Change for a New Year

We’ve got a new year waiting for us, and a new decade too, just a couple of days away. As I was thinking about this calendar change I got to thinking about our kids and schooling and how school starts in September or August and how the new calendar year starts in January. Add to that how companies can start/be “born” any time of year, or how we can start a job any time of year and you add additional layers of change and schedules onto the pile.

As strange or challenging as it may be, I do think that the different school and calendar start times have some good lessons to learn in them though, primarily in regularly introducing kids to the idea of change. The new year introduces some changes, but they’re mostly good changes, certainly not changes that come with a lot of baggage or concern like some school years start with. So having the calendar change at a different time from the school year change keeps kids in practice with change happening, but also exposes them to the idea that change isn’t bad or scary, at least not all the time, and it does happen regularly.

As adults we certainly embrace the new year a little stronger than we do other types of change, typically because we’re ready to move on to what the next year holds. It’s a great way for us to be released from what the past year was, or to be lifted into the next greatest part of our journey. With this change being a typically positive one, it helps us do better with teaching change to our kids as well.

Yes, we do often use a new year to talk about making changes in our lives, like eating healthier or exercising more, but even if we don’t embrace or practice using this time of year to make changes in our lives, just the practice of accepting and even celebrating this change of calendar year can be good for everyone.

So as we head into the new year next week, I encourage you to take time to reflect on what may be changing or what has changed over the past year, and do the same with your kids. You may be surprised at what you remember from this year that is ending.

A Little Christmas Magic

A song that always catches my attention in the holiday season is A Baby Changes Everything sung by Faith Hill. Hearing this song again the other day got me thinking about parenting and having children. For most it’s an equally exciting day when their child is born as it was for Mary and everyone else when Jesus was born in the Biblical Christmas story. For others, in this day and age the ability to have a child isn’t as significant as it was back in Biblical times or back when the first stories about Santa circulated. In some circles and families there’s certainly pressure to have a child, but most are not under that pressure and can choose whether they want to bring a child into this world or if their time and efforts are better off with other pursuits. Finally, unfortunately there are some people who have children and aren’t as excited or changed by the process as they should be (including those families you wonder why they chose to have kids).

But then I got to thinking about some of the less-traditional ways that a child changes things. For those who can’t have children, adopting a child from a less-than-ideal situation is a huge blessing for both the child and new family. For families who lose one or both of a child’s parents while the child is still young, the child can be what keeps them going and helps them work through the grieving process. For those whose children have grown older and don’t have grandchildren or don’t frequently see them, working with children as a career or volunteer activity can be a great way to keep that child-inspired zest for life spark alive. And for those who see a cute child in the store or out and about, it’s a reminder to smile and love life. Whether they played an active roll in bringing them into the world or not, sometimes a child can be the one thing someone needed in their life or just that day.

Yes, children have their moments where we wonder what someone was thinking when they had them, or why they can’t just appear grown, or how soon they’ll get through this phase. Working through these tough times with a child can teach us many things that we can apply to other areas of our lives such as working with difficult people or coworkers, managing expectations, conflict resolution, and lessons on patience in general. I’ve found that these moments are fewer and farther between than some may think, and that more often than not kids are a blessing.

If you learn anything from kids at this time of year, learn the value of believing in the magic. We don’t often see the magic as adults because we pick out details like the amount of work or where the dirt shows up or managing schedules, but if we stop and listen and look around, hopefully we too can find some of that magic for ourselves this season and beyond. What magic will you welcome into your life this holiday season?

Celebrating Christmas with Advent Calendars

Something that many families participate in during the holiday season is an Advent calendar. It’s a fun way to keep kids engaged and a simple way of celebrating Christmas for more days than just the one that officially is given the title of Christmas. It’s been something we did as a family growing up, and this year since I was gifted an Advent calendar, my partner and I have been doing it at night as well and it’s been more fun than I remember it being even as a child.

Advent calendars are essentially a way of counting down/to the day of Christmas, typically with one thing each day. Growing up we had some simple paper ones with a scripture behind each window, and for a few years we had Lego ones which were a lot of fun to create something special each day. Many popular Advent calendars today have a little piece of chocolate in them, although it’s pretty much open ended, as long as you have 24 different somethings to do like attaching a paper chain or doing a fun Christmas craft or doing different Christmas activities like decorating or baking cookies.

It doesn’t matter what the specific tradition is that you practice, or if you choose to do something different each year, it’s about doing something together as a family, honoring the season, investing the time to really think about the holiday of Christmas and all of what it means (both secular and religious), and of course having as much fun as you can during this time of year. For us adults, it’s a good break too, giving us a chance to step back from all that we’ve got going on, everything we’re thinking about and working to plan and have a minute to reflect on why we’re doing all we’re doing, and hopefully recapture some of the joy we had as a child about Christmas.

Do you have an Advent calendar tradition in your family, or is it something you would like to start? If you’re looking for somewhere to start, on my other blog this week I shared some fun DIY ideas.

Making Time to Be Thankful

With Thanksgiving on the horizon this coming week I was thinking today about family gatherings, and about how we allow ourselves and our kids to behave one way when we’re relaxing at home, and expect other, more polite behaviors when with extended family or with “company.” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having “home manners” and “company manners,” you should be able to relax and let your hair down, to use an older phrase, when you’re at home. But at the same time, you absolutely should know how to behave in front of adults that aren’t your family or VIP’s, everyone should be able to show a little self control and respect for several hours of a typical event, not to mention the few minutes of time that a surprise meeting or shopping trip may take the family.

I don’t think manners are outdated, nor is the idea of being thankful. It’s important to thank someone for holding a door open for you, for getting an item off a high shelf for you, taking time to meet or talk even though you know they’re super busy, for sending you a resource, for helping you with something at work, for helping you pick up the house, or any of the countless other ways people stop what they’re doing or make an extra effort to help you out. Thanking them shows you recognize they helped you and you’re grateful. It doesn’t take more than a second or two and can have a very positive impact for both of you.

These little moments are important, but they should become natural, just like changing the toilet paper roll when it’s out or brushing your teeth each day or eating when you get hungry. There’s another level to giving thanks though, and that’s when you make a point of keeping a daily gratitude journal, gathering for Thanksgiving to talk about what you’re thankful for, going to a Thanksgiving giving thanks/prayer service at a local church, making a weekly habit of highlighting and celebrating people who do good work in your company, or making a weekly habit of going around the table at dinner and expressing what you’re thankful for. Giving thanks in these ways requires a bigger commitment and effort, but it’s one that can pay even bigger results than thanking someone in passing does.

We truly do have so much to be thankful for, especially if we take time to stop and think about it all. Whether you have a gratitude journal, give thanks as a family or something else, what matters is not how you do it, but that you make time to count your blessings on a regular basis. Being thankful is one of the best practices you can pass on to the next generation, how will you be giving thanks this Thanksgiving?

Making Room for Holiday Memories

We’re heading into the holiday season, which always brings opportunities to celebrate and end the year right even if the rest of the year hasn’t been so great. But the holidays can be challenging if you’re having family troubles, or if you just moved and are in a new location and don’t know anyone, or if you’ve got a sick family member, or if you’ve lost someone. One of my grandmothers’ birthdays was this month, we lost my grandfather several years ago right after Christmas, and a client lost a family member last month, so I understand that the holidays can be difficult for people. It’s a mixed bag to experience the holidays as time and life changes and share stories about family members you’ve lost and enjoyed celebrating the holidays with, or if you’re alone or not well.

From the earlier years the holidays have always included some downside, from struggling pilgrims, coal in stockings, and long distances to travel while pregnant, so the holidays haven’t ever been just about joy. However, they have been about community and sharing and coming together. Community and coming together happens in the good times and the not so good times, especially if we truly are invested in the people in our lives and that we share this world with. The reality of life is that it’s not all joy, that there will be some awesome years and other years where you’re thankful that you’re just all still there.

I think it’s healthy to have moments of sorrow even years after you’ve lost someone, if they meant something to you, you should never truly and completely get over their loss. But more important than having moments of sorrow, are sharing the moments and memories that you remember with those people, to share their recipes, to share their holiday traditions, to share their and your holiday stories, to read the stories that you all enjoyed together, to laugh over the mistakes and craziness, and make more memories so that will last even if you’re all separated by time or life.

Holidays are to be celebrated, both with the new and trendy celebrations of today and the older memories and traditions of the past. Encourage your kids to have times of reflection this holiday season as well as celebration and be reminded that it’s not just about the gifts or food. It’s often in those moments of sharing and passing on that we create our best and brightest memories.

Let’s Talk Time

Time is one of the topics that comes up often with kids. They want to know why things take so long or why things can’t happen right away, don’t understand how time works and sometimes even why things have to be done at a time. And that’s just the kids. As my partner and I were talking about the other day, some adults don’t have any concept of time, or don’t respect the time of others or aren’t considerate of others’ time. It can be really hard to educate kids about the importance of time when time just seems like the enemy so often.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that there’s value in using a clock, scheduling appointments, showing up on time for things, and even setting a timer to limit an activity or direct focus for a time. Time and clocks give us an important uniform structure that we wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s really a more concrete and specific way of communicating how the sun moves through the sky. Using the sun might have worked when many people were farming or in before dark regardless of the time of year, but that’s not how it goes today.

The challenge with time is that sometimes you just run out of time. It’s when you have to decide what’s a priority, what has to be done first and what is just going to have to be late or not done and that be OK. The sad thing about life and time is that you don’t have time for absolutely everything that life has to offer, which is something you just have to accept.

So when you end up moving around the concept of time on your kids, make sure you explain why you’re switching things up or stopping the fun or doing things differently than you typically do. The explanation is important because it helps teach them about priorities and decision making and can also help reduce friction between you and them when things are being affected by time. What are your tips, frustrations and works-in-progress when it comes to time?

What Do You See?

This morning I was doing a little more cleaning than I usually do on a weekly basis. As I tried to clean up some of the nooks and crannies that create lots of character and detail on older buildings like the one I live in, I was reminded how easy it is for some things to become “out of sight and out of mind” as the saying goes. It’s easy to pretend that the dirt couldn’t get under the stove or beneath the drawers in the refrigerator or that the tops of doorways collect dust because while you may see all of those things each day, you’re not seeing them from the perspective of where the dirt may be hiding. I’ve also said before how even a tiny bit of tidying or cleaning can make a huge difference, like just wiping down the cabinets with a wet cloth makes them look brighter, not to mention cleaner.

It got me thinking about what else is “out of sight and out of mind” or out of our line of sight or not how we see things. For example right now we’re seeing the leaves on many trees change color and drop off. We can easily forget what the trees look like without leaves of any color, and how little there really is to trees when they don’t have leaves on them.

Another example has to do with people. It’s really easy to see someone as a mother or father or accountant or teacher or baseball player or painter, and forget that they’re made up of many more layers, not to mention dreams, desires, passions and interests beside the thing they’re best known for or as. They’re also not the sum total of their failures, imperfections or inabilities. Just because your kid can’t do math doesn’t mean they won’t grow up to have great discoveries about an ancient civilization or lead a town. Just because you’re not the greatest cleaner doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother, triathlete or gardener.

Don’t let yourself be so blinded that you can’t see the truth or the need or what’s really going on in your life, in the lives of those you love and the world around you.

Growing Beyond Perfectionism

The other day I was going through a list of things I needed to do in my head and was heading to get some tea from the kitchen and noticed a few things like little spots that need painting or things that needed a little extra help along the way that I added to my mental to do list. It got me thinking that if we really added everything we needed to do to a to do list and tried to do it all perfectly, we’d probably never get it all done. You may be able to make some great inroads, but there will always be something new to add to the list, and the more we add the more discouraged we may get which would result in even less getting done.

The same holds true for our relationships. We could constantly be pointing out things our kids aren’t doing right or what our partner is doing wrong. No one is perfect and we all have things that we do that annoy some people more than others, not to mention the things we try and fail at. So the question has to be asked: are we more concerned about appearances and perfection or are we willing to let love, trust and forgiveness prevail?

This is one of the reasons why communication is so important for families and in relationships: because you have to talk about what the lines are that shouldn’t be crossed or have to be followed. In general there should be a no abuse line, there should be a line about the importance of education and growth, there should be one about communication, and there should also be one about respect. Beyond that every family and relationship are different, and every person is different. You may have a more open relationship, or believe more in having your kids explore the world and try new things, or you may be less open than someone else. The question is are you all/both on the same page when it comes to the most important things, and willing to work through just about anything because you’re committed to loving and respecting each other?

As we enter this month that is often the topic of fears, violence and scaring others, I encourage you to consider if perfectionism is causing separation between you and those you love or hurting the quality relationships you could have. I’d rather do “good enough” and have healthier relationships than try for perfection.

A Reflection on Grandparents

Tomorrow in the US is grandparent’s day. Some of us were fortunate enough to have grown up with several grandparents or at least one grandparent in our lives, but some of us have never known our grandparents personally, maybe only heard some stories from our parents about them. I’m thankful for all of the experiences I had with my 3 grandparents who were alive when I was young and memories I have of them and even for the opportunity my parents had to share their kids with their parents. Of course, my experiences were all positive because I had great grandparents, at least until the later years of their lives when they were ill with Alzheimers and other issues which are painful experiences I hope you and they never have to deal with, but I know it’s not the case that every person has a great experience or memory of their grandparents.

Yes, grandparents grew up in a different time, one that can seem very far removed from what kids today experience, and it’s unlikely that they are hip to all the things that kids are into these days, but the love they can share, interpersonal and other valuable lessons they can teach, and even the insight they have into the world today make them invaluable and a great resource and point of stability for ourselves and the next generation. I always enjoyed talking with my grandparents about their lives as children and hearing their perspectives about the world today, but what really stuck with me were the things that made them special like their love of plants, the beach, their bravery in war and the fire department, cookie baking and other homemade recipes.

I encourage families spending time with all generations together, and for the grandkids to spend time alone with grandparents. Each generation has something important to teach the others, not to mention great stories that today’s youngsters can’t identify with or experience, and as more seniors are losing the battle to Alzheimers and senility we’re losing those stories and the people who played a role in how we came to be here. Whether you drop the kids off for a few hours or few days each year with the grandparents, you plan regular family vacations near where they live so they can be part of those vacations, or you have a weekly commitment to a phone or video call, or all of the above, I believe it’s important to make the time to get the family together.

What are your memories and lessons from your grandparents?

Communicating Who and What’s Important

This weekend there’s a lot of talk about rest and work, how it’s important to recognize the hard work people do day in and day out as well as take a rest from doing that hard work. Work is important because it provides for our needs and often plays a role in fulfilling us on a personal level as well. Of course we can’t ignore how important work is to the existence and progress of our world because without work being done daily or on a regular basis the many infrastructures and components that are essential to our lives would quickly break down or become dangerous or outdated.

Work can be consuming, especially if you’re either completely overwhelmed by or totally in love with what you do. It’s normal to have periods of time where you have to devote more time than usual at work, but that should be abnormal and not something you do on a frequent basis. Work should be balanced with fun and family and personal time in our lives. When we aren’t making an effort to have that balance in our lives we run the risk of damaging those other aspects of our lives. Once a relationship has been damaged or we aren’t really caring for ourselves, it’s hard to get back to healthy and whole again.

Between Labor Day and all the hours each day we invest in it either doing it or thinking about it, I think there’s a pretty clear statement that work is important to us, but do we make the same statement about the people in our lives who are supposed to be equally or more important, including ourselves? Are you making healthy decisions for yourself, making the changes to your schedule to spend time with them when they’re free, creating regular events in your calendar to be with them, and especially communicating with them about how much they mean to you?

Each week we’re given 168 hours. If we sleep 40-50 of those hours and work 40-50 hours each week, we’ve got about 70 hours to devote to the people who are important to us and to caring for ourselves. Surely we can make time for a few phone calls, Skypes, text messages, coffee shop visits, dinner parties or date nights in all of those hours.

There’s no underestimating or understating how valuable, treasured and important those moments with your loved ones are. Have you told your loved ones lately that you loved them? What about showing them?  You’ll never regret making time to care for yourself, or telling others that you love them and are thankful for them being in your life.

“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.” Aurde Lorde