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?

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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

Making Health Happen

Health is something that’s so important and you definitely notice when it’s lacking. It’s hard to have health issues as a parent because not only do you feel bad, you’ve got kids to take care of in addition to trying to manage your health challenge. It’s also hard to watch your kids go through health issues, because you want to do something for them but there’s little you can do to help. As we head into back to school time and the season change, there’s opportunity for health challenges as well as getting healthier. Even if you can’t avoid health issues, you certainly can do some things to make it easier for you and your family.

Start by making it a practice to live a healthy lifestyle. This means getting out with your family to exercise. Exercise can include hiking, swimming, playing sports, and generally being physically active, encouraging that physical activity certainly in balance with relaxation and the technology that we all love.

It also means encouraging healthy eating practices. Introducing your kids to a wide variety of foods and balancing the sweet treats along with the healthy foods that help our bodies run well and keep us healthy is important but often challenging. There are lots of companies coming up with more appealing versions of healthy foods, but at home you can simply try a variety of recipes until you hit on something that makes a challenging food not only palatable but tasty. Cooking classes may even be something to look into that would be fun for everyone and help with encouraging healthy eating practices.

When the health issues do pop up, encourage rest, relaxation and doing what it takes to get well. It’s rare that any of us can truly stop our lives for long enough to get well, kids or adults, but we can do better about giving our bodies what they need to heal. As an adult if you truly can’t take days off, take half days off or work from home. Kids always get work sent home when they’re sick, so balancing time sleeping, resting, and watching TV and movies with doing homework, cards, puzzles and other thinking activities can help them get well and not be too bored or get too far behind.

As we move into the fall I encourage you to prioritize your health and that of your loved ones. Don’t let it fall by the wayside or wait for something to happen, actively choose to live healthy, mind, body and spirit.

Finding Freedom as a Family

For many of us this month started off with talks of freedom because of July 4th, Independence Day. Freedom is an important topic to talk about with regard to raising kids and being in a relationship. It’s important to teach your kids about freedom, from both the perspectives of costs and benefits of pursuing it. Relationships automatically mean that you give up some of your freedoms, which is OK in a healthy relationship because what you gain from the relationship is worth more than what you may lose.

Teaching your kids about freedoms is something you can do in both reward situations and when you’re dealing with issues. One great parenting technique is to present your kids with 3-5 options in a given situation and let them choose what they want of the options you’ve preselected for them. This works well with food, with homework, with chores and fun activities. It’s one way to break through a blossoming tantrum or help both of you regain control. It also teaches the kids how to make decisions and choose what they want in their lives which is important for when they’re adults.

Freedom in a relationship often exists simply because you’re in a relationship with someone who has similar interests, passions and pursuits as you. Those shared pursuits creates the freedom to be who you each are. But since you are individuals and not identical in every way, there are some different desires you each have. When it comes to them there’s always the option to give and take or finding a middle ground. It all comes down to good communication, trust and knowing your partner to make sure that you’ve got freedom, your partner has freedom and you’re both happy and healthy together.

As much as freedom is an individual choice, it’s really a group effort because what you choose as freedom impacts others. It’s why it’s important to teach the next generation well about freedoms and be comfortable in who we are while still being willing to learn, explore and grow.  What freedoms are you working on today?

Love without Strings

“Love is the ability and willingness to allow those that you care for to be what they choose for themselves without any insistence that they satisfy you.”  Wayne Dyer

I’ve shared before about the importance of letting your kids have their own dreams, dreams that can make a positive impact on the world.  But the truth is that all of us need that allowance: we all need to have our own dreams and make our own place in the world.  Yes, we can do it by fighting to show the world who we are aggressively, but when we do it with love there’s a lot more potential for us and our world, and a lot less damage to clean up and repair too.

The first place that we need more love is with our families.  It’s easy to pick a fight with them because they’re always there and we know them so well and they know us so well, but those are also good reasons to love them even more.  When we have more loving families it will be easier to spread love throughout the world because we’ll have a more stable foundation to work with.

The other reminder Dr. Dyer shares here is that no one has to satisfy you, that’s not their job or mission in life, nor should you require it to be.  If you’re not satisfied with things it’s up to you to change them, and sometimes that means changing the people in your life (note: if you change the people in your life and you’re still unhappy it’s a pretty clear indication that you are what needs to change, not them).

In this coming week I encourage you to love more, argue less, and make decisions that not only make you happy but are good for your future and the future of the world too.

Summer Family Teamwork

Whether you’re a single parent or raising your kids with your significant other I believe every parent needs to have support. They should have the support of their kids as well as the support of other adults. Recently I heard a father say a great comment to his kids as they were waiting for mom to return and then all leave for vacation. He said “OK kids, go do what your mom would tell you to do before she gets here so we can leave sooner.”

Why is this such an incredible statement? From an adult and partner perspective it’s an incredibly supportive statement of his partner, as well as a proactive one. Yes, sometimes supporting means showing up and doing what you’re asked/told to do, sometimes that’s exactly what a parent needs. But it can also mean that you take initiative and get things done for them, especially if you know how they want things done or know what things need to be done on a regular basis. This father’s direction to his kids not only shows his care for his wife, it also shows that he’s aware that she’s going to want things done before they go on vacation and that it’s in all of their best interests to get to work on that sooner rather than last minute.

The other part of this statement that has to be considered and celebrated is the importance of getting the kids involved in supporting the parent(s). Yes, it’s a parent’s job to support their kids and care for them, but part of raising kids well is teaching them how to do as much as possible so they’re prepared when it’s their time to go out into the world. It’s also teaching them good relationship skills, about how to work together as a team, and teaching them to anticipate needs and plans of others and doing your best to help out.

Summer is a great time to hang out and have fun, but it also brings some unique opportunities to strengthen and support the relationships in each of our lives. What will you do this summer to help everyone, including yourself, have a productive and enjoyable summer?

Stopping to See America

With celebrating July 4th just a couple days ago, the day we set aside to honor the official birth of our country, today I’m thinking about things that families can do that celebrate that American spirit. Summer is a great time to really dive into all things American, but the ideas behind these activities can be applied to other countries as well, should you be doing some extensive traveling this summer as a family.

Visiting the national parks and monuments are a great way to get to know the country and experience some of the things that make it what it is. There’s so much diversity, both of places and people, that you can experience by adding into your travel plans some stops at national parks, and with over 500 places to check out, there’s something for everyone and just about everywhere.

Another great way to experience America is to stop and any of the flea markets that pop up during especially the summer months, but also into the early autumn months. Yes, most of them have the typical crafts and creations, but they also have people selling things that aren’t so ordinary like parts and pieces that show history and are examples of the incredible skill that people past and present have.

I also always love stopping in at local farmer’s markets and farm stands as we drive along. Yes, the crops are pretty much the same wherever you go, but you will find some regional differences and specialties, and the biggest reason to stop is the fact that you’re getting fresh food straight from the source. It also helps to reinforce to the kids where the food comes from and many markets also have pick-your-own opportunities that can extend your visit there as well and give the kids a chance to be hands on in ways they may never have before. (Local Harvest is one way to find farmer’s markets near you)

And of course the recommendation from any foodie you speak to is to ask the locals where to eat when you stop in a new location. Their restaurant and food recommendations give you a look at some regional specialties and things you may have never had before, as well as give you a much better chance of the food being fresh, tasty and well made than if you just pick any place to stop.

What are your favorite ways to experience the people and places of America?

Celebrating Summer Birthdays

Birthdays are funny because some people really don’t enjoy them while others want them celebrated in a big way. One of the more interesting times to have a birthday is in the summer because it’s a lot harder to celebrate because people are taking vacations and off doing a myriad of different things and not in their usual places. Even adults have less predictability in their lives during the summer. I’m not a summer baby but I know several people who are, so today I thought we’d talk about ways to celebrate them, ways that also work for those who have a birthday on Christmas or Christmas Eve.

Go ahead and celebrate anyway. Your birthday is about you, so maybe you don’t get to have a big party because not everyone can attend, so go ahead and do what you want. Maybe it’s a special dinner or other meal, maybe it’s sleeping in, maybe it’s hanging out with just one special person, maybe it’s doing something special with just your immediate family. Make your birthday what you want it to be.

Celebrate your half birthday instead. Celebrating your half birthday means that it would be during times that people are around, and maybe even looking for something to do in the rather tame months of January and February. Of course if you celebrate your half birthday with your friends and your actual birthday with your family it’s like having two birthdays!

Pick a day, any day. Yes, pick another day that appeals to you and make it your honorary birthday. Maybe you really hate celebrating your birthday so you make your honorary birthday February 29 so you only have to celebrate it every 4 years. Maybe you love your Irish heritage so you celebrate it on March 14. Maybe you love all things spooky so you make it October 31. Maybe you like the idea of starting with the calendar so you celebrate on January 1. Regardless, you’ve got lots of other days to choose from.

What about you? What fun and creative ideas do you have for summer birthday celebrations?

Father’s Day Dreams

Father’s Day is Sunday in the US which has me thinking about dads and parenting.  It’s great for parents to be involved in their kid’s lives (it’s what they’re supposed to be doing); to expose them to what’s in the world, help them learn how to navigate interpersonal interactions, share your childhood stories and travels with them, and be active in their education. I wish more dads were active in their kid’s lives, having conversations with them and doing things with them and going to their school events and other activities. There’s also nothing wrong with substitute dads (uncles, friends etc.) being a male role model in a child’s life as well.

What came to mind as I was thinking about parenting and Father’s Day is the idea that parents have dreams for their kids. I think it’s great when parents have dreams and goals for their kids. Parents who have dreams and goals for their kids are consistently more active in their lives, inspire their kids to be more motivated, and inspire their kids to dream dreams too. The issue comes in if parents have dreams for their kids but they are so focused on the child attaining their (the parent’s) dream that there’s no other option or openness for their lives.

It may be that they decide they love the dreams you have for them and they feel inspired to see them through to fruition. But more often than not, the dreams you have for your child, as specific as they are (i.e. a football player, a runway model, a doctor etc.), only act as a foundational inspiration and starting point for them.  The good news is, the lessons they learn through the exposure you give them regarding your dream for their lives (i.e. practices and movies and events and books and lectures) helps shape them and give them tools and knowledge to use in their future, a future they dream up for themselves.  There’s nothing wrong with them having a dream that’s different from your dream for them, as long as everyone is working together to dream dreams that make each other’s lives and the world better.

So this Father’s Day I do encourage you to dream big dreams for your children, and to share those dreams with them. Then take the time to ask what their dreams are and how you can help them explore and/or fulfill those dreams.

A New Plan for Parenting?

I’m always interested in how parents raise their children, how children grow up, how our past influences how we raise children and what the future might look like for our children and grandchildren. I recently read an article about Dutch families and what one parent found when she looked into studies that supposedly Dutch children were happier than any other in the world. The article doesn’t share anything surprising or odd, but it emphasizes some things we know are important but don’t always place a lot of priority on.

The Dutch have a serious focus on making sure babies get lots of regular sleep. They also spend a lot of time at home. They also spend a lot of time with both parents during the day, and breakfast is a priority for everyone to attend. As they get older, school is seen as important but not near the priority we place on it here in the US. Finally, all-weather biking is encouraged as both a means of transportation as well as an opportunity to develop resilience.

Grades don’t really mean a lot, no one asks me how many A’s I did or didn’t get in history or any other class. I can’t say that I feel my horizons were expanded by my education, but I did feel that the times with my extended family as well as the road trips we took were helpful to my upbringing. Another article helps bring home the point of exactly how smart the Dutch are with their parenting, because this article emphasizes the importance of community, teaching your kids to care, prioritizing service and purpose, all things this author-mother taught her 3 daughters who are heads of well-known businesses or highly successful.

Maybe it’s time we take a step back and rethink not only how much we’re trying to do with our children, but also ourselves. Is your day so crammed full that you don’t have a moment to care or help your community? When was the last time your whole family sat down together for a meal?  This week I encourage you to think before you book another something in your life or your kid’s lives, is it really necessary or just something you’re planning because you think it’s what you’re supposed to do?