Here is how the conversation with my daughter Kate on pride vs. pridefulness ended. If you are out of the loop, refer to the Sept. 10th and Sept. 17th articles at https://www.maryannjohnsoncoach.com.
Duality in Life and Parenting
I told Kate, “I’m proud of myself that I figured this out as I became an adult. Thank you for telling me. I never would have thought of such a thing. I always felt like such a fearful person. That is what your siblings saw. But by the time I was forty, I had worked out a lot of garbage. So, this is like a confirmation that the work I did was valuable. It wasn’t easy. There were no classes, no internet, no place to go for help except to friends. I had to figure it out by being honest with myself, and by pondering and praying a lot. It took me years. I am amazed that I figured it out. That I healed and grew. Thank you. I love you.”
I was sorry that my older children had grown up with a frightened, fearful woman, who did not value herself. I told Kate that. She replied, “You know Mom, just because it took you time to learn and grow doesn’t negate the great mom you were and this important message you gave me.”
Then Kate mentioned the word duality. It was new to me. I know dual means two, but I hadn’t heard much about duality. Here she was telling me that in parenting it matters.
What is duality? Well, two things can be true at once even if they are contradictory. You could be fearful at 40 and still exhibit confidence that you didn’t even realize. This can be helpful in relationships with others and with us.
In my 40s’ I thought – I either have it all together or I don’t. I either show confidence in everything or nothing.” I felt this was true. But the truth was this – I had fears and insecurities in many areas of my life but great confidence in others.
Sharing the message of duality is important in parenting because it can help us keep our story about how we are doing on a more positive plane, and it goes a long way to assisting us in speaking kinder and more truthfully to ourselves.
Instead of, “I am such a terrible mom. I just can’t keep my cool.” we might say, “I struggle to keep my cool, but I am working on it, and I am great at nighttime talks. It will even out If I just keep working on it.”
Instead of, “I am so lame. I still have so much to work on,” we could tell ourselves “I have so much to work on, but my kids can depend on me being at their events. They can trust me.”
The Onion Principle
In 2022 I sought counseling for myself for the first time in my life. Not mentoring, I have done a ton of that but honest-to-goodness counseling. I am 73. I should have it all worked out right? But the reality is that we are like an onion. You work on a layer at a time. That is why duality exists. You took off a layer but there may be another layer to work on.
If there are two sides to a coin, metaphorically speaking, there’s a duality. Peace and war, love and hate, up and down, and black and white are dualities. Duality is experienced every day.
You will succeed in some ways and fail in others. You will have one thing worked out and be a hot mess somewhere else. It’s OK. You can be both. We shouldn’t focus only on where we are not yet strong. It is wise to acknowledge both our strengths and weaknesses.As we do, we send a powerful message to our children that they can do the same. This will hold them in good stead as they become adults and work out their baggage. Good parenting isn’t about being perfect, knowing it all, and having all our junk cleaned up. It is instead, doing the best we can, growing and changing, and sending the message to our children that they also have strengths and weaknesses, and it’s OK. It is about allowing ourselves and them to feel pride in hard work and accomplishment even if there are things that are not yet in order.
So, as I have said many times – Be kind to yourself. Trust yourself. Hang in there and keep growing despite your missteps. It will be enough.
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.
That might mean a good counselor or possibly a mentor/coach. It might be a friend who is where you want to be and is willing to share insights. It may be another parent who manages what you are struggling with and is willing to walk you through how they have accomplished what they have accomplished.
1. Friends – I recall many decades ago I was struggling as a mom with a house full of kids. I was yelling and stressed and trust me so were my kids. However, I had a friend who was calm with her children, and she had one who was a tantrum thrower. I asked her about it, and she showed me how she dealt with her over-the-top child. I was astonished. It had never occurred to me that you could remain calm when your child was not. I had not seen that from the adults in my life.
This friend of mine helped me practice and talked with me weekly for a good while. She helped me on my journey to a calmer way of being. It didn’t cost a cent.
2. Hire a mentor/coach – When I was writing my book, I needed some help. I was doing OK in the writing department, but I needed accountability. So, I hired an accountability coach. We talked on the phone once a week. She had published several books and was able to show me the flaws in my excuses as to why I couldn’t do this hard thing. Having her to bounce my doubts and fears off made all the difference.
3. Hire a trained counselor – Another time, decades ago, when I had a child struggling in a way that I couldn’t manage I hired a counselor. As my daughter and I met with her she was able to help me see how to help my child and she was able to show my child ways that she could help herself.
Recently, I advised one of my mentees to hire a trained counselor to work on some issues that are wreaking havoc in her marriage. She has and it is making a difference. Wise people seek the correct wise counsel!
4. Read books – When I was a very young mom, with only two children, I began reading a book on parenting. It was so over my head that I couldn’t finish it. I hated that book because it made me feel so inadequate, but it had shown me that I needed some skills that I had never seen used. I must admit it took a few years for me to get serious about changing my way of being as a parent. When I did another book showed up, and then another book. Change for me was a process. I never did finish that first book but what little I read led me on a path to where I am today.
5. Prayer – One of my first lines of defense, when I am in over my head, is prayer. Yes, you heard that right, I pray. I have had decades of experience in hearing the voice of the Spirit and it has saved me a lot of grief. When I realized I would have to stop teaching and speaking, to care for my mother and husband I was at a loss. This was my dream and being a full-time caregiver wasn’t! But I also knew this was the correct path. How would I know what to do? How could I stay out of resentment? How could I still write when my time would be at a premium?
Prayer has been the BIGGEST help of all! I am counseled as I go through my day. I have been shown how to deal with resentment. I have been shown what my mother and husband need, things I never would have thought of by myself. My heart has been softened. I am learning to touch more. : ) It has made a world of difference in the last three years.
And I have been counseled as to how to continue to do what I enjoy, that helps me make a difference in the bigger world, write. That has meant a great deal to me. I know that I am loved!
Wise people seek wise counsel from the sources that are available to them.
As we seek help more resources open. I have a friend who is a single mother. She is also self-employed and homeschools. Wow! Yes, she is a busy woman, but I can tell you she is also happy. That hasn’t always been the case.
When I first began working with her, she was feeling very stuck in life, as a person, as a mom, and as an entrepreneur. She had been in this stuck place for a few years. But within six months she was unstuck in all three areas and moving forward. How does that happen?
Well, she reached out to me, and I was able to help her with her homeschooling dilemmas and point her to other resources that made a difference. That’s what she came to me for. But I was also able to help her with some of the places where she was stuck in life. Why? Because I am much older and asked lots of thought-provoking questions. I was able to help her see what she couldn’t see amid her worries and fears. We became friends, she trusted me, and she moved forward even when the path wasn’t totally clear!
I couldn’t help her with her business but because she had experienced the value of seeking wise counsel a resource opened which revolutionized her work. It took six months but by the end of that time, she had outsourced much of the load, had learned new strategies which streamlined her business and increased her income. All this before she even thought about adding new clients or raising her rates. Seeking wise counsel changed her life, her kid’s education, her work.
As an aside, let me say that a few years have passed, and she is again stuck. Yes, that is how life works. It is never easy or smooth. But she has learned that wise people seek wise counsel. She knows from experience that if she stays the course, takes responsibility, and prays, the resources she needs will show up.
If you are struggling as a parent, take the time to honestly look at the issues. Do your systems stink? Do you lack skills? Is your confidence in the toilet? Do you feel unfulfilled in some way? Are your most important relationships rocky? Do you need some behavior modification? Have you forgotten how to care for yourself?
Be open to learning and resources show up. Read, ask good questions. Look at your situation honestly. Make the changes you can. Then do a bit more, look deeply at yourself.
In the end, it is all about you. You are the only person you really have any control over. You are the one who must grow and change no matter what anyone else around you does. You have heard one of my favorite quotes before. This one voice made me so mad and changed my life at the same time. What Viktor Frankl said is true, whether you are ready to believe it or not. If you are not ready to accept it do what I did. Let it settle into your heart until you can bear it and then it will change you and your life.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
Wise people seek wise counsel. Determine what you can change and then take control of yourself. Let go of blame. Seek the help you need to begin making a change. Practice. Doing this gives you all the power and will revolutionize your life.
I am speaking from seven decades of experience on both sides of this fence.
I hope you believe me. : )
The other day when I went out to water the garden,
I had an interesting thing happen that reminded me that sometimes, we can be blind to what is right in front of us.
The backyard hose is attached to a faucet that uses groundwater. Then the hose snakes across the lawn, over a small fence, and into the garden where it connects to another faucet that waters the garden. When I water the garden, I do the same thing almost every day. First, I walk out to the back faucet and turn on the water. Then I go through the garden gate and turn on the second faucet which lets water into the garden.
On this day, Doug had unhooked the groundwater hose the day before to fill the swimming pool. He had connected it to the house faucet so that city water would be in the pool. I knew he was doing this. I saw the hose hanging over the side of the pool. Yet, I went over to the faucet, turned it on, and got a face full of water. What! I could see the hose wasn’t connected, but my brain did not switch gears from what I do almost every day to what was happening this day.
How can that even happen?
But this kind of thing does happen in everyone’s life. There are times when we don’t see what is right in front of us. We may behave in unhealthy or damaging ways to our family or ourselves and not even know it. We do what we have always done.
When we moved with Jodie’s family this last time, we had to build a kitchen for my family, where a storage room had been. Everyone tried to talk me out of the light I choose to go over the kitchen sink. After all, it was a bathroom fixture. I didn’t care, I loved how it looked, and it was so illuminating. Every time I use that light, I am amazed at how much better I can see. The odd thing is that I don’t always use this extra light. Sometimes I will be washing potatoes or doing dishes and think, “I have enough light.” And I do, sort of. Then I will have a change of heart and flip the switch that is right in front of me, and voila! I can see so much better. There are other times when I know that I need more light, and I hurriedly flip the switch. I am always shocked at how much better I can see and how much more efficiently I can do whatever job I am doing because the details are more apparent.
This happens in life, in parenting. Wouldn’t it be nice to have all the information and knowledge we need no matter what came up? But we don’t.Often it takes time for us to determine that we lack the knowledge we need to do a better job of whatever it is. It can take a great deal of time before we realize that something we are doing may be harmful or counterproductive. For example, it took me almost ten years to understand that raging wasn’t a great way to manage problems and another ten to find the resources and support I needed, the light, to make a permanent change.
Often, when we realize that we have a lack of knowledge or skill, we beat ourselves up. When we find that our behavior is harmful, we feel tremendous guilt and shame. That is as foolish as me berating myself because I didn’t turn on my sink light right away or because I didn’t ‘see’ that the hose had been disconnected. Beating ourselves up and wallowing in shame and guilt for not having needed knowledge and resources is counterproductive. Instead, we should search for whatever resource will help turn on the light and make the details for change clearer.
‘Seeing’ Clearly Can Make ALL the Difference!
In my life, there have been times when I have said, “I can see fine.” I would keep moving forward and struggling because the truth was, the hose was unhooked, but I didn’t see it. Sometimes we cannot see what is right there in plain sight. We need help. It isn’t that we are inadequate, or stupid, or uncaring. We lack the information we need. Eventually, I would reach out for help via a friend, a book, or other resources. Sometimes it would be a class. Then the details became more evident, I made changes, and life got better in that one thing.
When I finally understood that I should stop yelling I didn’t know how. I couldn’t just stop. I needed to ‘see’ what was causing me to rage and how I could make a change. The first resource came in the form of a neighbor who offered me a pamphlet on anger management. That was very embarrassing but was the first step in changing my life and the lives of my children and husband.
Now, when I realize that I have a weakness or am erring somehow, I rejoice. I do not allow guilt to crowd in. I do not wallow in shame. I do not beat myself up! After all, I can’t change what I cannot see. When I do finally ‘see,’ I reach out. I look for the switch I need so I will have more light. I begin with prayer. I ask for help, and resources always come.
When you find yourself in the dark or semi-dark, STOP feeling like a failure. Instead, look for the switch, which is never too far away, and flip on the light. If you find yourself with a face full of water, so to speak, look for the hose and get it connected.
We do not need to be sprayed in the face over and over again. We do not need to work in darkness where we cannot see the details. Light can be ours, and it will lead us to change and growth. Really!!
I have a friend, Audrey Rindlisbacher, and recently I was listening to an early morning Facebook Live she did. The topic was ‘comparison.’ Audrey is an exceptional woman who has been speaking and teaching for years on great books. I have sat with rapt attention in her classes. She inspires me with her knowledge of natural law and principles.
Not too long before she did this Facebook Live, she spoke with another woman that she considered exceptional. This mom had been the Young Mother of the Year, had multiple degrees, and currently lives in a foreign country where she has been for the last ten years with her family doing full-time work with refugees. Audrey admitted that during her conversation, she had thoughts like these – “You have always wanted to take your kids and do some humanitarian work. Why haven’t you? If you had, your family would be so much better off. You are so lame!”
I had to smile inwardly because when I first heard Audrey speak, I had similar thoughts – “Man, you should have read more great books than you have. Why haven’t you gotten as much out of them as Audrey has? How come you don’t understand natural law and principles as she does. Reading isn’t enough; you needed to think as she has. You are so lame.” When we begin comparing ourselves to others, our self-talk plummets! When our self-talk dives, then our life-results also dive. We must speak kindly about and to ourselves.
Another reason to speak well of ourselves is that how we are and what we do,speaks volumes to our children. We want to model a way of being to our family that will help them as they tackle hard things in life and as they begin seeing that where they are and how they are doing is different from someone else.
Tools to Derail Comparison
When I find myself treating myself poorly or comparing myself to others, I have a couple of tools I use to get myself back on track.
1. Focus on gratitude. When I shift from seeing what I am not or what I don’t have and focus on who I am and what I have, my self-talk improves. My result improves. There are many ways to stay in gratitude, but one that I use is a gratitude journal. Each evening before bed, I take a moment and write at least three things I am grateful for. No matter how terrible the day has been, I have yet to be stumped. I can always find at least three and usually more. Keeping my eye on what I have that is good keeps my mind on a higher plane, so I don’t spiral into negative thinking and self-talk.
2. Limit social media. As much good as social media has provided, it is a hotbed of comparison and envy. Currently, three of my daughters have taken breaks from social media. No Facebook, no Instagram. They have found that they feel better about themselves when they cannot compare their worst to someone else’s best. I spend less than 1 hour on social media each day, and on days when I don’t need to be on it for work, I spend none at all.
You don’t have to give up social media. Just limit the time you spend there. If you have a hard time, then turn off your notifications. Give yourself set times during the day to participate. When we compare ourselves to others, it creates unrest within us. It sucks the joy out of our accomplishments. It diminishes us in our own eyes.
We each have strengths and weaknesses. We all do well at times and at others do poorly. We all are in the process of becoming. Accept that you are still learning, growing, evolving. Be kind to yourself. Speak and think with generosity, and it will improve your pace. It will also give your children a better example of what to do when you are not perfect. It will do your family good.
Take the time to let a friend know about these simple tools to derail comparison.
I have always had a dining room or kitchen table. Even in our first home, which was small, we had a table. I loved having a table. It was good to rest my elbows when I was reading or studying.
As our kids came, we sat around our table for meals and talked. It was a gathering place, a homework place, my sewing space when the need arose. We used our table a lot.
Then ten years ago, when our daughter’s family and we decided to share space, I gave up my table. We lived in a basement apartment of our daughter’s home with lovely big windows. We had a kitchen and living room. However, there wasn’t a dining area. The kitchen was narrow and had a bar. I thought the bar would be enough.
But it was high and required stools. Don and I were in our sixties, and so we never used it. No resting elbows while reading. Fewer conversations. That’s because we used TV trays. They work but don’t lend themselves to the same intimacy one feels at a table.
Then we moved again. We have the south side of this beautiful home with lots of sunshine. We have a new kitchen which we built. We have a nice sized living room. But again, no place for a table. We have been in this space for three years, and my need for a table has grown.
This spring inside, I was screaming, “I NEED a table.” I couldn’t put into words why I felt such a need for a table. We had our TV trays, and since the space is not large, it seemed the thing to do. BUT something was missing, and I knew it in my heart.
Finally, I decided I HAD to have a table. I bought one for $40, used. But it was too large and felt overbearing in the room. I thought about it a lot. I NEEDED a table. So, I did what I do. I prayed, and within a couple of days, someone gave me the perfect table. It was the right color and size. It came with chairs, and I was ecstatic.
We have had the table for a few months now. Has it made a difference?YES! And here is how. I can finally explain, in words, what was missing. There is something ‘connecting’ about sitting face to face around a table. There is something ‘family’ about it. Many times, over the last few months, my husband has said, “I like sitting here and looking at your face.” That doesn’t happen when you’re seated at TV trays. My mother talks more while we eat. Because she has Alzheimer’s, I guess she felt a bit isolated in her chair in front of her tray unless asked a direct question.
Our conversations are better, more intimate, more interesting. Frankly, the temptation to turn on the TV is less. Last night we played music while we ate. It was awesome!!
And when we aren’t all sitting at the table, I study there. I rest my elbows, and I read. I am aware of the life going on around me, and I like feeling my family’s pulse. A table, well used, creates a sense of ‘family.’
You probably have a table. My questions to you are:
Do know what a gift it is?
Do you use it?
Are you taking the opportunity to connect your family at least once a day?
Are you developing that ‘family’ feeling?
Reasons to gather at your table at least once a day:
A. It will help you get what you want—Eating together goes a long way in helping you create the family culture you see in your mind or have written down.
B.It will unify your family—During the years our children were making poor choices, the time at the dinner table held us together. If we couldn’t agree on the best way to live, we could at least gather once a day and eat together. It kept us face-to-face and heart-to-heart. We didn’t teach or reprimand during these meals. We stayed out of management and worked on the relationships. This effort didn’t stop our children from making choices we disagreed with, but it kept our children bonded to us. It kept us unified as a family.
C.You can de-stress—If you determine that spilled milk and children falling off chairs are not interruptions and catastrophes but significant family life moments, then the dinner hour will bring you joy. Even when mealtimes feel hectic or disorganized, they have long-term benefits for children because if parents remain calm, kids aren’t stressed by dinnertime chaos. Remember, they think and see like kids and not as adults. And you, as you watch and listen to them, can breathe. You can let down your guard. You can relax. There is research that supports this. : )
D.You can build close relationships—Family meals are opportunities to develop more intimate family relationships. Although families live together, we each go about our business of living independently of one another. We aren’t all doing the same things each day. When we eat together, we have a few moments to reconnect, talk, laugh, and enjoy one another. Meals are a prime time for communication and understanding as we each live our individual lives.
E. You’ll have an improved sense of well-being—Anne Fishel, Ph.D., said, “Over the past 15 years researchers have confirmed what parents have known for a long time: sharing a family meal is good for the spirit, the brain and the health of all family members” (Fishel 2016).
F.You can practice Being Present—Eating together allows you to implement Present strategies. You can discuss a book the family’s reading together. You can memorize scripture or quotes you like. You can tell jokes and laugh. You can share what happened in the community or thoughts you had during the day. When having a conversation, include everyone. Keep it positive. Avoid nagging, complaining, or controlling the discussion. Listen more than you talk.
What If No One Talks?
If up until now, dinner hasn’t been a productive time to connect and build relationships with your kids, try playing the Conversation Game. This game can get the flow going. Go around the table and have each person share a high point of the day and a low point. Eventually, when done consistently over time, it will begin to feel safe, and your family members will open up more. This game is fun, and you can practice seeing and hearing your children.
Dinner’s the perfect time to turn away from your technology.Turn off cell phones while at the table—mute your landline. Even the ringing can be a significant distraction. Turn off the TV! Having the TV on negates many of the benefits of a family meal and prevents you and your family from being Present with each other. The comfort of the food will make practicing this less painful. : )
Eating together is an opportunity to empty your mind of your endless to-do list and focus on your children. What are they saying? How do they look? What’s their body language? What did you miss during the rush to get out the door in the morning? Mealtime is a perfect time to practice being Present.
G. If you need one more reason to eat together as a family, ponder this: in a nationally representative Internet-based survey of 1,037 teens (ages 12 to 17), 71 percent said that they consider talking/catching up and spending time with family members as the best part of family dinners. These comments come from kids, just like your kids. They want and need time with you. They want your Presence, and one of the easiest ways to give it to the whole family at once is at the dinner table (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, “The Importance of Family Dinners”)!
I have loved finally having a table again. I enjoy looking at my mom and my husband. I savor the conversations and laughter. It has felt whole!
One time I asked my kids about their favorite memories. I’ll never forget Kates. It wasn’t about sitting at the table together but under it.
Kate—”I remember you and me sitting under the table reading a chapter of Katie John together. She painted her face with lipstick on picture day, and it wouldn’t come off. We laughed and laughed together.
Whatever works right. Being around or under your table, unifies families! Use yours!
This ‘table message’ is for all your friends who have families.
When you improve your life skills, it’s a boon to your whole family. The better able you are to navigate life and the more growth you have, it naturally rubs off on those around you.
Case in point. Over a decade ago, I began my quest to improve my ability to manage my thoughts so that my life results would be more in line with what I wanted. I read books, attended many events and classes, got some personal mentoring, and even did some energy work. I noticed that I was happier, more often, by choice. I spoke kindlier to myself. My confidence went up. I was able to help others make changes also. It felt good. My granddaughter, Mary, was born just after I began my quest to control my life, my happiness, and my responses; to stop being a victim. Although I didn’t know it, she has been watching me.
A few years ago, she saw a vision board on my wall and came and asked me what it was. I explained that it contained pictures of what I wanted to happen in my life. She must have thought about that for a few days and then she came and asked me to help her make one. She also noticed that I made my bed every morning, and soon she began doing the same. She was only eight or nine, and nobody told her to do it. She saw that I did it and that it was a good thing. She also saw the sayings and affirmations that I have on my walls. If you go into her room, you will notice that she has hopeful and joyful sayings all over the place. When she makes anything or buys anything, she makes sure that the words she loves are on it.
One day, about a year ago, she said, “Grandma, you and I am the same.” You know she is right. I work to remain in control of the story that I tell myself, and so does Mary. Her room, art, clothes, and actions all reflect her understanding that she oversees how she feels and how life looks.
Not all children will respond this way.My two grandsons are not the least bit interested in making their beds. : ) They don’t wear upbeat sayings on their clothes. They don’t do much art, and when they do, it doesn’t say things like “Love Yourself.” LOL However, I can tell they are learning valuable things, and it comes out now and then in something they say and do.
Our example to our children matters. If we feel like victims and live our lives as if we are, our children will see that and follow suit. If we blame and criticize, so will our kids. If we talk poorly to ourselves, then how can our children believe that they are any better. We can’t and won’t be perfect people or parents, but what will last and impact our children the most is when they see us growing. There is power in understanding and believing that you are 100% in control of your life. You may not be able to control all the circumstances, but you can manage your response.
I have seven grown children. Some are edging into their fifties, and they tell me how much my continued desire to become better has helped them. So, if you have issues in your family, look inside. See what you need to do to take control of your feelings, your own life. Let go of victimhood—practice consistency. Take charge of the story you live and tell yourself. Clean up your self-talk. It will not only bless you. It will bless your family!
I had two daughters who had babies last year – one in June and one in Dec. One daughter suffered from postpartum anxiety, not to be confused with the blues or even depression. It was excruciating. Just functioning was a challenge.Besides the new baby, she had one preschooler and one grade-schooler.
Despite her struggles with health and energy, I saw her remember what her kids needed to do to be ready for school. I watched her get them to their events and lessons. I saw her force herself to school with her new baby to participate in a classroom party with her daughter.
My other daughter has tweens, teens, and grade-schoolers. She was up multiple times a night. But one morning bright and early I witnessed this: she was in the kids’ rooms getting them up, reminding them of what they needed for the day, giving cautions about getting to work on time and bringing instruments home after orchestra so they could practice. It was all in her head, and despite her baby fatigue, she was letting it out at the right time, with the right tone. There is no getting around it,
MOTHERS ARE AMAZING EVEN WHEN THEY’RE STRUGGLING.
My sons-in-law also experienced the addition of new babies into their families. One is in the last stages of genetic blindness and was ill at the time of the birth. However, he donned a mask and was by his wife’s side, not just during the delivery but until his wife came home a day later, even though fluorescent light burns his eyes. Then he returned, mask in hand because the baby had a severe bilirubin issue. His eyes burned as he endured hours of blue light. I watched him get up at night to feed his son, diaper, and cuddle him.
The other dad had a two-plus hour compute every day into the city. He left work early so he could get home sooner. When he got back, the load shifted from his wife’s shoulders to his own. He made food, played Candyland, fed the dogs, tucked kids in bed, and comforted his wife. There is no getting around it,
FATHERS ARE AMAZING EVEN WHEN THE LOAD IS HEAVY.
Neither of these couples is doing it perfectly. There are down days, moments of resentment, and checking out. BUT they get up daily and do it again because they love each other and their families. There is no way around it,
PARENTS ARE AMAZING EVEN WHEN THEY AREN’T PERFECT!!
Know a parent struggling because they aren’t perfect. Share. : )
I don’t care how good a parent you are; this is true. The problem that we run into is focusing on any one part.
Many parents focus on the bad. They forget that there is a large portion of good. Others focus on the good and forget that they need to work on the bad. And occasionally, some see only the dollop of ugly. Each of these scenarios lessens our ability to parent well, long term.
Let me share three personal experiences.
1. I was on occasion, not nurturing. I can recall hearing a child gaging in the night and then pulling them out of bed, running them down the hall, all the while repeating in an urgent voice, “Hold it. Don’t throw up.”
2. My youngest daughter wanted to be a cheerleader. During the try-outs, she had to do a solo routine and fell. It seemed like an eternity until she looked up towards the bleachers where I was, although only seconds had passed. When she looked my way, she saw me standing in a sea of sitting parents. She saw me silently sending the message, I am proud of you. I want everyone to know I am your mom. Get up, you can do this. P.S. She made the squad!
3. We had six kids, were living in Montana, and money was tight. One night I found an open Tampon in the bathroom garbage. A child had been curious, opened it, and it was now no good. I had, on occasion, found myself without that needed necessity. I flipped.
I drug six kids out of bed, lined them up in the hall and went up and down the line shaking the Tampon in their noses, asking repeatedly, “WHO OPENED THIS!”
Story one is bad. A good mom sits on the side of the bed with a pan, soothing a fevered brow and speaking calm and loving words. They aren’t concerned with vomit and cleaning it up. Right?
Story two is so good. I mean, doesn’t it make you want to be that mom?
Story three is ugly, totally out of control.
And there it is. We all have our ugly moments. We all have moments when we shine. And we all have moments when it’s clear that although we aren’t the worst parent on the planet, we surely could be better.
It’s vital to remember that you are not just one part, you are all three. There is no perfection in parenting any more than there is perfection in friendship, relationships, or life.
We need to focus on the good. We need to improve the bad. And we need to forgive ourselves for the occasionally ugly. When we do this, we are better parents. There is power in seeing the good, acknowledging the bad and forgiving the ugly and that power helps us parent better.
Here are a few things I have learned
about kids that make it easier for you to improve and forgive yourself, to worry less and to know that it’s going to be OK in the end.
• Kids love their parents unconditionally
• Kids are quick to forgive
• Kids are resilient
• Kids have a way of moving on
Our goal is not perfection. There is always going to be something you don’t know, haven’t mastered yet or that is messy. In a family, in life, there is always work to do. Keep improving yourself. Do more good, improve the bad and you will lessen the ugly. And in the end, it will all be OK.
The greatest compliment is when you share
but the greatest joy is when you comment. : )
Mary Ann Johnson | Relationship Transformations for Busy Parents, 2017