honestly, don’t you enjoy a sincere compliment? So will your spouse, your children, and your parents.

“But if I give my family a compliment every day, they’ll get tired of it. It will become meaningless.” Not so. Sincere compliments, according to research, continue to lift the recipient’s mood every time they are offered, even when offered day after day. Compliments never grow old.

Don’t reserve March 1 for complimenting your spouse, children, and parents.  Get out there and compliment them today. Your sincere compliment will boost their positive mood. It will make them more aware of their inherit value. It will help them realize how much you value them. It will deepen and strengthen your relationship with them… and isn’t that what we really want? Give it a try. Compliment your family today and tomorrow. Compliment them every day for a month and pay attention to how this impacts their behavior and your relationship with them. You’ll love the results.

Book Review: Hunt, Gather, Parent

Michaeleen Doucleff, the author of Hunt, Gather, Parent: What Ancient Cultures Can Teach Us About the Lost Art of Raising Happy, Helpful Little Humans, was looking for guidance on raising her strong-willed, rambunctious 3-year-old. As any good investigative journalist would do, she began to research the “options.” And the most effective ideas and parenting guidance she discovered came from sources flung to the far ends of the world. With daughter in tow, she visited a variety of indigenous peoples—a Mayan village in Mexico, Inuit families in the Arctic Circle, and Hadzabe families in Tanzania—to gain some very useful parenting advice. And I loved it. Some of the reviews I read were critical of various aspects of this book. For instance, they accused her of a gender bias, espousing parenting techniques of indigenous peoples as though they have no counterparts in Western parenting guidance (in fact, they are similar to Montessori or RIE parenting), and “framing tribal parents as eternally happy, and Western parents…as miserable victims of circumstances.”

I don’t know about all that…but I do know our society gets so caught up in finding fault and criticizing where a work (in our opinion) falls short , where we think it won’t work, or simply what’s wrong with it…rather than looking at the good gifts the work offers for many situations and people. And Hunt, Gather, Parent offers many excellent gifts. It offers wonderful advice to parents about effective ways of raising their children, advice that both fathers and mothers can apply.

This advice is founded, in part, on a parent’s perspective of children. Are children simply miniature adults that we can expect to behave appropriately? Or are they children who need to learn how to behave, manage emotions, and do tasks we call chores? Hadzabe parents offered Ms. Doucleff an excellent answer. In addition to this, Michaeleen Doucleff learned practical ways to remain calm when her child engages in tantrum behavior, how to encourage cooperation rather than control, and how to meet personalized needs rather than expect developmental milestones. She also talks with a variety of experts along the way to learn more about what she was witnessing and putting into practice.

All in all, this book is filled with gifts for every parent—great ideas and practical takeaways every parent will find helpful, all wrapped in a warm storytelling style. Use what you can, and you will not only find your children’s behavior improving, but your relationship with your children improving as well. And isn’t that what we all want?

What I Learned at Family Camp This Year

Well, Terry and Jim Jones did it again. They organized another fantastic Family Camp Weekend at Camp Christian. We all laughed and cried as the speaker, Tim Hartman, taught timeless principles from God’s word. I appreciated not only his humor but his vulnerability in the memorable examples he used to support the lessons. I wanted to share a couple thoughts I found especially meaningful.

  • Our families, especially our children, need us to share our faith stories with them.  They need to hear how God is working in our lives. That means we have to open our own eyes to recognize God’s working. So, what is your faith story today? How is God working in your life and the life of your family this week? Let your family know. (This sounds like a great dinner conversation, by the way.)
  • God doesn’t need our anger. He doesn’t need us to make things work His way. He’s got it under control. In fact, “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.”  What does God want from us? He wants our faithful obedience…and that is challenging enough. Faithful obedience will bear witness to our families and our communities of God’s love. It will help build a loving community within our families and communities.
  • To practice a faithful obedience, we must learn to listen. Listening takes humility. Listening takes courage. Listening is an act of love and patience. I wonder what would happen if we all took even just one day a week and humbly silenced our need to be heard and listened instead, really listened to those around us? What would happen if we spent more time listening to our spouse then trying to justify our actions? What would happen if we spent more time listening to our children than in telling them what to do and lecturing them for their “mistakes”? Or, as the Tim implied, what might we accomplish if we listened intently to God and faithfully obeyed?
  • Finally, we are a tool…in the hand of God. We have a purpose. As we listen and faithfully obey, we become a tool under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Hopefully we will be as tenacious in that purpose as “Bowser the Rabbit Terror,” although I hope our purpose will be more lifegiving than the tenacious Bowser’s purpose was.

Family camp is more than just the formal times of worship and teaching though. It’s a wonderful time of fellowship and sharing. I especially love to see families engaged in activities with their children and other families. This year I was even allowed the opportunity to help build a dam with the teens and children present. I experienced the joy of following their direction as they constructed a stone dam, create a small, refreshing pool we could sit in and play. I thank them for allowing me to participate in this work with them.

All in all, we had a wonderful time of fellowship, fun, and learning. Thanks Terry and Jim putting it all together. Thanks for all who led in singing, prepared meals, served the food, cleaned, and gave devotions. Thanks for allowing us to enjoy the time together. Looking forward to another great one next year.

Marriage in a Box: Nasty, Neutral, or Nice?

Every marital interaction falls into a box according to Dr. John Gottman. One box is the nasty box. Even happy couples find themselves in the nasty box sometimes. We’ve all been there—frustrated, critical, defensive, blaming, and even contemptuous. But unhappy couples get stuck in the nasty box. They live and die in the nasty box. Couples who get stuck in the nasty box have about 4 positive interactions for every 5 negative interactions. Read that sentence again. They have more negative than positive interactions. This ratio contributes to a lack of emotional connection. (For more on how to use this ratio to strengthen your marriage and family read Family Bank of Honor and Making Deposits in a Topsy-Turvy Bank.) Couples in the nasty box are not only emotionally disconnected, but they are also afraid of to express the vulnerability needed to “open up” emotionally. And they lack the skills needed to resolve conflict. No one wants to live in the nasty box. It’s…well, nasty and miserable. We all want to live in the nice box.

The nice box is filled with mutual respect, affection, cherishing, and trust. Unfortunately, no one lives in the nice box 100% of the time. But healthy couples offer expressions of repair when they step out of the nice box into the nasty box. These expressions of repair help decrease the tension during conflict and confirm their affection for one another. Repairs are made possible because each spouse is aware of the other spouse’s inner world. They respect their spouse’s inner world and respond to it in a loving way. Expressions of repair can include a smile, an open-ended question, an inside joke, a touch, a gesture…anything that communicates love and commitment.

Still, happy couples only spend part of their time in the nice box. Surprisingly, happy couples spend most of their time in the neutral box, even when having a disagreement. In fact, Dr. Gottman’s research suggests that happy couples spend 65% to 70% of their time in the neutral box. Unhappy couples spend only 47% of their time in the neutral box, leaving much more time for the nasty box. The ability of a married couple to sit with one another in the neutral box reveals a trust nurtured by engagement and responsiveness. It is the byproduct of work done in the past to proactively grow a healthy relationship.

In which box does your marriage reside? You can learn to live in neutral and nice box by learning about one another’s lives, expressing adoration toward one another on a daily basis, turning toward one another to overcome life’s obstacles and celebrate life’s joys, and planning a future of celebration together.

Death by Marriage

Don’t get me wrong. I love marriage. I am an advocate for marriage. A happy, healthy marriage is a little taste of heaven. Studies even suggest that people sharing a happy, healthy marriage live longer, have fewer strokes, and survive major operations more often, and more ( 10 Science-Based Benefits of Marriage for Your Health – Healthy Hints). But those are the consequences of a healthy marriage. An unhealthy marriage, one in which partners are “dissatisfied,” can kill you, especially if you’re a male.

A study published in 2021 followed 8,945 men for 32 years while assessing their medical data, lifestyle choices, and marital satisfaction. After 32 years, 5,736 of the men had died. Men who were dissatisfied with their marriage were 19% more likely to die than those who reported being satisfied with their marriage. This increased risk of death was similar to the increased risk of death for smokers compared to non-smokers or for physically inactive people compared to active. More specifically, fatal strokes were 69% more common among those who reported an
unsuccessful (AKA—dissatisfying) marriage compared to those reporting having a very satisfying marriage. In other words, an unhealthy marriage is a health risk factor.

Rather than risk death by marriage, commit to improving your marriage and act on that commitment.

  • Read a good book on marriage with your spouse. More than simply reading it, put the ideas and principles discussed in the book into action. A great book to start might be John Gottman’s The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (read a review here).
  • Find a good marital therapist. Many couples wait until they are at their whit’s end to find a marital therapist. By that time, they harbor resentment, and one person has often already decided to leave.  Find a marital therapist before it gets to that point.  Start working to improve your marriage when you find yourselves feeling just a little disconnected and don’t know how to fix it.
  • Attend a marriage education seminar or workshop every year. Take the ideas and principles you learn in the workshop and apply them for the rest of the year. Make them the habits of your successful marriage.

These ideas are ways for you to learn about one another and strengthen your marriage. Each one can teach you to turn toward one another and work as a team. They can help you rediscover and express what you admire in your spouse. And they can help you learn the importance of daily habits to keep your marriage strong. That may not fix everything immediately. You may still argue and have bad days. But you will find your marriage on an upward path of growing health, happiness, and life…rather than stumbling down the path of death by marriage.

Don’t Let Defensiveness Ruin Your Marriage, Take The Antidote Instead

I don’t know about you, but I often find myself making defensive maneuvers when my wife and I get into an argument. I hate being wrong. I want her to understand. So, I start defensive maneuvers. Maybe you recognize some of these:

  • “Well, I wouldn’t have done that if you hadn’t….”
  • “But you need to understand….”
  • “Yeah, well you did the same thing last week….”
  • “You misunderstand what I’m saying… You always misunderstand me.”
  • “You always think the worst about me….”

The list goes on, but they all have one thing in common. While defending me, they put the blame squarely on my wife.

As you can imagine, defensiveness does not help end the argument. Nor does it resolve the problem or restore the relationship. In fact, defensiveness generally makes everything worse. It escalates the argument. It compounds the frustration. It increases feelings of anger. And it pushes the possibility of resolution further into the distant future.

John Gottman calls defensiveness one of the four horseman. I think that is a good category for it. It is one of the “four horsemen of the apocalypse” striving to conquer the opponent (your spouse in this case) while escalating the emotional war, intensifying relational famine, and hastening a marital death. Not a great strategy for a healthy marriage.

But I have good news. There is an antidote. Accept responsibility. I know, like so many other medicines, the antidote goes down hard. Nobody likes to admit their contribution to a marital problem. But, if you want to move past the problem and restore the joyful experience of an intimate relationship, you have to bite the bullet and accept responsibility for your part in the current situation. Because it is difficult to do, let me offer a couple tips.

  1. Remember the K.I.S.S. principle—Keep It Short and Simple. During an argument, our spouses will not hear a long explanation. Also, the longer we talk the more likely we slip into the familiar defensive maneuvers. So, keep it short and simple, clear and concise. “I was wrong.” “I’m sorry.” “I forgot.” The exact wording will depend on the situation; but you can always keep it short and simple.
  2. Sit in the vulnerability of responsibility. Accepting responsibility (even partial responsibility) for a problem situation or an argument leaves us vulnerable. It is an admission of at least partial fault that places us at the mercy of your spouse and their response. So, when you keep it short and simple, do not add a complaint. Just remain vulnerable. Don’t add a “but” that precedes an excuse. Just sit in the vulnerability of responsibility. Simply state an acceptance of responsibility and a willingness to accept the consequences.
  3. Don’t minimize your admission of responsibility with statements like: “So I made a mistake. I’m only human” or “Ok. One time I did that….” Simply accept responsibility and sit with the admission of responsibility. Don’t minimize.

Like most medicine, this antidote tastes terrible going down. But it has a wonderful effect. When we accept responsibility without excuse or complaint and without minimizing our mistake, we elicit empathy. We also communicate our vulnerability and elicit compassion. Moreover, we open the door for greater intimacy. Once your spouse sees you sitting with the vulnerability of admitting responsibility, they are more likely to accept responsibility for their contribution as well. Suddenly, the argument has taken a turn. You can now talk and work toward a healthy solution you can both be happy about.  

Give it a try. You will be pleasantly surprised with the beneficial results of accepting responsibility instead of getting defensive. I mean, who doesn’t want empathy, compassion, and greater intimacy?

Why Wait?

I had the opportunity to visit my extended family recently. It is always a joy to spend time with them. Because we live 500 miles away, we don’t get to visit as often as we’d like. Nonetheless, my wife and I recently had the opportunity to take my parents “on the journey” to visit our family.

This visit held special meaning as one of my aunts and an uncle passed away since our last visit and, due to the pandemic, we had missed the family gatherings celebrating their lives. So, as you can imaging, pictures and stories occupied much of our time during this visit. We recalled fun times and hard times, joys and struggles. Stories I had never heard confirmed what we already knew… and added a few surprises. We laughed together. On occasion, I saw eyes well up with tears. But, we all learned of a family heritage filled with love, resilience, and joy. Our grandparents’
dream of a family that honored and celebrated one another was affirmed.

As the visit progressed, I realized how much we share stories every time we get together. I remembered the joy of recalling our common history and celebrating the places where our histories diverged. I recognized how much each person has to offer one another because of those places where are stories varied while our common story held us together. And, I realized how important those stories are to our family identity as well as our individual identities.

With all this in mind, I have to ask: Do you take time to share your family stories? It’s a good practice to do so. Don’t wait for someone to pass away. Share your stories now. Our family stories build our family identity. They provide us with hope in times of struggle. They lay a foundation for honor and love while reaching forward to a future built on joy and community. Why wait to share your stories? Start sharing those stories today. Your family will reap the benefits for a lifetime.

Reach Out and Touch Someone

Remember the commercials that encouraged us to “reach out and touch someone” with a phone call? Their motto bounced around in our heads long before cell phones and texting. Now it’s even easier to “reach out and touch someone,” right? Just send a quick text or message them on Facebook. So much easier… or is it? Is texting enough to “reach out and touch someone”? Is it enough to keep a relationship strong and healthy? A study published in 2020 sought to answer that question.

In this study, participants predicted how awkward or enjoyable it would be to contact a friend with whom they had not interacted for two years. They also predicted how close they would feel after the contact. They made these predictions for both phone contact and email contact. Then they were randomly assigned to contact their friend by phone or email.

Most participants thought phone contact would make them more uncomfortable than email contact. However, this did not prove true. Those who made phone contact felt no more discomfort than those who made email contact, even if they had said they preferred to email. On the other hand, those who called were happier with the interaction and felt closer to the person they called than those who simply emailed.

In a second part of this study (following the same procedures as the first part), participants were randomly assigned to a voice chat, a video chat, or a text chat. Similarly, the voice chat and video chat resulted in feeling significantly closer to the other person than those who engaged in a text chat. Video chat and voice chat, on the other hand, revealed similar outcomes in satisfaction and sense of closeness. These results suggest that our voices are particularly powerful for increasing intimacy.

When I think about that, it makes sense. From the time we were babies, and even in utero, we have responded to and discriminated between voices. When we are stressed or upset, the voice of loved one, a spouse, or a parent can calm and soothe us. And how many of us would love to hear the voice of a loved one “just one more time” after they pass away?

What does this have to do with family? If you want to increase intimacy with your family, text a little less and call a little more. If you want to maintain closeness with your spouse and children even when you disagree, give them a call because it promotes greater understanding when we hear one another’s voice than when we read their text. In fact, hearing the voice of a family member may be the the medicine to cure what ails you. So, increase the intimacy in your family. Close the texting or messaging app. Dial the number and reach out to touch your family with a phone call or video chat. You’ll both be glad you did.

Defeating M.I.J. (Media Induced Jealousy)

In our world, people like to display what they have and what they have done. We see it on TV as people enjoy home makeovers or live out exciting “reality shows” for everyone to see. We observe it on social media as we look at the pictures of our friend’s amazing adventures and fun times. While enjoying vacation with my family, I have often watched people posing and primping to get “just the right” selfie to display their location and activity while still looking pristine. Unfortunately, as we peruse our social media accounts, we see these beautiful pictures of amazing places filled with beautiful, happy people and feel a tinge of jealousy begin to rise. Maybe we even feel some depression. We see pictures of our friends having fun times with one another and wonder, “Why wasn’t I invited?” Or, we see the exciting activities of those we know (and maybe even people we don’t know) and become jealous, wishing we could have that kind of life too. And that jealousy begins to crush our joy. It can even begin to cause problems within our families. Can this jealousy be defeated? Most definitely…and here are 3 tips to help you get started.

  • First, realize that all the pics on social media and the reality shows on TV are not truly reality. “Reality” TV shows are staged, contrived.  They do not represent real life. In addition, our “pics” on social media focus solely on the joyous, happy times in our life. They give only a snapshot of one small portion of our lives, not our whole life. The pics on social media don’t show us covered with sweat after cleaning out our flooded basement or going through the humdrum activities of taking out the garbage, washing dishes, and doing homework. In fact, a large portion of our lives is spent doing average, normal activities of daily life–washing clothes, cleaning house, taking out the garbage, cleaning kitty litter, mowing our lawn. These activities don’t usually make it on to social media posts. Which leads me to the next tip.
  • Every day, spend time with your family talking about “the best part of your day.” Talk about what you enjoyed during the day. Make it a habit to notice the beauty of the people and the world around you…and acknowledge that beauty in discussions with your family. Family meals are an excellent opportunity to share “the best part of the day.” Doing so will help you and your family reflect on and enjoy the positive experiences you encounter on a daily basis.
  • Share gratitude daily. I know I say this often on this website, but expressing gratitude remains so important to healthy family life. We need to take the time to recognize the blessings for which we can be grateful. Recognize and appreciate things as common as breathing, the sunshine, and the ability to smell. Make it a habit to notice what your family members and friends do for which you can thank them. Don’t just notice those things, take the time to thank them as well.

These three simple activities help us to focus on the good in our lives rather than what we perceive as missing. They help us reflect on the blessings and gifts that fill our lives rather than our sense of what we might lack. When we recognize the abundance of joys, blessings, and beauty in our lives, other people’s happiness will not detract from ours. Take time to celebrate what you have as a family…and celebrate.

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