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We Don’t Understand Do We!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being Present is a skill.

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

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Are you satisfied with your family relationships?

I have a photo of my daughter Jenny who is in her forties. It was taken when she was around six. Recently, I was looking at it and experienced a very tender moment. In those early parenting days, I loved my children. However, this photo reminded me that at that busy time of life I did not realize how sweet and precious they were; that the opportunity I had been given to be their mother was not just a responsibility or a job, but a gift, one of the greatest.

As my family grew, I began to sense that our relationships could be better. I wanted to understand this longing. I talked to other moms and dads who managed their families differently than I did mine. I read books. I prayed and thought deeply. I was guided, inspired and taught.

Then, when I was in my early forties, I had a remarkable experience that led to significant changes in how I parented. I was driving across our small town and was miraculously alone. Off to my right, as I glanced down the street, I saw a small girl skipping along towards me. I saw her sweet little face and feet as she firmly planted each step. Then without warning, I saw that child as I had never seen another human being. It was as if she was clothed in a light that had previously been hidden from me. It was overpowering and I cannot express the feelings that filled my heart. I began weeping. I had seen the beauty of another human being. She was far more beautiful and precious than I had ever imagined any person could be. It was a gift to help me on my way.

I didn’t become a different parent overnight. Building more connected and healthy family relationships took time. But what sustained me was the vision of the beauty of a soul.

Whenever I feel sad about the years that I didn’t recognize the opportunity to love and mentor my children as a gift, as opposed to a responsibility or job, I am in the same moment gladdened that I now know the difference.

No matter where you are in your parenting strengths or weakness, you can get better at it. Your family relationships can be more joyous. Keep trying, never quit. Give it all the time you need because you have a lifetime for learning to become a great parent—a Present parent!

Tips For Better Family Relationships 

• Know what you want. If your family doesn’t function or feel the way you want it to, take some time to think about what it is you do want it to look and feel like. Write it down and then begin taking steps to get what you want.
Do the simple things. There is no silver bullet to good relationships. Watch your words. Be kind more often. Compliment more. Control your own emotions. Simple things make all the difference.
Change your story. Take control of how you talk about yourself and your family. Use more positive words no matter how you’re feeling. Your words and the stories you tell yourself about your children influence how you respond and the outcomes you get.
Turn away from your technology more often. Look your children in the eye. Listen to understand rather than to solve problems. It only takes minutes to let your child know that you see them, hear them and that they matter.
Nurture yourself right where you are. You must learn to take care of you so that you have something to give to your family relationships.

There is no magic to good family relationships. If I can learn these skills, you can learn them too. They will revolutionize your family.

7 Tips for Controlling Your Response When Things Go Wrong

Last week I shared two stories about how our perception of what is happening fuels our response; that paying attention to our thoughts and the stories and emotions they generate is important when parenting and is a skill which can be learned and practiced.

Yeah right!! There was a time when I didn’t believe that I could control how I felt let alone that it was a skill which could be learned. Many of you may also have a difficult time accepting that you can control how you feel and respond.

CAN CONTROLLING YOUR STORY MAKE A DIFFERENCE?

I was a reasonable person, and I lived a good life but, darn it, stuff was always happening. I mean, if the kids are acting crazy, it’s going to make you feel crazy. If milk keeps getting spilled, if the house is getting trashed, and if grades are down, you feel down yourself. When money’s tight or your spouse isn’t helping you out, you feel overwhelmed. If you feel unsupported or if you have a health issue, all of this is going to mess with how you feel and respond, right?

Back then I knew the answer was a big fat yes! But time and experience have proven to me that you can control how you feel by taking control of the stories you tell yourself.

THOUGHTS CREATE OUR STORIES

Perspective is an amazing thing. It is, simply put, the story we tell ourselves: what we think is happening or has happened. 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. This process takes fractions of seconds and this scenario repeats itself hundreds of times each day.

You change your story by controlling your thoughts. You manage your emotions by controlling your story. When you do this, you take more positive actions and you get better results. It is a skill and the more you practice it the better you get!

TIPS FOR HAVING BETTER STORIES

TIP 1—Take responsibility and stop blaming
When we choose to tell ourselves stories that blame others, we decide to become victims. Victims parent poorly. I hear parents blame their kids all the time for how they’re feeling.
• You make me so mad.
• You have ruined my day.
• I can’t think straight because you’re so noisy.
• I wouldn’t be yelling if you would listen.

Blame is always an indicator there’s a problem with our way of being or how we perceive what’s happening.

TIP 2—Decide to think the best of others
A father expected his 16-year-old daughter home at a certain time but she was late, very late! He began writing a mental story. He imagined all sorts of scenarios for why she was late. She lacked respect for family rules. She was thoughtless. She was irresponsible. The later she was, the bigger the story grew and the angrier he became. As she opened the door, he exploded with, “You’re late! You know the rules, and you broke your promise. You’re grounded, young lady.” Of course, his daughter ran to her room crying.

To let you in on the facts, the girl’s date had taken her to a drinking party after the movie. When she asked him to take her home, he refused. She had tried to call home, but the line was busy. So she called a friend who got off work at midnight and came and got her. In the meantime, she sat on the curb in the dark because the party was out of control and not safe.

The father’s story was at the heart of the problem, not his daughter’s lateness. When we decide to think the best of others, we can manage our thoughts and the resulting stories more effectively.

TIP 3—Choose words wisely
“What’s in you is what comes out.” It’s true! Pay attention to the words you say in frustration, sorrow, and anger; you’ll get a good idea of what you’re holding onto in your subconscious mind.

Our words reveal what we truly feel. The words that we allow to come out of our mouths are what ultimately drive feelings and the resultant actions and bring the results we live with daily.

Watch the words you use when thinking or speaking about your children and teens:
• Childlike vs. naughty
• Young vs. clumsy
• Needs more direction vs. oppositional
• Tired vs. grumpy
• Preoccupied vs. lazy
• Angry vs. rebellious
• Being a kid vs. messy
• Wants my presence vs. needy
• Has a need vs. is pushing my buttons

TIP 4—Check your core beliefs
We can get an idea of the beliefs we’ve formed growing up by paying attention to the stories we tell ourselves over and over again and by listening to the words coming out of our mouths. These beliefs may not be supportive or helpful in having good relationships with others or in our ability to be Present and parent well. Once we’ve found a core belief which is not helpful, we can get rid of it by rewriting the story.

TIP 5—Track your thoughts
Because thoughts are powerful, we need to gain control over them in order to stop getting more of what we don’t want. Once you’re aware of a negative thought, you need to capture it—write it down. You might be thinking it’s crazy to write down negative stuff, but I’ve lived this, and I know it works! So pay attention to your negative thoughts and write them down. Look for patterns, unsupportive and destructive stories and repeating themes. You can shred or burn your daily list periodically. Take control!

TIP 6—Teach others what you’ve learned
Teaching others what we’re learning and experiencing is a powerful tool that helps us make even greater changes. As we teach others, we clarify for ourselves. If we teach what we learn to our family, we’ll be heartened as we see them making changes also, and our whole family will be blessed.

TIP 7—Keep practicing
Keep working at controlling your thoughts. This is something you need to do daily. There isn’t a point when you’re so good at it that you can stop working on it

Would you like to know more about these seven tips on controlling your responses with your children, then check out the book Becoming a Present Parent: Connecting With Your Children in Five Minutes or Less.

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Special Needs – The Other End of the Stick

Five years ago I became my granddaughter Maggie’s aid at school.

Maggie has severe Cerebral Palsy. She is non-verbal, can’t walk, has to be fed and changed, and has minimal control of her hands and arms. But she is so bright. I went to school with her to help her brilliance shine.

I held her hand while she wrote. I put math on a white board so she could write an answer. I moved her from one place to another so she could participate in all that went on in school. I showed the other children how they could talk to Maggie and be her friend. I showed adults how to interact and how to be absolutely amazed at her remarkable spirit. I advocated for Maggie. It was a gift to me.

It was also challenging.  It was a challenge moving a seven-year-old from place to place, lifting, holding and carrying. I was tired! Sometimes I thought, “I can’t stand to explain to one more person why Maggie can’t talk or walk, or do all that we take for granted.”

But then I would recall the words of a wise woman, Maggie’s mother, and I would smile and help one more person understand how to be a friend to the most joyous person I know, Maggie Palmer. Maggie is now twelve years old but the words of her mother, a We Sherpa, are as true now as there were five years ago when I was Maggie’s aid at school.

What is a We Sherpa and how does it apply to Special Needs

Hi. I’m Maggie’s mom. Maggie is 7 and has severe cerebral palsy. Last year I had a first hurt. I found a picture on Facebook of all Maggie’s friends at a birthday party she hadn’t been invited to. Cry! As parents with special needs kids we come to these new layers of grieving over and over again, don’t we?

Sometimes the depth of my grief over what seems to be a pebble in “the road of life with a special needs child” surprises me. How could stepping on such a little thing hurt so badly? I shake my head in wonder as the tears flow. Just the other day one of Maggie’s little next-door friends said to me, in her frustration of not being able to play with Maggie in ways that she wanted to, “I wish Maggie didn’t have cerebral palsy.” Her comment sucked the air out of my lungs, and I was speechless. What should I think about this, about her? I didn’t know.

We’ve always homeschooled Maggie. Next week she’ll be going to public school for the first time in her life. In fact, she’ll go to a school that has never had a child with her sort of disability. I’m expecting that we’ll be stepping on lots of those painful little pebbles at this section of our journey. Maybe there will be some rocks I crack my shins against or a boulder that crushes me. For this reason, I’ve been considering this strange land we all have to tread when the “typical” and the “special” intersect.

There was a time when I was one of “them” and lived in the “typical world”—when I didn’t have a child, when I didn’t even know any special needs people. If I crossed the path of someone different I stared, I stumbled; I felt unsure and didn’t know what the heck to do with him/her. Should I ask what was wrong with him? Should I talk to her, or should I talk to her caregiver? Should I pretend that I didn’t notice anything different? What would be the wrong thing to say? What if I couldn’t understand what he said back to me? Might they hurt me? Might I hurt them? Could I catch what they had? I felt afraid, I felt awkward, and I felt stupid. I have a lot of compassion for “them.”

As we prepare to enter this place of intersection in earnest, I’ve come to the conclusion that Maggie and I are going to be We Sherpa‘s. What’s a We Sherpa, you ask?

A Sherpa has come to be known as someone who guides another along a challenging journey. A Sherpa takes upon themselves the heaviest burdens of the expedition. A Sherpa understands their traveling companion may be inexperienced, awkward, and fearful as they walk through territory that is not their native country, and they are patient with that.

The “We” part of the equation is a conscious decision about how we are going to walk in this world. A world of only “us” (those who get it) and “them,” (those who don’t) is really only a world of ME. The “We” means we’re going to leave the path of ME, and walk the path of WE.

When it comes to people’s insensitivities or ignorance about our special kids, here’s why choosing to be a We Sherpa matters so much.

If we want inclusion and compassion for our children, we have to be willing to pick up the other end of that stick.

When someone speaks insensitively or ignorantly, when they stare, when they don’t include, or worse, exclude, the We Sherpa simply sees them as a traveler who needs a guide to help them walk this uncharted territory. The We Sherpa bears the larger burden of reaching out, of inviting, of educating, of creating opportunity, of giving the benefit of the doubt, and of forgiving. The We Sherpa puts an arm around their shoulder and invites them onto the path. They may decline. There will be the inevitable stepping on toes as we learn to walk together. We Sherpa’s accept that.

Seth Godin said it best. “The easiest thing is to react. The second easiest is to respond. But the hardest thing is to initiate.”

I’ll keep having these painful “firsts.” And, I’m learning to own my own grief. But, I’m going to choose to walk a path of WE.

When someone clumsily stumbles into us with insensitivity or ignorance, Maggie and I are going to scoot over, invite them to walk with us, and help them over the rocky places of fear, awkwardness, and unfamiliarity.
It’s true. We’re better, together.

Blessings to all of us who tread this challenging path. May your grief be comforted, and the rocky way smoothed.

Love,
TheJoyfulPalmers (Jodie)

I appreciate my daughter’s words of wisdom. They move me and I have been learning to We Sherpa right along with her and Maggie. It isn’t always easy but it is preferable to feeling like the world is “us” against “them.” If you know someone with a special needs child please share this article with them. If you know someone without a special needs child it might be even more important to share. It might help both along their own rocky path.

You might also enjoy an example of how Jodie and Maggie We Sherpa. Jodie, Maggie and friends made this video to introduce Maggie to any new groups of kids. They used it both in church and school. It will inspire you. “My New Friend Maggie.”

Jodie is the mother of four children, ages 5, 8, 10, and 12. Her oldest daughter, Maggie, has severe cerebral palsy. Although her energies are focused on the busy season of raising a young family, she is also a writer, teacher, mentor, and coach. She has spent many years helping parents create their own unique vision, master plan and custom-made systems for the education of their family. She is also the past president of the Midwives College of Utah and currently serves as a member of their board of directors and a personal student mentor. Jodie’s secret wish is to ride cross-country on a motorcycle in black leather pants.

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