Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Parenting: Experiencing Fun Differently

My wife and two boys (ages 3 and 18 months) recently took a short family vacation to Branson, Missouri.  We had a blast!  This was our first real family vacation since our oldest boy was born.  I learned a valuable lesson while on this trip.  I had to learn to experience fun differently.  Before children, my wife and I could go to places like Silver Dollar City (SDC) and go crazy riding roller coasters and water rides.  We could stay in our hotel and watch movies, take a dip in the pool to cool off, or relax in the hot tub with no worries.  Well, all these experiences are not the same when you are a parent.  We pretty much stayed in the kiddie section at SDC.  We swam everyday but most of our time in the pool was spent watching the kiddos.  Even when we were relaxing in the hotel room we were tending to kids. But we still had so much fun!

Although I don't agree with the common thought that parents should center their lives around their children, I do think that parents have to learn to enjoy watching their children enjoy life.  That is exactly what we did.  Sure there were times my wife and I wished we could get away for bit by ourselves (and we were able to a couple of times because of other family members present willing to watch the kids), but our hearts smiled continuously as we watched our children play in the hotel pool or ride the train at SDC or play with their cousins, aunts and uncles, and grandparents.  My children had so many wonderful first experiences...I wouldn't have missed it for the world!

One final story:  At one point during our family vacation, I found myself having to discipline my 3 yr old for misbehavior.  I briefly caught myself thinking, "Here we are taking time out of our day and money out of our pockets to spend some quality time as a family, but instead I am having to tend to a screaming child."  This thought was short-lived, because I very quickly began to think to myself, "You know what?   Even though there are moments like this where some form of discipline is required, these kids need to have experiences like the ones they have had this week."  I felt like my sons and I grew so much closer during our time at Branson, even though they had to sit in time-out on occasion. 

So next time you find yourself feeling a little robbed because you are having to give up your personal time and money for your children. Try to remember that you are facilitating important experiences in their lives; and you being a part of that will help you and your children grow closer together.  You can't put a price tag on building your relationship with your children.

Good luck and God bless you in your parenting endeavors.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Journey Toward Self-Love

Learning to love ourselves is not an easy process.  In fact, many people spend a lifetime trying overcome self-hatred, but are never successful.  Valuing oneself or having a healthy sense of self-worth is an important componant when trying to function in this world.  Husbands and wives deserve a spouse that loves themselves.  Children deserve to have parents that value themselves.  Bosses and companies deserve to have employees with a strong sense of self-confidence and competance.  We owe it to ourselve and those around us to love ourselves.  Here are some tips to help you get started:

Identify and process your strengths.  Understanding what you are good at and why you are good at it is an important step in your journey toward self-love.  Too many times we are so focused on the negative aspects of our being that we don't recognize the positive characteristics of our existance. 

Understand your weaknesses.  Althougth we want our strengths to be our main focus, we still need to have a better understanding of our weaknesses.  Having this all-around understanding allows us to better prepare ourselves for the tasks and challenges life presents to us.

Forgive your shortcomings.  The realilty is that we all fall short from time to time.  We live as imperfect beings; and in that imperfection we often say or do things that we regret.  We cannot allow our shortcomings to define us.  We have to learn to forgive ourselves. 

Let go of the past.  Not only do we need to learn to forgive ourselves, we also need to work toward forgiving others.  When we hold on to the hurts others have caused us, we end up harboring bitterness and resentment.  When we do this, the only person we punish is ourselves.  Thus, forgiving others is as much or more about our healing than the one how has sinned against us.  Anywho.....I believe it is necessary in moving toward self-love.

Keep in mind that loving yourself doesn't mean you have to be self-absorbed.  Loving and serving others should always be a high priority for you.  However, I find it hard to believe that we can effectively love and serve others if we aren't loving ourselves first.  God obviously valued us enough to send his son to die for us.  It is about time we start seeing ourselves in that same light.  I hope these tips will be a blessing to you in your journey toward learning to love and value yourself.  God bless.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Divorce-Proofing Your Marriage: In-Laws Don't Have to be Outlaws

We often cut up and joke about our in-laws.  Mother-in-laws seem to have it the worst as they have become the butt of many jokes.  As I write this a commercial just came on poking fun at mother-in-laws.  The reality is that in-laws are a source of contention for many married couples.  As a marriage and family therapist, I can't even begin to count how many times I have had conversations with couples on this very matter.  But what if your in-laws could actually help your marriage?  What if your in-laws could actually benefit your commitment to your marriage? I actually believe this is possible.

Here is my challenge to you as one of many ways to divorce-proof your marriage - Fall in LOVE with your IN-LAWS.  You might be thinking, "WHAT?!"  Yes, work hard at loving your in-laws.  This will be harder for some than others (and maybe impossible for many).  However, if you can fall in-love with your in-laws, when things get tough in your marriage, it becomes one more thing you have set in place that encourages you to hang in there; because if you lose your spouse to divorce, you will most likely lose his/her parents as well.  Therefore, loving your in-laws gives you more incentive to keep your marriage healthy or, if it isn't healthy, to work hard at getting it that way.  On the other hand, a bad relationship with your in-laws just makes it easier to give up.

As I mentioned, falling in love with your in-laws will be harder for some than others.  However, I encourage you to put out some effort to build lasting relationships with them anyway.  Your marriage will be better for it.  As always, your thoughts are welcomed.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Lesson in COMMUNICATION from a 3-Year Old

The other day my 3 yr old son was playing with the musical Tigger doll as seen in the picture. The way it works is that you press the button on his left foot and he does a song and dance while lighting up. However, the problem with this particular Tigger doll is that there is some sort of malfunction in the button on his foot. To get him to work, you have to press and hold the button the entire time or else Tigger stops singing and dancing. Well, as my son was trying to get Tigger to work, I heard him say in very cute, by high-pitched tone, “I can’t do it, Dad.” So I said to him, “You have to hold it.” So he did just that. He proceeded to lift up Tigger and set him in his lap. Then he looked back at me as if to say, “Now what?” Struggling not to laugh, I said, “No, you have to squeeze it.” My son looked at Tigger while pondering my suggestion. He slowly lifted his hand and then squeezed Tigger’s nose. I busted out laughing at this point. HE WAS SO CUTE! He was completely misunderstanding what I meant, but all the while doing exactly as I instructed him to.

We often find ourselves having the same form of miscommunication in our relationships. However, in a marriage or a parent-adolescent relationship the miscommunication isn’t as cute as seen here with my 3 yr old. It is almost as if we just cannot understand how our spouse or teenager, for instance, could ever interpret our requests or suggestions as anything other than the way we pictured in our minds. One thing we need to understand when it comes to learning to effectively communicate is that misinterpretations don’t go away with age. We are no better at mind-reading at 30 yrs old than we were at 3 yrs old. Effective communication is a skill that can be taught, but never mastered. We owe it to ourselves and to those we care about to continually work hard at improving our communication skills. One lesson I hope you take from this post is that “mindreading” is a HUGE No-No! We should never assume the other person should “just know” what we are saying or talking about.

My 3 yr old is learning more and more about how to effectively communicate every day. Watching him grow and learn is an awesome experience. I think it is so neat when I get the privilege of seeing something “click” with him; to actually see him “get it.” When this happens to us as adults, the adorable-factor can be ruled out, but it can be a very rewarding experience still. So hang in there.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Coping with the Post-Holiday Blues

The holiday season, beginning with Thanksgiving and ending with New Years, is a very busy time for most of us. We are checking our schedules making sure we can see as many family members as possible. The last thing we want, after all, is hurt feelings on our conscience. We are making shopping lists and checking them twice, thrice, and as many times as it takes to get everything crossed off the list. We have family dinners to attend, business and church parties to crash, not to mention all the different things the children in our lives are doing – school parties, holiday plays, etc. We are arranging times to take family pictures, then comes the dreaded selection of which picture goes on the Christmas card. Following this, we are faced with actually sending out the cards and making sure every significant and insignificant person we know gets one. But don’t forget to work on the “apology speech,” just in case Aunt Mildred’s card got “lost in the mail” (wink, wink). It seems during this time of the year we don’t have much time to even think, much less doing something for ourselves to gain peace of mind. Slowing down is NOT an option; we are operating on pure adrenaline. Then the New Year rolls around and it is all over. Our brains and bodies are all of sudden presented with our normal routine without the additional hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Well, it is not hard to understand why some people deal with the “post holiday blues,” which may manifest in many different ways, for instance, depression, anxiety, and/or pure, unmistakable exhaustion.

Twenty-eleven (2011) is right around the corner. The question we are faced with is “How do we successfully cope with the post holiday blues so we can effectively get back in the saddle?” Here are some suggestions to consider:

Get excited about the idea of new beginnings. Although the particular holidays during this time of year were created with specific thoughts in mind, I don’t think we can ignore that the holiday season carries with it the implication that another chapter in our lives is coming to a close and a new one is about to begin. For some, the chapter closing was not the most pleasant, and for others, the chapter closing was the highlight of their lives and they can’t imagine a better one. But, all of us are faced with the new chapter, full of blank pages ready for us to make our mark. The scary part of the new chapter is that we don’t know what challenges lie before us; thus, we are faced with unpredictability and the unexpected. The exciting part of the new chapter is that WE ARE THE AUTHORS! We need to embrace this thought. Although we may be faced challenges and stumbling blocks along the way, we still get to choose how we deal with those obstacles. We are the authors of our story; we decide the direction; we decide how it ends.

Set short-term, but achievable goals. Reflecting on the previous year and deciding how you want the following year to be different is something I would encourage everyone to do. However, most people already do this; but, they forget to set small goals along the way. When they forget this very important step, their goals for the year become something that is too large to conquer. Thus, I encourage people to be thinking about the initial months after the New Year – January, February, and maybe, March – and decide what they would like to achieve during this time. The next step is to “get after it.” Once the goals are met, don’t forget to celebrate. Small successes are definitely worth celebrating.

Plan a retreat for yourself. This is actually something I would recommend doing during the holiday season, but at minimum, doing it after the holiday season has ended. Planned retreats, in my opinion, are crucial for our mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. After experiencing the level of stress that comes with the holiday season, our minds and bodies are typically ready for a break that is long overdue. Remember, a retreat doesn’t have to be expensive or elaborate. A retreat can be something as simple as a daily walk around the lake or spending time in meditation or prayer on your lunch break or enjoying a cup of Joe as you watch the sunrise before you head off to work. Thus, make your retreats intentional; don’t allow yourself to just fall into it. When we fall into it, retreating more accurately reflects escaping. Thus, as you plan your retreats, work at staying away from drugs, alcohol, media, and even technology in effort to keep a clear mind.

Change up your routine. “Mixing it up” a little bit is something that could help with the transition from 2010 to 2011. Routine is beneficial because it helps provide structure and stability to our lives, but it often becomes boring. If it is at all possible, attempt to change up how you structure you life. Here are some examples:

• Take a new route to work.
• Add new workouts to your exercise routine
• Start a new hobby or participate in a new activity (e.g., softball league)

Preserve memories. I think preserving memories is a very important part of the transition. I encourage people to actually get old fashion on this one. Technically, downloading pictures to Facebook or Flickr is a way to preserve memories. However, this is the lazy way. I would encourage you to put a little elbow grease in your preservation methods. Scrapbooking is probably the most obvious way of doing this, but there are many other ways; thus, be creative. The reason I am an advocate for preserving memories is because despite how difficult of a year you had, you will typically focus on the memories that generate a good feeling within you. As you start out a new year, the last thing you need is a bad taste in your mouth from the previous year. Preserving the feel-good memories of the previous year will help you get started on the right foot for the new year.

I encourage each and every one of you to not get bogged down in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season to where you forget the meaning of the holiday season. However, if, come January, you find yourself coming down from the holiday high, don’t hesitate to try some of these suggestions to help with your transition. Also, keep in mind that there is no shame in seeking professional help if just can’t seem to kick the post holiday blues.

Don't forget to pick up a copy of the December 2010 issue of MetroFamily Magazine to read more on overcoming the Post-Holiday Blues.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Tips for Speaking Your Spouses Love Language

Have you read The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman?  This is an excellent read.  The premise is quite simple: Men and women often attempt to show their spouses love in ways that they, themselves, would like to receive it.  However, we need to work at showing our spouses love in ways they desire.  I would encourage you and your spouse to check out this book.  Read it together and process the different love languages.

As you and your spouse work through this book,  I have 3 "Don'ts" to consider. First, (1) Don't Mind-read. In other words, don't assume you know what your spouse likes. Only your spouse can tell you this for certain, so don't be afraid to ask. Secondly, (2) Don't Assume Mind-reading. Remember that your spouse is not psychic. Your wants and desires are actually relationship components that you should discuss with your spouse and not expect them to "just know." And last, (3) Don't Downplay. Sometimes what your spouse's love language looks like might not make sense to you, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. As long as it isn't a compromise of your integrity or values, you need to show your spouse love in ways they desire....in ways that makes sense to them. You don't have to fully understand. All you have to know is that it is important to this person whom you love deeply.

As always, your thoughts are always welcomed.

(Note: This entry was inspired by a post on Missional Outreach Network by James Nored)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Teens + Dating = Highly ANXIOUS Parents

To the NEW parents out there: What does it do for you to think that your babies will be dating in the near future? Can you recall some of the things you did while you were dating?
To SEASONED parents: What was it like for you when your kids started dating? How did you handle your anxiety?

Dating is a milestone that most teens look forward to; however, second to driving, it is probably the most dreaded for parents. Why is that? Well, because we've been there. We know about the curiosity that lingers in a teenage mind. We know about the here-and-now mindset that teens live in and that the word "consequences" often doesn't seem to even be in their vocabulary. This causes us much anxiety. So, what do we do? Here are some helpful tips for discussing dating with your teen.

  1. Beware of your own anxiety. Often parents allow their anxiety to drive their behaviors. Parents should work hard at staying calm and connected when discussing dating or situations related to dating with their teens. Anxiety only communicates to them that you can't handle it.  
  2. Be excited for them. This is an important milestone in your teen's life; thus, you need to be as supportive as possible.  
  3. Set the rules for dating. Let them know what you expect (e.g., curfew, etc.) of them. After all, dating is a privilege and they need to be responsible with that privilege.  
  4. Focus on the "Do's" instead of the "Don'ts." Let me start by saying, that I think it is okay to state what is inappropriate because of the negative consequences involved. But, more importantly, parents should work hard at helping their teens think about what they should be doing in undertaking this privilege known as dating. Teens should be focused on RIGHTEOUSNESS (i.e., doing what is right) instead of focusing on the line they aren't suppose to cross. If they are focused on the line, then they will typically see how close they can get without crossing it. However, if they are pursuing righteousness, then there is really no need to look back at where you are NOT supposed to be. Thus, help them determine what is "right" in a dating relationship.
I have had the privilege via church camp of working with young men who are in the beginning stages of their interest in girls and dating. I would like to close by sharing with you my approach in helping them think critically about this idea of pursuing righteousness (note: this can also be used with young ladies as well).

I start off by asking them to picture their ideal wife. I ask them to tell me about her. What does she look like? What is her character like? What are her interests? Is she a Christian? Don't let their answers scare you. Spend a little time here and have a laugh or two. Then, I say, chances are, that person is existing and living her life somewhere in this world. She might even be your age; thus, she is still a teenager and probably living with her parents. What kind of parents do you hope she has? How do you hope she is being treated at home? Remember, this is your future wife we are talking about here. Next, I tell them that before you meet her, chances are she will date a few guys and maybe even fall in love a couple of times before she meets you. Therefore, as she begins dating, what kind of guys would you like her to stay away from? What kind of guys would you like her to be dating until she meets you? Then, I ask, this very important question: Will you grant the future husbands of the girls you date the same curtosy and respect?

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts. Good luck on your parenting journey.