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?

A Green Summer

Many of the special days and holidays this month have to do with the outdoors and/or nature. The first week of the month is national gardening week, it’s also fresh fruit and vegetable month, camping month, international mud month, and great outdoors month, not to mention we’ve got the official start of Summer. It’s really a great month to focus on the outdoors because it’s typically not super hot yet and yet it’s consistently nice enough that you can plan to be outdoors and only get bothered maybe by a fast summer thunderstorm.

I grew up with a nice backyard and two parents and a grandmother who had green thumbs, and other grandparents who lived by the beach, so I was raised to be outdoors and to love nature. I’m also a big fruit and vegetable lover, and always enjoy trying new recipes with them as well as going to outdoor farm stands. There’s something magical and exciting about being part of a thriving natural scene and eating food that you know where it was grown and that it was picked that day or that week.

The good news is that more places than ever are encouraging the creation of green space and protecting those that are there. Rooftop gardens aren’t a fad, they’re a thing that communities are embracing. I’ve always had plants indoors and while I may not have the greenest thumb I am able to keep a few alive and look forward to having a space in the future where I can grow more edibles like tomatoes, beans and more herbs.

Gardening outdoors and in helps teach kids some valuable lessons, from where food comes from to how things grow to what it means to care for something (or someone) to the impact of time and resources to patience. It’s also a fairly low investment option that can really show your kids some good progress and has rewards that they really appreciate (food). Gardening is also a great opportunity to spend time together as a family. Even if you can’t do it outdoors there are inexpensive smaller window boxes and pots at Dollar Stores and big box stores that are great to fill and put by sunny windows indoors. Gardening indoors means you can have the great greenery all year long no matter the weather and plants are good for helping to keep the air you breathe cleaner.

If you’re looking to do something as a family this summer, gardening or getting into the natural world are both great, and inexpensive, options. What will you do in the great outdoors or with nature this summer?

Celebrating Moms Who Live and Love

With Mother’s Day just a few hours away I wanted to share a quote with you from Mahatma Gandhi that I feel really speaks to the best that moms can be:

“Where there is love there is life.”

We’ve talked in the past about moms that are that because of biology only, that they have no influence on their offspring after they were born or their influence was so negative that as soon as possible the child (adult) has no more contact with her. That’s not the mom I want to talk about today. I want to talk about the best moms, the moms that we have fond memories of, that helped shape us, helped inspire us, and have taught us valuable lessons that help us live and thrive. It’s these moms that I want to celebrate and thank today.

Moms aren’t perfect, no one is, but moms teach us something that can help us see beyond the mistakes and learn to forgive in most situations; that something is love. When we learn to love the world opens up to us. It gives us the strength to forgive others, to be the better person, to choose relationships that are good for us, to do our best raising the next generation (and caring for the world that we leave them).

There are lots of different ways you can live, different experiences we can have during our lives. What matters most is that we choose to live and love above all else. I believe if we choose life (for ourselves, others and the planet we share) and love everything else will work itself out and we’ll be happier and healthier. I’m thankful for the moms who live love day in and day out, who helped us get to this point in our lives. I encourage you to give back to a mom you love this Mother’s Day.

Chores with the Family

With Mother’s Day just about a week away I was thinking about gifts that kids give moms and one of those gifts is often coupons for chores or activities that moms like to have done but kids aren’t always so thrilled about. I did that for a couple of Father’s Days but I don’t remember them really being used so I must not have picked the right things to offer. Regardless, the whole line of thinking led into a conversation with my partner about kids doing chores (and parents doing chores as well). We got to talking about appropriate ages for various chores and appropriate chores for kids but it all boils down to one question: what are you teaching your kids?

I totally believe it’s essential to let kids be kids and have lots of playtime and opportunities to be creative. You’re only a kid once and some of the play and creativity are essential for helping to shape and educate kids. But I also believe that it’s important to teach kids about responsibility, and one of the ways to do that is chores.

Chores can include all manner of things from laundry to garbage to homework to cleaning and cleaning up. You can get really creative with it or just keep it simple and straightforward. I think it’s good to expose your kids to all manner of chores so they can know how to deal with those responsibilities as they get older, but you should not disregard a child’s request to do one set of chores over another (I always hated making my bed and still do but don’t mind most other chores). Most kids can help with chores whether it’s something as simple as setting the table or picking up toys and putting them in a bin.

I think part of the issue is that we as adults haven’t done as good of a job as we could showing our interest in chores or at least our willingness to take care of them. I’m not suggesting that I’m going to enjoy making the bed anytime soon, but I’ll do it because I know it matters to my partner. So maybe it’s not that your kids dislike chores, just that you haven’t framed it right for them yet, or helped them see how it makes them part of the team of your family.

So what fun (chore) activities are you going to do this weekend with your family?

Let’s Do it Together

There are some things only you can do, and we all have our own responsibilities.  However, I don’t believe that we’re here to conquer life alone, and there’s no reason to try to do it alone when we’ve got lots of other people who could be supporting us if only we would ask.  I believe one of the biggest reasons that some relationships succeed and others don’t and some families are so healthy and others aren’t is because they choose to do life together.

It’s the choice of a true partnership, a commitment to work together, to confide in each other, to trust each other to do what each of us do best, to help each other when we’re down, to cry together, to laugh together, to try together, to be there through thick and thin, to recognize that there will be changes and we will grow, and to commit to learning to love each other through every step of the journey.

Of course, for this to be a true partnership, a true commitment from both/all parties, it means that everyone is committed to doing good for each other, being there for each other, and not tearing each other down.  Yes, there will be some fights and disagreements, that’s normal, but no violence or hate.

Can it be a forever thing? Yes, I believe we can make a commitment to each other and have it be forever, that you’ll commit to working through anything and everything together until death do you part.  For others it can be a rock solid commitment for whatever time you choose to spend together, and when the time comes that it’s best for both of you to separate, you’ll do that knowing that you both fulfilled your commitment to each other.

Commitment is a choice, but if you choose to commit you really need to follow through on that commitment.  I encourage you to sit down with your partner and/or family and consider the commitment that you’ve made to each other, if there is one, and how you want things to be going forward.  Are you in this together?

New This Spring

Spring seems to be taking its sweet time showing up where I am this year, which is a little frustrating. We’ve had a few tastes of it and then it goes back to being like winter. This week looks like we might more firmly move towards spring but I won’t hold my breath. Instead I’ll focus on the other things that spring brings, and that’s new life. Just like the New Year inspires us to make changes in our lives, spring inspires us to think new, fresh and alive. So today I thought I’d share a few thoughts on bringing new life to your family and relationship.

Spring is a great time to get organized and purge your belongings. It’s a great time to work together as a family, especially on rainy spring days when you’re stuck inside anyway, and go through all of your clothes and get rid of those that are too worn or don’t fit anymore. You can also take this time to pack away clothes that you all don’t use for the warmer months if that’s something you do. It’s a great time to go through all the items in your kitchen and bathroom and get rid of things that are expired or you don’t use anymore. Finally, you can go through all the other stuff and gear you’ve got (sporting, books, toys, gear etc.), and get rid of what you don’t use any more. All of the stuff you’ve decided not to keep can be great for a spring or summer garage or yard sale, or are great to donate to charities (as long as they’re not broken or ripped and the food isn’t outdated).

Spring is also a great time to try a new hobby or try out some of the new stores, restaurants and venues that have set up shop over the late fall and winter. Lots of towns and cities have evening courses at local community schools and other locations that you can take to try something new or learn about something you’ve always been curious about from business to food to languages to arts and crafts. I don’t know about you but I don’t enjoy seeing the local stores empty, so if we want them to stay occupied we have to shop from them. As we get out of winter and are more interested in being outside and doing things, it’s a great time to visit some of those new places and at least check them out and recommend them to a friend who we know might have more interest in them than you do.

Why do something new or make room in your life? Because sometimes our lives get stagnant and there’s a reason why the statement ‘out with the old, in with the new’ is so popular. It’s not about old being bad (it’s not), or about trying every new thing (not possible), but about being open in life, being willing to try new things, and especially about accepting growth and new life in your journey. New can be good, especially as a tool to keep your family, relationships, work and health thriving. What new will you try this spring?