Tag Archive for priorities

In Our Families, Keep It Close Enough for Jazz

I enjoy jazz. I love listening to musicians as they share the stage and play together. In seemingly magical ways, they interact with one another through the music and share in the fun with everyone present. They seem connected, like they can read each other’s mind. They anticipate the next move, the next chord, the next phrase. They are in sync…perfectly attuned to one another.

These musicians teach our families an important lesson. They teach us how to “get in sync” with one another, attuned to the subtle nuances of each other’s communications. When we do “get in sync,” we will resolve discord more easily and find greater harmony more quickly. Plus, when mistakes or conflicts arise, we will back one another up and reestablish the harmony of the home more quickly. How can you get in sync with your family? Follow the example of jazz.

  • Develop mutual goals and priorities. Healthy families established priorities they can all support. Like the over-arching structure, theme, and direction of a piece of music, these priorities represent something bigger than any one person within the family. Long-term goals of vacations are a simple example of this. Other overarching themes are more complex, like becoming a family known for engaging in kindness or for being actively involved in their community. Having these overarching themes and structures will allow your family to get in sync by working together with “their ear to the overarching direction” of your family life.
  • Learn one another’s nonverbal cues. Yes, verbal communication is important. But nonverbal communication is essential for attunement. Paying close attention to nonverbal cues gives you a wealth of information that will help you resolve discordant issues among family members and more effectively work to create interesting harmonies. “Listening” to the nonverbal communications of facial expression, eye signals, and even body movements allows you to make small adjustments to your behavior that will decrease misunderstandings and increase effective interactions, strengthening the theme of a strong, healthy family in your home.
  • Balance one another’s strengths and weaknesses. We all have strengths and weaknesses. The most effective couples and families are more aware of one another’s strengths and weaknesses. They step up and support one another in their strengths. They humbly ask for help in areas of weakness. They learn when to step back and allow another to take the lead as well as the appropriate time to step up and utilize their strengths to enhance the beauty of the family interaction.
  • Practice a give and take. Listening to jazz groups you will notice different players taking the spotlight at different times When one player begins an improvisational solo, the other players play more quietly and support the solo. They follow he soloist’s lead. In families, there is a time and place for each family member to take the lead. The other family members can gather around them and support them in the “solo.” If anything goes awry, the rest of the family can quickly jump in to help them out, lift them up, and get them “back on track” while making it all sound so easy and good.

Four hints we can take from jazz as we strive to make our families “close enough for jazz.” Of course, we will never be perfect. But those imperfections allow us to grow, learn to better tune to one another, and maybe even make some new, interesting harmonies. After all, we don’t have to be perfect…just “good enough for jazz.”

What Values Do You Prioritize in Your Family?

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?

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?

Nurture Your Child’s Success in School

I hate to say it, but report cards are not a very good measure of school success. We want our children to learn so much more in school than how to regurgitate enough information to get an “A” on their report card. We want them to develop a joy for learning. We want them to learn how to think independently and to ask insightful questions. We want them to develop a sense of competence. We want them to learn the social skills necessary to become successful in the workforce. And, we want them to develop an intrinsic motivation to learn and grow. Those traits would reveal a child’s success in school. An “A” on the report card just doesn’t reflect all these skills. In fact, pushing for good grades can even undermine this deeper success. Pushing for good grades can devalue the process of learning the skills of life and replace it with a crazed obsession to achieve the end product of an “A” without really learning anything. This anxious effort for an end product can crush the intrinsic motivators inherent in our children, motivators like curiosity, and a desire for competence. It can limit our children’s sense of mastery and leave them feeling anxious, unsuccessful, and less competent to meet the challenges of the world after high school.

If that’s the case, what can a parent do? If grades alone don’t reflect success in school, what does? How can I nurture school success if I don’t push for good grades? Good question. Let me offer a few suggestions.

  • Determine your priorities. What do you really want your child to learn in school and life? What are your educational priorities? Do you really want them to simply recall the dates of Lincoln’s assassination or to develop a compassion for people as well? Which is more important for your child to know: the formulas of calculus or the social skills that will bring them success in the world of work? What Do You Really Want for Your Children? Once you know your priorities, you can encourage the types of learning that reflect your priorities.
  • Celebrate effort. Don’t get me wrong. Grades still have their place. However, if we focus on the end goal of the grade, our children miss out on the real precursor of successful learning—effort. Effort is what contributes to good grades. So, acknowledge & celebrate effort. (Learn more here.)
  • Enjoy the content. Do your best to make learning fun. Don’t focus on the dates or the dry facts alone. Pack the dates and dry facts with stories of the funny, the inspirational, the humane. I love the stories that show the inspiration of heroic acts amid tragedy or the acts of love in situations filled with hate. For math, I like to celebrate Pi day with various pies. Or, talk about the Fibonacci numbers and enjoy Fibonacci in music. For history, discover the Righteous Among the Nations (you can read some of these stories here) and the funny stories as well as the successes of various presidents (For one example, consider William Howard Taft). Make learning fun. Teach your child to enjoy the content. Your creativity is the only limit to how you do this. 
  • Model learning. Children learn much more from the example of their parents’ lives than they learn from their parents’ words and directives. So, what are YOU learning? You can learn something for work or something unrelated to work. Learn a language. Take a class in photography. Take instrumental lessons. Whatever you might enjoy, use it to model learning. And as you learn, talk to your children about the excitement, the struggles, and the joys of learning new things.

Nurture your child’s school success. Learn something new yourself. And, most important, have fun.

Is Your Marriage a LIVED Priority?

We often get caught up in the seemingly urgent needs in life and so neglect our true priorities. We become overwhelmed by the crises—like broken water heaters, sudden car repairs—and pressing problems—like paying bills or caring for our home. We also become distracted by the daily activities that become all-consuming when we haven’t prepared for them. For instance, our children’s bedtime can become an ordeal when we haven’t developed a healthy bedtime routine. Without a menu, mealtime become a pressing need that requires us to devote thought, time, & energy to it every day…time & energy we could devote to other priorities like our marriages.  

Or, we get carried away with distractions, those things we really don’t care about but “suck up our time” nonetheless. You know what I mean…things like video games, phone games, videos, or binge-watching Netflix. We start off with the goal of relaxing for 5 minutes in front of a screen and suddenly realize we have neglected our families and marriages for the whole evening.

Or, we let lesser priorities squeeze out our most important priorities. For instance, we let work or self-care squeeze out our family time. 

You get the idea. Amidst our crises and distractions, our marriages often get neglected. Arguments over crises and pressing problems begin to form a wedge between us and our spouse. Distractions drive that wedge deeper. We grow distance as more distractions come between us and our spouse. The arguments grow as the distance increases. Lesser priorities push our marriages further out of focus and replace them in our lives. Why does this happen? Because we failed to make our marriages a “daily lived priority.” We did not think to make our marriages a daily lived priority amidst the crises, pressing problems, distractions, and lesser priorities that flood our lives. Healthy marriages require action, intention, investment…even amid life’s distractions.

So, what can you do to make your marriage a “daily lived priority” rather than a “believed priority”?

  1. Put your marriage on your calendar. You can tell a lot about a person’s “daily lived priorities” by what makes the calendar.  Wherever we invest our time is a “daily lived priority.” So, put your marriage on the calendar. Invest time. Go on a date. In fact, whether it’s a weekend trip or a quiet night snuggling on the couch after the kids go to be, enjoy a date night every week.
  2. Hug every day when you go your separate ways. Yes, physical affection is crucial investment in your marriage. Don’t limit your hug to a simple “bro-hug” type. Give one another a big hug, a bear hug, an oxytocin hug. Hug it out big!
  3. Kiss and hug every night before you go to bed. I think it important to enjoy physical affection at the end of the day. No matter your mood. No matter your energy. Take time to wish each other a good night’s rest with a sincere hug and kiss.
  4. Find a way to eat at least one meal a day together. My wife and I enjoy lunch together because we work evenings. Perhaps you and your spouse will enjoy supper or breakfast or even a “brunch.” Whatever meal you can schedule together, do so as often as you can.
  5. Put the kids to bed. In fact, put them to bed early. Get your children on a schedule that allows them to have a good night’s rest and allows you and your spouse alone after they go to bed and before your bedtime. This will be a great time to talk and catch up. (Even your teen needs sleep!)
  6. Spend at least 20 minutes every day talking to one another about your day. Healthy marriages thrive on open communication, the sharing of ideas and plans and the “what-happened-today” interactions. Set aside at least 20 minutes every day to enjoy this conversation with your spouse. Your children will get used to you having this conversation and will “entertain themselves” while you do it. They will also enjoy the security of seeing their parents enjoying conversation with one another. Take 20 minutes and savor your spouse.
  7. Find a hobby to share together. After all, families that play together stay together. Get out there an enjoy a hobby together.

Pushed to Succeed-The New ‘At-Risk’ Group

We’ve heard a lot about adverse childhood events (ACEs) and how they detrimentally effect a child’s life. It makes sense. Trauma, abuse, bullying, poverty, parents who abuse drugs, incarcerated parents…these all have a negative impact on childhood and development. But, a recent “consensus study report” by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine has added youth who attend high-achieving schools to this list of “at-risk youth.” (Students in high-achieving schools are now named an “at risk” group, study says—Washington Post.) In other words, a consensus has been reached among the National Academies of Sciences that an overemphasis on personal achievement puts our youth at risk just as much as poverty, abuse, and trauma. Sounds crazy at first. But, consider just the short-term negative impact of an overemphasis on achievement.

Don’t put your child at-risk by overemphasizing achievement. Instead, encourage them to do their best. Accept your children as “wonderfully ordinary.” (Overcoming Fear of the Ordinary) Teach them kindness, gratitude, and good character rather than overemphasizing achievement. You might be surprised as you do this. Your children might just achieve more as they experience your acceptance and grow more self-motivated in response.

Are You Planning a Wedding…Or a Marriage?

The average cost of a wedding in the United States today is $33,931. That is a lot of money. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with spending money on a beautiful wedding; but, it does raise an important question: are we investing in a beautiful wedding or are we investing in a long-term committed relationship? In 2014, two people collected data from 3,000 people in the US that helps to answer that question…and the statistics did not give a great answer to that question.  They found that the length of a marriage decreased as the price of the wedding increased! To state that the other way around: the greater the cost of the wedding the shorter the marriage lasted. Perhaps this is due to the increased debt of higher priced weddings, but really debt related divorce is more about how couples handle the stress together rather than the stress itself. These results are more likely related to whether the couple and their families prioritize the marriage or the status of the big wedding more. Either way, these results should make us think twice about our wedding preparations, to lead us to focus more on relational strength than on just the wedding ceremony itself.

On the other hand, this same study suggests that the higher the number of guests in attendance, the less likely the divorce. In other words, a relatively inexpensive wedding (one that fits the budget) that is highly attended, is a predictor of a longer marriage. I believe that this “attendance factor” provides a couple of advantages. One, it reveals the number of people invested in helping this couple succeed in marriage. Second, it allows the couple the opportunity to make a public commitment to one another and to their marriage before loving witnesses. This public commitment invites those witnesses to support and nurture their marriage.

As you prepare for marriage ask yourself: are you planning a wedding or a marriage?  Planning for your marriage involves much more than simply planning a beautiful wedding. Planning for a marriage means investing less in the ceremony and more in ways to build your relationship skills and relational strength. It means investing in your ability to resolve conflict, work as a team, develop a marital purpose, sacrifice, and serve. Planning for a marriage means inviting other long-term married couples into your life as mentors and supports. It requires humbling yourself as a couple to learn from other successful couples. Don’t worry…you’ll still have a wonderful wedding day and a fantastic honeymoon…but you can also have a long and happy marriage.

The Massacre In Our Home Town

Saturday, October 27, 2018, it happened here…a mass shooting…a horrific exhibition of hate…in a place of worship no less. The New York Times described this shooting as “among the deadliest against the Jewish community in the United States.” Tears filled my eyes as the rabbis spoke during the memorial service Sunday (I didn’t get to attend but saw televised portions of the service…and even that brought tears). Pittsburgh is a city of neighbors, ethnic celebration, & Mr. Rogers; yet such hate, an incomprehensible hate, is present as well. Making it even more insidious, this shooting occurred in a place of worship. As one Jewish commentator noted, choosing to carry out this heinous crime in any place of worship “commits the maximum emotional devastation…striking at the very heart of the spiritual fabric of the community. Houses of God are sources of inspiration for good. They are the foundations of civility, of respect, of the dissemination of values which make possible human survival.” Bringing vile hate into such a sacred space is abhorrent!

We heed Mr. Rogers’ words to “look for the helpers” whenever catastrophe strikes. And, we have seen the helpers arise. People have spoken of the bravery of the response team. Students from Allderdice HS came together to initiate a memorial the day of the event.  Flowers and tokens of support pile up near the site of the catastrophe. The Islamic Center has raised $70,000 (at last count) to support the families of the victims. The list of helpers continues.  “The helpers” have risen to support, comfort, “stand with,” and share in everyone’s mourning. The outrage against hate has been voiced. The helpers have shown up. But what about next week?  What will happen next week? How will we, not just in Pittsburgh but across our nation, begin to address the hate and replace it with love and peace? Dr. Yvet Alt Miller suggests, among other things, that we respond by doing good deeds and finding ways of bringing more good into the world, to speak out against hatred, to “let our charity, our prayers, our mitzvot, our acts of kindness bring light into the world.” All great ideas.  We can’t continue life as usual. We must make changes…not just today or this week but over the next months and years!

My daughter once asked me why I don’t “do more” social activist activities like marches and protests. I told her I write and teach. The Honor Grace Celebrate website and our family workshops are my way of pursuing social change… and I believe they represent a potentially powerful avenue for social change. But how? Why promote honor, grace, and celebration in families? Why encourage families to reflect the love of God?  Because families who practice honor, grace, and celebration can change our society. They will not only experience happier families, they will also bring honor, grace, and celebration into their communities and our nation (Freedom & Family to learn more). When our children celebrate a positive, loving attachment with their parents they are more prone to show kindness to those they disagree with or even hate (Read a fascinating study showing how attachment changes the interaction between divisive groups in Hot Sauce Vs. the Power of Relationship). When we teach our children kindness in the family they are more likely to share kindness in the world (Read The Mighty Power of Kindness and Pay It Forward…The Suprising “Rest of the Story” For Your Family). As we promote honor and grace within our families, honor and grace will be shared outside of family (Give It Away for Family Fun will offer an idea to get started). So, I suggest we add to Mr. Rogers’ words about “looking for the helpers.” Don’t just look. Don’t let the helpers show up today and disappear next week or next month because the immediate crisis has ended and emotions have calmed. Instead, let us, as families, commit to developing more helpers, lifetime helpers. Let us teach and encourage those helpers to become active in reaching out in love to their communities…because your family can help change the world! Let’s build families of honor, grace, and celebration to carry the traditions of honor, grace, and celebration into every relationship they experience. Let’s build families who will carry honor, grace, and celebration into every relationship.

Smartphones, Priorities, & Terrible Outcomes…Even for Parents?

You have likely read articles implicating the smartphone in various types of disasters, like car fatalities, bullying, marital problems, or physical accidents. You may have even watched videos of mishaps caused by smartphone usage, some funny and some disturbing. (That Was Awkward describes my own experience with cellphone distraction!) But did you ever think about how “smartphone distraction” impacts a parent’s ability to parent. An article entitled The Dangers of Distracted Parenting outlines some of the research showing how parental smartphone use impacts parent-child relationships and, as a result, child development. The author sites several studies. Some show outcomes as simple as child ER visits increasing as cellphone usage increased. Other studies suggested more disturbing outcomes for parental cellphone usage, like decreased verbal and non-verbal interactions with their children, increased negative behaviors as children make increasingly demanding bids for parental attention, and children’s decreased ability to learn language when a parent is on the phone. Over the long run, these outcomes translate into poorer academic achievement and poorer social skills if the parent develops a pattern of placing smartphone usage (sending/answering texts, playing games, checking news, etc.) over their relationship with their children.

I remember visiting a local amusement park and watching a father stand in line with his young son (maybe 5-years-old). The father was busy on his cellphone while his son tried desperately to get his father’s attention.(Read A Carnival of Parents for more.) At the time I thought the father was missing a wonderful opportunity to build a relationship with his son and communicate how much he valued his son. And, in fact, his son may have come to believe his father valued his cell phone, the person on the other end of the cell phone, or the game he played on the cell phone more than him. But, now I know that this father being distracted by his cellphone may have done even more damage. If this type of distraction became a consistent pattern, his son may have developed less effective social skills and exhibited poorer language skills.

This all  begs the question. What really is more important, your children or your phone? Of course, we all know our children are more important; but, do our actions coincide with that value? Or are we so addicted to our smartphones that they have become a wedge in our relationship with our children. I do know a way to put the question to rest once and for all, a way to discover if you cellphone has become so important in your life that it interferes with your relationship with your children. Put the phone away. I mean turn it off and put it in another room. Then, leave it in the other room while you enjoy dinner and an evening activity with your children, no smartphone even in sight. Then, make this practice a habit, a regular occurrence in the life of your family. Do it nightly or 3 times a week.  If doing this sounds hard, or even impossible, it’s very possible that your cellphone has become so important in your life that it’s interfering with your relationship with your children. Don’t let it happen. Take action now. (You have a superpower to use against this problem. Learn about it in A Sense of Belonging “Phubbed”)

Married to Burger King?

Remember the old Burger King commercials?  I used to sing their moto, “Have It Your Way…,” such a catchy tune.

Unfortunately, some people think they’re married to Burger King. They want to always “have it their way” in marriage, treating their spouse like Burger King. They want their “Burger King spouse” to accept their way and agree with it, or at least act as though they do. They always believe their way “is right” and will argue their point in an effort to make their “Burger King spouse” toes the line and complies with their way. They do this by insisting on “their way” with vigor and passion, often overwhelming their spouse with their energy. They persist in this persuasion until their “Burger King spouse” accepts their conclusion as the right conclusion. What they don’t admit to themselves is “their Burger King spouse” often does this just to end the conflict and not have to talk about it anymore. As soon as the “Burger King spouse” gives in, a wedge (not a pickle wedge or a lettuce wedge but a solid, distancing wedge) is forced between them. That wedge will grow and fester, hindering intimacy and even leading to more conflict in the future.

“Having it your way” doesn’t work in marriage because none of us are married to Burger King. (Well, accept maybe Mrs. Burger King.)  Our spouse has their own opinions, perspectives, and ideas. Maybe you “hold the lettuce” and she piles it on…or you “hold the pickles” while he asks for extra pickles. More significantly, maybe she wants a minivan and you want an SUV…or you want to spend some money on a few weekend vacations each year, but he wants to skip the weekend getaways and save all the money for retirement. I won’t list possible differences you and your spouse may hold. I’m sure you can think of a few on your own. The point is, when we insist on always being right, when we demand to “have it our way,” we push our spouse away. In the words of a more marriage friendly moto, “You can be right…or you can be in relationship.” “Being in relationship” requires that we accept our spouse’s point of view as valid, just like our point of view. It means we don’t demand to “have it our way,” but honor our differences by listening and compromising instead.  It means having the grace to “have it their way” now and again instead of “our way.” In short, you’re not married to Burger King so don’t expect to “have it your way” all the time.  Learn to listen, compromise, and turn toward one another in discovering a third alternative that can satisfy each of you. After all, isn’t it more important to have a satisfying marriage than to “have it your way.”

Humility & Your Marriage…Now That’s HOT!!!

“Oh lord it’s hard to be humble when your perfect in every way…” or so said Mac Davis in 1980.  Maybe it’s even harder today. We live in a world that encourages self-promotion. Teens base their self-worth on the number of “likes” they receive for their most recent selfie…and so work to look “perfect in every way” before posting the “spontaneous” selfie.  But, when it comes to creating long-term marital bliss humility is hot! A study published in 2015 explored the role of humility in relationships (Humility and Relationship Outcomes in Couples). They compared how a person perceived their partner’s humility to their relationship satisfaction and forgiveness. They also explored whether commitment played a role. They discovered that as one’s perception of their partner’s humility increased so did forgiveness and satisfaction in the relationship. In other words, a partner’s humility contributes to their partners sense of relational commitment, satisfaction, and willingness to forgive.

This begs the question…what exactly is humility and how do we increase it in our relationship? First, humility involves having an accurate view of ourselves. It means we recognize our strengths and our weaknesses. Second, humility involves having an “other-oriented” perspective rather than a selfish perspective. A humble person does not boast or act prideful. They also show a willingness to sacrifice self-gratification to meet their partner’s needs. They make self-promotion secondary to partner-promotion.

The question remains: how do we develop humility in our marriages? Based on the definition above, here are several ideas to get you started.

  1. Acknowledge your own strengths AND weaknesses. We all have them…so admit it. If you don’t know what they are, ask your spouse and maybe a few other people who love you and know you well. Put on a tough skin and listen carefully. Don’t think so highly of your strengths that you ignore your weaknesses; don’t obsess over your weaknesses so much you neglect your strengths. Acknowledge both.
  2. Put your spouse first. In communication your first goal is to understand your spouse because what they have to say is important. In living a healthy life your first goal is to assure your spouse has what they need to live healthy (opportunities for healthy food, rest, exercise). In entertainment your first goal is for your spouse, not yourself. In all areas, put your spouse and their needs first. You can still take care of yourself. After all, your spouse needs a healthy partner. So by all means, take care of yourself because your spouse is of utmost importance and they need a healthy partner.
  3. Accept your spouse’s influence in your life. Let their needs and vulnerabilities, fears and joys influence your decisions, your words, and your actions. Allow their requests to influence your behavior and daily chores. Allowing your spouse to influence your words and deeds is an amazing expression of humble love.
  4. Admit your mistakes and ask for forgiveness when necessary. We all make mistakes. A humble person acknowledges their mistakes and seeks forgiveness. They apologize for their wrong doings, even when those wrong doings are unintentional.
  5. Offer forgiveness. A humble person is gracious in offering forgiveness. They do not demand undue retribution. They recognize that all of us (including me) have “fallen short” and made mistakes. As a result, they do not hold a grudge. They accept the other person’s apology and seek to restore the relationship.

One last thing to remember. Beauty fades over time. Skin sags, body shapes change. But, humility grow and flourishes over time. Outward beauty is hot for the moment, but humility…now that’s hot for a lifetime!

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