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

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Importance of Mentors in Marriage & Parenting

Recently Jackie and I finished a six day conference and family visit trip to the Midwest. We had a great time at a prayer workshop and then traveling a few hours to see our son, daughter-in-law and two precious grandsons.

However, the night we flew in to Indianapolis we had a rental car reserved. And like many rental agencies these days you get to pick your car out of those that are available in the class in which you made your reservation. So I went over to a nice white Nissan, put our luggage into the trunk and Jackie and I got into the car. "Ah yes," I thought, "cruise control, an input for my MP3 player, all the necessities."

And then I tried to start the car. I couldn't find the key (which I later discovered to be somewhere near my left foot and which you only need to have in the car with you!) Then I saw a glowing button that said "start" on it. Being a highly trained professional who can immediately make wise deductions based on the evidence before me I decided to push that button. But apparently start doesn't refer to the engine but rather to the state of one's blood pressure going up once he realizes he may be a moron.

Everything within me at that point wanted to make this a personal challenge and figure it out by myself. However, after years of realizing that is typically futile, at least with me, I decided to humble myself once again and ask the 20 year old female attendant, "Uh, I'm having a little trouble with one of the driving basics here . . . . yes, that would be actually getting the car to move."

Let's face it - while we'd rather not need anyone to help us with life's challenges, getting help is really the way to go, especially when it comes to more important things than rental cars such as marriage or being a parent. I haven't done a scientific study but I'm pretty confident that most of the couples in messed up marriages I deal with have not had practical, meaningful and helpful pre-marital counseling. No one told them how to start their marriage.

And sadly, our culture and even many churches don't even think about having marriage mentors, ongoing classes and other practical helps for couples. And who, when they walked out of the hospital with their first child, got a packet or book on How to Parent? And who provides the ongoing help for parents who struggle with the everyday challenges of babies, toddlers, preschoolers, elementary children and adolescents? Oprah? Dr. Phil? We have to have more.

Proverbs 1:5 says, "Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance." I'm convinced that as married couples and parents we need to seek out mentors. A few churches and organizations actually train and offer mentors but they are few and far between. Most of us will have to ask for help. Where do you find mentors?

Start by looking at couples and families you highly respect Chances are if their marriage is healthy and their kids are doing well they are doing something right. Yes, there are always those families that look great on the outside and are imploding on the inside. However, start with people you know fairly well and you'll probably be able to tell who can be most helpful to you.

In addition, you want a mentor who is real and authentic. If people are too perfect then you might want to question whether things are going as well as you thought. But start somewhere and ask a person or couple if they would mentor you. If you're a single parent find another single parent with a bit more experience who can help you make your parenting more effective. Ask a staff person at your church if they know someone who might fit the bill. In premarital counseling I ask couples to do an interview with a mature, Christian couple and often that couple becomes their mentor.

Jackie and I were hiking in Colorado a couple of summers ago on our way to a lake at a fairly high elevation. We were getting challenged by the trail, some pesky flies and the altitude so we started to wonder whether we should turn around. Finally, at one point I suggested that I would hike up the next half mile or so and see if it was worth going on. Within just a few hundred yards I realized we'd made it to the lake!

I went back, got Jackie and we finished our hike. You see, we all need a few people who've hiked the trail and can encourage us to keep going and help us find our way. Get a mentor. Or if you're well down the trail, be one. And by the way, when you start a car with a push button starter you need to have your foot on the break. Want some help?
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Importance of a Loving Surprise Now and Then

Not long ago I went to my favorite Starbucks for an early morning meeting. I walked up to the cashier and as usual ordered my latte, pulling out my money to pay for it. Just then the barista said, "Oh, by the way someone is paying for all the drinks this morning. There's no charge."

The cashier went on to explain that a person had apparently come in early that morning and dropped $500 down and said to cover everyone's beverages until the money ran out.

You know what's interesting? That small gesture of generosity kind of made my day as it seemed to do with a number of us who waited for our coffee. People were buzzing about it each with a smile on their face if only for a few minutes. It was nice being surprised by someone's kindness. Sure, it was only worth a few dollars, but his or her thoughtfulness went significantly beyond their investment.

In fact, that person's actions reminded me that while I too should be willing to sacrifice even for strangers, I also need to look for opportunities to surprise those close to me. While I certainly love them, I don't go out of my way nearly enough to just give a surprise or extra dose of love and kindness to them through an obvious action or word.

What might that look like? Well, there are no doubt hundreds of answers to that question depending upon you, your circumstances and the people you love. But here are a few suggestions. First of all, give some doses of affirming or encouraging words. Have you told your spouse lately how proud you are of him or her or what a great husband, wife or parent they are?

Have you told your kids lately what a terrific job they're doing in school, around the house or if they're an adult complimented them on their parenting? Have you told a friend how much you appreciate their listening ear and helpful thoughts.

Have you brought one of your office team a surprise coffee or other favorite treat just because?

You see if we're not careful we'll become like the man whose wife wondered why he never said he loved her to which he responded, "Why should I do that? I told you I loved you when we got married. That should be enough." Wrong answer.

Words are powerful. I've said this before but let me repeat this important verse from Proverbs 18:21, The tongue has the power of death and life. Or Proverbs 25:11, A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. Thoughts unexpressed are just thoughts. Those close to us don't typically read our minds. And loving actions have great impact especially to those who respond more emotionally to what they see than what they hear.

Get creative. Have fun with this. And know your audience. Use words or actions or your presence depending upon the love language of the person you're with. Every now and then I stop on my way home from a long day away from my wife and bring her one of her favorite treats letting her know I was thinking of her even though I was gone all day. More often than not, she surprises me, though, with a fun note or creative card. Our actions don't have to cost a lot of money. But we do need to be intentional.

Here's a question that might help you determine what you could try: What could someone do or say to YOU that would encourage you and lift your spirit today? Chances are good that someone in your world would love to receive the same from you today. Go for it! In fact, be bold and ask God to open the door for you and then look for the next opportunity. It might make your day!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Parents or Friends

I always enjoy time with my grown children who are both married and have children of their own. However, we all realize that we don't have these times too often so we enjoy them as much as we can. The time together is wonderful.

But Jackie and I have been reminded again that we now relate to our children more as friends than parents. Yes, I hope we will always provide them a sense of support, wisdom and leadership, but they are nonetheless now adults in their own right and that's a good thing. It really is fun to be more friends to each other than parent and child. And you, too, can anticipate that you can enjoy a friendship relationship with your kids someday.

However, when our kids are young and in our homes, we're to be more their parent than friend. Yes, we should be loving and we can be friend-ly, but many parents make the mistake of trying to be their child's friend in inappropriate ways. And when they do that several things can begin to happen.

First of all, some parents will not do much of anything if it will cause their child not to like them or to be angry with them. As a result the kids get most of what they want, make key family decisions and become the center of attention. Some parents don't ever want their child disappointed with them so they give in to them most every time. Parents who live this way end up with children who think the whole world revolves around them. They begin to believe that everything in their home must be done to please their wants and needs.

Second, parents can start to act like a child instead of an adult who has fun interacting with their child. This next week we'll be traveling to Illinois to see our son, his wife and their two sons. Jeremiah turned two in July so he'll be ready for grandpa to play all sorts of games, read books, help him ride his bike and build with Legos. I can't wait! But if you came to watch us and I were acting like a two-year-old myself you'd be calling for the mental health police to pick me up! And you should.

Too many parents try to still be a teenager by dressing, talking and acting like them in general. Teenagers don't want us to be their friend. They want and need us to be their parents who act towards them and their friends in friendly, but age-appropriate ways. If we try to somehow be cool we're going to be grossly uncool. Trust me.

Third, parents who want to be their child's friend don't think clearly about discipline and their child's best interests. There are things in life that we as parents must simply enforce. Our kids will not naturally gravitate to the right and best things. So we'll have to set rules, say no and make decisions that they won't like. For a time they might not like us very much. You'll survive and so will they.

I can remember one or both of our kids saying something like "I hate you," when they were little and had to do something they didn't want to do. My response was typically, "Really? You know I don't hate you right now. But I'm sorry you hate me tonight. There's nothing you could ever do that would cause me to hate you. However, you still need to go to bed. Hopefully you'll feel different tomorrow."

On those nights, I was clearly the parent and my child didn't need me to be a friend. It was best for me to lovingly, graciously yet firmly be the parent and have them learn to obey. And now as I watch our two kids parents their kids, I'm pretty sure I was right. They're terrific parents.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Consider Your Goals When Parenting

I heard some commentary and questions on a radio program this morning about how busy families are these days. There was some excellent discussion about how parents make decisions regarding how many activities their kids are allowed to pursue.

Now granted, every family is different. One home's guidelines won't necessarily be applicable in another home. Our schedules, demands, number of children and priorities are typically unique. However, there are a few good questions to ask yourself about how you spend your time as a family that can radically impact your parenting.

First of all, do you get to eat an evening meal together on a regular basis? Once a week or now and then isn't good enough. Studies clearly show that families who eat together regularly are healthier, more united and build stronger relationships. Rare meals together means that the paths of the members in your family rarely cross and that will be costly someday. Will our children someday say, "You know, I'm sure glad we spent as little time together as did," or "It was really great not knowing my parents or my sister that well?" I don't think so.

Second, what are the ultimate goals you have for your parenting? What is it you want to teach your children? My hunch is that you want your kids to learn from you what it means to have a great marriage, be good parents, and foster healthy relationships in a home. But if their lives merely revolve around a busy schedule of games, classes and practices, where will they learn the life lessons you want to teach them?

I remember watching a TV news magazine show where a little boy, maybe seven or eight, was playing tennis. The program piece was looking at young children who were being groomed by their parents to be great athletes or top-notch musicians. At one point they showed this little guy sobbing as he sat down by the fence with his tennis racket at his side. Just keeping our kids busy doing things they may not truly care about or have potential to do can harm more than help.

Third, when do our kids have time to just be kids? I'm sure I sound archaic here but kids still need to have fun. Every experience doesn't have to be an educational exercise. Laughter, random play and games are part of life and actually a healthy part of our development.

Fourth, are we teaching our kids to serve and give as well as take? We live in a great country where we have lots of wonderful opportunities to grow, learn and experience things. But there's more to life than just getting things for ourselves. One of the best thing we can teach our kids is to give and serve others. What does your family do for those less fortunate? You can serve at your church, school and in the neighborhood. At holidays give some gifts away instead of only get them for each other. In fact, think about taking your Christmas money one year and coming up with a project to care for others.

My hunch is you will get some of the best "gifts" you've ever gotten and learn more than you've learned in a long time. And you'll have a new perspective on how to use your time from here on out.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Handling Our Pain In Helpful Ways

Pain isn't fun, is it? Whether it's from a toothache, childbirth (what would I know?) or surgery, we and our doctors do our best to limit the pain we must endure. And there's nothing wrong with lowering or even getting rid of pain in many circumstances as long as we do it wisely and appropriately.

However, many people spend great amounts of time, energy and even money to dull other kinds of pain and they use unhelpful, inappropriate and even destructive ways at times to do it. And when we bring that painkilling to our marriage or parenting, the results begin to affect others as well as ourselves.

For example, some people have great amounts of emotional pain left over from their past. They may have been told they would never amount to much, that they were rejectable for some reason or that they weren't very talented. Some of us may have received those impressions from teachers, parents, bosses and friends who may have never even said those words but we knew what they meant.

As a result, we've spent much of our lives trying to anesthetize our hurt because it is too much, at least in our minds, to face every day. So some of us work harder, others get more degrees, many never let anyone down or must always be right. Others take more obviously destructive routes like abusing alcohol, using drugs, or being drawn to destructive short-term relationships.

Sadly, some of us bring our hurts and painkilling strategies into our homes. Jon's pain came from his parents always setting extremely high standards for him in school. If he got all A's except for one B, his parents were mad because of the B instead of being proud of his outstanding report card. So now as a husband and father, he still feels he has to perform. Criticism is unacceptable. He WILL be the best dad, the perfect husband and can never be wrong.

Why is he like that? It's possible that the pain of being unacceptable is still too risky and potentially damaging from his perspective to face. He never wants to have anyone look down on his efforts like his parents did even though he may never associate the two situations.

Jill has never thought she is pretty or attractive. The kids in school mercilessly called her names, made fun of how skinny she was, and laughed about her skin problems. Her parents weren't overtly critical but she knew they didn't think she was good-looking either because they never commented about her outfits or bragged on her looks.

So when Jill got married she was thrilled that someone seemed to like her enough to want to spend their life with her. But the thought of her husband possibly ever leaving her because of her looks kept her in a panic most of the time. They never talk about it but nonetheless Jill goes to the gym at least five days a week and spends a fortune on clothes whether she needs them or not. If she doesn't have at least ninety minutes to do her make-up and get dressed she becomes terrified to leave the house.

Why does she live that way? The pain of being unattractive and as a result rejected is too much for her to bear. Do you see the power of our personal painkilling? It can begin to run our lives, stymie intimacy in our marriage and taint our parenting. It is potentially paralyzing.

What's the answer? Well, it's easy and it's hard. The easy part is that we must learn that our worth is not found in what anyone says or does. It's only based on what God thinks. So often our identity becomes tied to our circumstances, accomplishments or what others think of us. But the Bible tells us that God loves us unconditionally, that Christ died for us as a result of His love. If we choose to follow Christ and become a child of God our worth and value will always be intact.

Instead of our mistakes or inadequacies now determining who we are, we can remind ourselves each day that we are a child of God, made in His image, a person of worth and purpose. Yes, we may happen to mess up from time to time or have a person not like us on a given day or have our kids not be perfect or have our spouse be more right than we are at the moment. In spite of it all, we still matter to God.

Unfortunately, the hard part is that we have often lived based on wrong thinking for a long time and we have to practice with God's help thinking in new ways. It's not always easy to change. Romans 12:2 reminds us that real change happens as we let God renew our minds. It's something we need to do every day.

What do you need to change about how you think about you? I encourage you to let God do some work on your mind throughout your waking hours. If so you will be free to be the best parent, spouse, friend and Christ follower you can be without all the pressure to be perfect or to gain your worth from what happens on a given day.

Yes, as Jesus said, "The truth will set you free."
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Power of Word Pictures

Have you ever felt like you were trying to communicate your feelings to your spouse, a child or someone else in your world and just couldn't get them to understand? Most of us have. And it doesn't mean the other person is necessarily trying to not get it although that can happen.

Well here's a suggestion and I was not the first to think of it. I originally heard this concept talked about by author, counselor and speaker Gary Smalley. The idea is this. We try to give the other person a word picture told within and about the world the other person knows and understands.

For example, if your spouse is a manager at work with several or even many employees who report to him or her, you might share your feelings in that context. "Jon, imagine if one of your employees regularly had an idea and yet often changed his mind a few days later but never told you about the change. How would that make you feel?"

"Well," Jon might reply, "I guess I would feel a bit irritated, certainly confused and maybe even hurt as to why he was always saying one thing and then doing another and not telling me."

"You see Jon, that's how I feel when you do that here at home. It's not that you change your mind or your idea, but I feel pretty left out, confused and at times angry that you don't include me in that change of decision."

A person will often get it more quickly when we put our feelings into a context they can relate to through their own personal experiences. If your spouse plays sports, the conversation could start this way: "Diana, think about the volleyball team you play on every Tuesday night. What if your coach one night embarrassed you in front of all the others and yet she didn't have all the facts and you were the only one singled out? How would you feel?

This might be the opening you need to bring up a time when you were hurt because your spouse didn't have all the facts about your actions and yet made you look bad in front of others. Stories like this also keep the conversation from deteriorating into accusations about what the other person always or never does, rather than just dealing with the current issue.

You can also use word pictures in dealing with your children, especially the older ones. "Madison, imagine if one of your friends at school . . . . " or "Ryan, think about the guys in your band . . . . " You can finish the pictures with details from their world and yours. Hopefully you get the idea.

Pictures and stories are powerful, aren't they? Go back to some of the sermons, concepts or books you remember best. I'll bet that most of them had a compelling story or picture that you can still recall. Jesus used stories and pictures all the time. They are called parables. They worked. They contain huge amounts of theology and other spiritual truths but in a simple story.

We'll certainly need to practice telling our own versions. It's not easy at first but once we try it a few times it will become more natural. You might want to prepare ahead of time when you know there's an issue that needs to be discussed with a spouse or child. Write your word picture out someplace and work on it until you've crafted it into a great story.

Don't make it too long. Keep it simple. Don't preach! Give a chance to respond. But my hunch is that your conversations will have far more impact and cause less injury along the way. That's worth something, isn't it? For a more detailed discussion of word pictures check out Gary Smalley's book, The Language of Love.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

How Can a Single Prepare for Marriage

I recently had a single guy ask me how he could prepare now to be a good husband someday. What a great question! And the good news is that there is a lot any single man or woman can do now to prepare well for marriage.

I often tell couples in premarital counseling this maxim that I coined a few years ago: If you throw your socks on the floor before you get married, you'll throw them on the floor AFTER you get married. I hope my point is obvious: Marriage typically doesn't change our habits or character. Change takes time and character is molded and shaped, not merely put on one day because we hoped it would be different (or got married).

So single person do what you can now to become the person you want to be when you get married. No, none of us will ever be perfect, but you can become more and more a person of character, someone who loves Christ and lives out his or her faith every day. If you are a poor communicator start finding out now how to communicate more effectively. If there are unresolved issues that may impact your relationship with your spouse someday, don't wait to get help, assuming that those issues will change. They probably won't by themselves.

Second, foster healthy relationships with the opposite sex now. Your current relationships will be the proving grounds for what your married life will be like someday. Be willing to face some of your weaknesses and keep developing your strengths. In fact, ask others you trust about things in your personality that could improve. Then spend some time trying out some new ways of relating.

You may need to look at some underlying issues that cause you to think and ultimately act the way you do. But that can be a good and potentially lifechanging process if you get a competent and helpful person to walk you through it.

But let me say this, even though I wish I didn't need to say it. Don't live with someone of the opposite sex. I hear all sorts of excuses about why people do it but the statistics, facts and God are all against you on this one. Living with someone requires little commitment and no legal protection or safety. Either one of you can walk out on a moment's notice. It doesn't prepare you one bit for married life because it doesn't reflect true married life.

Instead, work hard at becoming the kind of person you would want to marry - spiritually, physically, intellectually and emotionally. Practice being a giver more than a taker, a listener more than a talker and committed to Christ more than anything or anyone. If you do, you'll be the kind of partner that someone of similar character will also be attracted to and it will be worth the wait!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.