A father was painting the outside of his home. His five-year-old son wanted to help. So this good father gave his son an old shirt with the sleeves rolled up several times. They both went to work on the door, dad painting the top and son painting the bottom. It just happened to be the main entrance.
Now because of his age and size, the young boy wasn’t able to spread the paint evenly and consequently, the paint was beading up. That certainly wasn’t how the father envisioned his front door. So each time the five-year-old bent down to get more paint the father would hastily smooth out the paint on the bottom panel. It couldn’t do any harm, the boy didn’t know what was happening and the door sure would look better.
Well, father and son painted in silence for a time, the boy doing his best and the father smoothing it out. As the father thought about the situation and his redoing of his son’s work he decided that working with his son trumped a first-class paint job. He realized that his son was doing a mighty fine job for a five-year-old. The relationship that was being forged over the painting of a door was more significant to the father than the appearance of the door. He stopped smoothing out his son’s work.
Ever after that when the father approached the front door and saw its distinctive style of decoration he was reminded of what is really important.
The father of this five-year-old boy spoke about his own experiences with his father. His father had a workshop in which he made wonderful things. The son said, “I would wander into this workshop and watch him. Just to be in his presence was a thrill for me. He invited me to help him by passing a hammer, a screwdriver, or some other tool. I was convinced that my help was necessary and that without me he would not be able to complete his task.
As I look back and reflect upon those wonderful memories, I realize that my contribution was not necessary for my father to complete the work he was engaged in. I was the beneficiary, as through these experiences I came to know him and to love him. I came to know about a Fathers Role In Parenting.” We All Have a Father in Whom We Can Trust”, Ensign, May 1994, 30
Relationship vs Outcome
Sometimes parents care too much about the outcome and too little about the relationship. When we take time to be present with our children we give them the opportunity to know and love us. We give them a gift. And they return that gift by loving us back. It’s the best use of our time because the relationship that develops is the thing of greatest significance.
When you are older and they have gone from home, you will be glad that you spent the bulk of your time on forging relationships rather than on the outcome of the myriad projects parents need to do.
It’s helpful to know and understand that moments of connection can happen during the daily activities we engage in already. It needn’t be out of the ordinary, planned ahead or take extra time.
“In the intervals of the game, while Uncle Henry was pondering over his moves, the little girl looked down at her pets and listened absently to the keen autumnal wind that swept around the old house, shaking the shutters and rattling the windows. A stick of wood in the stove burned in two and fell together with a soft, whispering sound. The lamp cast a steady radiance on Uncle Henry bent seriously over the checker-board, on Molly’s blooming, round cheeks and bright hair, on Aunt Abigail’s rosy, cheerful, wrinkled old face, and on Cousin Ann’s quiet, clear, dark eyes. . . .That room was full to the brim of something beautiful, and Betsy knew what it was. Its name was Happiness.”
These are the final words of a book I enjoy so much, Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield. I liked it as a young girl and I reread it as an adult. Then I read it to my grandchildren.
Presence, What it is and What it Isn’t
One thing I enjoy about this old classic is that it’s all about being Present, what it is and what it isn’t.
Betsy unexpectedly found herself an orphan and went to live with her Aunt Harriet and Aunt Frances. These two dear old ladies were obsessed with taking care of Betsy. If you asked them they would say they were really Present. But they weren’t. They had confused being Present with taking care of all that’s required when you have children. They were stuck in what I like to call management vs. relationship.
Then Betsy goes to live in Vermont, with her mother’s family, the Putney’s. They often seem un-present. But they aren’t. They get Presence – It’s the gift of our full attention, our whole self, nothing held back, and it can take as little as five minutes or less.
Being Present isn’t as much about time as it is about our understanding of how to find moments to be Present when we’re busy, when we’re living our regular everyday lives.
I will never forget the father with teary eyes, at the end of a live event, who said he had always wanted to connect with his children consistently but hadn’t known how. He was short on time!
This father was gone each day working eight or more hours. When he came home it was difficult to connect with each child in a meaningful way. There was so much competing for his time in the few hours they had before bed. There was the deluge of homework, mealtime, and the chaos of getting kids to sleep. Not to mention his need for downtime to unwind from a busy day.
What brought tears to this father’s eyes was the comfort of knowing he could connect in meaningful ways with the time he had. He felt the information was life-changing. Frankly, understanding how to connect in everyday ways is family changing.
A TED Talk on Being Present, Sorta
Nigel Marsh tackled the thorny issue of work-life balance in a TED talk.It addresses head on what that teary-eyed father was feeling. As you listen, change the words work-life balance to work-presence balance. Stick with it to the last 2 ½ minutes and you’ll be glad you did.
That’s the problem that we face the most isn’t it; too busy to really be Present with those we love, hence we feel unbalanced. The corporate executive isn’t the only one who gets caught in this web. It happens to stay at home moms and dads, as well as those who leave home and go to work. It happened to Betsy’s aging aunts.
But with just a tweak in the way we think about what we’re already doing every day we can get a clear vision of what Presence at home, with our children, is really all about.
Today take the time to get the FREE chapterTouchpoints from my book Becoming a Present Parent and begin making this family altering change in your own life. Learn how to be a more Present parent. Then take the time to read this beautiful and cheery little book to your children or grandchildren.
In 2011 one of my daughter’s, with four children, remarried. Another daughter and I went to her home to care for her kids while she was gone on her honeymoon. We took three children with us. That makes 7 children, right? But not to worry, after all, we had two moms to handle the job of caring for seven children, ages 1 to 11. How hard could it be?
Well, I cooked….and cooked….and cooked…..does it ever stop? Only when it’s bedtime, that is, if no one wakes up in the night and needs a bottle, a drink of water or a small snack!
I washed and folded….washed and folded….washed and folded mountains of clothes, bedding….really mountains! We started with one very ill child and by the end of a week’s time, we were up to four. That’s a lot of throw up!
My daughter, Jodie, picked up….and picked up….and picked up….does it ever end. Only if it’s warm outside and everyone wants to go out. But it was winter, cold, and cloudy. Everyone was indoors dressing up, gluing, cutting, taping, and playing games with a million pieces, not to mention the puzzles.
Jodie played referee…and played referee…and played referee….stop already! But there were three girls
who all need the hairbrush at the same time and who wanted to wear the same princess dress. There were two three-year-old boys just learning to share, you get the picture.
Of course in all this cooking, washing and folding, picking up and refereeing we had to live our regular life of doing important stuff, right? We cleaned the house top to bottom, over and over again. We kept hoping it would stay clean for the bride’s homecoming.
We painted the brides living room and dining room; our wedding present for their open house later that week. Try doing that with one, one year old, two three-year-olds and one 4-year-old with cerebral palsy. We were either extraordinarily courageous or abysmally foolish. We felt we were both by the time we were done.
On the last day, after three of the girls had gone to school, one three-year-old had gone to relatives and we were left with just three children, we gazed tiredly at the strewn living room floor, the chaotic playroom and envisioned the six-hour drive home. Jodie looked at me and said, “Gee, mom, there are two of us and we couldn’t keep up.” I couldn’t help laughing tiredly because it was so true.
I’m sharing this experience with you because I want to make two very important points.
What feels like failure is the process…
First, if two moms struggled, what happens to one mom who does this kind of thing 24/7, 365 days a year? Well, she gets tired and discouraged. It comes with the territory; motherhood is the hardest job in the world. The best we can hope for are glimmers of occasional peace, a few quiet moments of self-care, sloppy kisses and an occasional “you’re the best mom.”
The house will be orderly and clean sometimes but not most of the time. Children will be gracious and kind to one another occasionally but sometimes they’ll forget. A meal will never satisfy until the next meal. Laundry is perpetual and so is folding. Nothing is perfect except for the fact that we have the best job in the world.
Yes, motherhood is the hardest, but the best job in the world. We’re raising people who will make a difference in the lives of others, just as soon as they grow up a bit more.
So take heart. What feels like failure is really just the process of raising a number of children in one house until they’re grown enough to start their own house and repeat the process.
Second, I was reminded of how much effort it takes to be Present. This one thing, which can change a family dramatically, is not always easy.
I’m thinking of the night that I tiredly put all seven children to bed. This was after about 30 minutes of trying to read Understood Betsy to the four oldest girls. The two three-year-olds were everywhere, buzzing their trucks, jumping on the bed, jumping off the bed. We had to stop reading repeatedly to remind them of the rules for quiet time reading, something that was new to them.
As a matter of fact, I had to keep reminding the four older girls also. Finally, I just shut the book and said, “lights out”. I couldn’t wait to hear quiet!
After another twenty minutes of child wrangling, I managed to have everyone in bed. It was quiet, at least for the moment. I stood in the hall with a slightly dissatisfied feeling. I had gone through the grandma motions of reading and tucking but I was focused on getting them all quiet. After all, it had been a loooong day!
As I stood there I remembered that being Present, even for short amounts of time, heals hearts, soothes feeling, opens gates to communication, deepens love and satisfies tired adults and children. So I tiptoed back into every room and kissed and hugged and spoke quietly to each child. It took under 20 minutes but it made all the difference in an otherwise very chaotic and busy day.
Being present is a gift you give to your children and yourself. It takes practice, practice, practice. But this one thing will secure you dividends in your family that you cannot imagine, even if you are only present for a moment at a time.
Would you like to have help practicingthe skill of being Present in your everyday activities, not adding anything new, time-consuming or costly, just utilizing what already happens in your every day? You can get the chapter onTouchpointsFREE. It will walk you through how to make your daily points of contention into points of connection.
Please share your experiences of being present with your children and how it makes you and them feel. Use the comment section. I want to hear from you!
Tightly knit families with good relationships don’t just happen. We have to have some idea of what we want and then take one small step towards that bigger picture.
Every family has a culture. They’re all different. In my family’s culture kids and adults didn’t play or work together. Even at family reunions that theme played out. There were activities for kids and different ones for adults.
My mom and dad did a lot of stuff for us but not with us. My dad loved to garden but he did it alone. If we needed to weed or water we were sent out to do it. He did his part and we did our part. My mom planned fabulous birthday parties. She did it all and they were great. We attended. We didn’t plan together or organize them together.
I know that there are lots of families with a culture like this. Kids learn and work separately from parents and families spend many hours each day away from one another.
When I was a young mother I had a beautiful garden in our backyard. I usually gardened by myself. I liked the solitude. I would send the kids out to weed. But at some point, I realized that I wanted a different family culture. I wanted a different bond with my children.
So each weekday when I got up at 6:30 I woke a different child up to help me in the garden. I did this all summer. They were not happy about it. But soon we started talking about all kinds of things. They shared what they were feeling with me and I was able to share with them. It was a remarkable summer. The fruits from the garden that year seemed sweeter than ever before.
The Advantages of a Culture of Togetherness
What are the advantages of parents who are present with their children, who foster a culture of togetherness? Learning and working with a child tells them you are concerned about them and that you like them, that they matter. It strengthens self-esteem. It allows children to model what you are doing and to ask questions. They learn more. Deep and thoughtful conversations can come out of casual activity with a mom or dad. Relationships are stronger.
Ways to Create a Culture of Togetherness
But connecting as a family can be a challenge if that wasn’t part of your family culture growing up or if you have gotten used to doing your work and learning while your kids do theirs.
A family culture that fosters healthy, connected relationships don’t just happen. It takes some work. If we want to have a culture of togetherness we have to do something new. We have to take a small step and then be consistent. Simple/small things done consistently over time bring big results.
Take a look at your current family culture. Is it as connected as you would like? If not, figure out one thing that would make a difference in the feeling of togetherness in your home and then implement it.
Do you need to give up using technology when you’re working with or listening to your kids? Do you need to listen more, yell less, play with your children, have more mini-conversations, or tuck them in at night? What is it for you?
You might decide to have your family participate in fewer clubs and classes and allow your children to spend more time at home while you involve them in life’s activities: cooking, repairing something, learning a new skill, or playing.
Maybe a morning devotional would benefit your family. How many mornings will you commit to – one, two?
You could try reading together. Reading as a family and then talking about what you are reading creates a feeling of safety and warmth.
You might consider one evening a week doing something as a family. Keep it simple. Take a walk, play a board game, or serve someone.
For some families just sitting down at the table and eating would be a big accomplishment. If eating together is not something you have been doing regularly why not set a goal to do it once or twice a week. Then be consistent.
Whatever you choose, make a commitment to it. Be consistent and be present. Don’t talk on the phone, fold laundry or watch TV out of the corner of your eye. When you are doing that one thing consistently then choose another and go to work again.
And finally, remember being consistent is not the same as being perfect. Perfect isn’t what we need as families. What we need is connection and togetherness consistently.
I was sitting on the toilet. In front of me were my three small girls.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m going to the bathroom.”
“Are you almost done?”
“No, I just got in here.”
“Well, how long will it take?”
“As long as it takes. Now go out. I need some privacy.”
“But we need you.”
“I’ll hurry, now go out.”
“But mom, why can’t we stay.”
“Because I need some privacy!”
“We won’t talk.”
I’ll bet your laughing. And I also bet that many of you have had a similar experience. It seems to come with the territory called parenting and it can wear us pretty thin at times. That’s why taking care of ourselves on a consistent basis is critical.
WHY WE SHOULD TAKE CARE OF SELF
There are some really good reasons to take care of ourselves when we’re in the thick of parenting:
• Facilitates greater patience
• We are less likely to take our frustrations out on our children.
• We’re able to process our emotions in more adult ways than yelling, spanking, etc.
• We remain freer of resentment which allows us to see what is really happening in tough situations
• We experience less exhaustion
• We avoid feeling depleted and are instead energized
• It helps us tune in to the joy of having children even on busy or chaotic days
• It gives us the mental resilience to remain Present with our children more often
• We will actually remain physically healthier
• We will feel happier and more fulfilled
Often, when we find small moments of time for ourselves to recharge there is a sense of guilt but caring for yourself is a key to caring for your family better. Self-care is an investment in our family relationships, rather than a selfish indulgence.
WHY WE DON’T TAKE CARE OF SELF
There are a number of reasons that both mothers and fathers neglect their own self-care:
• No time
• You don’t know what daily self-care looks or feels like
• You feel that it needs to be away from home, doing something special, for it to count
Let’s take a look at each of these excuses for neglecting ourselves.
A. No time
This is the same excuse we use for not being Present with our children. But as in the case of being Present, it can take as little as 30 seconds to 5 minutes.
1. Deep breathing
It only takes 30 seconds to take 3-4 good long deep breathes. There is ample research that backs up the claim that breathing deeply is good for us. A few deep breaths:
• Relieve stress
• Helps a feeling of calm return
• Allows us to process emotion more quickly
• Slows a rapid heartbeat
• Drops blood pressure
Go to the bathroom and lock the door. While you are in their read 1-3 paragraphs in a book you keep by the toilet just for this purpose. It takes less than 3 minutes to read a few paragraphs. I use this technique daily. Sometimes it’s the only self-care (except for my shower) I get and it helps me feel cared for on even the busiest days. You will be surprised at how many books you can actually read in a year this way!
3. Take a shower
A restful shower in the morning or evening can take as little as 10 minutes. I take one daily for the express purpose of letting myself know I am cared for. You probably take a shower to wake up or get clean. By changing that story I can promise you that your shower will begin to feel quite different and you will feel cared for. I have been doing this daily for over fifty years now and it’s one of the daily events I look forward to the most!
4. Sit down
Just stopping and sitting down for 1-3 minutes, even if children are with you, can feel like self-care if that is the story you tell yourself for sitting down. I also use this technique every day and when I sit down for this short rest I smile because I know it’s a tool for self-care and not just my bum in the chair. : )
I’ll bet you can come up with at least 3-4 ways that you can take care of yourself in under 5 minutes that can be repeated a few times each day. I would LOVE to have you share them in the comments.
B. You don’t know what daily self-care looks or feels like
At some point, I had to make a conscious decision to figure out what I could do that would feel like I was taking care of myself. So I paid attention to my days and began making a list. You know what is on my list – a shower, reading in the bathroom, sitting down on purpose for no other reason than self-care, and deep breathing.
Take the time to make a mental list. What would work for you? For one of my friends, it’s sneaking a piece of licorice out of her secret stash a couple of times a day. It always makes her smile and she feels like a kid again.
Another friend makes a cup of herb tea and then sips it as she passes the counter during the day. Yes, it gets cold but every sip tells her mind – you matter and I am taking care of you!
Another suggestion is to smile. When you want to yell or spank or run choose to smile. It may sound impossible when you’re stressed out by the 3rd cup of spilled milk or by your 2-year-old who is going to see how long he can scream; but there is magic in a smile, even if it’s forced.
Forced smiles also increase positive feelings. When a situation has you feeling stressed or flustered, or overly tired even the most forced of smiles can genuinely make you feel happier.
My mother walks out to check on the chickens. It takes only 5 minutes and she repeats it a number of times a day. She loves her yard and her chickens and rain or shine, summer or winter she takes these small breaks.
So take the time this next week to make your mental list and then implement with the express purpose of telling your mind and body – I love you. I’m taking care of you!
I promise that it will feel like self-care no matter how simple it is.
C. You feel that it needs to be away from home, doing something special, for it to count
Remember that consistent actions are what are required for self-care to impact your daily walk as a parent. If you have to leave home or do something special then self-care will be spotty at best. Even if you are one of those lucky couples who go on a date every week it is still not consistent enough. In order to impact your ability to parent at your best then self-care has to happen daily, in fact, a few times daily.
The need to leave home and do something special is a story you tell yourself. Our stories are powerful. All that is required is that you rewrite your story about self-care. If you need to, write out a simple one statement declaration about your new self-care story. Then repeat it to yourself every time you take one of your new actions.
EXAMPLE –I care for myself when I shower, sit down, read in the bathroom or breathe deeply.
Getting away is wonderful, as is doing something special. But if we truly want to have greater satisfaction in our parenting lives then we have to learn to care for ourselves every day, in fact, a few times every day.
You’re going to spend far more time with your children than you’re going to spend without them, so it’s imperative to learn how to self-care while you’re in the thick of parenting. It’s simple, it’s doable, and it takes small amounts of time and virtually no money; but it can and will pay huge dividends. Nurturing yourself while you’re doing your job of parenting is going to help you be in a place mentally where you can and will be Present more often.
We often think of taking care of ourselves as being child-free, away from home, in quiet. But if that’s the definition of self-care, most moms and dads are going to get precious little of it.
When we’re looking for alone time, we need to get creative. How can it be managed right where we are, without expending too much money or time? How can it be made doable even with small children? There’s always a way to care for yourself right where you are.
Here are three examples of how parents got creative in order to take better care of themselves. They’re about moms but this applies equally well to dads.
Deon was feeling burnt out and needed a way to have space away from her family when she felt over the top. In one of our conversations, she told me about her bedroom. It had a lovely window seat that looked out onto a green field. The problem was it was the messiest room in her home. So together we came up with a list of things that she could easily do to make it an inviting space.
She cleared all the stuff off of the window seat and got a basket for her husband to put his stuff in—so it would stay cleaned off. She made changes in how they managed the laundry, so it wasn’t always piled on her bed. She painted a wall. She added her favorite books to the window seat.
Deon talked with her family. She told them that when it became difficult to react the way she wanted, she was going to her room to regroup for 5 minutes. She would take a personal time out. She asked for their support in allowing her to do this when she needed to. They all agreed to help her out. (Yes, she does have a couple of small children.)
When Deon is on the verge of exploding or ceasing to be the adult, she retreats to her bedroom. She sits in the window seat and looks out on the field. She breathes deeply; she may read one or two paragraphs in her book. Then she heads back out into the fray. She’s managing better, her kids are happier, and her husband is relieved. This experiment has had a positive impact on all of them.
Amy has multiple health issues that tax her strength and resources for parenting. She expressed her desire for alone time each week so she could paint and write, feel better, and get a handle on her health.
Finding time wasn’t her only issue. She also has a child with serious health problems. Amy worried that if she took time away from her family, something might come up with her ill child and her husband wouldn’t be able to handle it
Nevertheless, she was willing to try an experiment. She asked her husband if he would take over for two hours a week, in the evening, so she could write or paint. He was open to the idea.
Amy chose a room at the other end of the house, away from the family room where her husband and children would spend their time. That way she could have her quiet time and be close at hand in case of an emergency.
The first week was a grand success. Amy was frankly impressed with her husband and was surprised that he managed so well without her. She was equally surprised that her kids managed without her. She’s been doing this for a while now. It’s given her husband an opportunity to be with the kids, and she’s been able to fulfill her need to write, paint, and have time to herself. The whole family is happier.
Melanie has a large family, and her husband is often gone. She wants time to be by herself and read. She asked me how I find time to read because I raised a large family and now I live in the same home as my grandkids.
I mentioned to her that my bathroom was my retreat. I shared the simple things I’ve done to make it a sanctuary. A beautiful picture hangs on the wall. My favorite colors are in the shower curtain and rugs. A vase of flowers sits on the floor. Most importantly, there’s a basket of fabulous books and magazines next to the toilet.
When I go into the bathroom, which is at least three times a day, I read one to three paragraphs. Occasionally I’m lucky and get a whole page. You’d be amazed at how much you can read in a year, one to three paragraphs at a time.
Melanie decided to give it a try. One of her worries was that her bathroom was always so messy because of the kids. When she began putting it to rights, she discovered that almost all of the clutter was hers. She devised simple systems to keep her stuff corralled. She added flowers, a new rug, and a basket of books. At last report, she was enjoying her mini-moments of peace and reading. It has made her feel more taken care of, and she’s happier with her children.
You’re going to spend far more time with your children than you’re going to spend without them, so it’s imperative to learn how to self-care while you’re in the thick of parenting. It’s simple, it’s doable, and it takes small amounts of time and virtually no money; but it can and will pay huge dividends.
Self-care can be as simple and plain as having a cup of herbal tea while you read to your children. It might be taking a few deep breaths while soothing a screaming child. You could turn on your favorite music and dance in the living room with your kids. Add laughter!
Self-care can be taking a walk with your children to take the edge off the day. Sitting in the swing and watching your children play can give you fresh air and a breather from all that you’re feeling pressed to do. Go to the bathroom more often if that’s what will buy you a few moments alone.
When you’re on the edge of losing your temper, getting irritable, or feeling resentful, ask yourself what you need to stay in control. Pay attention to yourself.
What are the creative ways that you use to find some time to care for yourself? I would LOVE to hear about them.
Here’s to more joy,
GREAT NEWS!!!!!! Just in time for the holiday season. On December 21st I will be giving away 5 copies of Becoming a Present Parent via a Goodreads Give Away. There are no strings attached. You won’t be added to any lists. So head on over and enter. You just may be a WINNER!
I keep thinking that I’ll switch topics from the power of controlling our story and response to another parenting topic but every day provides a new and powerful example of just what it looks like to control how we think and act.
Stories of real-life examples are impactful in helping us relate to principles in a way that allows us to get clarity on how to live them better. There’s value in ‘seeing’ a principle at work because it extends our knowledge of the principle and knowledge is power when it comes to personal change.
Here is an example from this week.
When I was writing the book Becoming a Present Parent I found myself constantly distracted and it was hard to make headway. So I pondered what I could do to find more consistent time to write. My most clear and compelling thought was to get up at four in the morning which would give me three uninterrupted hours. It was one of the most challenging and rewarding things I have ever set out to do. For over six months I got up early six days a week and wrote. It was exhilarating to see the book come together.
That was over 1 ½ years ago and a recent move. I have got to confess that I fell off that wagon and I’ve struggled to get back on. I’ve been making an effort to go back to my early morning routine because I have some studying to do that is kicking my rear and I need more quiet, focused time.
Each day since I determined to get up at four a.m. I have awakened to the alarm and then changed the time to 5:30 or 6. Of course, I want to get up, I know I should get up but when it comes to getting up I have an argument with myself and I lose. Here’s the story I’ve been telling myself about the situation: I’m just rebellious. I know I should get up but I just don’t want to. I’m being a lazy lump!”
On Monday I told my daughter how I was feeling. She replied, “Well mom, maybe you’re just being charitable to yourself. We’ve just moved, have been renovating every day and you are tired. Maybe you’re just listening to your body and taking care of yourself.” Wow, that felt a lot better than the story I’d been telling myself.
On Wednesday I helped my 95-year-old friend in her yard. It was laborious, to say the least. My back was sore and so were my legs. I felt very weary. In fact, I went to bed at 8:30.
Now, from 8:30 to 4:30 is eight hours, the amount of time I feel I need and want to sleep each night. But when the alarm went off I was still TIRED. I wanted to lie there and rest a bit more. So I did. The difference was this: I thought it over and made a decision. I didn’t argue with myself or feel like a lazy lump. I just decided to give myself an extra hour of sleep.
I know I need to get up at 4:00. I feel very strongly about that and I will. But while I’m getting back into the traces, so to speak, I’m going to be kinder to myself. I’m going to be more generous with the story I tell myself about the process I have to go through to make it happen.
Remember last week? I shared the idea that when we think positively about any given situation it increases our ability to come up with options for moving forward. With this in mind, I know that as I remain positive, continue in my efforts to accomplish a challenging goal and don’t quit, I will succeed more quickly.
The story we tell ourselves about ourselves, others or situations impacts how we feel and then respond. Getting control over our story and the ensuing response gives us greater power over our lives. It’s worth the effort!
If you want to begin taking control of your story, then I want to help you. I have an exercise that I want to share with you, FREE. It’s a simple PDF which will walk you through a 30-day exercise that will help you see patterns in your negative thoughts and will give you clarity on what you need to work on first. If you’re interested then click here. It will be available for download for one week.
I’d like to know what you’re struggling with right now and how changing your story could help you have a better outcome. Please leave a comment. I will respond. : )
I grew up in a family that always had a dog. We had Sheppard’s and once we even had a giant poodle. We named him Expense.
But dogs in our family didn’t live in the lap of luxury. They ate table scraps for the most part and for the rest they beat the streets, so to speak. They stayed outside no matter what the weather and I came to know that my dad just tolerated them. He didn’t like dogs but he had nine children and felt that a dog was a must.
As for cats, they were the scourge of the earth. My dad would no more have had a cat than live underground. As much as he disliked dogs, he hated cats.
Not surprisingly, I grew up an avid dog and cat hater. There wasn’t a single thing about them that I could stand. It creeped me out to have a cat rub up against my leg. I felt like throwing up if a dog licked me or put his cold, wet nose on me anywhere. I couldn’t even stand the feel of cat or dog fur. And I absolutely could not abide the smell of dogs. If I was in the same room with them I could smell them and it was disgusting.
But I had seven children and a husband who loved dogs so like my father before me we had dogs and I couldn’t stand them. I was not cruel but I was not kind. I wasn’t terribly harsh but I wasn’t gentle either.
When I was in my fifties I had a dear friend named Ruby. She raised little dogs and she was dying. She had daughters who also raised little dogs and she knew they would take her dogs. But she had this big old grey cat named Big Kitty. Her girls were not interested in that scruffy old cat.
So Ruby asked me to take Big Kitty. I agonized over what to say. So did my husband because he also disliked cats. Nevertheless, for the sake of a dear friendship, we took the cat. He lived with us for a few years. In that time, for Ruby’s sake, I made a decision that I would care for that cat and I did.
But I could still barely tolerate dogs. Then we moved from Montana to Utah and lived with our daughter and her family.
She had a timid little dog named Odie. He was a small dachshund and he was terrified of me. He had good reason. I called him dumb dog in a loud and irritated voice on many occasions.
Then one day I made a decision. I decided that I didn’t want to dislike cats and dogs anymore. I had watched other people and they loved their dogs and cats. I began to think that I might be missing something. But how in the world was I going to find out if I couldn’t get over my aversion to the smell and touch of an animal?
Because I am a praying person that’s what I did, I asked God how I could come to like animals. The first thought I had was to make friends with Odie. So every day after work I would come into the yard, call Odie and then touch his head. As he came to me he walked on his short little legs like a condemned man heading to the gallows. And when I reached out to touch his head he would pull back a bit. Poor little guy. I could barely touch his head and give a little pat. That was all I could handle. As the weeks went on I went from barely a touch on the head to an actual pat and then to stroking him once or twice.
I did this for many weeks and then one day I sat on the back steps, pulled him into my lap and sat there for a few minutes. I didn’t pet him but I held him. It’s well to remember that I couldn’t stand the smell of dogs or the feeling of their fur so this was huge!!
Eventually, Odie and I became friends. I felt tenderness for him. I never touched him a lot and we didn’t pal around but we became friends.
During this time our last child left home and Don, my husband began to long for a dog. I dreaded that. It’s one thing to be friends with someone else’s dog but it’s another to live with one. So I stepped up my prayers. I began telling myself that I liked dogs. They were man’s best friend after all and if they were man’s best friend they could be woman’s too.
I petted all of my client’s dogs. I talked to the neighborhood dogs. I patted them and then one day Patch came to live in our home and guess what! I like Patch. I can pet him and I’m not grossed out. I do still avoid his wet nose but I like him. I am kind. We are friends. In fact two days ago I went back to bed. I get up very early and walk with my daughter but this day I was tired so I went back to bed.
After I let Patch out in the morning he runs and jumps on our bed and snuggles with his pal, Don. This morning, the morning I returned to bed, he had his side pressed up against Dons back. That meant he was sort of on my side. I looked at him and thought about tossing him off. But I got into bed, turned over and went to sleep. You cannot imagine how amazing it was to me to be in the same space with a dog and be able to sleep.
At this time we also have a cat who lives with our daughter . He has decided that my office chair is his personal retreat from children and noise. I let him have it!
So what happened between finding cats and dogs absolutely disgusting and becoming their friend. It was a decision. I decided to change my story from dogs and cats are filthy and disgusting to dogs and cats are wonderful animals and I am OK with them.
I am not yet Patch’s pal. I don’t hold him on my lap but I pet him. I don’t talk baby talk or feed him from my hand or sleep with him. But I like him. He’s a good dog and I find this particular miracle wonderful.
Here is the truth – When You Change Your Story, You Change!
When I changed my story about animals and about how I wanted to see them, I experienced a change. Understanding that your story can and does influence your response to your spouse, your children and yes, even to cats and dogs is powerful and frankly, life-changing.
Does this ring true for you? Please share your feelings with me by leaving a comment.
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.
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
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.”
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. : )
I had a friend ask me a very interesting question the other day. “Did you write your book because you had troubles in your own family?” That was a fair question but the answer was NO. That isn’t why I wrote it.
I raised seven beautiful, gifted and loving children. We lived most of those child-rearing years in a very small town in Montana. However, when we had only one child left at home we moved to Utah.
In Utah, I met many parents from the homeschool community because my daughter was planning on homeschooling. I really enjoyed the associations as I had also homeschooled my two youngest children for a few years. I began attending conferences, talking with others and reading about homeschool topics.
One day I read about putting school supplies into a closet and then using the contents to get kids really excited about learning. I liked the idea. My oldest daughter reminded me that we had used something like this all her growing up years. It was familiar to me and I loved the concept. So I started talking about it with everyone.
The Puzzle that Led to the Book
Here is what I discovered – as wonderful as the concept was it wasn’t working for most families. That puzzled me. So I started watching what parents were doing and I came up with some principles that made the concept work. I asked five families to test out my theory and then I increased it to seventy families. The principles worked.
The first time I taught a class on the Spark Station, the name I gave this learning tool, there was standing room only. There was a lot of interest in a tool that could help kids love learning.
I spent the next few years teaching parents all over the country how to use the Spark Station and the principles. In the process, I discovered that these were life principles. They didn’t just make the Spark Station work better, when implemented they made life work better. They helped parents do their job better. That was the first shift.
Then I realized that the Spark Station wasn’t just a tool to inspire kids to learn. I began to see that it was a way for parents to connect with their children, to be Present with them . That was the second shift.
I was fascinated with this idea of being Present despite the business of life. So I began working with families. I discovered ways to help parents utilize what was already happening in their homes to connect daily with their kids. I helped them hone skills that made it easier to ‘see’ and ‘hear’ their kids. I began teaching the difference between kids and adults and how they approach life. I helped parents spend less time in management and more time in relationship building. I wrote over 400 articles on these topics.
I received so many emails from people who had attended classes, workshops, webinars, and presentations saying that this information was life changing for them. I knew there had to be a way to broaden the audience and touch more families. That is how the book was born.
I was able to reach back into my own parenting and compare what I knew and did then with what I know and I teach now and that has been very helpful. But it was the results of families just like your family that moved me in the direction of a book.
This book can be life changing for any parent and for anyone who wants to have better relationships. I hope you read it and then let me know how it impacts your family. I want to hear from you!
“Being a single woman, without children, I wasn’t sure what value this book would have for me. It impacted me greatly! I have set a goal to re-read it every few years. It’s not just a book about being a Present parent. It’s a book about being a Present person. Jenny Johnson, M.A., CCC-SLP
Every family, every person must read it ASAP in order to find presence in life, not just with children, but with all relationships. I have enjoyed it profoundly… Jason Hewlett, Dad and Speaker
I’m not much of a reader. Unless a book catches my attention within the first few pages, I seldom read it all the way through. This book not only drew me in from the beginning but I finally had to make myself stop reading and go to bed. “Becoming a Present Parent” will be one of those life-changing books for parents and for anyone who wants to have an amazing relationship with [a] child. Well worth the read. Cindy Winward, Mother of four grown children and mentor at Midwives College of Utah
MaryAnn is a master at helping you become a more present parent. Each chapter is filled with actionable insight and real-life steps in helping you stay “checked in” with your children, a difficult thing in this distracting world. I love how Mary Ann teaches us how to truly connect with our children. Ann Webb, Humanitarian, Author and Founder of Ideal LifeVision
You may read Becoming a Present Parent all the way through one time. But then you’ll come back to it time and again to refresh on certain topics at the very time you need them. My guess is your copy will become dog-eared and marked up, and will become like a comfortable friend. Norma Jean Lutz, Author, Speaker, Editor, Novel Critique Consultant, Ghostwriter
Mary Ann Johnson | Relationship Transformations for Busy Parents, 2017