New Year, Simply Better Relationships

It’s the weekend! The weekend is a great time to spend together as a family and do something fun or important, or just to relax and catch up after the week. I was talking with my partner about a meeting they had the other day at one of the places he works and he was saying how poorly run the meeting was and what could have made it a much more constructive meeting. His thoughts got me thinking about two simple things we can do in our families and with our partners to have better relationships.

Ask more, tell less: we’ve gotten pretty good at telling others what to do, but how often do we really take the time to ask them or discuss it with them? If you tell them to do something you’re more likely to get resistance, but if you ask them about something you don’t truly know what the answer will be until you ask someone. Maybe they’re in a generous mood, maybe you’ll explain your issue differently this time, maybe they’ll be tired of listening to the complaints, or maybe they’ve realized that it’s time to step up. Yes, the answer may be the same as it’s been the other times you’ve asked, and maybe that’s an indication to you that you need to do or say something different.

Spend time together: maybe it’s going out for groceries, maybe it’s digging in the garden, maybe it’s reading a book, maybe it’s watching a movie, maybe it’s practicing sports or playing a video game, maybe it’s going out to eat, maybe it’s taking the dog for a walk, or maybe it’s taking a class, educational activity or seminar together, there are countless ways that you can spend time together. Some are things you can do with any free time you have, but others are things that have to get done that could be done better with another person, like food shopping, or are more fun with others like going out to eat. The important thing is making the effort to be together.

I know, these sound like really simple things, but making these two small tweaks in your life and theirs can make a big difference. What small but powerful effort can you give in your relationship and family this weekend?

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The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Christmas

We’ve all been there, the Christmas that we’ve all spent alternating time in the bathroom or unable to get out of bed. It’s not the way we want to spend the holidays, but between the sometimes dramatic weather changes, the foods we’re eating that we’re not used to eating and all the people we’re exposed to, it’s almost surprising that we’re not sick over the holiday season more often. I can remember a couple of Christmases that I spent sick or someone else in the family was sick, you probably can too. It’s annoying that the average ones don’t really come to memory, but the really good ones and the bad ones do.

In some ways this is a reminder of our humanity, that as much as we try to make things perfect or be perfect, it’s just not possible all the time. Of course there are things you can do like making sure you’ve planned things in advance, you’re getting plenty of sleep, and eating well whenever possible. It’s also a reminder that as much as we want this time of year to be special, life is still moving on and part of life are the challenges.

Maybe this holiday season you’re feeling like it’s just not going your way. Maybe you’re without a job and can’t get gifts like you usually do. Maybe a family member is very ill or going to die soon, or a friend or family member died recently. Maybe you’ve gone through some major life changes like a divorce or big move to a new country. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that this isn’t going to be your favorite holiday season and that you’d rather stay low-key than go all out. Maybe you’re even going to keep the food in the freezer for New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day.  Sometimes the best ways to celebrate are the quiet ones.  Maybe this won’t be one of the best Christmases, but it’s still early enough for you to decide how it’s going to end up, or at the very least the attitude you’re going to have about how it goes.  What are your most memorable Christmases?

Christmas Around the World

One of the things I love about Christmas is that it’s a very universal holiday, there are more people around the world that celebrate it than any other holiday, and we do it all on the same day.  To celebrate that unity today I thought we’d take a look at some Christmas traditions and how to say Merry Christmas in 25 languages! It’s a great opportunity to get in a little education and try some new things with the kids, too.

Traditions:

Germany: Germans hide a pickle in the Christmas tree on Christmas eve, the first child to discover it in the morning receives a small gift.  They also leave a shoe outside the house on December 5th, which is filled with sweets over night if they’ve been good or a tree branch if they’re not.

Columbia: Little Candles’ Day (Día de las Velitas) marks the start of the Christmas season across Colombia. In honor of the Virgin Mary and the Immaculate Conception, people place candles and paper lanterns in their windows, balconies and front yards.

Argentina: Their celebrations typically include the boots of Father Christmas, red and white flowers (the poinsettia), and putting cotton on Christmas trees to simulate snow. But most family gatherings take place on Christmas Eve, with huge feasts, gifts exchanged at midnight, and children going to sleep to the sound of fireworks.

Iceland: Christmas is often celebrated by exchanging books on Christmas Eve, then spend the rest of the night reading them and eating chocolate.

Egypt: fruitcake is believed to have originated here, as a necessary item for the afterlife (some say that it may last that long as well.

Greece: the tradition of mistletoe is said to have started here, as an unspoken promise to marry the one you’ve committed to.

Brazil: children receive gifts from the Magi on Three Kings Day, or Epiphany, as well as from Papai Noel on Christmas Eve. However, rather than a chimney, Papai Noel enters through the front door and travels by helicopter.

England: the tradition of sending cards was made popular by John Calcott Horsley in the late 1830’s, which quickly traveled to the US.  Caroling also was popularized in England, started by wandering musicians who visited the rich, hoping for a little Christmas gift.

France: one of the big traditions in France is the burning of the Yule Log, which occurs from Christmas to New Year’s Day, following what ancient farmers did in hopes of having a prosperous next year.

Merry Christmas:

Armenian – Shenoraavor Nor Dari yev Pari Gaghand

Basque – Zorionak eta Urte Berri On

Croatian – Sretan Bozic

Choctaw – Yukpa, Nitak Hollo Chito

Dutch – Vrolijk Kerstfeest

Feline – Mew Mew Meow

Filipino – Maligayang Pasko

Finnish – Hyvaa joulua

French – Joyeux Noël

German – Fröhliche Weihnachten

Greek – Kala Christouyenna

Haitian – (Creole) Jwaye Nowel or to Jesus Edo Bri’cho o Rish D’Shato Brichto

Hawaiian – Mele Kalikimaka ame Hauoli Makahiki Hou

Icelandic – Gledileg Jol

Irish – Nollaig Shona Dhuit

Indonesian – Selamat Hari Natal

Italian – Buon Natale

Japanese – Shinnen omedeto. Kurisumasu Omedeto

Latin – Natale hilare et Annum Faustum

Portuguese – Feliz Natal

Russian – Pozdravlyenie s Rozjdyestvom i s Novym Godom

Swedish – God Jul

Spanish – Feliz Navidad

Thai – Sawadee Pee Mai or souksan wan Christmas

Yoruba – E ku odun, e ku iye’dun

Welsh – Nadolig Llawen

You can see a video with many of them here.

What are your Christmas traditions?

Memories of Holiday Stories

The holidays are officially here! One of the things I’m thinking about this month is making memories. So today I thought I would share about one of my favorite memories from my childhood: holiday books. If you’re looking for a new story to read with your kids, here are some of my childhood favorites as well as some new holiday favorites (all the links are Amazon links for convenience, none are affiliate links).

The Mitten, Jan Brett

Annie and the Wild Animals, Jan Brett

The Wild Christmas Reindeer, Jan Brett

The Legend of the Poinsettia, Tommy dePaola

The Night of Las Posadas, Tommy dePaola

The Friendly Beasts, Tommy dePaola

Night Tree, Eve Bunting

Christmas Tapestry, Patricia Polacco

The Snowy Day, Ezra Jack Keats

Ox Cart Man, Donald Hall

Brave Irene, William Steig

Winter Story, Jill Barklem

Little Blue Truck’s Christmas, Alice Schertle

How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Dr. Seuss

Polar Express, Chris Van Allsburg

The Berenstain Bears and the Joy of Giving Paperback, Jan and‎ Mike Berenstain

The Berenstain Bears Christmas Tree, Jan and‎ Mike Berenstain 

The Christmas Wish, Lori Evert

Merry Christmas Mom and Dad, Mercer Meyer

Tacky’s Christmas, Helen Lester

Biscuit’s Christmas Storybook Collection, Alyssa Satin Capucilli

Cranberry Christmas, Wende Devlin

Bear Stays Up for Christmas, Karma Wilson

The Twenty-four Days Before Christmas, Madeline L’Engle

One Wintry Night, Ruth Bell Graham

Clifford’s Christmas, Norman Bridwell

Fisher-Price Little People Christmastime is Here

Llama Llama Holiday Drama, Anna Dewdney

Best Christmas Book Ever, Richard Scarry

Christmas Mice, Richard Scarry

What are your favorite holiday stories?

Thankful for Things

The official holiday of Thanksgiving is over and people around the US and the world are diving into Hanukkah and Christmas celebrations, many in the US starting off the season of buying and giving with some purchases yesterday on Black Friday. So today I wanted to talk about something that we adults don’t always talk about, but the kids tend to bring up when asked about what they’re thankful for: stuff. It may be more mature to talk about the other things in life we’re happy for like our partners, family, jobs and having a roof over our heads, but most of us have a lot of stuff to be thankful for as well. I’m talking about the books, the clothes, the food the dishes, the technology, the education, the size and quality of our homes and more.

I think we’ve wrongfully put some shame around being thankful for the things we have. Sometimes when we talk about things it becomes bragging, but that’s not what I’m talking about. And while it may not be healthy to be focused on having things and getting things, the fact is we have things. Are we thankful for them? Because I think we should be.

Thanksgiving may be over but we’re heading into a season that does focus on things, so today I would encourage you and your kids to spend time thinking about the material blessings in your life and really finding gratitude in them. Be proud that you’ve earned the money to buy them, appreciate all that you see around you and make sure you express a prayer of thanks or thankful meditation around all that you’ve been blessed with.

Setting Kids Up For Success

This month one of the things we’re talking about is the topic of success, so today I thought we’d talk about setting our kids, and the kids of the world, up for success. As the adults of the world we can either help the next generation or hurt it, and I’d rather them have a better world than the one we live in than worse. Let’s look at 3 things that can help set kids up for success.

Set a good example. The first way you can set your kids up for success is by setting a good example and being on top of your own responsibilities. Having a messy house, not trying to get a job when things are tight, not having healthy practices for yourself, not managing your finances well, and having terrible relationships and interactions with others aren’t the things you want to teach your kids. They learn by what they see and hear from the adults around them (and often imitate it), just like we learn from the people we listen to and what we see them doing.

Let them learn. Sometimes the only way they can get to success is to do it themselves or with very little guidance from you. Sometimes what they need is to give it a try (or a dozen tries) until they get better at math or baseball or skating or painting, or whatever they’re interested in or struggling with that’s essential for them to know. Encourage them to get out and do stuff with friends, try new foods and go new places, expose them to different parts of the world in whatever way you can (books, TV, the internet, vacations), and give them choices so that they have to learn to make decisions.

Teach them to contribute. I’ve been seeing the commercial again about the kid who flies paper airplane messages over the neighbor’s tall wood fence thinking they’ll get to his dad who is overseas. The neighbor decides to contribute and sends them off to the dad, who sends back a box of his own airplane messages and the neighbor flies them back over to the boy. No, the neighbor didn’t have to get involved, but he knew that he could play a positive role in keeping the boy’s relationship with his dad alive while they’re separated. You can teach your kids to contribute too by having them donate some of their old toys or clothes to needy kids, or packing a care box for a service person overseas.

So how will you set your kids up for success?

Are Parents the Problem?

I was talking recently with a nanny who comes from a family of many children and currently manages a family with 4 children. We got to talking about her experiences and her challenges, and she said something you may have heard before: the kids are a product of their parents. You may have heard something along those lines before, but probably not in the way that she means. For her, as a nanny when considering new families she always takes into greater consideration how the parents are than how the kids are, because she knows that the real issues and challenges (or fantastic experience) will come from the parents, not the kids. Yes, of course it’s challenging to work with kids who are unruly and throw tantrums and aren’t polite. But they often are that way because their parents have allowed them to be up to this point. That doesn’t really mean that the parents have failed, just that they really need to step up and take responsibility, or give responsibility to someone else (and not take over or micromanage).

Initially it’s not easy for the parents or kids, but over time kids do learn to interact differently with different people and in different situations. If you think about two classic examples, school and church, kids act much different at school and church than they do at home. At school you’re expected to use your brain, listen to adults and not be a bully and at church you’re expected to be quiet as a mouse and be on your extra best behavior (even at church picnics and fun events). However at home so many of the “rules” go out the window. In some ways it’s necessary to let go of some rules and give kids time to be kids, but the leadership from parents and respect for adults needs to stay in place at all times, and it can be difficult to be a leader and be respected when they’ve seen you down on your knees making train sounds during play with them.

So how do you get from being an unruly household to one that’s got usually well-behaved kids? Start with love, affection and attention. These three are super important because they show your kids that you do indeed care about them and want them to be part of your life. Follow that up by setting a good example, for example: if they see you disrespecting others (including themselves) when they’re talking by being on your phone, they’ll get the idea that it’s OK to ignore others too. Setting boundaries and time limits consistently can also help because you say that you need 5 minutes to do stuff and then they can have you for a game or to do something (or that you can play for x amount of time but at a specific time you need to go do your thing). Finally, don’t be afraid to screw up and make changes. What you teach them as you work through your mistakes can be as valuable as not making them in the first place. Employing a give-it-a-try attitude can make a big difference in how they approach problems and relationships of all kinds.

If you’re struggling as a parent, this week I would encourage you to make one small change in your relationship with your kids and that would be to love more, be more affectionate and give them your full attention. I’m not asking you to implement any real rules or make any big changes, just be more present for them and with them. What difference will a little love make in your life and theirs?

Motivated to be Organized

Over the past week I’ve been doing some organizing in my office. I enjoy organizing and it’s something I do on a regular basis for clients, but if I’m completely honest there’s something comforting about the piles and having things around you, so I get why some people get sucked into the disorganized trap.  I enjoy seeing everything in a place though and knowing that everything has a home. It’s also nice to have a clean desk and and neat shelves to look at. So it got me thinking about the motivation and inspiration behind organization and getting everyone in the family more on board with being clean and clutter free.

Organization means that you can easier rotate through kids toys so when they’re bored with some toys you’ve got others you can bring out that they haven’t seen in a while. Organization also means less clothes in the closets and drawers because you’ve got everything for the cold/hot season that it’s not boxed or bagged away, and if you don’t have hot/cold seasons then you can follow the concept of the toy rotation and rotate your clothes that way as well. Organization also means that it’s easier to find things because you’ve got only the stuff you need and it’s all in a home where you always know you can find it.

So what about motivating people to be organized, whether adults or kids? It’s a little easier with kids because you can add cleaning up their toys and putting clothes in a hamper or their closets/drawers as part of their chore list or as part of the list of ways they can earn money. You should make it as easy as possible for them, whether having a storage system that’s low to the floor so they can reach it all (think low bookshelf height) or spending some time with them while they clean and getting the boxes down for them from taller shelves and then helping to re-store them after cleaning.

If you’re motivated as an adult to get clean and organized you can either make the time to do it yourself, a little every day whether at the end of the day or as part of your morning routine, or hire someone to tidy up on a daily/weekly basis. If you can’t get your partner to do their organizing, then you should do the organizing and give them one of the other tasks you typically do that they’re more inclined to do so you don’t have to do both it and organizing.  As far as hiring someone, there’s no reason to feel shame or as though you’re lacking if you can’t find the time to do it yourself, you just have priorities that are more important than cleaning up. The only way shame should become a factor is if the “priorities” that you’re putting ahead of cleaning up are just watching TV (something you could do while organizing) or going out with friends every night or surfing the internet and YouTube.

Once you’ve got a system in place it takes a lot less time to clean up as long as you’re consistent about doing so. So as daunting as it may seem right now to get organized, once you’re over that hurdle, as long as you’re committed to consistently cleaning up it’s really not as bad or challenging as it could be if you let things keep going as they are. I encourage you to make time this week to work with an organizer or set up a system yourself that works for you and your family.

A Strong Foundation?

Something that I’m a big believer in is the concept of foundation. In so many situations there has to be a firm foundation before other steps can be taken. Yes, sometimes there are ways around it, but often to get the full and best experience, that only happens when there’s a firm foundation in place and consistently cared for. I believe that we have different foundations in many areas of our lives, including our family, our children, our partner, our work/career/business, our community and even in how we are with ourselves.

Let’s start with what might be the most important foundation: that of your personal foundation. This foundation has to do with how you see yourself, if you believe in yourself, how you treat yourself and if you respect yourself. You may be cringing as you think about your personal foundation, because too often it’s the one that we let slide because we’ve got so much going on in our lives that it seems like we’re the last thing that should be taken care of. But, as is true for so many situations, if you’re not taking care of yourself and making sure that your foundation is strong, it will end up affecting the foundations in the other areas of your life, and the other people who depend on you.

It’s important to take care of the foundations you have, because the foundations are what you build and grow from and what gives you the strength and guidance to navigate and survive challenges. The business foundation you have helps you decide if/when a person isn’t a good fit anymore or an idea shouldn’t be implemented because it’s not in line with your mission/vision/purpose. The relationship foundation you have with your partner means that you’ve established the common ground that you both connect through and identify with, and that you rarely have serious fights. The foundation you have with your kids should be one of mutual love, of your support of them, and of their respect for you as their parent.

The foundation is what everything else is built on, it establishes a starting point and a point to which you can return, it is a reference point when the going gets tough and it should give you a sense of peace even when what you’re building isn’t so stable. How is your foundation today?

“The foundation stones for a balanced success are honesty, character, integrity, faith, love and loyalty.” Zig Ziglar

Getting Past Anger and Conflicts

Every relationship has challenges, whether we’re talking romantic relationships (aka partnerships) or that of a relationship between parent and child or even the types of relationships between friends or between boss and coworker.  One of the greatest obstacles that a person has to overcome in a relationship is the challenge of conflict and choice to respond in anger, or to just give up because you’re afraid of conflict. Today’s Dr. Wayne Dyer inspiration is a simple but powerful one:

“It is impossible for you to be angry and laugh at the same time. Anger and laughter are mutually exclusive and you have the power to choose either.”

It can be so tempting to just let things get worse and worse.  It’s almost too easy to hang onto our anger and the feelings of frustration, rage and irritation that fill us when we’re angry.  Most of us don’t have the gift of holding onto laughter.  We get looked at as not taking life seriously if we’re laughing all the time. Sometimes we laugh so we don’t feel the pain or to avoid our responsibilities, but all too often we don’t laugh enough, or at the very least we’re not happy.

Many of the kids TV shows and movies, both past and present, do a good job of showing both the happy and the challenging.  There’s usually an obstacle or two to overcome, but there’s a lot of fun to be had too.  Somehow that’s one of the things we seem to forget as we get older: that life can be fun and isn’t just about the responsibilities (but the responsibilities can’t be forgotten either).

But back to anger: I believe too many of us let anger rule our lives.  We let it get in there and it sticks.  So this weekend and coming week I challenge you to take notice when your anger starts to rev up and take a step or two back instead of letting it take over.  Ask for a moment, take a physical step away, or finally take action on what you’ve let stew for a long time so that you can get to truly living and enjoying life.