You don’t always know the impact for good you have on your kids and others, even when you aren’t perfect. Just a couple of weeks ago this was brought home to me. I went to my sister’s home and her daughter was there with her son Jordan.
Jordan is nineteen. I hadn’t seen him for a few years. But when he was four and five, he came to my home to be babysat now and then. Deidra, his mom, reminded me of this. I had totally forgotten that I cared for Jordan. She also reminded me of something else.
A Safe Place
When Jordan came to my home, he fell in love with a chime I had. It had a lovely bell on the end. He would stick it in the back pocket of his shorts and prance around to hear it ring. I gave it to him as a gift. Jordan was standing there as his mom related this story to me. He smiled. What his mom said next blew me away. “You still have that chime in your room, don’t you Jordan.” He nodded yes.
WHAT! It has been fifteen years. Then Deidra said, “When he knew he had to go to a babysitter he would say, “I only want to go to that Mary place.”
As I think back, I can’t recall why he would have found our home so inviting. I had one daughter left at home, but she was in her teens. Our apartment was bright and clean. I was working from home and very busy but my guess is that Jordan felt safe in our home. Isn’t that wonderful? And this isn’t the first time a youth has reminded me of what my home and I meant to them.
Even in Dark Moments, You Can Be a Light
As you know we had some children use drugs. It was a hard time. But in the last few decades, I have received messages from some of my children’s friends. They talk about how wonderful it was that I was there, that there was food, that our house was a safe place. My oldest son, who hadn’t liked us for a while, said in his late forties, “Mom, you will never know how many people you touched,” or words to that effect.
Truth is, I never knew that our home was a haven.I felt that because of how things had worked out, Don and I were failures. I have written about our struggles over those thoughts.But there it is, even in that darkness, in our obvious imperfection, we were a light. Our home was a light.
Last year I got an email from a young woman that I had taught in a church class when she was 16 and 17. She told me that my lessons had had a huge impact on her life. REALLY! She slept through the class! I felt I was doing a terrible job and asked the leaders to get a new teacher. I knew I was giving it all I had but, well, she and others appeared to be so bored.
AND THERE IT IS!
When we do our best, even when it is terribly imperfect, we can be an influence for good. You never know the impact you have on the lives of the children and young people in your life. So, hang on, mom and dad. Don’t throw in the towel. Stop beating yourself up and fearing the worst. Just keep doing your imperfect best and you will get better.In the meantime, you will impact your children and others for good.
I felt pressedto visit my friend, Judy, whose husband died last year, and I felt she needed something. After two days of this ‘pressing’ feeling, I went. I found that she was stressed out about her front yard and being able to manage it. One bush had a ton of grass growing around the base, and Judy could see it from her front window. She was reminded every day that it needed weeding.
Judy has always managed the front garden beds; her husband didn’t weed. Don ran the machines. : ) But he is gone, so the whole dynamic has shifted, leaving Judy feeling stressed. It wasn’t more than she was used to, but she was alone, and that complicated things in both her heart and mind.
She was also feeling a tad angry because no one had ever stopped to help her. When she was out front weeding, her neighbors would wave or honk as they drove by. Anger is a secondary emotion, and I believe what she was feeling was invisible as if she didn’t matter. I have been there, and I can relate. Our number one need is to be seen; to matter.
Anyway, I could see how simple it would be to get her yard in shape and maintain it. After all, I am the queen of consistency, which is a principle of power. : ) I talked to her about what I had learned from two hard years in the neighbor’s field. I had experienced that it didn’t matter how intimidating the job, with God all things are possible if we are consistent with small amounts of time.
I encouraged her to work in her yard in the morning for 20-30 minutes five days a week. Then I felt impressed to tell her that I would come on Monday and get her started. I did. Then I decided to go every day that week because people need to practice being consistent. They need support while developing a new habit or instituting a new system.
Judy and I were able to get almost the entire front bed done, and Judy felt great about it. We never worked over 30 minutes, in fact, most days, twenty. Judy said that this felt like something she could continue to do.
As I hugged her goodbye that Friday morning she mentioned that it would be great to have some accountability so she would keep going. : ) Isn’t this why we hire coaches and have best friends. LOL We all need support and accountability.
I texted her Monday and then again on Wednesday. She was staying consistent. By Sunday Judy had finished the last of the front beds. (She had decided to not take Saturday off.) We had only gotten started on that bed Friday, and it was a bit intimidating, with lots of grass. Way to go Judy!!
I have been practicing consistency since I was a mom with seven children. I wasn’t always consistent, but I have had to learn some hard lessons about the power of consistency. It’s not the BIG moves we make in life that make the difference; it is the small and simple things that we do consistently.
If consistency is not your forte, it can become so, I promise. I have learned how to be consistent; I have mentored many mothers and helped them become consistent, and I have been an accountability best friend often. I have seen this skill learned.
BUT, and this is a big BUT, you do not become consistent by working on all the places in your life that are a mess. You must choose one small place to begin. Maybe it is making your bed each morning no matter how tired you are or how badly you need to pee. LOL
Maybe it is having your family put their dishes in the dishwasher after every dinner meal. It might be doing the laundry on Thursday, no matter what. Possibly it is going to bed at the same time each night, regardless of what is left to do. I have had to practice ALL these things over the years and many more.
Here are five tips to get you started.
1. Pick one thing. What are you going to work on? For Judy, it was keeping the front garden beds weed-free. For me, right now, it is getting up at the same time each morning. What is your plan?
2. Know the steps you will take. Judy decided that each morning, five days a week, before noon, she would weed; unless it was raining, and then she gets a break. : )
For me, it is to make sure my alarm goes off at the same time each day, six days a week. Church begins late on Sunday, and I allow myself to sleep in.
3. Understand flexible consistency. When I first began talking about this idea, I got blank stares. I mean, if you are consistent, it is exactly the same every day, right? Well, within a consistent framework. Judy gives herself all morning to get it done. She hopes to be out in the yard by eight, but things happen.
I work with moms, and something is always happening! When I first coined the phrase, I was working with homeschool moms. For some, if they didn’t get school started by 8, they felt like failures. That kind of thinking does not help maintain consistency. Flexible consistency would say that you plan to begin school sometime between eight and nine-thirty. Flexible consistency fits a family better.
What flexible consistency does not mean is that you can do it or not. Don’t get confused. You do it every day.
4. Practice – not perfection. We will rarely if ever, be perfect at anything. I am darn good at self-management, but I am not perfect. I can hear my husband breathing a sigh of relief because I am VERY self-directed, and perfect would drive him nuts. LOL I get up at the same time most days. However, now and then, I don’t, for one reason or another. I do not panic. I simply get up on time the next day.
Even if you are not perfect, keep practicing. It is the simple act of consistently doing something the best you can that will, over time, make all the difference.
5. Get support and be accountable. That may mean a therapist, a mentor, or a coach. It could be your best friend who asks you how you are doing, or it might be a neighbor like I am to Judy. Support and accountability can make all the difference in your quest for consistency.
I am a list gal and have a list for every day and everything. I feel deeply accountable to my list because I want to cross it off. I don’t need a friend to check on me. The list does the job.
But a list would never work for my husband. He needs someone to be accountable to. That is what Judy needed. It doesn’t matter what works for you, find a way to be accountable and get support.
If you will pick one thing, know the steps, be flexibly consistent, practice the best you can, and get support and accountability, then you can become the queen of consistency in your life too, one thing at a time.
When you are consistent over the long haul you can make magnificent changes.
The trip was a mixed bag, if I am honest. The kids and I had some great times, and I kept Gus worn out. : ) He had one nap and wanted another Saturday, but we were busy. This from a boy who has all but given up naps.
But as I said, it has been a mixed bag. I brought a deck of question cards which we used at meals and bedtime. It was hilarious and so much fun. BUT Sunday night, we had a zinger of a question – Tell me about an experience that helped you feel my love for you? Gus just laughed. Tessa said, “Well, you have let me snuggle with you.” She has slept with me every night. She wakes up in the wee hours and crawls in. You all know how kids spread out!
That has been part of the reason for Elliot’s answer –“Well, I haven’t gotten yelled at too much.” What? I don’t yell, but I have a stern voice that comes out when I am tired, frustrated, or at a loss about what else to do. My hormone replacement pills went missing for three days, which didn’t help, but he was right; I had some grouchy moments with everyone.
I went to bed that last night a little teary-eyed and thought about it. I mean, grandma’s want to be perfect, and frankly, I am not. There are moms who trust me and what I share here. I couldn’t let them think that I am super happy all the time, not ridged occasionally, always patient and upbeat, or that I don’t ‘yell.’ It wouldn’t be fair.
In fact, just yesterday, one of my clients said, “I saw some of your posts from Seattle. It looks like you had a wonderful time, and so did the kids. You are amazing.” And many Facebook comments were saying the same as if we had a perfect time and I was always smiling and fun and, well, perfect.
Those comments and what my client said stung a bit. Here is the truth – I am amazing, BUT I am also ordinary. I am just an everyday woman doing her best, and my best isn’t always enough. My best fluctuates.
Wouldn’t it be great to be perfect, to play all the time and like it, never to get tired and crabby, always to be cheerful and fun, never to use your ‘stern/yell’ voice. It would eliminate the worried nights when you know you haven’t been the way you want to be. But here we are, just ordinary people working to do the ‘extraordinary’ thing, caring well for others.
This doesn’t just happen to me when I wrangle three little kids at seventy-two years old. It happens at home, wrangling my mom and my husband and all the rest that goes with living in a four-generation household. I have been working on changing my way of being to be more charitable. That last night in Seattle, I felt as if I had made NO progress at all in decades. I mean, I still get grumpy, am impatient, and am not always long-suffering, kind, humble, well behaved, concerned with others rather than myself, grateful, not provoked, etc. I can list them off because I have them written on the first page of my scriptures. I look at the list regularly because, after all, it is my goal.
There is a space between stimulus and response. The thing that has changed for me over the years is that that space has gotten wider. I rarely go off now and wonder what happened. I know I am choosing. I see that space, and I feel myself making a choice. Sometimes that is harder and is a mixed blessing for sure, to know you chose to be uncharitable with those you love. Thank goodness God, and Christ love me despite my weakness.
Monday, my last day as caretaker for the kids, was good. I got them off to school with minimal chaos and lots of smiles and hugs. I managed Gus well, who was tired and a little grumpy. After school, we used our question cards, our goal was to ask them all, and we made it. : ) We had a great supper and laughed and talked. Then mom and dad came home, and happiness exploded all over everyone.
That last night in Seattle, as I lay in bed pondering the good and not so good times we had, I wondered how the grands would feel the next time I came to visit? It was a question mark in my mind. However, little kids are forgiving. They love unconditionally. A couple of weeks ago, I posted on Facebook about my grandma and the tough times we had because I was a bed-wetter. But I still loved her. I always wanted to go to her house.
I feel that is the case here because of what Tessa did on Sunday. We were in the kitchen, and I was fixing some food. She said, “Grandma, let me see how tall I am to you.” So we stood chest to chest, and she measured from her head to my body. It was right at my neck. Tessa laughed and said, “I am as high as your neck, grandma. You are up to your neck in love!”
I would rather not have written this article, but I cannot let my friends and fellow parents think I am perfect because I’m not. And neither are they. It isn’t fair to simply post pictures of smiling kids doing crafts, rollerblading, and all the rest. We have to support each other in our weaknesses and our strengths. So thanks for being here, reading what I write, believing my words, and allowing me to be honest. : ) I still work on my goal of a tender and softened heart, to feel charity every day. I suspect that I will get better and better. In fact, when I shared this experience with my daughter Jodie, she assured me that I was SO much different than when I was a young mom. Glad to know I am making progress even when it feels like I’m not.
So hang in there, keep working on yourself. Be consistent. It is a lifetime job. Don’t let discouragement get in your way.
Getting up when you fall, being consistent in your efforts pays off. Really!!
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 gave up New Year’s Resolutions many years ago. I always felt set up for failure. I have found it more useful to periodically evaluate how I am managing my life, how I am feeling about it, and what simple adjustments I could make so that I fare better. I emphasize the word simple. I also keep the list short! I want success and not overwhelm.
The first half of 2020 was challenging for me. In March, I found myself feeling like crying every day. I do not cry! I was so exhausted that it was worrisome. This all compromised my ability to remember things. Nothing outwardly changed. I looked and behaved the same, but it was taking all I had to keep living in my usual way.
Consequently, I began the process of evaluation earlier in the year than usual. What was off? What was making the difference? How was my sleep, my eating, my exercise, my relationships? I was searching for an answer to how I was feeling. In June, I had a thought that led me to a resolution. I remembered a medical condition I had dealt with over a decade and a half earlier. I went to my practitioner, got what I needed, and I was back on track. It was such a relief.
But all that thinking during the spring, all that introspection, reminded me of some behaviors that can significantly impact how we parent, how we manage relationships, how we manage ourselves, and how we feel. I thought as we enter this new year, particularly a year that will still contain Covid, lack of family, more in-home responsibility for parenting and education for some families, that you might benefit from seeing my short and simple ‘go-to’ list when I find my life a bit off-kilter. : )
Four S’s for Success
Sleep – I’ve had tons of experience with this one thing! I was a night owl. I would be up until eleven or twelve getting kids managed and into bed and putting the house back together. Afterward, I read until somewhere between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. In the morning, I would drag myself out of bed at six or seven, depending on when my kids got up. How do you think that worked out? I’ll bet some of you know. It was a disaster. It’s virtually impossible to parent well when you can barely see for lack of sleep.
Periodically, for over 30 years, I would go in prayer and ask how I could better handle my life. I would always have the same thought, “Go to bed earlier and get up earlier.” I would dismiss the whole idea. I didn’t want to follow that counsel. I wanted my house in order, and I wanted alone time. I was convinced the only way to get either one was to stay up late. So, I resisted. After years, I got desperate. I asked a final time. The impression was the same. “Go to bed earlier and get up earlier.” But this time, I didn’t resist.
I made the decision I would go to bed earlier and get up earlier. Can I say it was hard?! It didn’t get easier after the first month, or the sixth, or even the ninth. I’ll be honest; I struggled for a full year to keep my commitment before it finally began to feel good. But I’d made a decision. I was choosing something different. It was about taking care of self.
I’ve been living this new way for a few years now, and it’s been amazing. I enjoy going to bed earlier and getting up earlier. I can’t even believe it myself! My thinking is clearer. I get to do things that make my day more productive—prayer, personal study, meditation. My whole day runs better. I remain calm more often. I have more patience, and I feel less stress.
If sleep is an issue for you and you decide to take the route I did, it may not be easy, but if you remember that simple things, consistently done over time, make significant differences, you’ll be able to persevere as long as it takes to make this your new habit.
Simplify– The word simplify means to make simpler or easier to do or understand. To simplify is a principle wise men and women have espoused throughout the ages, and with good reason. When we simplify our lives, we manage them better. We can spend more time, both mental and physical, where it matters and less on activities that are not going to matter in the long run. We open time to think. We stop spending so much time putting out fires. When we simplify our lives, we can tune into our children, our spouse, our God.
One of my past mentors said something very profound to me. It’s changed the way I make decisions about spending my time and my family’s time. She said, “Every yes is a no to something else!” Let’s make sure that what we’re saying yes to will, in the long run, bring us true happiness and stable family relationships.
How much time do you allot for technology? How often do you shop? How many hours are you spending in the car, and are you going places that matter? How much time is required to keep your closets and drawers in order? What are your commitments? What are your kid’s commitments? How often do thoughts about past hurts surface? How frequently do you feel resentment?
When you clear out stuff, heal your heart, and empty your calendar, you’ll be less overwhelmed and have more energy. You’ll be able to give more to your family. This investment in simplifying will free you up, and your life and family will be happier. When we simplify, we free up time and energy.
Self-care – Self-care is crucial for parents because it helps them maintain calm for more extended periods. Self-care facilitates patience and staves off, taking our frustrations out on our children. Self-care helps us remain free of resentment, exhaustion, or feeling depleted. It keeps us healthier. Self-care allows us to tune into the joy and satisfaction of having children, even during overly busy or chaotic days.
Self-care benefits not only us but also our whole family. It’s an investment in our family relationships, rather than a selfish indulgence.Self-care is a choice.
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 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.
Being kind to yourself will make life feel lighter, and your relationships will improve. You’ll feel happier overall. Your self-esteem will go up. You’ll be a better parent. In short, when you care for yourself, you care for your family.
Season –Let me show you two Christmas trees. In 2019 I had two grandchildren born, one in July and one on Dec. 30. This Christmas, both sets of parents pondered what to do about their Christmas trees. They have older children. They like their homes to look festive. In the end, they adjusted for the season they are in. One kept all the ornaments on the top half of the tree. The other had a very small tree on a tabletop. It isn’t what they love or do every year, but it is what they did this year. Your season matters and when you honor the season you find yourself in, things feel more peaceful. They could have spent the whole season spanking baby hands or grieving over broken family mementos. But they choose to respect the season their family was in.
When you have a new baby, managing your life is entirely different from when you have a couple of teens. When we simplify how we decorate our home, what is on our to-do list and calendar according to the season we find ourselves in, we will be happier and less overwhelmed. We will feel more peace and manage everything better.
This year why not take a careful and honest look at how you are handling the four S’s in your life. With a few simple adjustments, you may have a more peaceful and successful year.
We could all use this reminder. Why not share with another parent?
Two years ago was my 50th high school reunion. I didn’t go. Our family was moving into a new home. The reunion was in Greeley, Colorado, a whole different state. I only went to Greeley West High School for my senior year, and I never really connected. I had friends and was involved on the school radio, worked on the yearbook, did a couple of plays, etc. I was involved but hovered in the background. Just my face in the yearbook.
I was voted “most typical girl”. I was anything but typical. I was religious, which most of my friends admired but weren’t. I was not fond of dating, and the girls in my group were homecoming queens and cheerleaders. I didn’t drink or smoke or cruse. I read a lot. My friends thought I was a bit of a geek. I didn’t feel popular in the typical sense of the word, but I was popular. I knew everyone, and they knew me. I was well-liked.
Nevertheless, I didn’t feel connected to the school or the people. That Fall, I went off to college, and true to my family’s style, they moved to Wyoming a year later. I never saw any of those school friends again. It was before computers and social media, so the tie was severed.
This summer, I received an email with the link to a video made to celebrate our 50th reunion, two years late. They had some technical difficulties during the class reunion and had to begin again from scratch. I was interested in watching to remind myself what it was like fifty years ago and to see how my friends had aged. Most of the video was of newspaper clippings, music, and events that defined 1968. There were no clips from the actual reunion. Then, close to the end, I began to see photographs of the young people I went to school with. I recognized them all: the cheerleaders, the prom queen, football players, my friends. The photos came from the newspaper and yearbook. But I hadn’t been featured in photographs of groups or activities in the school newspaper and had very few pictures in the yearbook.
As I watched, a feeling of nostalgia come over me. Not for the time itself. I wasn’t fond of the ’60s. Not for the people because we hadn’t been lasting friends. Just school mates. But I felt a desperate need to see myself as part of that time and those people. I needed a closure I hadn’t even been aware of. I knew the chance was next to nothing, but I needed to see myself there, to feel a connection to my youth and my Senior year.
I said a prayer in my heart. “Please, Heavenly Father, I need to see myself. Let me be in a picture in this video.” I knew it was silly. This video had been made over a two-year period. How could saying a prayer now make a bit of difference?
Then it happened. Probably the only other photo of me besides my yearbook photo flashed on the screen. I had forgotten this photo even existed. It was on my graduation day. There I was in the center of a picture of the graduating class. I had to replay it a few times to convince myself that it was me. I hadn’t seen that photo in over fifty years.
How does something like this happen? How does God know in advance what we are going to desperately need in the future? I don’t know, but I know he does. I know he loves me, and he knew I needed closure to that time in my life.
Writing these months later still brings tears to my eyes. I know that no matter our difficulty or genuine need, the resources, people, and help will show up if we ask for it. I have experienced this over and over in my life. I was a mom making lots of mistakes. I faced hardships and trials I was ill-prepared to handle. But, over time, as I asked and searched, and stayed the course, what I needed came. I learned, changed, and grew. You can too.
On a mature dating site commercial, a giddy woman said, “It’s just like being back in high school.” YIKES! I liked high school. It turned out okay. In my yearbook, I’m listed as “The most typical girl”. But I wouldn’t want to go back!
When I got married, I was happy. Our children were born; we loved them and learned a lot of things. Some of it was great and some was hard, but all in all, it evened out and we had fun. I was happy. But I wouldn’t go back!
There isn’t a single point in my past life that I would willingly return to. You know why? Because today I’m a better person. I know more. I’ve learned to value now what I couldn’t value when I was younger. This is the natural course of life; with experience comes wisdom.
Relationships are valuable
Last week I mentioned one of the pivotal moments in my life, playing Emily Gibbs in the play Our Town, when I was sixteen. It was pivotal because Emily learned the hard way that going back isn’t always good. Going back showed her that often we can’t “see” one another because we’re too busy doing all the things that we think matter – laundry, cooking, education, church duties, work, making money, changing the world. Emily understands for the first time that all that matters are the relationships we have.
When I’m making a big decision, I ask myself, “How will this affect my ability to nurture my current relationships?” I recently asked that question as I considered some important life choices, and I ultimately made different decisions than I might otherwise have made.
That’s the great perk of aging. We have a clearer perspective on what really matters. That’s why grandparents can be so great. That’s why they have so much fun with grandchildren. It isn’t really because we don’t have to discipline or manage our grandchildren. It’s because we truly want a relationship with them. We like them. We “see” them.
Maybe it’s because the sand is running out of our hourglass faster and faster. We’re aware that we don’t have all the time in the world. We just have now, today. That’s all. It’s all anyone has. We can fill it with “busy” or we can simplify and make room forrelationships. It’s a choice!
Tips to Make Room for Relationships
Simplify your calendar.
Simplify your activities.
Stay home more.
Read as a family.
Turn off all the electronics and play a game.
Fold laundry together.
Talk and listen.
Let stress go.
Ask yourself, “What could I let go of today to have more room for what matters most?”
One day you’ll be older. Your kids will be older. You won’t care how clean your house was, how spectacular your yard, if you homeschooled or public schooled. You won’t value the amount of money you made, how often you went to Disneyland, if your kids got a new bike every year or what college they got in to. You won’t care if they were carpenters or lawyers. You won’t care if you impacted thousands of people. What you will think about more than anything else is the condition of your relationships. That, my friends, is what you’re going to treasure most. Take time now to make them sweet.
I came from a family of complainers. I can still hear my grandmother complaining to my grandfather about all kinds of things. I can hear my aunts and their complaints. After all, we used to hide under the kitchen table, which had a cloth that reached to the floor and listen in on their private conversations. I, in turn, became a complainer. When I listen to my sisters and cousins, I hear the echoes of those long dead and their complaints. It’s a family tradition, of sorts.
I recently visited with a friend who spent a great deal of time putting herself down. After each remark, she would laugh as if it was a joke. But here’s what I know, we mean what we say even if we try to pass it off as a joke. What comes out of our mouths is an indicator of our inner belief.
I know a man who has difficulty walking. When he’s going anywhere, you can hear him say, “I always find the perfect parking spot.” It amazes me how often he does find the perfect spot. He expects good and often that’s exactly what he gets.
When we talk about preparing our kids for the real world we often think in terms of how well they manage their private space (bedroom), how able they are to stay clean and care for their belongings, if they stay on task and get homework done or other chores, and how well they make, save, and spend money.
It’s useful to think about our way of being and what we may be passing along to our children.
Do we manage our stories about ourselves and others? Do we look for the bright side in tough situations? Are we grateful even when we must forego or wait for something we want? Do we complain? Do we problem-solve well? What about our personal boundaries or our own self-management?
We don’t do this inventory so that we can beat ourselves up over our weaknesses. We do it because as we work on our weaknesses and improve our way of being, we pass along one of the most important things we can give our children. We show by example that they are 100% responsible for how their life looks and feels. We show them by example that they can change; they can improve and when they do everything else improves.
As parents, one of the greatest gifts we can pass on to our children is being someone they can learn from and be inspired by. We can bequeath them power over self.
Taking an inventory of our way of being is useful because it will help us improve ourselves. As we make changes, we teach our children that change is possible and necessary. We pass along life skills that make for a more pleasant and successful life.
Ask the important question – What do I want to bequeath to my children?
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Last weekI shared two stories about how our perception of what is happening fuels our response; that paying attention to our thoughts and the stories and emotions they generate is important when parenting and is a skill which can be learned and practiced.
Yeah right!! There was a time when I didn’t believe that I could control how I felt let alone that it was a skill which could be learned. Many of you may also have a difficult time accepting that you can control how you feel and respond.
CAN CONTROLLING YOUR STORY MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
I was a reasonable person, and I lived a good life but, darn it, stuff was always happening. I mean, if the kids are acting crazy, it’s going to make you feel crazy. If milk keeps getting spilled, if the house is getting trashed, and if grades are down, you feel down yourself. When money’s tight or your spouse isn’t helping you out, you feel overwhelmed. If you feel unsupported or if you have a health issue, all of this is going to mess with how you feel and respond, right?
Back then I knew the answer was a big fat yes! But time and experience have proven to me that you can control how you feel by taking control of the stories you tell yourself.
THOUGHTS CREATE OUR STORIES
Perspective is an amazing thing. It is, simply put, the story we tell ourselves: what we think is happening or has happened. It all begins with a thought. Once we have a thought, if we hold it in our minds, it becomes a story because our brain does its job and goes to the files and finds evidence that our thought is correct. This process takes fractions of seconds and this scenario repeats itself hundreds of times each day.
You change your story by controlling your thoughts. You manage your emotions by controlling your story. When you do this, you take more positive actions and you get better results. It is a skill and the more you practice it the better you get!
TIPS FOR HAVING BETTER STORIES
TIP 1—Take responsibility and stop blaming
When we choose to tell ourselves stories that blame others, we decide to become victims. Victims parent poorly. I hear parents blame their kids all the time for how they’re feeling.
• You make me so mad.
• You have ruined my day.
• I can’t think straight because you’re so noisy.
• I wouldn’t be yelling if you would listen.
Blame is always an indicator there’s a problem with our way of being or how we perceive what’s happening.
TIP 2—Decide to think the best of others
A father expected his 16-year-old daughter home at a certain time but she was late, very late! He began writing a mental story. He imagined all sorts of scenarios for why she was late. She lacked respect for family rules. She was thoughtless. She was irresponsible. The later she was, the bigger the story grew and the angrier he became. As she opened the door, he exploded with, “You’re late! You know the rules, and you broke your promise. You’re grounded, young lady.” Of course, his daughter ran to her room crying.
To let you in on the facts, the girl’s date had taken her to a drinking party after the movie. When she asked him to take her home, he refused. She had tried to call home, but the line was busy. So she called a friend who got off work at midnight and came and got her. In the meantime, she sat on the curb in the dark because the party was out of control and not safe.
The father’s story was at the heart of the problem, not his daughter’s lateness. When we decide to think the best of others, we can manage our thoughts and the resulting stories more effectively.
TIP 3—Choose words wisely
“What’s in you is what comes out.” It’s true! Pay attention to the words you say in frustration, sorrow, and anger; you’ll get a good idea of what you’re holding onto in your subconscious mind.
Our words reveal what we truly feel. The words that we allow to come out of our mouths are what ultimately drive feelings and the resultant actions and bring the results we live with daily.
Watch the words you use when thinking or speaking about your children and teens:
• Childlike vs. naughty
• Young vs. clumsy
• Needs more direction vs. oppositional
• Tired vs. grumpy
• Preoccupied vs. lazy
• Angry vs. rebellious
• Being a kid vs. messy
• Wants my presence vs. needy
• Has a need vs. is pushing my buttons
TIP 4—Check your core beliefs
We can get an idea of the beliefs we’ve formed growing up by paying attention to the stories we tell ourselves over and over again and by listening to the words coming out of our mouths. These beliefs may not be supportive or helpful in having good relationships with others or in our ability to be Present and parent well. Once we’ve found a core belief which is not helpful, we can get rid of it by rewriting the story.
TIP 5—Track your thoughts
Because thoughts are powerful, we need to gain control over them in order to stop getting more of what we don’t want. Once you’re aware of a negative thought, you need to capture it—write it down. You might be thinking it’s crazy to write down negative stuff, but I’ve lived this, and I know it works! So pay attention to your negative thoughts and write them down. Look for patterns, unsupportive and destructive stories and repeating themes. You can shred or burn your daily list periodically. Take control!
TIP 6—Teach others what you’ve learned
Teaching others what we’re learning and experiencing is a powerful tool that helps us make even greater changes. As we teach others, we clarify for ourselves. If we teach what we learn to our family, we’ll be heartened as we see them making changes also, and our whole family will be blessed.
TIP 7—Keep practicing
Keep working at controlling your thoughts. This is something you need to do daily. There isn’t a point when you’re so good at it that you can stop working on it
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.