Gary's blog for couples and parents plus resources for individuals, leaders and churches.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Why We Made Our Kids "Moons" Not the Sun

The solar system is amazing isn't it? Planets (okay, no more Pluto) revolve in continuous orbit around our majestic sun. Each follows a distinct path at varying distances away from the golden globe at our system's center causing a uniqueness in each locale of temperature, general climate and substance.

And even scientists with all their knowledge and brilliance realize there is still so much to learn.

But as incredible as this miracle of physics in God's creation is, it's not a great model for a family if the sun happens to be now occupied by the kids. And in many families that's exactly the situation.

The kids have become the sun and the parents, grandparents and who knows who else are now forced to revolve around them. Activities, vacations, days off and a lot of money are invested every day and every week to keep it all working. In fact, to run the analogy just a bit further, the kids actually can begin to think they're the center of the universe or in other words everything.

They become entitled . . . deserving in their minds of more time, investment and commitment by mom and dad and other siblings not yet acting as their own sun. And this misunderstanding of the familial solar system is hurting, even destroying many a home. Homes that revolve around the kids, as the planets do the sun, are typically not healthy and in many cases self-destructing.

One symptom of over-focusing the life of our family on the children has been parent-hovering, driven by moms and dads who won't let one detail of their child's life be threatening or hurtful. But interestingly, several articles have been published recently in well-respected magazines such as Psychology Today, suggesting that helicopter parenting as it is referred to is even more harmful than once thought.

Of course are kids should be important, loved and very special to us. But they cannot become the center of our home's solar system. That's why we tried to live as though our kids were moons, orbiting and reflecting light from us, light that we tried to reflect from our sun, the wisdom, direction, example and knowledge of God.

In practical terms, that also means that our schedule should, excuse the pun, reflect this same structure. If the kids are not the center of our system, then our calendar will not be all about them. Our lives won't orbit around our kids even though they deserve our attention and appropriate focus. But they will be moons, pulled naturally by other nearby planets, but not the sun.

And frankly, we'll all be better off as a result. We'll slow down. Kids will learn to respect and give to others rather than just get the attention and resources for themselves all the time. We'll all be less stressed and anxious about life, not trying to get it all done and being tired much of the time.

You see, just as God placed our solar system in a structure where each part works well with the others, families need to work the same way. And when kids become the sun then that order and structure gets disrupted and the parts can't work properly.

And while your family will still have its uniquenesses, you'll find yourselves when in the proper orbit enjoying each other far more, connecting on a deeper level and even growing more in faith and other things that really matter. And who knows, maybe even Pluto can be reinstated one of these days!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Why We Need To Quit Trying To Give Our Kids Everything

Another Labor Day weekend has arrived and millions travel, head to beaches, enjoy cookouts or embrace resting for an extra day much deserved. There will myriad parades, special events and end-of-summer celebrations as most of us in the north hope to stretch the warmer temperatures for just a few more weeks if we can.

And yet most of us forget that the holiday is called Labor Day. We ironically take a break from work to celebrate it and those whose work ethic has formed the foundation of this amazing country we live in.

But sadly, many modern parents seem to be skipping the part about teaching their kids what it means to work hard, sacrifice now to save for something later and to perform whatever labors they commit to in the future with honesty, commitment and respect for their leaders. Instead, there seems to be this tendency and temptation to just give kids more and more freebies, while doling out the dollars, gasoline and time so their wishes, longings and dreams will come true.

And yet, these same children will one day soon have to apply for jobs, start at the bottom of the ladder in many cases and stick with something they don't like at first to get to a job they one day will love. Who's teaching kids today what it means to work hard for something, be proud of what they do, endure challenges, relate to different kinds of bosses and stick with a task until it's finished?

I'm not suggesting that we go back to the good old days when our parents or grandparents worked in terrible conditions for pennies a day and eventually opened their own cleaners, bakery or machine shop where they remained for the rest of their lives.

But I am suggesting that it's unwise to simply let our kids do everything they want on our dime so that they don't miss out on any special experience or opportunity. You see when we take that approach they are missing out on something important - learning to work hard on their own, without the special privileges and minus the perks and resources that we provide now which won't likely be there later.

Let me suggest a couple of ideas for helping kids understand the meaning of hard work.

1. Make sure they have a job or two before they go off to college. It might be very part-time and low paying but they will get a taste of the real world.

2. As much as the take your kid to work idea seems contrived and manipulative at times, there's probably a reason to do it on your own time and in your own way. They will learn a lot about what an average day is like the real world and perhaps realize it's not all fun and games.

3. Volunteer as a family. While there's no pay involved there is usually some hard, rewarding work required.

4. Talk about your work, what it took to get there and what you expect from your employees. Let them ask questions, show them examples of your successes and even give them some lessons on how you spend the money you make.

I'm sure you can come up with other ideas. Whatever you do, don't let one more Labor Day go by without a plan to teach your family some more about work. It's what has made America great and what will sustain your kids for the rest of their lives . . .  if you work at it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Five Things To Teach Your Teens Before They Leave The Nest

Let's face it. Teens are often vilified, considered rebels and emotional wrecks much of the time. Many parents hope and pray that everyone can just get along until they are out of the house.

However, the teenage years are an important time for parents to stay very intentional and involved in the ongoing training, development and maturity of their kids who will soon leave their home for good.

While there were challenges of course, we found our kids' teen experiences to be fertile ground for them to still learn important lessons about life that they would use for decades to come. Let me suggest five key goals for parents to have in their plan for adolescent training.

1. Teach them to communicate with adults. Teenagers of course interact with adults in a variety of ways in everyday life but there will be more important opportunities to come. They will need to sit in interviews with colleges and employers, communicate with bosses, neighbors and local merchants. I've met too many teens whose vocabulary with me consisted largely of, "Yeah," "sure," and "okay." That won't cut it in life.

2.  Teach them to make their faith their own. Many teenagers still believe in God, the Bible, salvation in Jesus and the like but have never determined for themselves "why?" Therefore, they lack the ability to also think according to Scripture and logically. Parents can help by initiating discussions and interactions about spiritual issues, tough questions and the validity/reliability of the Bible. Let them question without being criticized.

3. Teach them practical living skills. Both boys and girls need to learn to wash clothes, basic foods and pay bills. Other chores can be added depending upon your household. Of course, aptitude will impact just which skills go to a higher level. I have never been good at fix-it kinds of things so more training would have only moved me up a slight amount in my ability. Nonetheless, there were other things I was required to do that I still do today.

4.  Teach them to show respect, kindness and humility. We live more and more in a me, myself and mine culture so our kids are being programmed to have much of life about them. Give them opportunities to serve others, speak graciously and be polite.

5.  Teach them to work hard. The best way is to model it but make sure they get regular opportunities to work both at home and in the workplace. Expect them to do their best and not settle for average. Encourage them to serve others through mission work and or acts of kindness.

Seeing our adolescents succeed in these areas may seem small but the dividends will be huge and you'll have teens who stand out from the crowd!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Seven Simple Habits Every Parent Should Teach and Model

We all can think of the great sayings of all time, some from the Bible, others wise proverbs and many the timely thoughts of great leaders and individuals. Most of these principles suggest practical actions and regular behaviors that will make life better, more joyful and certainly fulfilling.

But there are some that aren't quite as well known and yet I'm convinced every child should be taught to do, repeat and embrace as they grow into adulthood. They're not complicated, scholarly or widely studied in the literature. But perhaps being reminded of the things on this list will help you as a parent work a little harder at making them more normative in your home.

  1.  Always make your bed. I know, young kids don't often think about this one and we may feel there are other more important things, but a made bed tends to cause other things that day to be more orderly.

  2. Always tidy up your desk before you leave work or a project. This has the same effect as #1 and gets a person more ready and organized for the next day.

  3. Say "I love you" often to the people you truly love. These moments can be gone before we know it and we all need the reminder that someone does care.

  4. Always do your share. No one at your home should be expected to do all the work for results that bless the group. Teach kids early on to help pick up, do dishes and assist with other chores. You're a team, a family.

  5. Learn to say you're sorry. No one is perfect, we all make mistakes. But walking away from something we did that was rude, unkind or unfair should be unacceptable. It's okay to be wrong, but it's not okay to forego righting a wrong.

  6. Don't always wait until the last minute. Projects, chores and other tasks can be planned and thought about ahead of time. If not, they tend to suffer in quality and we take on more pressure than needed.

  7. Give as much away as possible. Keeping stuff rarely satisfies. Giving to others almost always bring you joy and is way more fun in the long run.

Pick one or two of these to start working on or taking to the next level. They may seem like little things now, but the dividends down the road can be huge!  Happy parenting.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Staying Married 40 Years: The Tools of Commitment

Jackie and I are celebrating forty years of marriage today, Sunday, June 26th. We were married in 1976, the same year our country was founded.

Oh, wait a minute, it just seems that long and we look that old at times. We actually honeymooned in Canada during most of the 200th celebration of our country's establishment so we weren't too patriotic.

Sometimes we both feel as though we couldn't even be forty years old, much more married that long. On the other hand, we are incredibly blessed to still be husband and wife in a culture where silver, golden and even ruby (40) anniversaries seem to be fewer and fewer.

We were blessed with two awesome kids, who now have their own and have given us six grandsons. Wow, who would turn that down?

But we also know that we haven't been perfect and accept our warts, scars and ongoing challenges that others face. We didn't do everything right by any means and brought our own issues to marriage, ones that we too had to overcome by the grace of God. We've shared some of those stories elsewhere.

If we can share anything, however, it might be just a handful of attitudes and practices that have been handholds and footholds in our journey together, points of balance and strength that have kept us from giving up or giving in. No, we didn't do any of these perfectly but we made them consistent throughout the years.

One, we made time for each other even when we had kids or other significant responsibilities. I've written about this in other posts plus my book, Turn Up Or Turn Around Your Marriage, but I need to highlight the idea again here. We've almost always had a least a day that was dedicated to time together. We still do today.

When we had kids, we shared babysitters to lessen the costs, but we still made it a priority. That time kept us talking, relaxing, connecting and making each other a priority. We dreamed, planned and worked through things because we had the time.

Two, we said "I love you" a lot along with other encouraging words of life. Even in conflict we avoided name-calling, comparing and shame. We knew that words were and are powerful so we kept trying to speak life into each other. A related action is that we still act romantically towards each other in the everyday times - hold hands, sit together on the couch when we watch TV and kiss each other hello and goodbye.

Third, we were always a team - as parents, partners, dealing with finances, making decisions, disciplining the children. Everything we own, we both own. It's all ours even though there might be a few items that one or the other cherishes or uses more. One of our favorite things to do was to plan special trips or other events together.

Finally, though there are more I could talk about, we both looked to God, to Jesus and the power of His Spirit for our ultimate worth and happiness and the strength to live godly. Unlike the Jerry Maguire line, we don't try or expect to complete each other. We immensely enjoy each other's love and care and hope to keep doing so for many years to come. But we are clear that when it's all said and done, God is enough.

You see marriage is a wonderful taste of what only God can do in us all the time. That's why we sacrificed to give to Him over the years, to serve other in missions or special programs like MOPS. It's why we chose ministry together over just getting more stuff. And it's what we believe will make the rest of our years special, whatever time God allows us.

We do value so many who have been our models, mentors, teachers and encouragers. Some of you who will read this are in those groups whether you know it or not. Thank you.

And if our example can help you or someone else to keep committed to marriage and not give up, then it's been worth the difficult journey even more. Feel free to share this post with others who might benefit from hearing a little of our story.

As I like to say, never quit climbing. The view from the top is worth it!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Three Things That Can Steal From Your Kids' Summer

For many parents summer is often either a blessing or a curse. It's a blessing because the early mornings, school nights and mounds of homework end for a while.

It can be a curse because mom and/or dad have to figure out how to keep their cherubs happily occupied, busy and at least somewhat productive when they get bored after only three days without the classroom.

Of course, other factors include the ages, personalities, interests and initiative of each individual child. We parents have many tough jobs but one of them is their supervisory role during summer break.

As a result we can overreact and go to extremes, several which in my mind as a parent, counselor and student of the family cause long-term problems rather than help.

Let me suggest three perspectives and strategies to avoid:

Don't over-program their time.  I know that the trend these days and often the requirements for kids if they're going to be involved again in the fall is . . . MORE. More training, more games, more practice, more experience, more talent development. And all that requires more time, energy, money and in many cases travel for the family.

Of course there are times when we feel like there aren't any alternatives. I remember our son as a basketball player being required to attend summer camps, workouts, tournaments and the like. One year he also got mono so couldn't attend most of the required activities. The kid who started almost every game since seventh grade hardly played his junior year of high school. Really? What kind of coach does that?

Whatever the case somewhere along the way we have to say enough is enough. That doesn't mean we don't let the kids do any of the offerings, but we can say "no" to some. They need a break! They're kids, not recruits.

Don't merely let them get lazy because school is over. I was an education major and taught school for fifteen years. I know that kids forget a lot over the summer. How about giving them a couple of choices that allow them to apply their knowledge, remember the highlights and do it all in a fun setting different from school?

If they started a language find a work, play or learning setting that requires they use their language skills rather than just study them. Music, art, sports, math, science, writing can all be practiced over the summer in fun ways, even ones that are done at home without cost or a leader.

In addition, don't be afraid to tack on a few more chores at home. Teach them some practical skills now that they're around the house more. They can learn to cook, help with laundry and do more yard work. You won't be there someday, remember?

Finally, don't miss out on opportunities to use this more flexible time to serve others. While most parents don't intend to merely spoil and indulge their kids (okay some do), it's easy for our children to begin to think that family life should center around their interests, needs and wants. So, why not find at least one opportunity that your family does together and/or they participate in with a community, church or other area group to help and give to others?

Whatever you do, don't buy into the more is more, look the other way or it's all about me, isn't it habits of so many families these days. Be different, stand tall above the summer status quo. Who knows, it just might change the direction and course of your family for the coming year.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Memorial Days Are Better With Stories

My dad, Harold Sinclair, served four years in World War II. He didn't die in the war. He passed away in 2000, a goal he'd told us about for most of our lives. "I at least want to live to see 2000," he reminded us most every birthday.

However, he could have died in the war and perhaps should have. You see, nearly fifteen years after his passing, I was in mom's attic going through an old trunk of his military things helping her get ready to move. My sister and I were passing things back and forth between attic and the main floor, reliving fun memories and determining what should be kept or not.

All of a sudden I pulled out a newspaper clipping from several documents in a folder and my heart nearly stopped. As I read it, tears came to my eyes and I quickly called my mom and Marilyn. The little article explained that my dad years before had won the Silver Star, one of the country's highest medals for bravery. He had risked his life to save some of his men while facing machine gun fire to do it.

I dug a little deeper into the trunk and sure enough found an old, faded box and the medal was inside.  My dad was a military hero. Sure he was a hero to us in other ways, but we never knew to what extent. My mom didn't know, we kids didn't know of this military award. I wonder if his mom and dad knew.

All I know is that I wish my dad were there to tell us about it. I wish he would have shared that when we were kids.  It would have changed a lot of Memorial Days into Memory Days, ones with far more meaning and impact. Yes, I know that those heroes like my dad were usually pretty humble and didn't want to talk about actions and events that may have had significant emotion and angst for them even years later. That's understandable and perhaps we should all just accept that.

However, it seems that young people today are missing out when they don't hear some of the stories of bravery, sacrifice and commitment that parents, brothers, sisters and others in their families exhibited and experienced for our country's freedoms. Who will pass on the legacy, the knowledge and pride to future generations?

Yes, war is hell and there's much that perhaps shouldn't be included in our stories. And our tales don't need to only be about the war, military or serving our country. But we don't need to remain silent and steal from our children the important lessons, examples and challenges those who served us so well and in many cases died for left us. Why don't we this year talk to our kids, share with our families and express some pride and thanks in story form about the ones who paid a significant price for us to freely enjoy this day?

Then perhaps the picnics, hot dogs, races and games will take a richer and deeper place in our thinking all year long.