In her book The Conscious Parent, Dr. Shefali Tsabary says, “Through our children, we get orchestra seats to the complex theatrics of our immaturity, as they evoke powerful emotions in us that can cause us to feel as though we aren’t in control—with all the frustrations, insecurity, and angst that accompanies this sensation.”
Back when I was still working in a classroom, one of my preschool students, Mandy, along with her mom, arrived on Monday morning to find out that she had been switched to the Orange Group for the last week of summer camp. Mandy didn’t adapt well to new situations and was a little anxious about the change. Since she had several friends in the Orange Group, I was sure that she would do fine with some time to settle in.
However, the situation quickly escalated because her mother became upset and went to speak with one of the administrators, dragging Mandy with her. In front of her daughter, the mom complained loudly, with a few choice swear words thrown in, about how unfair this was to her daughter, demanding a refund for the week. Clearly, the daughter wasn’t the only one getting emotional!
As parents, how often have we done this? We step in to speak for our child, fight their battles, or go to bat when we feel that a teacher or a friend is treating them unfairly. We have the best of intentions and we act out of love, but what kind of message are we really sending? Some experts call this being a “helicopter parent.” The parent hovers over their child and rescues them from the hostile world in which they live. To “protect” them, they take on the responsibilities of the child and give them the message that they cannot handle things. Instead, children need to hear this message from us: “I love you and you can do this. I believe in you, and I am here if you need my help.”
If we are honest with ourselves, many times the challenges that our child faces trigger feelings within us of fear, anxiety, and being unworthy or inadequate. We may connect with memories of being bullied or misunderstood. Starting from our own self-awareness, we need to stop and ask ourselves, “Am I dealing with my child in a healthy manner, or am I being triggered by something from my own past?”
There is a reason we are getting upset, giving in, or overreacting. Learning about what causes us to react and understanding why some things bother us more than others is an important part of parenting. Getting triggered is when we have an intense physical or emotional reaction to an event or interaction. Often something our child or someone else says or does connects us to a difficult childhood memory. At times, we can work through these challenges on our own, but sometimes we need the support of a friend, coach, or mental health professional, and that’s okay.
Parenting and grandparenting gives us the tremendous opportunity to reparent ourselves!
If you are interested in gettting support in this process, visit my website and see the tools that I use in my coaching practice. Coaching With Myrna
As parents, we are tasked with the responsibility to lead. If we want our children to learn how to love and care for themselves and others, be responsible, and have self-control and respect, we need to model and live it every day. Dr. Greg Baer in Real Love in Parenting says, “Our children can’t achieve those qualities...until they feel more loved, and that is our responsibility, which requires that we find Real Love for ourselves and then share it with them. It all starts with a desire to change ourselves.”
Kids’ greatest sense of security comes from the confidence that the people that they love the most—their parents and family—love each other. It has been said that the family is the school of love, the place where loving relationships are meant to be learned. Through our examples as parents, we teach and show that happiness comes from being loving. We can also demonstrate accepting and loving other people through our interactions with employers, coworkers, store clerks, neighbors, friends, relatives, and even other drivers on the road.
The way that children learn to be responsible is the same way they learn to play an instrument or ride a bike—with practice. Giving them plenty of opportunities to practice is important. Equally important are the lessons learned through the mistakes of poor choices. When we can remain calm and respond to a mistake with empathy, the relationship remains intact, and the mistake is the problem. However, if we respond with anger, the child quickly becomes resistant, upset, and learns little from their poor choices.
As a parenting coach and educator, I teach that responding with empathetic, compassionate, and unconditional love is the goal. However, it also means we love our kids so much that we are willing to set and enforce limits. Logic happens when we allow our children to make decisions that sometimes result in affordable mistakes and experience the natural or logical consequence. Our love is powerful enough to allow them to learn through their mistakes. Consequences are opportunities to help them learn from the mistake, not a reason to respond punitively.
We model through our actions, but we can also think aloud, saying things like:
We can teach our children respect, self-control, and so many other qualities through our relationships and daily interactions with them. The entire goal of life is to be happy, a feeling of profound peace that does not come and go with changing circumstances. Real happiness comes from feeling loved and from loving other people, and that feeling is meant to stay with us through any struggle and hardship
When you're a bucket-filler, you make the world a better place! Using a simple metaphor of a bucket and a dipper, author Carol McCloud illustrates in her book “Have You Filled A Bucket Today?” that when we choose to be kind, we not only fill the buckets of those around us, but also fill our own bucket!
Sometimes we forget this in our family relationships, at work and in the hectic pace of life. Living within a snow globe of swirling responsibilities, demands, checklists and choices is stressful. It enriches our lives to stop and remember that life is a journey--not a race, a destination or a competition-but a beautiful journey to be walked, danced and enjoyed with those we care most about.
We are not meant to merely survive, endure get through each day but to enjoy and revel in our meaningful relationships. The world is changed by our example, not our opinion or words but how we live our lives!
So, this week, I challenge you to take time to let the snow globe settle. Make time to ask your daughter to tell you about her best friends at school and be present to her while she talks. Take your son to the hardware store and ask him to help with a project around the house. Cook dinner together. Go for a walk as a family. Use a mealtime to talk about favorite family vacations. Call your child that is away at college. Make a lunch date for the next time they will be home. Write a text or mail a card to your adult children just to say you are thinking of them. Visit or call your parents or grandparents.
Read “Have You Filled A Bucket Today?” www.amazon.com/Have-Filled-Bucket-Today-Bucketfilling/dp/099609993X and talk about ways your family can practice kindness in your neighborhood. Watch the YouTube video “Grateful: A Love Song to the World” together. www.youtube.com/watch?v=sO2o98Zpzg8 Challenge your family members to find other inspirational videos and Ted Talks to share with the family.
Buckminster Fuller, 20th century architect, inventor and visionary dedicated his life to making the world work for all of humanity. He said, "In order to change an existing paradigm you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete. That, in essence, is the higher service to which we are all being called."
We all can create amazing experiences, connections, and memories in our families and in the process, we heal ourselves and influence those around us.
All of us know that our life on this physical plane is finite and we don't clearly know when family and friends will draw their last breath. For some, it is sudden--without any heads up--and often, it is too soon. For others, death comes at the end of a life well-lived filled with many memories. As I am writing this blog, my father's life has just ended, and I am looking at ways to say goodbye.
My sisters and I had the luxury of knowing that the end was near so we could plan some final moments together with our dad and mom. At the end of May, we gathered in the assisted living where my parents reside and spent time together. We talked about shared memories and listened to our dad's end of life requests. We celebrated their 69th wedding anniversary with ice cream drumsticks--their request. And my youngest sister organized timeslots on zoom for family and friends to connect with my dad, sharing memories and saying goodbye.
I will be spending the next week together with my mom, offering support, sharing memories, prayers, and songs. Even though we all know that death is inevitable, we don't know enough about what to do at the end. Even those who work in hospice care have difficulty finding ways to say goodbye to loved ones. I pray that I can bring peace and support to my mom.
This month, I find myself embracing both ends of the lifecycle with the birth of my second grandchild and the end of the physical life of my dad. The photos above are part of my many memories of him. If you have parents or grandparents who are still living, I encourage you to take the opportunity to talk with them about their lives, the most important memories, their regrets, their accomplishments, and their end-of-life desires. I have listed a few resources below that I have found meaningful.
What I wrote a few years ago for Father's Day
Helping children deal with death:
Grief One Day at a Time: 365 Meditations to Help You Heal After Loss
Are you aware that children who know details about their family history--where their parents and grandparents grew up, how they overcame difficulties, what their hopes and dreams were as a child or teenager, where certain family traditions came from, how their parents and grandparents met, what their first car or house was like--are emotionally healthier and happier? Dr. Marshall Duke and Dr. Robyn Fivush developed the “Do You Know…?” scale, sometimes called “The 20 Questions,” that tap into different kinds of family stories. The questions were designed as a starting point for sharing family stories and the result was that knowing about one's family history gave rootedness in something bigger than themselves. The process of families sharing stories about their lives provides bedrock upon which to build our own future. The links at the bottom of this blog give more details about the research.
As a child, I remember visiting my mother's parents in Doylestown, PA where my grandfather had a shoe store. My mother told me that in the beginning, my grandfather would buy shoes in Philadelphia and sell them out of the trunk of his car before he opened a store. I was impressed with his entrepreneurship! My father, as the youngest of ten children, became his family's historian and has authored several books that provide a rich history of where I come from. As a teenager, I enjoyed wearing bib overalls, much to the amusement of my father. I learned that he was eager to put wearing bib overalls behind him when he entered high school. As the youngest son of a farmer, it was a practical thing to wear and often, the clothes were handed down because times were hard during WW2.
Whether you are a parent or a grandparent or even a beloved uncle or aunt, the children in your lives need to hear stories of where they came from. Below are some questions to get you started in the family tradition of telling your stories.
Dr. Marshall Duke at Emory University: www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jE_oaW-ezc
Dr. Robyn Fivush: www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-stories-our-lives/201611/the-do-you-know-20-questions-about-family-stories
There are many ways to do this that do not involve dinner. Be creative and rethink the ritual!
In The Secrets of Happy Families, author Bruce Feiler shares a very cool “10-50-1 formula” for improving your family meals. Here is what it means:
According to the most recent market research to sharpen your brain, we should be taking fish oil supplements, use turmeric, do exercise and puzzle books and invest in a language course. But SURPRISE—the easiest, cheapest and most time-tested method is…READING! It’s almost summer and any teacher will tell you that summer reading is critical for students to retain knowledge and skills learned in the previous school year. Students who don't read are at risk of falling behind their classmates. Parents and teachers can avoid this by making sure kids take time to read. Need some suggestions on how to help this to happen? Keep reading.
The very nature of reading encourages the brain to work harder and better. “Typically, when you read, you have more time to think,” says Maryanne Wolf, EDD, director of the UCLA Center for Dyslexia, Diverse Learners, and Social Justice. “Reading gives you a unique pause button for comprehension and insight. By and large, with oral language— when you watch a film or listen to a tape—you don’t press pause.”
What if you are (or someone you know is) a poor, or even a dyslexic, reader who feels as if you’ll never be able to read enough to reap these benefits? A book can fix that problem too! Scientists at Carnegie Mellon University studied children ages eight to ten who were below-average readers. One hundred hours of remedial reading classes significantly improved the quality of their brains’ white matter—the tissue that carries signals between areas of gray matter, where information is processed. The researchers’ conclusion: The brains of these children had begun to rewire themselves in ways that could benefit the entire brain, not only the reading-centric temporal cortex. (Reader’s Digest, March 2019)
So, what can you do as a parent to encourage reading in your home?
“Reading fiction not only develops our imagination and creativity, it gives us the skills to be alone. It gives us the ability to feel empathy for people we've never met, living lives we couldn't possibly experience for ourselves, because the book puts us inside the character's skin.” Ann Patchett
In the book, “Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul,” Dr. Stuart Brown explains that play is anything but trivial. It is a biological drive as integral to our health as sleep or nutrition. We are designed by nature to flourish through play. As we approach summer and having family time and vacations, think about how play can enter into your time together.
Play explains why play is essential to our social skills, adaptability, intelligence, creativity, ability to problem solve and more. Particularly in tough times, we need to play more than ever, as it's the very means by which we prepare for the unexpected, search out new solutions, and remain optimistic. In fact, play just might be the most important work we can ever do.
One point that Dr. Brown makes again and again is that true play requires a person to let go of pride and self-consciousness. A game of Twister would be horrible if everybody were concerned about what others thought of them. In short, play requires humility. Developing a humble spirit around others allows one to truly play with others- and since play is that which fosters creativity, a culture where humility is the rule is a far healthier culture, economically and socially.
Play is the cornerstone of happiness and being a parent gives us the opportunity to play without getting weird looks when we let our silly sides to show.
So, what is on your family’s play list? What fun do you have planned in the coming summer months that can engage the whole family? If your family play list needs some work, use the next family-meeting to discuss this topic. Have each member of the family answer the following three questions:
Next, figure out what types of play all of you share. Then, plan your family’s next play outing or activity. Need some ideas to get started? Check out this site: fun-family-activity-ideas-together
Many of us struggle with our own worthiness, not feeling that we are enough as a parent, partner, child, or friend. Spouses, parents, and teachers often contribute to this by point out mistakes, what is missing or lacking. Many faith traditions include beliefs that it is more blessed to give than receive--be selfless, not selfish which can leave us wondering how we are to do this. For many years, I have searched to understand how to love my neighbor as myself.
These words, known as "The Golden Rule", come from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. There are versions of this in most faith traditions. When I was a teacher, I adapted this as the basic class guideline--treat others the way that you want to be treated. And yet, I think that we often miss the point that we are to love and treat others as we treat ourselves. As I have explored this in my own life, I realized that often I didn't love myself very much; sometimes, I didn't even like myself at all.
Below are some of the realizations that I have had on my personal healing journey:
If any of this resonates with you, I encourage you to find your next step forward on your own healing journey. On my website, you can find resources and info about my coaching programs. www.coachmyrna.org/coaching.html I have made my own version of an Emotional Freedom Technique/Tapping video that has helped me.
Tapping video "I Am Enough": youtu.be/dwfotycdCmY
Recently, I attended an "Unconditionally Loving" retreat where we were guided towards living a life of loving without conditions and what we needed to do that. The definition of loving without conditions is caring about the other person's happiness without wanting anything in return. It also includes accepting others for who they are, not wanting the other person to change. Finally, loving starts with caring about ourselves because we cannot give what we don't have.
To live this way requires us to begin to practice radical responsibility.
Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worthwhile living…let no day pass without examining yourself." If you find yourself wanting to change unhealthy patterns of relating and to move towards living with greater radical responsibility, check out the tools and resources that I use in supporting growth and healing in relationships on my website: Coaching With Myrna