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

Thursday, May 19, 2016

A Top Ten List For Dads

I can't think of many things I've enjoyed more in my life than being a dad. Of course, there have been a few hard, even disappointing times, but not many. Kids will always be kids and I know I sure made my share of mistakes, learning how to be a father by trial and error much of the time.

But I couldn't be more proud of my son and daughter, now observing them parent their own kids while my wife and I get to enjoy these six grandboys without all the mess (well, most of the time).

And while there aren't any set rules to follow or practices to embrace that will insure fathering success, I wanted to share my personal Top Ten List for Dads.

These are a few practices and insights that seemed to make a difference in any successes I've had as a father the past three decades or more.

Successful dads:

  1. Love their wives.  They don't just act as though mom is another helper. They visually and with emotional show their children that they love mom in very tangible ways and are committed to her for the rest of their lives.

  2. Keep their word. They say what they mean and mean what they say, even if they're not perfect at that now and then.

   3. Act like an adult most of the time. Healthy dads leave their adolescence behind, man up and lead their homes well in a partnership with their spouse. They're not seeking significance from their offspring.

  4. Still have a childlike heart. They can also enjoy playing and having fun with their kids while being spontaneous.

  5. Take care of themselves physically but aren't obsessive about it. Good dads model health and care for their bodies, but they know they don't have to be a super-jock or lifetime athlete.

  6. Live out their faith in everyday ways.  Too many men sit on the sidelines spiritually. Great dads model spirituality, not waiting for their spouse or leaders in the church to grow their kids in faith.

  7. Laugh a lot for the right reasons.  Some dads joke around all the time out of insecurity. Great dads laugh and have fun because they are secure and don't misuse their humor and joking.

  8. Initiate important communication with other family members. Mature, healthy dads are willing to go deep and start important conversations about faith, struggles, concerns and life in general.

  9. Pray every day for their family. Solid, godly dads don't dabble at praying. They live on it. It's natural, but it's powerful. It's common and it's real, not just a habit.

10. Live like they are dying.They live as though every day might be their last. They enjoy moments, make memories and say what needs to be said.

No, there aren't any perfect dads but there can be some great ones. You can be one. I'm going to keep trying as long as I've got a chance. You know, live like I might be dying.

Friday, May 13, 2016

When We Mean Well But Make It Worse

When a loved one, friend or neighbor faces a tragedy or challenge, our natural response is usually to do something, say something helpful or in other words, make it better. We certainly would never intend to add more angst to their situation but frankly we sometimes do - unintentionally.

And our misguided, ill-timed responses are often expressed through our words. We say the wrong thing though it may sound like the right thing.

Here are a few examples along with the better, more helpful, more realistic response.

1.  I know everything's going to turn out fine.  The problem is that in life everything doesn't always turn out okay. Thousands may pray and people still die or remain ill. We lose a job and there's no other job on the horizon anywhere. The better answer . . . ?

I know that you're going to get through this and a lot of us are here to help you.

2.  One of these days you'll discover why this happened.  Thankfully we do sometimes learn what God had in mind or how we grew and what was accomplished in us through a major challenge or tragedy. But often we never learn the why. We'll find out in Heaven perhaps, but not in this life. So it's a bit dangerous to promise someone that they will get the answers about why in this life. Maybe they won't. The better answer . . . ?

Sometimes only God knows all the reasons, but I will pray that you move from having to know WHY to finding out WHAT you will do now and HOW.

3.  I know exactly what you're going through and . . . .  In reality, none of us knows exactly what someone else is feeling or facing even though we may have a similar experience or story.  There may come a time when our sharing our perspective could give the other person some practical help about how to move forward or what not to do. But saying it in the moment of their pain only discounts their struggle and suggests they ought to be able to get through it easily because of where you have come.
There are better answers especially when the hurt is still raw and extremely potent . . .

I can't know what you're feeling but you are free to talk to me and share that anytime including right now. 

Get the idea? To be truly helpful means that we simply stay with another person in the moment without trying to fix, simplify or discount their hurt. Down the road may be the time for other suggestions. Initially make it your goal simply to listen and respond accordingly. I guarantee that the person you're caring for will thank you later for your ministry of presence and care, even though you did little to take away the pain.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Three Things To Be Sure To Teach Your Kids About Home

My wife and I recently moved again after less than two years at our former residence. We've actually been blessed to stay in several places for eight to as long as seventeen years at a stretch but whatever the time frame moving can still be tough.

It's not only the challenge of packing, sorting and then unloading and setting it up all over again. Often the bigger issue is the myriad emotional struggles we face leaving friends, finding new doctors, learning where things are, what you need and how to get places.

And sometimes we can begin to think that we left our real home and are now stuck in some sort of barren Purgatory that will never be the same as what we had before.

In this continuing fast-paced, often - changing - locations kind of society, it is important that we make sure our children know that home is more than a place, an abode of brick and mortar or a school system.

Home is where the family is. I know this sounds like a greeting card or Hallmark Special, but it's easy for kids to forget or simply not know that. In fact, while I don't encourage lots of moves every few years, I do know that the moves we've made have reminded us that home goes with us. Yes, with US. That means, just as the church is not the building, but the Christians, our home isn't that address on Orchard St, but rather the parents and kids.

Home is also a place where we help each other with the challenges, including moving. Yes, it is hard for children to make new friends, leave the familiarity of their school and learn new names, streets and amusements. But each time they have to endure that they are reminded that none of those things were really home anyway and most of the time the new setting is better. They survive and so do we.

Home then is affirmed as that group of people who yes love us but also help us make it. We live through it together and care for each other when we're hurting. We may have all shed some tears driving out the driveway but we also share the smiles that can come with a new place with new adventures and new dreams.

Finally, home is the place you always go to feel safe, comfortable and real. When I was in seminary and our son was just two we lived in Texas for the summer.  Our home, however, was in Michigan. The day we returned after ten weeks in the South, we were bringing things in from the car and knew Tim was in the house but we didn't see him.

So we of course went to discover where he was and we found him sitting on his bed. And as we walked into his room he simply said one word, "Home!"

You see our kids will face some tough times perhaps having to leave a location and some people they care about but thinking they're leaving home. And while we know better often young minds don't. So teach them about home where their real home is. Prepare them for that day when home might be somewhere else but not with someone else.

I'm thinking Heaven might be like that, too.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Three Key Non-negotiables In A Healthy Marriage

Every marriage, every relationship has its uniquenesses. Some spouses are more active or outgoing than others. Some have no kids, others a couple, some a large brood. Some husbands and wives love the outdoors, sports or travel. Others can be happy at home, enjoying local family and not being too busy.

Those special differences make the world better and life rich. Each couple ought to enjoy the image in which it is made.

However, there are a handful of qualities in good marriages that need to flourish in every couple's portfolio if they're going to succeed and stay married 'til death do them part.

Let me suggest three.

They make quality, meaningful, interactive time for each other. This is time that is focused on them, not the kids or other family, not work or individual hobbies and not television or other entertainment simply done together.

Some of these times will be very informal, while others may be more serious. Leisure, fun and even errands can be done during these times but the key is that they emphasize being together. There are few distractions from other people, responsibilities or dissimilar interests.

They speak to each other (and yes even argue) with respect, kindness and avoiding contempt. Marriages that last are known not for sweet and syrupy conversation all the time, but rather a basic tone of voice and use of language that is never mean, disrespectful or unnecessarily hurtful.

Couples avoid demanding, derogatory name calling and shaming one another. They speak in the here and now without bringing up past mistakes to gain advantage or control. They also build each other up both in private and in front of others, never using humor or berating of the other with friends, family or acquaintances.

In fact couples would be wise to get some counseling or other practical help on how to communicate with one another more effectively. Check out my marriage videos at Marriage Videos.

They regularly talk about how they are doing as a married couple. In other words, they aren't afraid of evaluation. We usually take a mini-retreat every year to do just that. We have fun, go somewhere we both would enjoy (need not be expensive) and talk about both the past year and the one ahead of us. We actually take time at the end to pray over our goals and ideas.

You can do this any way that works for you but give it a try.

Of course there are more important keys to a great, effective, intimate marriage. But why not start with these three and see how you're doing? It's worth investing in one of the most important relationships you have and will ever have!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

THE, (Yes), THE Most Important Parenting Principle

Thousands of books have been written on how to parent and many of them contain outstanding, practical ideas regarding tactics, strategies and plan old actions that effective parents do. Of course, some ideas work well in some families and some accomplish more in different homes with different children.

You always have to pick and choose, use some trial and error and know your kids well before you land on the Holy Grail kinds of parenting skills. I wrote my own book that I think has helped some moms and dads. It's called Turn Up or Turn Around Your Parenting and is available at Amazon in both paperback and Kindle.

However, I want to highlight something I cover in the very first chapter that I think too many parents overlook, play down or at best give too little importance. And I'm convinced that in a home where there is a mom and dad that this is THE most important parenting theorem and rule of all time. And if parents don't make this a priority the rest of the ideas in those thousands of books will matter little because they won't work, at least not for long.

So what is this gem of principle that I've baited you long enough with? Here it is: Moms and dads must be on the same page and carry out the basic rules, guidelines and disciplines they decide on. This sounds so simple but many parents knowingly or unintentionally actually undermine the discipline and guidance of each other by doing just the opposite.

It happens in a couple of ways. Sometimes parents actually do talk about what they're going to enforce at bedtime, for a curfew, regarding parties, riding in other cars, going to a weekend activity, etc. But then when that guideline is broken or questioned one parent or the other looks the other way, thinks the change is no big deal and the child wins.

Other times, parents have to deal with a more spontaneous ask from their child about what to wear, going out with friends, playing with their video game, going to bed at a unique time or whatever. These kinds of events can't be talked about specifically because they don't fall into any regular pattern, category or previous discussion's content.

But the problem is that parents often then make a quick decision not knowing whether their son or daughter has already asked about this or if the other parent knows a good reason why a decision one way or the other isn't a good idea.

The result of either of these scenarios not handled in tandem together and based on previously agreed upon parameters is two-fold:  One, the children begin to believe that they really don't have to keep most rules because they can be easily broken. Or two, one spouse begins to think that their input or discipline really doesn't matter because the other partner continues to allow the opposite. And the corollary is that the kids begin to think that one parent is an easy mark.

What's the answer?  First, parents must have those meetings that lay out the basic rules and guidelines for discipline. Of course these things change as the kids get older, but the meetings and clear determinations are important nonetheless.

Second, parents must commit to keeping those rules (there are of course exceptions but should be rare) even if the other parent isn't there to help enforce them. And when we don't know if the other parent has weighed in or has a perspective particularly regarding a more spontaneous ask that needs our decision, we came up with a phrase to say to our kids.

If you need an answer now, the answer is "no."  If you can wait ten minutes (or whatever time is required) the answer is "maybe." Which option would you like to go with?

Of course, 90% of the time they took the maybe route.  That was the option with some hope and promise behind it. Once we began to respond that way all the time our kids figured out that working us against each other or pushing back on the rule wasn't going to work.

So how are you doing?  Do you and your spouse need to have a staff meeting to re-visit your discipline partnership?  If you're having trouble enforcing healthy actions and attitudes at home it's possible that you need that gathering and a new team perspective.  Chances are you need to renew your commitment to helping and supporting each other when it comes to leading and guiding your children.

And for more detail on this and other practical stuff check out my parenting book at:  Happy and more fulfilling parenting!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Ten Things To Always Consider Before Marriage

A wedding is one of those events that most look forward to and eagerly anticipate. Little girls dream about theirs and act out the perfect wedding in play times. Couples spend countless hours looking for the perfect location and extra elements that will make their day memorable.

And yet beyond the wedding is a marriage, a hopefully lifelong relationship fueled by love, founded on faith and sustained by commitment that survives even the toughest of times. And sometimes people let wedding plans and excitement distract them from determining whether this other person they're planning to live with until death do them part is not just the person they can live with but also the one they can't live without.

I want to suggest that couples spend far more time on their marriage than their wedding. And finding that special individual can be helped dramatically by being willing to look at ten considerations and questions below and answer them honestly. No one is perfect, but these questions can root out some deeper issues that may rear their heads later and keep a marriage from being the intimate, loving, lifelong relationship it could be and should be.

And let me add that if several of the questions suggest significant problems or red flags, please consider not getting married until these issues are talked about and examined closely. Counseling may be valuable at that point too. There is little worse than being several years into a relationship knowing that there were skeletons lurking in someone's background that needed attention and can potentially destroy the relationship.

I have a theorem that has proven true over and over. If something is going on before the wedding, it will still be there after the wedding. Marriage changes little when it comes to problems.

My Marriage Top Ten:

1. Does your fiance like you? For example, do they laugh at your jokes, take interest in your likes and priorities, talk about things you enjoy or is it all about them or someone else?

2. Does your fiance seem proud of you? Do they brag about you to others, ever tell you they think you do something well or does it feel like they're always a little jealous or at best silent about your talents?

3. Do you make most of your decisions together or does the other one subtly take charge as though they know better?

4. Does either of your fiance's parents act the same way?  In other words, are there genetic, family systems issues involved?

5. Have you talked about whether there has been any abuse in either of your families? Abusive characteristics are often passed on from past generations or started in childhood. See #6.

6. Does your fiance tend to not want to talk about serious issues or problems or suggest that you can work them out after you get married?

7. Are faith, church involvement and spiritual growth considered by your fiance to simply be nice things but doesn't support with any enthusiasm or personal commitment?

8. Do outside hobbies, goals, education and work seem more important than your marriage, home and ongoing relationship together?

9. Does your fiance place undue importance in keeping family traditions and not upsetting their parents?

10. Do you simply sense something is fundamentally wrong and you can't put your finger on it?

Answers to these questions won't make any marriage perfect or unearth every potential problem but they will address most of the major ones. I know you might rather look the other way but don't. Your life and relationship depend on it. And if nothing else by asking these questions you may end up affirming that you really have found someone you can't live without.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Can Anyone Learn Anything From Soccer? Maybe.

We're going to another professional soccer game today. Our son is the public address announcer for the Chicago Fire and sometimes we get to sit with the boys during the game while Tim works and spend a little time as a family beforehand and after.

I've never been much of a soccer fan, however, playing baseball, basketball and some hockey as a kid. Soccer always seemed like too much running, too little scoring and a lot of fake injuries. But the more I watch these games, I see some life lessons that are worth talking about and modeling in everyday life.

It seems parents would be wise to discuss these now and then with your kids whether they actually play the game of not.

You don't always see the results of your efforts right away. Let's face it, soccer games with scores of 1-0 or even 0-0 are more common than 4-2 or 5-3. Results (most notably goals) don't just happen and usually don't occur in great quantity unless you're watching 7-year-olds.

Life works that way, too. Sometimes you have to work hard and long to see the results you want to see. And today's kids probably need to hear and see that more often to help them keep from becoming part of this oft-entitled generation.

You won't always win either. That's a lesson to be learned in every sport but it's enhanced in soccer because of ties. You can work really hard, lead the whole game 1-0 and then see the other team score in the last minute and you end up even. Life's the same. We don't always come out on top and sometimes others waltz in at the last minute and seem to get the same benefits. It doesn't feel fair, sometimes it's not, but it's life. Move on.

Sometimes great skills won't get noticed or appreciated. I have to admit that top-level soccer players are incredibly talented and fit. They run and run while making moves with a round ball and pretty much only their feet that most of us don't even dream about. And while soccer purists and participants generally recognize the high level of ability the players possess, many like me really don't appreciate their abilities for what they are. The lack of goals can imply that the players aren't doing that much of note when they are in many cases world class athletes.

We need to remind each other and our children that our efforts and abilities will never receive all the accolades they deserve. Nonetheless, we need to enjoy and embrace our accomplishments for what they are to us, to those who love us and to God.

Finally, we don't always live in the greatest of circumstances. Soccer, at least in the Midwest, is often played in lousy weather - rain, snow flurries, wind, you name it. And the game goes on anyway unless there is lightning. In fact, today's weather is supposed to be chilly, perhaps in the 40's at best. And in life we often have to go on in challenging weather - disappointments, challenges, steep roads to climb and wind, so to speak, in our face.

And that's what makes us stronger, tougher and more trusting in God.

So is there a game coming up? Look for a lesson or two.

Where's my favorite jersey?