I have had some GREAT conversations with kids. There are always opportunities to practice this skill, and it is a skill. Part of the reason I have these great conversations is that I work at keeping the conversation going. I want to talk with them, I want to know what they think and feel about what is going on in their lives. I want to know them better. That is what makes a great conversationalist with kids of all ages.
How to keep the conversation going
A conversation goes much farther with a child when we do not impart our judgments or opinions. There is great value in focusing on a child’s feelings or reactions in any given situation rather than sharing what we think or feel. When we can listen without judgment, it helps kids process their emotions.
I laugh when I think of a conversation that a friend shared. She was riding in the car with her teenage daughter, and it went something like this:
“I don’t think I should have a baby now.”
“Is this a consideration?”
“I thought about it, but now I’ve realized something.”
“I only really want to buy lots of cute little baby shoes.”
“Oh, that’s very different from having a real baby.”
“Yeah, that’s what I think too.”
When this mom listened calmly, without judgment or sharing her own opinion, she found out what was really going on. It was all about cute baby shoes and not sex. She learned something about her daughter. The conversation lasted long enough to know what her daughter was really thinking.
Here is another example of listening without judgment or opinion.
“Mom, I don’t like David.”
“Hmm, why not?”
“He is dumb.”
“What happened to make you think that?”
“He pushed me off the swing.”
“Oh really? How was that for you?”
“Not good! I really wanted to swing, and it hurt my leg.”
“You didn’t get to swing.”
“No, and that wasn’t nice!”
“You got hurt?”
“Yeah! I would never do that to someone!”
Right after the words, “Mom, I don’t like David,” this mom could have begun a mini-lecture on why it isn’t nice to talk mean about our friends, and then she wouldn’t have discovered what her son was feeling or had experienced.
6 TIPS FOR TALKING WITH KIDS
Ask open-ended questions. “How did that work out? How do you feel about that? What do you think you can do? How was that for you?
Don’t offer your opinion.
Give fewer judgments.
Say fewer words.
Help kids find their own feelings about their experiences.
Rather than tell, ask.
These tips will help your child develop emotional awareness and a strong inner compass. It will help them choose their behavior even when no one is there to evaluate and give them feedback. There is always time to revisit a conversation if teaching is needed, but for now, listen, be interested, and ask good questions.
When we practice talking with our children we are better able to be present and we parent more wisely.
Last week’s article was vulnerable, and I got lots of emails from women who appreciated my candor. I am relieved. : )
Each week I need to get my article written, formatted, and scheduled, the newsletter written and formatted, and the podcast recorded by Friday night. That is because I NEED Saturday for myself,to do what matters to me. I work diligently to make this happen.
I want to share what I experienced on Friday night and Saturday morning just before that article posted at 9 am Sunday because it is precisely what the article was about. This will not be any easier to write than last Sunday’s article but you are all moms, grandmothers, and women. We struggle with many of the same things, and I know what happened will bring home the message from last Sunday’s article.
As I said, I work hard to make Saturday my day, as much as that is possible. On Tuesday, I told my husband that on Saturday,I planned to spend the entire day in the yard,and he would need to fix breakfast and lunch. We didn’t have any obligations or appointments that I knew of. I wanted to transplant a dozen plants out to the garden, clean the patio boxes, weed eat, cut down the tree-sized weeds by the chicken coop, and cut back the ornamental grasses.
I want you to know that I LOVE hard labor. I am a crazy woman, I know, but I like the sun, the air, the hoe in my hands, and even working on my knees. This was going to be an amazingly restful, rejuvenating, and satisfying Saturday, despite the work.
Thursday night things began to unravel. There were activities Saturday that would require either Don’s or my attention at home and in the house. But Don knew my plan, right!
Friday evening, I reminded Don that I was going to be in the yard all day Saturday, and he would need to watch Maggie from 10 until 3 and take care of breakfast and lunch. He said, “Wait, can’t I go to Jack’s football game?” I came uncorked. I stood up and strode across the room while yelling, “I told you I needed this Saturday for me,” and I slammed the bedroom door behind me.
The next morning I got up early because I had a lot to do. I thought about the night before. I had to ask myself, “Why were you so mad that you couldn’t respond like an adult.”
I have beenpracticing controlling my stories for over a decade and I am very good at it. This was a chance to practice some more. LOL I wanted to blame Don for my anger because he had forgotten my Saturday plans but I knew that wasn’t the real reason I was angry.
I knew what it was. I mentioned it in Sunday’s article – if it’s to be it is up to me. I am on my own. I wasn’t going to get the support I needed to do what mattered to me. This is a very old story from my childhood. It rears its ugly head from time to time. It isn’t hard to ferret out.
I also know it is a LIE. My family loves me very much. My husband cares and does his best to be my friend and sweetheart. I have friends that would come to my aid if I asked.
So, what was really happening here? I realized I felt angry in that Friday night moment because my life is different than I planned. I take care of my grands. I care for my mom who can’t care for herself. I care for my sweetheart because he needs help. I don’t speak or teach much anymore. I stood at the sink and wanted to blame someone, maybe God, my circumstances, or others.
My Life is a Choice
However, I had to be honest, I have chosen this life. When Jodie moved 30-minutes away we knew we would not be able to help her as much. We thought about combining our households. I thought about it for 3 months and then I choose to move to Jodie’s home.
When it became obvious that my mother was no longer able to care for herself my sisters and I had to decide, whether we would put her in a nursing home or one of us would care for her. We had many conversations. In the end, I decided to take her. I had learned to be flexible, so I felt I could deal with what comes with Alzheimer’s. I was self-employed, so my schedule was my own. We lived on a mini-farm and she could have her chickens and dog. Again, I put a lot of thought into it and made a clear-headed decision to bring her to our home.
After the first year, I needed to make some decisions about traveling, teaching and speaking. It wasn’t an easy decision and didn’t come overnight. It took me some months to determine how I felt. I decided I could write weekly and that would be enough to continue impacting moms I had come to love.
This year I took on a couple of things that I wanted to do but they have caused me work and stress. I have done well and learned a lot, but the feelings of worry and stress that come with new things joined the fray in my mind and heart Friday night and Saturday morning.
All this thinking, pondering, and being honest happened in that first early morning hour on Saturday as I stood at the sink cutting fruit to dry. However, knowing the truth didn’t take my angst away. I knew I wasn’t done, even though I had sorted out the story. I knew I needed outside support. I didn’t want to call the person I knew could help me the most because I was so emotional, and I didn’t want to bother them. I was fighting the inner battle I wrote about last Sunday.
Then the contents of the article I had written for all of you came into my mind. I made the call. After all, you have to live what you preach. : ) It was a helpful half hour. My friend said, “Thank you for letting me talk you off the cliff.” And there it is. I know what I know, and I share it with you, but I, like you, must decide to use that knowledge.
Let’s Be Wise
That is the definition of wisdom, using what you have learned. Let’s all be wise and reach out for support and help when we need it. Let’s control our stories. Let’s seek the resources we need to heal and grow.
This last week my daughter texted this photo to me. She said, “I thought you would like this picture of a tree making the best of its surroundings. I thought of you right away when I saw it.” That is a legacy I am proud to leave my children. They have seen me learn to search out what I need so I can thrive in difficult circumstances. I have some adult children in that process now, and I am very proud of them!
Let’s not be afraid to be vulnerable, to let others know we don’t know it all and we are not perfect. Allow yourself to find the resources you need to become a better, more whole human being.
When I was a mother raising seven children, I learned some hard lessons. I wish I had learned them sooner but learn I eventually did. I haven’t forgotten these lessons and I live what I learned back then. It is still making a difference.
I want to introduce you to what I learned by sharing my garden with you. : ) I love gardening, weeding, watering, the harvesting. It can be a ton of work and I must admit there are times I am tired. But I still love gardening.
I used to worry about it much more than I do now. When I was a young gardener, I would go out to the garden in the heat of the day and some of the leaves on my plants would be wilted. I wondered, “Are they dying?” Then to my novice relief the next morning the plants would have revived and looked beautiful, full of life. What was happening?
These wise plants, when the day got hot, pulled their moisture down into their roots and took water from the ground so they could manage the heat of the day. Then as the sun set and the temperatures cooled, they ‘slept’ and awoke ready to begin again and grow.
Mom’s Are Like Garden Plants
Moms are a bit like the plants in my garden. Some days get hot! You know what I mean. A child has a meltdown. Work seems overwhelming. You forget to remain an adult. Yes, we all have hot days, and we wilt. There is no way around hot days. They happen and can happen often. Do you have a plan like the plants in my garden for managing those hot days so you can wake revived the next day? Do you take in enough water, anddo you get enough sleep?
When I was a younger mom, I would stay up late reading. After a long day, I would draw a hot bath and sit and read, sometimes till midnight or later. I deserved this time to myself, right? I had just put in hours managing my family and all the work that goes with it. I needed and wanted a break. Many of you probably know how that worked out. The next day I would still be wilted and have another hot day.
Water was another struggle for me. I was so busy that I would let hours go by and forget to drink water. I was lucky to get 8 oz down in a day. I didn’t allow myself to take the time to take in enough water. This was another contributor to my wilting during the ‘hot’ days.
Over a thirty-year span of time, I went three times in prayer to God and asked him why I couldn’t manage better. Each time I got a very clear answer, “Go to bed earlier.” What! How rude. I wasn’t about to do that. After all, I deserved my night hours for myself.
Life never got easier. Parenting never got easier. I just got older and more tired. The third time I asked this same prayer, “Father, what can I do to be able to manage myself and my family better” I got the same response. It was clear, “Go to bed earlier.”
How I Finally Got a Handle On Water and Sleep
I wanted to continue resisting this advice but I knew that I had to commit to doing something different if I wanted a better outcome. I decided that I would go to bed by 10 as often as I could. It was HARD and for a full year, it was hard. However, I had made a commitment to myself, and God, and I went to bed by ten and I got up by 6-7. And you know what, it finally did get easier, and my life got better. I managed my responses better. I was an adult more often. I felt more compassion for the learning curves of my children because my cup wasn’t always empty.
As for the water, I eventually learned enough to know how vital it was for my health and well-being. Again, I realized that I was going to need to make a commitment and then keep it. I began by using a quart jar. I knew how many of those jars I had to empty each day, three. That was my goal. I know, I know, there are really cool water containers and thermos bottles out there, but I didn’t have one and I needed to begin. That first quart-jar helped me keep my commitment to myself.
Twenty years have gone by, and I am still holding firm to these commitments. I promise you that they have made a huge difference in my ability to manage stress, frustration, and the ups and downs of parenting and grandparenting in a four-generation household.
If you are struggling these are two things you might consider. You may feel resistance because you are giving up your alone time. I get it. Some days it is a struggle to find time to sit and read. But I have lived both sides of this coin and I would never go back. Give it a try. Make time for sleep and water.
I promise it will make a difference in your ability to parent well
I have a friend, Ann, who has taught children with special needs for 16 years. I have been in her classroom, and she is terrific. But this year, she retired, and her kids miss her.
We were talking recently about her retirement. 2020 was tough because they could not touch the kids because of Covid. Remember that these are special needs kids, and there was no hugging, no touching, no patting backs, or rubbing shoulders. No sitting by the kids, no connection. WOW! She said that by mid-year, her class was chaos. There were more tantrums, arguments, and problems than she had experienced in her fifteen previous years.
Then she made an executive decision. She decided that she would touch the kids. She would wear a mask, but she would physically connect. Guess what happened? Within two weeks, the chaos and problems were 95% better.
Did you catch that number, a 95% reduction in tantrums and chaos? We all need a physical connection. It doesn’t matter if we are special needs, spouses, friends, neighbors; it doesn’t matter. We need a physical connection with our world and the people in it. I have known for years, and I have taught that parents need to touch their kids more often, and it can be done without adding time to your day. I call it RANDOM TOUCH.
Currently, I am getting some re-education in this powerful concept myself. My mom has Alzheimer’s and lives with me. Recently her dog, Little Girl, died after being mom’s companion for seventeen years. Mom was in a funk. In talking with a friend, I was reminded about random touch and that it might be a valuable tool in helping my mom. So, I have been testing it out. I shouldn’t have been surprised by the outcome.
I love my mom, and she loves me, but she isn’t a touchy-feely person, and neither am I. I don’t recall being hugged or snuggled as a kid. As a parent, I had to remind myself constantly to touch my kids. I wasn’t always successful. In fact, I still must remind myself to hug my kids, grands, and friends. But I know how much it matters, and I am better at it.
I can see that my mom is responding to the increased touching. My mother is calmer; we have better conversations; she gets dressed earlier and turns on her light. Hugging my mom more has softened me; I am more tender. Does that sound like something that might be useful with any of your kids?
I want to emphasize that touching your children matters when they’re small; it matters, even more, when they’re ayouth, and it will continue to matter when they’re adults.
Random touch – what is it, and what does it look like
Random touches are just that, random. They don’t require any reason for the touch or hug. They happen whenever you’re close to your child.
Here are a few examples of what a random touch looks like in real life: • If you see your child sitting on the couch, at the table, on their bed, or anywhere, stop, sit close to them, stay for 20–30 seconds, squeeze a knee or give a quick hug, and go on your way. No need to say a word. • When you go into your child’s room to wake them up, hug them. Don’t stand in the hall and yell, “Get up.” Instead, go in; give a gentle shake to the shoulder and a hug. Say, “Hey, buddy. It’s time to get up.” It will take a few more seconds than yelling from the hall but remember to stay out of management mode and build your relationship instead. • As you walk through a room or down the hall and see one of your children, look them in the eye and smile. Touch them on their back, arm, or shoulder as they pass by. Don’t say anything; just give a squeeze or a pat. You can do this a dozen times a day and use up only a few minutes. • When you’re moving from one room to another (as you go through your day) and see one of your children, make a slight detour. Grab your child and tickle them for a few moments, just long enough to get a little tussle going. Then gently punch a shoulder or tousle a head and move on. • Hold your child’s hand when you’re walking together or keep your hand on their back or shoulder for a few moments at a time. • Rub your child’s back while sitting in church, in the doctor’s waiting room, and so on.
Random touches are an effective tool for connecting in astounding ways with your children. Random touch helps reduce the need for discipline, opens pathways to short conversations, melts stony hearts, and bonds children to parents. I want you to understand how powerful this one skill can be in changing the dynamics of your family. It’s easy to do, takes only moments, and practically shouts “You matter” to your child. It was shouting that to my mom, and it shouted ‘you matter’ to my friend’s classroom of special needs kids.
Respect their boundaries if you have a child or youth who doesn’t like to be touched. Remember that I was a bit touch adverse, but I still wanted to connect in meaningful ways, and so do your children. Experiment to find out what is acceptable to your child. For example, a teen may not want to be hugged but may allow you to rub their back.
Experiment with random touch and I know you will be
That’s a question I’ve asked myself because most of my 13 grandchildren live far away. In fact, most of my children live far away.
One of my children’s complaints about their grandparents was that they weren’t very connected with them. We lived in Montana and it was a looooong drive to see them. They wanted to hear from their grandparents. So, when I became a grandparent, I decided to make the effort to connect a bit more. There have been years when I was fabulous and years when I wasn’t. But all in all, over a long period of time, I think it has worked out well.
With my children, we have learned how to use technology to stay in touch. We have a video app. that we talk on so we can see each other. It’s always nice to see someone’s face. We don’t spend hours a day on this endeavor. However, there will be a post every few days about the mundane as well as the exciting. We got to travel along when our son and daughter in law went to Costa Rica. We can get a blow by blow account when a baby is on the way. We have listened to violin recitals, watched portions of plays and seen some baseball games. We know when someone’s out of work or has gotten a new job.
The grands get on every now and then. Those over eight will share what’s happening at school, a test or activity. Parents will get the littles on every now and then and I love seeing how they’re growing up. I reply by singing songs to them or telling jokes.
But here is what I have done most consistently. I write letters and send cards. I know its old school, but it works for creating very connected relationships. There’s something thrilling about opening the mailbox and seeing a real letter. It even makes me feel a bit excited when it happens, which in our world of technology isn’t often.
A few months ago, I was having a conversation about writing letters and sending cards with a friend; I send hundreds a year. She said that she didn’t think it mattered to people anymore and that I was wasting my time and money. So, I asked the question on my Facebook page and got a lot of responses. Out of all of them, only one person felt like my friend. Everyone else talked about how they loved getting letters and cards as kids and how it’s still cool when it happens.
Let me give you some examples of how impactful a simple letter or card can be in the life of someone else and how connecting it is.
I have a nephew who has had a hard time growing into adulthood. So, many years ago, I decided to send him a card for every birthday.
A couple of years ago my nephew, who is now an adult, was really struggling with his life. That year when he got my card, he happened to be at his mom’s. She told me that when he opened it, he looked at her with a big smile and said, “She never forgets!” It matters to him!
Another sister has a granddaughter who has had some significant challenges due to divorce and parents who struggled, so when she was turning 16, I decided to send her a card. When she opened the card, she looked up and said, “This is the only card I have ever gotten for my birthday!” It isn’t that no one is saying Happy Birthday, it’s just that it’s all digital. That card meant a great deal to her.
Last year I sent an anniversary card to one of my sisters. On her anniversary she called, and this is what she said. “When I woke up this morning I couldn’t get out of bed. There wasn’t any reason to get up. Nothing new or interesting was going to happen today. But when I got up there was your card. You can’t imagine how much it meant to me!”
When my kids were teens some of them struggled with drugs. They didn’t always live at home. So, I began writing letters. I sent the letters to all my kids, even those who were at home. I bet they thought I was crazy to send a letter through the mail when I could have just handed it to them. But I know the letters mattered and kept our straying children connected enough to us that they never got lost. At some point, one of them took all the letters and put them in a book which she then gave to everyone for Christmas. It mattered!
Here’s another cool thing about cards and letters
In my letters and cards to my grandchildren, I always tape a piece of gum. On a birthday I may add a couple of dollars. That’s all. Years ago, as a family, we determined that we would not spend lots of money on gifts for either birthdays or holidays. We have all stuck with that intention. However, my grandchildren have other grandparents who send cool gifts in the mail. I worried about that. But I didn’t need to.
I voiced my concern to one of my daughters and here is her reply. “Oh my gosh mom, the kids LOVE your letters and cards. They care far more about them than any toy they get in the mail. In fact, they call you the Gum Grandma!”
Cards and Letters aren’t just for Grandparents
You know, this isn’t just useful if you’re a grandparent. It’s valuable advice if you’re a parent who shares custody or who lives in a different state from your child. Get retro. Send a letter or card and do it regularly, even if you live in the same town. You’ll be amazed at how impactful it will be to your relationships.
So, what do I write about? Anything and everything. I write about the nearest holiday, what is happening in the news, what I am learning about, where I have been, what I am doing. Stuff, any old stuff. The letter can be long or short. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that someone took the time to sit down and share a thought or two. A card or a letter says loud and clear, “I see you. I hear you. I love you. You matter to me!”
How do you feel when you get a letter in the mail? How did you feel when you were a kid and it happened? I’d like to know.
The last three weeks have been packed. I tried to get Christmas done and mailed before my trip to Seattle to help my daughter who is pregnant and very ill. But life is life and I live in a four-generation household and… well, I didn’t get it done.
Seattle was wonderful, busy, fun, and tiring all at the same time. I came home with croup. I know, only kids get croup but every few years I join them. I don’t feel ill, but I sound terrible and feel totally worn out, so Wed. and Thurs. I didn’t get much accomplished. But I couldn’t rest on Friday because there was so much to do.
Here’s what I was trying to accomplish on Friday
Bake three apple pies
Make another tent kit
Go to the doctors
Get my mom to take a bath and trim her hair
Make 50 pancakes and a pot of green chili
Create and format a special document
Get all the rest of Christmas wrapped and shipped
I have a friend who had surgery the day before I flew home from Seattle. When I asked how I could help her she said that she was having tons of visits and treats but that her family could use some nurturing. Hence one apple pie.
My neighbor loves apple pie too and I have had her on my gift list for three weeks. I wanted to give her a pie and if you’re going to make one pie you might as well make two right! But if I bake and give away pies, I must make one for my own household or there would be a rebellion. So, three pies.
Saturday morning our church planned a Christmas breakfast. That’s right, breakfast. I would have opted to take a breakfast casserole, but my husband has a family tradition of Green Chili Pancakes and it’s so unique that he really wanted to share it. The problem is, he doesn’t know how to make it, I do. His grannie taught me. : ) So I needed to make 50 pancakes and then a huge pot of the green chili sauce. It was too much to do Saturday morning, so it had to be done on Friday. This is very delicious by the way. You can print the recipe HERE.
Now all of this wouldn’t have been too bad, but we had a double doctor’s appointment in the afternoon, we had to stop at two stores on the way home to get some items we needed to finish the above projects and that whole thing took three hours.
I was still trying to get my Christmas items packed and shipped but found that I needed one more tent kit. Long story. And I also realized that I needed a formatted document to include with a special framed family genealogy chart we are sending to our children. We are direct descendants of William Brewster of the Mayflower and I wanted to help each family understand who he was, what his family was like, and why they came to America.
I was able to create and format the document but never made a dent in the gift wrapping or the tent kit making. I did get mom bathed and her hair trimmed. Big woohoo!
It’s Saturday morning now. The church breakfast is done. The chili pancakes were a success. Everyone loved the pies which have been eaten and I am heading off to do the tent kit and get the rest of the stuff wrapped and shipped. My house is a disaster and the kitchen cabinets can’t even be seen. I haven’t vacuumed, dusted, or cleaned anything. Laundry is piling up but I did get one load in before the breakfast. Another big woohoo!
Here’s my point – life can be overwhelming even when we don’t plan for it to be. Sometimes we get stretched out, tasks bunch together and it feels heavy. In those moments, in my past and younger life, I would go to bed feeling like a failure. I would wonder why I couldn’t get more done. Why wasn’t I like so and so who not only gets more done but looks great too and on and on!
Here’s what I don’t do anymore:
I don’t compare myself to anyone! Really everyone has their hidden disasters!
I don’t beat myself upbecause I’m not perfect, slow, behind, didn’t plan better, start sooner, stay well, look put together, etc.
If I find myself having a hard time managing my thoughts about myself I pray. Find something that works for you!
I work diligently to refrain from blaming anyone, or anything for my slowness, tiredness, lateness, etc. I don’t blame! Sometimes it is what it is.
Here’s what I do to manage those times when life is just too much:
I make an effort to get enough sleep even if it means not getting as much done in a day
I take time to remain Present – at least once a day. Being Present happens in 5-minute chunks. This takes practice, even for me
I pray a lot! and I force myself to smile : )
I hope that this holiday season you’ll work on being your own best friend. Say no a bit more. Compare less. Talk nicely to yourself. Remember small moments of self-care. Smile even when you don’t feel like it. Be Present at least once a day with someone you care about. It can take 5 minutes or less!
My mother has come to live with us. She is eighty-seven and has Alzheimer’s. That makes every day an adventure.
My mother and my husband both go to bed a bit later than I do because they sleep in. Recently, early in the morning, I used my blow dryer for about a minute and a half. This is not an exaggeration as my hair is short and I do very little to it.
All of a sudden my mother appeared at the bathroom door demanding, “What in the H___ are you doing that in the middle of the night for!” Whoa, that took me back and I replied, “Well mom, it isn’t the middle of the night. It’s six forty-five and I am getting ready for work.” By this point, she was already heading back to her bedroom mumbling about the inconsideration of some people and having her sleep disturbed in the middle of the night.
I have a wonderful pair of scissors. They cost a bit of money and I keep them in a drawer with my sewing supplies and I NEVER use them for anything but cutting material. Recently, I was sewing an item and left the scissors sitting on a pile of material scraps on my kitchen counter.
Later that day I found them outside, on the patio, in front of the door of our new office where my husband had been doing some electrical wiring. I knew that my husband, unable to find the pliers, had used my good scissors to cut his electrical wires! I picked them up and marched into the house, stood in front of my husband and said in a very irritated voice, “Why were my good sewing scissors outside by the office? These are expensive scissors and are only for cutting material!” Needless, to say he was taken back and replied, “I don’t know why they were outside.”
These are two really wonderful examples of how the story we tell ourselves can and does impact how we respond.
OUR RESPONSE MATTERS
When we’re parenting children understanding the connection between what we think is happening or has happened and how we respond really matters.
It matters for two reasons:
What we think will determine if our response is appropriate or not
Our response will send a message to our child about how we feel about them and often about who they are regardless of whether this was our intention or not
Frequently, if our story is skewed, our response is harsh and inappropriate and the message it sends is damaging to how our children feel about themselves.
In the case of my mom, her story was that it was the middle of the night and so she felt that I was totally inconsiderate of the rest of the family and that fueled her angry response.
In the case of the scissors, my story was that Don was using them inappropriately and that he was an adult and should have known better and that fueled my accusatory and angry response.
In both cases we were wrong in what we perceived was happening.
My mom and I both sent a message that we didn’t really intend to send. My mom was bugged that her sleep was interrupted but she doesn’t really believe I am an inconsiderate person but if I had been an impressionable child or teen her response could have sent a negative message that could have been internalized as true.
I know my husband isn’t inconsiderate and inappropriate but my message implied that he was both. Often the message that we send to our children when we’re not in control of our response is that there is something wrong with them, not with what they may or may not have done.
Thoughts, perceptions, and beliefs create a story and based on those stories we feel an emotion and then respond. Our response generates a result which can be good or bad, helpful or unhelpful.
Paying attention to our thoughts and the stories they generate is important and is a skill which can be learned and practiced. As we do so our lives get better and happier because we have more positive outcomes for ourselves, our relationships, our children, and our family.
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!
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Mary Ann Johnson | Relationship Transformations for Busy Parents, 2017