Take your mama out

It’s Friday.  I’m gonna take my new mama out, and by “new mama” I mean my wife.  The Banjo-B-Que festival is this weekend here in Augusta, GA and we are heading out for a night on the town.  Our newest addition to the family is just three weeks old and my wife is ready to show her the world (and to show her to the world) for the first time.

So this post won’t be a real big one, but I will use it to urge the rest of you that have become homebodies, as we have, to get out and stretch your legs once in awhile.  It gets very easy to want to just stay home when you have young kids; it’s just so much easier that way.  Don’t forget that you’ve gotta treat yourself every so often.  Remember what it means to be an adult human being, even if your world is completely flooded with plastic toys and lunchables.  Get a babysitter and have a nice dinner if you can.  If you’re on a budget, take $20 and go get some ice cream, or just go to the park or walk around the mall and window shop.

It’s Friday, y’all.

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5 things you shouldn’t say to your children as much as you do (with good alternative suggestions)

Our children dote on our every word, even when they seem to be ignoring what we’re saying or acting like they’re too cool to care.  I have always been a proponent of paying too much attention to every word; think about how many times a single sentence said by your mom or dad stuck with you.  You probably still carry some of these phrases around into adulthood, both positive and negative.  Here are 5 common phrases used by parents that might be doing more harm than you realize.

1 – I’m Proud of You.  While children do need to hear this at times, it will make them want to do well only to make you happy.  Children should learn to want to succeed for their own benefit, otherwise they’ll grow up and go out on their own and their chief motivator (you) won’t be around to keep them going in the right direction.  While you still want to let them know that they make you proud, you should pepper in a few alternates.  A good substitute could be “good for you!” or “doesn’t that make you feel good, to do such a good job?”

2 – You’re so smart.  A better substitution is “you worked really hard at that.”  Psychologist Carol Dweck undertook a study with children to determine the difference between praising kids for being smart rather than praising them for working hard:

The researchers would take a single child out of the classroom for a nonverbal IQ test consisting of a series of puzzles—puzzles easy enough that all the children would do fairly well. Once the child finished the test, the researchers told each student his score, then gave him a single line of praise. Randomly divided into groups, some were praised for their intelligence. They were told, “You must be smart at this.” Other students were praised for their effort: “You must have worked really hard.”

The students were then given a choice for their second test.  They could choose a difficult test that would teach them more or an easier test.  Those that were told they had worked hard were more likely to choose the more difficult test.  To go a step further they then gave all of the students a very difficult test for children two years older than them.  Obviously they all failed, but those who had been praised for working hard believed that they could have done better and were eager to learn how.  Those who had been told they were smart felt serious stress at this difficult test, certain that their intelligence hinged on whether they could pass it or not.  The label got in the way of the actual education process that should have been taking place.

3 – No.  There’s almost always a way to say “yes” to something else while you’re saying no to a child’s request.  Saying “no” to our children teaches them a general negative atmosphere, and it teaches that shutting down other people’s ideas is part of being an adult.  While you shouldn’t just agree with everything they say, try to give them an alternate to their idea rather than simply saying no and leaving it at that.  For instance, instead of saying “No, you can’t go outside because it’s too dark,” try this:  “Let’s play a board game in here instead, where we can see.”  Kids want to eat junk food?  Say “no” by making them apple slices or celery with peanut butter.  With a little ingenuity there’s always a positive alternative and it helps to nourish a positive approach to life as they grow into adults with children of their own.

4 – Hurry up.  Your children will only be children once.  There’s a cheesy country song my wife and I love to reference whenever we complain that the house is always littered with toys and the kitchen is always a mess.  The titular line is “you’re gonna miss this,” and we try to use it to remind ourselves that one day the children won’t be messing up our house, but that’s mostly because they won’t be around.  Yes, they’re small and easily distracted and they keep you from getting them to school or making it to the movies or the park at the scheduled time but they’re not doing it out of malice.  They are, in many ways, a more beautiful form of human than we are; they are simple in a divine way, more innocent and full of wonder at things that we have become jaded by in our “wiser” years.  Take a minute to smell the roses alongside them rather than hurrying them along.  Otherwise, you’re missing out on a lot of the wisdom that they have to share with you.

5 – Shut up and go to your room, I’m trying to watch Grey’s Anatomy.  There’s no good alternate for this one.  Don’t say this to your kids.  Ever.  Grey’s Anatomy is a horrible hour of fluff and nonsense and if you’re going to kick your kids out of the living room it should be for something with a little more substance than that.

OK, I’m just kidding, but really:  Spend time with your kids while you can.  If you have to watch TV, find programs that you can enjoy together.  If you have a TV these days more than likely you’ve got a DVR, too.  Save those shows and watch them when your kids are in bed.  Remember that they are getting a vast education from you, whether you’re actively teaching them things or not.

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The importance of apologizing to your kids.

I’ve had a hard time with my parents in the past, and still do to this day.  Who doesn’t?  If you answered “me” to that question then count yourself very lucky.  It’s really tough to raise a human without building up some resentment between the raiser and the raisee.

The important thing to take from problems like this is that you can make a difference in the next iteration.  How do you want to treat your kids?  What did your parents do right or wrong that you want to emulate or avoid?

For me one of the biggest issues was whether or not to apologize to your children.  I think my parents thought it was important to maintain decorum and a sense of authority over us.  They did this because they believed that this was important to maintain our relationship as it was.  They wanted to be parents rather than friends.  I don’t blame them.  They were trying to do what they believed was right.  I also think that they believed that if they admitted a fault it would make us weak; that they would be showing a chink in their armor and that we would exploit it somehow, and in turn we might learn to become lazy or to blame others when we should just tough it out.

I believe it actually set an impossible standard.  Because mom and dad were never wrong, it felt super-duper wrong when I made a mistake.  Rather than face up to it, I tended to handle my mistakes like a coward and hide from them rather than admit that I wasn’t as “perfect” as my parents.

In this article from psychologytoday.com, Kate Roberts Ph.D. recognizes that most parents don’t think it’s a great idea to apologize to their kids but they really should

It’s not part of our culture for adults to admit wrong doing to children, even when it’s obvious they are at fault. In reality, when a parent apologizes to a child, it further cements the parent-child relationship and provides the child with a sense of safety and well-being.

She goes on to list the many benefits of teaching your children that fessing up to mistakes actually makes you stronger rather than being an admission of weakness.  It’s a great article and I’m really glad I read it.  It has helped strengthen my belief that treating my kids with respect is going to pay off in the long run, for them as well as for me.

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For my Wife

Today’s post will be in honor of my wife, a woman who birthed our third child less than 3 weeks ago and is positive and chipper even while folding laundry for 5 people after only 3 hours of sleep.  This is a woman who LOST weight during this pregnancy rather than gaining it, and managed to keep herself and the baby healthy and happy.  A woman who puts up with my neuroses and worrisome behavior on a daily basis and is still attracted to me.  A woman who spent her entire time pregnant keeping up with the house and our other two already rambunctious children.  A woman who was abused as a child, mentally and physically, and found wisdom and strength in it.  She still imparts that wisdom to me on a daily basis, finding a perspective of joy and harmony in things that bring me down.

My wife and our eldest daughter at the baby shower Four Generations of women in my wife's family

Listen.  I spent 7 years with this woman, both of us too young to truly be able to handle the stress of parenting, much less marriage, and I ran our house like a megalomaniac, certain that I was in the right on every argument based on merit alone.  I believed that my more stable upbringing gave me some kind of free pass; that she owed me humility and subservience.  In short, I disrespected this woman, who loved me more than anything, and I almost paid very dearly for it.  Thank heavens she also knows how to forgive.

This is a woman who is everything that I grew up wanting to be.  She grew up in a small town full of small-minded people who fed on gossip and washed it down with prejudice.  She found her confidence, God only knows where, and stood up to them, writing an editorial against her own hometown when she was still in middle school.  How much courage must that have taken, to be so outspoken and forward-thinking at such a young age?  It’s a level to which I can only aspire.

This has just been me putting her up on a pedestal where she belongs, but if you take nothing else from it, please hear this:  good parenting isn’t always about taking care of your kids; you’ve got to take care of yourself and your spouse/co-parent/partner as well.  If tending to the kids means you’re neglecting you or your significant other, it’s only a matter of time before that neglect will trickle down and everybody will feel it.  Don’t forget to buy her/him flowers, say nice things, or make time for a foot rub or date night every so often.  It’s a juggling act, but it makes for quite a show when you get good at it, and the show must go on.

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I am the bow, my Children are the arrows

I found the most beautiful poem the other day and I’d like to share it with you.  I am finding out that I am more and more like my mother as I grow.  I worry a lot, and because of that I feel the need to try to control as many aspects of my life as I can.  The fact that I’m not doing a great job of it only makes my worry increase.  This poem has helped give me some perspective regarding this when it comes to my children.  Please enjoy:

On Children
 Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

The Great Archer in the Sky is in control, you are the bow, your children the arrows

The Great Archer in the Sky is in control, you are the bow, your children the arrows

Now that was a beautiful poem, wasn’t it?  To keep it simple, I’ll think of the Archer in the last stanza as God, though it doesn’t matter if you’re Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish or Buddhist.  Hell, even Agnostics or people who are just plain philosophical can think of that Archer as the universe itself, that force of life that is obviously here doing it’s thing.  But for simplicity’s sake, I’ll just call him God.

It is a comforting thought, to me, to picture myself as one of God’s children, alongside my kids.  It’s also comforting to think of myself as a stable bow, a useful and purpose-driven tool in the hands of the Universal Archer.  Existence is a huge, almost vacuous and scary place to be and the need to care for children from your own loins can compound that fear by a strong factor.  How can I be there to protect them at all times?  What if disaster strikes and it’s beyond my power to stop it?  What will I do when they leave me behind?

A bow does not fear such things for its arrows.  A bow fires them straight and true at a target, and not even a target of its choosing.  Let the Archer use you to send your children where they are supposed to go.  Do not fear that they aren’t more like you, or that the target isn’t one you would have chosen.  Be their partner in action, give them support and enthusiasm and be the best bow that you can be.  That’s all you can do.

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I’m a Cheat

I promised 30 posts in 30 days and I’m not going to fail at this.  I do see the irony of sounding proud and accomplished when it’s 3 minutes to midnight on the 4th day of that promise and I’m just now throwing something together.

Today was a long and trying day in which I toiled in the sun doing a side job, some yardwork for an older woman who needed assistance.  I sweated and felt young again.  I used to dig footers for residential construction, and to be honest, there is little in life that compares to the feeling of working under a beating sun; the clean sweat and the tired numbness that follows the work; the sense of accomplishment that comes from building something directly, without any abstracts poking their noses in to mess it up.

I followed it up with a great lunch with my family and some relaxing Saturday night television programming.  I enjoyed this day.  I hope you did as well.

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Wisdom from an inspirational actor

Wisdom from an inspirational actor

I saw the above image on reddit today and it reminded me that I need to chill out.  I’m a worry-wort, if ever there was one, and a hypochondriac to boot.  It makes me keep myself in a special kind of hell of my own making on a day-to-day basis.

It also reminded me of a scene from a movie that I never saw.  Seven Years in Tibet was on TV once when I was in my teens, and I watched this one scene in which a child Dalai Lama tells Brad Pitt the following (paraphrased):

“If something is wrong and you can fix it, worrying is useless.  If something is wrong and you CAN’T fix it, what good will worrying do anyway?”  -Fake Dalai Lama from Seven Years in Tibet.

I think Brad Pitt has a real kid of his own now that looks something like this one

I think Brad Pitt has a real kid of his own now that looks something like this one

Now, I’ve spent years mulling this over in my head, and there are instances in which it doesn’t work.  What about when you’re not sure whether you can handle something or not?  When you’re busy doubting yourself, worry becomes a “friend” engaging you in an abusive relationship.  When you’re busy doubting the world or those around you, it gets even messier.  How should we handle these situations?

The answer for me came years later, when my wife and I were in the midst of some of the hardest and most trying times that two young parents can encounter.  I don’t blame the world; no, we did most of it to ourselves, but that didn’t make it any easier or less trying.  I was at work one day, waiting tables for peanut-wages, when a documentary on ESPN caught my attention.  I’m still not even sure who it was about, or who the family was that was being covered in the story, but I looked at the television and had just enough time to catch this much of what was going on:  two parents had a young daughter with cancer.  When I say young, I mean like 3 or 4 years old.  Can you imagine?  I have a two-week-old daughter at home and it puts my heart in my throat to even tell this story.  These parents were deep inside the worst sort of worry-pit that exists.  It was so bad that even their toddling daughter could tell.  It took about 7 seconds for me to gather this much of the story and then for 13 seconds the father spoke into the camera and told the interviewer the following: “I went into her room one night to tell her goodnight, and she could tell that I was broken up about the whole thing.  She looked at me and she said, ‘Daddy, just trust.’  And that’s been, like, our family motto ever since.  Just Trust.”  And then the bartender hit the remote and changed the channel.  He wasn’t even paying attention to the show, it just all happened that way, just in time for me to see it and hear it.

Now, to relieve the tension, I’m glad to tell you that the little girl survived.  I know this because she was there, in the documentary, at an older age.  What struck me, however, was that she had that spark of wisdom in her.  The piece of her that carried God’s Fire in it was wide awake at that moment, and was strong enough to keep her sane, but also to help her carry her own parents through that difficult time.  It went further, and sparked a flame that touched my own heart, and, while not every viewer was as effected as I was, I’m sure there were others like me who carried the “Just Trust” message with them after watching that documentary.

Now, if you know me, you know I’m not particularly religious.   I’ve always shied away from the word “faith,” as it has tended to mean such a specific thing, a thing that I believed misrepresented me and my philosophy.  I do believe in “God,” and a spiritual element to the universe, but my definition of what God is probably doesn’t match the certainty that most religions have.  A lot of times they tend to define God as a being, an individual who is separate, other than themselves and the world.  Then they claim that we can never know him, or they try to re-connect with him in different ways.  I believe God is a Giant sleeping in each of our hearts.   He is one with the fire that sparks inside each of us, and not separate.   He is very present in our lives at all times, even in the places that most church-goers would call unholy or unnatural.  He understands and does not judge.  He is the universe, and we are the first pieces of him to have the ability to open our eyes; the first pieces of the universe to be able to observe itself conscientiously.

But I agree with the religious on one thing:  he works in mysterious ways.  I don’t believe it was pure happenstance that a 20 second snippet of a documentary on ESPN contained two words that my wife and I still say to each other in troubling times.  It is a kind of faith and I’m OK with that.  I have added “Just Trust” to my armor against worry, but I still have to be reminded to put that armor on sometimes.

This quote from Robert Downey, Jr. will be a new notch in my totem to ward off worry, because it reminds me about the counterproductive nature of worry, at times.  Worry doesn’t just make us unresponsive at the worst possible times, it can even be a self-fulfilling prophecy, causing the very thing that we worry about to happen.  Here’s an example:

When I used to play disc golf a lot, I found a strange phenomenon happened.  Those of you that play “real golf” can probably relate as well.  A lot of holes would have a single tree right in the middle of the fairway, sometimes two or three.  When I would line up on the tee pad and look down the fairway that tree would be the center of my attention.  Which side of the tree do I aim for?  Do I want to hug close to it, or curve around far to the right or left?  I would assess and make my decision and throw, all the while thinking of that tree that I did NOT want to hit.

I would hit the tree dead center almost every time that I used this approach.  It was uncanny how dead on my aim would be when I focused on that obstacle and tried to plan for missing it.  The problem was that I wasn’t trying to shoot for the basket where I should have been aiming.  All of my focus was on missing that tree.

All of my focus was on that tree…

Which brings us back to Mr. Downey’s beautiful observation.  I was so worried that I would hit the tree that it was like I was praying for it to happen.

Focus on your goal, not on your obstacles.  Just Trust.  These are easy things to say, but harder to do.  I’ll be trying to reset my mind as often as possible, but quotes like Robert Downey, Jr.’s and moments like the one that gave me “Just Trust” will be my sustenance in the ongoing battle to maintain peace and keep up the fight against worry.  I hope you can find your sustenance if you are a victim of worry like I am.  Keep your eyes and ears open and Just Trust.

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