Category: Controlling your Thoughts

It Is Wise…

My sister uses only white dishcloths. When they are soiled, she boils them on the stove until they are white – I mean white! There is not a stain on them. When they begin to fray or wear out, they end up in the rag bag or the garbage.

On the other hand, I use any color dishcloth, and I don’t care if they are stained. When my dishcloths are soiled, I throw them in the washer. I do this until they are beginning to have seriously frayed edges and small holes. Only when they are not holding up to the job, do they head for the ragbag or the garbage.

This same sister had a rat that lived under her kitchen floor. It was a white pet rat, and it was blind. But it was a rat! A few times a day, he came out to be fed. After all, he was blind. I have a hard time allowing my husband to have one small dog.

In my family of origin, all the pans were dark. I thought that if you cooked in a kitchen pan or used a baking sheet, it got dark. There wasn’t anything you could do about it. However, as I got older, I noticed that my grandmother’s pans were ALL shiny and new looking. Hmmm!

What I discovered as an adult was that if some remnants of oil remained on a pan, then when it is next used, those remnants would be dark. Left long enough, the bottom of the pan would be dark. Since then, I have noticed some women with shiny pans and even more whose pans are dark. Mine are, for the most part, dark.

Here is something else I have noticed. Some people make hospital corners when they make their beds, and some don’t. I joined the nurses club in 7th grade and learned how to do a hospital corner, and so I make them.

Here is something I have never done in my home. We have never eaten a meal at the kitchen bar. We always ate at the table. I have a friend whose family eats almost all their meals sitting on stools at the bar. They seem to like that. It feels odd to me.

I was recently at the home of a friend, and I noticed that she had labeled baskets in her laundry room. There was a basket for whites and one for darks, one for jeans, and so forth. Then there were marked baskets for each person. As clothes were washed, they could be sorted and put into the correct room.

It caused me to think back to my laundry room when I was a young mom. Everything went into a pile in the middle of the laundry room floor. When washed, clothes went into a different pile until they were parceled out to different rooms where it was hopefully folded. If it didn’t get sorted and sent to the correct room before a need arose, whoever had the need would dig through the pile until they found what they were looking for. And sometimes whites and darks went into the same load because I was plain tired and wanted it done! That’s how it went in my home of origin too.

I know a family that plays games a couple of times a week. I never did that with my family. We didn’t play games with adults when I was growing up either. We took drives together, though, and we went camping.

One of my good friends would visit far-flung places in the States with her family a couple of times a year. That seemed out of the ordinary to me. We drove to my grandmas and played with cousins or went camping in Yellowstone Park.

I’ll bet as you have been reading this, you have made some mental judgments. They will have been based on your version of how something ought to be done. That is natural, but it can be dangerous.

It is usually counterproductive to compare. There are as many ways to run a home and family as there are families. Some methods are more orderly than others. Some may appear to work better than others. Then there is just personal taste. Women tend to put their systems or ways of doing things against their neighbors and friends. Often, they come out as the losers in some imaginary game of ‘Who Does It Better.’

It Is Wise…

It is wise to look at what works in your home and be OK with it. If something isn’t working, ask the simple question, “Why doesn’t this work.” Then experiment with new systems or ways of managing a thing until you find what does work.

It is wise to look for systems or ways of managing if what you are doing doesn’t or has stopped working. Others can share what works for them. If it sounds good,  give it a try. Just remember that it isn’t a case of ‘Who is doing better.” It is merely a case of “What works for us.”

It is wise to keep comparison and judgment out of your life. You will find that your happiness and contentment will increase. Your family and home will feel and fit more comfortably.

If this article could help a friend, let them know about it.

The HARDEST thing to choose!

A 92-year-old, petite, well-poised and proud man, who is fully dressed each morning by eight o’clock, with his hair fashionably combed and shaved perfectly, even though he is legally blind, moved to a nursing home today. His wife of 70 years recently passed away, making the move necessary. After many hours of waiting patiently in the lobby of the nursing home, he smiled sweetly when told his room was ready.

“As he maneuvered his walker to the elevator, I provided a visual description of his tiny room, including the eyelet sheets that had been hung on his window. ‘I love it,’ he stated with the enthusiasm of an eight-year-old having just been presented with a new puppy. Mr. Jones, you haven’t seen the room; just wait.’

That doesn’t have anything to do with it,’ he replied. Happiness is something you decide on ahead of time. Whether I like my room or not doesn’t depend on how the furniture is arranged…it’s how I arrange my mind. I already decided to love it. It’s a decision I make every morning when I wake up. I have a choice; I can spend the day in bed recounting the difficulty I have with the parts of my body that no longer work or get out of bed and be thankful for the ones that do.

“Each day is a gift, and as long as my eyes open, I’ll focus on the new day and all the happy memories I’ve stored away… Just for this time in my life.” – Well Built: Inspiring Stories from the Boardroom to the Frontline By Bob Buck

I enjoyed reading this short story because it highlights an important law of success –

it happens in our minds first.

The other day Don did something that ruffled my feathers! I felt the anger well up and the inner pout come out. As I stood at the sink fuming, I realized that I had a choice to make. I could be angry and let Don know it or I could flush what was bothering me and just be happy. I decided to let it go and just be happy.

It wasn’t easy. That negative emotion wanted to run around and around in my brain replaying whatever it was that was upsetting me. I had to find a way to shove it out for good. I choose to be grateful. I began thinking up a list in my mind of all the things that I like about Don, all the fun and pleasant memories that I have of the two of us. Guess what, the negative feeling dissipated and I felt happy.

As we parent our families there is plenty to stress us especially during these trying days of Covid-19 and social distancing. Children aren’t perfect, we aren’t perfect, systems and tools don’t always work the way we want them to, sad things happen, bad things happen, relationships can turn bumpy, our family culture is often a poignant mirror of all the work we need to do. Despite all this we can choose to be happy. The truth is that happiness is an attitude. It’s not something created by outside circumstances, but instead is completely within our control.

Here are a few techniques

to help you choose happy when you’re tempted to choose something else.

1. Be grateful – This tops my list. It works every time. When I am feeling really put out or downtrodden, if I begin thinking about all the wonderful parts of my life, I just can’t help but perk right up. If you need to, write a list. Seeing it in black and white helps.
2. Take care of yourself – What are some of the small things in life that make you feel good? Do one daily. Take a short walk, write for a few minutes in your journal, have a short meditation, watch the sunset, hug a child. For me, it is a hot shower just before bed every day. I love it! Whatever reminds you that you are a human being and not a human doing will improve your outlook on life.
3. Be creative – Creativity and self-expression generate happiness. Schedule some creative time each day, even if it’s just a few minutes of writing, painting, baking, or sewing.
4. Move – Move a little every day to stay happy. It releases endorphins, the feel-good hormone.
5. Read and listen to inspirational material – It helps to be reminded of positive thoughts and positive attitudes. Read in your spiritual cannon or get a small book of positive, inspirational thoughts and keep it by your desk. Read one or two thoughts each day. Every morning I have a private devotional. I have a short list of songs that move my heart. I choose one to listen to every morning, then I pray. I read a few verses in my spiritual cannon. It makes a difference!
7. Contribute – Serve others. Think about the needs of others. Make a difference. It boosts your self-esteem, your gratitude, and feeling of well-being.
8. Be in nature – Nature rejuvenates and restores the human spirit. Give yourself the gift of visiting it frequently. Take a walk or just sit in the sun in your back yard and rest for a few minutes! : )

No matter how many wonderful things you do to create a positive, happy, satisfied life, you could still end up in unhappy stressed situations. Ultimately, happiness, gratitude, and a feeling of satisfaction is a choice.

Know someone who needs some

‘happy’? Please share.

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.

What does an algae-filled pool have to do with successful parenting?

This summer my grandchildren spent hours with their friends in the pool in our back yard. Sadly, the weather cooled and so the pool was drained for the winter. Due to the placement of the drains three inches of water remained in the pool. Time passed.

One morning as I went into my office, I investigated the pool. There were three inches of green, algae-filled water. I thought, “Man, this is going to be a project to clean.”

I returned to the office and completed my morning routine. Then I sat down at my computer to begin writing. Into my mind came a clear thought – “You need to clean the pool.” WHAT! I had a full day of writing. But it was a clear, good thought so I got up and left the office. As I stood on the patio, I wondered how I was going to remove gallons of water from the pool bottom.

I decided to sweep a 5-gallon bucket through the water, lift it and pour it over the side. This worked. However, that was a lot of stooping, sweeping, rising and tossing. I persevered. After an hour and a half, I had to stop for an appointment. I thought, “I’m done for the day.”

When I finished my appointment, I headed for the office but again had the thought that I needed to clean the pool. I rolled up my pants, got my crocks and resumed the work. Eventually, my daughter who was on a break came out and said, “Mom, you don’t have to do this. It’s not your job.” I assured her that I knew I was supposed to clean the pool. She suggested that I use the shop vac. What a great idea!

The shop vac sucked up the water well, but it was far too heavy for me to hoist and dump over the side. Even only a quarter full it was too heavy. I returned to bailing with the 5-gallon bucket.

I could see that I was making progress, but it was labor-intensive and taking a long time. If any fathers are reading, please don’t stop because this scenario is so stupid. I know it! : )

Eventually, I decided that I could use the shop vac, suck up the water, and then bail water from the vac and throw it over the side. Each load of water in the shop vac was three buckets to dump. I know it doesn’t seem like much of an improvement, but it was. It felt easier even if it wasn’t faster.

When my daughter had another break, she came out to help. By then I was almost done. Jodie sucked up water while I swept the algae and sand to the center of the pool. Then she and I together would hoist the vac and dump it. We did about 5 dumps. She returned to her work and I did the final sweep and vacuumed up the residue that was left.

It was done and it looked fabulous. When I began the job, it was intimidating. After all, I’m 69, it was a lot of work and took a lot of time. I didn’t know if I could do it. But I was determined. I did what I could with what I had and as I went along my resources and support improved and I was able to finish the job.

I know that a couple of men could have done it in half the time. If I had had better tools the whole job would have been faster and easier. But I only had what I had. I could do it or not.

The Point of the Story

It’s a perfect example of parenting, my parenting. When I began, I had a pool of green scummy water to deal with that came from my growing up. I had a wonderful family, but like all families there was stuff. And my stuff had lain dormant for a long time. It was as nasty as that pool water.

Parenting for me was laborious because I lacked skills, had few resources and very little support. Don and I married and moved far away from family and friends. As the years passed, I tried different things. I learned new skills, found resources. Things got better.

Sometimes, I would look at how we were coming along, and it felt like looking at that pool job. It was hard. It was long. Frankly, I didn’t know if I could hold out to the end. But Don and I did. We actively parented for 39 years.

How Did It Turn Out?

As some of you know we had kids struggle with drugs, alcohol, dropping out of school and identity issues. It was tough. Our kids are all over thirty now and many are in their late forties. They’re smart, loyal, loving, kind, generous people. They can be trusted to do what is right.

I read a wonderful book, That We May Be One, by Tom Christopherson. His family had their share of trials, but his parents determined their success by how connected and bonded the family was. I have chosen to do the same.

My children talk to each other often. They gather at our family reunion regularly. This week one of my children found themselves in an unexpected financial bind. The word went out to the family and in less than 24 hours it was resolved with all of us pulling together.

It doesn’t matter what the water in the bottom of your pool looks like. It doesn’t matter how inefficient your tools and resources. If you will do what you know is right consistently, better tools and resources will come. You’ll get better. If you’re determined to parent as well as you can, to connect your family, to increase your skills and access the resources you need, then you’ll be successful. When you stay the course, no matter what you lack, what you need will show up. Simple things, done consistently over time, make all the difference.

If you relate to this article please share it with others. They will thank you for it. 🙂

 

It’s Not Education or a Degree That Thrills Me

Sometimes Bad Things Happen to Good People

Recently, my 45-year-old son graduated from college with a bachelor’s in philosophy. It wasn’t easy because he has a past that could have made it impossible.

When Seth was a small boy, he had some experiences which hurt his heart and soul. Sometimes, no matter how carefully we try to guard our children bad things can happen. This set him on a troubled road. He used drugs, dropped out of high school, went to jail, and was sentenced to the D.O.C. (Department of Corrections) and a work-release program. He stole some cigarettes from a closed gas station and received a felony that would make life hard.

The future looked poor. However, he was a good person, as most of us are. When his son was born, he decided to make a change. It wasn’t easy because of the past. People weren’t sure they could trust him and so they didn’t want to risk giving him a chance. He just kept looking and eventually, he found a man and a company that employed him. He worked in an underground mine running a huge haul truck and eventually became an underground miner.

However, after just a couple of years, his body wouldn’t take the shaking and jolting of the machine any longer and he was back on the hunt. He was hired at a scrap mental company sorting metal.

Setting the Goal and Sticking With It

Seth had a goal to make something of his life so he could be an example for his son and he became one of the BEST scrap mental sorters they had. Eventually, he was promoted and found himself running the front office involving the 20-ton scale and the selling and buying of scrap metals. Then during the market collapse of 2007, Seth was laid off.

He eventually found a job as a machinist and was promoted after a couple of years to the position of Quality Management Systems Specialist creating a Quality Management System training program and taught it to the employees at his plant and others in the state. This was the job that changed the direction of his life. He began to believe that he was smart enough and capable of returning to school.

While Seth was working at the mine, he developed a love for rocks and minerals. He studied them and began collecting them. He also learned to pan gold and joined an online club of like-minded people. Eventually, this love of rocks and minerals got him thinking about college. He determined to become a geologist. But he was pushing 40 and he had a felony on his record. He bravely decided to go for it.

At the University of MT, Seth did what he had done at the scrap metal job and as a machinist. He moved up. He impressed his professors and counselors and they asked him to mentor ‘at risk’ college students. His efforts were so effective that he was often able to keep all his mentees in college. He taught some classes. He was making a difference as he pursued his own goals.

All these opportunities moved him from seeking a degree as a geologist to getting a degree in philosophy. What a major jump!

We didn’t put Seth through school. He worked his way through! It wasn’t easy. I can remember times when he called me in tears seeking encouragement. He thought about quitting. After all, he was going to be 45 by the time he was done. It seemed indomitable at times!

This spring Seth accomplished his goal and graduated with a degree in Philosophy.

Anyone Can Build a Meaningful Life!

There is a purpose in my sharing Seth’s journey with you other than a mother’s bragging rights. It’s not the education or the degree that thrills me. It’s that he was kind to himself, trusted himself, set a goal and then accomplished it.

The reason that I find that so magnificently thrilling is that when we can set a goal and stick with it, no matter how hard, then we can always take care of ourselves and others. We can always make, not just a living, but a life. Way to go Seth!!

P.S. Currently Seth is pursuing setting up a program to coach troubled youth. He understands that you can’t just take kids out of bad situations. You must help them be kind to themselves, trust themselves, set a goal and then accomplish it. You must change how they think.

If you know someone who needs to be reminded that they can make a life,
please share this article. : )

Welcome To My Morning

Recently I was taken back in time as I listened to a soundtrack by John Denver. He was a singer-songwriter from the1960s through the 1990s. I was a young teen when he began his career and I enjoyed his music.

One song, that I listened to on this day was particularly meaningful – Welcome to My Morning. Look at the opening stanza.

Welcome to my morning
Welcome to my day
I’m the one responsible
I made it just this way

Many years ago, I finally understood and came to believe that I was truly responsible for how my days look. That belief can be a bit intimidating because if it is true then we must take 100% responsibility. Yikes! We must give up blame. Double yikes! We must stop being victims. Triple yikes!!!

But it’s true. And here is why. We cannot control other people or their actions. We cannot always control the circumstances that we find ourselves in. But we can always control our response to them. That is the key to the tenor of our days – our response.

Make Controlling Your Response a Daily Practice

It isn’t always easy to stay in control of our response but there are a few things that we can practice daily that will help us get better at it.

• Pay attention to your thoughts – Thoughts generate emotions and emotions move us to action. Our action will trigger a result, either positive or negative. So, it’s important to monitor your thoughts. Make the effort to keep them positive. Don’t let your mind make stuff up which it will try to do. Our mind wants to make sense out of things and sometimes we put our own spin on the facts.
• Think the best of others – It is easy to have negative thoughts about others and their motives, but if we make it a practice to think the best rather than the worst it goes a long way to helping us control our response. When someone cuts us off in traffic we can think, “That dumb jerk.” Or we can think, “She must be in a real hurry. I hope she gets there safely.” We get to decide how we will view the actions of others. When we decide to think the best of others, we can manage our thoughts better
• Give up blame. Blame is always an indicator there’s a problem with our way of being or how we perceive what’s happening. Taking responsibility for how we perceive what’s happening can and does make a difference in our outcomes.
• Practice gratitude. It’s remarkable how thought shifting gratitude can be. For many, it doesn’t come naturally because life is hard. People are rude and inconsiderate. Bad things do happen to good people. But gratitude is something we can cultivate and when we do, it goes a long way to helping us have more positive thoughts. That leads us to better responses, and we have better outcomes.

I love this example from my friend April Hiatt, who had attended a class I taught on this topic. She was practicing giving up blame, thinking the best of others, and being grateful.

“I opened the dryer door to discover wet clothes. Jonathan (my 14-year-old) didn’t press the start button when he transferred loads. I was three words into my grumble when I heard myself say out loud “Oh, I’m so glad I checked the dryer.” The next words were of understanding, with a deep feeling of love . “I’ve done this same thing before .” This whole cycle took under 3 seconds, and it happened without me really thinking about it. Wow, I’m amazed.”

We need to make setting our intention for the day a practice. We will have to do this our whole lives. Eventually, it does become easier, but it is a life-long work. We must decide that we’re going to have a good day. We must decide that people are basically kind. We must decide that life is good. These daily decisions help us respond better.

When you wake up and have a headache you can roll over and think, “This is going to be a lousy day.” Or you can close your eyes and think, “I’m glad I have something I can take for this.”

I know, it feels irritating to even think about it. That’s exactly how I felt when I first learned this principle, that I am responsible for how my life feels. But I want you to know that as I embraced this truth it changed my world. It gave me all the power!

You can listen to John Denver’s beautiful song HERE. Enjoy.

Change Looks Like Failure First!

Change can be hard. One reason that change is so challenging is that we misunderstand what change actually looks like and we also misunderstand the time that is required for change.

I have read many books on change. There is the standard – it takes 30 days to create a new habit. If we are talking about making our bed daily or exercising every morning then that is probably true. But if we are talking about changes that involve our character or our ability to respond differently in times of stress then maybe, just maybe, it will take more.

When I wanted to stop yelling that required a huge mind shift. I had to come to believe that I could actually stop yelling, that it was in my power to make that change. Accepting that fact took a few years.

Then I had to figure out what to do besides yell because it’s easier to replace a behavior than to stop a behavior. Once I knew what I was going to do instead of yelling I had to practice, practice, practice.

And here is where it’s important to understand what change looks like. Change looks like failure long before it looks like success.

Steps to Change

Step One – Realize that you need to make a change.

Step Two – Begin to believe that it is within your power to make a change.

Step Three – Determine what needs to change. Let me give you an example. I needed to get a handle on my complaining. It wasn’t that I wasn’t happy but the words of complaint just kept falling out of my mouth. It’s just too hot! I don’t know why you can’t put your socks in the hamper. I wish the prices weren’t so high. Why won’t my hair just do what I want it to? This meat is overcooked.

When I had this conversation with a friend, she said, “Well, everyone does that!” She is right but that doesn’t make it a healthful or useful practice. I knew that if I controlled what came out of my mouth I would experience far more moments of happiness during the day.

I determined that I needed to express gratitude more often and I did this by using a small notebook where I wrote down what I was grateful for as I went through the day. I also had a second small notebook where I recorded my complaints. Then I would tear up those pages each night. These exercises may seem simple and even silly but they kept my mind on what I wanted to do instead of what I had been doing.

Step Four – Make a firm commitment to doing the work and giving it all the time required. I can always tell when I only wish I was different or hope to be different and when I am committed. That is key. You have to have a firm intention that no matter what it takes, how long it takes or how discouraging it feels you will keep going.

The Process of Change

A – Realize that you will continue to do the very thing you want to change. This is the step where change looks and feels like failure. When I was working to replace yelling with self-control I would often yell. Right after I yelled I would think in my mind, “Rats. I yelled. I don’t want to yell anymore!” I would feel bad and I would feel like a big failure at this self-control thing.

However, I eventually came to understand that every time I recognized that I had errored, gave up blame and took responsibility for my actions and then determined to do better, I was making progress.

B – Stop. Eventually, I would stop in mid-yell. I would mentally catch myself and reverse course. This entailed a fair amount of apologizing. It was uncomfortable but it was progress. I caught myself and made an adjustment.

C – Change. Finally, I would think about yelling and I wouldn’t. I would choose to respond differently. It felt wonderful when I began to experience this step more often. That didn’t mean that I didn’t fall back to step three and four; I did, for a long time. But eventually, I found myself staying in control more often.

It Takes Time to Change Our Way of Being

Here is another place where people in the process of change find themselves in trouble. We think that if it takes 30 days to develop a new habit then that should equate to change but it doesn’t. The kinds of change that I’m talking about, those that make us better people and parents, are changes not just in what we do but in our very being, our character and that requires time.

It took me ten years from the time I realized that yelling was not a good coping skill or parenting tool to consistently staying in control. And the truth is, I can, on occasion, still find myself yelling. It is a lifetime work for me. However, if I had bought into the idea that I needed to accomplish this significant change in 30 days or one year or even five years, well, I might have given up and never made it to where I am today.

My current project, giving up complaining, has been in process for over six years. Sometimes I feel discouraged. But I express gratitude more often than in the past, even though I still complain. I am making progress.

Changing our way of being, who we are, how we respond, doesn’t have to take ten years or even six. But if it does, hang on and keep working.

As Nelson Mandela said,

Your shares are the very best compliment. I also love hearing from you so PLEASE leave a comment.

We ALL Play the Embellishment Game

I got a fabulous call recently from a dear friend. She wanted to tell me about her three grandchildren, twins, aged 8 and one, aged 5. They have been playing a game with their grandma when she takes them to school 3 times a week. It’s called, Embellish the Story. One of them begins the story and then they each take a turn adding to it. In other words, they embellish it.

My friend said the best thing is watching their faces when the person ahead of them takes the story in a direction they didn’t want or didn’t anticipate. She sees their face go from annoyed or mad to thoughtful and then illuminated as they figure out where they can take the story, so it fits what they want better.

Recently, in school, the older girl’s teacher said that they were going to have an embellishment project. The twins were so excited because they knew what the word meant. They were the only kids in class who knew what it meant. So, what does the word mean to them? That is a very interesting thing – In their words you get to tell your story and sometimes you make stuff up.

Our Stories Matter!

Isn’t that the truth. In every situation, we get to tell ourselves the story and sometimes we make stuff up. And it all affects the results that we get. I’ve learned through almost seven decades of life that we do have control over the story that we tell ourselves in any situation and that the story we tell impacts our response to whatever is happening and the outcome that we get.

One of my favorite quotes is from Viktor E. Frankl, a Holocaust survivor. He said, “When we’re no longer able to change a situation—we’re challenged to change ourselves.” He reminded us in his book Man’s Search for Meaning the one thing that can never be taken from a person is their ability to choose how to respond (Frankl)

This can be tough because it means that, just like these little girls, we have to figure out how to tell a better story, one that leads us to the destination we want.

You’ve all heard this old saying or something like it, “What you say is what you get.” It’s true. If you say, “My kids are driving me nuts,” they’ll drive you nuts. If you say, “I can’t stand my kids today,” or “My kids are so sloppy, messy, noisy, naughty, and so on,” that’s what you’ll get. It’s what you perceive is happening, regardless of what’s actually going on.

I worked with a self-employed mother who was telling herself a negative story about her son’s actions. She felt he was whiney and needy. He was a bother when she was trying to work. Her responses to her son were causing a strained relationship between them. She was having difficulty figuring out how to fix the situation. When I asked her to tell me more about her son, she replied that he was bright, loving, and responsible.

We talked about the importance of our story, how they affect our response and ultimately the result we get. Her result was painful. She determined to change the story even if the situation wasn’t changing. She decided to remind herself of her sons’ positive qualities each time she began to experience annoyance or frustration.

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

This mom got better results because her feelings were positive. Her feelings were positive because she changed her story about her son.

Now back to my friend and her grandchildren. She made the call because she wanted to thank me for all that she has learned about taking control of our stories and how impactful and life-changing that has been.

She wanted me to know that because I have made an impact in her life, she has been able to make an impact in the lives of her granddaughters. This morning as she dropped them off to school she asked, “Now when you get in school you get to tell your story. So, what will you do if someone gets your story going in a different direction that you don’t want it to go or that wasn’t what you expected? They knew – “We get to take it in the direction we want it to go!”

As my friend said goodbye and thanked me for sharing with her through the years, she had tears in her voice because as she said, “It’s wonderful when you can see it used in real life, and when you can help the rising generation learn it so much earlier. I know this is going to have an impact on how their lives will go.”

Here are a few tips to help you have better stories.

• Take responsibility and stop blaming
• Decide to think the best of others
• Choose your words wisely
• Keep practicing

Take responsibility for your thoughts, the stories, and emotions they create, and your responses. Stop blaming. Take responsibility for your words, which are your stories in concrete form. You’re in control of the stories you tell—stories about yourself, your family, your children, the world, the past, the present, and the future. Knowing this gives you all the power.

Our Stories Determine Our Happiness Level

Stories are powerful in determining our happiness level. My granddaughter, Mary, is six. She loves 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!”

Mary, like all of us, gets to write the story, and her story makes her happy. And for all I know, her story may be as true as mine.

Want to Know More?

If you want an in-depth understanding of how to control your responses in tough situations, how telling a better story can open up your internal resources, and an in-depth look at the tips above as well as a few more, then read my book Becoming a Present Parent: Connecting with Your Children in Five Minutes or Less. You can purchase it on Amazon or at your local bookstore. Here’s to better stories and better outcomes.

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Process vs Outcome. Which brings joy?

Recently, I posted a photo on Facebook of my twelve-year-old granddaughter making cupcakes. She has cerebral palsy and so it requires some special accommodation to cook with her. We’ve been cooking together now, for many years.

It’s also coming up on April 2, which is my oldest daughter’s birthday. That recalled to my mind a memory which I wrote about and want to share because the message is timeless and priceless as it applies to creating a relationship with our children and in allowing us to enjoy working and playing with them. Enjoy!

3-18-2010
Three of my grandchildren live just a couple of blocks away. Maggie is almost four and Jack just turned two. Mary is brand new. Maggie has cerebral palsy. Working her arms and legs is a real challenge. These children belong to my oldest daughter, Jodie. Today is her birthday. I had planned to make her a cake and then decided to have Jack and Maggie help me.

My intention was to allow them to experience new things, really help make a cake, and have a lot of fun. I knew that there would be a huge mess, something unexpected might happen and I would be worn out when we were through. That knowledge has come from working with hundreds of children, of all ages.

Because of Maggie’s condition she has a special chair. It isn’t high enough to reach the table, so I put her and the chair on the table. Jack, of course, took his position on one of the kitchen chairs.

I opened the cake mix and allowed each one to pour half of the contents into the bowl. Some made its way to the table top and some to the floor. Next, I filled three measuring cups with liquid, 1 cup water, ¼ cup water, and 1/3 cup water. I helped Maggie get hold of the large cup and pour it into the bowl.

Because this isn’t the first time that I’ve cooked with them I wanted to see if Jack could pour the cup himself so I said, “Pour it in Jack.” He took hold of the 1/3 cup and gently tipped it to one side, onto the table. Ok…he still needs help. So, we tried again with my help.

Next came the eggs. I showed Jack and Maggie how to break one and get the contents out. Woohoo!! Whacking eggs suited Jack just fine. He gave it a whack and voila! egg all over the table. Not to worry. We just picked out the eggshells and scraped the egg into the bowl. Good thing we started with a clean table.

Next, I helped Maggie get hold of her egg and smack it against the cup edge. That was necessary to make it pliable enough for her to squeeze out the contents, and squeeze she did. Some was dripping down the front of her shirt, there was a small stream running down her knee and the rest was oozing out her fingers. We did get all the egg out of the shell, the shell pried out of her little fist and hands wiped clean. Whew!

My sister had come to visit just as we began and was observing what we were doing. As I got a cloth to wipe up the egg mess, Maggie, who was just desperate to “do it herself”, reached down and plunged her arm into the batter. I turned around at that same moment. It was perfect. I took hold of the bowl and said, “Stir Maggie, stir.” She really had a tremendous time stirring that batter. It’s very difficult for her to hold a spoon and when she does, I have to help her. For a 4-year-old that’s so lame. But stirring on your own, now that’s living! I would never have come up with the solution she found. I glad my sister was there because she was able to video that small moment of magnificent success and joy for Maggie. You can see Maggie stir the cake here.

Of course, being unable to control her limbs, her hand and arm went in and out of the batter a couple of times, so we had cake mix on her, Jack and the table. Not to worry, there was enough left to bake!

I put the bowl on the mixer and turned it to stir. Watching them learn to cook was fun. Each time I accelerated the mixer the change in sound would make Maggie jump. She’s very sensitive to sound. I would pat her knee and say, “It’s OK Maggie.” After a few times, Jack reached over, patted her little knee with his smaller hand, and said, “It’s loud.”

Soon the cake was in the oven, all hands were wiped, and the table cleaned. Then I put on Winnie the Pooh and made the frosting myself.

When the cakes were cooled, I invited the kids back in and we got to work. Maggie, like any 4-year-old, wanted to lick the beater. I gave her the rubber spatula instead. She held it in place on her knee, bent her head down low (ah, the flexibility of children) and got busy. For the next half hour, we didn’t see her face once, but we heard lots of smacks and slurps. She cleaned that spatula.

While I was frosting the cake and Maggie was smacking her lips on the spatula, Jack was sucking frosting out of the decorating bag. It was a grand sight, grandma letting her little friends experience new and enjoyable things. There was no nagging about being neat, quiet or being patient. We just did our thing however it happened to happen.

The cake turned out great and I suspect, despite the fact that it didn’t get its full measure of egg, it will taste just fine. On the way home, Jack almost fell asleep. He was totally worn out from a fabulous day at grandma’s house. Maggie cried because she knew we were going home, and it’s so much fun at grandmas!

I shared this cake baking experience with you because there are some important things that I want to point out that will help many of you.

1. When you work with children, no matter the age, your intent, and your expectation really do matter.
This experience with my grandchildren would have been very different if I had worried about keeping my kitchen clean or making sure that everything was in order and done a certain way or trying to keep clothing clean. It wouldn’t have been as much fun if I had said, “Don’t be so messy”, “Don’t spill”, or “Look at your clothes”. You know what I mean. We all do it. That’s because our expectation is that it will be a well-run project, go smoothly, and the end product will be perfect.

2. As we begin to feel the tiredness that comes from working on a project with children, we can begin to feel impatient, frustrated, and possibly, even angry. That’s because we expected to have this perfect time with our kids and it wasn’t perfect, at least not in our eyes.

But let’s think about that. When we work with children whose eyes matter, whose interpretation of what should happen matters. I’ve learned that for most children it isn’t the result that they care about, it’s the process. They like doing. They like experimenting. Sometimes things don’t turn out, cookies are crumbly, plaster of paris is runny, paint is too thick, etc. It doesn’t matter to kids.

3. Is the project, chores or activity about me or the kids? For decades I would go to my children’s school and help children make gingerbread houses. I was VERY well organized, so it was a smooth project. I could help 25-30 kids by myself. But I’m going to be honest here. It went so smoothly because the project was about me and not about the children.

When I first started it mattered to me how the houses looked when they were done. I knew they were going home, and I wanted those parents to be amazed, to see what a great teacher I was. So, when the kids were doing their thing I would go around and make sure that the entire milk carton was covered and that candies were evenly spread on the house. In short, I meddled with everyone’s creation.

As I got older and wiser, I stopped doing that. I made it about the children! I learned that kids don’t always care if the milk carton shows. Sometimes all the candy will be on one side of the roof and nowhere else. I learned that not everyone wants icicles that look like icicles. Some kids would rather do it themselves even if they are just bumps on the side of the house. And you know what; I’ve never talked to a parent yet who didn’t think their child’s house was great, no matter what it looked like.

I suspect that is true for a lot of you if you’re honest. It’s your expectations you think about. It’s your outcome that matters. It isn’t about just being with your kids and letting them learn and enjoy. Be honest.

4. When we’re honest we will approach projects and activities with a different set of expectations and a very different intent.

5. If being Present with our children is our ultimate goal, whether we’re playing, doing chores, homework, or any other activity, we will have a better result.

6. When we’re Present we’re better able to remember this huge difference in adults and children: adults are project driven and kids are process driven.

As we adjust our expectations to include these differences it will increase our enjoyment in working, playing and being with our children.

Your shares are the best compliment! : )