Author: Mary Ann Johnson

We ALL Play the Embellishment Game

I got a fabulous call recently from a dear friend. She wanted to tell me about her three grandchildren, twins, aged 8 and one, aged 5. They have been playing a game with their grandma when she takes them to school 3 times a week. It’s called, Embellish the Story. One of them begins the story and then they each take a turn adding to it. In other words, they embellish it.

My friend said the best thing is watching their faces when the person ahead of them takes the story in a direction they didn’t want or didn’t anticipate. She sees their face go from annoyed or mad to thoughtful and then illuminated as they figure out where they can take the story, so it fits what they want better.

Recently, in school, the older girl’s teacher said that they were going to have an embellishment project. The twins were so excited because they knew what the word meant. They were the only kids in class who knew what it meant. So, what does the word mean to them? That is a very interesting thing – In their words you get to tell your story and sometimes you make stuff up.

Our Stories Matter!

Isn’t that the truth. In every situation, we get to tell ourselves the story and sometimes we make stuff up. And it all affects the results that we get. I’ve learned through almost seven decades of life that we do have control over the story that we tell ourselves in any situation and that the story we tell impacts our response to whatever is happening and the outcome that we get.

One of my favorite quotes is from Viktor E. Frankl, a Holocaust survivor. He said, “When we’re no longer able to change a situation—we’re challenged to change ourselves.” He reminded us in his book Man’s Search for Meaning the one thing that can never be taken from a person is their ability to choose how to respond (Frankl)

This can be tough because it means that, just like these little girls, we have to figure out how to tell a better story, one that leads us to the destination we want.

You’ve all heard this old saying or something like it, “What you say is what you get.” It’s true. If you say, “My kids are driving me nuts,” they’ll drive you nuts. If you say, “I can’t stand my kids today,” or “My kids are so sloppy, messy, noisy, naughty, and so on,” that’s what you’ll get. It’s what you perceive is happening, regardless of what’s actually going on.

I worked with a self-employed mother who was telling herself a negative story about her son’s actions. She felt he was whiney and needy. He was a bother when she was trying to work. Her responses to her son were causing a strained relationship between them. She was having difficulty figuring out how to fix the situation. When I asked her to tell me more about her son, she replied that he was bright, loving, and responsible.

We talked about the importance of our story, how they affect our response and ultimately the result we get. Her result was painful. She determined to change the story even if the situation wasn’t changing. She decided to remind herself of her sons’ positive qualities each time she began to experience annoyance or frustration.

When I talked with her next, I asked her how it was going. She replied she and her son were no longer at odds. She enjoyed his company. She could see that he was just interested in what she was doing, and they had had opportunities to connect on and off during the day. She was able to respond positively to him more often.

This mom got better results because her feelings were positive. Her feelings were positive because she changed her story about her son.

Now back to my friend and her grandchildren. She made the call because she wanted to thank me for all that she has learned about taking control of our stories and how impactful and life-changing that has been.

She wanted me to know that because I have made an impact in her life, she has been able to make an impact in the lives of her granddaughters. This morning as she dropped them off to school she asked, “Now when you get in school you get to tell your story. So, what will you do if someone gets your story going in a different direction that you don’t want it to go or that wasn’t what you expected? They knew – “We get to take it in the direction we want it to go!”

As my friend said goodbye and thanked me for sharing with her through the years, she had tears in her voice because as she said, “It’s wonderful when you can see it used in real life, and when you can help the rising generation learn it so much earlier. I know this is going to have an impact on how their lives will go.”

Here are a few tips to help you have better stories.

• Take responsibility and stop blaming
• Decide to think the best of others
• Choose your words wisely
• Keep practicing

Take responsibility for your thoughts, the stories, and emotions they create, and your responses. Stop blaming. Take responsibility for your words, which are your stories in concrete form. You’re in control of the stories you tell—stories about yourself, your family, your children, the world, the past, the present, and the future. Knowing this gives you all the power.

Our Stories Determine Our Happiness Level

Stories are powerful in determining our happiness level. My granddaughter, Mary, is six. She loves to watch the fish in our tank. We have a very sleek, silver catfish that swims fast and erratically whenever anyone stands in front of the tank. I believe the fish does this out of fear or because it has been disturbed. One day Mary asked me, “Do you know why this fish swims so fast when I’m looking at him?” I replied, “No, why?” She responded with, “Because he likes me!”

Mary, like all of us, gets to write the story, and her story makes her happy. And for all I know, her story may be as true as mine.

Want to Know More?

If you want an in-depth understanding of how to control your responses in tough situations, how telling a better story can open up your internal resources, and an in-depth look at the tips above as well as a few more, then read my book Becoming a Present Parent: Connecting with Your Children in Five Minutes or Less. You can purchase it on Amazon or at your local bookstore. Here’s to better stories and better outcomes.

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A Principle with Power – Consistency

I love to write but don’t always want to prepare and post a new article every week. I enjoy posting something of value every day on Facebook but sometimes I would rather do other things. However, I do both as perfectly as I can because I have a goal and to reach it, I have learned that there must be consistency in my effort, for as long as it takes.

Consistency is a principle with power. When we do simple things consistently, over time, we will achieve amazing results. This principle can be found in cultures all around the world and in most, if not all religions. But this is a challenging principle to live because what we really want is a silver bullet, one big thing that will bring us growth, change, or success.

It’s amazing we ever believe the silver bullet myth because the truth of small steps over time has been restated and demonstrated so often. But the myth is comforting. It’s what we want to believe because the truth is harder to accept. Why would we rather do one big thing to change our lives? Although the big thing may take a massive effort on our part, if we gave the effort, then the work would be done. But the truth is we have to decide to do it and then follow through—over and over and over and over . . . ! There is no one and done.

Whenever you hear that a person has achieved an extraordinary goal, rarely, if ever, are you told the process they used—that is, the ordinary actions they took consistently. You only hear about the outcome. We’re led to believe extraordinary successes in business, home, or life are a result of significant actions, but they’re not—they’re a result of daily actions done consistently over time.

I worked with a single mom who was struggling with her children ages eight, eleven, and fourteen. They were argumentative and disobedient. One of her sons was withdrawn, and other people commented on how hyper her kids were. There was a fair amount of chaos in the home.

As we talked this mother realized that to have what she wanted in her family she would need to be more consistent. But being consistent in anything was a challenge for her. So, she picked one thing that she would do consistently in her home so she could practice living this principle.

She occasionally read to her kids, but it was rarely successful. However, she chose this to experiment with. As she began reading aloud to her children, it didn’t appear it was going to work out well. The kids were restive and quarrelsome. But I encouraged her to keep it up no matter how it looked or felt because the goal was to practice consistency. Her job was to provide a comfy spot and to read, no matter how her kids behaved, and to do it consistently.

So, she did. She committed to reading to her children twice a week. They would all gather in her room, in the middle of her bed and they would read. It wasn’t always easy, but as time went by it became more and more enjoyable. The surprising part is they began to have a sense of cooperation and peace while they read together, and this feeling moved into other areas of their lives. They felt it at mealtimes, in conversation, and when working together. People began commenting that her children seemed more patient and calmer. Her withdrawn child seemed happier and had begun to sing around the house.

Time and consistency are required to take care of most things. Understanding this is especially important in parenting because it nearly always takes until a child leaves home and creates their own life to see the results of our efforts. While they’re growing, it’s tempting to let ourselves feel failure because we don’t see our child as neat, quiet, mannerly and so forth. We often see a mud-covered child, a snitched cookie behind a back, spilled milk on the kitchen floor, or we hear voices’ complaining that it’s not their fault or “it’s my turn.”

Remaining Present while a child grows, not checking out because of discouragement or feeling overwhelmed, is dependent on doing simple things consistently rather than searching for a one-time fix to family issues.

Tips for Remaining Consistent

It takes time and practice to make lasting change and to grow as a person or as a family.
• We must commit to it.
• We need to consistently do the work.
• We must believe we can accomplish it.
• It’s important to remember that consistent is not the same as perfect.
• Keep your word to yourself. Do what you’ve decided to do.

Consistency long term is the key. We must commit to giving any issue time and consistency. Don’t allow discouragement and don’t quit! Time doesn’t equal failure. It equals eventual success.

Your shares are the best compliment : ) 

 

Why Is Relaxing Exhausting?

Why does showing up and staying Present wear us out?

“There isn’t anything in this world quite as exhausting as relaxing.” These eleven words, spoken by Rabbit in Rabbit Takes a Holiday, summarize my early parenting efforts. I know that these same 11 words will hit many of you right between the eyes also.

When we engage in a family activity, watch our children in one of their activities or engage in a few minutes of listening time it should feel good. It should feel satisfying and yes, even restful and relaxing. After all, we aren’t working, we’re just chillin with the fam. Right?

Why does showing up and staying present wear moms and dads out? Why does watching our children play, answering their questions or listening to them as they verbalize their thoughts sometimes seem like a poor use of our finite time. Don’t we love our children? Don’t we have a vision of the warm and gentle family atmosphere we want to create? Of course, we do but we are so busy.

Let’s revisit Rabbit’s comment in view of the need to be able to let go of our incessant to-do list and really get Present with our kids.

Rabbit was chattering on about how on his vacation people wanted to know what they could do for him, could they get him tea, or draw his bath or turn down his bed, and on and on. He missed work! He missed having something important and valuable to do! All his busy-ness made him feel valuable and useful.

After all, seeing old friends and relatives, reminiscing about the past, contemplating and discussing the future, listening to other’s goals and needs and just plain having a good time was a waste of time. Have you ever found yourself in this frame of mind? I have. It happened to me at little league games, dance classes, Beans and Book night at the local elementary school, sitting on a child’s bed rubbing their back or while listening to all the details of their day.

Now lest you think that I was a terrible mother let me assure you that I did plenty of those activities and did them often. That didn’t stop the occasional feeling that I ought to be doing something else, something of greater import.

I had work to do. The laundry was 3 feet high (literally), the kitchen floor had taken a hit of orange juice and I had a lesson to prepare for Sunday School. Just sitting and listening to another person, even my child, was not enjoyable because all I could think about was my stuff.

Just like Rabbit, I found it exhausting to sit, listen, care and enjoy being Present. Steven Covey has said that it’s easy to get stuck in the thick of thin things. I was stuck there on a regular basis.

If we look at the important things in our lives, they usually involve putting our own stuff down and letting someone else’s stuff take center stage, even if it’s only for three minutes at a time.

Being Truly Present

Being Present with a child means giving the gift of our full attention, our whole self, nothing held back, and it can take as little as three minutes or less. When we’re Present we send the clear message that we see them, we hear them, and that they matter. This is why learning to put down our ‘stuff’ and giving moments of Presence to our children matters so much.

We love our kids and we think we’re sending that message but when we don’t take the time to
• Stop,
• Look them in the eye,
• and Listen.
We send a far different message.

As we learn to take the opportunity to find moments to be Present with our children, when we walk away we will be refreshed in mind, even if tired in body (listening to and working with kids can wear you out) because we’ll know that we’ve been taking part in the “real” work of parenting – sending someone we love and care about the clear message that we see them, we hear them and that they matter to us. Trust me, it does a body good – both yours and theirs!

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Process vs Outcome. Which brings joy?

Recently, I posted a photo on Facebook of my twelve-year-old granddaughter making cupcakes. She has cerebral palsy and so it requires some special accommodation to cook with her. We’ve been cooking together now, for many years.

It’s also coming up on April 2, which is my oldest daughter’s birthday. That recalled to my mind a memory which I wrote about and want to share because the message is timeless and priceless as it applies to creating a relationship with our children and in allowing us to enjoy working and playing with them. Enjoy!

3-18-2010
Three of my grandchildren live just a couple of blocks away. Maggie is almost four and Jack just turned two. Mary is brand new. Maggie has cerebral palsy. Working her arms and legs is a real challenge. These children belong to my oldest daughter, Jodie. Today is her birthday. I had planned to make her a cake and then decided to have Jack and Maggie help me.

My intention was to allow them to experience new things, really help make a cake, and have a lot of fun. I knew that there would be a huge mess, something unexpected might happen and I would be worn out when we were through. That knowledge has come from working with hundreds of children, of all ages.

Because of Maggie’s condition she has a special chair. It isn’t high enough to reach the table, so I put her and the chair on the table. Jack, of course, took his position on one of the kitchen chairs.

I opened the cake mix and allowed each one to pour half of the contents into the bowl. Some made its way to the table top and some to the floor. Next, I filled three measuring cups with liquid, 1 cup water, ¼ cup water, and 1/3 cup water. I helped Maggie get hold of the large cup and pour it into the bowl.

Because this isn’t the first time that I’ve cooked with them I wanted to see if Jack could pour the cup himself so I said, “Pour it in Jack.” He took hold of the 1/3 cup and gently tipped it to one side, onto the table. Ok…he still needs help. So, we tried again with my help.

Next came the eggs. I showed Jack and Maggie how to break one and get the contents out. Woohoo!! Whacking eggs suited Jack just fine. He gave it a whack and voila! egg all over the table. Not to worry. We just picked out the eggshells and scraped the egg into the bowl. Good thing we started with a clean table.

Next, I helped Maggie get hold of her egg and smack it against the cup edge. That was necessary to make it pliable enough for her to squeeze out the contents, and squeeze she did. Some was dripping down the front of her shirt, there was a small stream running down her knee and the rest was oozing out her fingers. We did get all the egg out of the shell, the shell pried out of her little fist and hands wiped clean. Whew!

My sister had come to visit just as we began and was observing what we were doing. As I got a cloth to wipe up the egg mess, Maggie, who was just desperate to “do it herself”, reached down and plunged her arm into the batter. I turned around at that same moment. It was perfect. I took hold of the bowl and said, “Stir Maggie, stir.” She really had a tremendous time stirring that batter. It’s very difficult for her to hold a spoon and when she does, I have to help her. For a 4-year-old that’s so lame. But stirring on your own, now that’s living! I would never have come up with the solution she found. I glad my sister was there because she was able to video that small moment of magnificent success and joy for Maggie. You can see Maggie stir the cake here.

Of course, being unable to control her limbs, her hand and arm went in and out of the batter a couple of times, so we had cake mix on her, Jack and the table. Not to worry, there was enough left to bake!

I put the bowl on the mixer and turned it to stir. Watching them learn to cook was fun. Each time I accelerated the mixer the change in sound would make Maggie jump. She’s very sensitive to sound. I would pat her knee and say, “It’s OK Maggie.” After a few times, Jack reached over, patted her little knee with his smaller hand, and said, “It’s loud.”

Soon the cake was in the oven, all hands were wiped, and the table cleaned. Then I put on Winnie the Pooh and made the frosting myself.

When the cakes were cooled, I invited the kids back in and we got to work. Maggie, like any 4-year-old, wanted to lick the beater. I gave her the rubber spatula instead. She held it in place on her knee, bent her head down low (ah, the flexibility of children) and got busy. For the next half hour, we didn’t see her face once, but we heard lots of smacks and slurps. She cleaned that spatula.

While I was frosting the cake and Maggie was smacking her lips on the spatula, Jack was sucking frosting out of the decorating bag. It was a grand sight, grandma letting her little friends experience new and enjoyable things. There was no nagging about being neat, quiet or being patient. We just did our thing however it happened to happen.

The cake turned out great and I suspect, despite the fact that it didn’t get its full measure of egg, it will taste just fine. On the way home, Jack almost fell asleep. He was totally worn out from a fabulous day at grandma’s house. Maggie cried because she knew we were going home, and it’s so much fun at grandmas!

I shared this cake baking experience with you because there are some important things that I want to point out that will help many of you.

1. When you work with children, no matter the age, your intent, and your expectation really do matter.
This experience with my grandchildren would have been very different if I had worried about keeping my kitchen clean or making sure that everything was in order and done a certain way or trying to keep clothing clean. It wouldn’t have been as much fun if I had said, “Don’t be so messy”, “Don’t spill”, or “Look at your clothes”. You know what I mean. We all do it. That’s because our expectation is that it will be a well-run project, go smoothly, and the end product will be perfect.

2. As we begin to feel the tiredness that comes from working on a project with children, we can begin to feel impatient, frustrated, and possibly, even angry. That’s because we expected to have this perfect time with our kids and it wasn’t perfect, at least not in our eyes.

But let’s think about that. When we work with children whose eyes matter, whose interpretation of what should happen matters. I’ve learned that for most children it isn’t the result that they care about, it’s the process. They like doing. They like experimenting. Sometimes things don’t turn out, cookies are crumbly, plaster of paris is runny, paint is too thick, etc. It doesn’t matter to kids.

3. Is the project, chores or activity about me or the kids? For decades I would go to my children’s school and help children make gingerbread houses. I was VERY well organized, so it was a smooth project. I could help 25-30 kids by myself. But I’m going to be honest here. It went so smoothly because the project was about me and not about the children.

When I first started it mattered to me how the houses looked when they were done. I knew they were going home, and I wanted those parents to be amazed, to see what a great teacher I was. So, when the kids were doing their thing I would go around and make sure that the entire milk carton was covered and that candies were evenly spread on the house. In short, I meddled with everyone’s creation.

As I got older and wiser, I stopped doing that. I made it about the children! I learned that kids don’t always care if the milk carton shows. Sometimes all the candy will be on one side of the roof and nowhere else. I learned that not everyone wants icicles that look like icicles. Some kids would rather do it themselves even if they are just bumps on the side of the house. And you know what; I’ve never talked to a parent yet who didn’t think their child’s house was great, no matter what it looked like.

I suspect that is true for a lot of you if you’re honest. It’s your expectations you think about. It’s your outcome that matters. It isn’t about just being with your kids and letting them learn and enjoy. Be honest.

4. When we’re honest we will approach projects and activities with a different set of expectations and a very different intent.

5. If being Present with our children is our ultimate goal, whether we’re playing, doing chores, homework, or any other activity, we will have a better result.

6. When we’re Present we’re better able to remember this huge difference in adults and children: adults are project driven and kids are process driven.

As we adjust our expectations to include these differences it will increase our enjoyment in working, playing and being with our children.

Your shares are the best compliment! : ) 

 

The REAL Cost of Stuff

Recently, while at a friend’s home, she talked to me about the challenge of managing all the stuff in her home. Now let me clearly state that her home is clean and orderly. She isn’t having a problem with clutter or mess. But she has accumulated a lot of stuff over the years.

She has been working to clean out cupboards and closets and storage areas in her home. It has taken years because so much has been allowed to accumulate and then stored in boxes, on shelves, and in storage bins.

I got permission to take some photos of what I’m talking about. It’s all neatly organized but it fills so much space in her home and mind and it is draining.

In a book titled Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century, researchers at UCLA observed 32 middle-class Los Angeles families and found all the mothers’ stress hormones spiked during the time they spent dealing with their household paraphernalia (Arnold, et al, Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century).

I’m suggesting that we generally accumulate and hang on to too much stuff, which must be maintained, managed, cleaned, organized, kept safe, stored, repaired, safeguarded . . . it all requires our mental energy, physical energy and our time. This is energy and time we could be using to enjoy our family, doing things together that bring us happiness.

As my friend has sorted through her closets and cupboards her constant refrain has been, “I’m not sure why I even kept this.”

Why do we accumulate and then store so much stuff?

Here are some reasons and you might see yourself here. If so, consider overcoming whatever has you in the purchase and store cycle and cut yourself free. It is worth it because keeping it simple = greater presence in all our relationships, including the one with ourselves.

1. We bought it and we don’t want to waste our money
When I had been married twenty years and had a large family my father in law gave us some camping equipment. He had stored it since his boys left home, a couple of decades. Guess what, none of it was any good. It had deteriorated. That money went to waste in the end.

2. We may need it later
While I was raising my children, I stored clothes they had outgrown, a few more pricey toys, and baby supplies. This was wise because from 1972 to 1990 we had babies coming and children growing, but then it stopped.

I didn’t need any of it later. I never had another baby. My kids never wanted it for their new babies.

So, if you’re not using it, find someone who can.

3. It all has memories—It’s part of who I am
We all have mementos that fill our hearts with joy when we look at them. However, lots of our cherished stuff is just that, stuff.

When my grandparents died, my dad got a lot of stuff. When my dad died, I got the stuff. Recently, I’ve been going through all this stuff and sending it to those to whom it belongs. I sent cards written in a childlike script to the adults who had written them. I returned letters, pictures, and so forth.

People were glad to see what they had said and made all those years ago. A few will hang on to the items. Others enjoyed seeing it again for a few days and then let it go. After all, those memories are in their minds and hearts, and they take up far less space there.

4. It was a gift; I must keep it
In our family, we’ve come to a consensus concerning this. We’ve decided, as a group, to be re-gifters. I know you may think this is tacky, but it has served us well. If we get it, and we can’t use it, we re-gift it. The person who gets it can do the same. No one has any
hurt feelings. We’re all about simplifying our lives, and it’s working out well!

5. I like to buy stuff
Recently the husband of one of my clients told me they were adding an addition to their home. He said they needed more closet space. After all, he confessed, he had 28 golf shirts. Let me say as crazy as this sounds it isn’t the exception. We’re a consuming society. We frankly buy too much stuff!

The Self-Storage Association reports that Americans spend 24 billion dollars each year to store their stuff in self-storage units. The National Association of Professional Organizers reports that organizing consultants and products have grown into a one-billion-dollar industry (Johnson, “The Real Cost of Your Shopping Habits”).

Here’s what helps me buy less stuff and get rid of the excess stuff I already have – I continually picture myself strapped to my belongings via energy threads attached to my shoulders. That does it for me. I want to be free.

So, stop buying, no matter how attractive or interesting it is. If you can’t stop buying, do what my friend Laurie does. If you buy a new blouse give one away. If you buy a knickknack, give one away. If you purchase a new hammer or drill, give the old one away.

It’s working for her and it has worked for me. It will work for you and you will find yourself feeling far less burdened. Cut yourself free from too much stuff and regain all the energy you expend. You’ll be glad you did.

Your shares are the best compliment : ) 

Want to Bond Your Family? READ!

March 4th was the birthday of Dr. Seuss. So of course, that got me thinking about family reading time. I’ve shared the idea that when we read to our children, we create a feeling that kids and teens need and want, that sense of family that feels warm and safe. BUT there are other reasons for reading with our children.

1. Reading as a family is a magnificent way to not only bond and enjoy each other’s company, it’s a way to teach core values without the lecture.

This is especially true when we read classics. And here’s another thing about reading the classics that I find fascinating – they’re worth reading more than once because we learn new things every time. They have some depth to them.

There are classics in each field from history, math, science, literature, the digital age, and even surfing, cycling, dancing, gardening, etc. There are classics for every age group.

One classic that my children loved was The Little Red Hen. Yup, it’s a classic. I know that we think of classics as dry and boring, but they aren’t. Here’s a link to a wonderful list of classic books I put together that kids and families will love.

Now back to the Little Red Hen. A family I know was reading The Little Red Hen together one morning. Then they all went grocery shopping. When they arrived home the car was full of groceries which needed to be carried into the house. Now, normally everyone would scatter off to do the next important thing but not on this day. The classic they had read just that morning had sunk into the hearts of the children. All the children began carrying in groceries without being asked. AMAZING, right!

A mother I attended a class with told this story. She and her boys were reading Little Britches. Set in the early 1900s this story is told from the point of view of a young boy who moves from New Hampshire to Colorado with his family because his father is ill and cannot work the coal mines any longer. Through the eyes of this young boy, we experience the perils and pleasures of ranching life from picnics to hay season, tornadoes to cattle roundups. Some of the main story themes are hard work, honesty, character, perseverance, and the simple life.

While they were reading this book the younger of the boys shared some information about his brother which he knew he shouldn’t share, and which caused his older brother some embarrassment. Later in a private moment, the younger boy said to his mom, “I guess I have taken some of the boards off of my house”, in reference to a comment by Ralph, the lead character in the book. Ralph was referring to doing something that was destroying his house of character.

Reading regularly as a family, from the classics, can be some of the most enduring and meaningful times we have with our kids. One of my daughters who is in her forty’s mentioned how wonderful it was, the way I read to them all the time. Amazing! I really didn’t read to them all the time. I read to them, but it wasn’t consistent. Even so, it had a powerful effect on her.

2. Another reason to read as a family is the shared memories that are forged.

I always anticipated being a grandparent and one of the things that I thought about was reading to my grandchildren. So, I made a plan. The whole experiment turned out pretty well. I had to explain to one family of grandkids, a couple of times, that this was a quiet time, but all in all, it was fun. We read a half dozen one-page stories from a big book that I had. I noticed that they went off to sleep with less noise and quarreling than usual.

When they came the next time, I had picked a couple of books that I thought were more interesting and livelier. Guess what? My 10-year-old granddaughter insisted that we read from the book we used our first time. That book held the memory of that first reading experience. They requested it every time. So, we always had to read at least one story from its pages.

3. Another perk that comes from reading as a family is the terrific conversations you can have together.

When Maggie was nine her school had an assembly and kicked off a month-long reading contest. Everyone wanted to win the contest. Maggie’s class had won the year before and wanted to win again. I was Maggie’s class aid at the time (she has cerebral palsy) and so I was able to observe how it went.

On one day they had five books read to them by participating adults. Some of the readers were very interesting and some read in a monotone and were soooooo boring. Some readers obviously liked what they were reading, and some felt uncomfortable. Some were good readers and some adults stumbled while reading all those rhymey words. The children enjoyed the books even if the readers weren’t comfortable or if they were a bit boring.

But here is what I noticed the most. There was virtually no interaction between the reader and the children, about the content of the books. A couple of the readers said something like this: isn’t that funny, wouldn’t you be scared, or what do you think of that. But these were rhetorical questions because time wasn’t given to the children to answer. If a child did try to answer they were asked to not interrupt so that the reading could go on. This is how most of us read to children. We are all about getting through the material. It’s so adult of us!

But there is a better way! And this better way is what creates that sense of family that can happen during family reading time. Talk about what you are reading. That’s why reading the Little Red Hen was so powerful for one family and why reading Little Britches was powerful for another. They talked about it.

If you need a tutorial on how it looks to have an enjoyable reading conversation with your family check out this article called Creating That Family Feeling

Take the time on a regular basis to gather your kids around you and read to them. You’ll be glad you did and so will your whole family!

Your Shares are the Best Compliment : ) 

See Differently – Act Differently

Perspective is an amazing thing.

It is, simply put, the story we tell ourselves. It all begins with a thought. Once we have a thought, if we hold it in our minds, it becomes a story because our brain does its job and goes to the files and finds evidence that our thought is correct. This process takes fractions of seconds.

Once we have our story, feelings are generated. These feelings move us to an action or response. Our response produces a result, either good or bad. This little scenario repeats itself hundreds of times each day.

You’ve all heard this old saying or something like it, “What you say is what you get.” It’s true. If you say, “My kids are driving me nuts,” they’ll drive you nuts. If you say, “I can’t stand my kids today,” or “My kids are so sloppy, messy, noisy, naughty, and so on,” that’s what you’ll get. It’s what you perceive is happening, regardless of what’s actually going on. This will influence your response and your ability to be Present.

Think of all the phrases we say and hear over and over again about kids:
• You’re driving me crazy.
• You’re so messy.
• You’re so noisy.
• I can’t get a minute’s peace.
• Why can’t you listen to me? You never listen!
• You’re so irresponsible.
• I don’t know what I’m going to do with you!
• You make me so mad.
• You’re so sloppy, disobedient, messy, argumentative, quarrelsome, and so on.
• You’re wearing me out.
• I can’t listen one more minute.

If we want better outcomes, we need to watch our words. Say what you want, not what you don’t want. Words are your thoughts/stories put into concrete form. Words generate emotions. You’ll feel the way you speak. How you feel moves you to an action that gives you a result, either good or bad. Your words move you closer to or away from the ability to be Present.

Let me give you an example.

I worked with a self-employed mother who was telling herself a negative story about her son’s actions. When she needed to work, he would come into the office and ask her a ton of questions about what she was doing, how things worked, etc. It was very disruptive.
She felt he was whiney and needy. He was a bother when she was trying to work. Her responses to her son were causing a strained relationship between them. She was having difficulty figuring out how to fix the situation.

Here’s what happened when she began telling herself a more positive story. When I asked her to tell me more about her son, she replied that he was bright, loving, and responsible. So, she decided to remind herself of these qualities each time she began to experience annoyance or frustration.

When I talked with her next, I asked her how it was going. She replied she and her son were no longer at odds. She enjoyed his company. She could see that he was just interested in what she was doing, and they had had opportunities to connect on and off during the day. She was able to respond positively to him more often. She was able to be Present more frequently.

Taking control of our stories, responses and hence our results take work and practice.

Here a few simple steps to get you going.

TIP 1—Take responsibility and stop blaming
Blame is always an indicator there’s a problem with our way of being or how we perceive what’s happening, or in other words, the story we’re telling ourselves.

TIP 2—Decide to think the best of others, even your kids.
When we decide to think the best of others, we can manage our thoughts and the resulting stories more effectively.

TIP 3—Choose words wisely. Watch the words you use when thinking or speaking:
• Childlike vs. naughty
• Young vs. clumsy
• Needs more direction vs. oppositional
• Tired vs. grumpy
• Preoccupied vs. lazy
• Angry vs. rebellious
• Being a kid vs. messy
• Wants my presence vs. needy
• Has a need vs. pushing my buttons

TIP 4—Keep practicing
Keep working at controlling your thoughts. This is something you need to do daily. There isn’t a point when you’re so good at it that you can stop working on it. Negative thoughts will come, and they’ll need to be managed. No matter what’s troubling you, change is possible, and taking control of your thoughts/stories is a great place to start.

Take responsibility. You’re in control of the stories you tell. Knowing this gives you all the power.

Your shares are the best compliment. 

Sharing=That Family Feeling!

That Family Feeling

Children long to feel connected in a special way to those they love most. You know what I’m talking about. Those moments when you and your spouse share a laugh and no one else knows what’s funny. When you and a friend have one of those conversations where you really feel heard.

Children and teens want the same opportunity to connect in intimate and special ways with their parents and siblings, they want that ‘family feeling’.

When we share what we’re learning and what we feel with our children we give them that opportunity to feel this intimacy. When they feel it, it opens a gate to trust and can help them process what is happening in their lives.

Mini-conversations are the perfect

way to share

 

Here’s a mini-conversation about the book Lord of the Flies, held during a family meal. There’s a lot in this book that makes you think. There’s plenty that’s ugly and possibly frightening. So, can you really talk to a four-year-old about it, an eight-year-old or even a twelve-year-old? My answer would be YES, you can and should. Mini-conversations are perfect for broaching hard or sensitive topics. If you recall the tips that make a mini-conversation work, you can tell why.

• Listen more than you talk
• Ask open-ended questions
• Listen with interest
• Listen without judgment or giving your opinion

Lord of the Flies Mini-Conversation

 

Dad: I’m reading a book Called Lord of the Flies. I don’t like the story very much. It’s sad.

Eight-year-old: What’s it about dad?

Dad: Well, it’s about some boys who are stranded alone on an island. They don’t have any grownups with them.

Twelve-year-old: What’s sad about that? I’d love to be on an island without any grownups. That would be awesome.

Dad: Well, being able to do whatever you want might be good for a while, but what if one of the boys talked a lot of the other boys into believing or acting in ways that were mean to some of the other kids.

Four-year-old: That’s bad, daddy.

Eight-year-old: What did the boy want them to do?

Dad: Well, they really teased one boy who was overweight.

Twelve-year-old: We have a girl in our class that gets teased a lot. I’m glad I’m not her.

Dad: Hmmm, I guess we don’t have to be on an island for people to make poor choices.

Four-year-old: I wouldn’t be mean to people dad.

And that conversation could go on for a while and take several twists and turns.

A Second Mini-Conversation

 

Now let’s jump to the next day and a second mini-conversation. Dad and his twelve-year-old son are weeding in the garden.

Twelve-year-old: Dad, tell me some more about that book.

So, dad gives a brief synopsis. There is a long silence as they weed.

Twelve-year-old: Dad, do you think that Piggy would have been killed if more of the boys had stood up and said what they really thought about it?

Dad makes a comment. There’s another long silence as they weed.

Twelve-year-old: Dad, did you ever have a situation when you didn’t know what to do?

Dad: Sure, everyone does. What’s up, John?

Twelve-year-old: Well, there’s this kid in school and he keeps asking me and Fred…………

And there you have it, the value of sharing what you’re learning with your children by having “mini-conversations”. John will read “Lord of the Flies” sometime when he’s older. It will mean a great deal more to him than if it had just been assigned, tested and graded.

That initial mini-conversation also enabled John to connect with and trust his dad. Their relationship was strengthened. And the information from the book his dad was reading is having a positive impact on his own personal decision making.

We as parents need to be learning, and then we need to engage our children, our families, in conversations. When we do we begin creating that intimate family feeling. And as we do this we’ll all learn a great deal more and we will bond in some wonderful and unexpected ways.

Your shares are the greatest compliment

The Gum Grandma says, “Let’s get Retro!”

How can you create relationships

with people you only see once or twice a year?

That’s a question I’ve asked myself because most of my 13 grandchildren live far away. In fact, most of my children live far away.

One of my children’s complaints about their grandparents was that they weren’t very connected with them. We lived in Montana and it was a looooong drive to see them. They wanted to hear from their grandparents. So, when I became a grandparent, I decided to make the effort to connect a bit more. There have been years when I was fabulous and years when I wasn’t. But all in all, over a long period of time, I think it has worked out well.

With my children, we have learned how to use technology to stay in touch. We have a video app. that we talk on so we can see each other. It’s always nice to see someone’s face. We don’t spend hours a day on this endeavor. However, there will be a post every few days about the mundane as well as the exciting. We got to travel along when our son and daughter in law went to Costa Rica. We can get a blow by blow account when a baby is on the way. We have listened to violin recitals, watched portions of plays and seen some baseball games. We know when someone’s out of work or has gotten a new job.

The grands get on every now and then. Those over eight will share what’s happening at school, a test or activity. Parents will get the littles on every now and then and I love seeing how they’re growing up. I reply by singing songs to them or telling jokes.

But here is what I have done most consistently. I write letters and send cards. I know its old school, but it works for creating very connected relationships. There’s something thrilling about opening the mailbox and seeing a real letter. It even makes me feel a bit excited when it happens, which in our world of technology isn’t often.

A few months ago, I was having a conversation about writing letters and sending cards with a friend; I send hundreds a year. She said that she didn’t think it mattered to people anymore and that I was wasting my time and money. So, I asked the question on my Facebook page and got a lot of responses. Out of all of them, only one person felt like my friend. Everyone else talked about how they loved getting letters and cards as kids and how it’s still cool when it happens.

Let me give you some examples of how impactful a simple letter or card can be in the life of someone else and how connecting it is.

I have a nephew who has had a hard time growing into adulthood. So, many years ago, I decided to send him a card for every birthday.

A couple of years ago my nephew, who is now an adult, was really struggling with his life. That year when he got my card, he happened to be at his mom’s. She told me that when he opened it, he looked at her with a big smile and said, “She never forgets!” It matters to him!

Another sister has a granddaughter who has had some significant challenges due to divorce and parents who struggled, so when she was turning 16, I decided to send her a card. When she opened the card, she looked up and said, “This is the only card I have ever gotten for my birthday!” It isn’t that no one is saying Happy Birthday, it’s just that it’s all digital. That card meant a great deal to her.

Last year I sent an anniversary card to one of my sisters. On her anniversary she called, and this is what she said. “When I woke up this morning I couldn’t get out of bed. There wasn’t any reason to get up. Nothing new or interesting was going to happen today. But when I got up there was your card. You can’t imagine how much it meant to me!”

When my kids were teens some of them struggled with drugs. They didn’t always live at home. So, I began writing letters. I sent the letters to all my kids, even those who were at home. I bet they thought I was crazy to send a letter through the mail when I could have just handed it to them. But I know the letters mattered and kept our straying children connected enough to us that they never got lost. At some point, one of them took all the letters and put them in a book which she then gave to everyone for Christmas. It mattered!

Here’s another cool thing about cards and letters 

In my letters and cards to my grandchildren, I always tape a piece of gum. On a birthday I may add a couple of dollars. That’s all. Years ago, as a family, we determined that we would not spend lots of money on gifts for either birthdays or holidays. We have all stuck with that intention. However, my grandchildren have other grandparents who send cool gifts in the mail. I worried about that. But I didn’t need to.

I voiced my concern to one of my daughters and here is her reply. “Oh my gosh mom, the kids LOVE your letters and cards. They care far more about them than any toy they get in the mail. In fact, they call you the Gum Grandma!”

Cards and Letters aren’t just for Grandparents 

You know, this isn’t just useful if you’re a grandparent. It’s valuable advice if you’re a parent who shares custody or who lives in a different state from your child. Get retro. Send a letter or card and do it regularly, even if you live in the same town. You’ll be amazed at how impactful it will be to your relationships.

So, what do I write about? Anything and everything. I write about the nearest holiday, what is happening in the news, what I am learning about, where I have been, what I am doing. Stuff, any old stuff. The letter can be long or short. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that someone took the time to sit down and share a thought or two. A card or a letter says loud and clear, “I see you. I hear you. I love you. You matter to me!”

How do you feel when you get a letter in the mail? How did you feel when you were a kid and it happened? I’d like to know.

Your shares are the best compliment : ) 

Kids, Adults and Pie

Kids, Adults, and Pie

In honor of the Great American Pie Month, I want to share a story that illustrates the difference between kids and adults. Understanding this can make all the difference in how much you enjoy being and working with them and it can also impact your enjoyment whenever you learn something new.

I taught a class on pie making to a group of adults. One mother brought her 11-year-old daughter and they worked together.

When I teach someone how to make a pie, I know that their pie won’t look like mine. I’ve been making pies for over fifty years and when I roll out a pie crust it’s round and beautiful. When I put it into the pie pan it’s as smooth as butter; no cracking, no tearing. When I crimp the edges, they look so taste-tempting and are, in fact, delicious. It’s all because I’ve had so much practice.

People learning to make a pie for the first time, no matter their age, have had very little to no practice. Rolling a pie crust out so that its round is a skill that must be learned. Picking up a pie crust and fitting it into the pan without tears and cracks is a skill that must be learned. It’s a skill to make the crust just right, not to dry and not to wet.

I have taught many people to make pie and I want my new pie makers to go home feeling like they just accomplished something magnificent. So, I tell them “You’re just learning this new skill. It’s like riding a bike, it won’t be perfect right off the bat. Your crust might not fit the pan perfectly, it might even crack. Just piece it back together. You’re making this pie because you love your family and they’re going to be so blessed to have it. Remember that it’s going to taste wonderful and how it tastes is what’s going to count, not how it looks.”

11-year-old Ariel

Well, all my pie makers got to work, including the mother-daughter team. The pies were turning out just as you would expect beginner’s pies to look. Everyone had taken my counsel and was feeling successful except Rosemary, the older half of the mother-daughter team. She wanted it to be perfect, she wanted to be able to do it better on the first try, how it was turning out is what mattered to her.

She was fretting and stewing over the fact that it hadn’t been very round, the dough was dry, it broke into a couple of pieces and had to be pressed back together as they were putting it into the pan. Her daughter was just busy piecing away. Finally, Ariel looked at her mom and said: “Remember mom, it’s how it tastes that counts.” Her mother looked at her for a bit and then replied, “Oh yes, thanks for reminding me.”

Outcome vs Process

Teaching adults can be difficult. They worry about not knowing the material already or not having the skill. They are embarrassed that their results don’t look like yours.

Adults are outcome (product) driven while children are process driven. How it turns out can eclipse the joy of doing whatever it is. This difference can get in the way of enjoying working with your children

Teaching children is a joy. It always amazes me that my pie looks perfect and theirs is crumbling on the side and they don’t see the difference. They look at the pie and say, “Wow, look at my pie.” They’re proud and excited about what they have done. It is the process that they enjoy.

Why Children Enjoy The Process:

1. They are teachable because they aren’t intimidated by not already knowing how to do something. They are excited to learn.
2. They are not afraid to learn new things.
3. The process is more important than the outcome. They are willing to be less than perfect while they learn. In fact, they usually cannot even see the imperfections unless they are pointed out by an adult. That is why we need to be gentle when we are helping a child learn something new.
4. The mess or time it takes isn’t important to them. They don’t worry about the use of resources.
5. They are so easy to please.

As you look at this list can you see the things that make you crazy when you are letting your kids paint, cut, or are trying to teach them to clean or garden, etc?

The end result matters a lot to you. You don’t want a mess. You don’t want wasted paper, glue and tape. You are concerned with time. You can see all the uncleaned corners, the crooked edges, etc. You sometimes don’t appreciate the number of repetitions that are required to get good at something.

When you are working with your kids whether it’s a craft, cooking or doing chores together stay out of your children’s way a bit more. Give them space, time and the resources to do the job. Don’t micromanage so much. Let them learn and take pride in whatever they do. Don’t see the end result through your eyes. See it through theirs. The process is what counts for kids. Aren’t kids amazing!!!!

Your shares are the best compliment.