Tag Archive for growth

Who Am I Parenting Anyway?

Becoming a parent taught me a lot. It revealed areas of immaturity and prompted (dare I say compelled) me to grow up. Areas in which I didn’t practice what I preached made themselves known. I had to learn to “walk the talk” and live a life that modeled what I wanted my children to learn. Let me share a few examples you might relate to (at least, I hope I’m not the only one!). These examples come by way of statements parents say to their children, statements we need to practice ourselves.

  • “Don’t yell at me.” Have you ever said that to your child? If you have, there’s a good chance you said it in anger, with a raised voice. I remember my children arguing with one another, yelling at one another. In frustration I yelled, “We don’t yell in this house!” Yes, I’m embarrassed to say I yelled at them to stop yelling. I yelled, “We don’t yell in this house.”  Fortunately, I heard myself and decided to make a change, to grow up. I decided to learn to express my frustrations in a more mature manner, not like an impetuous child yelling.
  • “Be patient;” or “You need to be more patient.”  It’s true. Children need to learn patience. It doesn’t seem to be a skill we’re born with. But I fear many of us don’t outgrow our childhood impatience. When we sit in traffic and impatiently growl about the driver in front of us, are we modeling adult patience for our children?  When we impatiently accuse our children of taking too long to get ready or of eating too slowly at a restaurant, is it them or us who need to develop a more mature level of patience? I know I need to grow in patience so that my children will have a patient parent to emulate. Perhaps I need to heed my parental statement, “Be patient.”
  • “You can’t always get your way” and “The world doesn’t revolve around you!” Ouch, that hurts.  Children will learn this best when we model it, when we do not pout because our spouse asked us to help clean the kitchen (consider how you show The Full Extent of Love to your family)… or moan and complain as we watch a show our spouse likes… or grumble about go to a restaurant our spouse chooses. Time to grow up and model for our children how to graciously accept that the world doesn’t revolve around us either.
  • “Don’t you get angry with me.” That’s easy to say…but do your children ever see you get angry with your parent (their grandparent) or your spouse (their other parent)? In fact, there’s nothing wrong with your children getting angry with you. After all, effective parents place healthy limits and demands on their children and their children don’t always like them. In addition, we have all misunderstood our children at times. I know I get upset, even angry, when I feel misunderstood. What we really mean to say is, “It hurts me (and maybe even makes me angry) when you get angry with me.” So, rather than make a childish demand like, “Don’t be mean to me by being angry with me,” take the role of an adult who is not overwhelmed by a child’s anger. Respond with healthy empathy and love. Let them see that no matter how mad they get with you, you still love them enough to listen AND maintain healthy limits and expectations.

Sometimes in the midst of listening to myself parent I have to wonder, “Who am I really parenting?” Who am I encouraging to grow more mature? Sure, I want my child to grow more mature. But sometimes I think I’m talking to myself and encouraging myself to mature, to become a better parent, to become the kind of person I want my children to emulate.

What Motivates You in Your Marriage? And…So What?

Psychologists speak of two “motivational systems” that people exhibit. In one, we pursue positive growth and meaningful experiences. In the other, we avoid distressing experiences. For instance, a person may be motivated to work to gain income, as an opportunity to learn and meet new people, and to have meaningful experiences. Or a person may work to avoid the distress of not having money or the stress of boredom or loneliness.

A study completed through the Universite of Basel and published in 2020 explored how these two motivational systems impact people within a marriage. The study involved 456 couples who completed two 14-day assessments. These two 14-day assessments were 10-12 months apart. During each 14-day assessment, participants submitted daily reported about how often and in what ways they had worked to avoid distress and conflict in their marriage OR to pursue positive meaningful experiences in their marriage. Results indicated that the motivational system one person used one day (either to avoid distress or to pursue positive interaction) influenced the motivational system their partner used the next day. Specifically, their partner used the same motivational system the following day. Also, the total daily levels of each type of motivation recorded in the first 14-day period predicted their partner’s actions during the second 14-day assessment period 10-12 months later. In other words, one person’s actions and motivations influenced their partner’s actions and motivations. When certain motivations were acted on consistently, the resulting actions developed into consistent patterns of behavior. 

In this study, the effect occurred regardless of relationship satisfaction. But the authors also cited previous studies that suggested behaviors aimed at enhancing the relationship (behaviors motivated toward positive growth and meaningful experiences) led to greater relationship satisfaction over time. Behavior aimed at avoiding distress and conflict, on the other hand, led to decreased relationship satisfaction over time because the root of the conflict was avoided and not resolved. In other words, the avoidance pattern, the “shut up and put-up strategy,” did not contribute to a happy marriage. It  decreased relationship satisfaction.

Putting this together suggests a wonderful way to improve your marriage—create a cycle of influence that will increase marital satisfaction. How? Begin with step one and what steps 2-4 unfold.

  1. Invest time and energy into behaviors that will enhance your relationship. This includes, among other things, expressing gratitude, sharing non-sexual physical affection, engaging in simple acts of service, and expressing fondness and admiration for your spouse.
  2. Your investment of time and energy to enhance your relationship will influence your partner to respond to you in a similar manner.
  3. Ironically, as your partner responds to you in a similar manner, their behavior will influence you to respond in the same manner to them…thus creating a cycle of positive influence.
  4. Over time, this cycle of positive influence will develop into new, “consistent patterns of thoughts, behaviors, and feelings” aimed at enhancing your marital feelings.

Isn’t it time to begin today?

What’s Your “Story of Love”?

Your “story of love” has a huge impact on the state of your marriages. So, I ask you. “What is your story of love?” “From where did you learn that story?”

Maybe you learned your “story of love” from Disney and your story’s theme is “and they lived happily ever after.” It sounds like a lovely story, but it assumes everything will remain unchanged, just as it is at this moment. People will not change or grow. Circumstances will forever remain the same and no problems will arise. But challenges do arise. Circumstances and people do change. Personal challenges begin to weigh on the marriage. No, this does not provide a good “story of love.”

Or maybe you learned your “story of love” from Jerry Maguire, building it around the theme of “you complete me.” A romantic statement but a dangerous storyline for love. Marriage is not built on two incomplete people leaning on one another to make them whole. In fact, two “half-people” will only make a quarter of a marriage when they come together. A healthy “story of love” consists of two whole people choosing to join their lives in marriage.

One more…. Perhaps your “story of love” comes from Hollywood movies in which one character must choose between duty and stability (a boring life) on the one hand or freedom, adventure, and happiness on the other. You may have also seen this “story of love” in real life as one person leaves their spouse while citing the theme of this “story of love:” “I love them but I’m not in love with them.” But relationship choices are rarely, if ever, so black and white. People, and the relationships they form, are complex. “Loving” versus “being in love” is more of a sentiment than a solid theme for a long, enduring relationship. It speaks to a poor story line more than the relationship it leaves behind.

All these stories are based on a fixed mindset; and a fixed mindset is not good for a healthy marriage. a fixed mindset believes character and ability are fixed and cannot change. They believe unchanging ability leads to success; effort is NOT required. Problems become character flaws of the spouse rather than challenges to be overcome. If happiness does not always flow easily, “we just weren’t meant to be together.” If challenges arise, it must mean a better alternative is “somewhere out there, out where dreams come true.” The story built on a fixed mindset does not build a healthy marriage. This “fixed mindset story” builds a doomed marriage.

A healthy marriage is built on a “growth mindset story.” People with a growth mindset believe ability is nurtured, people change and grow, and effort leads to greater success. They put in effort, intentional effort, believing they can become a better spouse and build a stronger, healthier marriage. When they go through times of struggle, they accept the challenge as an opportunity to grow. They turn toward one another and work together to overcome the obstacle as a couple. You can see that the growth mindset creates a much stronger and more enduring story of love. (For more on a growth mindset click here.)

So, I ask again. What is your “story of love”? Is it a story built on a fixed mindset? Or is it a story built on a growth mindset? The answer makes all the difference between a faltering marriage and a happy enduring marriage.

I Need You To Give Me…!

All of us have things we want to our spouse to give us. For instance, who doesn’t want to receive respect, validation, and approval from their spouse? Unfortunately, we often desire these things to fill an emptiness within us. So, we turn to our spouse and demand respect, validation, and approval. Unfortunately, demanding our spouse give us these things backfires. They will not always give it to us. Sometimes they will lack the inner resources to give us validation. Other times they will be preoccupied or exhausted. Or they may be craving the same thing from us. As a result, instead of experiencing the peace and joy of validation or approval we find ourselves caught up in the drama of two broken people demanding their partner save them from their own emptiness and perceived unworthiness. One incomplete or broken person seeking another incomplete or broken person to fix them and fill them up…it just will not work. Both people have shoved the responsibility for their individual emotional health and personal happiness onto another person who is struggling to find their own. Rather than being filled with peace and contentment, they become entangled in resentment, jealousy, and hurt.

There is a solution, however, and it begins with you as an individual. A joyous, intimate marriage consists of two people who have  matured enough to have their own personal sense of completion, wholeness, and worthiness. Both partners have learned an important lesson: “The thing you are looking to receive from others is the very thing you need to cultivate within yourself” (Rabbi Eli Deutsch). In other words, if you are looking for someone else to “complete you,” marriage is the wrong place to go (regardless of Jerry Maguire’s touching confession that “you complete me.”). If you desire validation, acceptance, and approval, begin by work on yourself and learning to care enough about yourself to give yourself the validation, approval, and acceptance you need. As you do, you will have more to give in relationship, more to offer your spouse in terms of intimacy. Ironically, you will also receive more validation and acceptance in return.

So, what is it that you want to receive from others? What do you demand your spouse give you? Slow down and give it to yourself. Use words of acceptance, validation, and approval when you talk to yourself. Fill yourself up and learn to give yourself the very thing you need.

A Little “Self-Nudge” Goes a Long Way

Have you heard of the “Quarantine 15”? Maybe you have even gained it. I know I’ve gained a good part of it. Overall, the pandemic has changed our routines, our activities, and our eating habits. It has impacted our moods, our emotions, and our relationships. We are home more, out less, and stressed more. One response to all this stress and inactivity could be choosing what is most comfortable, enjoyable, and attractive in the short run instead of choosing what’s best for us in the long run. The result? Weight gain. Binging our favorite TV shows while neglecting other important duties. Strained family relationships.

There is a way to help avoid this though. Self-nudging. Yes, self-nudging is a behavioral science term (Using self-nudging to make better choices). It describes a way of designing and structuring our environments to make it easier for us to make healthier choices. Although science refers to it as “self-nudging,” I believe we can also practice it within the loving support of our marriages and our families. When we do, it will strengthen our marriages and our families as well. Here are some ways to practice “self-nudging” in your family to promote healthier living and healthier families.

  • Use reminders and prompts. Reminders and prompts can encourage you to make healthier choices on a personal level and on a family level. For instance, putting reminders of your spouse’s birthday, your anniversary, and your children’s birthdays in your phone can prevent those important dates from “slipping your mind.” Leaving notes for your spouse or children to find that remind them of your love for them is another way to use reminders to strengthen your family. A picture in your suitcase can encourage faithfulness while on one of the many business trips you might have to make. The list goes on. Reminders and prompts can help build an environment that nudges you toward intimacy with your family.
  • Practice putting decisions into a different frame that reveals priorities. We often think of choices in light of what we want and find pleasurable in the moment. However, the choice between sitting down to play a video game or talking to my wife about childcare becomes more difficult in this frame. Perhaps, when it comes to our family, we need to frame our choices in terms of how to express love and build relationship. I want to play video games and relax. But talking to my wife about childcare expresses my love and concern for her. It allows us time together to build relationship. Or, I want to sit down and rest but taking my child to their friend’s house expresses love and allows us to have uninterrupted time to talk and build relationship. The choice becomes a little easier when we remember that higher priority of love and relationship.
  • Make the healthy things more accessible than the unhealthy. This self-nudging technique is obvious when it comes to food. For instance, keep more fruit and healthy snacks in your house than sweets and “not-so-healthy” snacks. But what about family? Not subscribing to channels that provide temptations or putting the computer in a common area of the house make unhealthy viewing less accessible. Charging children’s phones in a common area overnight rather than in their bedroom removes the temptation to stay up all night texting friends or surfing the net. Creating an environment in which your family knows you are accessible and available limits their need to turn to other people for their connection, sense of value, and desire for guidance. Keeping yourself available nudges the family toward health.
  • Build positive relationships. Support one another. Be accountability to one another. Use encouraging words to nudge one another toward health. Gentle guidance nudges families toward health. Clear, consistent rules and boundaries enforced with loving discipline will make healthy choices easier to make. Open communication and acceptance will encourage healthy choices.

These four points offers only “the tip of the iceberg” in describing what you can do in each area to “nudge” you and your family toward healthier choices. Get your family together and talk about each area. Let the whole family come up with ideas for “self-nudging” your family toward health. Write them down…and enjoy a healthy, growing family.

Help Flatten the Curve on THIS Crisis

We have a crisis on our hands…and it has been around much longer than the covid-19 pandemic. Perhaps it’s easier to ignore, easier to pretend it doesn’t exist; but it is a crisis, nonetheless. The percentage of teens (12- to 17-years-old) who suffer at the hands of this crisis has increased from 8.7% in 2005 to 13.2% in 2017! Let me put that into perspective. At the time of this writing (4/20/2020), 792,938 people of all ages have been diagnosed with covid-19 in the United States. In 2017 alone, 3.2 million adolescents between 12- and 17-years-old in the United States were diagnosed with depression. And that number only represents adolescents, not adults. (see NIMH Major Depression for more statistics). Suicide, a danger for those suffering with depression, has increased 47% between 2000 and 2017. In fact, 6,200 teens and young adults (between 15- and 24-years-old) died by suicide in 2017. (The Parent Resource Program). We have a crisis. But what can we do to stem this crisis? Here are five suggestions. They may sound simplistic, but they can produce results that will save lives.

  1. Nurture a growth mindset in your children. A growth mindset focuses on effort rather than the end result or product. In other words, it focuses on the effort invested rather than the final grade, the trophy, or the grade point average. It teaches that effort is more important than the final grade. In the long run, this will help to build your child’s success mindset and decrease the potential for depression.
  2. Value failure and setbacks as learning opportunities. They are not the end or something to be embarrassed about. In fact, failure is a kind of success. It allows us to learn, make adjustments, and continue to grow. Do your child a favor and love mistakes. Cultivate an environment that celebrates effort and learns from mistakes. 
  3. Help your children discover and pursue intrinsic goals, things they love. Intrinsic goals are those goals a person pursues by their own choosing and for their own enjoyment. So much of our children’s world is made up of external goals, those goals focused on material rewards and other people’s judgments. Grades, teacher expectation, and coaches’ determinations as well as media appraisals of appearance and popularity make up some of the external goals shaping our children’s lives. Unfortunately, a focus on external goals contributes to depression. Help your children discover their intrinsic goals and motivations. Become a student of their strengths and interests. Present opportunities for them to nurture their interests. Encourage their individuality. (For more benefits of learning about your children read Parents are Students…And Guess Who Their Teacher Is.
  4. Let them play. Free play, play without adult direction and supervision, invites children to control their own play through negotiation and compromise. It encourages problem-solving and competence in the pursuit of personal interests. In other words, play is much more than fun and games. Free play nurtures a growth mindset and intrinsic goals as well as teaching person limits and social skills. (Read Who Needs a Prescription for Play to learn more benefits of play.)
  5. Teach your children healthy screen management. Studies suggest that becoming overinvolved with cell phones and social media platforms can contribute to depression. It sucks up time, potentially limiting opportunities to become physically active…and research suggest that just an hour of physical activity decreases the risk of depression by 10%. It casts a false view of life, increasing the fear of missing out. And, the burden of a smartphone is too great for our children to manage. They do not have the maturity level to manage it independently and effectively. We need to teach them how to use their electronic devices wisely, to be a smart consumer of social media so social media does not consume them.

These five steps can help stem the rising tide of depression in our families and our communities. Will you join these efforts to stem the rise, to flatten the curve, of depression among our children and youth?

Get Self-Expansion Without the Chubbiness

My daughter says the same thing every time we see an older couple walking hand in hand, talking and laughing, looking into one another’s eyes…looking like they’re on a first date. She looks at me and says, “They’re so cute.” And, they are…but what makes them so cute? What gives them such a glow? A study by Laura VanderDrift in 2011 they are experiencing “self-expansion” in their interactions with one another. No, I don’t mean they have gotten chubbier. I mean that each individual in the relationship has learned how their marital relationship enhances their personal competence and increases the resources they need to make their goals attainable.  They have experienced “self-expansion.” And “self-expansion” has led to greater joy and intimacy in their marriage.

How can you experience the joys of self-expansion in your marriage? Good question. There are at least two ways.

  • One, engage in novel and arousing activities.
  • Two, including another person in one’s sense of self.

Fortunately, your marriage can provide both of these experiences. When you do have these experiences in your marriage you begin to perceive your partner as the best partner, more positive than any other alternative. That’s a good thing. It builds trust and faithfulness to the relationship. So how can you experience self-expansion in your relationship?

  1. Have fun together. Discover those activities you both enjoy and work them into your schedule. If you like to dance, dance. If you like to hike, hike. If you enjoy the movies, go to the movies. And do it together. Engage in those activities that bring mutual enjoyment. When you do, you’ll both experience self-expansion.
  2. Have an adventure. You can also do something new that interests you both. Perhaps you’ve both considered taking a cooking class. Why not do it together? Take a ballroom dance class just for fun and adventure. Go on a trip to a new place. Try camping or hiking. Try a new activity. If you’ve never been to an opera, give it a try. Grab you partner and do something you’ve never done before. The adventure will bring greater self-expansion.
  3. Explore an interest your partner enjoys. Learn about their interests. Engage in those interests with them.

Begin today. Begin making time to enjoy activities with your spouse. You will experience self-expansion and your marriage will experience stronger intimacy and greater health.

The Dilemma of Your Emerging Butterfly

I remember the story of a boy watching a butterfly slowly free himself from its cocoon. The boy felt pity as he watched the butterfly struggle to get out the cramped wrappings of transformation. He feared the butterfly was not making progress quickly enough. He feared the butterfly might hurt himself in the struggle. So, to be helpful, the boy got some scissors, cut the cocoon open, and freed the butterfly. Unfortunately, the butterfly did not fly away in gratitude. He fell to the ground with small, shriveled wings. The butterfly’s wings never opened up and he never flew. He was confined to crawling on the ground for the rest of his short life. The butterfly needed the struggle to develop his wings for flight and prepare his body for life outside the cocoon. I don’t know if the story is true or even realistic (I did find a rendition of it at Struggle is Good! I Want to Fly!), but it does make an important point. Sometimes we need to struggle and take risks to grow. 

Did you know that recent research suggests that one contributor to the increase in children suffering with anxiety is overprotective parenting? In a sense, we have become so protective of our children…so careful to prevent their risk, their frustration, their potential harm…that we have prevented them from the very experience they need to grow confident and independent. I learned many important lessons as a child in somewhat risky situations, lessons that helped me build confidence, know my limits, and exercise healthy caution.

  • I learned the limits of speed riding my bicycle.
  • I learned the dangers of playing with fire from a paper towel…and making smores.
  • I learned important lessons about height while climbing trees and small “cliffs” near my house (btw-these “cliffs” look small when I see them as an adult).
  • I learned the need for caution when jumping over things while jumping over fallen trees.
  • I learned the potential for hurting someone and being hurt by playing “pick-up games” of football.
  • I learned to use caution cutting grass by cutting grass and experiencing some “flying debris.”

We learn our capabilities and the limits of those capabilities when we take small risks during our play as children. Our children need the opportunity to play and engage in some independent activities, even ones that carry risk, so they can grow and learn about their capabilities and limits. Of course, we will provide appropriate levels of protection so those risks are age appropriate and not overly dangerous. Even so, they will get bruises, cuts, and scratches along the way. They may experience frustrations and even cry about some of those frustrations. And, they will learn. They will grow. They will become independent. So…how can you begin to allow your child, your butterfly, to emerge from their cocoon and become more independent over the next week?