Norman Rockwell captured the iconic moment of Thanksgiving Dinner in The Thanksgiving Picture. But really, what’s the big deal about a family dinner? Who cares about family dinners anyway?
Family dinner is about so much more than simply sitting at a common table to eat food. We learn important lessons at the family dinner. It is during family dinner that we learn we belong. As we pass the potatoes and negotiate who gets the turkey leg, we learn that life is shared. We are not alone; and we have to think about the “other guy” and his welfare, not just ourselves. We have to listen to learn what others have to say, to learn about their wants and desires. And we learn to leave enough of the “good stuff” for everyone to get some.
At the family dinner table, we also learn that we have something to say, and that others will listen to us. We have needs and desires to express and others will not only hear us tell of those needs and desires but will graciously adjust their behavior to satisfy our needs and desires.
We also learn that manners and civility are important while sitting around the dinner table. We learn that respect leads to greater generosity and that moderation is important to fairness. And what better place to practice respect, generosity, moderation, and fairness than at the dinner table.
Why have Thanksgiving Dinner? Because our families and our children need to learn these important lessons of belonging, listening, sharing, respect, generosity, moderation, and fairness. Our communities are crying out for these virtues. Why celebrate with a Thanksgiving Dinner? Because changing the world starts with how we share Thanksgiving Dinner with our friends and family. (For more, read Everything I Needed to Know I Learned at Dinner.)
Sometimes we are our own worst enemy… even when it comes to innate abilities that protect us. For instance, we tend to pay attention to and learn from negative or threatening stimuli more than we do from positive or lovely stimuli. Psychologists call this our “negative bias” and note how it protects us. For instance, it’s more important to attend to the rattlesnake in the flower garden than your lovely daisies when you’re pulling weeds. The car speeding toward the crosswalk where you stand with your child elicits a more immediate and stronger reaction than the cute elderly couple walking their dog on the sidewalk.
In such instances, the “negative bias” is natural and protective. But it can destroy effective parenting when it dominates our parental radar. A parent’s “out-of-control negative bias” can lead to excessive criticism, overprotectiveness, and undue correction in our attempt to protect our children from every danger and mistake out there. In response, our children become discouraged and defeated by the constant negative focus.
Effective parents learn to tame the “beast of negative bias” by focusing on strengths as well as dangers. They focus on their children’s positive character, acknowledging and nurturing it every chance they get. “I appreciate the kindness you showed when….” “You showed a lot of patience when you….” “It was very courageous of you to….” When we notice and label specific actions and responses that flow out of our children’s strengths, we begin to develop our own trust in their ability (as well as their positive self-concept). This trust can help tame our “negative bias,” which leads to the next way of taming “negative bias.”
Effective parents also tame the “beast of negative bias” by learning to trust their children. We learn to trust our children’s abilities to take care of themselves by carefully observing them rather than constantly warning them. We learn to trust our children by allowing them to manage the consequences of their mistakes and so learn from those consequences rather than jumping in to save them. We learn to trust our children by allowing them to take risks and observing how they manage those risks, remaining present to help them if they request our help. (Read Do You Rob Your Teen of Victory for more.) Ironically, most parents are often amazed at how well their children manage a risk independently and the amazing way they learn from those consequences. Sometimes it’s hard to not intervene but doing nothing can prove the best course of action at times.
Effective parents tame the “beast of negative bias” by nurturing their children’s talents, providing them opportunities to gain experience. Whether their talent lies in athletics, music, acting, writing, landscaping, mechanics, or…well, the list goes on. Whatever their talent, providing them opportunities to grow in their knowledge and skills related to that talent helps us, as parents, see them in new light. It helps us see them mature and realize their growing competence and independence.
Effective parents tame the “beast of negative bias” and enjoy practicing a positive bias as they watch their children grow and mature. You and your child will be glad you took the time to tame the “beast of negative bias.”
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 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 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.
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.”
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?
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!)
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.
Find a hobby to share together. After all, families that play together stay together. Get out there an enjoy a hobby together.
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.
Achievement decreases. Learning problems increase. Over time, this will impact a child’s opportunities as an adult if not addressed early.
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.
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.
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.