Category: Listening

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.

What’s a Mini-Conversation Anyway??

We’re all looking for simple ways to connect with our families despite how busy life has gotten. One technique I really enjoy is that of mini-conversations. Conversing with children and teens can be fun, relaxing, and energizing and sometimes we learn something new.

The purpose of a mini-conversation is to hear what your kids have to say and to make a connection that’s enjoyable. Sometimes you share cool stuff or ask an interesting question, sometimes they share cool stuff or ask a question, and through it all, you stay Present and listen, for the most part. Mini-conversations, done right, always feel enjoyable to both parties! They never feel like a lecture.

Let me give you an example. When my youngest daughter was twenty, she was reading Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet A. Jacobs. She asked me to read the book because she wanted to talk about it. Over the few weeks that it took her to read the book we had conversations about the character of different people in the book, why people act the way they do and believe the things they do, and how to be better people ourselves.

I happened to mention the book to my ten-year-old granddaughter in a letter. She wrote back commenting about freedom and the fact that I had recently attended a caucus. We had a mini-conversation via mail about what a caucus is and who can go and why they would go. That led to a conversation back and forth about Fredrick Douglas, who he was and how he worked for freedom for slaves, women and other minority groups. With the advent of technology, we can have these types of mini-conversations face to face no matter what distance we must traverse.

Jack, my grandson, who was two at the time, had a dear friend who turned 90. He gave Jack a bunch of helium-filled balloons from his party. Jack and I took one balloon to the front yard and let it go. As it floated upward, we had a mini-conversation. It went like this:

Jack: “Look at the balloon go up!”
Me: “Pretty isn’t it. Do all balloons float up like these?”
Jack: “No.”
Me: “Do you know why this balloon floats up into the air?”
Jack: “No”.
Me: “Well, they have gas inside called Helium. It makes the balloon go up.”
Jack: “Cool!”

That’s it; that’s all there was to the conversation. We stood and watched the balloon until it was out of sight. We held hands. It was a pleasurable moment. We felt connected as we did something we enjoyed together.

Having mini-conversations with our children can happen in the car, at a meal, when tucking them in for the night, after a teen comes home from a date or party, when you’re doing chores together and while engaging in a host of other everyday happenings.

Mini-conversations accomplish several things:

• They get a parent and child in a position to look eye to eye, listen to each other and share feelings, as well as information.
• This generates that ‘family feeling’ I’ve mentioned before.
• When they happen consistently over time, they build trust. This can pay you dividends when your kids are teens and young adults.

If this isn’t something you have done before or if you haven’t been very consistent in your efforts it really is worth a try. As you practice you will get better and better because it’s a skill and skills can be learned and mastered.

Here are a few tips to help you get started:

A. Desire the conversation—I’m a great conversationalist with kids of all ages because I want to talk to them. I want to know them. I want to know what they think. I want to know how they feel. Do you want to know more about your children? Do you want to hear what they have to say? This is the number one key to having successful mini-conversations.

B. Listen more than you talk. You may have to ask a question or make a statement to get a mini-conversation going but then listen as much as you can. Pose the question or make the statement and wait to see what happens. If there’s no response, the conversation is over. You wait a while and try again with a different question or comment. As your child or family begins to respond, keep asking questions with an occasional comment. If you spend most of the time being quiet or asking questions, you’ll avoid giving a mini-lecture.

C. Listen without judgment or giving your opinion. A conversation goes much further with a child when we withhold our judgments and opinions. There’s great value in focusing on a child’s feelings or reactions in any given situation rather than sharing what we think or feel. When we can listen without judgment, it helps children process their emotions. We can teach later.

D. Listen with interest. Listening with deep interest shows that you care about what your child is saying, in contrast, to simply listening because it’s what parents do. If you question whether your kids can tell the difference, don’t. They can, and it matters.

E. Ask open-ended questions. How did that work out? How do you feel about that? What do you think you can do? Why don’t you like that? Would you go there again? Are you considering that?

F. Believe that kids like talking with adults. Occasionally adults feel that kids wouldn’t enjoy conversing with them, but that’s not true. Most kids enjoy speaking with adults because, for some, it gives them a sense of maturity. For others, it feels connecting and kids like that. For all children and youth, it helps them feel that what they have to say is important.

G. Take advantage of wait times. There are wait times often in a family: at the doctor’s or other appointments, waiting for the school bus to come, while Dad runs into the store leaving the family in the car, when waiting for cookies to bake, when the light’s red, and so on. These wait times are perfect for having mini-conversations.

H. Have mini-conversations at the most important touchpoints in your family: mealtime, car time, and bedtime. Have dinner mini-conversations no matter who spills milk, slurps their soup, or tips over their chair. You can get it going by saying, “Guess what I saw today,” or “Do you know what my boss did?” or “Hey, did anyone have anything fun happen today?”

If you’re having a strained relationship with any of your children, if you feel overwhelmed and just can’t find time to connect or if you just want more of that ‘family feeling’ then give mini-conversations a try. It will surprise you how it can melt hearts, soothe feelings and teach you more about your child.

Parable of the Yarn

What Do You Do With 100 Pounds of Yarn!!

A few years ago I inherited about 100 lbs of yarn—eleven black garbage bags and seven boxes. I adore yarn, but this was simply an absurd amount of yarn for a novice crocheter.

As the yarn was being packed into every available space of my minivan I envisioned the many beautiful scarves, hats, blankets, and booties that would warm the hearts and souls of so many—100 pounds of love!

However, at home, as I began to survey the contents of the bags and boxes I could see that this would be a complicated undertaking. Some of the yarn was a mass of tangles and knots.

Thus came the challenge—the yarn held such beautiful potential in joy, blessings, and pleasure, but that wonderfulness was hidden in the complication of getting through the knots and tangles.

Right at the beginning, I had to answer this question – Was it worth doing the obvious work required to reach the wonderfulness? I decided yes. As I sat unwinding, untangling, and un-knotting I was reminded that this yarn mess wasn’t very different from family relationships.

On a Facebook group, a discussion ensued about how a wife should handle a husband who she considered unreasonable in a situation with their child. As you can imagine there were a lot of comments. Many of them had to do with just taking the bull by the horns and forging ahead, doing what was “right” for the child, no matter what the husband’s position.

It brought to mind my yarn experience. This couple had a tangled mess. Each one thought that their position was “correct” and “reasonable”. They were emotionally pulling, tugging and yanking on their individual “threads” of belief. It’s was causing a big mess for them.

If we want to untangle messy issues in our family it’s good to remember that it all begins with relationship, not the current question at hand. The problem for this couple wasn’t whether they should do this or that for their child. It ultimately came down to the health of their relationship. Right then, they were in a place of intractability. They were at war, so to speak.

Four Ways To Untangle Your Differences

What can be done when we find ourselves in this intractable place, when we are stuck in a 100 pound tangled mess? Here is what I noticed as I untangled the yarn:

1. Know in advance of beginning that it’s worth the effort to untangle. This was true with my 100 pounds of yarn and it’s true of family relationships. It took a lot of hours, over a few days, to get the job done. There were moments of extreme frustration when I wished I hadn’t begun the project, when I wanted to quit. However, I kept reminding myself that it would be worth it. I kept visualizing the reward of hanging in – the many beautiful scarves, hats, blankets, and booties that would warm the hearts and souls of so many.

2. Use a gentle touch. No jerking, pulling, grasping, or tugging on the threads. That just tightens the knots! The softer the touch, the more easily the yarn comes untangled. We can translate this into the difficulty of untangling human issues by realizing that you have to have a genuine interest in the other person’s position. You don’t have to agree, but you do need to want to hear and understand. There is a gentleness of heart involved in being able to listen for understanding when you disagree with another person. Sometimes we call it charity or love. Anything that is handled with a calm voice, a desire to understand and love can be resolved.

3. Seek for mutual respect. There are two ends in every skein of yarn. One pulls out from the inside of the skein. The other wraps around from the outside. Sometimes they get tangled up with each other. You can pull and tug and battle all you want but until you find the ends you will struggle. Finding the two ends allows you to unravel the mess more easily. It’s akin to having a belief that the other person’s position is as valid as yours. From that position of mutual respect, you can begin to untangle the mess. You can look at each end, so to speak, and begin the work of bringing order out of chaos. Again, you don’t have to agree but you have to know that their position is as valid to them as yours is to you.

One of the reasons we have a difficult time taking a genuine interest in another’s opinion and in believing that their position is valid is because we really aren’t willing to see differently. We want our current view.

However, when you’re willing to hear and understand another’s position, then you’re able to come to a new view. You still may not agree, but you will see their position differently and it can lead you to a new and totally different solution than what you thought possible.

4. Allow time. It took many hours, over a number of days, to bring order to that yarn mess. If I had expected to get it done in a few hours I would have experienced a lot more stress and faced the idea of quitting more often. Each bit of tangled emotion or difference in opinion takes time to unravel. There are not many things that must have a decision right now, in this hour or this day. Take the time to let each person think, pray, ponder and then talk.

Knowing the relationship is worth the work, expressing love and a willingness to see another’s point of view, believing in the validity of the other person’s opinion, and by allowing time, you can untangle almost any mess, just as I was able to do with the yarn.

When the work of untangling the yarn was finished, I knew from experience, that the work of creating items of beauty would be much easier and frankly, a joy. As we untangle each misunderstanding or difference of opinion in our family then it will be easier to create a family built on trust, respect, hard work and love. Ultimately, we will have more joy in our families.

Like the yarn, wrapped in neat balls ready to use, our families will look better, feel better and be easier to live and work in. We can create something beautiful and lasting.

What have you experienced in your life that is akin to untangling 100 pounds of yarn? I would love to know.

Here’s to more joy,
Mary Ann

P.S. You can learn more about building solid family relationships in my new book Becoming a Present Parent, Connecting With Your Children in Five Minutes or Less.  You can also receive a chapter from the book on Touchpoints, creating points of connection rather than points of contention, FREE by visiting
becomingapresentparent.com  It can be life changing for your family. I promise!

Try Active Listening for a More PRESENT Summer

As you know I have been writing a new book – Becoming a Present Parent: Maximizing Presence in Five Minutes or Less. I started in August 2015 and finished in January 2016. Since then I have been learning the dance of being an independent author. Whew, it has required a lot of dance lessons!!

However, the book is in the formatting and cover design stage and it is going to actually make it to press this summer. Woohoo. I will breathe a sigh of relief for sure.

While we wait for the books release I thought I would share a bit of the content with you.

ACTIVE LISTENING

When we’re Present, we listen to connect with the speaker and to understand how they feel about what they’re saying. It’s active and engaged and seeks to hear the words and, more importantly, to hear the heart.

Because this type of listening doesn’t come naturally, I’ve had to develop steps to make it happen more often. They may be helpful to you also.

A. STOP what you’re doing. Turn away from any technology, book or project. If you truly can’t stop, tell your child you can see this is important to them and you want to hear what they have to say. Set a specific time when you’ll be free and keep it. Saying “we’ll talk about it later” is not specific and sends the message you’re not available to them, that whatever else you’re doing is more interesting or more important. If at all possible STOP and listen now!

B. Make eye contact with your child. I remember reading that an infant can tell the difference between a face which is in order and one with the features jumbled.

From my experience, I know babies are interested their parent’s faces. They look at their parent’s faces constantly and reach out to touch them. Infants want us to look back at them. As we grow older, desire for eye contact with the people in our lives that matter to us remains.

Eye contact is looking directly into your child’s eyes and not looking away at other things or looking down. When we look at our children as we listen to them, it sends a powerful message that we care, that we hear them, that they matter.

C. Respond to what your child is feeling, not only what they’re saying. When you’re Present you’ll respond to feelings more quickly and more accurately. This helps your child feel heard. You can say things like, “Boy – how maddening!” or “You didn’t like that did you?” or “How did you feel?” This helps your child know that you view their feelings as valid and important.

D. 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 which will help you maintain interest and patience.

For example, you can think, “I sure love this kid. They’re so interesting, funny, kind, thoughtful,” whatever. Hold thoughts which allow you to embrace fully the moment you’re sharing with your child.

Avoid interrupting. Ask only those questions which help clarify. Your job at this moment is not to teach, reprimand or to fix. It’s to listen.

Being present with your child is an end in itself. It isn’t about resolution, teaching, making progress, none of that. It’s about connection, pure and simple. You can always teach later. Right now, be Present!

During a day, there are dozens of opportunities to stop and listen. We can’t actively listen in all of them. But if we can increase those times we do, it will have a big impact on our relationships.

Remember, being Present is a gift we give another person without thought of return. It means giving full attention, our whole self, nothing left on the table.

I do have something special in the works to add a bit of zing to your summer and to help you get a head start on Becoming a Present Parent. Watch for it. : )

Happy Summer,
Mary Ann