If you are a student of ancient Biblical sayings, you probably think you know the answer to this question already. In fact, you will quote the words of Jesus in response to the question: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Researchers from Ohio State University put that to the test in a study involving 1,054 healthy adults between 34 and 84-years-old. Each participant completed three measures: one of their social integrations, one of their perceptions of how much they could rely on others, and one of their perceptions of how available they were to support family and friends. Two years later they returned for follow-up blood tests that measured markers of systemic inflammation in the body. These markers are associated with increased risk for health issues like cardiovascular disease and cancer.
What did they discover? Lower inflammation markers [and, as a result, the risk for related diseases] was associated with increased availability to give social support to family and friends. In other words, the researchers found the healing power of relationships increase when a person gives support to family and friends rather than simply receiving support.
Don’t mistake, receiving support is also good. It, too, is associated with greater health. But the greatest health benefit comes when we offer support as well. So, it’s true. When it comes to giving and receiving support in your marriage and family it really “is more blessed to give than to receive,” even in terms of our physical health. With that in mind, how can you give support to your spouse and family? The ways are endless but let me offer three principles.
Being available to give support to your family takes time. You have to give of your time to your spouse and your family to remain available to offer support. Get out your calendar and prioritize time with your family.
Giving support to your family means setting aside your personal agenda at times. The need for support often arises at “inconvenient times.” You might have to sacrifice watching your favorite game or TV show to spend time supporting your family. You might have to change your schedule, postpone an activity. But, in the long run, what really is more important to you, your family or a sitcom? Your spouse or a video game? Your children or reading the news? Postpone your agenda and make yourself available to support your family.
To truly support your spouse and children, you have to know them well. Each person receives support in slightly different ways. One person may feel supported with encouraging words while another desires hands-on assistance. Moreover, each person may need support in a different area of their life depending on their developmental needs and current needs. Take time to know your family so you can support them in the ways that are most meaningful to them. If you can’t figure out how a family member wants support or in what area they might like support, ask them.
These three principles will open up a “world of opportunity” to support your family. As you do, you will experience the joy and health of giving support to your family. You will gain firsthand knowledge that “it’s more blessed to give than to receive.”
Experts work on basics all the time. Expert hockey players practice the basics of puck control; soccer players the basic of ball and foot control; instrumentalists the basics of scales and arpeggios…you get the idea. Experts never stop practicing the basics of their skills. The same applies to parents. To become expert parents, we need to keep practicing the basic parenting skills. With that in mind, let’s review 5 basics of raising healthy children.
Expert parents provide a safe environment for their children. A safe environment includes providing healthy nutrition, regular sleep routines, and good hygiene. A safe environment also includes loving touch and predictable routines. Discipline, when needed, is carried out in a loving manner. Overall, a safe environment provides children with a sense of security from which they can explore the world.
Expert parents maintain reasonable expectations for their children. These expectations can include expectations around household chores, how to communicate their emotions, and what activities they will complete independently among other things. The reasonable expectations vary from child to child and developmental level to developmental level. As a result, to maintain reasonable expectations for your children requires you to become a student of your children. Get to know them. Learn about development in general and their level of development specifically. Make your expectations for behavior and communication match their developmental abilities.
Expert parents discipline wisely. Wise discipline involves proactive measures in an effort to limit inappropriate behavior in the first place. Proactive disciplinary measures include routines, talking about expectations and situations that might potentially challenge those expectations, and teaching skills like emotional management and time management. Bedtime routines, morning routines, and routines around transitions from school to home go a long way in reducing negative behaviors. When responding to an inappropriate behavior, wise discipline addresses the inappropriate behavior directly. For instance, if a child makes a mess have them clean the mess up rather than “ground them.” Let them address the difficulty they have created through their misbehavior. Teaching children to put voice to their emotions of anger, disappointment, sorrow, and happiness also represents a strong discipline tool. Wise discipline helps children understand how behavior impacts others and teaches them appropriate behaviors.
Expert parents accept their children. This sounds obvious, but it bears repeating. Expert parents accept their children even when their children have different interests than them. In fact, they learn about their children’s interests and encourage those interests. Expert parents accept their children’s growing independence and allow them the space to grow in that independence…even though it’s difficult to let go. Expert parents communicate acceptance of their children even when they have to discipline an unacceptable behavior. They differentiate between the behavior and their child, assuring their child realizes they are accepted even if their behavior is not.
Experts practice the basics. These points represent 5 of the basics that parents need to practice consistently…from the time their children are born. Practice. Practice. Practice.
Every now and again, I bring home
flowers for my wife. (Now that I think about it, maybe I should do that today.)
We put them in a vase with water and enjoy them…until they wilt. We also have
flowers in a flower garden in our back yard. Guess which flowers last longer.
You know it; the flowers in our backyard. They are planted in rich, nurturing
soil that generously provides the nutrients they need to grow and blossom time
Our marriages also need a rich,
nurturing soil to generously provide the nutrients necessary for our marriages
to grow and blossom time and again. Each spouse is part of the rich soil in
which your marriage is planted. And, from our richness we need to generously
provide at least seven nourishing qualities in extravagant abundance to our
spouse and our marriage.
Generously give your time…lots of it. I’ve quoted it before and I’ll quote it again, “Love is spelled T.I.M.E.” We give our time to those people and things that are important to us. So, make sure your “Daily Planner” reflects the priority of your spouse and your marriage. Give them the time reflective of their value. (Practice a marital sabbath to give time to your spouse.)
Generously give your caring attention and presence. Spending time with your spouse is important. However, it takes more than merely being a body in their vicinity. Lavish them with your caring attention. Let your active daily involvement in your spouse’s life, your presence in their life, speak of your concern, love, and affection.
Generously give your ears. Remember the saying, “You have two ears and one mouth so you can listen twice as much as you talk.” Give your spouse your ears in abundance. Listen deeply. Listen intently. Listen to understand. Listen. Listen. Listen. (Listening deeply in this way will prove a powerful way to improve your marriage.)
Generously give your affection. It’s been said “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth” (Virginia Satir). Don’t keep your marriage on a survival mode. Be generous. Give your marriage what it needs for growth, lots and lots of affection in words and actions every day. (For more on the power of generous hugs and affection read And a Hug to Grow On.)
Generously give simple acts of kindness and service. Kindness and service are powerful. They proclaim our love. They melt hearts and restore relationships. They nurture an environment of encouragement. They stimulate greater intimacy. Give kindness and service to your spouse with extravagant generosity. (Try these 31 Acts of Kindness to Strengthen Your Marriage.)
Generously give forgiveness. We all make mistakes. We all need forgiveness from time to time. Forgiveness is necessary for a marriage to survive and flourish. Give your spouse forgiveness as often as needed. And, if you’re asking for forgiveness bear the fruit of repentance with great abundance.
Generously give prayer for your spouse’s well-being. Notice I say pray for your spouse’s “well-being.” Don’t ask that they change to become the person you want them to become. Accept them and pray for their well-being. Pray for their happiness. Pray for them to feel loved. ….(Read Improve Your Marriage with One Simple, Daily Activity for more on the power of prayer in your marriage.)
Yes, generosity can save your marriage. Throw
caution to the wind and start lavishing these seven gifts of grace on your
spouse today. And watch your marriage blossom and grow.
What does it mean to “be
there” for your spouse and children? We often consider “being there” as giving
comfort during tough times or caring for others in difficult situations. We
think of “being there” as supporting others when they need help. Those
are good times to “be there” for our spouse and children; but they
are not the only times we need to “be there.” We also need to
“be there” during the good times to share the pleasant news, the
times of joy, and the times happiness. In fact, sharing good news and good
times with those we love builds stronger relationships. It helps the both person
“being there,” the person we are “being there” for, and the relationship. Let
me name just a few of the many ways “being there” in good times can help a relationship.
Sharing good news or good experiences with a spouse, parent, or child who is engaged in the
conversation enhances the meaning and weightiness we attach to those joyous
times. These moments of sharing become foundational to our memory. We remember
positive experiences more vividly when we share them with someone who engages
in conversation with us about them. So, if you want your spouse and children to
have lots of good memories filled with meaning in their lives, engage them in conversation
about those events. “Be there” for them in celebrating the good news.
On the flip side, the person hearing about their loved one’s good
news or happy experience feel happier. You’ve likely had that experience.
Someone told you about their positive experience and you were genuinely happy
for them. You rejoiced with them and felt happier yourself. So, listen intently
to your family member’s good news and rejoice with them. Share genuine
happiness for their good fortune. You’ll be happier for it. Along these same
lines, share your own good news and positive experiences with your family
members. Don’t hold back and keep it secret. Let them rejoice with you. They’ll
be happier for it…and you’ll be happier that they are happier. Everybody’s
happy…sounds like a good family night of sharing.
Sharing good news and happy
experiences with one another also builds
stronger, more intimate relationships. Sharing our good experiences is
linked to relationship bonding and safety. When a person telling about their
good experience knows the listener is receptive and engaged, they feel more
secure in the relationship. To go even further, sharing good news with a
receptive family member makes us more grateful for one another, enhances our
sense of fondness for one another, and increases our dedication to one another.
Sound good? It sure sounds good to me.
Don’t just “be there” for your family during the
hard times. “Be there” for the good times as well. Celebrate the joyous occasions.
Rejoice together. “Be there” in good times and in bad.
I recently read an interesting article by John A. Cuddeback entitled Reclaiming a Father’s Presence at Home. In this article, he makes a “radical suggestion” that we measure a man’s success in life, his manhood even, by the quality of his presence in his home and with his family. Based on a historical analysis of the diminishing presence of the father in the home, he describes how the success of children and the ongoing success of family are impacted by a father’s presence or lack of presence. Without the active presence of a father, family relationships weaken. The depth of connections become more superficial. Beliefs around productivity and leisure change, succumbing to the more readily available cultural trends that also weaken the family unit (like technology, busy-ness, adult-organized and run activities). It was a very interesting article. I see the validity of his perspective.
Fortunately, the author did not stop with the description of how a father’s lack of presence impacts children and families. He also offered some excellent suggestions for reversing this trend. In my mind, these suggestions reveal the most important work of a Dad, the work that will transcend any other work he will every do. These suggestions reveal a work that will make all other activities of a Dad pale in comparison. Let me briefly share these suggestions for the work of a Dad.
A Dad’s work begins with loving his wife well. A home begins with a man and a woman who love one another. With this in mind, a man’s presence in the home, a Dad’s work, begins with his presence to his wife. In loving his wife and being present to her needs, a Dad sets the stage for his children’s sense of security. From a loving, nurturing marital relationship flows the love and nurturance children need to thrive. When the marital relationship is marred with antagonism, mistrust, and harshness, children lose their sense of security. They experience the world as antagonistic, untrustworthy, and harsh. They become more vigilant, more skeptical, and more self-protective. When a man loves his wife well, his wife flourishes. Their relationship overflows with love and kindness. They function as a team. Children experience the world as loving, trustworthy, and cooperative. Truly, a Dad’s work in the home begins with loving his wife well.
A Dad’s work involves engaging in “home arts” with his family. “Home arts” include activities in which parent and child engage together, generally with the parent acting as mentor. These activities often involved learning together and always mean sharing time together. “Home arts” may include cooking, gardening, carpentry, mechanics, landscaping, music…whatever the interests of your family happen to be. For other families “home arts” may also include activities such as reading, writing, historical explorations, biology, or similar pursuits. Whatever the “home art” that fits with your family, it will involve the Dad making an investment of time and energy in the lives of his children and spouse. It will require spending time together negotiating and pursuing common interests. That is the beauty of Dad’s work in the home. It involves time shared together pursuing a common interest and goal…which leads a third work of a Dad in the home.
A Dad’s work means prioritizing shared activities. Shared activities differ from “home arts” because they often do not involve learning as a goal. Shared activities do allow families to enjoy time together and may, at times, overlap with “home arts.” But the main goal of shared activities is to have enjoyable time together sharing fun and life. One shared activity that research has shown to have a positive impact on family is the family meal. Another shared activity research has shown especially impactful when Dads participate is reading together. Other shared activities can include praying and worshiping as a family, singing together, and outdoor activities like playing catch, bike riding, or hiking. These shared activities provide fertile soil for conversations and deepening relationships as your family solves problems and overcomes obstacles together.
The work of Dad in the home involves his intentional presence. It begins with loving his wife well. From there it flows into “home arts” and shared activities. Although this work takes intention, it culminates in joy and reveals man at his best! So, Dad, let’s get to work.
Have you ever wondered how to motivate your children? They could have better grades but they just don’t hand in their homework or study? They could accomplish so much more but they just seem to “lack motivation”? Researchers at the University of Michigan recently published a study that might just help. In a series of three studies, they explored how positive relationships impact motivation. They discovered that even a brief reminder of a “supportive other” increases motivation for personal growth, even in the face of challenges. The participants who reported actually having supportive relationships showed a greater willingness to accept challenges that promoted personal growth. They also reported feeling more self-confidence (Read For a better ‘I,’ there needs to be a supportive ‘we’ for more on the study). In terms of parenting, having a supportive relationship with your children will help increase our children’s motivation. I’m not suggesting that a supportive relationship will end all motivational woes. It will not result in your children suddenly becoming perfectly motivated to complete every chore and homework assignment given. However, a positive supportive, relationship with your children will increase their motivation. A positive, supportive relationship with your children will increase the chances of them doing the chores more readily and even completing their homework. The question is: How do we develop and communicate a positive, supportive relationship with our children? I’m glad you (well…I) asked.
Remain available. Our children know we are available when we engage them regularly. We communicate our availability by remaining open to interactions with them, putting aside our own agenda and responding to their direct, indirect, or even awkward attempts to engage us. Let your actions express your belief that being available to your children is more important than the game, your book, the paperwork, or whatever other distraction might pull you away from your children in the moment.
Accept your children. Our children feel supported when they know we accept them whether they succeed or fail, experience joys or fears. They know we accept them when we acknowledge rather than criticize their efforts. They know we accept them when we acknowledge and allow for differences in taste and preferences. And, knowing they find acceptance in us they feel supported by us.
Listen. Our children feel supported when they feel heard. This requires us to listen beyond mere words. We must listen with our ears to hear the words, our mind to understand their intent, and our hearts to understand their emotions. Then, our actions need to communicate our willingness to let their ideas and beliefs influence us. When we listen in this manner, our children know they have found acceptance and a supportive parent.
Encourage. We communicate support through sincere encouragement. Sincere encouragement does not offer false praise. Our children abhor false praise. Nor does sincere encouragement manipulate. It is not offered to push our children in a particular direction or toward some action. Instead, we encourage our children by recognizing their inner dream and promoting it. We encourage them by acknowledging their effort and resulting progress.
Offer honest, gentle correction. Children recognize honest, gentle correction as supportive. They benefit from a supportive parent who lovingly “nudges” them to grow, mature, and become a person of honor. Honest, gentle correction avoids screaming, name-calling, and belittling comments. Instead, it offers clear limits, consistent consequences, and loving correction. Gentle correction teaches from a foundation of love, communicating a value in our children.
These five actions can help our children feel supported. This will translate into a healthier sense of self-confidence and greater motivation to engage in behaviors that promote their own positive growth.
When I was in college, one of our professors preached a sermon on “Vitamin B.” It was a sermon on the “Be”-attitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. It was a fun sermon. Thinking back on this “got me to thinking about” what “vitamin be’s” might benefit our families and children. Here is the “Vitamin Be” complex needed to maintain an open, intimate relationship with your teen; the “Vitamin Be” complex that will encourage our children to remain open with us, to approach us when they have a need or some issue they need to discuss. Read over the whole “Be-complex” and see what you think.
“Be” calm. When our children approach us, we need to stay calm. Our children may approach us to talk about all sorts of topics…and some topics may surprise and even shock us. Work hard to avoid any outburst of shock, anger, embarrassment, or laughter. When you stay calm, your children learn that no topic will overwhelm you. They will know that no topic will overwhelm you with fear. Instead, you are able to remain present and open with them. As a result, they can remain open with you.
“Be” open. There are no subjects off limits in a family. I love Mr. Rogers’ quote:
“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”
So, be open. Accept whatever topic comes up. Whatever you can talk about becomes manageable. We can fix the problems together. In addition, that conversation brings us together. It increases our intimacy. And the intimacy increases our influence.
“Be” empathetic. Remember your children are younger, less mature. Make every attempt to see your children’s concern from their perspective. See their concern through the eyes of their developmental level, the emotions of their maturity, and the wisdom of their limited experience. If you don’t understand it completely, ask questions.
“Be” confidential. We hope our children talk to us about those subjects sensitive to them. They need us to respect their privacy and keep their confidence. Listen to them intently but don’t share what you hear. No need to post the “cute story” on FaceBook or tell your neighbor about your teen’s brave struggle. Keep it between you and your child. When you keep their confidence, they learn to trust you! Trust builds intimacy.
“Be” perceptive. Sometimes our children will not tell us they want to talk. They may not know how to approach the conversation. Be observant and perceptive. Notice changes in their mood that might indicate a need to talk. Notice when they “keep showing up” and seem “to be underfoot.” Be aware that their actions may be dropping a subtle hint about their desire to talk. Drop the hint that you’re open to talk. It may just prove to be one of the best conversations you ever had.
“Be” available. Of course, no conversation will occur unless you’re open and available. So make sure you are available. Spend time with your children. Be available at bedtimes, mealtimes, and any other time you can. Participate in their interests. Make a point of attending their activities.
“Be” attentive. Being attentive means listening intently. Listen without distraction. Listen completely rather than thinking about any advice you might want to offer. Listen!
There it is—the “Vitamin Be” complex that will help you keep an intimate, open relationship with your teen!
“Controlling parents create mean college kids.” Having taught at a local college for several years and having two kids in college right now, that headline caught my attention. I have known quite a few mean college kids. The worst were the ones who engaged in what psychologist call “relational aggression.” They were not physically aggressive, but they could crush someone’s feelings or sabotage a person’s social standing with a well-spoken rumor, a strategic exclusion from some event, or nonchalantly embarrassing them in public. A study out of the University of Vermont suggests one way parents may contribute to this type of behavior. Specifically, this study of 180, mostly female, college students found that parents who use guilt trips or threat of withdrawing affection or support to influence their children contribute to the creation of the mean college kid who uses relational aggression. In other words, parents who control their children with guilt or threat of abandonment create mean college kids. Today, parents can practice this style of controlling influence from a distance, without even seeing their children, with the use of cell phone…just as our children can crush a peer through social media.
Rather than creating a mean kid through guilt inducing and controlling parenting styles, try these ideas:
Accept your children’s unique opinions and lifestyle. No need to try controlling their interests, ideas, and passions. Accept the fact that your children may not keep the hairstyle you like. They may not share your interests or political views. They may choose a different style of dress than you taught them. They may choose a vocation you never expected. Allow your children to be themselves. Accept their uniqueness. Enjoy your differences. Celebrate what you can learn from one another.
Respect your children enough to let them make their own mistakes. Do not make them feel guilty for the mistake, let them learn from the consequences of that mistake. Don’t control their every move in an effort to prevent “the same mistakes I made.” Instead, give them the dignity to learn from their mistakes without an “I told you so.” Empathize with the pain they experience as a consequence of their mistake, but let them have their own experience of, and opportunity to learn from, that pain. In fact, let them tell you what they learned and acknowledge the wisdom they gained.
Be available without clinging. Let your children know you are available to them any time they express a need. You can listen, share experiences, brainstorm ideas, even give advice if they ask…BUT you cannot live their life or make their decisions. Most importantly, whatever they choose, you still love them and remain available to them…without the guilt trip.
In other words, loosen the reins just a little. Appreciate their uniqueness and let them practice some decision making. Let them have some slack and let them learn from mistakes. Most important, always express your love and support.
I have enjoyed teaching a Lifespan Development course at a local university for over ten years. For the last assignment I ask students to interview an adult over 65-years-old. I love reading these assignments. The students interview grandparents, neighbors, friends…anyone they know over 65-years-old. They interview adults who have been homemakers, newscasters, WWII veterans, political refugees from various countries, politicians…people who have experienced amazing lives, participated in history changing events, and completed significant accomplishments. But, when asked about their “greatest accomplishment” or “greatest adventure,” their answer is family—children, grandchildren, nephews, and nieces. Not just one or two seniors give this answer. More like 98% reported raising children and seeing children raise their own families as their single most significant accomplishment and greatest adventure. When it comes to the most important aspects of life, family rises to the top. President Obama said it well: “What I’ll remember on my last breath…it’s not going to be anything to do with my office…it’s going to be holding my daughter’s hand as we walk to the park and seeing the sun go down and pushing her on the swing.” Watch this video to hear the rest of President Obama’s advice for parenting…some very wise advice I might add.
Nothing on this earth is more important than family—your marriage and your children. Nothing is more important to the future than our children. “Act accordingly.”
By the way, here are a few other insightful quotes from President Obama’s parenting advice:
“Kids demand your attention.”
“Balance comes about easier if you got a partner who’s prepared to share that process with you.”
“When you are home, be home. Don’t be home and just vegging out…be engaged.”
Raising a child is a demanding and difficult task. It raises our anxiety and brings out our greatest insecurities. I don’t know about you, but I have enough personal insecurity without bringing my parenting into the mix! Even worse, the more insecure we feel about our parenting, the less effective we are as parents. Effective parents are confident parents. So, how can we decrease our parental insecurity and increase our parental confidence? Perhaps the answer lies in the old Cherokee fable—the one we feed will grow.
Feeding Parental Insecurity:
We feed parental insecurity with comparisons. When we compare our failed attempts to keep the house spotless or to prepare a healthy three course meal before rushing off to baseball practice with the parent who appears to have it all together, we feed our insecurities. Any time we compare ourselves to another, we feed our insecurities. When we compare our children with other children, we feed our insecurities.
We feed parental insecurity with worry about the future. Insecurity grows quickly when we worry about our children’s future education, athletic career, relationships, or safety. When we think more about the future than our present relationship, insecurity mounts. Statements of fear like, “What if I don’t…my children won’t…,” are lies that feed our insecurities.
We feed parental insecurity with labels that define us by our children’s status or achievements. When we view our children’s success or lack of success as a reflection on our effectiveness as a parent or our worth as a person, insecurity grows. When we let our children missing a basket, singing off tune, or wearing that oddly colored hat define us, insecurity will grow by leaps and bounds. These incidents may bring looks from other parents. Those looks do not define us; they define them.
Feeding Parental Confidence:
We feed parental confidence when we accept our children for “who they are” and “just as they are.” When we become students of children’s interests and strengths and learn to be content in their unique abilities and wonderful averageness, we feed our parental confidence. When we promote activities and opportunities that promote their unique abilities, even if those abilities vary from our interests and the interests of those around us, we will see our children blossom…and that view feeds our parental confidence.
We feed parental confidence when we focus on the present with our children. Rather than getting caught up in worry about the future, turn your attention to the present. Rather than worry about college, invest in tuition today. Rather than worry about future athletic achievement, focus on enjoying sportsmanship and athletic activity together today. Rather than worry about future safety, spend time with your children teaching them how to move safely in the world through your example…today! You get the idea. Rather than getting caught up in worry for tomorrow, enjoy your children today…and feed your parental confidence.
Feed parental confidence by getting a life. Rather than defining yourself through your children’s achievements and accomplishments, joys and sorrows, get a life of your own. Develop your own interests. Enjoy activities geared toward your strengths. Remember, your children will leave home one day to start a life and family of their own. Develop some hobbies, interests, and activities you can continue to enjoy even after they leave home. Doing so will feed parental confidence.
Now the choice is up to you. Which “wolf will you feed”?