Category: Family Culture

BUSTING THE MYTH OF THE SILVER BULLET

In her book Daffodil Principle: One Woman, Two Hands, One Bulb at a Time, Jaroldeen Edwards recounts the day her daughter, Carolyn, drove her to Lake Arrowhead to visit a daffodil garden. It wasn’t just any daffodil garden. It turned out to be five acres of beautiful golden flowers nodding in the breeze.

As Jaroldeen gasped in amazement, she asked the question that everyone who visited the garden asked, “Who did this?” On the porch of a small and neat A-frame house was a poster answering the question.

The first response to how many flowers there were was “50,000 bulbs.” The second fact listed was, “One at a time, by one woman, two hands, two feet, and very little brain.” The third was, “Began in 1958” (Edwards, Daffodil Principle).

When we multiply small amounts of time, with small increments of daily effort, consistently, we can accomplish magnificent things.

Last week I shared that it took me almost fifty years to learn to read music and almost ten to learn to sew. I had to keep practicing and getting help from those in my life who knew more than I did in order to eventually sew and sing well.

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 the outcome.

We’re led to believe extraordinary successes in business, home, parenting or life are a result of significant actions, but they’re not—they’re a result of daily actions done consistently over time.

I enjoy the story of Naaman found in the King James Bible. Naaman was a captain for the king of Syria, “a great man with his master . . . because by him the Lord had given deliverance unto Syria: . . . a mighty man in valor, but . . . a leper.” (2 Kings 5:1).

At the direction of his king, Naaman went to Elisha the prophet to be healed of his dreaded affliction. When Naaman got to Elisha’s house, Elisha sent a messenger out to him who said, “Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean” (2 Kings 5:10).

Wow, Naaman wasn’t even going to have to do the consistently, over time thing. He was only going to have to repeat the action a mere seven times. But Naaman was angry with Elisha. He felt the prophet should have come out of his house to see him and he should have done some big thing to take care of this big problem.

He said, “I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper” (2 Kings 5:11)

Naaman was ready to go away in disgust at the simple instructions he received, but he had a wise servant who reminded him of the principle we’ve been discussing—simple things, done over time consistently, bring significant results. His servant said, “If the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? How much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?” (2 Kings 5:13).

Naaman came to his senses and he “dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean” (2Kings 5:15).

As parents, I think we are, at times, like Naaman. We know we have problems and issues, but we expect a significant or seemingly important thing to come along and bail us out of our affliction. In reality, it is truly the small and simple things we can do daily that, in the end, will make all the difference.

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 to parent well, teach our children and create a wholesome and happy family culture.

While they’re growing, it’s tempting to let ourselves feel failure because we don’t see our children as learning the important lessons that will help them be successful people. Often we feel there is something amiss in our family culture or in how we parent.

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

Have you ever found yourself in Naaman’s shoes? I certainly have. But now that all of my children are grown and gone I can look back and see that it truly was the small and simple things that we did consistently for their whole lives that made the real difference. I’d love your comments.

By Small and Simple Things….

There is a valuable principle that if we understand it, can change our lives and that of our family – that consistency in small things, over time, brings big results.

But most of us, when faced with growth or change in ourselves or in our family look for a silver bullet. We want one big effort, one new system, one big push to be all that’s needed. But the idea of a silver bullet is a myth. We accept this myth because the truth of small steps over time seems daunting.

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 what we want and then follow through—over and over and over and over . . . ! There is no one and done.

In seventh grade, I took a sewing class. I made a plaid skirt and it was a disaster. But I was unfazed. I took sewing in eighth grade and again in ninth. I never made a single item that was wearable. I couldn’t seem to understand the directions even when they were explained to me. I couldn’t understand the machine. But I REALLY wanted to sew. So my mother signed me up for a class at the local sewing center the next summer. The results were the same.

When I was a senior in high school I took a final sewing class. I picked out some darling pink and brown striped material for an outfit and went to work knowing that it was going to be fabulous. When I put it on the crotch was at my knees, the zipper zipped up the inside and the facing was on the outside. I had done my very best and my best stunk!

When I was twenty years old I became engaged. I was the oldest child of nine children and so I determined that I would make my wedding dress. When I came home with real satin, beads, and lace my mother looked like she was going to cry.

I set to work determined to be successful and it appeared that I might be until I had sewed my first two seams. They were done incorrectly. As I picked out the seams I realized that on satin, every pinhole shows and it doesn’t stop showing, ever. I knew I was in big trouble!

In my moment of need, I asked my Higher Power, God, for help. I reminded him that I had made absolutely every effort to learn to sew. I had asked for help from the experts in my life. I had put in the time. I had practiced repeatedly. I asked God to help me remember everything I had learned. I asked that I would understand the directions fully and that I wouldn’t make any more mistakes. And guess what, I didn’t. I sewed that dress without having to pick out another seam. I knew what to do and I did it well. The dress was simple but beautiful. In fact, my cousin was married in that almost 50-year-old dress this fall.

When I was in 10th grade I wanted to sing in the school choir. I loved singing so I tried out and I made the cut. Here’s what the conductor didn’t know; I knew nothing about music. I couldn’t read music, didn’t even know the name of the notes. I didn’t know what pitch accompanied each note. I couldn’t always hear the notes. If I didn’t sit next to someone who really could follow the music I was lost and just had to mouth the words. But I loved to sing. So I stuck it out for two years until we moved. I didn’t get any better.

As an adult, I sang in every choir, in every church group, in every town we lived in. I never did get any better at reading music.

By my sixties, I had done all I could to learn to read music. But I still struggled so I did what I do. I went in prayer to my Higher Power, God, and I reminded him that I had spent almost fifty years practicing and working to learn how to read music. I asked him to help me understand.

About a year later I noticed something amazing. I seemed to be able to follow the music. I knew the pitch for each note. In fact, women who were struggling to learn a part would stand next to me and follow my lead. It was absolutely astounding!

Sometimes it takes years and even a lifetime to learn how to do some things well. Parenting is one of those things.

It took me well over fifty years to learn to read music and almost ten to learn to sew. In all that time I didn’t berate myself. I didn’t feel humiliated or embarrassed because I couldn’t do it independently, without a lot of help. I kept asking for help from many sources, classes, people, books. I didn’t feel like a failure and I never quit. I just kept singing and sewing.

Most things that we eventually master take lots of practice and time. But we cannot become masters if we berate ourselves, if we feel like failures and if we quit. There are few things where this applies as well and consistently as it does in parenting.

Here are the simple steps that I took consistently over time in order to learn to read music and to sew:
• I desired a new skill
• I learned all I could from multiple sources
• I practiced
• I ask for help from people and my Higher power
• I was consistent in my efforts
• I was kind to myself and kept trying even when it seemed as if I was failing
• I did not quit for as long as it took

Real growth and change come from learning to move toward our goals and desires one step at a time, consistently, for as long as it takes. Having the family you want will take time. Becoming a Present Parent takes time. Raising successful children takes time. It requires accepting the principle that small and simple things done consistently over time bring big results. You have to keep learning, practicing, failing and trying again. And it never hurts to ask your Higher Power for help to understand what you and your family need.

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 have to believe we can accomplish our heart’s desire. In fact, it has to be our heart’s desire.

Doing simple things, consistently over time, is what will ultimately give us the success we seek as individuals and as families.

What do you think? Has this principle made a difference for you or do you think it would when it comes to your parenting efforts?  Leave a comment and I will respond. : )

Here’s to more joy,
Mary Ann

P.S. You can learn more about ways to connect with children and youth 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 having points of contention, FREE by visiting becomingapresentparent.com It can be life-changing for your family. I promise!

What is  Present Parenting? –

Building Relationships with Youth

Recently I attended a parenting event. I had the opportunity to ask a few parents what they wanted to know. One woman’s response was poignant – How do I manage to connect with a teen if no foundation has been laid?

I could feel her pain. I raised seven children and I know that the teen years can be difficult. We can feel estranged from youth that we love. We can know they love us and still feel a big disconnect. However, building a relationship with teens is the same as building a relationship with anyone else. It takes being Present which sends the clear message I SEE you, I HEAR you, you MATTER to me. If you haven’t built a relationship of trust and connectedness it is never too late to begin.

There are many avenues to being Present. Let’s consider two that are particularly effective with youth.

RANDOM TOUCH

A random touch is just that, random. They don’t require any reason for the touch or hug. They happen whenever you’re in close proximity to your youth. They’re effective with children, youth, and adult children.

Here are a few examples of what a random touch looks like in real life:

• If you see your youth sitting on the couch, at the table, on their bed or anywhere, stop, sit close to them, stay for 10–20 seconds, squeeze a knee or give a quick hug, and go on your way. No need to say a word.
• In the morning go into your youth’s room to wake them up. Don’t stand in the hall and yell “Get up.” Go in; give a gentle shake to the shoulder and maybe a hug. Say, “Hey buddy. It’s time to get up.” It’s going to take a few more seconds than yelling from the hall, but it will build your relationship.
• As you walk through a room or down the hall and see your youth, look them in the eye and smile. Touch them on their back, arm, or shoulder as they pass by. Don’t say anything; just give a squeeze or a pat. You can do this a dozen times a day and use up only a few minutes.
• When you’re moving from one room to another (as you go through your day) and you see your youth, make a small detour. Grab them and tickle them for a few moments, just long enough to get a little tussle going. Then gently punch a shoulder or tousle a head and move on.
• When you’re walking together put your hand on their back or shoulder for a few moments at a time.
• Rub or scratch your youths back while sitting in church, in the doctor’s waiting room, and so on.

If you have a youth who doesn’t like to be touched, then respect their boundaries, experiment to find out what is acceptable to them. A teen may not want to be hugged but may allow you to rub their back or pat their shoulder.

I want you to understand how powerful this one skill can be in changing the dynamics of your relationship with a youth. It’s easy to do, takes only moments and practically shouts “You matter”.

A Success Story

I worked with a mother who was having significant relationship issues with her seventeen-year-old daughter, who was getting ready to graduate. The mom was often irritated by her daughter. They avoided each other in order to not argue.

As we talked about how she could reconnect their broken relationship, she decided to experiment with giving her daughter as many random touches as she could remember each day. I’ve seen random touch produce amazing healing in relationships, so I felt confident in offering it to this mother as an experiment.

In one week it improved her and her daughter’s relationship significantly. They were beginning to talk more. Mom felt less annoyed by her daughter. She was more aware of her daughter. She had begun responding in calmer and more loving ways. They had even made plans to go to lunch together.

Mom said later that using random touch had changed how she was with all of her children. And in turn, it has changed how they responded to her, including her seventeen-year-old daughter.

TRANSITIONS

When I was raising my children, I had many opportunities to use transition times to be Present with my youth. When they return home in the evening or late at night is a perfect transition time to connect and help them ease back into the family. Be prepared to pay the price required to connect with youth—a small amount of your T-I-M-E.

Leave the TV, the ironing, the email, and Facebook. Meet them when you hear the door open. Look them in the eye and smile. Touch a shoulder. Say, “I’m so glad you’re home. How did it go?” You may get nothing more than a quick “OK.” That’s all right because they’ll feel your Presence. Now and then you’ll get more. They will, in turn, be Present with you and share feelings. These can be precious, sweet, and, at times, crucial moments.

Example A
As a youth, when I left home, I would go out the door and yell “Bye Mom.” From some far-flung place in the house, I would hear her call back “Bye Mary. Be safe.” This scenario was repeated often.

There isn’t anything wrong with this. But what if my mom had replied, “Wait a minute,” and had come quickly to the door? What if she had looked me in the eye, smiled, laid a hand on my shoulder, and said, “Bye Mary. Be safe”? Can you feel the difference? Can you sense the Presence I would have felt at sixteen? Do you think it would have made a difference for me?

Coming to see me off would have cost my mother something. It would have cost her T-I-M-E. Time is a precious commodity. That is why it’s so powerful when we give our precious time to our children and are Present. There’s an innate knowledge that you have received a gift and it’s valuable.

Example B
This can also work in reverse when you’re returning after a long day. My friend Tiffany has a teen-aged son. One day when she returned home from shopping, he met her in the driveway and offered to carry in the groceries, an uncommon occurrence.

Although she was tired and anxious to get things put away and dinner started, she got Present. She watched her son as he carried in the groceries and paid attention to his body language. When the groceries were on the counter she asked, “What happened today?” Her son opened up and shared an experience that was bothering him.

My friend said, “I almost missed this opportunity because I was transitioning back home and I was tired and had an agenda. I’m so glad I stopped and got Present.”

Are you getting a sense of how you can use transitions to be Present and create more connected relationships? You won’t be able to do this all the time. You’ll run late for work. A work-at-home parent may have a deadline. You may miss a youth coming back. But as much as possible, we can use transition times to be Present with our children. When we do, we build relationships, we bond our family, and, frankly, we are happier.

If we are just beginning to create a connected relationship with our youth then it will take some time. It will take consistency. It doesn’t require that we do big things. It requires that we connect daily in these very small ways, day after day and week after week; as we consistently touch and use the comings and going of our day to connect it will make a difference. Trust can and will be built. A sense of connection will be forged.

What is your experience with connecting with youth? What have you used that has worked well?  Leave a comment and I will respond. : )

Here’s to more joy,
Mary Ann

P.S. You can learn more about ways to connect with children and youth 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 having points of contention, FREE by visiting becomingapresentparent.com It can be life-changing for your family. I promise!

What is  Present Parenting? –

React or Respond. We decide!

For the last two weeks, I have been writing about families and how we respond to one another.  I wrote that how we chose to see what happens to us can and does impact how we deal with difficult circumstances.

Our brains are wired to create a story around all of our experiences. 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; usually, evidence based on past experiences. 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. The better the response the better the result. We can’t run away from this principle. We live it out whether we understand and accept it or not.

Today I want to illustrate how our story can impact our response.

My husband Don is a gadget man. One fall he bought a new stove top grill at the county fair and was excited to use it. The next morning was Sunday, and we needed to get to a very important reception right after church. I said to Don, “Honey, there isn’t time to grill chicken today and make it to the reception. You’ll have to grill chicken tomorrow.”

After church, Don was nowhere to be seen. I surmised he had left early to go home and grill chicken! Sure enough, when I got home the grill was on and he was cooking. We were going to be late for the reception!

When we got to the reception, they were cleaning up. The bride and groom had left.  I was so angry!

Here was my heat of the moment story—“There are only two reasons Don would have done this. Either he didn’t hear a word I said because he doesn’t listen to me, or he didn’t care what I said.”

I was practiced at controlling my thoughts by now, and I knew this particular story was about blame and would color our relationship for weeks. Not appealing at all. So I looked for a new story. “I know Don. He loves me. He isn’t insensitive. There must be another reason he went ahead and grilled that chicken.”

Later in the evening I calmly said, “Don, remember when I said there wasn’t time to grill chicken today. I can see two reasons why you went ahead and did it. Either you didn’t hear what I said this morning, or you didn’t care what I wanted. But I know you, and you love me. You’re not insensitive. So there must be a reason I haven’t thought of.”

He looked at me with a stricken face and replied, “Gosh Mary, I thought I could do it in time. I thought the whole thing would take thirty minutes. I didn’t know it would take so long.”

I had to laugh because I could tell from his poor face he had really believed it would only take thirty minutes and was shocked to find out it wasn’t true. He never intended to ignore me or hurt me or make us late. He didn’t plan anything of the kind. He was moving forward based on an unrealistic expectation.

I was able to revise my story, even in the heat of the moment, because I took responsibility. I stopped blaming. I could see my story was the issue, not Don’s actions.

When I changed from a blaming, negative story to a more positive story I was able to come up with a plan for moving forward that got me a really good result. When we take responsibility for what we think and how it makes us feel we will be able to respond to negative situations better. That will have a VERY positive and connecting impact on our families.

What has been your experience with taking control of what you think and feel? Please share in the comments section.

Here’s to more joy,
Mary Ann

P.S. You can learn more about controlling your thoughts and emotions for better 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 having points of contention, FREE by visiting becomingapresentparent.com  It can be life changing for your family. I promise!

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You Control Your Feelings. OH REALLY!!

Thoughts + Feelings = Quality of Relationships

Last week I wrote a post about some things we can do to untangle differences in our family. It generated some conversation! Readers added other important elements in their comments. They said, “We need boundaries. We need to value and respect ourselves. We need to make sure others know lines they cannot cross. We should never allow abuse.” I agree with all of those sentiments.

But I also know that in everyday families most things can be worked out as we choose to remain calm and kind. I also know from mentoring many years that there are two things that are key to helping us be calm and kind.

In one of the comments by a reader, both items were mentioned: “Thus changing how we think…and react … can change the dynamic of the relationship.”

Controlling the story we tell ourselves about what is happening can help us control how we feel and ultimately how we respond. A better response gives us a better outcome. We are able to remain calm and kind.

Many of you may have a difficult time accepting you can control how you feel by taking charge of the story you tell yourself.

I mean, if the kids are acting crazy, it’s going to make you feel crazy. If your spouse doesn’t notice how nice the house looks it can make you feel unimportant or undervalued. When money’s tight or your spouse isn’t helping you out, you feel overwhelmed. If you feel unsupported or if you have a health issue, all of this is going to mess with how you feel, right? At one time in my life, I knew the answer was a big fat yes!

Let me share one of a number of experiences that opened my eyes to the truth that our story can and does create how we are going to feel and in turn how we will respond to problems. We have control over our response!

The actual crash site! They are cutting Jenny out of her car.

My daughter, Jenny, had been hit head on by a drunk driver. He’d been going eighty miles an hour on the wrong side of the freeway. Those few terrible seconds changed Jenny’s life forever. She was ready to graduate with her BA but the accident left her unable to walk or find words for simple things such as orange or shoe. She couldn’t track conversations or make sense out of what people were saying. Her center for receiving social cues was damaged.

In 2012, Jenny’s six-year journey to get her life back ended when she graduated with her Master’s degree in Speech Therapy. When I think of Jenny’s experience, I know her recovery was because of a crucial step she took long before the accident. She had decided to take control of her thoughts.

Quotes decorated her walls and reflected how she wanted to view herself and life. When something bad, confusing, embarrassing, or hurtful happened to her, Jenny would recite one of her quotes in response. Then she would move forward.

In a time of darkness, confusion, and both physical and mental pain, she chose to look at life through a

“If you correct your mind, the rest of your life will fall into
place.” Lao Tzu – One of the quotes from Jenny’s pre-crash wall.

lens of light. She decided to embrace happiness no matter how hard the day. She controlled her thoughts, and she controlled her words. She controlled her story! I don’t want you to think the years after her accident were easy— they were long and painful—but she had decided to believe life was beautiful and there were lessons of value in each experience for her as a result.

Despite all of the difficulty and loss, Jenny would not discuss, in negative terms, the man who hit her. She wasn’t going to waste one minute on anger. Jenny wouldn’t verbalize the bad but chose instead to think and talk positively. She behaved this way before the accident and maintained this way of being after the crash. Jenny told her story in a way that did not include her as a victim.

One of my favorite writers is Viktor E. Frankl, a Holocaust survivor. 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. I would add that their responsibility to mentally write a story leading to the best response is also completely within their control.

Perspective is an amazing thing. It is, simply put, the story we tell ourselves: what we think is happening in our lives right now, what we believe happened in the past, and even what we think will happen in the future.

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 change your story by controlling your thoughts. You manage your emotions by controlling your story. When you do this, you take more positive actions and you get better results. Jenny has proven this to be true! I’ve proven it to be true in my own life as well.

In what ways have you been able to take control of your stories? In what ways do you still struggle to believe that no matter what happens you can control how you feel? Have you learned how to stop being a victim? I’d love to hear your responses in the comments section.

Next week I will talk more about how the stories we tell ourselves affect our response. The week after that, we’ll look at how positive stories can increase your inner resources, helping you better handle the things that come along in every family.

Here’s to more joy,
Mary Ann

P.S. You can learn more about controlling your thoughts and emotions for better 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!

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!

Less is More – REALLY

This spring my daughter moved to a new home. It’s on one acre of land. For a city girl that’s a lot of land. The plan is to have pot belly pigs and chickens but this summer the land is fallow. So the sunflowers and weeds have grown up as tall as a man in some places. It’s a veritable fortress of green and gold. The kids don’t venture into it because not only is it tall it’s full of stickers.

However, their dad has a new mini-tractor which he LOVES to use. This is one perk of having an acre of land when you’re a city boy! You get a new toy. He uses it to mow the lawn (it has an attachment) and recently he has been using it to pull the kids through the weed forest. It has a wagon. What a GREAT mini-tractor!

Yesterday, after church, Doug hooked up the wagon and filled it with the kids and off they went. It was hysterical watching and listening to them as they plowed through the verdant growth of the back pasture. The kids loved it and they will not forget the fun time they are having with their dad.

Think back to your favorite memories as a child. What are they? Who or what are the most distinct elements of those memories?

My children are grown adults, aged twenty-seven to forty-five. Recently, I asked them what their fondest memories were from childhood. Here are a few responses:

  • Jenny—“Playing with the big jar of buttons!”
  • Marie—“I remember you used a fridge box and turned it into a little store. I remember Seth being the clerk inside the box and us buying things. I also remember loving to look at your sticker books. I remember the night we pretended we didn’t have electricity and camping in the back yard.”
  • Barry—“I loved how much food we had on Thanksgiving and how tasty it was. I loved eating the tops of the cakes you cut off when baking. Canning, sewing, and cross country skiing to school were all enjoyable for me! I loved all the camping that we did and sitting in the dark with the Christmas lights on in the living room.”
  • Seth—“I loved New Year’s Eve and the cheese and meat tray that we ate while sitting on the floor watching a movie. I remember sitting on the front porch when it rained and smelling the rain and the lilacs. I remember our walks together and stopping by that beautiful yard, smelling the flowers.
  • Jodie—“I loved going to the park for the Fourth of July and eating watermelon. My most cherished memories are of the Thanksgiving and Christmas season. I loved all of the little traditions we had, from the way we decorated, to making gingerbread houses, to what we ate.”
  • Kate—“I remember you and me sitting under the table reading a chapter of Katie John together. She painted her face with lipstick on picture day and it wouldn’t come off. We laughed and laughed together. I remember gardening with you and finding that HUGE spider. I remember you sitting with me while I wrote that tough poem for school. I loved you teaching us to make snow candy, homemade noodles, sugar eggs, pillows filled with milkweed fluff and quilting.
  • Andrew—“I remember dad letting me sit on his lap and drive when I went on business trips with him. I also remember working with him in the crawl space. I don’t think either of us actually liked going down there, but we did like working together.”

Can you see that the most memorable memories of my children cost very little, didn’t take tons of time or preparation? It’s also interesting to note that the majority of these happy and pleasant memories are of events that happened in the course of daily living.

As parents, we spend a great deal of time worrying about whether we’re measuring up, whether we’re doing anything that our children will remember with fondness. And because we worry about this we tend to complicate things, create more work for ourselves and even spend money that isn’t necessary.

So when you begin to wonder if you’re doing anything in your home to create memories for your children that matter its well to remember that in the lasting-memory-department less is truly MORE.

Feel free to share your children’s favorite memories in the comments section. I’d love to hear them and asking your children to share can be eye opening. : )

Here’s to more joy,
Mary Ann
P.S. You can learn more about how the principle of Less is More can bless your family 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, FREE by visiting becomingapresentparent.com  It can be life changing for your family. I promise!

Perfect or What Is – It Matters!

Recently I moved from one small town to another. It required four long months and two moves. It was not easy! We are still not fully moved in because the new floors are not completely finished and we still have a kitchen in progress. The bright spot is this – our bathroom is completely done. That’s right, we have one room in our home which is fully unpacked and completely decorated and ordered. I love going into that room and luxuriating in its completeness.

One thing that this room needed was a new mirror. The medicine cupboard is interestingly over the toilet but we wanted a new flat mirror on the wall above the sink. I didn’t want just any old mirror; I wanted something with birds on it because that is the decorative theme of the room. So I went on a search and found the perfect one online.

It’s so beautiful and going into the bathroom made me feel happy. Then over the next few days as I sat in the room I began to notice small flaws in the patina of the birds and how the branches were soldered together. My joy in the room diminished a bit.

Many years ago I spent some months in California with my daughter who had just survived a terrible car crash and as part of her therapy to regain her ability to talk and process information we attended a painting class. I was proud of my painting when it was finished. It was such an accomplishment. I had done a great job for a first-time painter.

My husband really loved that painting and as a special gift a few years later he had it blown up about five times the original size, put on canvas and framed. Wow, I was stunned. He insisted that we hang it on the living room wall. He liked it so much that he wanted to be able to see it all the time. I was flattered, to say the least.

However, when you take a 9″x10″ piece of paper and blow it up five times its size an interesting thing happens; you can see all the flaws! It wasn’t long before the joy of having that painting hanging in our living room diminished for me because if I could see all the flaws so could everyone who came to visit.

I am sharing these two stories because that is what I find when I’m mentoring parents, they are alive to all the flaws in how they do just about everything. Their joy in any family activity or relationship or family system is dampened by what they perceive they haven’t done as well as they should have.

A great example of what I am talking about was experienced by my friend Leah. She and her husband took their family on an amazing trip one summer. When they returned I asked her how the trip went, and she said, “Well, it was OK but it didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped.” I asked her what went wrong, and she told me all the things they hadn’t done including having the boys journal each evening for writing practice.

I asked her to tell me what they did do. They went on a dinosaur dig and had a fun day. They sang a ton of songs in their van as they traveled. They had interesting conversations about the creation of the earth and what outer space would be like. They dug for gems one afternoon. They visited museums and other cool places. They had a lot of fun and laughter. Her boys learned new things to add to their growing store of knowledge about rocks and gems.

“My goodness,” I replied, “there are parents out there who would give anything for a week like that with their kids.” There was a pause on the other end of the line and then she said, “You’re right. I guess it was a pretty good trip after all. I hadn’t thought about it that way.”

Leah had done what I had done with both my bathroom mirror and my first ever painting. We had let our expectations get in the way of enjoying what was.

I have a bathroom mirror that sets off the whole room perfectly and that, if I let it, soothes me and makes me feel really happy. And I have a painting hanging on my wall that is darn good for a first-time painter and is a constant reminder that my husband loves me a lot! Leah and her family spent a week laughing, bonding and learning even though they didn’t accomplish all they had planned.

As we move through our days with our family it is valuable to remember not to let our expectations get in the way of enjoying what is; not to let less than perfect results mar the joy of the good that did happen.

A family trip will have its disrupted moments. There will be temper tantrums, spilled soda, arguments. But were there songs sung, hugs given, soothing words spoken occasionally? Then allow yourself to feel joy for those moments rather than disappointment for the others.

Baking cookies with your children may have spills and mess. You may feel worn out and edgy by the end. But did the children enjoy the process? Did they love the cookies? Then let that be enough. Feel joy in what is.

If you have a strained relationship with your child, watch. Despite the arguments, the poor choices, the stress, did you spend three minutes at bedtime, maybe not talking but sitting quietly with them. If so let yourself feel joy for those three minutes.

Life is messy. It is noisy. There are distractions. Relationships are challenging. We need to have expectations of better, we need to make changes and strive to grow, but if we learn to hold on to what is good now, what is working, focus on when we did right despite what we may have done wrong, then as a family and as parents we will experience more joy.

Link your satisfaction to your ability to enjoy what is right with your family even when it falls short of your expectations. It will refuel you to try again and you will like being in your family more. It will feel better.

What are your experiences with expectations in your family? I want to hear about the good, the bad and the ugly. : )

Heres to more joy,
Mary Ann

P.S. You can learn more about family expectations 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, points of connection, FREE by visiting becomingapresentparent.com  It can be life changing for your family. I promise!

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NOT the Greatest Grandmother!

https://pixabay.com/en/blackboard-technology-board-school-573023/

Sometimes I’m the greatest grandma in the world – and sometimes I am NOT. This week, when I was babysitting the grandkids I was a NOT the greatest grandma. You may ask what accounted for my fall from the pedestal. Well, it all had to do with technology. I turned it off for three hours!

In my new book Becoming a Present Parent, Connecting With Your Children in Five Minutes or Less, there is an entire chapter on this one topic – how technology impacts families and how to take control.

Recently my daughter’s family moved – three times. The entire move spanned a few months and involved living in two homes while they were being remodeled, as well as moving into temporary quarters while one home sold and the other was bought. Whew! It was an ordeal. This experience led to a lot of technology time for the kids. However, they are a bit more settled now and my daughter decided that it was time to get back on track. So at breakfast the other morning I heard her having a conversation with the children. She reminded them of  the family rules concerning their technology use.

Rule 1 – No technology in bedrooms, only at your desks
Rule 2 – No technology at the table
Rule 3 – No technology before the families morning routine is done
Rule 4 – No technology before church on Sunday mornings
Rule 5 – No technology after 7pm. That’s family time.

In 1971 C.P. Snow of the New York Times said “Technology . . . is a queer thing. It brings you great gifts with one hand, and it stabs you in the back with the other.”

This is true and it is especially true in families. There are positives and negatives to the use of technology in the family setting. Let’s take a brief look at some of the negatives when technology in families isn’t managed well.

  • It makes you grouchy. It’s a fact; too much technology use makes kids and adults grouchy. A study done by the Boston Medical Center revealed that parents who get absorbed by email, games, or other apps have more negative interactions with their children. And I have observed that if there is too much technology time for kids there seems to be more contention among siblings, there is a lower sense of cooperation when someone is asked to do something and there is a tendency to more disobedience.
  • Too much technology use contributes to a loss in the ability to relate to others. I recall watching five teens have a thirty-minute conversation with each other, all on their cell phones. Not a word was actually spoken and they were all right there together. Amazing!
  • It contributes to emotional distance and loneliness. When someone is responding to email or scanning Facebook while you or your kids are trying to get their attention it says loud and clear that you or they are not as important as the device.
  • It contributes to what appears to be naughty children and heightens the feeling of weariness for parents. If parents are on their devices too much, kids will act out to get their parents attention. I have some of my own private research to back this up, as well as wonderful studies done by scientists. And when kids are acting out it can be wearing for parents.

So what can we do to minimize the downside of technology in our families and maximize the positives?

1. Have a set time for technology use for your kids.

2, Manage your own technology use. Have a time limit when you use email and
social media sites at home.

3. Unplug! Have some times during the day when you just don’t use technology, dinner for example.

4. Make the effort to connect on a personal level. Occasionally, instead of texting, make a phone call. Instead of email, write a letter. Have a real face to face conversation with another family member.

I thought you might be interested in how our three hours of tech free time went – you know those three hours when I was the worst grandma on the planet. Well, Mary and Jack both made progress on the books they are currently reading and Ben reconnected with the joy of playing engineer. There are tremendous benefits for families when there are clear boundaries for technology use. Why not make it the topic of your next family meeting. It can change your family!

I’d love to hear how you manage technology in your home. I am also interested in your technology challenges. Visit the blog, leave a comment and let me know.

PS. I invite you to visit becomingapresentparent.com and get a FREE chapter of my new book. It’s called Utilizing Touchpoints and it can be life changing for your family. I promise!

Family Management vs Family Realtionships

Can we get our work done AND still build family relationships?

I went to Seattle to visit my youngest daughter’s family and to participate in her husband’s graduation. When we walked in the house from the airport at 11:30 that night we had to step over toys, shoes, the day’s clothes, etc. My daughter looked at me and said, “Mom I cleaned this house twice for you.” I smiled. I know that feeling. I also know that she has two small, busy children and that she spends time with them.

When I visit my daughter Marie, who has five children, the same scenario is repeated. She always asks me why I pick some major thing to clean every time I come. Well, it’s because I know what a challenge it is to stay on top of the daily things, let alone get any deep cleaning done, especially when you are willing to put it aside to help a five-year-old ride her bike or create a superhero costume for a nine-year-old son.

I live with my oldest daughter and her family, in an attached apartment. So I see what goes on there even more intimately. It is almost always slightly chaotic. The floor is rarely uncluttered for more than a few hours at a time. But I see her stop what she is doing to help any one of her four children with whatever project or need they may have. In fact, I have thought to myself, “Man, I would have told them I would help them later.” You see, I still have to work on being Present!

There are many things we have to DO to manage our home and family. They have to be done. Good mothers and fathers take care of the physical needs of their home and children. They cook, clean, care for the yard, do laundry, teach, admonish, and model appropriate behavior.

Being Present happens when we stop long enough to actually see and hear our child, when we step out of management mode and into relationship building even for just a few minutes at a time.

Let me give you an example of leaving the job of family management for the joy of relationship.
After 3 weeks this is my living room and soon to be kitchen.

We have all moved to a new city. It has taken a few months of remodeling the old home while we still lived there, living in temporary quarters while we found a new home, and now living in another remodeling mess. It has been chaotic and stressful, to say the least. We haven’t been able to fully move in and it has been over a month and a half. All of us, including the children, have had to deal with a great deal of stress.

A couple of days ago, after a long day of work, Doug was trying to get the

Lots done in Jodie’s house but this is still a fixture in the middle of the living room.

new table assembled so their family can finally eat a meal sitting together. This was a project which not only needed to be done; it was a project that felt important to the family fabric after weeks of chaos.

At the same time Ben, who is five, found an app that he desperately wanted to download onto his tablet. Mom was at the hospital with his sister, Maggie, who had just had major surgery. So he asked his Dad to help him call his mom so he could get the code to download the app.

As his Dad continued to work on the table Ben repeated his query. “Dad, can you help me.” “I really want to download this app.” “Dad, this is a super game and you will like it.” “Please, call mom.”

The finished table which is too heavy for less than four men to turn upright. LOL

Doug responded to Ben’s repeated questions about the app while still working on the table. “You can’t download anything if it costs money.” “Your mom can help you when she gets home.” “I have to get this table done.” “Wait a minute.” “Ben, you can’t download anything until I look at it.” This went on, back and forth between them, for about thirty minutes. I could see that Doug’s patience was thinning. He exclaimed, “Ben, you’re killing me son.”

Then Doug did a wise and wonderful thing. He stopped working on the table. He walked over to Ben, took hold of his hands and looked him in the eye. He asked, “Ben, what app are you talking about. Show me.”

In about five minutes they had the app downloaded and Ben was happily working on it and Dad was back finishing the table.

We often postpone or even neglect these types of Present moments because we think they will take a lot of time. But being Present usually happens in less than five minutes. It is something we can learn to do every day and use only minutes of our time. It is a doable skill that any parent can practice and learn.

Did you notice the four simple things that Doug did that led him to a magical Present moment with his son? First, he stopped. Second, he turned away from what he was doing. Third, he looked fully into his son’s face. Fourth, he touched his child. In that moment I saw his heart soften, his focus change from the table to his son. It was magical, simple, and it only took him five minutes to take care of Ben’s need.

We can all be more Present parents if we will learn to STOP, TURN away from whatever we are doing, LOOK into our child’s eyes, and then TOUCH them.

Regularly I pick a verse of scripture to think on and memorize. I appreciate the discipline and I like the messages. A few years ago I choose Matthew 13:16: “But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.” May we all be blessed in our relationships as we practice the art of being Present – STOP, TURN, LOOK and TOUCH.

What are your struggles with being Present in your day to day activities? Share and let me respond. : )