Category: Family Culture

What Is The Best Gift?

When we moved to Laurel, Montana over 3 decades ago it was a jolt. We had lots of little kids and we didn’t know anyone. We had no family in Montana and no one we knew had ever lived there.

The second week in our new town we got a visit from an older woman who was part of the religious community we would be joining. We hadn’t even been able to attend yet. To our knowledge, very few people knew we had moved to town. But here on my doorstep was Millie Giovetti, a woman who was destined to become our dear friend. In her hands, she held two homemade pies. Not one, two! She had taken the time to find out a bit about this new family who had moved into her neighborhood and church. She knew that there were seven of us. She understood that two pies would definitely be better than one. I had felt overwhelmed with this move and her gesture of kindness was amazing to me. But even more, was the message it sent –   I see you; I hear you; you matter to me.

While we lived in this small town, I found a best friend. I hadn’t had many of those in my lifetime, so it was a wonderful gift. Linda Brannon, like Millie, took the time to find out about me and my family, she paid attention. We were more than just a name on a church roll or people who lived down the street.

Every year at Christmas Linda made hundreds of cookies that she gave to friends and family. She would wrap them beautifully in one and two dozen. But every December would find her on my doorstep with a platter of cookies. Not one or two dozen but at least 8 dozen to bring joy to our family which had swelled to nine. It wasn’t the cookies that meant so much to me but the message they sent – I see you; I hear you; you matter to me.

This is the message our children need and want to hear from us – I see you; I hear you; you matter to me.

In Highlights magazine’s annual State of the Kid Survey, a nationally representative sample of 6- to 12-year-olds were asked, “Are your parents ever distracted when you’re trying to talk to them?” Sixty-two percent of children said yes (Highlights, 2014). That’s a lot of kids feeling as if they might not matter.

Take the time today to let your children know that you see them; that you hear them; and that they matter to you.

• STOP what you’re doing. Put your cell phone down, turn away from the computer, turn off the vacuum
• Get on their level. Kneel if you need to.
• Look them in the eye.
• Respond to what your child is feeling, not only what they’re saying.
• Listen with patience and interest.

This doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Give them 3-5 minutes. If they need more time and you need to do something else, tell them honestly. Set a time to get back with them and then do it.

Kids measure love primarily by our attentiveness to them. When you stop what you’re doing to listen to what they want to share, look at a picture they made, or touch them with intention, it says I see you; I hear you; you matter to me. Knowing that they matter is the best gift we give to our kids.  

I appreciate it when you share. Thank you!

You Can’t Know Until You Get There

Sometimes parenting seems like a thankless job. Many things must be done. Often, it seems, those we serve aren’t aware of, resent, or push away our efforts. I’ve learned that you really can’t know until you get there. That’s the problem in a nutshell. Our children don’t deliberately set out to be ignorant of the blessings, help, and support we give them. But it can seem like it because we expect them to see through our eyes and our experience. But they can’t because you can’t know until you get there.

I remember a conversation with a teen of ours who was struggling. She couldn’t understand why we were so worried and up in arms. She was fine! Then she had a child and that child became a teen. Then my child understood and talked to me about all we had tried to do for her and how grateful she was. You can’t know until you get there.

I recall dragging my kids to prayer in our bedroom each morning. Oh, my goodness, the fussing, snoring, and resentment. Later, much later, one of those same bleary-eyed kids told me that those prayerful moments had meant so much later when she was away from home, alone, and in trouble. She said the memory and practice was a lifeline. It gave her the courage to seek divine help which changed her life. You can’t know till you get there.

As a mother of seven, meals were HUGE! I made meals that were attractive and varied. They took time to make and then people didn’t want to eat what was served. Getting the response I got, year after year, was exasperating. Recently, one of my daughters said, “Mom, I don’t know how you did it. You made such great meals. I struggle every day to figure out what to cook and then to get it done.” She has finally gotten there. She appreciates my efforts, but it came over 2 decades after the fact. You can’t know till you get there.

A few years ago, one of my sons in his forties, embarked on a challenging educational path. He would call home looking for support, someone who would tell him how wonderful he was and that he could do it. This is the same son who resented our efforts to guide him along an easier path when he was a teen. But here, a few decades later, he was reaching out for that very thing. It mattered to him and he knew the value. You can’t know till you get there.

There isn’t a timeline for getting there. Just this last week I was talking to a friend who’s an expert knitter. She’s in her 80’s and has a daughter in her 60’s. She was showing me a sweater that she’d just finished that you could have bought in any high-end store. It was gorgeous! She said that her next project was a sweater for her daughter. I replied that her daughter was lucky to have a mom who could knit a sweater that would cost a few hundred dollars. She replied, “I don’t think she knows or feels lucky.” There it is again. You can’t know till you get there. One of these days the mother who knits will pass away and then her daughter will miss the sweaters and she’ll know how lucky she was all those years.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t teach our children to appreciate their blessing. We should. However, sometimes you’ll feel invisible and unappreciated. When that happens remember they’ll understand and be grateful when they get there. This is a useful practice because just knowing that it takes time to get there helps as we do what must be done for those we love. Knowing that they will eventually get there and that it will matter to them then, makes Now better.

A Casserole is NOT Romance

Time and Attention are Rare

and Valuable Gifts

Don and I have been married for almost 50 years. One day I mentioned that I thought we needed a little romance. We’ve had plenty of romance in our marriage, just not lately.

A few days later Don spent a couple of hours in the kitchen making a terrific casserole for lunch. He set the table and we ate together. It was nice and we had a fine conversation. We both enjoyed it. As we were finishing, he looked at me and said, “This is how I’m romancing you.” Hmmm.

Later romance came up again. Don said, “Gee, honey, I made you a casserole.”

“Don, a casserole is not romance. It’s nice, it’s kind and it’s serving but it isn’t romance. I think you’ve been married too long and need to look romance up in the dictionary.”

“Then I don’t get any points for romance, right.”

“Right, no points.”

I wasn’t getting what I needed, and Don was disappointed because he took two hours and did something nice for me and got no points for romance.

Parents find themselves in this same situation, not getting what they feel are their well-deserved points. Didn’t you cook and serve a wonderful meal? Didn’t you take your kids across town to their ballet lessons and don’t you do that every week. Didn’t you wash the clothes and clean the house. Didn’t you sit with the whole family while they watched Benji?

Because you’ve invested so much time you equate that with being present with your children, just like Don thought investing time equated to romance. But doing the work of parenting doesn’t equate to being present.

An Example of Presence

I have a friend who had nine children, all under 11, living with her. One day she was distracted, interrupted and overly busy. As the day wore on the children began fighting, were noisy, and making messes. Finally, just before dinner, she stopped what she was doing, and they spent some time together. She listened to them, read to them, engaged with them, and had fun with them. It wasn’t a great amount of time, only about 30 minutes. Nevertheless, she said it made a difference in the rest of the evening. They calmed down. Things were more peaceful. They enjoyed eating together and being with each other.

Being present is giving our children our whole attention, even if only for a short time. This’s what children need and want.

And by the way, that is what is ultimately needed in most relationships. So, save yourself some time and tune in, really tune in, if only for short amounts of time. It will get you points. : )

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Help Kids Give Christmas from the Heart

Kids LOVE making Christmas gifts. Helping them can seem overwhelming during this very busy season. However, with a bit of thought and time, you can help your children give gifts from the heart.

When I had two children left at home, ages five and eleven, we decided to make Christmas gifts. We had set some guidelines:

 

  • They had to be usable and worth giving
  • They couldn’t cost a lot of money
  • The child had to be able to make it with minimal help

This was before every home had a computer! What I had instead was a butter-colored, six drawer file cabinet which was filled with things I had collected over a lifetime of teaching children. We searched through files marked Christmas, gifts, sewing, patterns, and so forth until we found the perfect items.

My son, who was eleven, chose to make footstools for his grandparents and dad. I took him to the lumber yard, and he asked scraps and they gave them to him. I took him to the local upholstery shop, and he asked for scraps which they gave to him. In other words, I let my children choose the gifts, helped them gather the supplies for the gifts and then assisted when they needed me in making the gifts. But these gifts really did come from them.

The following ideas are simple, inexpensive and your children will need minimal help. But the satisfaction of giving a gift from the heart will be priceless.

Gifts Kids Can Make for Christmas

1. Make a book for a toddler. Get a small photo album and have your older child print pictures from the Internet or they can draw simple objects. Glue the picture to a piece of heavy paper or poster board which has been cut to fit. Label the item, write a short sentence or paragraph for a story.
2. Write a story for a parent or grandparent. Buy a small notebook with unlined paper or put some plain paper into a folder. Have your child write a story and then illustrate it. If your child is new to writing, you can write their story for them on the pages they have illustrated. Part of the fun with younger children is helping them come up with a story while you write. This can make for wonderfully funny and warm moments together. My Kate, when she was small, wrote two stories that I still have. One was called The Golden Tear and was a fantasy. The other was called “Glass Is Not Cement” a hilarious story of a real experience that she had. (She used an aquarium for a step stool!)
3. Another great gift idea that an older child can make is a Quiet Book. We have made these, and they are just plain fun. This also works well as a project for a whole family. Each member of the family makes one page for the book. Here is a wonderful site that has some darling free templates.
4. Bookmarks. Over the years we have made many, many bookmarks. If you google bookmarks for kids to make and hit images, you will find more ideas than you can shake a stick at! Here is one easy idea.
5. Decorated Wooden Spoon. Here is a gift that I saw on TJEDMUSE, suggested by Debbie. I thought it was a wonderful idea. When I was young, about 11 or 12, I got a wood-burning kit for Christmas and I loved it. Choose a wooden kitchen implement such as a spoon or rolling pin. Use the wood burner to inscribe an inspirational word or picture. If you choose something like a spoon you can turn it into a great wall decoration by adding ribbon and silk flowers to the handle and then hot gluing a hanger on the back of the handle.

6. One year we made corn/rice warmers for our friends. I still have mine. I store it under the head of my bed for cold nights. I just pop it into the microwave for a minute and voila warmth. Because I had children making these, they were very simple. We cut squares from flannel about 9X9. We sewed up three and ½ sides filled them with feed corn which I bought. Rice works just as well. Then we hand sewed the opening shut. I was able to teach my kids how to use the sewing machine and how to sew with a needle and thread. Just a note – When I was teaching my 5-year-old to use the sewing machine I stood behind her and ran the pedal with my foot. I helped her push the material through the feed dog and keep it straight. It worked well and as far as she was concerned, she had done the sewing!


7. Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies. I know, I know, everyone gets cookied to death at Christmas. However, my children loved making them. This is a whole afternoon project or two short afternoons. Kids make the cookie dough, roll it out, bake the cookies and then decorate them. The recipe that I am giving you is very old and uses far more flour than sugar, so they are perfect for frosting. When kids are frosting cookies, it is a messy business and never looks beautiful the way you would do it. But please, don’t help them too much or fix their cookies. What we like to do is let the cookies sit for a couple of hours uncovered so the frosting crusts up a bit. Then we put them in freezer bags and write “A Christmas Gift for New Year’s Eve – please freeze” on the bag. Add a bow and maybe a couple of hot chocolate packets. What a great gift!

Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies
2 c sugar 7 c flour
1 c shortening ½ tsp salt
2 eggs 1 tsp soda
1 tsp vanilla ½ c evaporated milk (plain milk works but canned makes the flavor so yummy!)

Cream the sugar and shortening. Add eggs, vanilla, salt, and soda. Mix well. Add flour and milk alternately. I always end up mixing with my hands. It works so much better! The dough must be just stiff enough to roll out and handle nicely. Flour your table before you roll it out. It also helps to dip your cutter into the flour before cutting the dough. Bake at 375 degrees for about 8-10 minutes. The longer baked, the crisper, the shorter baked, softer.

Merry Christmas and

happy gift making. : )

By the way, if you love candy, frosting and graham crackers why not tackle a village of small gingerbread houses. It is a fabulous family activity? It’s fun and the way I help kids do it, it’s as easy as pie!! Sounds too hard? Try making a passel of old fashioned gingerbread men. They are delicious and simple.

Why not share this with someone

you care about. : ) 

It’s Not Education or a Degree That Thrills Me

Sometimes Bad Things Happen to Good People

Recently, my 45-year-old son graduated from college with a bachelor’s in philosophy. It wasn’t easy because he has a past that could have made it impossible.

When Seth was a small boy, he had some experiences which hurt his heart and soul. Sometimes, no matter how carefully we try to guard our children bad things can happen. This set him on a troubled road. He used drugs, dropped out of high school, went to jail, and was sentenced to the D.O.C. (Department of Corrections) and a work-release program. He stole some cigarettes from a closed gas station and received a felony that would make life hard.

The future looked poor. However, he was a good person, as most of us are. When his son was born, he decided to make a change. It wasn’t easy because of the past. People weren’t sure they could trust him and so they didn’t want to risk giving him a chance. He just kept looking and eventually, he found a man and a company that employed him. He worked in an underground mine running a huge haul truck and eventually became an underground miner.

However, after just a couple of years, his body wouldn’t take the shaking and jolting of the machine any longer and he was back on the hunt. He was hired at a scrap mental company sorting metal.

Setting the Goal and Sticking With It

Seth had a goal to make something of his life so he could be an example for his son and he became one of the BEST scrap mental sorters they had. Eventually, he was promoted and found himself running the front office involving the 20-ton scale and the selling and buying of scrap metals. Then during the market collapse of 2007, Seth was laid off.

He eventually found a job as a machinist and was promoted after a couple of years to the position of Quality Management Systems Specialist creating a Quality Management System training program and taught it to the employees at his plant and others in the state. This was the job that changed the direction of his life. He began to believe that he was smart enough and capable of returning to school.

While Seth was working at the mine, he developed a love for rocks and minerals. He studied them and began collecting them. He also learned to pan gold and joined an online club of like-minded people. Eventually, this love of rocks and minerals got him thinking about college. He determined to become a geologist. But he was pushing 40 and he had a felony on his record. He bravely decided to go for it.

At the University of MT, Seth did what he had done at the scrap metal job and as a machinist. He moved up. He impressed his professors and counselors and they asked him to mentor ‘at risk’ college students. His efforts were so effective that he was often able to keep all his mentees in college. He taught some classes. He was making a difference as he pursued his own goals.

All these opportunities moved him from seeking a degree as a geologist to getting a degree in philosophy. What a major jump!

We didn’t put Seth through school. He worked his way through! It wasn’t easy. I can remember times when he called me in tears seeking encouragement. He thought about quitting. After all, he was going to be 45 by the time he was done. It seemed indomitable at times!

This spring Seth accomplished his goal and graduated with a degree in Philosophy.

Anyone Can Build a Meaningful Life!

There is a purpose in my sharing Seth’s journey with you other than a mother’s bragging rights. It’s not the education or the degree that thrills me. It’s that he was kind to himself, trusted himself, set a goal and then accomplished it.

The reason that I find that so magnificently thrilling is that when we can set a goal and stick with it, no matter how hard, then we can always take care of ourselves and others. We can always make, not just a living, but a life. Way to go Seth!!

P.S. Currently Seth is pursuing setting up a program to coach troubled youth. He understands that you can’t just take kids out of bad situations. You must help them be kind to themselves, trust themselves, set a goal and then accomplish it. You must change how they think.

If you know someone who needs to be reminded that they can make a life,
please share this article. : )

The Luckiest Person On The Planet

During the years that my family lived in ID. my dad was an over the road salesman. He bought a Cadillac and I hated that car. Every time we drove to my grandparents’ home in Afton, WY., with all the kids packed in the back seat, I would ruminate on my dad’s selfishness in buying such a stupid car for such a large family. Why didn’t we have a station wagon?

And here was another thing. He ate cold hot dogs in his hotel room. I loved cold hot dogs. In our money-strapped home, a hot dog was a fabulous treat. I knew he ate them because on occasion he had leftovers and brought them home. I thought he was the luckiest person on the planet.

After my dad passed away, while remembering these old memories, I had a moment of clarity. It came because I was older and wiser.

My dad was an over the road salesman because he only had a high school degree. Fortunately, he was a gifted salesman. He could sell you your shoes even if they were worn out. He needed to be good at it because it was commission work and he had a family of eleven to feed, clothe, and house.

To do well and keep his commissions high he drove an expensive car and wore very nice suits, both items we could ill afford. But they made my dad look successful and helped him be successful. He probably wished we had a station wagon too. It would have cut down on the back seat arguing and chaos.

And the hot dogs. He ate cold hot dogs with buttered bread and milk in his room to save the money that eating out would have cost. They weren’t a treat for him but a major sacrifice. He did this for years!

When I was a young mother my husband sold dental supplies. He would leave early Monday morning and return home Friday evening. He traveled the western half of the state of Montana. When he came home on Friday, he would ensconce himself on the couch with all the kids and watch television. On Saturday he would play ball, do errands with the kids, and hang out. How irritated I felt that he would leave me all week to manage everything while he slept in hotels, ate out, and had lots of quiet. I felt a better use of his time at home would have been to take me on a date or help me with the chores. After all, I had been home alone with six kids all week! I thought he was the luckiest person on the planet.

Years later, in a weak moment, for he is a man of few words, he confessed how desperately lonely he was on those long drives. How he longed to be with his family. How dreamed about home-cooked dinners filled with the chatter and arguing of children and spilled milk. He confessed that he hated being in sales. He told me of the close calls he had on snow-covered roads and his dread that someday he might not make it home. He felt I was the luckiest person on the planet surrounded by our children, in the warmth of a safe home, on a blustery winter night.

We each know our own story. We know what’s happening in our lives. We’re aware of our loneliness, our overwhelm, our shortcomings. But it’s harder to see the reality of another person’s life. We may look at their situation compared to our own and envy them. We may feel what we bear is unfair compared to what they bear. We may be resentful and judgmental. But our families will run better if we extend compassion, if we suspend judgment. This isn’t easy but it is doable.

In 1 Corinthians, in the Christian Bible, the Apostle Paul compared our imperfect knowledge of others as viewing them through a polished metal mirror of the period he lived in. He termed it ‘seeing through a glass darkly.’ I’ve always loved that image. When I’m in a place of resentment and blame, I remind myself that I’m probably seeing through a glass darkly. Then I take a second look at the story I’m telling myself to see if I can clear the lens and get a more truthful picture.

Five Tips to Clear Your Lens

1. Suspend judgment. You can only see the outward behavior. You don’t know the heart or motives of another person. When we judge we’re using our experience? They are behaving from theirs. Ask questions. Actively listen. Get clarity before you judge.
2. Take responsibility and stop blaming. You have control over what you think, which gives you control over how you feel. When we choose to tell ourselves stories that blame others, we decide to become victims. Blame is always an indicator there’s a problem with our way of being or how we perceive what’s happening. Check your story. Be honest with yourself.
3. Decide to think the best of others. Give people the benefit of the doubt. In most cases, we’re all doing the best we can. When we decide to think the best of others, we can manage our thoughts and the resulting stories more effectively.
4. View them as a person. Regardless of what another person is doing view them as a person. Treat them as you would want to be treated if you were in error.
5. Forgive. Even if the other person is in the wrong, even if they do have a better deal than you, when you hold on to resentment and blame it only hurts you. When you extend forgiveness to others and yourself you increase your ability to be happy.

Families are filled with opportunities to judge harshly, blame, and feel resentment. As we practice clearing the lens that we see our family members and our circumstances through we will have more personal peace and family harmony.

The luckiest person on the planet is the one who sees through a clear lens.

If you relate to this article please share it with others. I’ll thank you for it. 🙂 

Do You Leave in the Middle of Memory Making?

I had the opportunity to do some work with a nephew of mine. That meant instead of listening to Andy Williams or a musical, I was listening to Country Western. One of the songs I heard was In the Middle of a Memory by Cole Swindell. It’s a love song about meeting the person you want to be with and then having them jump ship, so to speak.

There was one line in the chorus that caught my ear – How you gonna leave me right in the middle of a memory?

Has that ever happened to you? It happens to kids all the time. As parents, we often just disconnect or check out in the middle of memory-making moments.

Here are some examples

•You’re raking the leaves with the kids. There has been a lot of laughter and horsing around. But time is passing, and lunchtime is approaching. So, you throw one more handful of leaves and head into the house. It feels as if getting lunch done on time is important.

•Your teen is telling you the details of the camp she just got home from. You’re laughing at the craziness that went on. Then your cell phone rings, and you say, “Just a minute” and answer it. It might be important. By the time you finish the call, your daughter has drifted away.

•Finally, after a few days of craziness, your family are all sitting down at the dinner table together. Your oldest son is telling corny jokes and all the little kids are laughing. Then someone spills their milk. You jump up, grab a rag and remind everyone that this is dinner and not a free for all and that milk isn’t cheap.

•You’re having a coloring session with your four-year-old. You enjoy your son, but it’s been a long day and your novel is calling. If you hurry you can get a little reading in before dinner. You pat his hand and tell him it’s been fun but that you’ve got to go and get dinner made.

These are some simple examples of how adults leave in the middle of memory-making moments.

When I was writing the book Becoming a Present Parent: Connecting with Your Kids in Five Minutes or Less, I did an informal survey. I contacted my kids, my grandkids, nephews, cousins, and siblings. I asked them for their favorite memories. I think you’ll be surprised at the results.

Most of my kids said, “Eating together.” They also mentioned picnics in the park, which was a block away, watching movies together and having treats as a family. My daughter’s favorite memory was of us sitting under the table reading one of the Ramona books. My favorite memories are of the times my mom read poetry to us.

Memories that last are made during the everyday moments we have

with our kids.

If we want these everyday moments to be memorable then we need to put technology, work, our interests, and even time, on hold. We need to stay Present. It isn’t always easy. I get that. I was a busy mom of seven kids. I am not saying that we shouldn’t take care of the duties of running a home or that it isn’t OK to give yourself a break. What I am saying is that we don’t often think about the impact that our checking out makes on our children and youth. We forget that it sends a message and one we probably don’t mean.

If we want our family to have memories that last, then we must practice putting our focus on what is most important for just a few minutes at a time during the mundane work of caring for our family.

Keep your mind with your child or family for the short time it takes to read a book, take a walk, eat a meal, clean up spilled milk, or color a picture. When your kids are adults and remind you of some ordinary moments that they remember fondly you’ll be glad you did.

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compliment. : ) 

At War With Your Family?

Many years ago, I had a friend ask me if it made me mad that someone would undo what I had just cleaned up. I must admit that is exactly how I lived many years of my parenting life. I was at war with dirt, disorder, laundry, and frankly, my family. But all that changed the day that I had an epiphany. I realized that I wasn’t at war at all. I had signed up to serve, to minister to my husband and my children. That small shift in the story that I had been telling myself changed everything. It didn’t change the workload. It didn’t change the messes or the frustrations. What it did change was my ability to deal with the load, the messes, and the frustrations.

What Is Ministering and What Does It Look Like

Ministering is being aware of and attending to the needs of another person. When we minister, we watch over, lift, and strengthen those around us. Doesn’t a family seem like the perfect place to minister most effectively?

I’ve never forgotten a short video I saw as I was beginning to make this mental shift from war to ministering. It was of a very influential man who was hurrying to get to a meeting that he would be leading. As he headed down the staircase his one-year-old daughter was climbing up. He stopped to pick her up and hug her.

He discovered that she had a messy diaper. He knew that his wife was in the kitchen with their other children trying to get them fed and off to school. He faced a dilemma. After all, he was going to a meeting and he was in charge. But here was his sweet daughter in need and his wife was occupied. He could have engaged in a mental battle. He could have felt irritated that his daughter was messy, that his wife wasn’t taking care of it; that he, in his suit, probably should. But he didn’t go to war. As he realized the need his face softened, he gave his daughter a smile and a squeeze and he headed back up the stairs. He diapered his daughter, washed his hands and then headed out to his meeting.

In a family the ways we can love and minister to one another are limitless. I find that I need the help of a power beyond myself to keep my thoughts on ministering and not at war. I need help to know what’s needed because what is needed by one may not work for another. It’s been my experience that as we commit to being flexible, as we ponder real needs, as we make the effort to know another person, as we consider how best to love and serve, we can know how to minister better.

Six simple ways to minister to your children

•Don’t criticize – Listen, support, ask questions and teach gently. We all make mistakes. We all have moments of poor judgment.
•Don’t talk poorly about each other. Words are powerful in moving us to emotion. We want to feel good about our children, so we need to refrain from using words that are negative even when we’re frustrated or stressed.
•Refrain from judging – We can’t always know why a person behaves as they do, chooses one action over another or disappoints us. Rather than jumping to a judgment listen, ask questions, choose to think the best.
•Smile more – It’s amazing to me that we must be reminded of this, but we do.
•Listen, Listen, Listen – Those who are the most influential in this world listen more than they talk. They’re interested in others’ ideas and thoughts. They feel they can learn from anyone and so they do. When we listen it’s easier to think the best, criticize less, refrain from judging and so on.
•Touch – I am a champion of random touch. We shouldn’t need to be reminded of the power of a touch, but we do. I work on reaching out and patting a shoulder or giving a hug. It doesn’t come naturally to me. Maybe it doesn’t to you. But with practice, we can do better.

All those years ago, when I changed my story from war to ministering, I made a short video. I hope you’ll watch it. You will find it helpful.

Here’s to families and the opportunity to minister.

Share some of the ways that you keep from going to war with your family.

We All Lean Into Love

There’s a tree in our back yard that is growing faster on one side than on the other. The other morning my daughter gave me her impression as to why this tree is so lopsided.

First, you need to know that it wasn’t lopsided two years ago when we moved into our new home. You also need to know that it was a very sad looking black walnut tree. The leaves weren’t thick and deep green. There were very few nuts that first year and not many more the second. However, this year the tree is loaded with nuts, the leaves are thick and deep green and it’s growing towards my patio.

Jodie said that she thinks it’s because the tree is reaching for our patio as if it wants to come right inside. She said that’s because it feels the love, the caring. Isn’t that an extraordinary thought!

I’m not one to talk to plants, but I love nature, outdoors, and gardening. I even love weeding. As soon as we could I built garden boxes for my patio and I’ve tended them with loving care. I feed them and I prune them. I deadhead the flowers every day, so they’ll keep blooming. I water. I am consistent.

Our patio is a shaded, blooming wildness that is irresistible. Yes, those are sweet pea plants in the flower beds, and we’ve enjoyed snacking from them for weeks.

It doesn’t really matter whether this thought about why the tree has become lopsided is true or not. It illustrates a very important, in fact crucial, fact about people, about families. We all lean into love. We want to be loved. We want to matter.

What I know from working with hundreds of families is that most parents want their children to know they matter. Why then do we unknowingly send messages that make our kids feel they’re in the way, that they’re bothering us, or that they aren’t as interesting as whatever else we’re doing, or that they aren’t good enough. It’s because we aren’t focused on being Present with our children. We check out.

It’s easy to check out in this busy world and often we don’t even realize that we have checked out. When we’ve checked out or are totally involved in what comes next on our list, it’s easy to be irritated and frustrated with our children, which leads to poor responses on our part. Children and youth don’t hear “I’m busy. I’ll help you later.” They don’t sense you’re overwhelmed or tired. They aren’t old enough or experienced enough to give you the benefit of the doubt. They hear, “You have no value.” “You don’t matter.” “This is more important than you.”

HOW TO SEND THE I LOVE YOU MESSAGE CONSISTENTLY

Here are some behaviors that we, as adults, can practice that will help us send a clear message to our children and youth that we love them, that they matter, regardless of whether they’re meeting our expectations or not, regardless of how busy we may be?

• STOP whatever you are doing. Turn away from the TV or your computer. Put down the cell phone. Saying “I’ll talk to you later” will not cut it. Say “I can’t talk right now but I will come and find you in ten minutes.”
• LOOK your child in the eye. When we take the opportunity to look another person in the eye, we send the message that we are present with them, want to hear them and find whatever they have to say important. This is especially important when we need to disciple or teach.
• TOUCH them on the shoulder, hand, back, etc. Touch sends the message that we like being with them even if we are upset with them. It connects us to them.
• RESPOND to what your child is feeling, not only what they’re saying. Are they feeling angry, disappointed, attacked, judged, sad? Focus on the feelings.
• LISTEN with patience and interest. Whatever you’re feeling, your child will know! They’re like energy magnets. If your energy is inwardly impatient, they’ll know. If you’re dying to get back to your stuff, they’ll feel it. If you’re bored out of your mind, it’s coming across loud and clear. It may all be on a subconscious level, but they know. Hold thoughts in your mind that will help you maintain interest and patience.
• ACTIVELY LISTEN Don’t check out looking for solutions or what you want to say next. Stay Present. Hear your child and respond to what they’re saying. If you feel the need to teach don’t. Wait until later. You can always teach but your children will not always come to you if they can’t trust that you hear them.
• CHOOSE YOUR WORDS WISELY – We must begin taking full responsibility for the words we say. If we want better outcomes, we need to watch our words. Say what you want, not what you don’t want. 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.

We want our children to lean into our family, to want to be home, to see our example, and to know that they matter, that they are loved. Children who feel loved have far better outcomes in life.

This leads to the final behavior:

• BE CONSISTENT – You won’t be perfect. You can’t be. But be as consistent in your efforts as possible. If you do, it will be enough, and your kids will know that they are loved and that they matter.

Share and comment. I love hearing what you have to say. : ) 

Do You Use Shame to Teach?

Here is the definition of shame – a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.

When we are children, we find ourselves shamed by adults around us. We take that shame and learn, over time, to shame ourselves. Here is the sentence that accompanied the definition of the word shame – “I tried to shame her into sharing.” In this case, someone hoped that by making another feel like a bad person for not behaving in a specified way, they could get them to behave in a different way.

As a parent, have you ever found this to be truly helpful? I haven’t. Children who feel shamed may do what we want, in the way we want, but it doesn’t encourage them to make a change from a place of power but to succumb from a place of powerlessness.

When Shame Cannot Survive

When an adult shows empathy, then shame cannot survive, in fact, isn’t even born. Here is the definition of empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Empathy is the capacity to take another perspective, but more than that, it is truly caring about the person and how they feel.

I have a daughter who is very good at this. When her son, who is ten, is yelling and throwing a huge fit she remains calm. If his language is inappropriate, she reminds him firmly that he cannot talk to his mom like that. Then she asks questions and listens. She tries to find out why he is angry, frustrated or upset. She allows him to feel his feelings and then she works to help him navigate those feelings, all the while avoiding shaming him for behaving in a childish way, at ten.

Sometimes when I hear an exchange like this, I think in an old way in my brain – “Man, I would tell him to go to his room and when he’s in control then to come out and we can talk.” Yes, that is how I parented for many years. But today, I would hope that I could put that old thinking behind me and listen, empathize and then teach.

When a person knows deep inside of themselves that they are of value, that their feelings matter, that they are not broken or deficient in some way, that is a powerful place to be. When we feel shamed and believe there is something inherently wrong with us, that is a place of powerlessness.

It’s worth the effort to have empathy and empower our children rather than shame them. We won’t do this perfectly, but if we could do it even a portion of the time it would make a huge difference in how our children mature.

Tips to create a culture of empathy in your home

It’s much easier to teach children to be empathetic than to retrain adults. I know because I grew up in a time and home where empathy wasn’t considered the most valuable response – obedience was.

Here are some ways that you can increase the empathy that your children feel for others, as well as foster a more empathetic family culture in your home.

1. STOP what you’re doing and listen. Put the cell phone down, turn away from the screen, any screen.

2. LOOK your child in the eye while you’re listening and talking to them. If you can’t listen right then, tell them when you can. Later is not good enough. Say, “I will be free in fifteen minutes.”

3. Use ACTIVE listening. Listen to understand what they’re saying and feeling rather than trying to formulate a solution or response. Really care about what they’re saying. If you’re disinterested, frustrated with the interruption, or want to get to the next thing, trust me, your child will feel that.

4. Teach LATER. For now, listen. Ask good questions and mirror feelings. “How did that make you feel?” “That would have hurt my feelings too.”

4. Remember that every person is DIFFERENT. Your child is not you. They may respond to situations differently than you. Honor the differences. My husband thinks of people first. I think of projects first. That can cause us some issues unless we respect each other’s differences. When we do this, we avoid shaming one another for how we are.

5. MODEL empathy for your children. Practice empathy with your neighbors, the grumpy store clerk, the man who cuts you off in traffic, etc. I have a friend who, when someone does something stupid or rude in traffic, says out loud, “They must be having a bad day. Heavenly Father help them get where they’re going safely!” Her kids hear this on a regular basis, and it is informing them of how to care about others.

6. Give your kids some RESPONSIBILITIES. Children who have the responsibility to feed the cat or walk the dog or who participate in service projects tend to be more empathetic to others. When children learn to be responsible, they think more about others.

7. When we WORK TOGETHER as a family, we have the opportunity to create a culture of empathy. When we have regular family meetings/nights it provides an opportunity to model empathy as we consider everyone’s thoughts and ideas. When we do projects together it provides opportunities to resolve conflicts in non-shaming ways.

8. STOP! If you’re not feeling empathetic or if you find yourself dealing in poor ways with your children, STOP. Ask yourself why. Are you stressed, overly tired, is a child pushing your button in a specific way?

Now do what you need to do to get a handle on the problem, sit down, close your eyes, take deep breathes, go for a walk, hide in the bathroom and shed a few tears, whatever is needed. Then you will be able to get back on track.

9. AVOID DISCOURAGEMENT! Finally, if empathy isn’t something that you grew up with, doesn’t come naturally or if you just haven’t made it a practice, is it too late? NO. Anything, we think deeply about and then practice can become part of who we are. I know this is true because I have had to practice being more empathetic. I can still find myself in an non empathetic place, but I am far better than when I was a new parent. Don’t feel discouraged when you behave in a non empathetic way or when you shame a child to get your way. Just remind yourself what it is you want, the family culture you want, and try, try again.