I never knew that because how we were seemed ordinary to me. We weren’t mean to each other. We could be generous and kind, but there was a lot of complaining, and we were critical.
There isn’t enough sun today. The snow is too deep. The car is nice, but I wish it were red. These eggs are okay, but next time could you… Thanks for folding the laundry, but I would like… Hamburger keeps going up in price. I’m so glad you got a C in math, but I know you could do better if you worked harder.
You see what I mean. I mentioned this to a friend one day, and she said, “Well, that’s just normal.” It is normal, but it isn’t helpful if we want our lives to feel more joyful and successful.
I’ve seriously worked on the issue of watching my words and thoughts for close to two decades now. I have used many tools to move into the place where I manage my stories and responses better. I’m making progress.
Then last fall, I put a rubber band on my wrist
after reading a little book called A Complaint Free World by Will Bowen.The challenge was to go 21 days without being critical or complaining. Sigh. I have yet to hit day six. I have had many five-day streaks, but when you mess up, you start over. It has been almost six months. I would be discouraged, except I know that there is no timeline for change. It takes commitment and consistency for as long as it takes!
However, now and then, you get a perk that keeps you going. I got one on my birthday from Ben, who is almost nine. He said, “Dear Grandma, you are so caring and optimistic.” WHAT!!!!! Is that the coolest thing you have ever heard? NO ONE has ever called me optimistic.
This little compliment is going into my “I am enough bin” in my brain. From now on, I know that I am an optimistic person. I am so happy because I am making progress in a decade’s long pursuit.
This is the process of change and growth – line upon line and precept upon precept, here a little and there a little. We must be careful not to shut down and quit when a goal for growth takes more time and effort than we want it to take.
Parenting is a big job.
We don’t enter it with all the knowledge we need, and we bring baggage from our own growing up. As we parent, it will take years to get the experience we need and to jettison the baggage. Yes, our kids will suffer, but our children will be compensated as they observe our quest to be better, do better, and understand more. They will be blessed as they watch us remain consistent and immovable in our desire to grow and improve.
How do I know this? Well, I am 71. I carried a ton of baggage into my family, as did my husband. We were undoubtedly ignorant about how to do what we had taken on. Our seven kids occasionally suffered because we didn’t do things the best way. It was a long road with some significant bumps and a cliff or two.
But now our kids are adults; one turns fifty this year. And do you know what? I get cards, letters, texts, and videos telling me about this or that thing they observed me doing that has blessed their lives? WHAT? Yes, even when we are imperfect, if our goal is to learn, grow, and do better, it will bless our children when they are adults.
Next week I am going to share an absolutely exquisite gift from one of my children to their imperfect parent! You can, in time, be rewarded in the same way if you stay the course, do the best you can, keep learning and growing, and be an example of change.
Let someone else know that their efforts Will Be Enough!
Recently, I had an interesting conversation with a friend and mentee. We were talking about some concepts found in my book, Becoming a Present Parent. She said, “The problem with your book is it’s so simple. I loved it when I read it, and it was all so doable. Then two months later, in an overwhelmed moment, I asked myself, ‘Can it really be this simple.'”
I laughed. I have asked myself the same thing over the years. It’s natural to feel that we have to do some great, fantastic, out of the ordinary thing to fix whatever is causing us overwhelm or pain in our families.
Just this week, I read an article on how to better manage irritations in marriage. The writer gave a simple and straightforward example of how we can get into trouble when someone falls short of our expectations. It was laughable when I considered the angst the couple was feeling and the simple solution the writer proposed. But there it was. I knew that if the couple followed the proffered advice, they would manage better.
The author didn’t suggest learning to communicate better, going on weekly dates, getting away without the kids, etc. No, he suggested they forgive one another their failings. I have been married fifty years, and that counsel rang true to me because I have experienced its truth.
Here is the rub – simple does not always equate to easy.
Forgiving someone for not being perfect or not meeting our expectations isn’t easy, but it certainly is simple. Far simpler than figuring out how to get away for a few days without the kids. More doable, long term, than going on a date every week. And frankly, more effective than talking, no matter how good we are at communicating.
That is what my friend was really saying – “I know it is simple, but it isn’t always easy. I have to bend a bit. I am required to think differently. I must change.”
That is what my book is all about– making subtle changes in how we see what we already do every day—making use of those moments when we would typically have contention and instead create a connection. When we approach chores, bedtimes, homework, and meals together with a better story, we get a better result. We do. It is that simple.
But it isn’t always easy because rather than blaming the kids or our spouse, we have to come face to face with ourselves. We need to do something different. We must change. Irritating, isn’t it. We would rather have someone else change. But the truth is, we only have control over one person, ourselves.
I first learned this concept when I was sixteen and reading Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning. He said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves…Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” I didn’t understand it then, and it took me decades to understand, but I never forgot.
Here is something else I have learned from my own experience. When we are willing to change how we think, see, or behave, the results are successful and worth the effort. It is always worth it!
If you want to understand what I am talking about when I say you must come face to face with yourself and then make a small shift in how you think, read Chapter fourof my book.It’s FREE, and it is one of the best and most enlightening chapters in the book. I did that on purpose because if that is all you ever read and implement; it will be life-changing!
Why not share this FREE chapter with a friend who could use a lift, a reason to change, and simple information on how to do it. : )
Gratitude is a choice not based on what is happening to us, what we have or don’t have, but on how we choose to see what is happening to us. Regardless of our circumstances, we all have much to be grateful for if we pause and contemplate our blessings.
We can lift ourselves and others, as well, when we refuse to remain in the realm of negative thought and cultivate within our hearts an attitude of gratitude. If ingratitude is one of the grave sins, then gratitude takes its place among the noblest virtues. The Roman philosopher, Cicero, said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all others.”
Dr. Robert Emmons, a professor at the University of California, Davis, and one of the leading scholars in the scientific study of gratitude, said the following: “It is possible that psychology has ignored gratitude because it appears, on the surface, to be a very obvious emotion, lacking in interesting complications: we receive a gift—from friends, from family, from God—and then we feel pleasurably grateful. But while the emotion seemed simplistic even to me as I began my research, I soon discovered that gratitude is a deeper, more complex phenomenon that plays a critical role in human happiness. Gratitude is literally one of the few things that can measurably change people’s lives.”
The other day after a church meeting, someone said to me, “I am so inspired.” In my heart, I responded, “Inspired to what end.” It isn’t enough to be inspired. We must be moved to action. I want to help you decide to move to a more significant place of gratitude. I recognize that we are all in different places in our lives, and so I have created a varied list of ten possible action steps that you can use to cultivate more gratitude and, as a result, greater happiness.
Your job is to be open to the action step that will work best for you right now. Don’t pick the one that you think sounds the most righteous or what you think other people will decide. Listen to your inner voice, which one will make the most difference right now, for you.
Ten Gratitude Exercises
1. Come up with some Happiness commandments – After I read Gretchen Rubin’s, The Happiness Project – I asked myself what makes me the most unhappy, and then I came up with three commandments for myself. I post them where I can see them and am reminded of what kind of thinking leads me to happiness.
• Be a Pollyanna
• Clean the ditch (remove garbage thinking)
• Let go of suffering (yes, suffering is a choice)
2. A Gratitude Journal – Dr. Emmons and his colleagues found scientific proof that people who practice gratitude through activities such as keeping a gratitude journal are more loving, forgiving, and optimistic about the future.
They exercise more frequently, report fewer illnesses, and generally feel better about their lives. In subsequent studies, Dr. Emmons also noted that people who regularly kept a gratitude journal and were in the habit of recognizing and expressing gratitude for their blessings reported feeling closer and more connected to people, had better relationships, were more likely to help others, felt less lonely, felt less depressed, slept better, and were more pleasant to be around.
In her book, The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, Sonja Lyubomirsky wrote, “The practice of gratitude is incompatible with negative emotions and may actually diminish or deter such feelings as anger, bitterness, and greed.”
3. Journaling – This is like the gratitude journal, but in this case, detail in writing, one positive experience each day. Journaling will help you find meaning in the activities of the day, rather than just noticing the task itself.
4. Dedicate a few prayers a week to only Gratitude – Ask for nothing; be grateful for what you already have.
• If you can’t walk – do you have a wheelchair
• If you can’t see – can you hear
• If you feel you are too old – you are yet alive and can serve
• If you don’t feel accepted – you have the opportunity to reach out to others
• If you are single and alone, thank God for the family and friends you have
• If you’re having trouble with your spouse, thank God for the opportunity to develop more Christ-like traits through forgiveness and taking personal responsibility
• Thank God for His goodness to you
• Express thanks for Jesus’s example, for His teachings, for His outreaching hand to lift and help, for His
• Thank God for leaders and teachers
• Thank God for your family and children
5. Control negative thinking – Ray L. Huntington, a professor at BYU, said, “Studies have shown that focusing on the negative in times of adversity—using derogatory or critical words as we talk to ourselves or others—can darken our mood and, much like a virus, infect the moods of those we interact with. Consciously choosing to fill our minds with thoughts of our blessings and feeling appreciation for those blessings can change the way we feel and brighten our spirits during difficult times.”
6. Add More Thank-Yous to Your Vocabulary – Saying “thank you” to someone brightens your day by affirming your positive feelings. It also lifts the spirits of those who are deserving of your thankfulness. Use people’s names who check you out at the grocery store, people who help you on the phone, and anywhere else you happen to be and see a name tag. Tell them, ‘thank you.’ Thank your spouse and children for what they do, no matter how small.
7. Take Time to Write Thank-You Notes and Letters of Appreciation – John Kralik, an attorney with a struggling law practice and personal family problems, determined to reverse the cycle of negative thinking through writing and sending one thank-you note each day of the year—365 thank-you notes in total. His note-writing endeavor taught him a valuable lesson: blessings can be easily overlooked unless we are consciously thinking about them each day. To that end, note writing helps us identify, remember, and express our blessings.
8. Live in the Present Moment and Give Thanks for Small Blessings – I call it Being Present – It is easy to get caught up in tomorrow: what needs to be cleaned, shopping to do, the upcoming holidays. And while it’s healthy to plan and prepare for future events, if you are too consumed with tomorrow, there is a chance that you will miss something small and wonderful that is happening to you in the present moment.
9. Random Acts of Kindness – Return the shopping cart to the stall, smile at people, pick up something someone has dropped, tell someone how nice they look, even perfect strangers, move over, and let someone sit down by you.
10. Philanthropy – Learn to give no matter how much you have. Give a dollar or two. If you have more, give more. Do it outside of your tithing and church contributions. The act of being able to give helps you feel well off and increases feelings of gratitude.
For a time, I felt that I should have cards with a small amount of money in my car. I was impressed to write, “No matter what has brought you to where you are, I care about you, and so does God.” When I saw someone on the street and felt that I should, I would give them a card. I put $50 in a savings account every month so that I could provide these cards. Remember that these were directions to me, and if you ask, you will receive your own guidance on how to serve financially, and it will probably be different from mine.
Take a few minutes right now and think about these ten tools to increase gratitude. Which one speaks to your heart? Choose one.
Now that you have chosen something that you will do this coming year to increase your gratitude, and ultimately your happiness, let me share two quotes.
First, from Melody Beattie, author of The Language of Letting Go: Daily Meditations on Codependency, ” Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. . .Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
And from David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk who penned these beautiful words: “The root of joy is gratefulness. It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”
If these words have inspired you, I would ask, “To what end have you been inspired?” Commit to yourself that you will practice Gratitude and make it your way of being.
Some years ago, I decided to find out what I could do to improve my life the most.
I wasn’t happy with what I discovered – stop complaining. I am still working on this one thing! It has been a challenge.
Then, after a few years, I looked to see if I could find a way to make more progress. I wasn’t sure how I felt about what I found – gratitude. I began a gratitude journal. When I wrote a few things each day, I felt better, happier, more charitable to others. But I wasn’t consistent.
In the spring of 2019, I got serious. I bought a notebook and hastily wrote Gratitude Journal and the date I began on the front. I was consistent until the fall holiday season. Then it dropped off. Despite this lapse, I had that notebook with me in Seattle at the beginning of 2020, just before Covid closed the airports. It helped me remain optimistic, and I made it home.
I began writing my gratitude statements in earnest, and as the year progressed, I felt the need to express my gratitude increase. Focusing on what I was grateful for made a big difference in my ability to stay mentally on top of an extraordinarily negative and sometimes frightening year. For Christmas this year, a friend of mine sent me an actual Gratitude Journal. A pretty one. I have enjoyed writing in it. It is keeping my spirits up.
Did you know that joy and happiness are born of gratitude? This is a lesson I have had to learn the hard way, over time, because raising a home full of children can be challenging!! Over the years, I said, “How can I be so grateful and ungrateful at the same time?” I said it so often that I was afraid my children would have it carved on my headstone. I was grateful for my home but….it needed a new carpet. I was thankful for my kids, but…I wished they wouldn’t fight. I loved my husband dearly, but …. why couldn’t he pick up his socks.
Does any of this sound familiar? Do you find yourself terribly grateful and ungrateful at the same time? This habit, and it is a habit, diminishes our joy and happiness. The truth is you cannot be grateful and ungrateful at the same time. If you are complaining, you are not grateful. I know, it hurts to hear!
Sarah Ban Breathnach, author of The Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude, said, “Both abundance and lack exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend . . . when we choose not to focus on what is missing from our lives but are grateful for the abundance that’s present—love, health, family, friends, work, the joys of nature, and personal pursuits that bring us —the wasteland of illusion falls away, and we experience heaven on earth.”
How are gratitude and happiness connected? Why does it matter whether we see the glass half-full or half-empty?
Let me refer to two stories found in the Christian Bible that are beautiful examples of a broader view of gratitude than just having a good feeling when things are going our way.
In the book of Luke, chapter 17, we read the story of Christ passing through Samaria and Galilee. In a village, he met ten lepers who cried out to him, “Master, have mercy on us.” Jesus sent them to the priest, and as they went, they were healed. One turned back and, with a loud voice, thanked Jesus. Jesus asked, “Were there not ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?”
Jesus didn’t need their thanks, but he knew that gratitude is an uplifting and exulting attitude. We cannot be bitter, resentful, or mean-spirited when we are grateful. We choose to serve when we are grateful. Being grateful would help those nine healed men to live more joyously and generously. He wanted them to have that experience, and they, through their lack of gratitude, missed out.
In the book of Matthew, we have another account of gratitude, this time as an expression from Jesus. Jesus had traveled in the wilderness for three days, and more than 4,000 people followed Him. He took compassion on them and wanted to feed them. His disciples, however, questioned, “Whence, should we have so much bread in the wilderness, as to fill so great a multitude?” Like many of us, the disciples saw only what was lacking.
“And Jesus saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? And said, Seven, and a few little fishes.
“And commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground.
“And he took the seven loaves and the fishes, and gave thanks, and brake them, and gave to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.”
Notice that the Savior gave thanks for what they had—and a miracle followed: “And they did all eat and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets full.”
We have all experienced times when our focus is on what we lack rather than on our blessings. These are the times when we find ourselves complaining either by word, action, inaction or in our hearts.
It isn’t always easy to be grateful. But if we commit to being grateful more often, seek the help we need to make it a practice, and then persevere for as long as it takes, it can become our way of being, not just a feeling. That path is what Jesus wanted for the nine healed men. He knew that if they practiced gratitude, they would be happier down the road when things got tough again. He also knew that the grateful energy we send out can create miracles in our lives.
Ten Gratitude Tools
If you feel overwhelmed, resentful of your spouse or children, blame others regularly, feel like a victim, or feel you are missing essential blessings, I encourage you to consider working seriously on your state of gratitude. Next week I will share ten GRATITUDE tools that can help anyone become more grateful. Choose just one and start.
If you feel that you are already grateful, I hope you will accept the challenge to practice one of the ten tools anyway. You may be as surprised as I was when I took the challenge to stop complaining and become more grateful. I wasn’t as appreciative as I thought, and I complained far more than I knew. See you next week.
to when I was a child. There are good memories and sad memories. But one thing I return to most often is the time freedom I had. I’m not talking about the freedom to roam, although I had that. I’m talking about the space to sit, think, do nothing, or create without the knowledge in the back of my mind of other things that would eventually need to be tackled. There wasn’t a to-do list that was always present.
The to-do list didn’t exist. There were chores and homework, but they weren’t on a list. My mom would cajole me into doing my duties. I had to do them, and that could feel onerous, but it wasn’t hanging out on a list in my brain. My brain was free.
I know that of all the things I enjoyed as a child, this was the most wonderful. The irony, though, was that I didn’t know anything else. Never having experienced the mental list, I couldn’t appreciate not having one; I couldn’t cherish the freedom of it. It is as I have said many times, “You can’t know until you get there.”
My mom has Alzheimer’s, and, in some ways, has become a child again. She can sit, fully intent on her crochet, read her scriptures for hours, and occasionally ask questions. She has lost many things to this disease, but she has gained back the freedom of those lost childhood days – the freedom to sit and think, do nothing, or create without the endless to-do list.
A few years ago, my husband and I went on a cruise to Alaska. I took my computer and my phone because when you write, there are deadlines. When you have a large family, you’re frequently needed. Fortunately for me, my computer and my phone didn’t work on the ship. My husband wasn’t in good health, and so he spent lots of time resting. We didn’t go too far from the boat.
That all turned into a tremendous blessing. It gave me an enormous amount of free, by myself with no list, time. One morning I got up early, grabbed my book, and went down to the ship’s center where there were tables, chairs, and lots of treats. I walked in and came to a dead halt at the quiet. No one was there besides a few staff and me. I realized with significant impact that I didn’t have a single thing I had to do that day, not one thing! I began sobbing.
Isn’t that remarkable that the lack of a mental list brought me to tears? Now the truth of my life is that I am not going to be on many cruises. I won’t find myself alone, with nothing to do, very often. But it is vital to find ways to manage the list and be free, if only for a short time. It is healing and exhilarating.
Tools to manage your to-do list
1. Be sure that every day your list has some self-care on it. Mine is consistent and has been for over 60 years – take a shower before bed. Sing. Think. Close my eyes and meditate. Rest! Hot water is a must.
2. Sort your list effectively. There are many ways to do this. Find what works for you. For me, it looks like a one-half sheet of paper with the have-to’s listed at the top and bottom – my morning routine and my evening routine. Then a numbered list of the most important things I must do. Then there is a section called – ‘If Time.’ If I get time, I do those things, and if not, they move to another day. Then there is a section called ‘Miscellaneous Notes’. As I have thoughts of stuff I need to do, that aren’t on my list, I write them here. It is the parking spot for my brain clutter. I feel good knowing I won’t forget them, and I evaluate their importance when making my list for the next day. Some things drop off.This process limits the number of items on the to-do list each day.
3. Prioritize. Pick the top three things from the list. Circle them in red or highlight them. Maybe you had clarity when you began, and your three are already written at the top. If that’s all you get done, it will feel like a success. My goal is to do what matters and not get overwhelmed.
4. Track what is done. I know one woman that has a DONE list. That’s too much work for me, but it’s effective for her. Me, I cross them off. Very satisfying! Tracking helps you visually see at the end of a busy day that, yes, you did get the important things done.
5. Leaveemail, Instagram, your Facebook feed, Tick Toc, untouched until you have given yourself at least one hour on your to-do list. Our best time is usually earlier rather than later. Don’t get sidetracked.
6. Before bed, identify the one thing you are getting up for. I have found it much easier to get up when I go to bed with clarity on what I will do first thing after I get up and have finished my morning routine. It makes the morning battle with the bed easier to win.
Unless we can regularly go on a cruise or another vacation without Wi-Fi, phone access, or kids, we probably won’t experience the mind freedom of our childhood days. But that doesn’t mean we can’t experience relief from the constant mental to-do list. Find list management tools that work for you, and you will be healthier, more in control, and have more peace of mind.
Know someone drowning in their to-do list? You know what to do. : )
I gave up New Year’s Resolutions many years ago. I always felt set up for failure. I have found it more useful to periodically evaluate how I am managing my life, how I am feeling about it, and what simple adjustments I could make so that I fare better. I emphasize the word simple. I also keep the list short! I want success and not overwhelm.
The first half of 2020 was challenging for me. In March, I found myself feeling like crying every day. I do not cry! I was so exhausted that it was worrisome. This all compromised my ability to remember things. Nothing outwardly changed. I looked and behaved the same, but it was taking all I had to keep living in my usual way.
Consequently, I began the process of evaluation earlier in the year than usual. What was off? What was making the difference? How was my sleep, my eating, my exercise, my relationships? I was searching for an answer to how I was feeling. In June, I had a thought that led me to a resolution. I remembered a medical condition I had dealt with over a decade and a half earlier. I went to my practitioner, got what I needed, and I was back on track. It was such a relief.
But all that thinking during the spring, all that introspection, reminded me of some behaviors that can significantly impact how we parent, how we manage relationships, how we manage ourselves, and how we feel. I thought as we enter this new year, particularly a year that will still contain Covid, lack of family, more in-home responsibility for parenting and education for some families, that you might benefit from seeing my short and simple ‘go-to’ list when I find my life a bit off-kilter. : )
Four S’s for Success
Sleep – I’ve had tons of experience with this one thing! I was a night owl. I would be up until eleven or twelve getting kids managed and into bed and putting the house back together. Afterward, I read until somewhere between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. In the morning, I would drag myself out of bed at six or seven, depending on when my kids got up. How do you think that worked out? I’ll bet some of you know. It was a disaster. It’s virtually impossible to parent well when you can barely see for lack of sleep.
Periodically, for over 30 years, I would go in prayer and ask how I could better handle my life. I would always have the same thought, “Go to bed earlier and get up earlier.” I would dismiss the whole idea. I didn’t want to follow that counsel. I wanted my house in order, and I wanted alone time. I was convinced the only way to get either one was to stay up late. So, I resisted. After years, I got desperate. I asked a final time. The impression was the same. “Go to bed earlier and get up earlier.” But this time, I didn’t resist.
I made the decision I would go to bed earlier and get up earlier. Can I say it was hard?! It didn’t get easier after the first month, or the sixth, or even the ninth. I’ll be honest; I struggled for a full year to keep my commitment before it finally began to feel good. But I’d made a decision. I was choosing something different. It was about taking care of self.
I’ve been living this new way for a few years now, and it’s been amazing. I enjoy going to bed earlier and getting up earlier. I can’t even believe it myself! My thinking is clearer. I get to do things that make my day more productive—prayer, personal study, meditation. My whole day runs better. I remain calm more often. I have more patience, and I feel less stress.
If sleep is an issue for you and you decide to take the route I did, it may not be easy, but if you remember that simple things, consistently done over time, make significant differences, you’ll be able to persevere as long as it takes to make this your new habit.
Simplify– The word simplify means to make simpler or easier to do or understand. To simplify is a principle wise men and women have espoused throughout the ages, and with good reason. When we simplify our lives, we manage them better. We can spend more time, both mental and physical, where it matters and less on activities that are not going to matter in the long run. We open time to think. We stop spending so much time putting out fires. When we simplify our lives, we can tune into our children, our spouse, our God.
One of my past mentors said something very profound to me. It’s changed the way I make decisions about spending my time and my family’s time. She said, “Every yes is a no to something else!” Let’s make sure that what we’re saying yes to will, in the long run, bring us true happiness and stable family relationships.
How much time do you allot for technology? How often do you shop? How many hours are you spending in the car, and are you going places that matter? How much time is required to keep your closets and drawers in order? What are your commitments? What are your kid’s commitments? How often do thoughts about past hurts surface? How frequently do you feel resentment?
When you clear out stuff, heal your heart, and empty your calendar, you’ll be less overwhelmed and have more energy. You’ll be able to give more to your family. This investment in simplifying will free you up, and your life and family will be happier. When we simplify, we free up time and energy.
Self-care – Self-care is crucial for parents because it helps them maintain calm for more extended periods. Self-care facilitates patience and staves off, taking our frustrations out on our children. Self-care helps us remain free of resentment, exhaustion, or feeling depleted. It keeps us healthier. Self-care allows us to tune into the joy and satisfaction of having children, even during overly busy or chaotic days.
Self-care benefits not only us but also our whole family. It’s an investment in our family relationships, rather than a selfish indulgence.Self-care is a choice.
You’re going to spend far more time with your children than you’re going to spend without them, so it’s imperative to learn how to self-care while you’re in the thick of parenting. It’s simple, it’s doable, and it takes small amounts of time and virtually no money; but it can and will pay huge dividends.
. Self-care can be as simple as having a cup of herbal tea while you read to your children. It might be taking a few deep breaths while soothing a screaming child. You could turn on your favorite music and dance in the living room with your kids. Add laughter! Self-care can be taking a walk with your children to take the edge off the day. Sitting in the swing and watching your children play can give you fresh air and a breather from all that you’re feeling pressed to do. Go to the bathroom more often if that’s what will buy you a few moments alone.
Being kind to yourself will make life feel lighter, and your relationships will improve. You’ll feel happier overall. Your self-esteem will go up. You’ll be a better parent. In short, when you care for yourself, you care for your family.
Season –Let me show you two Christmas trees. In 2019 I had two grandchildren born, one in July and one on Dec. 30. This Christmas, both sets of parents pondered what to do about their Christmas trees. They have older children. They like their homes to look festive. In the end, they adjusted for the season they are in. One kept all the ornaments on the top half of the tree. The other had a very small tree on a tabletop. It isn’t what they love or do every year, but it is what they did this year. Your season matters and when you honor the season you find yourself in, things feel more peaceful. They could have spent the whole season spanking baby hands or grieving over broken family mementos. But they choose to respect the season their family was in.
When you have a new baby, managing your life is entirely different from when you have a couple of teens. When we simplify how we decorate our home, what is on our to-do list and calendar according to the season we find ourselves in, we will be happier and less overwhelmed. We will feel more peace and manage everything better.
This year why not take a careful and honest look at how you are handling the four S’s in your life. With a few simple adjustments, you may have a more peaceful and successful year.
We could all use this reminder. Why not share with another parent?
I have a friend, Audrey Rindlisbacher, and recently I was listening to an early morning Facebook Live she did. The topic was ‘comparison.’ Audrey is an exceptional woman who has been speaking and teaching for years on great books. I have sat with rapt attention in her classes. She inspires me with her knowledge of natural law and principles.
Not too long before she did this Facebook Live, she spoke with another woman that she considered exceptional. This mom had been the Young Mother of the Year, had multiple degrees, and currently lives in a foreign country where she has been for the last ten years with her family doing full-time work with refugees. Audrey admitted that during her conversation, she had thoughts like these – “You have always wanted to take your kids and do some humanitarian work. Why haven’t you? If you had, your family would be so much better off. You are so lame!”
I had to smile inwardly because when I first heard Audrey speak, I had similar thoughts – “Man, you should have read more great books than you have. Why haven’t you gotten as much out of them as Audrey has? How come you don’t understand natural law and principles as she does. Reading isn’t enough; you needed to think as she has. You are so lame.” When we begin comparing ourselves to others, our self-talk plummets! When our self-talk dives, then our life-results also dive. We must speak kindly about and to ourselves.
Another reason to speak well of ourselves is that how we are and what we do,speaks volumes to our children. We want to model a way of being to our family that will help them as they tackle hard things in life and as they begin seeing that where they are and how they are doing is different from someone else.
Tools to Derail Comparison
When I find myself treating myself poorly or comparing myself to others, I have a couple of tools I use to get myself back on track.
1. Focus on gratitude. When I shift from seeing what I am not or what I don’t have and focus on who I am and what I have, my self-talk improves. My result improves. There are many ways to stay in gratitude, but one that I use is a gratitude journal. Each evening before bed, I take a moment and write at least three things I am grateful for. No matter how terrible the day has been, I have yet to be stumped. I can always find at least three and usually more. Keeping my eye on what I have that is good keeps my mind on a higher plane, so I don’t spiral into negative thinking and self-talk.
2. Limit social media. As much good as social media has provided, it is a hotbed of comparison and envy. Currently, three of my daughters have taken breaks from social media. No Facebook, no Instagram. They have found that they feel better about themselves when they cannot compare their worst to someone else’s best. I spend less than 1 hour on social media each day, and on days when I don’t need to be on it for work, I spend none at all.
You don’t have to give up social media. Just limit the time you spend there. If you have a hard time, then turn off your notifications. Give yourself set times during the day to participate. When we compare ourselves to others, it creates unrest within us. It sucks the joy out of our accomplishments. It diminishes us in our own eyes.
We each have strengths and weaknesses. We all do well at times and at others do poorly. We all are in the process of becoming. Accept that you are still learning, growing, evolving. Be kind to yourself. Speak and think with generosity, and it will improve your pace. It will also give your children a better example of what to do when you are not perfect. It will do your family good.
Take the time to let a friend know about these simple tools to derail comparison.
A few years ago, I stopped business building after ten years. I published a book, and I’ve continued to write, but my main focus shifted to caregiving for my family. For now, it’s my calling and mission. My mother has Alzheimer’s and lives with us. My husband has been ill for some time. My daughter works full time, and I get my grands off to school most days and help care for my granddaughter, who has severe Cerebral Palsy. It is a lot. I take it very seriously.
I use prayer to stay focused on what matters and on what to add or delete from my life. It is imperative to receive this help in our busy four-generation household. Without direction, it would be impossible for me to maintain balance. Through prayer, I understood that my mission needed to change from speaking and teaching to caregiving. It was equally clear that I should continue to write my weekly article, post once daily, and work with a few mentees. It wasn’t an easy choice; I LOVED what I was doing but I trust God. So, after agonizing for a few months, I made a leap of faith.
A couple of years passed, and then this spring, I understood that I needed to add two resource sections to my newsletter – Resources Worth Sharing and the Home School Corner. That added to my workload! (By the way, I am always on the hunt for excellent resources to share. Got one? Please send it my way.)
Then, a couple of months ago, I felt prompted to begin making the articles into audios. YIKES!!! I have put it off for a while. I made a few attempts to figure it out but then would let it go in frustration. However, this week I determined to get it done, and after some crying and handwringing, I DID IT!! Can I say that I am over-the-top proud of myself!!
I have asked a few questions as I have implemented these new things:
•Why would I be asked to let go of something I loved and was good at, which impacted others for good? After all, it was my dream and passion.
•Why would God ask me to keep writing and mentoring when life is crazy busy, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed?
•Why does God keep asking me to learn how to do hard things? Isn’t what I do enough?
•What should I be learning?
In the past two decades, God has asked me to let go of several things that I loved, and which mattered to me. It was never easy to decide, but I did because I trust God. What have I learned from letting go?I have learned that I can make hard decisions even when they fly in the face of what others think I should do. I have learned that life isn’t always about me and what makes me happy. I have learned that when we give something up, we make space for something else. Often it’s of more value than what we gave up.
Every week I get one or more emails from those who read what I write and those I mentor. They consistently relay the message that what I share matters to them, helps, and gives them confidence and hope in their efforts. Every week in my small way, I have an impact.
As for question number three, I have pondered it diligently. Here is what I think. I needed confidence that whatever is required of me, I can learn how to do it! With God, all things are possible. In the coming days and years, this clear belief, backed by my own experience, will help not only me but others. Life can be tough!
I have also learned that when we are faced with something we don’t know how to do or a problem we are unsure how to solve, we need to move. As soon as we take even a small step resources and people that we need begin to come to us. But the key is to move.God can’t steer a parked car.
Another thing, getting older is not easy. Things change, and it’s tempting to begin doubting yourself and your abilities. My memory has become an issue. I will recall your face, but I may not know your name, where we met, or anything about you. If you tell me your name it all comes back. It scares me because I may see you in the future, and despite this current hardship, I want you to know that I am your friend and I love you. It matters to me.
My energy level has changed. I can still work rings around many younger people, but I feel the difference. However, God keeps asking me to learn and grow despite the challenges of aging. He asks me to keep sharing with you. I believe he wants me to remain confident in my ability to impact my small piece of the world for good despite the limitations I may face. We really are never too old to influence others positively. Talking with those I trust has helped me deal with these things.
I am sharing all of this, so you know where I am and why I do what I do. It may help you because what you need to do in your current life may be kicking your butt. : ) Maybe you struggle to do as you feel moved. Perhaps you’re afraid to give up something you love to make space for something new. Perhaps your needs outstrip your current abilities or skills, and you must learn something. Maybe something has changed, and you are scared. Perhaps you need a mentor.
A True Story
This is the process of life. It never stops. It doesn’t matter if you are twenty-five, fifty, or over seventy, like me. We need to keep pushing the boundaries of what we know so we can serve better. We need to be obedient to what our promptings, gut, or thoughts tell us. We need to be willing to go to some scary places. How do I know this? Let me share a story that drove this home to me. I was younger, but I am living the truth of what I learned then.
Marjorie and Marion were eighty-year-old twins. They had both lost spouses and lived together. Every day they took a walk around the block arm in arm.
One day Marion was walking alone, and she was a bit tippy on her feet. I saw her and was worried, so I went out and said, “Marion, can I walk with you.” As we walked, she talked about her life and her sister. They had been fighting, and she was sad. Their relationship had been a mess for a few days. She was trying to figure out what to do about it. She began to cry.
I was stunned!! I couldn’t help myself, and despite her tears, I blurted out, “Marion, I thought when I got to your age, I would have it all worked out!”
Through her tears, she began laughing – “Oh goodness honey, that will never happen. There is always something to work on!”
So, take heart. You are not yet eighty, and so as Marion said, “There is always something to work on!”
Because I keep learning hard things, here is what is new as of today. Each weekly article has a featured image. When you click on the Go To The Article link it will take you to the website. Please note that in the corner of the featured photo you will see a small sound icon. Click it and voila, you can listen to today’s article. You will also see a soundbar at the end of the article on both the website and in this newsletter. Again, you can listen in. God knows that you are busy and that sometimes listening is more accessible than reading. That is why he had me learn this new, hard thing!
Here is the caveat. I won’t be doing any fancy editing. I won’t be taking out all the little mistakes—no musical introduction. No logo. Just me, a busy mom, grandmother, and caretaker, sharing with you. You get what you get. I hope it will be enough and that you and I can continue to learn from one another as we share our experiences.
Listen, I never give up until I learn how to do what is required. You do the same and if you do it will be enough. : )
Do me a favor and spread the word that you can now listen, as well as read.
I recently finished reading The Choice. The author, Dr. Edith Eva Eger, spent part of her teen years in Auschwitz. She shares things she learned while there, after she left, and while working as a psychiatrist with other trauma victims. It was gut-wrenching and not a pretty read. I had to endure a bit of foul language. It went with the territory.
I could relate to many things she shared, as I have also experienced trauma.I could affirm many of the healing tools she spoke about because I have used them.
One that has made ALL the difference for me in the latter part of my life is encompassed in a phrase Edith’s mother shared all the time and which Edith carried into the concentration camp – “No one can take away from you what you put in your mind.”
I know from my own experience that this is true. We can choose our story no matter what is happening. We can choose to forgive. We can choose to love. We can decide how to respond. We can think negative thoughts or positive. We can choose. Our ability to choose what goes into our minds is the greatest gift we have been given on this earth. It makes ALL the difference.
We don’t need to be dealing with trauma for this to be true. It is true every day, in every situation. It is true as we deal with friends, family, and even enemies. It is true in abundance and scarcity. It is true in sickness and health. It is always true. What we think about and how we frame it determines our lives, whether we are growing or dying, whether we are happy or dissatisfied, whether we are contributing or not.
You change your story by controlling your thoughts. You manage your emotions by controlling your narrative. When you do this, you take more positive actions, and you get better results.
Tips for Better Thought Management
Here are some tips to begin to master your thoughts and hence, your responses. I have been using these tools for the last fifteen years, and I can promise that it will change your life if you use them.
TIP 1—Take responsibility and stop blaming
Blame is an indicator there’s a problem with our way of being or how we perceive what’s happening, or in other words, our thoughts.
TIP 2—Decide to think the best of others
The key to overcoming the natural man’s tendency to assume the worst about others’ motives is not to polish our apology skills nor learn to control our anger and frustration. Rather, the key to overcoming this destructive behavior is to question our story. Examining the negative story we tell ourselves . . . causes us to consider alternate explanations for their apparently hurtful behavior. To accomplish this, ask yourself one question: “Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do this?” Or, if this is too unwieldy, ask, “Why would a decent person act this way?” (McMillan, “Master Your Stories and You Master Your Life”)
TIP 3—Choose words wisely
Dr. Wayne Dyer has said, “What’s in you is what comes out” (“Why the Inside Matters”). It’s true! Pay attention to the words you say in frustration, sorrow, and anger; you’ll get a good idea of what you’re holding onto in your subconscious mind.
TIP 4—Keep practicing
Managing your thoughts and putting good things in your mind is something you need to do daily. There isn’t a point when you’re so good at it that you can stop working on it. Negative thoughts will come, and they’ll need to be managed.
Dr. Eger was able to survive the concentration camp because she controlled her thoughts. She held on to the good and let go of the bad. She remembered the joy and dismissed the pain. It all took time. Some took a lot of time, but as she persisted, she was able to heal.
Thoughts and the resulting stories are powerful in determining our happiness level. When my granddaughter, Mary, was six, she loved to watch the fish in our tank. We have a very sleek, silver catfish that swims fast and erratically whenever anyone stands in front of the tank. I believe the fish does this out of fear or because it has been disturbed.
One day Mary asked me, “Do you know why this fish swims so fast when I’m looking at him?” I replied, “No, why?” She responded with, “Because he likes me!” Like all of us, Mary gets to write the story, and her story makes her happy. And for all I know, her story may be as valid as mine.
You can find more tips and some amazing true stories in Chapter Five of my book Becoming A Present Parent: Connecting with Your Children in Five Minutes or Less. It is worth the read!
When you fall in love and marry, there’s no way to know what’s in store. No way! You can’t know till you get there.
Don and I were deeply and passionately in love over fifty years ago. We raised seven kids, and they are great people, but it wasn’t easy. We had some significant bumps in our marital bliss road. It shakes you up a bit. But we weathered those years, and with a dollop of joy, laughter, and forgiveness, we all came out OK. Don and I were still intact as a couple and we still deeply and passionately loved each other.
The years passed, and the things that you can’t know till you get there sneaked up on us – financial worries, adult kids and their issues, aging, health, energy differences,stress. They all took their toll. One night I was grieving a bit because we’re not the same. Our relationship cannot be the same. Sometimes it feels like two people who care about each other living independently in the same house, sort of like roommates. I talked to God about it because I want to remain deeply and passionately in love with this man even if we’re here together for 60 or 70 years. This isn’t the first time I’ve been in this place and gone to God for help, and I suspect it won’t be the last time. Then a miracle happened.
I got an Echo dot three years ago. I tried everything I knew how to do, but I couldn’t get it to work. It sat in a cupboard. This week my sister came, we got it out, and she tried to get it going. No luck. The next morning there it was on the counter, my daughter saw it, and after an hour of figuring out the kinks, it worked.
As we ate breakfast, we listened to the music of our time- Neil Diamond, John Denver, The Mama’s and the Papas, Sonny and Cher, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Monkeys, Barbra Streisand. I was having a hard time getting stuff done because I kept stopping to dance. We laughed a lot. Smiles just seemed to happen over nothing. During lunch, Don and I gazed across the table at each other. I sang the lyrics, and he cracked old jokes. It was fun.
Later, as I was cutting kale for the dehydrator, he gathered me up, and we danced around the kitchen for a short moment, as Don’s ability to move is compromised. Wow! That felt so wonderful. We haven’t been able to dance for some time. Then I returned to washing kale. As I worked, I thought about Don, how funny he is. How handsome he is. What a great question asker and problem solver. An all-around good guy. A keeper, as we used to say.
Then in a moment, I was overcome with such a feeling of love I began weeping. It’s all still there; deep and passionate love. It will always be there, but sometimes it disappears inside life, illness, work, stress. But if we focus and ask God for a small miracle, it resurfaces to save us. God is good. He loves Don and me, and we love each other. Such a gift. Such a blessing. Such a life!
Is That the End of the Story?
I know you think this is the end of the story, but this is where it gets real! You probably think it was the music and the dancing that brought the spark to the surface. But it wasn’t. Remember that talk I had with God? I didn’t just complain about loss, age, passing time, etc. I asked what I could do to feel ‘in love.’ Not only “I care” or “I love you,” but ‘in love.” If you’ve been there, then you know what I am talking about.
The thought that came to my mind was to look for every good thing I could see about this man I have spent over fifty years with and then tell him. I did that, many times because his gifts and good qualities aren’t hard to find. But they are easy to take for granted and let pass by unappreciated.
The Great key.
With every kind word and compliment, my heart softened towards this man I care for and love. I changed. Not him and not our relationship. Me! When you add that kind of heart softening to a bit of music and a quick dance around the kitchen, well, you can’t help but get magic.
When we look for the good, when we speak the good, when kindness is at the top of our mind, it makes all the difference. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about a crazy day with kids or a day between two aging souls. The result is the same. Magic and miracles!
When you have children, there is no way to know what’s in store. No way! You can’t know till you get there. If you have a day that isn’t going well with your family, give it a try. Pick the one person you’re feeling the most annoyed or frustrated with or that you feel the most distant from. Look for every good thing and then mention it to them. I can just about guarantee that by the end of the day, your heart will swell with tenderness for this soul that only a few hours before was causing you grief.
Their behavior might not change, but you will. Your heart will soften. Your way of being with that one person will be kinder. You will see differently. It will make a difference.
It’s all about gratitude. Gratitude is the great key to overcoming what is bugging you right now. I have this saying on my bedroom/office wall: “When you complain, you will remain. When you praise, you will be raised.” I know this is true, as I experience it regularly. I experienced it this week in my kitchen while chopping kale. : ) You can experience it too, and practicing this little exercise will not only change you, but it will also improve your whole family. Give it a try.
It has been a few days since the miracle and Don, and I are still connecting in small ways. We are talking more softly and listening more intently. Saturday afternoon, while our granddaughter Maggie watched Mother Goose Playhouse, we held hands and danced in place for just a moment. : ) If I keep focusing on his strengths and gifts and keep thanking him for them, it will last.
But life is busy, crazy, and sometimes overwhelming. We will probably find ourselves moving apart again, but when that happens, I will pull out the ‘practice of gratitude for this one soul’ and have another miracle.
Gratitude is a practice, and so it requires ‘practice.’ Practice it in your home and then let me know what differences it makes. : )
Give this article as a gift to someone else who needs a Gratitude Practice. : )
Mary Ann Johnson | Relationship Transformations for Busy Parents, 2017