Category: Present Parenting

React or Respond. We decide!

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

Our brains are wired to create a story around all of our experiences. It all begins with a thought. Once we have a thought, if we hold it in our minds, it becomes a story because our brain does its job and goes to the files and finds evidence that our thought is correct; usually, evidence based on past experiences. This process takes fractions of seconds.

Once we have our story, feelings are generated. These feelings move us to an action or response. Our response produces a result, either good or bad. This little scenario repeats itself hundreds of times each day. The better the response the better the result. We can’t run away from this principle. We live it out whether we understand and accept it or not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s to more joy,
Mary Ann

P.S. You can learn more about controlling your thoughts and emotions for better family relationships in my new book Becoming a Present Parent, Connecting With Your Children in Five Minutes or Less.  You can also receive a chapter from the book on Touchpoints, creating points of connection rather than having points of contention, FREE by visiting becomingapresentparent.com  It can be life changing for your family. I promise!

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Parable of the Yarn

What Do You Do With 100 Pounds of Yarn!!

A few years ago I inherited about 100 lbs of yarn—eleven black garbage bags and seven boxes. I adore yarn, but this was simply an absurd amount of yarn for a novice crocheter.

As the yarn was being packed into every available space of my minivan I envisioned the many beautiful scarves, hats, blankets, and booties that would warm the hearts and souls of so many—100 pounds of love!

However, at home, as I began to survey the contents of the bags and boxes I could see that this would be a complicated undertaking. Some of the yarn was a mass of tangles and knots.

Thus came the challenge—the yarn held such beautiful potential in joy, blessings, and pleasure, but that wonderfulness was hidden in the complication of getting through the knots and tangles.

Right at the beginning, I had to answer this question – Was it worth doing the obvious work required to reach the wonderfulness? I decided yes. As I sat unwinding, untangling, and un-knotting I was reminded that this yarn mess wasn’t very different from family relationships.

On a Facebook group, a discussion ensued about how a wife should handle a husband who she considered unreasonable in a situation with their child. As you can imagine there were a lot of comments. Many of them had to do with just taking the bull by the horns and forging ahead, doing what was “right” for the child, no matter what the husband’s position.

It brought to mind my yarn experience. This couple had a tangled mess. Each one thought that their position was “correct” and “reasonable”. They were emotionally pulling, tugging and yanking on their individual “threads” of belief. It’s was causing a big mess for them.

If we want to untangle messy issues in our family it’s good to remember that it all begins with relationship, not the current question at hand. The problem for this couple wasn’t whether they should do this or that for their child. It ultimately came down to the health of their relationship. Right then, they were in a place of intractability. They were at war, so to speak.

Four Ways To Untangle Your Differences

What can be done when we find ourselves in this intractable place, when we are stuck in a 100 pound tangled mess? Here is what I noticed as I untangled the yarn:

1. Know in advance of beginning that it’s worth the effort to untangle. This was true with my 100 pounds of yarn and it’s true of family relationships. It took a lot of hours, over a few days, to get the job done. There were moments of extreme frustration when I wished I hadn’t begun the project, when I wanted to quit. However, I kept reminding myself that it would be worth it. I kept visualizing the reward of hanging in – the many beautiful scarves, hats, blankets, and booties that would warm the hearts and souls of so many.

2. Use a gentle touch. No jerking, pulling, grasping, or tugging on the threads. That just tightens the knots! The softer the touch, the more easily the yarn comes untangled. We can translate this into the difficulty of untangling human issues by realizing that you have to have a genuine interest in the other person’s position. You don’t have to agree, but you do need to want to hear and understand. There is a gentleness of heart involved in being able to listen for understanding when you disagree with another person. Sometimes we call it charity or love. Anything that is handled with a calm voice, a desire to understand and love can be resolved.

3. Seek for mutual respect. There are two ends in every skein of yarn. One pulls out from the inside of the skein. The other wraps around from the outside. Sometimes they get tangled up with each other. You can pull and tug and battle all you want but until you find the ends you will struggle. Finding the two ends allows you to unravel the mess more easily. It’s akin to having a belief that the other person’s position is as valid as yours. From that position of mutual respect, you can begin to untangle the mess. You can look at each end, so to speak, and begin the work of bringing order out of chaos. Again, you don’t have to agree but you have to know that their position is as valid to them as yours is to you.

One of the reasons we have a difficult time taking a genuine interest in another’s opinion and in believing that their position is valid is because we really aren’t willing to see differently. We want our current view.

However, when you’re willing to hear and understand another’s position, then you’re able to come to a new view. You still may not agree, but you will see their position differently and it can lead you to a new and totally different solution than what you thought possible.

4. Allow time. It took many hours, over a number of days, to bring order to that yarn mess. If I had expected to get it done in a few hours I would have experienced a lot more stress and faced the idea of quitting more often. Each bit of tangled emotion or difference in opinion takes time to unravel. There are not many things that must have a decision right now, in this hour or this day. Take the time to let each person think, pray, ponder and then talk.

Knowing the relationship is worth the work, expressing love and a willingness to see another’s point of view, believing in the validity of the other person’s opinion, and by allowing time, you can untangle almost any mess, just as I was able to do with the yarn.

When the work of untangling the yarn was finished, I knew from experience, that the work of creating items of beauty would be much easier and frankly, a joy. As we untangle each misunderstanding or difference of opinion in our family then it will be easier to create a family built on trust, respect, hard work and love. Ultimately, we will have more joy in our families.

Like the yarn, wrapped in neat balls ready to use, our families will look better, feel better and be easier to live and work in. We can create something beautiful and lasting.

What have you experienced in your life that is akin to untangling 100 pounds of yarn? I would love to know.

Here’s to more joy,
Mary Ann

P.S. You can learn more about building solid family relationships in my new book Becoming a Present Parent, Connecting With Your Children in Five Minutes or Less.  You can also receive a chapter from the book on Touchpoints, creating points of connection rather than points of contention, FREE by visiting
becomingapresentparent.com  It can be life changing for your family. I promise!

Less is More – REALLY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s to more joy,
Mary Ann
P.S. You can learn more about how the principle of Less is More can bless your family in my new book Becoming a Present Parent, Connecting With Your Children in Five Minutes or Less.  You can also receive a chapter from the book on Touchpoints, creating points of connection, FREE by visiting becomingapresentparent.com  It can be life changing for your family. I promise!

Perfect or What Is – It Matters!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heres to more joy,
Mary Ann

P.S. You can learn more about family expectations in my new book Becoming a Present Parent, Connecting With Your Children in Five Minutes or Less.  You can also receive a chapter from the book on Touchpoints, points of connection, FREE by visiting becomingapresentparent.com  It can be life changing for your family. I promise!

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Making it through the Last Month of Summer!

The Summer Dilemma –

Mary and Jack learning to water the garden.

 

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

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

Chores and Family Work

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

CHORES
Maggie doing her chores.

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

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

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

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

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

FAMILY WORK

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

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

My daughter knows how to add fun to family work!

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

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

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

Enjoy the waning days of summer,
Mary Ann

P.S. You can learn more about family touchpoints in my new book Becoming a Present Parent, Connecting With Your Children in Five Minutes or Less. There is an entire chapter on this one topic. In fact, you can access this chapter on Utilizing Touchpoints FREE by visiting becomingapresentparent.com  It can be life changing for your family. I promise!

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Sometimes Less is More!

Times change!

I know because I have witnessed almost seven decades of life and I can tell you that times change.

I can remember being four years old, living in sunny CA. I had two sisters younger than me and we were all a year apart. I can see us playing on the front stoop of our home. We were pulling dead pine needles off of the Christmas tree to put in our mud pie cakes.

When I was between the age of eight and fourteen we lived in ID. Summer days are clearly etched into my mind. We ran in a large pack of kids all summer. We played soldiers and nurses (a sign of our time), we swam in the canal and played in the gravel pit. We walked the few blocks to the local grocery store for penny candy (it really cost a penny). I remember finding large rocks in the field, painting them with mud and decorating them with flowers and leaves (a forerunner to almost 50 years of professional cake decorating).

I can remember times that my siblings and I laid out under the stars looking for the milky way or doing the same on a hot summer afternoon searching the clouds as they changed shape from a dinosaur to a huge fish, to a funny long nosed clown or a slow moving turtle.

Those summer days were filled with simple pleasures. We spent our time doing what kids did back then, playing together outdoors, using our imaginations and warding off the sometimes summer boredom. We didn’t dare take that complaint indoors to a parent because it meant work.

But times change. The world is a bit less safe. What kids do for fun has changed. But most of all we have lost the freedom of long, lazy, empty summer days.

Today there is far less down time for kids and families

Here is what I notice when I am mentoring mothers and fathers. There is a feeling that somehow they are just not measuring up. There is the feeling that they need to give their kids more – more lessons, more opportunity to see the world, more trips to the water park, more organized activities. There is the desire to fill their days with things that will give them a leg up in the world.

I want to remind parents that it is valuable to step back and remember that often less is more! That simplicity opens space in a family for Presence, for the opportunity to really create and cement relationships. There is great value in simplifying your calendar in the summer so that there is time to just be together as a family.

What really makes kids happy?

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

Relationships are built when we learn to be Present with another human being. It requires that we hear and see our children and youth. We can do that best when we are less stressed, less overwhelmed, less busy. We accomplish this as we simplify our calendars, especially in the summer.

Recently I asked my children, their spouses, my cousins and friends what were the best memories they had from when they were kids. Here is a small sampling –

-I remember our family on the fourth of July at the park having a picnic.
-I loved … sitting in the dark with the Christmas lights on in the living room.
-I loved New Year’s Eve and the cheese and meat tray that we ate while sitting on the floor watching a movie.
-I remember our walks together…
-I remember and me sitting under the table reading a chapter of Katie John together.
-I remember mom reading us a chapter each night from Old Yeller. I loved the inflections in her voice, that undivided time with her and the comfort of our warm bed.
-My mom used to sell Avon, and she would keep all the big boxes her orders came in. We used the boxes to makes houses to play in. It was so fun!

What a simple summer day looks like.

Do you notice how simple these things are? They all involve being home with family. They all required down time. They required very little money and no car time. Children need time to be with their siblings and parents. They need and want time to play with other kids un-managed by adults. It helps develop important skills. They want to lay in the grass and ‘waste a bit of time’ staring at the stars.

We are almost finished with July and will be moving into August. Some families return to school in mid August. Wow, the summer is almost gone. Why not take a look at your family’s calendar. Take a hiatus from some of your classes, organized activities, planned trips or events. Make room to see, hear, and respond to your family members by simplifying how much time you spend away from home.

It is valuable to remember that sometimes less is more! What can you do to find more at-home family time this summer?

P.S. You can learn more about the power of simplifying in my new book Becoming a Present Parent, Connecting With Your Children in Five Minutes or Less, there is an entire chapter on this one topic.

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

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NOT the Greatest Grandmother!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Family Management vs Family Realtionships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Touchpoints For Summer PRESENCE

As much as we love summer and our kids both can challenge our patience and our energy. The upcoming book – Becoming a Present Parent: Maximizing Presence in Five Minutes or Less teaches you how to use touchpoints to connect with your kids. Let me share one touchpoint that will really sweeten the summer pie!

Maggie doing her family work.

TOUCHPOINT 4 – Chores and Family Work

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

CHORES

Often we get so involved in the management portion of family life that it’s difficult to address the relationship portion. We’ll cover this topic in depth in chapter 9. For now, know that when we’re Present things work out better.

Everyone wants support when facing a tough job. No one wants to be isolated in a mess. We sometimes forget our kids feel the same way we do.

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

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

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

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

FAMILY WORK

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Summer,
Mary Ann

Try Active Listening for a More PRESENT Summer

As you know I have been writing a new book – Becoming a Present Parent: Maximizing Presence in Five Minutes or Less. I started in August 2015 and finished in January 2016. Since then I have been learning the dance of being an independent author. Whew, it has required a lot of dance lessons!!

However, the book is in the formatting and cover design stage and it is going to actually make it to press this summer. Woohoo. I will breathe a sigh of relief for sure.

While we wait for the books release I thought I would share a bit of the content with you.

ACTIVE LISTENING

When we’re Present, we listen to connect with the speaker and to understand how they feel about what they’re saying. It’s active and engaged and seeks to hear the words and, more importantly, to hear the heart.

Because this type of listening doesn’t come naturally, I’ve had to develop steps to make it happen more often. They may be helpful to you also.

A. STOP what you’re doing. Turn away from any technology, book or project. If you truly can’t stop, tell your child you can see this is important to them and you want to hear what they have to say. Set a specific time when you’ll be free and keep it. Saying “we’ll talk about it later” is not specific and sends the message you’re not available to them, that whatever else you’re doing is more interesting or more important. If at all possible STOP and listen now!

B. Make eye contact with your child. I remember reading that an infant can tell the difference between a face which is in order and one with the features jumbled.

From my experience, I know babies are interested their parent’s faces. They look at their parent’s faces constantly and reach out to touch them. Infants want us to look back at them. As we grow older, desire for eye contact with the people in our lives that matter to us remains.

Eye contact is looking directly into your child’s eyes and not looking away at other things or looking down. When we look at our children as we listen to them, it sends a powerful message that we care, that we hear them, that they matter.

C. Respond to what your child is feeling, not only what they’re saying. When you’re Present you’ll respond to feelings more quickly and more accurately. This helps your child feel heard. You can say things like, “Boy – how maddening!” or “You didn’t like that did you?” or “How did you feel?” This helps your child know that you view their feelings as valid and important.

D. Listen with patience and interest. Whatever you’re feeling, your child will know! They’re like energy magnets. If your energy is inwardly impatient, they’ll know. If you’re dying to get back to your stuff, they’ll feel it. If you’re bored out of your mind, it’s coming across loud and clear. It may all be on a subconscious level, but they know. Hold thoughts in your mind which will help you maintain interest and patience.

For example, you can think, “I sure love this kid. They’re so interesting, funny, kind, thoughtful,” whatever. Hold thoughts which allow you to embrace fully the moment you’re sharing with your child.

Avoid interrupting. Ask only those questions which help clarify. Your job at this moment is not to teach, reprimand or to fix. It’s to listen.

Being present with your child is an end in itself. It isn’t about resolution, teaching, making progress, none of that. It’s about connection, pure and simple. You can always teach later. Right now, be Present!

During a day, there are dozens of opportunities to stop and listen. We can’t actively listen in all of them. But if we can increase those times we do, it will have a big impact on our relationships.

Remember, being Present is a gift we give another person without thought of return. It means giving full attention, our whole self, nothing left on the table.

I do have something special in the works to add a bit of zing to your summer and to help you get a head start on Becoming a Present Parent. Watch for it. : )

Happy Summer,
Mary Ann