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Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category

Making Life Dreams Come True for Both You and Your Loved Ones

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

My son will be starting high school next year and he must select an area of emphasis to guide him in course selection, such as Law Enforcement or Science and Technology.   His initial reaction was to choose a path that matched his aptitude, not necessarily his passion.

This has generated plenty of discussion around the dinner table.  My husband and I shared how neither one of us followed our intuition or passion and initially wound up in unfulfilling jobs.

One of my favorite authors, Wayne Dyer, often says “Don’t die with your music still inside you.”.  In his latest book I Can See Clearly Now, he details the twists and turns his life took and how he always followed his intuition and passion to create a life of purpose and fulfillment.

We all have music inside us and we all have dreams.  Careers should be full of passion, not just paychecks.  But passions also arise in many other areas, such as travel, adventures, sports, creative outlets . . . there is no limit when it comes to passion and dreams.  These are not just bucket-list items to be checked off, but things we feel called to do in our lifetime.

As I reflected on how I arrived in a career that I love, I felt a debt of gratitude for my husband.  He has supported me along the way in more ways that I can count.  And I have done the same for him.

In Gottman Method Couples Therapy, making life dreams come true is at the top of the Sound Relationship House because it is one of the necessary ingredients inSound house relationships that work.  In fact, Gottman believes it is the most important thing.

Initially I was surprised by this statement, but as I now reflect on it, I can see from personal experience that when partners support each others dreams it generates many positive feelings.  We feel heard and supported in our relationship, cherished by our partner and happier in our life.  And I believe the same is true for our children too.

My son’s music is just now emerging, literally.  While he may have an aptitude for math, his passion is creating music.  The teen years are full of inspiration and dreams, and how he navigates his adolescence will have a tremendous impact on the rest of his life.  Helping him to feel safe to explore his dreams and to feel the supported is one of the best gifts I can give him.

It’s my way of paying it forward.

 

 

 

Rituals of Connection Strengthen Relationships

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

Sound houseThanksgiving is upon us and that warms my heart.  Over the past 20 years my husband and I have unwittingly developed  rituals around this day of gratitude.  We honor his family tradition of tamales and football and my love of Brussels sprouts and my friend Mary, who has spent 18 of the last 20 Thanksgivings with us.  When any of these things are missing from our day, it simply doesn’t feel right.

And that is how rituals go.  They are routines that create shared meaning in relationships and strengthen emotional connections.  Notice that Creating Shared Meaning is at the top of the Sound Relationship House, the model we use in Gottman Method Couples Therapy.  Rituals are important in relationships because we look forward to them  . . . they symbolize who we are as a couple or as a family.  They have the power to smooth over rough spots and transitions that we all naturally experience over the course of time.

We tend to think of rituals on holidays, especially ones that honor cultural heritage, faith or family values.  But rituals on a smaller scale are equally important.  How couple and families routinely come together creates a sense of belonging.  Rituals demonstrate that we take time out of our busy schedules to make one another a priority.

Here are some examples of rituals from my own family, as well as ones I have heard from other couples and families:

  • Six second kiss when you wake up, when you say goodnight, and when you come and go
  • Family dinnertime where everyone talks about their day
  • Walking the dog every evening
  • Making a cheesecake for your partner on their birthday because it is their favorite dessert
  • Going for pancakes every Saturday morning
  • Weekly date night
  • Returning to your honeymoon destination every year on your anniversary
  • Leaving love notes by the coffee maker for your partner to find every morning
  • Training for a distance bike ride together
  • Watching a favorite TV show together
  • How you approach your partner for sex
  • Family game night
  • Going to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve
  • Snuggling for 10 minutes every morning after the alarm goes off
  • Parents and kids volunteering once per month at an animal shelter
  • Planting a vegetable garden every year
  • And my son’s favorite . . . serving his “lucky” foods (Starbucks Caramel Frappuccino and shrimp cocktail) before he plays a football game

Rituals create positive memories and are like glue in relationships . . . they keep you connected. What are the rituals in your relationships?

 

 

 

7 Ways to Stay Connected to Your Teenager

Monday, October 14th, 2013

IMG_0715My son has always had a good balance of being stuck to us like glue and being fiercely independent.  He was the kid who could easily leave us for a week long camp and also the kid who wanted to climb in bed with us, not because he was afraid but because he wanted to be close.

Now that he’s a teen the same balance still exists, it just looks different.  Staying connected is not as hard as some may think, but it does require a shift in parenting.

To Stay Connected with Your Teen:

1.  Go with the flow and change your parenting style as your teen develops.  It is during this critical time that parents need to shift from managing their child’s every move to being their consultant.  Micromanaging your teen will create emotional distance in the relationship, not to mention some rebellion.  The developmental task of the teen years is to become increasingly more independent and parents need to facilitate this process.  Our job is to be their coach, guiding them through their emotional and social development, without trying to do it for them.

2.  Get to know their friends.  Make your home a welcome environment for your teen and their friends.  Offer to be the chauffeur.  You will learn a lot about your teen by observing how they interact with their friends, and from that you can generate some great conversations.  A word of caution about interacting with their friends online . . . . if you have a presence on their social media sites, simply read and DO NOT comment.  Your teen will think this is a boundary violation and quickly unfriend you.

3.  When your teen comes to you with an issue, be sure to listen to what they are saying and validate their feelings before jumping to advice giving.  They may just need a sympathetic ear.  Trying to solve their problem can send the message that they aren’t capable of solving them on their own.  Try asking “What do you want to do about that?” and then generate discussion from there.

4.  Develop rituals of connection with your teen.  Try to find activities that you and your teen can share, such as walking the dog together, baking cookies, going to Starbucks, watching a favorite show or playing catch.  You may need to be flexible and join in activities your teen likes, but it is important to come together a little bit each day.  Be sure to keep these rituals positive so both you and your teen come to value the time together.

5.  Take advantage of times your teen may be more open to talk.  Circadian rhythms change in the teen years and you will find that your teen is wide awake in the late evening and may be more willing to open up.  Hang out in the kitchen once in a while (even if it is past your bedtime), knowing your teen will wander there for a snack, and share a bowl of popcorn or polish off the rest of the pie together.  Being available to them when they are ready to talk is half the battle.

6.  Be conscientious of how you say Hello and Good-bye.  Setting a positive tone with separations and reunions conveys your desire for connection with your teen.  Be sure to say Good Morning when they wake up.  Before they leave for school find out what is happening in their day and give them a hug before they go.  When they return home greet them with a smile and talk about what happened during their day. Barking out orders as soon as they walk in the door is harsh, so avoid saying things like “Take the trash out” or “Put your bike away” before you’ve had a chance to positively connect.

7.  When your teen is moody, don’t take it personally.  Understand that everything seems like a big deal to them  They are dealing with cheerleading tryouts, chemistry tests, dating and many other pressures.  They are still not adept at managing their confusing feelings so their emotions ooze (or explode) out.  Being in the line of fire is equally confusing for a parent, but don’t match their mood and tone.  When your teen is emotionally flooded, give them some time and space to calm down and then address it with them.  Validate their feelings and tell them it is OK to feel whatever they are feeling but at the same time set a limit on them being disrespectful to you.

While your teen may drive you crazy at times, having a positive connection with them with help them feel more safe and secure as they move towards adulthood.  And best of all it will be filled with mutual respect for one another.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks and Giving

Sunday, November 25th, 2012

A few years ago on a warm Thanksgiving morning (yes, this is Texas) my family and I were walking our dogs before getting down to the serious business of smoking a turkey and watching football.

As we approached our house my husband found a dollar bill at the edge of our lawn.  He stooped to pick it up and my sister called out “I found another one . . . and another . . .  and another!”  Excitedly we combed the cul-de-sac, finding 17 dollar bills sprinkled on the street.

I thought maybe a neighbor went to the grocery store for a last minute item and accidentally dropped the money.  Neighbor after neighbor denied this theory.  This was turning into quite a mystery on our quiet cul-de-sac.  I began to suspect the money was left intentionally.

An Act of Kindness

Black Friday rolled around and my sister, friend and I made our annual pilgrimage to the mall.  After a few hours of battling the crowd we headed to our favorite watering hole for a bite to eat and a cocktail.  Without a reservation we had to sit at the bar.   No problem.  Visiting this establishment had become part of our annual ritual of connection.  After the second bite into our burgers the bartender directed us to slide us down a few seats to make room for another party.   Her abruptness irritated us.

The new party saddled up to the bar while we noshed and sipped, recovering quickly from our game of musical chairs.  When we got the check, the man in the party that displaced us called out that he appreciated what we did and was picking up our tab.  Instantly we felt guilty for our irritation and gave thanks for his generosity.  After chatting for a few minutes he simply asked that we do something nice for someone in return.

Giving Feels Good

Paying it forward is an age old concept where the beneficiary of a good deed pays it back to someone other than the original benefactor. And it feels oh-so-good to give. When we are generous, we are more aware of the good in our lives.   We develop compassion for others. Acts of kindness make us feel more connected to others.

Several years ago Oprah had a Pay It Forward challenge where she gave audience members $1000 and a camcorder to capture their good deeds.  Their acts of generosity were incredibly touching.  The givers talked about how it changed them, not the receiver.

Catherine Ryan Hyde wrote a novel that was turned in to the feel-good movie Pay It Forward, starring Haley Joel Osment and Kevin Spacey.  Spacey, a teacher of 11 year old Osment, instructs the class to come up with an idea that would change the world.  Osment’s character comes up with the idea that for every good deed bestowed upon you, do three good deeds for someone else that they could not accomplish  themselves.

Indeed that sort of generosity would change the world.

Money was serendipitously thrown at me in all directions on the holiday of Thanks and Giving.  I was charged with how to pay it forward.  My son and I decided to give dollar bills away, in the same fashion we found them.  By carefully placing them in locations where people would surely find them (napkin dispensers at restaurants, toilet paper rolls in restrooms), we had great fun imagining the surprise on their faces when they discovered their bounty.

It was a great start to the holiday season.

 

 

Fostering Independence in Your Adolescent

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

My husband and I are approaching our son’s budding adolescence in very different ways.

He really misses the days when our only child wanted to be with us, curled up with us on the couch watching TV.  He is melancholy about not being numero uno in his life and being ousted from that spot by a best friend.  Our child’s moods and changing interests have caught my husband off guard.  He wasn’t prepared for his own emotional roller coaster during this tumultuous time.

I, on the other hand, am not getting caught up in nostalgia.

While I loved all of those  things, I am loving the independence and growth our 12 year old is experiencing.  Maybe it’s because I clearly remember the exhilaration of being 12 and exploring the world, well, at least my little piece of the world.

Back in the dark ages we had much more freedom than kids today.  I remember the thrill of riding the bus into town by myself and being able to go into the department store all alone.  Riding my bike meant travelling all over and  doing crazy stunts and sometimes not coming home until after dark.   I could cook an entire meal without scalding myself or burning the house down and it made me feel very grown up.  My best friend was my constant companion and the crush I had on a boy named Jimmy was all-consuming.  Yep, 12 was pretty darn exciting.

What I don’t remember about being 12 was feeling incompetent or being criticized by my parents for my 12 year old-ness.  I’m quite certain I wasn’t as savvy as my memory recalls.  Truth is, I probably was quite nervous when I first rode the bus, ran home in the dark or cooked a meal for the first time.

I am forever grateful that my parents appreciated my independence rather than trying to keep me more child-like.  This wasn’t necessarily a well thought out  parenting strategy on their part.  They both worked and it was just assumed that the kids would step up to the plate.  It’s now different than in the dark ages, but I still want to impart a feeling of competence and acceptance in my child’s development.

Children always let us know one way or another that they are ready to take a leap in development, either with their words or behaviors.

It shows they are learning to reason and think independently. It is important for parents to realize that forbidding freedoms they are requesting makes them all the more appealing.  Keeping an open line of communication is my preference for handling these issues.  Because I don’t want to learn of behaviors ex post facto, I have worked hard at making it safe for my son to tell me what is going on in his world.  Reactivity and always saying no to their requests is a sure ticket to acting out, rebellious behavior committed on the sly.

My strategy is simple and involves only two words, “Yes, but . . . . “.

A few months ago he came home from school and asked me if he could have a girlfriend.  Ok, I have to admit my first reaction was a vision of some scantily clad tramp being very  inappropriate with my sweet boy, but I quickly snapped back to reality.  His nervousness in telling me was priceless.  He was reaching out for a little guidance and if I said anything remotely negative I would be closing the door on advice giving, forever.  If I said “no, you are too young” he would probably just seek advice from his friends and hide his girlfriend from me.  So I said “yes, but” and defined the limits of what a girlfriend means at this age.

We have had a million “yes, but” moments in the last few months.  Mom, can you leave my room now?    Can I go to Wendy’s for a Frosty?   Can I stay out a little longer?  These are terrific opportunities to allow for growth yet set appropriate boundaries.

Don’t get me wrong, we still say no too.  Safety is never a time to compromise, but don’t confuse normal, age appropriate risk with unsafe situations.  Our job as parents is to raise independent kids.  Of course they will make some mistakes, but if they are small, don’t worry.  On the other hand, what seems like a great idea to an adventurous 12 year old may make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.  The key is to not belittle them in the process of setting a firm limit.

I understand my husband’s feelings.  This is the age where we start to let go a bit and we move into unfamiliar territory.  It is bittersweet.  If we have done a good job of instilling values and have worked on keeping communication safe and open, letting go really means keeping them close by. The relationship between parent and child can blossom into one of mutual respect.

 

Sexting . . . is it the new flirting??

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

The word of the week for me seems to be sexting . . . you know, sending sexually explicit material from one cell phone to another.

For consenting adults, sexting is not necessarily a big issue.  Unless of course the photos are saved and used against a partner in a divorce or custody battle.  Or if the person you sent it to seems to  thinks that social media is a better venue for your picture.   This is known as sextcasting and is humiliating, to say the least.

My 12 year old now has a cell phone and like all children his age with a phone, texting is the preferred communication form.  And yes, his phone, like most phones, has the capability of sending pictures.  So this morning over our morning oatmeal I found myself having a conversation with him that I could not ever imagine having with my own parents at his age.  We talked about sexting, what it is and the ramifications of doing it.  It never ceases to amaze me how me what we have to tell our young children these days.  Sigh.  But it is far better to arm them with information so they don’t seek it elsewhere or get themselves into trouble for lack of it.

Sexting is quite popular with the young crowd.  Taking nude photos and sending them to a love interest is the new flirting.  Young people aren’t savvy enough to understand that the receiver of their photos may not be completely trustworthy, and in fact, might find great pleasure in forwarding those pictures.  Texts spread like wildfire and end up on social network sites.  The problem is (well, clearly there are many problems) that this is considered child pornography.  It is not unheard of for children to get in trouble with the law (exploitation, harassment, felony, registering as a sex  offender) for sending and forwarding nude pictures.  Add pornography to that list of uncomfortable conversations over morning oatmeal.

The emotional pain and legal consequences of sending sexually explicit photos over a cell phone or the internet are not what adolescents are thinking about when they engage in this behavior.  When parents make the decision to get their child a cell phone or a social media account they must leave no stone unturned on the rules of usage.  ALL children have a curiosity about sex, even good kids.  ALL children want approval from their peers.  ALL children are naïve.  ALL children make dumb mistakes.   But sexting and sextcasting are symptoms of a bigger issue – kids don’t view sex in the same way their parents do.  This generation has a much broader view of what is considered acceptable sexual behavior.  It is up to parents to communicate very clearly and stay one step ahead of their tech-savvy kids.

So the next time you have a moment alone with your child, whether over oatmeal or driving down the highway, take that opportunity for a little education on some timely topics. It’s a changing world and we must keep up with the times.

 

 

 


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