The conflict and chaos in the world today have brought priorities and values into the limelight. Whether you agree with the values and priorities portrayed by various groups and leaders or not, we are all forced to stop and reflect. What priorities do I want to pass on to my children? What values do I want them to learn? How do I model those priorities and values in my daily life? And how do I teach them to my children? Those are tough questions that require reflection and thought. Let me share some of the priorities and values I deem important for family. Wait…on second thought, my daughters are young adults now. Let me ask them what priorities and values they learned from my wife and me. Perhaps their answers will shed light on our practical values rather than my “philosophical ideals.” So, I asked them, “What priorities and values did you learn from us?” Their response?
The value of humor. (Perhaps I should have listed this one first. When I asked my daughters this question, their first answer was “The ratio of ice cream to brownies.” Although a very important priority, it does show the value of humor.) For all you dads out there, don’t forget the power of the “dad joke.”
Of course, this is not an exhaustive list. What priorities and values would you add to the list? What priorities and values do you want your children to learn from you? How do you model them for your children to see?
We all want our children to grow into mature, independent adults. In fact, children benefit when their parents encourage independence. Whether doing significant chores in the home, in the yard, or in the community, children grow more confident and competent when they engage in independent, meaningful tasks. (Read Chores: The Gift of Significance for more.) But, how can a parent know which tasks their child can complete on their own? And how can a parent move their children toward greater independence in general? Perhaps answering a few questions can help parents find the answers to these questions.
First, is your child developmentally ready for this task? If they do not have the developmental ability to do the task, do not expect them to do it. Make sure any task you ask of your child is developmentally appropriate for them. Asking a child to do a task for which they are not developmentally ready to do dishonors them. It will only create self-doubt and frustration in your child that will interfere with their learning and later independence. If they are not developmentally prepared and able to do a task, do it for them.
Second, does your child know how to do the task on their own already? Is it a task they know how to do and have the ability to do? If so, ask them to do it. For instance, if they can tie their shoes, let them. Of course, the examples will change as the child grows older. Can they sweep the floor, do some laundry, make a bed? Let them do it.
Third, if your child cannot do the task on their own ask yourself, “Can they do part of the task?” Perhaps they cannot cook dinner, but they can cut up vegetables. Maybe they cannot run the lawn mower, but they can pull weeds in the flower garden. Even if they cannot wash clothes, they might have the ability and knowledge to fold the clean clothes. Whatever part of an overall task they have the ability to do, encourage them to help with that part.
Finally, if your child cannot do the task on their own already, ask: can they do it with simple instructions or help? If so, do it with them. As you complete the task with your child, you can teach them how to do it independently. Let your child help with the laundry, setting the table, preparing meals, cleaning the house, doing yardwork…. As you work together, you can teach them how to do the task well and prepare them for doing it independently when necessary. As an added bonus you get to talk and build your relationship with your child while you work together.
We all want our children to grow into independent adults. They can only do so if we begin to teach them while they are home. These four questions can help you teach your children to become more independent at a pace appropriate to their developmental abilities. (For more on how meaningful tasks benefit children while moving them toward independence, read Dear Children, The Real Reason I Make You Do Chores.)
To have a child is to dream, to
hope, to believe in a better world. Parents may be distressed and pessimistic
about the future of so many things (the environment, the ability of people to
care for and love one another, healthcare, etc.); but, when we fall in love and
have children, we make an implicit statement of hope that the world can and
will improve. Perhaps we have this hope because our children are born through
our expression of love. They are a life created and nurtured by our love. Even
more, like the Grinch’s heart, our love grows “three sizes” even
before our children breath their first breath and “three sizes” more
when they return our love. With each
infant giggle and toddler step, our hopes and dreams grow and rise on stronger
wings of love.
But there is a danger in all this.
Sometimes we begin to pin our hopes and dreams on a blueprint that we have secretly
developed in our minds. We begin to focus on the perceived outcome of our
dream, our blueprint, rather than our children’s dreams. We may even
label our child as the athlete, the teacher, the little mother, the future
lawyer, or the senator based on the blueprint we have in mind. Our label,
rather than an admiring and jovial epitaph to hold lightly, becomes etched in
stone for all eternity. We start to believe that raising our child is like
following the blueprint—carefully follow the blueprint and you will create the
end result you always dreamed of and planned for.
The problem, however, arises from
the fact that our children are not “the end result” of our neatly designed
blueprints and plans. They are not products and outcomes but living dynamic
beings in their own right. They will not be confined by our dreams. They have dreams
of their own to pursue.
Our children are not the product of
our carefully designed plans, but seeds planted in the soil nourished by our
love, attention, and vision. They are the tender shoot that grows under the
protection of the loving structure we provide. They are the young plants
flourishing in the gentle rains and sunlight of our loving discipline. We don’t
really know exactly when the wildflower we call our children will bloom, what
color it will be, or even what fruit it will produce. We only know that in the
soil of our love and structure, they will grow strong and beautiful. They will
reach for their own dreams…and we will support their branches.
Yes, Alison Gopnik is right. Parenting is much more like a gardener nourishing a wildflower garden than it is like a carpenter following blueprints. So, pick up your hoe and your fertilizer and start to nourish an environment in which your children can thrive. Then sit back and enjoy the beauty of who they become.
I lived near a very small (I mean, very small!) patch of woods for part of my elementary school and middle school years. I remember the joy of going “into the woods” and finding natural enclaves under bushes that I could make into “my fort.” A few minor adjustments and additions turned those branches into a naturally camouflaged hideout. I also remember “building forts” out of blankets, tables, and cushions in the house. As a father, I even joined my daughters in making forts during their elementary school years. In fact, fort building is a pretty universal activity among children.
Fort building flows from our children’s developmental needs and desires. During the middle years of elementary school, children start figuring out their nearby world. They want to understand how their home fits into the neighborhood and which streets and paths go from their home to other destinations. They also become more independent, developing a unique self, separate from their family and engaged in the world. All in all, it’s quite an adventure…and building an outside fort adds to the adventure. Even an indoor fort adds excitement to a rainy day and helps satisfy strong developmental needs like:
Fort building encourages independence. Children gain independence as they gather materials and build their forts however they like. They establish themselves as separate individuals by creating their own space in a unique design of their choice.
Fort building also develops practical skills. Children meet their “inner engineer’ and “construction worker” when building a fort. They learn what creates a sturdy fort, what protects against the wind, what holds materials together, what materials work best for various designs…. The list of practical skills our children learn while building forts goes on.
Fort building enhances cognitive skills like problem-solving, planning, and organization (which may come in handy when writing their high school papers).
Fort building also builds social skills like cooperation, negotiation, and teamwork.
Fort building establishes “my place,” a fortress against all the stresses and demands of the outside world. In this sense, fort building can relieve stress and build skills to manage emotions.
Don’t forget. Fort building is also just plain fun! We all love to see our kids having fun.
So, on a rainy day, encourage your children to build a fort in the basement, attic or family room. On a nice day, encourage your children to go outside, explore, and build a primo-fort in a secluded spot. Supply some materials and encourage the adventure. Then sit back and enjoy watching them develop skills while growing more mature!
We love our children. We will do almost anything to help them grow and become the amazing adults we see waiting to burst forth from the guise of childhood. We know they have greatness lurking beneath that façade of awkward teenage angst. But, our kids still need to be kids, not superstars. We need to let them play just for fun, not to perfect their swing or the B-minor scale. They need to sit around and relax, even get bored, so they can learn to entertain themselves. Our children need the freedom and space to explore their inner talent—to dance with it, wander away from it, and return to it in their own time with only encouragement and support from us, not pressures and demands. When our children know we accept them in their marvelous ordinariness and wonderful averageness, they gain the internal freedom to excel “just because they want to.” When they know we will encourage and support them in their awkwardness and failures, they are free to explore, takes healthy risks, and really grow. Under your loving support and encouragement, you might even see inner greatness blossom in your children as they mature into the amazing adults you see hidden beneath their childhood skin.
I often speak about honoring one another in the family. However, it is just as important (maybe more important) to become a person your family can honor. In fact, if we do not become a person worthy of honor, we set the whole family up for trouble. Consider what happened in Noah’s family when he acted dishonorably. Noah was a great man; but, after the flood he got drunk, a passed-out-laying-in-his-tent-naked-drunk. His son, Ham, found him, saw his father’s shame, and exposed his father’s dishonor by telling his brothers about his “find.” Noah had acted dishonorably by getting drunk. Ham had acted dishonorably by spreading the news of his father’s shame. These dishonorable acts ultimately resulted in Ham’s descendants living in servitude to their cousins (Genesis 9:25). The dishonorable actions of a father opened the door for his son to act dishonorably and for generations to live under the consequences of dishonor. Imagine the weight of that burden on Noah. You can avoid this heavy consequence by becoming a person of honor. Here are several traits a person of honor exhibits. Read them carefully and start living a life of honor today…for your family’s sake!
A person worthy of honor is humble. We admire a humble person. A humble person listens and accepts correction, allowing him to grow in character. He believes that others have important contributions to make and, as a result, listens carefully and takes those contributions to heart.
A person worthy of honor is gracious. A gracious person gives his time and energy to help and support those around him. A gracious person forgives. He accepts that others make mistakes and patiently corrects misunderstandings. A gracious person accepts others in spite of any mistakes or misunderstandings. A gracious person is a person worthy of honor.
A person worthy of honor shows kindness to others. A person of honor does not need a bumper sticker proclaiming “random acts of kindness.” Everyone around him observes his kindness and receives the benefits of his kindness. Acting in kindness is second nature to him. He loves to hold the door open for others, allow others to go first in traffic, or speak words of encouragement to the downhearted. Kindness is his modus operandi.
A person worthy of honor accepts correction and discipline. An honorable person humbly accepts his own shortcomings. He realizes his imperfection and admits his mistakes. As a result, he not only accepts but cherishes the correction of others. He realizes that correction helps him grow and become a more honorable person.
A person worthy of honor speaks the truth. We know we can trust the word of an honorable person. He does not tell even white lies. You can completely trust the person of honor because he has no hidden agendas. He lovingly speaks the truth.
A person worthy of honor keeps his word. His “yes” is “yes” and his “no” is “no.” When an honorable person promises to do something for you, you know it will get done. He does not make idle promises or promises he cannot keep. This adds to our willingness to trust a person of honor.
A person worthy of honor works to provide for himself and his family. An honorable person does not trick others to make a gain. He does not connive and conspire to get ahead. Instead, he works hard. He works hard in response to his love for family. He works hard so no one has to carry the burden of caring for his needs. He works hard for the joy of helping others in their time of need.
A person worthy of honor is generous. An honorable person gives to others with no expectation of return. He gives simply for the joy of giving. This does not mean he gives frivolously. He shares from his abundance with those who have need; but, he does so wisely, as a good steward. He not only shares his material wealth, but he shares his time and effort as well.
A person of honor stands firm in his beliefs. He is not easily swayed. You know where he stands and what he believes. There is no guessing or fear about what he believes or how he will act. He is open and firm. Although he stands firm in his beliefs, he does not become rude. Instead, he remains firm in a loving and polite manner.
To build a family of honor, become a person of honor. Practice these nine attributes to become a person of honor. Your family will honor you and thank you…and you will enjoy the benefits of an honor filled family for generations to come.
Some people believe “this Family Fun Night stuff” is for the birds. Well…I agree. It’s a great idea. Head out to your local aviary and share a Family Fun Night with the birds. Now I know this may sound like a bird-brained idea, but you only need to check out your local aviary to see how much fun you can have with this flight of fancy. The National Aviary in Pittsburgh, PA (my hometown, btw) is celebrating “Owl-O-Ween” on October 18 and 25. Every day, you can watch the birds get fed…and, even participate in feeding them. To satisfy your artistic flair, you might pick your favorite colors for the penguins to use in creating an artistic masterpiece…and take the picture home! You can also celebrate your child’s birthday (“bird-day”) at the Aviary. To add soaring heights of fun to your flight, listen to “The Birds” as you migrate to and from the Aviary. Would it be too much to devour chicken sandwiches for lunch beforehand? Better not, stick with a burger. (My apology to the cows.) At any rate, Family Fun Night is now for the birds…and the ornithologist (bird-lover) in your family. Fly on over to the Aviary to see the unusual, the colorful, the graceful, and the bizarre (hey, that sounds like my family…I’m just saying!) and discover how a great Family Fun Night is for the birds.
Everyone loves music. Whether you find the joy of music through singing, playing, dancing or listening, we all have an inner rhythm and harmony. Really, it’s true. If your heart beats and you breathe rhythmically in and out, you have rhythm. If you can walk through a revolving door without getting hurt, you got rhythm. You experience harmony every time you interact with another person and “harmonize” your interests, pace of life, and conversation to keep everyone involved. Why not use your inner musician to have a great family fun night! Here are four “variations on the theme” of a musical family fun night.
Put on your favorite record at home…well, play your favorite CD…ummm, turn up your download…or just turn on Spotify. Whatever you choose, play your favorite music, grab your spouse or child, and enjoy a dance around the living room.
Save up some money and purchase tickets to a concert by your favorite artist.
Get together with your family (and friends if you want) and sing together. You can accompany yourself if you play the guitar, ukulele, or piano. If not, do some karaoke or sing along with the radio.
Come up with your own idea for a musical family fun night…any idea tailored to give your family a great musical fun night!
Baking together is a great way to celebrate family. Gather your family into the kitchen to bake a pie, a cake, cookies, bread, or all of the above. Decide ahead of time what you would like to bake and gather the ingredients. Let each family member participate in “the mixing of the ingredients” and “taste-testing” along the way (my job in the family bake off is often that of taste-tester!) When it is all put together, pop it in the oven.
Let anticipation build while your masterpiece bakes. After all, the best part of this family fun night is yet to come. Enjoy the aroma of freshly baked pie. Watch the cookies melt into shape. Stand in awe as the bread rises. Let your mouth water and your stomach growl in anticipation of my favorite part of this family fun night. Finally, when everything the baking is done, slice up your treat and eat it warm, fresh out of the oven. Nothing is better than warm cookies that bend when you pick them up…or bread that steams when you slice it and melts the butter immediately…or hot pie that melts the ice cream. The anticipation of this treat is matched only by the satisfied taste buds that prompt smiling faces!
For a real adventure, double the recipe and give half of your family project away. Give a loaf of bread to a local shut-in. Take a cake to a local nursing home for the staff to enjoy. Plate up a dozen cookies for your mailman. Not only will you have a great family fun night but you will teach your children a wonderful lesson in generosity and kindness as well. And, truth be told, nothing is more fun than giving to others as a family!
Thankfulness is in season right now…however, it has benefits for the family all year round! That’s right; an attitude of gratitude and thankfulness benefits families all the time. Let me share a few of the research based benefits of thankfulness so you can use them to strengthen your own family.
· Gratitude makes us happier. Did you know that taking 5 minutes a day to record your gratitude in a journal can actually increase your sense of well-being by 10%? That’s the same impact as doubling your income…and taking 5 minutes a day to keep a gratitude journal is a whole lot easier than doubling your income! So, if you want a happy family, take five minutes during supper or just before bed and let each family member name a couple things for which they are grateful. Write them down and keep a journal. Review it once in a while to remind yourself of all you and your family have to be thankful for.
· Gratitude makes us healthier. Want to spend less on family medical care? Want to have a healthier family, allowing your family to get out and do things together? Practice gratitude. Those people who keep a gratitude journal tend to have fewer physical symptoms, less physical pain, more sleep, and increased sleep quality as well as fewer symptoms of depression. Interestingly, in one study a group of people with high blood pressure were instructed to “count their blessings once a week” and had a significant decrease in “systolic blood pressure.”
· Gratitude reduces materialism. Becoming aware of and expressing gratitude for what we have shifts our focus away from things that do not really matter. Practicing gratitude helps keep our focus on what does matter—like family, friends, health, and the multitude of blessings we already have. Practically speaking, when our family practices gratitude, family members will ask for less and whine less about “what I wish I had” or the newest gadget “I need.” Instead, we will joyfully share with one another from the bountiful blessings we already have and enjoy.
· Gratitude makes us less self-centered. An attitude of gratitude focuses on other people—their acts of generosity, kindness, and benevolence. Gratitude focuses on what I have been given, implicitly turning my focus on the grace and generosity of others. As your family practices gratitude, the whole family will become more giving, generous, and other-focused.
· Gratitude also reduces feelings of envy. Have your children ever said, “But so-and-so has a…” or “But why does my older brother get to stay up later?” Perhaps you have even had that fleeting thought of envy—”Man, I wish I could afford a house like that.” Gratitude is the antidote for those feelings of jealousy and envy. Model focusing your attention on those blessings you have…and expressing gratitude for those blessings as well. Teach your children to recognize their blessings.
· Gratitude creates a happy past. The past we recall is somewhat a choice. We can keep the good or the negative aspects of our past in the forefront of our memory. By keeping a mental record of blessings in the forefront of our memory, we recall a more joyous past filled with blessings. As we express gratitude for what we have today, we prime our mind to remember the blessings of yesterday.
· Gratitude strengthens your marriage. Marriage loses passion when spouses become less appreciative and interactions become more negative. Practicing gratitude is one way to counter the loss of appreciation and the increase of negative interactions. In addition, we admire those character traits for which we are grateful. So, being grateful for those positive character traits in our spouse and the positive things they do will increase admiration and adoration for our spouse. Increased adoration and admiration translates to more passion too. Not only is this good for you, but your children will feel more secure and have greater happiness as they witness their parents expressing gratitude for one another and sharing a twinkle of admiration and adoration in their eye as they talk of their spouse.
· Gratitude improves decision making. In one interesting study, doctors were given a patient record that included a list of symptoms and an incorrect diagnosis of lupus. Half of the doctors were also given a token of appreciation to evoke gratitude. Those who were given the token of appreciation were more likely to expend more time and energy to confirm and then correct the misdiagnosis. The doctors who did not receive a token of appreciation were more likely to stick with the incorrect diagnosis. So, if you want your children to think through decisions more often and have increased flexibility to change their poor decisions into better decisions, give them “tokens of appreciation for” (AKA–show gratitude for, thank them for) their efforts and other positive actions. Practicing gratitude toward family members will motivate them to improve decision making. Cultivate the art of thanking one another daily…every chance you get!
Gratitude really does fabulous things for a family. This blog only reviews 8 fabulous family benefits of thankfulness. Check out a full 31 Benefits of Gratitude to discover even more benefits! In the meantime, why not use gratitude to strengthen your family? Model gratitude in your own life so your family can follow your lead. Teach gratitude by asking everyone to share something for which they are thankful. You can do this at dinner time, bed time, or any time when you happen to be talking with one another. Keep a gratitude journal, make a post-it gratitude list on the hallway wall, create a gratitude tree craft on the fridge…. You get the idea, be creative in keeping a gratitude journal as a family. Then, reap the benefits of a grateful family!