Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Love Thy Neighbor: Teaching the Golden Rule to Your Children

We all heard it growing up, didn’t we? “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” It’s the Golden Rule, one of the central commands offered up in the Jewish tradition and again reiterated by Jesus. “Love they neighbor as thyself.” So how do we teach the golden rule to our children? How do we instruct them in the skills necessary to have successful relationships?

If you’re anything like me, sibling rivalry ranks right up there with filing your taxes. There is nothing that can get me as easily riled up as watching my kids fight, pick on each other, or tear one another down. So naturally, learning the Golden Rule in the context of family is the first place to start. It also happens to be the hardest, but if we all (and I intentionally include us as parents in this)…if we can ALL learn how to love others as we love ourselves within our families, then we’ll more easily transfer those skills outside the family.

The Apostle Paul, a follower of Jesus, elaborated on the Golden Rule by showing us what love looks like.  In First Corinthians 13, a rather famous passage that is read at many weddings, he talks about love being patient, kind, not easily provoked, etc. I want to look at three specific descriptions of love that we would do well to teach our children.

Love Does Not Brag “My science fair project is the best.” “I got a 100 on my math test. What did you get?” “Look at my new shoes. They cost $125.” Over and over, we hear the comparison game, which is merely an attempt to feel valued, important, or special. At times, it can feel like life is one constant competition to see who can make it to the top first…or most often. The unfortunate reality, though, is that bragging damages relationships. In an attempt to elevate self, someone else is devalued, made to feel less than, disregarded. 

Instead, let’s teach our kids the importance of valuing others and their own unique contributions, talents, and abilities. Going back to the Golden Rule, we can start the conversation with our kids, “How do you want to be treated when you turn in your science fair project?” Invariably they will tell us that they want others to notice it, to point out how hard they worked on it, to appreciate the good things about it. If that’s so, then encourage them to start to notice other’s accomplishments. Hand out genuine compliments and seek to encourage others for what they’ve achieved.  Here’s the clincher, though.  Don’t wait around for the return compliment.  We’ve all done it, haven’t we? We’ve uttered “You look really nice today” hoping that we'd hear the same. Ugh! That’s not genuine! Here’s the magic that inevitably comes from being a person who does not brag but notices the good in others: people like you! Rather than vying to be top dog, which tends to push people away, people are drawn to us when they feel valued by us.

Love Is Not Jealous Interestingly, jealousy is, in many ways, the opposite of bragging. Rather than trying to be the top dog, we are angry and resentful of the one who is. When we see someone who’s better at something than we are or who possesses something that we want, then we have a tendency to be jealous…and maybe even wish that they no longer had it!

So how do we help our kids with this aspect of the Golden Rule? It starts with growing gratitude.  And one of the beautiful byproducts of a thankful heart is contentment. It’s much more difficult to be jealous of another when we are content within ourselves. Jealousy loses its sting in the midst of gratefulness. Most of us excel at practicing gratitude in the month of November, but it is a muscle that needs to be developed year round. In fact, studies have shown that kids who keep gratitude journals are better students and happier overall. So why not have individual gratitude journals for each of your kids or a corporate one for your family?  Have it sitting in the kitchen, with a pen handy, for everyone to record the things they’re grateful for: green grass, Cherry Coke, the swing set, a baby’s belly laugh, a safe trip to see family, dryer sheets. For smaller kids, have them draw their gratitude list and you can label their pictures. As you practice gratitude, watch for contentment and joy to increase and the green-eyed monster to decrease.

Love is Kind My parents were masters at teaching my sister and me practical applications of the Golden Rule. For instance, when I was about six, the four of us (Mom, Dad, Jennifer, and I) exchanged names and then “practiced kindness” by doing something encouraging: a lipstick message on the bathroom mirror saying, “You rock!”  or whipping up a special treat for the other person. It was a fun and creative way to show each other how much we cared.

So as you ponder how to teach your children the Golden Rule, look for creative opportunities to give them a chance to practice it, and then encourage, encourage, and encourage them some more when you see them living it out!

Monday, February 18, 2013

After We Put the Kids to Bed, How About...

So it’s been a long day, perhaps even a long week. You’ve dealt with the stressors that come from working, juggling schedules, meeting deadlines and figuring out when and what to eat. You’ve enjoyed reconnecting with your kids, but you are also looking forward to tucking them in and kissing them goodnight. Maybe you have plans to catch up on some reading, watch the game or take a nice, hot bath. You deserve it, right? Absolutely. The whole idea of putting your own oxygen mask on first is one of the keys to being ScreamFree, after all. But let me throw something at you. What if you took some of that down time and had a date with your spouse?

The idea of dating is often accompanied by serious planning, especially if you have young kids. It can be such an arduous task that we can be guilty of exclaiming the phrase, “Why bother?” Well, dating is important. It is how you connect with the one in which you share those parental duties. Without an active and lively dating relationship, intimacy ofttimes escapes couples. Let’s face it, the whole “ships passing in the night” thing isn’t what anyone wants.

There is an option that is totally within your power to execute whenever you get ready and it’s without the expense and hassle of finding a babysitter. I am talking about having a date with your spouse in the comfort of your own home, after you put the kids to bed. I’m not talking about anything extravagant, but something that helps the two of you focus upon one another and rekindle the fire of connection.

Here are some ideas that may get your creative juices flowing:

1.  A Dessert Date. This was actually an activity that my wife and I began doing a few months ago. I sent her an invitation via email earlier in the day and asked her to meet me in our bedroom that night for a dessert date. I have no idea if she thought I literally meant “dessert,” but she accepted anyway. So over Haagen Daz Butter Pecan Ice Cream and cake we simply talked about things that were on our hearts - any and everything that came to mind; everything but...the kids.

2.  I’ll Show You Mine, You Show Me Yours. Before you go there, this idea is a spin on the classic “Let’s watch a movie together.” The aim here is to reveal part of yourself to your partner through the movie that you choose. Consider showing them one of your favorite movies and in kind you agree to watch one of their’s the next time around. You can choose a movie that reveals part of your personality that you don’t feel they really know. Whenever I want my wife to know how smooth and debonaire I really am, I choose a James Bond movie. I don’t know if she’s picking up on that one just yet.

3.  Take Me to the Spa. What if you played massage therapist for the night for your partner? I’m talking about going all out, the ambient music, the lavender scented oil, the candles, everything. Sure, there isn’t much talking going on, but there can still be plenty of connection...through touch.

4.  20 Questions. With this, each spouse comes up with ten questions that you want to ask the other. There is nothing off limits here. The only rule is that you have to be truly authentic in answering. You will have the freedom to inquire about some of the things you may have been holding back on asking. This is another chance for you to be authentic with your spouse through your answers. Remember, when authenticity becomes mutual, intimacy becomes a reality.

This list is obviously not exhaustive, but hopefully it gets you on your way. The power to reconnect is within your own hand. Take that step and ask your spouse to join you. You just might be surprised what you might find when you set aside regular time to just have a date, even with the kids down the hall.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Home Alone! Ideas for Empty Nesters to Spice Up Marriage

Your last kiddo is gone out into the world, and suddenly, it’s you, your spouse, and crickets. Now before you let your heart strings start playing a sad violin melody, you should embrace the fact that this isn’t the end—it’s the beginning of an exciting new chapter in your life—and in your married life. As a couple with children, you probably had a pretty scheduled routine that revolved chiefly around your kids. First thing after the last child has departed, you and your spouse should stop, take a moment, and give each other an emphatic high five. Do it. You birthed, raised, and launched a person into the world, and first order of business is to celebrate the moment together. Pop some champagne, turn up some music, raise the roof or engage in your own skilled cabbage-patch celebratory dance, because not only have you earned it, but more importantly—your kids aren’t there to make fun of your dance moves! (Wow, what ELSE can you do without your kids around? More on that in a moment.) I think by choosing to celebrate the moment your nest is empty, you’re setting the tone for the next chapter on a great note.

So…now what? Once the nest is emptied, it’s a huge rupture in the routine you’ve become accustomed to. It’s a time to redefine your roles and redistribute your freed up time, which presents a huge opportunity for you and your spouse to begin growing with your relationship in new ways. I say "growing your relationship" in a new way, rather than “rediscovering your love," because that latter phrase implies your love is a fixed and unchanging “thing” that has been lost or hidden somewhere--and what's required is for you to start at square one. There is no "lost love" here, and there is no going backwards to find it. What you have is a lifelong union, forged with the strength of shared joys, hardships, and hopes. And it is a union now afforded the opportunity to capitalize on your newfound free time and spice things up! Here are just a few ways:

Savor the Silence
Appreciate the quiet and the calm. Your house will inevitably have plenty of noise in it down the road. This is the moment to enjoy the peace and quiet together. Turn off the TV, and read a book together with the windows open. Save up some freed up cash from the lessened grocery list and splurge on an at-home couples massage. Put on some music—old tunes you love, or discover new music together. Light some candles, and dance in the living room. Start practicing yoga in the mornings together.

Travel, travel, travel. Whether you can afford trips around the world, or trips around the county, it's all good. You’ll learn new things about the world, yourselves, and each other. Nothing will shake things up better than foreign territory: it’s an invitation for the unexpected, and sets the stage for new memories and adventures which are what give dimension, color and flavor to your love. Your marriage will benefit if you allow yourselves to try new things and embrace the amazing possibilities that come from stepping out of your comfort zone.

Your home is different now—it’s you and your spouse’s space now, and your sanctuary as a couple. You may still wish to keep your kids’ rooms for when they return to visit, but open your mind to streamlining things rather than keeping them as living shrines. Keep token keepsakes and mementos, but think about upgrading the room with new d├ęcor to make it more guest-room friendly, or convert a room to working space for new hobbies. Add unexpected spice: think about upgrading your bed, or even your bed spreads and sheets—who knows what new things new linens could invite? Get your DIY on and work on projects as a couple.

Do Those Things You Couldn’t Do With The Kids
Some may be seemingly trivial, and others are bold ways to get intimate with your new space. But here’s a running list of some things you should try—they’ll undoubtedly invite some major fun, excitement, and spice into your marriage.
  • Turn up your own music as loud as you want for a change.
  • Have a wine tasting, either at home, or out on the town with a driver.
  • Bust out the twister board…but this time, make things interesting. Shed some clothing. Kiss…and whatever else…on the living room floor without the threat of someone walking in!
  • In fact, experiment with turning all previously PG-rated fun into a game of clothing-stakes.  
  • Pick up hobbies together: try golfing with your husband here and there; go treasure hunting at the flea market with your wife.
  • Throw parties, game nights, or low-key group gatherings with friends. You’ll find you have more quality time to spend with them, and fun time spent with close friends will grow your friendship with your spouse too.
  • Stay in bed longer than usual in the morning: read the paper, watch a documentary, enjoy the solitude of being together in bed with early daylight flooding in and not being needed elsewhere.
  • On the same note, try having breakfast in bed.
  • Make a bucket list, check it off at your leisure. You only have to worry about each others’ schedules.
  • Watch the sunrise; watch the sunset—either way, relish the blessing that life has brought you far enough to this point that you can stop and be still enough to behold and share those little miracles together.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

12 Unique Valentine’s Dates

Next week we celebrate a holiday that makes Hallmark smile and many people cringe:  Valentine’s Day.  So many emotions are tied up into that one day, so here’s a quick quiz to see which category you fall into:

What’s your view of Valentine’s Day?

a.       It’s a great excuse to have a romantic date with the one I love.

b.      It’s a slick marketing trick by the flower, chocolate, and card industry.

c.       It’s another opportunity for my expectations to be dashed when my loved one doesn’t deliver.

d.      It’s just another day.

No matter what your perspective on Valentine’s Day, we can all agree that whether it’s a semi-national holiday, an anniversary, or “just another date,” sometimes we get stuck in a romantic rut when it comes to dating creatively.  Either we fall into the same routine (dinner and a movie, dinner and a movie, dinner and a movie) or we skip dating all together because we’re too tired (or broke) to come up with something new. So whether you are a hopeless romantic and can’t wait to go out next Thursday or you are rebelliously avoiding Thursday like the plague, here are some suggestions for changing (and spicing?) things up the next time you venture out with your love.

Cheap Dates

I should probably call this category “Inexpensive Dates” but I couldn’t resist, although I don’t suggest calling your date “cheap.”

1.     Spa date at home.  Use up all those Bath and Body Works bubble bath products taking up space under your bathroom sink!

2.     Watch some crazy videos on youtube.  I love news bloopers, this Jimmy Kimmel skit, and Bill Cosby.

3.     Go to Barnes and Noble, find the travel section, and plan an exotic trip you’d like to take together.  Dream big. Ooo and ahhh over all the sights you’d see on your vacation. Oh, and if you have a little money to spend, get some drinks at the Starbucks in B & N. (Thanks to Camille for this idea and several others listed here.  She has some great date suggestions!)

Dinner Dates

If you are a die-hard dinner date kind of person, then here are a few suggestions to change things up.

1.       Go out for breakfast instead.

2.       Try a different cuisine—Indian, Thai, Vietnamese.

3.       Start with dessert first! (I LOVE this one.)

Active Dates

1.      Go on a bike ride.  Even better…rent a tandem bike.

2.     Go rock climbing and reflect on how your love is rock solid. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist the cheese.)

3.     Picnic and a walk/hike.  I’m a simple girl and love this one.  And who says your Valentine’s date needs to be at night?

Movie Date

And if you’re a die-hard movie lover, try these variations:

1.       Watch a foreign film.

2.       Build an adult fort and snuggle in for a good movie.

3.       Watch the first movie you went to together and relive that first date.

Here’s to a memorable, creative date, whether it occurs on February 14th or not!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Coaching My Kids to Share

Yesterday, I gathered with the rest of the country and celebrated the ultimate in team competition, the Super Bowl; a wonderful game that featured some of the greatest athletes on the planet doing battle to bring home the grand prize of the Vince Lombardi trophy, as well as the honor of forever being called champion. How are these champions crowned year after year? Well, it has a lot to do with the way they are coached.

Now, please bear in mind that I have never played organized football, primarily due to the fact that I don't like pain, but trust me, what I have to say on the subject is still valid. See, football is probably the greatest team sport there is for it requires a great deal of sharing. A quarterback’s job is to "share" the ball as many times as necessary to score a touchdown. The coach’s job is to help that quarterback be the best "sharer" he can be.

I like to think of myself as a coach. Not just in my occupation as a therapist, but in my role as a parent. Right now, I am raising a 4 year-old boy and a 3 year-old girl who, at times, seem to have the hardest time sharing. They are at the time in their respective lives when they believe that everything belongs to them. There are times when I feel like I'm stuck in the movie Finding Nemo with those birds that keep saying, "Mine, mine, mine mine..." Like any good coach I want to teach my “team” to share. More than that, I want my children to buy-in to  the idea.

Telling our kids that they need to share because it is the right thing to do doesn't seem to cut it. It just leads to greater frustration for us, their coaches. It is often hard to help our kids see the need to share when they believe that they don't need to. Remember, children, especially those under the age of five, believe that everything is theirs in the first place. 

So what would a great coach do? What does your inner John Madden tell you? How can you best communicate and teach the importance of this message? 

The following principles may help.

Be Patient

Successful coaches understand that teaching a philosophy takes time and a great deal of patience. Our children are not going to learn the lesson of sharing today, tomorrow or the next day, but in time they can.

Be Calm

Coaches that freak out every time a mistake occurs are those that soon burn out or flame out. As parents, we don't have that option. Freaking out never leads to the type of respect that we want anyway, so just be calm in the process. Your calm presence will garner the respect that you will need to teach these very important lessons.

Be Present and Consistent

Pay attention to when your child isn't sharing and calmly address it with them. It is important to realize that only addressing it some of the time doesn't help you achieve what you want most - to teach your children the importance of sharing. How can they determine its importance if you only sparingly address it? Address it with your calm and not with your reactivity.

Be Demonstrative

Show your kids what sharing looks like, through your own generosity. Whether that means sharing your food with them or bringing home something special for your spouse, allow your children to see you living out what you are asking of them.

Also, when you see or hear of them actually sharing, recognize it. I'm not telling you to throw a party or anything, but a simple, "Wow, Bud, that was pretty generous," might just go a long way.

Friday, February 1, 2013

From Sous Chef to Your Chef

My oldest son is a freshman in high school and signed up for a Food and Nutrition class this year…not because he has a strong desire to learn to cook and not because he is interested in learning about cholesterol.  He simply likes to eat.  What 14 year old boy doesn’t? I had other reasons to encourage his choice:  I was hoping he would discover that he actually enjoyed cooking and would relieve me of some of my duties! I can only hope!

It was amusing to hear him “school” us on trans fats and many other terms he was learning for the first time, and I was impressed to watch him make some better food choices based upon his new knowledge. In fact, the class taught a range of skills from nutrition to the proper way to set the table.

Throughout the semester, the food he most desired to make at home was actually cookies—chocolate chip cookies, in fact.  (You see, our family has a “healthy” sweet tooth.) And if I can brag on my son for a moment, I have to tell you that he made some pretty incredible cookies.  In fact, he has perfected the most important skill in cookie making:  knowing the precise time to remove them from the oven so they are cooked but soft, done but not overdone.  There’s nothing worse than a hard, crunchy chocolate chip cookie. In my book, he graduated from cookie school.

Ah, but he had one more project to complete for his class.  For extra credit, he had the opportunity to cook an entire meal for our family, starting with grocery shopping and ending with washing the dishes.  I was in heaven! My job was to document the event through pictures and write a letter to the teacher verifying that he did the work.  I supervised, teaching him a long time family pasta dish, and he added several side dishes. It was fun to watch him mature through the process and once again, I was impressed with how well everything turned out. I emailed the pictures to the teacher that night, signed the letter, and congratulated him on a job well done.

The next day I received the response from the teacher. Points were deducted for some rather nit-picky errors, in my opinion:

·         Place setting: the sharp side of the dull knife was facing the spoon rather than the plate and there was no napkin under the fork.

·         In the picture of him cutting the pineapple, the cutting board was sticking ever-so-slightly off the counter…apparently a MAJOR safety hazard.

·         A cabinet door was open while he was stirring over the stove.

·         He didn’t have enough color in the meal.

Did I mention nit-picky? I have to tell you that I laughed when I read all of the errors she'd found. At the end of the day, my son had made a tasty, healthy meal that we all enjoyed. Were there things he could improve on? Sure. But if I hope to have him join me in the kitchen again, I’d better not major on those minor issues. Yes, I understand that proper etiquette, proper nutrition, and proper safety need to be addressed, but not at the expense of removing the joy and satisfaction of a job well done! Way to go, son!

So if you are looking to introduce your teen to the world of cooking or if you are simply looking for a sous chef, then I have a couple of suggestions.

1.      Figure out what she likes to eat and start there.  Teach her to make her favorite foods first and see if a spark for cooking develops.

2.     Involve him in the planning process. Teach him how to plan out a meal—main course, side dishes, a good range of colors. (My son’s teacher would be so impressed!)

3.     Teach her an easy, family favorite. If you start with a complicated meal, you’re more likely to get resistance, so select a simple meal that everyone enjoys and that will be easy to replicate.  There’s nothing like having a tasty, successful cooking experience to inspire the desire to cook.

Bon Appetite!