Tag Archive for family relationships

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.

Inoculate Your Family Against the Epidemic of Loneliness

Loneliness has become an epidemic. One report suggests that 36% of all Americans felt “serious loneliness.” Worse, 61% of young adults feel “serious loneliness” (See Loneliness in America). That is bad news for a person’s physical and emotional health. Loneliness is worse for a person than obesity. Chronic loneliness is as bad for your health s smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It increases the risk of high blood pressure. It contributes to depression. (For more on the health risks of loneliness, see The Facts on Loneliness.) Fortunately, though, you can inoculate your family against chronic loneliness in at least 3 ways.

First, involve your family in social activities. Social activities provide opportunities to develop relationships and nurture social supports. Get involved with groups that give each family member a sense that people care for them. You might find supportive relationships and groups through involvement in community sports, clubs, a reading group or a “coffee klatch.” Church groups and youth groups provide another excellent avenue for developing relationships with caring people along with the opportunity to participate in meaningful activities that can reduce loneliness.

Second, teach your family to nurture relationships. Teaching the skills needed to nurture relationships begins in the home. You begin to teach the skill of nurturing relationships by practicing it within the family. Ask one another for assistance. Share emotions with one another. Allow yourself the vulnerability to ask for help and comfort. Take the risk of asking one another to do things together. Extend these skills toward trusted others outside the family. Develop family friends. Enjoy multi-family activities. Build your village.

Third, follow the advice of a recent Penn State study. Engage in meaningful and challenging activities, “flow” activities. These activities require skill and concentration. They are challenging and demand our full attention, but they are not impossible. When a “flow” activity come to an end, we are often surprised by how much time has passed. A recent Penn State study revealed that engaging in meaningful, enjoyable activities that require concentration and skill (AKA— “flow” activities) reduced loneliness. In fact, these “flow” activities were even more important to reducing loneliness than high levels of social support. You can help your children discover their flow activities through questions, trying various activities and interests “on for size,” observing, and listening. Some may find their “flow” in music. Others in writing, athletics, storytelling, cooking, or other skilled activities. One hint when seeking a “flow” activity though, watching television lacks the challenge and skill needed to create a “flow” experience, as does scrolling through social media. So just knock them off the list of potential “flow” experiences to help reduce loneliness and go right to the more challenging, skill-oriented experiences noted above.

Don’t let the epidemic of loneliness infect and grow in your family. Inoculate your children and your family against loneliness with a village, a model, and “flow” to protect them against chronic loneliness.

2-Week Family Challenge: Only Honor

An interesting study published in 2002 revealed that ruminating or venting about an offense increased feelings of anger and aggression. Distraction, on the other hand, led to decreased anger and aggression. In terms of family, rumination and venting about family frustrations will interfere with a healthy, happy family life. With this in mind, I want to suggest a 2-week family challenge that can improve your family relationships by decreasing rumination and venting. Put simply, this is a 2-week family challenge involves only honor.

First, honor your spouse, your children, and your parents in your thoughts, words, and actions. Only honor them. Say nothing negative or derogatory about any of them, either to them or about them to someone else. Instead, focus only on honoring them with words of encouragement, gratitude, and compliment. Honor them with acts of service. Honor them with thoughts of love.

Of course, differences will arise. You may feel frustration or annoyance at your family member. When you do, honor them by intentionally thinking about positive interactions you have had with them in the past. Rather than vent or ruminate on the negative, honor them by recalling how they support you, your family, and your home. Honor them by expressing admiration for the character traits you see in them and appreciate about them. Honor them with gratitude and encouragement. Honor them with an act of service. In other words, rather than focus on the frustration, focus only on honor.

If a situation arises in which you need to address a legitimate concern or a problem behavior (which will occur), find a way to address that concern with honor. This will require you to address their behavior rather than their character. It will mean honoring them enough to hold the assumption that the problem behavior is not reflective of their better character and was not engaged in maliciously. It will mean honoring them enough to listen if they offer an explanation. Addressing the problem behavior with honor means believing they will attempt to grow and change for the better. Honor them enough to address the problem behavior with the motivation of improving or restoring the relationship rather than blaming or accusing.

I call this a challenge because in our world we tend to move right to venting our anger or ruminating about the other person’s wrong. This 2-week challenge encourages you to move away from the patterns of blame and self-promotion to focus on honoring those in your family and the relationship you have with them.

If 2-weeks sounds too easy, make it a 30-day challenge. In fact, 30-days would prove even more effective. You might like the results so much that you want to extend it and make it a lifestyle, not just a temporary challenge. And, in all reality, the rewards of making this challenge a lifestyle are amazing.

What A “Pittsburgher” Learned About Family in Cleveland

My wife and I enjoyed a trip to Cleveland. We had a great time and met some wonderful people. (Yes, I am from Pittsburgh AND I found Cleveland fun & enjoyable…go figure.) After breakfast one morning we strolled through the Arcade 5 and saw this sign outside the Johnnysville Woods store. It lists “The 5 Commandments for Being Happy.” I thought I’d share it with you and how the same “commandments” can help our families.

  1. Free your heart from hatred. Hatred destroys. It takes root in the heart and fills a person with resentment, bitterness, and mistrust. Hatred destroys relationships, even within the family. The antidote to hatred is apology and forgiveness. Both apology and forgiveness are crucial to a healthy, happy family life because families are made up of people who make mistakes—who say the wrong thing, forget the important thing, offend unknowingly, and blame wrongly. Each will demand apology and forgiveness to restore the relationship. Humble yourself to apology. Become vulnerable enough to forgive. Often.
  2. Free your mind from worry. Worry can kill a family too. Worry flows out of fear, usually irrational fears and fears about things over which we have no control. Excessive worry creates unnecessary limits. It hinders our exploration and our growth. It hinders our risk taking, our willingness to “put ourselves out there,” and our ability to nurture our relationships. Don’t let worry and fear drive your family life. We can begin to let go of worry by nurturing gratitude and trust toward our spouse, our children, and our parents.
  3. Give more. Give more love. Give more gratitude. Give more service. Give more consideration. Give more encouragement. Give more benefit of the doubt. Give more…and give more generously. Give so much that your family will remember you as a generous person who enjoyed giving to others. When you do, your family will grow healthier and happier.
  4. Expect less. While you give more, expect less. In fact, “consider one another as more important than yourself. Don’t look out only for your own interests but for the interests of others.” Rather than expect your spouse and children to serve you, serve them…generously. Look more to what you can give than to what you want to receive. After all, “it’s better to give than to receive.” (For more on expectations in marriage, read Do Expectations Help or Hinder Your Marriage.)
  5. Love simply. Yes. Love simply…but realize that loving is not always easy. Even when it is hard to do, love simply. When a family member says something that hurts your feelings, love anyway. When your spouse forgets to finish the “honey-do-list,” love anyway. When your child does not listen, love anyway. When your parent doesn’t understand, love anyway. Simply love.

These “5 Commandments for Being Happy” will not only bring greater happiness to you as an individual, they will also fill your family with happiness. Practice them for a month and see if you don’t agree.

New Year’s Resolutions to Strengthen Your Family

The time has arrived to reflect on the year gone by and our hopes for the coming year. If you’re like me, you might decide upon some goals for the coming year. This year, I would like to suggest 12 goals that, though challenging, will strengthen your family and fill your life with greater joy. You can pick one or pick them all. The most important aspect of choosing is to enjoy the reward of a more intimate family.

  • Resolve to listen intently and deeply to your spouse and children.
  • Resolve to go on a date night with your spouse at least one time a month. (You don’t even have to leave the house for these date nights.)
  • Resolve to set aside 20 minutes a day to talk with your spouse about your lives and the life of your family—not the controversial things of politics or the drudgery of daily “to-do’s” and planning, but of your hopes and dreams, things you’d like to do together, or fun things that happened during the day.
  • Resolve to tell your spouse and each child “thank you” at least one time a day.
  • Resolve to play, laugh, and smile every day with your family.
  • Resolve to write each child and your spouse a letter of gratitude and appreciation this year.
  • Resolve to read a marriage or parenting book with your spouse and put the ideas into practice.
  • Resolve to attend a marriage workshop.
  • Resolve to learn the stats for your children and your spouse.
  • Resolve to learn about a topic or activity that interests your spouse or one of your children so you can discover ways to support them in their passions.
  • Resolve to look for daily opportunities to serve your spouse and children. This could be as simple as getting them a glass of water when they’re thirsty or something as complex as completing a chore they normally do.
  • Resolve to say “no” more often to things of lesser importance (surfing the web, video games, a TV show) so you can prioritize spending time conversing with your family or engaging in activities with your family.
  • Pick a hobby or activity that your child enjoys and engage in that activity with your child at least one time a week.

That’s actually a “baker’s dozen” resolutions from which you can choose. Each one will strengthen your marriage and/or your family. Pick one. Pick two. Pick them all. Whichever you choose, resolve to strengthen your family this year.

The Power of “How Can I Help You?”

You have at your disposal a powerful question that can strengthen your family relationships. It’s a simple question: “How can I help you?” Of course, there are variations:

  • “What can I do for you today?”
  • “Is there anything I can do to help?”
  • “What can I do to help?”
  • ‘What would you like me to do?”

We underestimate the power of this little question, power that would benefit every family. Take a moment and consider its power for your family.

  • “How can I help you?” honors your family. It communicates our interest in our family members. It expresses how much we value them and their work. It reveals our interest in their lives and their work.
  • “How can I help you?” shares grace with your family. It shows your spouse, your children, and your parents that you care enough about their daily life and work to invest your time and energy in it. It means we will give up your desire to be in charge and let them be in charge, let them direct you in how you can help them.
  • “How can I help you?” promotes togetherness within your family. It opens the opportunity to work together.
  • “How can I help you?” communicates grace by opening the door for you to serve other family members.

Are you beginning to see the power of this question to strengthen your family relationships? By asking this question we honor our family, we show grace to our family, we promote togetherness with our family, and we open the door to service within our family. In other words, we lay several of the building blocks needed for a healthy family just by asking this simple question: “How can I help you?”

To truly experience the power of this question, I suggest a 30-day challenge. Every day for the next 30 days, ask a family member “How can I help you?”  You could ask the same family member every day or you could ask a different family member each day. Either way, ask a family member this question every day for the next 30 days.

After 30 days, reflect. How has this impacted your relationship with your family? How has it changed the way you think of your family? How has it changed the way your family acts toward you and you toward them?

I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the changes your family experiences because of this one simple question: “How can I help you?”

Don’t Cut Your Children From the Team

Do you know what team your child wants to be part of the most? Team family. Yes, they desire to be part of the family team. If they feel disconnected from the family team, they may misbehave to gain your attention. They will act up so the team will notice and include them, even if it means inclusion through yelling and discipline. So, one of the best things you can do for your children is to make them part of Team Family. What does that mean? I’m glad you asked.

First, making sure children are part of Team Family means making a careful assessment of how we manage our family time. Our culture tends to shape the family around child-centered activities. But, when our lives become focused on getting our children from one activity to another, we have cut them from the varsity team and relegated them to junior varsity. We have sent them to the minors. We have taught them that they are not part of the Team Family but are an entitled individual with an entourage to manage their world and meet their needs.

Instead of getting overwhelmed as a family in child-focused activities, welcome your children into the “adult world.” Involve your children in family activities that are naturally a part of your adult life. Let them observe your daily life and participate when they desire to do so. Let them accompany you as you run errands. Let them observe you as you work around the house or in the yard. Encourage them to work alongside you when opportunities arise. Doing this teaches your children that their needs, although important, are not the only needs to consider. Their needs will be met, but they, like every other family member, may have the opportunity to sacrifice a desire to benefit the family. After all, that’s what all members of Team Family do.

It also teaches your children that they belong. It teaches them that they make a significant contribution to Team Family and are valued by Team Family. They are part of the family, a team that looks out for everyone, not just one person. They belong to a family in which everyone enjoys time and activity together.

Don’t get me wrong. You can still involve your children in organized sports and child-centered activities. But be careful not to let your family life be enslaved to those activities. When families become enslaved by child-centered activities, they have cut their children from the team and sent them to the minors, teaching them they don’t really belong on Team Family. Involve your children in the family. Let them know they belong, that they are an integral, significant member of Team Family.

Children Help Without Nagging? How Can It Be?

Can you imagine your child helping with the household tasks without even being asked? It can happen. But getting children to help without being asked is a process, a challenging process that many parents choose to forego or don’t want to accept.

This process begins when we, as parents, recognize and acknowledge our children’s desire to help. In fact, children do love to help their parents. Their desire to help may come at the most inopportune moments, like when we’re in a hurry or doing a more complex task. As a result, we are reluctant to acknowledge their desire to help and even more reluctant to invite them to participate in the task. But, if we want children who help without being asked, that is exactly what we need to do—recognize their desire to help and invite them to become involved in the task. If the task is too complex, let them work on an aspect of the task they can manage. Or, even better, do the task together, hand over hand, teaching them while giving give them a sense of involvement.

Yes, this may mean the task takes longer to accomplish. It may also mean a little more “mess” to clean up…but you can clean up together (AKA—spend more time together). Involving your child may require modifying tools and even the process of the task as well (You’ll find some great tips on modifications at How We Montessori.)

It will require some extra effort on your part, but involving your children is an investment in your children’s future and the future of your home.

  • They will remember the time they spent with you “getting things done,” adding to their sense of agency and their fond memories of family.
  • Your relationship will be strengthened by accomplishing tasks together and the conversations you share while doing so.
  • Moreover, as they practice the task, they will learn to do it more independently. They will master the task, giving them a sense of industry as well.
  • Involving your children in tasks also teaches them. It teaches them to identify themselves as a “helper” rather than an “entitled recipient.” It teaches them that they have a valued and significant role in keeping the household running smoothly. They are part of the family team.

When all is said and done, if you want your children to complete tasks around the house independently, you must answer a question and accept a challenge. 

  • The question: Are you willing to acknowledge your children’s desire to help and even involve them in household tasks even though it will initially slow you down and make more work?
  • The Challenge: How will you live out the answer to that question? How you choose to live out the answer to that question on a daily basis will ultimately determine how much your children help to complete household chores without even being asked.

The Case for Getting Together with Multiple Families

How do we regulate difficult emotions? How do we get through the hard times of life without having a “nervous breakdown”? I’m sure it will be surprised no one to know friends help us manage difficult emotions and navigate difficult times. But researchers at UCLA conducted a study that suggest our friends help us “see the problem” in a new way, even a better way than if we tried to deal with it alone.

In this study, researchers showed 120 participants a series of negative images like sad faces, angry faces, or people living in poverty. Of course, these images brought up negative emotions for the participants. In the first part of this study, participants were instructed to respond in one of three ways: 1) simply allow their natural response to the image to run its course, 2) reinterpret the image or their response in an effort to feel better, or 3) listen to a reinterpretation of the image recorded by a friend who had come with them. Both groups involving reinterpretation (groups 2 and 3) felt better, but those who heard a friend offer a reinterpretation (group 3) felt even better.

It wasn’t just the friend’s voice either. A second part of the study used the act of counting to determine if the mere sound of a friend’s voice would alleviate the negative emotions aroused by the images. One group counted to themselves. A second group listened to a friend count. Listening to a friend count was no more soothing than counting to oneself. Apparently, counting does not help us deal with negative emotions, even if a friend does it. Our friend’s voice does not help us deal with negative emotions in and of itself. No, it’s our friend’s advice and counsel that help us deal with negative emotions. (The voice of your mother, on the other hand, may be the medicine that cures what ails you.)

The takeaway message is that friends help us manage difficult emotions and navigate difficult times. Leaning into our friends increases our ability to manage difficulties. In fact, we can manage difficulties better with friends than we can alone…which brings me to families.

Getting together with other families is a great way to develop friendships. Get together for a picnic or a game night, to worship or simply to share a meal will nurture and broaden your friendships with the other family. Whatever we do when we get together with other families opens the door to building relationships and finding the support we need to navigate the difficulties of life.

I remember my parents getting together our family together with other families to play games. The adults played cards while the children played other games. Friendships developed…and those friendships helped us all through difficult times.

They say, “it takes a village to raise a child.” Maybe that sells the village a little short. Perhaps we could more appropriately say, “it takes a village to raise an emotionally healthy family.” Build your village. Enjoy time with other families.

If I Had Only Known Then…

I wish I had written this blog about 10 years ago. I could have used the information. But I suppose late is better than never. And, if you have children or teens in your home right now, you’ll find this information very helpful. I remember my daughter coming home angry from school or coming home upset after an outing with friends. Not every time… but several times. Has that happened to you? If it hasn’t and you have children, it probably will. Anyway, I hate to see my daughters upset so I tried to fix the problem and make them feel better. Impossible. Didn’t help.  I tried using humor a few times, but it usually ended up with them directing their anger at me. Apparently, using dad humor when your children are upset is a bad idea. I reasoned with them. No good. Only made it worse. Eventually, I just threw up my hands in defeat and let them stew in their frustration and anger.

If only I had known what this study out of Ohio State University reveals. It could have saved me a lot of heartache. This study consisted of three experiments that included a total of 307 participants. Each participant spent five minutes writing about an incident that made them “intensely angry.” Then, they verbally described the incident to a researcher. As you can imagine, their anger grew as they completed this exercise.

After listening to the participant describe their anger-provoking incident, the researcher either validated or invalidated their angry feelings. They either responded with validating comments like, “Of course, you’d be angry about that” and “I can understand getting angry about that” or invalidating comments like, “That doesn’t sound like anger,” or “Why would you get angry about that?”

Not surprisingly, participants who heard validating comments recovered their positive emotional states. Those who heard invalidating comments did not. In fact, the “recovered positive mood” of the validated participants either matched or exceeded their positive mood prior to recalling the anger-provoking incident.

If only I had known that 10 years ago. I could have responded to my daughter’s anger about school incidents or conflict with friends with validating comments. You know:

  • “I can understand how that would make you angry.”
  • “Wow, that would really make someone angry.”
  • “I’d be angry about that, too.”

Simple, validating comments that could have helped my daughters regain their positive mood. Validating comments that could have enabled us to have a more enjoyable evening. Oh, but I do have a secret about this idea of validating though. It works with adults, too—adults like my spouse and my adult children. And, it has already saved a few evenings of heartache.  Give it a try. Validate the angry feelings and enjoy an evening of positive moods. (Validating will also help you use the power of empathy in connecting with your family.)

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