Category: featured

Want Better Relationships – Like Yourself First!

I keep thinking that I’ll switch topics from the power of controlling our story and response to another parenting topic but every day provides a new and powerful example of just what it looks like to control how we think and act.

Stories of real-life examples are impactful in helping us relate to principles in a way that allows us to get clarity on how to live them better. There’s value in ‘seeing’ a principle at work because it extends our knowledge of the principle and knowledge is power when it comes to personal change.

Here is an example from this week.

When I was writing the book Becoming a Present Parent I found myself constantly distracted and it was hard to make headway. So I pondered what I could do to find more consistent time to write. My most clear and compelling thought was to get up at four in the morning which would give me three uninterrupted hours. It was one of the most challenging and rewarding things I have ever set out to do. For over six months I got up early six days a week and wrote. It was exhilarating to see the book come together.

That was over 1 ½ years ago and a recent move. I have got to confess that I fell off that wagon and I’ve struggled to get back on. I’ve been making an effort to go back to my early morning routine because I have some studying to do that is kicking my rear and I need more quiet, focused time.

Each day since I determined to get up at four a.m. I have awakened to the alarm and then changed the time to 5:30 or 6. Of course, I want to get up, I know I should get up but when it comes to getting up I have an argument with myself and I lose. Here’s the story I’ve been telling myself about the situation: I’m just rebellious. I know I should get up but I just don’t want to. I’m being a lazy lump!”

On Monday I told my daughter how I was feeling. She replied, “Well mom, maybe you’re just being charitable to yourself. We’ve just moved, have been renovating every day and you are tired. Maybe you’re just listening to your body and taking care of yourself.” Wow, that felt a lot better than the story I’d been telling myself.

On Wednesday I helped my 95-year-old friend in her yard. It was laborious, to say the least. My back was sore and so were my legs. I felt very weary. In fact, I went to bed at 8:30.

Now, from 8:30 to 4:30 is eight hours, the amount of time I feel I need and want to sleep each night. But when the alarm went off I was still TIRED. I wanted to lie there and rest a bit more. So I did. The difference was this: I thought it over and made a decision. I didn’t argue with myself or feel like a lazy lump. I just decided to give myself an extra hour of sleep.

I know I need to get up at 4:00. I feel very strongly about that and I will. But while I’m getting back into the traces, so to speak, I’m going to be kinder to myself. I’m going to be more generous with the story I tell myself about the process I have to go through to make it happen.

Remember last week? I shared the idea that when we think positively about any given situation it increases our ability to come up with options for moving forward. With this in mind, I know that as I remain positive, continue in my efforts to accomplish a challenging goal and don’t quit, I will succeed more quickly.

The story we tell ourselves about ourselves, others or situations impacts how we feel and then respond. Getting control over our story and the ensuing response gives us greater power over our lives. It’s worth the effort!

If you want to begin taking control of your story, then I want to help you. I have an exercise that I want to share with you, FREE. It’s a simple PDF which will walk you through a 30-day exercise that will help you see patterns in your negative thoughts and will give you clarity on what you need to work on first. If you’re interested then click here. It will be available for download for one week.

I’d like to know what you’re struggling with right now and how changing your story could help you have a better outcome. Please leave a comment. I will respond. : )

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!

Want to know more about Present Parenting? –

Of Cats and Dogs

I grew up in a family that always had a dog. We had Sheppard’s and once we even had a giant poodle. We named him Expense.

But dogs in our family didn’t live in the lap of luxury. They ate table scraps for the most part and for the rest they beat the streets, so to speak. They stayed outside no matter what the weather and I came to know that my dad just tolerated them. He didn’t like dogs but he had nine children and felt that a dog was a must.

As for cats, they were the scourge of the earth. My dad would no more have had a cat than live underground. As much as he disliked dogs, he hated cats.

Not surprisingly, I grew up an avid dog and cat hater. There wasn’t a single thing about them that I could stand. It creeped me out to have a cat rub up against my leg. I felt like throwing up if a dog licked me or put his cold, wet nose on me anywhere. I couldn’t even stand the feel of cat or dog fur. And I absolutely could not abide the smell of dogs. If I was in the same room with them I could smell them and it was disgusting.

But I had seven children and a husband who loved dogs so like my father before me we had dogs and I couldn’t stand them. I was not cruel but I was not kind. I wasn’t terribly harsh but I wasn’t gentle either.

When I was in my fifties I had a dear friend named Ruby. She raised little dogs and she was dying. She had daughters who also raised little dogs and she knew they would take her dogs. But she had this big old grey cat named Big Kitty. Her girls were not interested in that scruffy old cat.

So Ruby asked me to take Big Kitty. I agonized over what to say. So did my husband because he also disliked cats. Nevertheless, for the sake of a dear friendship, we took the cat. He lived with us for a few years. In that time, for Ruby’s sake, I made a decision that I would care for that cat and I did.

But I could still barely tolerate dogs. Then we moved from Montana to Utah and lived with our daughter and her family.

She had a timid little dog named Odie. He was a small dachshund and he was terrified of me. He had good reason. I called him dumb dog in a loud and irritated voice on many occasions.

Other people loved animals. Why didn’t I?

Then one day I made a decision. I decided that I didn’t want to dislike cats and dogs anymore. I had watched other people and they loved their dogs and cats. I began to think that I might be missing something. But how in the world was I going to find out if I couldn’t get over my aversion to the smell and touch of an animal?

Because I am a praying person that’s what I did, I asked God how I could come to like animals. The first thought I had was to make friends with Odie. So every day after work I would come into the yard, call Odie and then touch his head. As he came to me he walked on his short little legs like a condemned man heading to the gallows. And when I reached out to touch his head he would pull back a bit. Poor little guy. I could barely touch his head and give a little pat. That was all I could handle. As the weeks went on I went from barely a touch on the head to an actual pat and then to stroking him once or twice.

I did this for many weeks and then one day I sat on the back steps, pulled him into my lap and sat there for a few minutes. I didn’t pet him but I held him. It’s well to remember that I couldn’t stand the smell of dogs or the feeling of their fur so this was huge!!

Eventually, Odie and I became friends. I felt tenderness for him. I never touched him a lot and we didn’t pal around but we became friends.

During this time our last child left home and Don, my husband began to long for a dog. I dreaded that. It’s one thing to be friends with someone else’s dog but it’s another to live with one. So I stepped up my prayers. I began telling myself that I liked dogs. They were man’s best friend after all and if they were man’s best friend they could be woman’s too.

I petted all of my client’s dogs. I talked to the neighborhood dogs. I patted them and then one day Patch came to live in our home and guess what! I like Patch. I can pet him and I’m not grossed out. I do still avoid his wet nose but I like him. I am kind. We are friends. In fact two days ago I went back to bed. I get up very early and walk with my daughter but this day I was tired so I went back to bed.

Patch and don in their favorite place. : )

After I let Patch out in the morning he runs and jumps on our bed and snuggles with his pal, Don. This morning, the morning I returned to bed, he had his side pressed up against Dons back. That meant he was sort of on my side. I looked at him and thought about tossing him off. But I got into bed, turned over and went to sleep. You cannot imagine how amazing it was to me to be in the same space with a dog and be able to sleep.

At this time we also have a cat who lives with our daughter . He has decided that my office chair is his personal retreat from children and noise. I let him have it!

Jax on my office chair.

So what happened between finding cats and dogs absolutely disgusting and becoming their friend. It was a decision. I decided to change my story from dogs and cats are filthy and disgusting to dogs and cats are wonderful animals and I am OK with them.

I am not yet Patch’s pal. I don’t hold him on my lap but I pet him. I don’t talk baby talk or feed him from my hand or sleep with him. But I like him. He’s a good dog and I find this particular miracle wonderful.

Here is the truth – When You Change Your Story, You Change!

When I changed my story about animals and about how I wanted to see them, I experienced a change. Understanding that your story can and does influence your response to your spouse, your children and yes, even to cats and dogs is powerful and frankly, life-changing.

Does this ring true for you?  Please share your feelings with me by leaving a comment.

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!

Want to know more about Present Parenting? – 

 

Want More Internal Resources When Dealing With Your Kids?

For the last few weeks, I have been sharing information on the value of seeing situations in our lives in a more positive light. It requires that we let go of blame, fear, anger and so forth. But that takes some practice. So why would we even want to do it?

Negative thoughts hinder you from achieving things you want but research has shown that positive thoughts do the opposite.

Barbara Fredrickson is a positive psychology researcher at the University of North Carolina. She’s been able to demonstrate that positive thoughts can create real value in your life. She took five groups of people and showed each group film clips. Two groups saw clips of joyful things or sights that engendered contentment. Two groups saw clips which brought forth feeling of fear or anger. The control group saw neutral images.

Afterward, each participant was asked to imagine themselves in a situation where similar feelings would arise and to write down what they would do.

Participants who saw images of fear and anger wrote down the fewest responses. Meanwhile, the participants who saw images of joy and contentment wrote down a significantly higher number of actions that they would take, even when compared to the neutral group.

In other words, when you’re experiencing positive emotions like joy, contentment, and love you’ll see more possibilities in your life. Your thoughts will be more positive. That means the truths you embrace or the stories you tell yourself will be more positive. That will help you see more options for response.

I was mentoring a self-employed mother who was telling herself a negative story about her son’s actions. She felt he was whiny and needy. He was a bother when she was trying to work. Her responses to her son were causing a strained relationship between them. She was having difficulty figuring out how to fix the situation.

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

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

When her story was negative, she had fewer ideas on how she could deal with the situation in positive ways and, in fact, dealt with her son in more negative ways. This set up a negative cycle between them.

Her son tried harder to be heard and seen, her annoyance was heightened, and she responded in more negative ways. Her son would try even harder to be heard and seen, and the cycle would repeat.

When she changed her story and generated more positive feelings, she found more creative ways to respond. The new responses changed the dynamic or cycle with her son. This mom got better results because her feelings were positive. Her feelings were positive because she changed her story about her son. She found ways to be Present despite her work or his needs.

Remember that every situation and experience is made up of multiple truths. When we choose to focus on the more positive aspects of what happens in our lives we will be able to be Present more often and more consistently which will help us have happier family experiences. That’s why it’s worth the work and practice to take control of our thoughts, feelings, and the resulting stories. We will be able to respond better, even in negative situations. And that will get us a better result!

Have you had an experience where changing your story about a person or situation has changed your ability to respond well? Man, I really want to hear about it! 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!

How to get what you want!

When You Change Your Story, You Change

I was mentoring with a woman I loved and trusted. I was mentoring because, well, I wasn’t as happy with my life as I felt I should be. Each week we talked about things that were seemingly out of my control, which were making me miserable.

One day I was complaining about how my husband managed money. I was fed up with having the same discussion over and over again. Finally, my mentor said, “Mary Ann, you’re not a victim. You can choose to leave.” I was shocked. No, I couldn’t. After all, he was my husband, and I loved him. My religion would make leaving difficult and I had seven kids and . . .

Suddenly I realized I could. I could leave. I wasn’t a victim. I had the ability to choose how I was going to respond to this situation. I was in control of the story and the outcome.

I’m happy to say many years have passed, and I’m still married to the same man. I love him and occasionally we still have a money conversation but it has changed because my story changed.

You see, at the time, this was my story. “My husband doesn’t care how I feel. If he did, he would spend money differently. He does what he wants to do. My life is painful because of my husband.” Wow! Feels dreadful, doesn’t it?

Now, years later, here’s my story. “I have a great relationship with money. I always have what I need. Don’s making progress on his relationship with money. I’m supporting him, sharing what I’ve learned, and enjoying my healthy relationship with both Don and money.” Doesn’t that feel better?

You might be thinking, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard! You still have to live with the results of his choices. How can you be happy? Nothing has changed. You’re hiding your head in the sand and being a Pollyanna.”

If I weren’t living my life, I would agree with you. But I have firsthand experience that has proven when we change our story, everything changes.

In the case of my husband, myself, and our money conversation, when I changed my story it changed me. I no longer felt threatened, put upon, hurt, scared, or angry. It stopped impacting me as negatively.

In Every Situation, There is More Than One Truth

Here is something I have come to understand. In every situation, there is more than one truth. We get to choose which truth we want to focus on and that becomes our story. Our story fuels our response.

Take my family for example. You can say that Don and I raised seven beautiful, happy and productive adults. That is certainly true. However, it is also true that Don and I made mistakes; some of our kids struggled a lot and used drugs. That is equally true. Everyone who knows us gets to decide which lens they will see us from. Believe me, there are people in both camps. And frankly. Don and I have had to decide which lens we would see ourselves and our family through.

Jenny, the daughter I talked about two weeks ago was in the same boat. She could see the man who hit her with his car as a drunkard who lost control and drove on the wrong side of the freeway and destroyed her life as she knew it. He deserved to pay. That was absolutely true. Here is what was equally true and which Jenny decided to focus on. Here was a man in trouble who needed help. He had a family and a life but he was in trouble. She wrote to the judge asking her to not just punish him but to help him.

In every situation, there is more than one truth, sometimes many truths.

In our situation, with money, it was true that Don struggled to manage well. It was true that I felt scared and threatened about money. It was true that Don loved me and wanted to do the best for his family. It was also true that I was acting like a victim and allowing that place to determine my response. Thankfully I chose this truth, which has proven to be as true as any of the others – I am not a victim, I can manage money. I am not afraid of how money shows up in my life. I love my husband, he loves me and he is doing his best.

What You Say Is What You Get

You’ve all heard this old saying or something like it, “What you say is what you get.” It’s true. I have lived it.

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

James Clear wrote for the Huffington Post, “Your brain is . . . programmed to respond to negative emotions . . . by shutting off the outside world and limiting the options you see around you.”

In our families, in order to have better outcomes and happier days, we need more options, not fewer when it comes to responding to the chaos, noise and sheer work of juggling all that’s required. And there are ways that we can increase our internal resources so that we can and will have more options and respond better – because we will have a better story.

Next week I’ll be talking about that. You’re going to find it uplifting and enlightening. And remember there’s always more than one truth in every situation. Pick the one that will help you get the results you want!

What have you learned that helps you control your story and your response? 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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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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Making it through the Last Month of Summer!

The Summer Dilemma –

Mary and Jack learning to water the garden.

 

As much as we love summer and our kids, both can challenge our patience and our energy as the season winds down. We want to enjoy fully the last weeks of this magical and free-feeling season but there is also the thought that it is coming to an end. School isn’t far away. Clothes need to be purchased. If you homeschool there’s curriculum and a schedule to plan. Add to this the feeling that there is still a multitude of things that need to be done before the cooler days of fall set it. We all go into the summer with so many plans for organizing, cleaning out, etc. It can feel a bit manic in our minds. Possibly you, as I have done in the past, have begun pushing your family to get things done – yard work, organizing, cleaning, one last outing, etc.

None of this internal and sometimes outward chaos is going to go away until the slow days of fall actually arrive but we can do something during these waning summer days to relieve the pressure a bit. We can turn a family activity that is usually a point of contention into a point of connection. If we adjust our thinking we can make chores and family work a point of connection. This will help you savor being with your children, ease the sense that there are things that must get done, as well as help you actually get things done.

Chores and Family Work

Thinking about the word WORK can make a parent groan inside because work is often a point of contention in a family. But work can be a place where we create a touchpoint, a place of connection, rather than a point of contention if building relationships is our ultimate goal.

CHORES
Maggie doing her chores.

Often we get so involved in the management portion of family life that it’s difficult to address the relationship portion. Everyone wants support when facing a tough job. No one wants to be isolated in a mess. We sometimes forget our kids feel the same way we do.

Moms have had the experience of walking into a disaster of a kitchen after a long day. Your family’s watching TV, and here you are, in this messy kitchen. Where do you even start?

How does it feel when your husband abandons his show, comes in and begins helping you pick up? And how does it feel when he also asks you how your day went? It’s amazing!

This happens to dads in garages and backyards. How does it feel when your seventeen-year-old volunteers to help get the backyard in order?How about when your thirteen-year-old offers to spend time helping you organize the garage? It feels better, doesn’t it?

When a child is faced with what seems like a daunting task, cleaning their room, for example, check on them. Put your hand on their back or rub a shoulder and say, “Let me give you a hand.” Help them for 2-3 minutes while having a mini-conversation. Then say, “I’ll be back to check on you”. Now head off to the next child or to your own work. It makes all the difference in how chores feel and in how well they get done. It solidifies relationships. It allows you to be Present with your child for a few minutes. Chores can be a touchpoint, a place of connection!

FAMILY WORK

Family work is another time when you can create connection rather than have a point of contention. When working as a family we need to keep in mind the objective isn’t just to get another item off the to-do list – we’re creating relationships and bonding our family.

I love gardening alone. I love the quiet and feeling the dirt in my fingers. But I understand it’s an opportunity for me to teach and connect with my grandchildren. Gardening can be transformed into an enduring memory for all of us when I remember the garden isn’t what’s important, the relationship is.

My daughter knows how to add fun to family work!

Add fun to any work you do as a family – sing, dance as you clean, play great music, tell jokes, laugh, have mini-conversations and lots of random touches.

Things aren’t going to work out all of the time. You’ll have family work that turns into chaos or contention. We’re all imperfect, we get tired, and we have grouchy moments. It’s inevitable. But what if you could make family work more pleasant even one-quarter of the time?

If you can be Present as you work together, check on each other and add a bit of fun even one-quarter of the time, your family members will feel supported and relationships will be built. You’ll experience GREAT results in the happiness level of your family.

Enjoy the waning days of summer,
Mary Ann

P.S. You can learn more about family touchpoints 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. In fact, you can access this chapter on Utilizing Touchpoints FREE by visiting becomingapresentparent.com  It can be life changing for your family. I promise!

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