Parenting Relationships

This month we’ll be taking a look at some dad related topics with the celebration of Father’s Day on the 17th here in the US. If you watch true crime stories or read the news you know that both moms and dads have left their children before and that both moms and dads can do the single parenting thing. But, as you know if you’ve been on the blog for a while, I believe in raising kids with a village, including having both male and female role models in the children’s lives, whenever possible that being the child’s parents or the 2 people who claim that child as theirs. Today I want to talk about one of the challenges and choices that has to be made when it comes to being a dad, and that’s the relationship that the dad has with the mother (yes, I’ve talked about heterosexual relationships specifically here but the insights here definitely apply to same-sex relationships with kids as well).

One of the greatest challenges to raising a child is both parents being committed to that child for the typical 18 years and working together throughout those 18 years to raise that child. 18 years is a very long time in this day and age to be committed to one thing, let alone more than one person being committed to that one thing. I’m not saying it’s not possible to have a relationship with someone for 18 years or more, just that it’s a challenge and a big commitment. If you think about it we typically have much longer relationships with our families (sometimes many decades), because it’s often harder for us to separate from those we’re connected with by blood (or adoption) than it is those that we’re tied to through a piece of paper and a ceremony of some kind.

One of the best things you can do for the future of your child is to have a healthy, open, growing, conversational relationship with your significant other. Our lives are all built on relationships, and what we learn about relationships as we grow up can have a serious impact on how we view and build relationships as adults. Some children learn that relationships don’t work, some learn that relationships only work for a short time, some learn that relationships are violent, some learn that relationships change over time, some learn that relationships can be rebuilt, and some learn that there can be new relationships formed after the death of a parent.

But the bottom line is, the healthier the relationship that dads and moms have, the better example their children will have to learn from. How healthy is your relationship with your significant other, and what are you teaching your child(ren) through that relationship?

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The Challenge and Opportunity of ‘Different’

With the Royal Wedding there’s been a lot of talk about changes and that a new era is beginning. I’m all for necessary changes, and I think of all the kingdoms/rulers/presidencies of the world, the Royal Family has managed to navigate the world and lead their country pretty well through the many different ages that they’ve been in charge in England. Parents too have lots of changes to navigate, babies have far different needs than teenagers, so parents are very familiar with the concept of change through the ages. As I was thinking about changes the thing that popped into my head was the phrase that adults say to kids (and other adults) from time to time: “yes, but that was different.”

It’s not an easy lesson for kids to learn (or parents to teach), that different rules apply to different situations, different times and different people, let alone that things could easily have changed between the last situation that was similar and the current one that’s being discussed with the child. It’s an important lesson to learn because it helps children learn to deal with change, to adapt, to plan ahead and to consider all the options and opinions, skills that will serve them well when they’re adults.

It’s really a two-fold lesson though, because it’s a reminder to not judge everyone or every situation the same, and that while you can lean back on past lessons, you have to be open to things being different, even if they look similar. Yes, the Royal Family could easily have said that they wouldn’t go in that direction and Prince Harry had to choose someone more in line with what was expected or tradition. And I can’t say that there isn’t another woman somewhere around the world that would also be a great match for him, but I think that the now Duke and Duchess of Sussex are well suited and can do more to help the world, and the Royal Family move, in a very healthy and prepared direction for the future.

The good news is that even if you’re an adult there’s still time to work on learning life’s lessons and adapting to changes. You don’t make one decision in life that says you’ll never ever learn lessons or never change, you can make a new decision each day on how you’re going to live your life and what you want your future to look like. Don’t let “different” hold you back or scare you, be willing to embrace all that life gifts you.

Teaching Forgiveness

With Mother’s Day just around the corner for those of us in the US, I’m thinking about an interesting topic that moms are pretty familiar with: forgiveness. It’s one of the many life lessons parents are supposed to teach us or help us learn, but not always an easy one to teach or to live. One of my earlier memories is one of needing forgiveness for having done something wrong, it really didn’t feel good to need forgiveness or to be caught doing something wrong.

It can be hard to teach forgiveness because it’s not always fun to forgive, nor is it always easy, especially if we’ve been hurt before or it just doesn’t seem to add up for us in our heads on why we should be forgiving them. It’s even hard to forgive when we know the other person doesn’t know what they did or didn’t do wrong intentionally, because we’re still hurt. It can take a lot of courage to take the time to really understand all of the situation, not just how hurt we are, and choose to forgive.

Teaching forgiveness, grace and understanding are all things that parents should to teach kids, and are lessons that we should use throughout our lives. We have to decide to forgive our coworker for standing us up at the big meeting, our neighbor for the damage caused to our property during a party, our kids for the car accident, the town for a lack of notice when they decided to tear up the street and turn off the water, or our significant other for forgetting our anniversary, and countless other little things that happen during our lives that hurt us.

What about you? Do you need forgiveness in your life or do you need to forgive someone? Life’s too short to let the hurts build up and cripple us. I encourage you to take steps this week towards forgiving someone, even if it’s just that first step of understanding what and why they did what they did.

The Marathon of Parenting

I was talking with a friend this week and she mentioned that her husband wanted time to do some things and therefore could she watch their son while he did them? It’s not a strange request, in fact it’s pretty normal. But the statement that followed his request and their discussion of her need for him to do some parenting was that he “didn’t realize kids would be this much work”.

Ah yes, that old “let’s have kids!” chat sounds great until you realize how much money, time, effort, blood, sweat and tears are involved. Parenting is not for the faint of heart. I believe kids are a blessing, but I also would do my absolute best to never bring a kid into the world if I was not prepared for taking care of them and investing in them for the next 20+ years. And some people simply aren’t capable of being the parents their kids need them to be.

But, since you’re here you’ve already most likely got kids and are being met daily (and hourly) with challenges and craziness. This is par for the course. But how you do the course is what makes all the difference. You can be a miserable parent, and your kids will sure remember it and probably make your life miserable at some point in time because of it. Or you can choose to take each challenge as it comes with an open heart, lots of love, extra patience, and the security of knowing that you are never alone in the journey. I’m here, there are countless blogs, Facebook pages, local groups and organizations who are ready, willing and able to support both you and your kids.

Don’t worry about fixing today’s problems by the end of today, plan for the long haul and that when you and your kids cross that finish line you’ll all be proud to be there.

A St. Patrick’s Day Legacy

Today is St. Patrick’s Day! I’m excited as always, it’s one of my favorite holidays each year. Over the last day or so I’ve been checking out some Irish companies and looking at products made in Ireland and was struck by the care, consideration and effort that’s put into each product. No, no company is perfect, but when you think about truly Irish products and companies many of them have stood the test of time and consistently offer fantastic products. I’m not one to spend tons of money on things like jewelry or clothing, but I’m willing to spend those extra dollars to get such a quality product and support the families who are behind them.

No, this post isn’t really about running a business or offering a quality product, it’s about the quality and character of the people behind them. As parents and those in charge of the next generation we have a choice in what we want to teach the next generation, and hopefully what they’ll learn from us. Do we want to teach them to value the world, put their best foot forward, take pride in their work, leave a legacy that can be appreciated for a long time, and make a positive impact on the world? I know that’s what I want to teach the next generation and encourage them to value life and their talents.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with buying a sweater or piece of jewelry from your local big box store, I’ve got some of them that I absolutely enjoy very much and were on low clearance prices even (prices that couldn’t get me anywhere near something from Ireland). So there’s nothing wrong with finding shortcuts and doing a quick job of something (as long as it gets the job done), but there’s value to be found in being a person who does more than just meets the status quo.

No one else can be who you are, no one else can be who your kids are or will grow up to be, no one else can be the neighborhood kids or who they will grow up to be, each and every one of us are unique and have the ability to bring something awesome to the table. In the case of the many families in Ireland who craft gorgeous products those families are teaching their next generations about leaving a legacy, honoring your heritage and sharing who they are with the world. What are you teaching your kids?

Impact Big and Small

As I was thinking about the big football game happening in a few hours I was reminded of the topic of impact. In hearing the different plans that people have depending on the results of the game and about the history of the teams for winning seasons, it got me thinking about how many people’s futures are going to be impacted by the events of a few hours. No, it’s not life and death like cancer and it’s not as impactful as something like an election, but it’s still a really big deal to many people, and people are willing to put their health on the line for the victory today.

For some the events of today in the world of football mean very little or nothing to them. They don’t watch, they don’t care, they may not even know which teams are playing. And that’s OK, because what we’re talking about today isn’t really about football. It’s about the impact that each of us have on each other. Yes, today’s game will have a big impact because it impacts many people. What you choose for dinner tonight may not have a big impact on many people, but it will have an impact on you, and maybe a few of the people who live with you. How you talk to your kids will have an impact on them, how you show your partner you do/don’t love them will impact them, the way you treat yourself will have an impact on your self esteem, your self image and your confidence.

The thing is it’s these little things that add up to make a big impact. If you put one quarter in a jar every day for the next year you’ll have $36.53 which might be enough to take your significant other out for dinner. Divorces rarely are the result of one event or thing but days, months and even years of issues and buildup. People are rarely born bad, they turn that way after years of negative influences and anger directed their way. I doubt that any of the parents who have kids playing in the football game today knew the day they were born that they would end up playing today.

You can’t predict the future, but you can do your best to make choices that will give you the best big and little impacts possible. What impact will you choose to have?

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?

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.

Difficult Explanations

Sometimes it seems like the season for bad news, doesn’t it? As if you just can’t escape it and the hits keep on coming. Watching the news and talking with some of my family and my clients over the past few weeks has me thinking about how you talk with kids when faced with difficult news. How do you tell your kids why you’re leaving the house so suddenly, why you’re in a large auditorium with hundreds of other families, why you’re never going back to the only home they’ve ever know when you’re faced with a hurricane? How do you tell them about an attack like 9/11? How do you tell your kids that a relative has died or terminal cancer has just been discovered, let alone a parent? How do you break it to your kids that you’re bankrupt and everything is going to be sold and you have to move? How do you tell your kids you’re getting a divorce or a relative or parent went to jail? These are conversations no parent wants to have, but many have to have with their kids.

The stories have been told of how people never knew until it was too late or felt like their whole lives were a lie when they finally found out. I get that sometimes parents don’t tell them because they want to protect their kids, and sometimes it’s not the wrong thing to do, especially if they’re super young (under 5) and not ready for the realities of life. But kids today are so exposed by the TV they watch, what they hear parents talk about, what they see and hear in school, and what they see and hear when they’re out and about with their parents that it’s hard to keep the truth from them. Honestly I don’t think the truth should be fully kept from them. Maybe there’s the PG version to share or the cliffs notes version, but kids, just like adults, need answers to the things that go on in their worlds. And more often than not, they pick up on the experiences the parents are going through and feeling and are concerned about that, something I remember vividly as a kid.

Yes, the truth can be painful, but the lies are so much more so, and the fears over what is unknown can be debilitating. I encourage you to choose to give your kids an answer, a real one, before they find out from another source. When you are the one telling them about what could be a scary event, you have the ability to give them the truth before they hear rumors, and establish next steps with them so they feel comfortable with how things are going from this point. It also gives you the opportunity to let them know that you’re here for whatever questions they have and will do your best to answer them.

This week I encourage you to be the parent and have the difficult conversations you may have been avoiding with your kids.  They’ll feel better about it and you may feel less guilty keeping it from them too.