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

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Are We Our Kids' Parent or Friend?

Few of us who parent want our kids to dislike us, right? We hope that they think we're the coolest parents around and never have to get therapy because of us. It's also not fun to endure their tantrums, rantings, poutings and defiance when they don't get their way so hmm. . . maybe it would be better to just give in.

Let me beg you to not to do that. Instead remember this . . . until your kids are out of your home, you're their parent first and friend second. That means that you choose your actions because of what is best not because they'll like you more at the moment. Unfortunately many parents' view of themselves is so poor they can't stand the thought of their child being unhappy with them so they constantly give in.

The kids' can disobey in public a hundred times and mom or dad still beg them to stop, promise them a treat or simply ignore them because they don't want the fight or to risk their sweet child thinking less of them.

Now I'm not suggesting that to parent first we can never be friendly or teach our kids what it means to be a friend. Some of my fondest moments of parenting are just that . . .fun times when we were together having a great time . . . kind of like friends would do. Running, throwing a ball, climbing a mountain, playing a game.

But those times must be reinforced and protected by us being a parent first. I remember that at least one of our kids (maybe both) used the "I hate you" line when they didn't get what they wanted. I believe one of those moments was at bed time and they were complaining about having to go to bed at a given hour.

My response, however, was something like this. "You know, I'm sorry you hate me right now, but I don't hate you. There's nothing you could ever do to make me hate you but I guess you're not happy with me. Maybe you'll feel better tomorrow. Either way, you still have to go to bed."

When we're a parent more than a friend we stay more consistent. We don't switch the rules on the fly. And when it's all said and done our kids respond better. They know the guidelines and that we mean what we say. In the end they will feel more protected and more at ease when life isn't changing all the time.

And then we also have more freedom to gradually lessen the rules or change them according to their age and maturity. We found that we actually have become more our kids' friends as they got older and we enjoy it more and more. But it would have been an unhealthy and illegitimate friendship if we hadn't been parents first.

Got a tough issue with your kids these days? Ask yourself, "what would the parent do?"
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, April 23, 2010

Breaking the Orbit of Abuse

This is a post I'd rather not write but I must. That's because in spite of the fact that we'd like to think that abuse only happens in marriages and homes that are overtly dysfunctional, that's not true.

Abuse is often a secret. Abusers don't usually abuse other people. Usually it's just their own spouse or kids. Unlike a lot of popular thought abusers can usually look and sound wonderful when they need to. And what spouse wants anyone to think that their home is a mess? Kids who are abused are typically threatened with their life if they tell anyone.

Abusers can be religious, Christian, even church leaders. Sometimes abuse is actually carried out based on erroneous beliefs that their spouse or child is not acting appropriately enough and must be punished accordingly by them. Of course abuse is often physical or sexual, but sometimes it's emotional or verbal making it easier to mask but no less harmful.

And it's wrong to assume that all abusers were abused themselves.

However, it's often difficult to get an abuser to face his or her abuse because they don't believe their actions are abusive. "Oh, I get a little angry now and then," or "Sure, I push the kids hard but I'm just trying to be confident they do their best," or "I was just joking! I'm a kidder, you know," are often the mantras of abusers.

But there's not enough room in a post like this to discuss all the causes, signs and results of abuse. I simply want to talk about breaking the cycle if you sense or know there is abuse in your home. An excellent book by Lundy Bancroft called Why Does He Do That? is worth getting if you're not sure and you need some solid insights and research to help you know. And while this book talks about men who abuse, women are not exempt.

So how do you start to break the cycle once you know there's abuse in your relationship or home? First of all, you must continue to accept that the abuse is real. As I suggested above, abusers are manipulators and they will do everything they can including feign religious conversion to keep you from doing anything to disrupt their control and patterns. Don't assume that because they were able to change for a day, week or month that they will no longer abuse.

Second, get help. You cannot deal with this alone because your perspective is likely skewed. Connect with a counselor, pastor, small group leader or support group to help you take the wisest next steps. If you can get the abuser to become a part of the helping network that's a plus but again remember he (or she) can easily change long enough to pretend that they've really made progress or aren't really that bad.

Third, make safety a high priority. Have a safe place to go if necessary. If you need to leave your home for awhile do it. You may have to call the police and make a statement that you mean business. If your children are being harmed in some way get them out of the situation now, even if it's only temporary. Don't make the mistake of thinking, "Oh, maybe tomorrow night things will be better." They won't be better even if they appear that way.

Fourth, remind yourself often that the abuse is not really about you. No, none of us are perfect, but the abuse being heaped upon you is not your fault. It's the abuser's problem and they will have to deal with it one way or another.

It's essential that you make a move when abuse comes into your home. You can take the first step in breaking this cycle even if it is hard. Start now. Trust God to walk through this with you and to bring the people alongside that you need to help.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Monday, April 19, 2010

Breaking the Orbit of Marital Distance

How well do you know your spouse's favorites? When's the last time you've talked about your bucket list or at least some dreams you still have for life and marriage? Do you regularly have time to look each other in the eye and talk about what's going on in your heart?

If you're like most couples you do too little of any of these. Why? Because you don't care about favorites, dreams and one another's hearts? Probably not. It's more likely that you're just too busy and in an orbit of life from day to day and week to week that is hard to alter. You go to work, get the kids to school, come home exhausted, perhaps run to a child's activity or a church function, do what you can to get yourselves fed and try to get ready for another day.

Who's got time for anything more? Who can afford another hour to talk with your spouse? And yet the more important question is: can we afford not to meaningfully connect with each other? I would suggest we can't. Not if our marriages are going to stay whole, dynamic and growing. And you probably even feel a need, perhaps a longing for more, but you're not sure how to make it happen.

The key is that we have to do something fundamentally different and inject some new ways of behaving or different energy into our orbit or nothing will change.

So what might that look like? I'm sure you can come up with other creative ideas but let me suggest a few starting points.

First, decide what you can give up. Perhaps the kids don't need to do everything they do. (And yes, they won't die if they miss out on one sport or special class.) Maybe one of your hobbies can go or be cut back. Maybe you're doing one too many things at church (yes, a pastor actually said that). Chances are someone else at your church is just waiting to do what you do anyway.

In addition, take inventory of how you spend lots of little segments of time. For example, we can watch a couple of hours of TV here, spend an hour online there and before you know it we've given up a lot of time that could be better spent on relationships.

Second, start putting times to be together on your calendar. Make them the norm, not the exception. It might just be an hour or less each night, part of a day during the week or a special day each month for starters. Make time for your relationship as important as anything else on your schedule - and it is you know! Yes, things will come up and cause you to miss but once it becomes a habit you find yourself anticipating the next time.

Our day together has been Mondays for awhile which also gives us a break from weekends in ministry that are typically pretty full. However, just last week one of my coworkers asked if I could attend a meeting on a Monday night. It was for a good cause and related to a ministry we're going to start this fall. I thought about it but said "no." Once you get a taste of a good thing it helps make it easier to protect.

Finally, start praying with each other on a regular basis. There's something about connecting spiritually that helps bring our souls together. If you're not in the habit of doing this let me give you a starting point. Commit to praying together for just one minute every day for thirty days. Yes, just one minute. Whether it's on your way out the door or before going to sleep it doesn't matter. You'll find that this little moment, tiny oasis in your day will start to bring you closer together in ways you couldn't imagine.

Yes you can get out of the orbit of distance in your marriage. Fire some rockets to get you moving even if the movement seems slow and inconsequential. It's time to come down to earth and get closer!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Getting Your Family Out of "Orbit"

I have always loved following the space program. From the time I was in 6th grade or so watching the first launches into space to seeing Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin land on the moon to more recent shuttle flights, I can't take my eyes off our forays beyond earth's atmosphere. If I could go on a space shuttle flight I would be willing to leave in the morning.

However, one thing I've noticed about space flight is that when the shuttle gets into an orbit it stays there unless some sort of new and extra energy or power is introduced. In most cases some sort of rocket must be fired or that vehicle will just continue to go around the earth. Unfortunately that picture describes many marriages and families.

They have hopes and dreams that things will improve but the inertia of their orbit keeps them doing the same things over and over again. Sadly, some people don't know how to change, while others don't have the time to change. Many are afraid of change where some really don't want to change because all they know and are "comfortable" with is the way things are now.

Nonetheless, there are many orbits or patterns that are potentially harmful, destructive or at best not wise.

During the space program's moon flights I remember hearing about (you couldn't really see this part in those days) the spacecraft having to make a mid-course correction part way to the moon. It meant that they would quietly fire a small rocket that would adjust their direction ever so slightly. However, that small change would make a huge difference when they got to the moon.

Most marriages and families also need some mid-course corrections to help them to land in a better place. So in the next few posts I want to provide some practical suggestions to help you and your spouse or family get out of unhelpful and ultimately harmful orbits.

Psalm 78 reminds us that we as adults have the potential and ability with God's help to change the orbit so to speak of our relationship or family. No matter what we brought from our past to our current situation God can help us overcome it and provide a new direction in our homes.

"He decreed statutes . . . so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands. They would not be like their forefathers . . . ." (Italics mine) vv. 6-8.

Here's some good news for today. Whether you're facing the orbit of busyness or abuse or addictions or anger or financial messes or lack of communication you can change. God is a God of new creation, second chances and changed lives.

Would you take some time to simply identify the unhelpful, unhealthy orbits of your life or your family's life? And would you first before God commit to change, commit to adding some new power and strength to your home and to do the hard work to go in a new direction?

God wants to free you to fly in new directions. And I'll try to provide some practical helps in the next few posts as well to get you on your way. Ignition . . . start!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Power of A Family That Prays

Jackie and I recently attended a regional prayer conference. It was an excellent gathering time overall with excellent speakers and lots of resources to help individuals and churches make prayer more meaningful and impacting.

However, I noticed something pretty quickly. We were some of the youngest people there and we're not exactly spring chickens anymore, though we'd like to think we are. We're grandparents so you get my point.

I had to wonder why more young adults were not attracted to activities and resources that would help them grow their prayer life. Now let me first say that I know there are many young people who value prayer. One conference's attendance isn't exactly a scientific study. However, I think it's fair to say that prayer in general is sometimes lost in those whose lives are filled with so much more to do and experience.

And I do wonder if our marriages and families aren't hurt in a way because prayer isn't more prominent in our homes. So rather than beat us up or make us feel more guilty, I simply want to offer up some practical reasons for praying more in your home and suggest a few ideas that can help you continue or get started.

First of all, prayer helps keep us focused on what's most important. When we pray for our spouse or children, we're thinking about the things that really matter and God will help keep our minds aimed at what those close to us really need.

Second, prayer will help our family stay strong even in the hard times. Prayer is no magic wand that automatically shields us or our loved ones from harm, illness or even tragedy. But when we pray, we're talking to our Heavenly Father and the Bible does say that prayer makes a difference. Prayer is like adding more fuel to the lives of each person we pray for so that when they need extra endurance, strength or guidance it's there for them to pull from.

Third, prayer helps bring us together. When your spouse knows that you pray over him or her or are praying for them during the day, they feel an extra spirit and soul bond with you. You're touching them in the deep recesses of who they are. In the same way when our kids know that mom and/or dad are praying for them, they feel more loved and important. Why would we not pray if prayer can make us closer?

So, how do we get better at this personal, important and powerful praying for our family? Let me suggest a couple of ideas. One, keep a prayer list that includes what day or days of the week you will pray for your spouse or kids. Lists help us remember. Two, as often as possible pray over or with your spouse or kids before they leave in the morning or when they go to bed at night.

Three, pray for them during the day as you think of them or when there is a particularly big request or need they have at a certain time of the day. Four, make praying about tough issues or situations the norm in your home. Sometimes, stop right in the middle of your discussion and ask God for wisdom.

Finally, use some resources. Stormie (yes that's the name she goes by) O'Martian has written a series of books anchored by one called The Power of A Praying Wife. There's also a similar book about husbands.

My boss, Will Davis, Jr., has written a Pray Big series that includes books on praying for your wife and childen as well. There are lots of other good helps out there. Find them and apply them in your home.

In fact, prayer for our family members is both fun and inspiring. It will humble you and it can change your home. How about starting now if you haven't before? And if you are praying, keep on!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

When Our Kids Don't Play Anymore

Have you ever just watched a couple of small kids playing? They imagine, pretend, and fantasize about being larger than life characters or like adults they've seen in their world. It's fun to peek in to their creativity that comes out during those un-scheduled, un-planned moments.

The sad part is that many children have little time or opportunity to do that anymore. Too many parents have organized and planned their kids' lives so tightly with sports practices, games, classes and taxi rides that time to just be a kid has vanished for the most part.

I'm reading an excellent book by Randy Frazee, a pastor in San Antonio, called Making Room for Life, in which in one chapter he mentions seven things our children will lose if they rarely have time to just play and be children.

The first is lost creativity. Because adults organize most children's activities these days, kids lose the practice they would normally receive to make up their own games and projects. The second is lost leadership skills. Our kids will run their own games if we would just let them and in the process be learning some valuable lessons about how to lead and organize others.

The third is lost mentoring. Again, when all of our kids friendships are "arranged," often by age groupings they lose the important role of being able to mentor another child younger than they are, something that often happens spontaneously when kids of different ages get to have fun together.

The fourth is lost conflict management skills. When kids are in organized activities all the time the adults immediately jump in when there's a problem. But with unstructured play the kids have to learn over time how to deal with problems on their own. Yes, we need good adult modeling and guidance but there comes a time when children have to simply solve problems by themselves.

The fifth is lost health. Kids today are simply overscheduled and as a result they're facing health problems from lack of sleep, poor nutrition and stress. What kinds of health problems will they face in adulthood if they are already being pushed too hard now?

The sixth is lost finances. This struggle is borne most by the parents of course. But have we really looked at how much it's costing us financially for all the equipment, gasoline, clothing and entry fees we pay for our kids' activities? And is it worth it just to keep up with the Joneses? Is it worth the price for the extra pressure that puts on mom and dad to provide it all?

And the seventh and last is lost family meals. Overscheduling our kids not only hurts them in ways but keeps them from healthy and revitalizing down time with their family. Meal times are opportunities for families to enjoy dialogue, connection and encouragement along with a meaningful slowing down after a busy day.

So the question is: Are the schedules we're keeping and the activities we're pursuing with our children all worth the losses listed above? Do you experience any of these losses? Do you need to change something, slow down and take a few thing off the schedule? Do you need to give something up to gain something far better? Chances are you do.

I can't tell you what choices to make but think about it, will you? Your decisions could literally be lifechanging!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, April 2, 2010

Bring Easter To Your Home

It was Easter weekend. Last year I attended our church's Good Friday service at noon plus another city-wide service in the evening with some twenty-five hundred people in attendance. Both were outstanding. We offered four services Saturday night and Sunday morning and I'm sure they were all inspiring and wonderfully uplifting as other gatherings were all over the world.

Interestingly, Easter each year is one of two services that may be some people's only visit to church this year. We love the opportunity to share with them the amazing story of Christ coming to die and rise again because of God's love for the world. I am confident that hundreds of thousands will experience the reality of Christ in a powerful way this year too.

However, it's not enough to just go somewhere to experience an Easter celebration. The truth of the Easter season is richest and most life-changing when it is brought into our homes. If we're a Christ follower then Easter must literally make a difference in how we live life. It can, you know.

What would that look like? There are hundreds of possibilities but let me suggest a few. Easter helps us to forgive. Because God forgave us through Christ's payment on the cross, we are free to forgive others who have hurt us or let us down. In an everyday sense that means we give our kids and spouses room to make a mistake and not continue to pay for it for weeks, months or years later. When they ask for forgiveness, we gladly say "yes."

And in the bigger picture of life, our forgiveness helps us to let go of past painful experiences that may continue to haunt and control us today. Forgiveness doesn't necessarily mean we reconcile with the other person or accept what they did as suddenly ok. No, forgiveness is as much about us as them. It frees us to determine that their actions will no longer own or paralyze us.

Second, Easter changes our priorities. Because of Easter and a relationship with Christ we don't have to wring this world and our relationships out for more and more. When we don't believe that we have a future beyond this life we tend to demand that this life give us more than it can ever give.

But with God living in us, we are now freed to spend our time loving others, serving people and doing things that really matter. We enjoy the things we have for what they are not for what we think they MUST be. We can slow down and start to spend more time doing things that we'll look back and see a valuable, long-lasting legacy from, not just an accumulation of stuff.

Third, Easter makes us want to love. Easter was all about God's love for us therefore we are compelled to love others. And this kind of love is not some mushy, sentimental, everything's nice kind of love. No it's a love that is radical, that even says and does the hard things to help another person and isn't focused on ourselves. The world is longing for that kind of love and we have the opportunity to exhibit it to others all around us every day.

Are the people closest to you seeing God's incredible love IN you?

Bring Easter into your home this year. Forgive, re-do your priorities and radically love each other. Tell your kids the Easter story and then talk about what that could imply in your home. Watch The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and talk about the similarities of Aslan to Christ. Remind them of what Jesus did for them and they'll have a model from which to live the rest of their lives as well. Happy Easter.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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