Category: Parenting Skills

5 Tips To Put Family First in a World of Distractions

I saw an insurance commercial in which the adults (portrayed by kids) were being treated like children by the insurance company. They felt helpless, undervalued, and frustrated. When I saw this commercial, I, like most of you, could relate to those feelings. At the end of the commercial, a rival insurance company helped a woman (portrayed by a child) with her needs. She stood there smiling, feeling good.

Then I had a second thought. Why would they use children to illustrate what all of us have felt as adults? It’s because this IS how children are frequently treated. They are not seen, heard. They don’t feel they matter.

What Does Being on the List Look Like

Let me give you an example of what it looks like when we treat our children in a way that leaves them feeling like the adults in this commercial, helpless, undervalued and frustrated.

One day I was sewing, and the project had a deadline. I’m pretty good but sewing would be on the bottom  of my relaxing and fun things to-do list. I was feeling some pressure. My 3-year-old daughter, Marie, kept coming into the sewing room and interrupting me. This and the sewing were wearing on my nerves. I was ready to spank her. After all, she was bugging me, and she could see perfectly well that I was busy! I decided if she interrupted me again, I was going to swat her.

Of course, you know what happened. She came in again and I was ready to carry out my intention. Then I had a thought, “Why not hug her instead!” It wasn’t my thought! Remember, I had a firm intention to swat her. It took me by such surprise that I STOPPED what I was doing.

I turned my chair away from the sewing machine and I looked at my daughter. I picked her up and I hugged her tight. I hugged her for 15-20 seconds. I said, “Marie I LOVE you!” Then I put her down and off she went as happy as a clam.

She didn’t come back. Why! Think about that insurance commercial I described and it will be clear. When they were being ignored the people in the commercial were frustrated and feeling undervalued. The woman at the end of the commercial was smiling and feeling good because someone cared. She was on the list.  She felt valued.

This is what happened to Marie. All she wanted was to be on the list, to be valued. Our children want to be on our list, and in our busy lives we sometimes erase them off. Oh, we cook meals, clean and maintain order and manage our family, but our children and our relationship with them are not on the list. We often don’t make time to let them know that we see them, hear them, and that they matter.

5 tips to help you let your kids know they have a place on your list.

1. Take a hard look at your calendar – We all have good things on our calendar. However, are there so many goods that there isn’t room for the best – time with our children? Can you pare down the classes, lessons, team activities, and community and church responsibilities? Time at home matters to kids. Ask yourself, “What happens if I/we don’t do this?” If you’re doing a task out of guilt or habit, take it off your calendar. Figure out what your priorities are and pursue those. Something must give.

2. Involve the kids – I know, I know, it’s simply easier, faster, and more efficient to do things by yourself. But there are advantages to including your children a few times a week. Gardening together, folding laundry as a group, and tidying up the yard as a unit are ways to kill two birds with one stone. If you make it fun it won’t seem like work, it will seem like a family activity.

3. Turn off your digital devices, ditch technology – just for a while. Have technology-free moments every day. For example, have a TV, computer or no phone hour just before bed or while eating dinner. When you’re willing to let go of technology for even short amounts of time, you’ll be surprised at how much time you can open up for the family.

4. Make a date with your family and then keep it. When things are planned, they tend to happen. When they aren’t the world crowds in, and they get put off. If you have a family evening once a week then consider that sacred time. If you decide to have a game night, don’t let anything else interfere. If you plan to walk one evening a week, make sure it happens. It doesn’t have to cost money, take a lot of time or preparation but you do need to be consistent. That will go a long way to saying, “You are on my list.”

5. Realize you won’t get everything done. A to-do list is unending. It will never get done. Laundry is forever, so is cleaning and cooking. The yard always needs to be mowed and snow must be shoveled. So, lighten up a bit. Let some things go, short term, and make space for your family. 

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What Is The Best Gift?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I appreciate it when you share. Thank you!

You Can’t Know Until You Get There

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Casserole is NOT Romance

Time and Attention are Rare

and Valuable Gifts

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

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

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

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

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

“Right, no points.”

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

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

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

An Example of Presence

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

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

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

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We Don’t Understand Do We!

When I was sixteen I portrayed Emily Webb in the play Our Town by Thornton Wilder. The plays about the short life of Emily Webb, her growing, loving and dying. It’s about her realization that all that really mattered were her relationships. After her death, she laments that most of us are too busy with cleaning, cooking, work, hobbies, getting through each day, that we miss what matters most.

As you read these lines, you will feel her sorrow and the urgency to look at one another and really see.

Emily: Live people don’t understand, do they?
Mrs. Gibbs: No dear-not very much.
Emily: Oh, Mother Gibbs, I never realized before how troubled and how…how in the dark live persons are. From morning till night, that’s all they are – troubled…But Mother Gibbs, one can go back…into the living.
Mrs. Gibbs: Yes, of course you can…All I can say is, Emily, don’t.
Emily: But I won’t live over a sad day. I’ll choose a happy one…
Mrs. Gibbs: At least, choose an unimportant day. It will be important enough.
Emily: I choose my twelfth birthday.
____________________________________
Emily: Mama, I’m here! Oh, how young Mama looks! I didn’t know Mama was ever that young.
Emily watches breakfast being served and conversations between her family members.
Emily, with mounting urgency: Oh, Mama, just look at me one minute as though you really saw me. Mama, fourteen years have gone by. I’m dead…Mama. Wally’s dead too…But just for a moment now we’re all together. Mama, just for a moment we’re happy. Let’s look at one another.

Emily, in a loud voice, to the Stage Manager: I can’t. I can’t go on. We don’t have time to look at one another. I didn’t realize…Do any human beings realize life while they live it?
____________________________________
Mrs. Gibbs: Were you happy?
Emily: No…I should have listened to you. That’s all human beings are! Just blind people…They don’t understand, do they?
____________________________________
I thought about this play as I was looking through old photos and weeping and weeping. I saw my two brothers and my dad who are gone. There were aunts and uncles and cousins, all gone now. Here is the beginning line of a poem written by my living brother not too many years before my dad passed away-      “I know this man as father, yet I know him very little.” It’s a beautiful poem, all about what he learned from my dad that has helped him in his life. Yet the beginning line holds a world of meaning and experience between the two.

Here is an excerpt I found in a letter I had written my dad many years ago. “Thank you for a piece of yourself. The letters from you to grandpa confirmed something I already knew, that as we grow older, we make friends of our family members.”

Why is that? Why do our children have to grow up and go away before they become our friends, before we know who they are, who they really are, if we ever even get that far? I think it’s because we’re so busy keeping track of what they will eat and won’t eat, how well they read, how they take care of responsibilities, their grades, who they hang out with, if they speak politely, and all the other concerns of good parents.

We need to be present. We need to listen to each other. We need to ask better questions. We need to look at each other. We need relationships that go beyond just sharing a home or a workspace or a church pew.

I clearly understand being present. I teach it all the time. But being present can be tough. I admit it. I talk with my mom enough. I don’t sit and listen to my husband dream enough. I don’t know enough about the hopes and dreams of my adult children. I don’t call friends enough.

We live as if life will always be the same. The people we love will always be here. We have plenty of time to know them, to love them. But we don’t! Life moves on relentlessly. People move away, sometimes they die. Sometimes they just stop being an everyday part of our lives. Connecting with people we love, every day, in all the mundane moments, that is the essence of a life well-lived.

These moments happen at the dinner table, during bath time, bedtime and family time. They happen in the car on the way to the store. These moments happen as we weed the garden, clean the garage, take a walk, and do the dishes together.

They happen when we free our mind from the babble of what must be done next and focus on what is happening now, right now, with this child, with this spouse, with this friend, with this parent or sibling. They happen when we’re not so caught up in life that we can’t appreciate life.

Being Present is a skill.

We need to practice it with real intent. When we fall short, we practice some more. Whatever we focus on grows and expands. We can use this principle to become better at our relationships. Spend more time looking at your children and hearing them. Don’t be as Emily Gibbs laments, “blind people.”

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What do you want to bequeath to your children?

I came from a family of complainers. I can still hear my grandmother complaining to my grandfather about all kinds of things. I can hear my aunts and their complaints. After all, we used to hide under the kitchen table, which had a cloth that reached to the floor and listen in on their private conversations. I, in turn, became a complainer. When I listen to my sisters and cousins, I hear the echoes of those long dead and their complaints. It’s a family tradition, of sorts.

I recently visited with a friend who spent a great deal of time putting herself down. After each remark, she would laugh as if it was a joke. But here’s what I know, we mean what we say even if we try to pass it off as a joke. What comes out of our mouths is an indicator of our inner belief.

I know a man who has difficulty walking. When he’s going anywhere, you can hear him say, “I always find the perfect parking spot.” It amazes me how often he does find the perfect spot. He expects good and often that’s exactly what he gets.

When we talk about preparing our kids for the real world we often think in terms of how well they manage their private space (bedroom), how able they are to stay clean and care for their belongings, if they stay on task and get homework done or other chores, and how well they make, save, and spend money.

It’s useful to think about our way of being and what we may be passing along to our children.

Do we manage our stories about ourselves and others? Do we look for the bright side in tough situations? Are we grateful even when we must forego or wait for something we want? Do we complain? Do we problem-solve well? What about our personal boundaries or our own self-management?

We don’t do this inventory so that we can beat ourselves up over our weaknesses. We do it because as we work on our weaknesses and improve our way of being, we pass along one of the most important things we can give our children. We show by example that they are 100% responsible for how their life looks and feels. We show them by example that they can change; they can improve and when they do everything else improves.

As parents, one of the greatest gifts we can pass on to our children is being someone they can learn from and be inspired by. We can bequeath them power over self.

Taking an inventory of our way of being is useful because it will help us improve ourselves. As we make changes, we teach our children that change is possible and necessary. We pass along life skills that make for a more pleasant and successful life.

Ask the important question – What do I want to bequeath to my children?

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Do You Undermine Your Growth and Success

Recently, I taught a class on consistency. I have taught this topic many times and have written about it often. I gave the class some tips on how to work toward being more consistent. However, this year I added a new tip that I have learned the hard way over the last couple of years. It applies to more than just remaining consistent. It applies to every change we want to make or promise we want to keep.

It’s a challenge to commit to something new or to make a change. But when we resent and blame others it saps the energy needed for follow-through. When we’re mired in resentment and blame it undermines our personal growth and success.

A Real-Life Example

I get up early and my husband sleeps in. He’s retired and doesn’t need to get up early, so he doesn’t.

I, on the other hand, have decided through experimentation that when I get up earlier my life feels better. I accomplish more, which matters to me. So, I made a commitment to get up at 5am. I sometimes felt resentful that Don slept in. I felt resentful that he could stay up later.

Often when I woke up, I wanted to sleep longer, and I had to force myself out of bed. I would look at my husband and feel resentment that I had to toe the line, do this hard thing and he didn’t. How unfair. When I let myself tell that story it became very hard to get out of bed and stay out.

If I did go back to bed, when I got up, I would feel terrible because I hadn’t kept my promise to myself. So, I would blame Don. After all, if he wasn’t in bed I would have gotten up. It was his fault. “Why can’t he get up early too and then it would be easier for me.”

This type of thing happens at work, with our kids, in relationships, all the time. It can derail our desire to eat well, keep up with our home management chores, connect with our children, lose weight, exercise, and the list goes on. When we let blame and resentment color our personal commitments, whatever they are, we will have a harder time keeping them.

Here’s the deal. It’s my commitment to get up early because of the things I want in my life. Don never made this commitment. No one makes me go to bed early. No one makes me get up. I can change my promise to myself at any time. It’s all up to me. That’s the true story!

There are many ways to maintain control over resentment and blame. Here are three.

Three Tips To Manage Blame and Resentment

• Stop and examine your story. What are you telling yourself? Is it true? If not, what is true. In this case, Don hasn’t made the commitment, I have. Whether I do it or not isn’t about Don, it’s about me.
• Release blame and resentment. These two emotions sap the energy required to stay the course. If you feel them know that there is something in your story that needs to be examined. Do an honest evaluation. Then let them go.
• Revaluate your commitment. Does it need to be adjusted so it feels manageable? In this case, mine did need an adjustment. I opened my window of ‘get up time’ from 5 am to between 5 am and 6 am. It felt less restrictive. I also gave myself a day off. On Sunday I let myself sleep in until 8 if I want to. I often don’t but I know that I can.
• Don’t quit. Whether you keep your promise to yourself, your personal commitment is all about you. So, when you feel like quitting, don’t. Keep going. If you fall off the wagon get back on as soon as you can. Manage your story. This is about you and what you want in your life.

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Are You Like The White Rabbit?

Do you recall the White Rabbit in Lewis Carrols, Alice in Wonderland? You know the jumpy little guy who was always crying out, “I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date.” He was so worried about being in the right place at the right time. He had so much on his plate.

I don’t know about you, but I have lived the life of that rabbit. I have spent time hopping from one thing to another always with the feeling that I am not quite where I should be; I am not measuring up. Busy-ness became a habit. I was mired in the thick of thin things.

Mothers and fathers find themselves here all the time. All the chores belong to parenting: cooking, cleaning, yard work, laundry, dishes, getting kids up, putting them to bed, running kids here and there.

And then there are all the good things that we can do for ourselves to feel successful. We do them to serve in our community. We do them because we want our kids to have a good example. You know the stuff: serving in church, PTA, community events, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, youth choirs, charity organizations.

It can all feel so exhausting. And yet aren’t these all good things. Yup. They are. But I try to remember what Stephen R. Covey explained. It is important not to sacrifice the best for the sake of the good.

So, what is best?

Our family, with its relationships, should be right at the top of the list.

It’s wonderful to drive your child to sports practices, to lessons and other worthy events. But it could be best to sit for 3 minutes on their bedside at night and listen to them.

It’s valuable to take your family to a movie or a water park or other fun venue. But it might be better to sit at the dinner table for 15 minutes engaged in a mini conversation.

Laundry, clean counters, and bedrooms all matter and must be done. That is good. But it might be better to learn how to engage during chores in a way that strengthens the relationship and doesn’t just get the work done.

It’s valuable to show our children how to serve by leading groups and organizing community events. It might just be better to send the same message by learning to be more Present at home: actively listening to them when they come home late in the evening or putting down your phone to look them in the eye when they need you.

I am not saying that we shouldn’t serve in our communities and church. I am not saying that we shouldn’t go places, do things as a family. I am not saying that lessons and organizations aren’t important.

Here is what I am saying. Time at home, serving each other and being Present just might be BEST.

If being home doesn’t feel nurturing or successful to you right now, then maybe you need a tweak in how you see the everyday events that happen there. If chores, bedtime, and meals are points of contention then maybe you need to learn how to use them for connection.

When we understand that connecting with our family members should be top on our list, when we know the difference between good and best, then we will feel more successful in our homes and we will have more satisfaction in our lives.

Unlike the White Rabbit, you can stop hopping from place to place wondering if you are in the right place. You are at home. You are with your family. You are in the best place!

Learn how to STOP being the White Rabbit

If you want that tweak in how you see what you do at home, if you want to turn points of contention into points of connection, get your FREE copy of Chapter four from the book Becoming A Present Parent: Connecting with your children in five minutes or less HERE.

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Do You Leave in the Middle of Memory Making?

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

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

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

Here are some examples

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Memories that last are made during the everyday moments we have

with our kids.

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

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

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

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What is most worth doing must be done at home

Did you know that happiness begins at home?

 

In a study of thirteen to twenty-four-year-olds conducted by the Associated Press and MTV, more than 100 questions were asked of 1,280 young people. The questions were all centered on determining what made these youth happy. Can you guess the number one answer? Spending time with family! Yup, that’s right, spending time with family. (Associated Press, “Youth Happiness Study,” 2).

And even better, in the AP-MTV study, nearly three-quarters of those youth and young adults said that their relationship with their parents made them happy (Associated Press, “Youth Happiness Study”). What kids and youth want are you and a close relationship with their family! They long for that connected ‘family feeling’.

So, what goes into creating that connected family feeling that kids and youth want, that makes them happy?

1. T-I-M-E spent with those they love and trust. We can best serve our children if we practice being present with them. When kids know they are seen and heard they are more trusting and will come to us when they’re in trouble and need help. Being present takes giving minutes of your time consistently. It doesn’t have to an hour or even thirty minutes. Three minutes, a few times a day is a great place to start.

2. Learn to listen. It takes effort to clear your mind and hear another person. It’s called active listening. We aren’t looking for answers to their stuff or formulating a rebuttal. We’re just hearing to understand. Teaching and problem solving can come later.

3. Utilize bedtimes. This is true even for youth. Spending just 3 minutes sitting on our child’s bed, touching an arm, allowing them to talk if they want to is huge in creating connected relationships.

4. Work together. Yup, chores, when done right, are magically bonding. It takes a bit of work on our part and we may get a bit less done, but it says volumes to our children about their place in the home and their value in our eyes.

5. Manage technology. Being home is only connecting if we’re doing things to connect. Recently I visited a friend on a Sunday afternoon. Both Mom and Dad had been using their computers before I arrived, one in the study and one at the kitchen table. Their older son was in the family room playing a video game on the TV. Two young children were lying on their stomachs on the floor, each with an iPad. Their older daughter was in her room talking and texting on her cell phone. Now, this is a normal, ordinary family, but these Sunday afternoon activities were isolating, lonely, and de-energizing.

This wouldn’t be a problem if it happened one afternoon, but it is a problem for families if it occurs three or more days a week. We begin to lose our sense of family, the connectedness that gives a child a feeling of stability and support, a sense of belonging and safety. What if I’d found them reading together or playing soccer in the backyard or watching a movie together? Even if no one spoke a word during the movie, at least they would have been together; possibly sitting on the couch by one another, cuddled in a parent’s lap or sitting by a sibling. There would have at least been a sense that this was a family, that they liked each other and enjoyed being together.

6. Eat together. The dinner table can be a place of unification. It can give your family a sense of belonging to something that matters. During the years, when some of our children were making poor choices, the time at the dinner table held us together. If we couldn’t agree on the best way to live, we could at least eat together. It kept us face-to-face and heart-to-heart. We didn’t try to teach or reprimand during these meals. We stayed out of management and worked on the relationships. This effort didn’t stop our children from making choices we didn’t agree with, but it kept our children bonded to us until they were ready to make changes. It kept us unified as a family.

Even when mealtimes feel hectic or disorganized, they have long-term benefits for children because if parents remain calm, kids aren’t stressed by dinnertime chaos.

Anne Fishel, Ph.D., said, “Over the past 15 years researchers have confirmed what parents have known for a long time: sharing a family meal is good for the spirit, the brain and the health of all family members” (Fishel 2016).

7. Read together – From Scholastic’s Kids and Family Reading Report, we learn only 17 percent of parents of kids aged 9–11 read aloud to their children. Yet 83 percent of kids aged 6–17 say being read to is something they either loved or liked a lot (Scholastic Inc. and YouGov 2014).
What are some of the benefits of reading as a family?

  • Reading aloud allows you and your children to achieve physical closeness. You are all in the same space at the same time.
  • Gathering together as a family and reading creates a sense of security and safety—a feeling that all is right with the world
  • There’s a sense of belonging which comes from everyone being in the same room, snuggling and listening to the same story, having a shared experience. This can be especially helpful as our children begin to mature. They’re trying to figure themselves out as well as figure out where they fit in the world. This process of personal growth can bring a sense of isolation. Reading as a family is one of the ways parents can create a sense of belonging.

Spending money doesn’t build relationships. Giving your kids’ stuff doesn’t build relationships. Leagues and classes, lessons and even educating a child at home don’t necessarily build relationships. These things may help your child as they grow. They may better equip them to succeed in the world financially. There isn’t anything wrong with providing these things.

However, relationships are built when we learn to be Present with another human being, when we spend time together, listen to each other, and show that they matter to us. In the final analysis, a good relationship with trusted adults is one of the key elements of happy children and youth.

What is most worth doing must be done at home. Kids want to spend time at home with their family. They want and need that ‘family feeling’. They want to feel connected. They want to matter!

Want to know how you can make bedtime, meals, and chores work with your teens? Get more information FREE by downloading Chapter 4 of my book Becoming A Present Parent: Connecting with your Children in Five Minutes or Less. For information on many aspects of creating a more connected home buy the book on Amazon or in any good bookstore.

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