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

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sometimes We Need To Just Stop and Take Inventory

I was at a high school graduation ceremony a number of weeks ago when a light in the auditorium apparently overheated and exploded during the speaker's address. There was a large popping sound and it looked like a few little specks were floating down into the audience.  In the area where I was sitting most everyone's attention was diverted to the action overhead and was no longer listening to the speaker.

However, instead of stopping for a few moments and acknowledging that there might be a problem, the guest giving the address simply kept going. He didn't think that he may have lost his audience and apparently was unaware that many had tuned him out.

We as both spouses and parents can do the same thing at home.  We have something to say and we're going to say it no matter what is going on around or in those who are listening.  Sometimes they're not hearing us because of something else that has "exploded" in their world that day.  Other times they're distracted by things going on at that moment or our words may simply be unclear and they're not getting it.

The wise person stays attentive to whether the other person is connecting with them or not.  And yet too many of us just keep going anyway and take no notice of whether we're getting through. 

So what can we do to determine if we're getting anywhere with our comments?  First of all, stop and ask. If you're speaking to a child you might say, "OK, tell me what you think I've said so far."  Or if you're talking to a spouse something like, "Do you feel like this is making sense?" or "Do you have any thoughts about this so far?" would be more appropriate.

Second, observe the other person's reaction.  The face and body can give off a lot of signals that tell you whether you're being received well or not.  Of course, if they've fallen asleep it's pretty obvious!  However, most of the time the clues are a bit more subtle. Do they appear attentive, do you sense they're ready or willing to hear more?  Can you see some obvious distractions that have taken their attention away?

Third, think about how you're communicating.  Are you using a tone of voice that is pushing them away?  Are your words too complicated for a child or too detailed for the situation with an adult?  Do you need to slow down or change your position so that you're less intimidating?

Finally, be willing to stop and acknowledge what else is going on right then.  "Honey, I'm wondering if we're just too tired to finish this conversation right now"  or, "I've given you a lot to think about so let me hear what you're thinking," could be helpful comments that provide a needed pause.

Most of us talk too much and listen too little.  Maybe we can all have better and more effective monologues and conversations if we'll just check out what's going on in the audience a bit more carefully!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, July 16, 2010

Do You Really Hate Your Kids?

I'm writing this post from Colorado where I and my family heard two parents within a couple of hours of each other profanely berate their kids in public. They swore at them!  And it was for nothing - such as not doing exactly what was expected of them while getting into the car. My wife, daughter and I just looked at each other.  I thought to myself, "Do these people really feel the hate they appeared to have for their kids at that moment?"

Now granted all of us parents have blown it at times saying things we wish we could take back.  There aren't any perfect parents. I'm sure the parents I saw don't really hate their offspring. But what could be the purpose of yelling at kids and much worse cursing at them?  What are these people teaching their kids?  Couldn't they express their displeasure or concern without the drama?

In my thinking there's no reason to ever yell at our kids unless they're in immediate danger.  Yelling never adds to the effectiveness of our speech. Never. However, it can do much hurtful damage, some of which may stay with our children forever. What will we do when our kids really mess up?  How many kids end up feeling they can never measure up simply because their mother and/or father couldn't lovingly and firmly discipline or express their expectations?

There are alternatives to the tempting verbal barrages we could serve up when our kids act up.  In fact, I've written in previous posts about some practical parenting techniques that are most effective depending upon the age of the child.  Go back and look at some of those.  However, there are a few helpful basics that apply no matter how old your kids are.

First of all, when your kids are driving you crazy such as not getting into the car, failing to follow through on your request at home, or just being squirrelly at the dinner table, stop and take a breath. That's right - pause and think about what you're going to do.  You can then say to your son something like, "Come here next to me right now," and expect him to do it.  Be firm, no exceptions.  But you don't need to yell to get action.  Let your words be the motivator not your emotions.  And if little Ryan doesn't come, appropriately help him in one form or another. With little ones that may mean actually picking them up or ideally leading them by the hand. Let them know you mean it and follow through without the high emotion and words that simply hurt.

Second, give them choices"Sarah, you can either stand here by mom or sit in the front seat of the car but you cannot run across the parking lot."  And then don't be satisfied until she is doing one or the other.  To be honest most of our fits of anger come from feeling like we are losing the battle with a child and we're not willing to do what it takes to win appropriately.  Is winning easy?  Not necessarily. But if we give clear choices as the only "win" for the child, then we will tend to have more satisfying and less destructive experiences.

Third, be ready ahead of time for the 'rough water.'  Being here in Colorado reminds me of some whitewater rafting I've done with my family in this beautiful state.  And I remember that before we ever got in the water the guide would give us instructions on what to do especially when we hit the bigger rapids.  In other words, before we got in the rough water we practiced and prepared in the still water. The same is true with parenting.  We must make our choices regarding what we will do and won't do - ahead of time.

We will prepare and even practice saying and doing the most effective things before we hit the class- four rapids of parenting. If you're married work these things out with your spouse as well.  It's important that you be on the same team and using essentially the same tactics so the kids receive consistent responses no matter which parent is doing the disciplining.

Proverbs 18:21 reminds us that, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue."  Don't let your harsh words even in the emotion of a difficult moment cause undue hurt and long-term harm.  Keep even your words of correction meaningful, helpful and consistent. It will be worth it and make times with your kids more fun and memorable.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Importance of Making Memories

One summer my wife Jackie, daughter Amy and grandson Liam got on a plane to Colorado. We spent eight days in the Rockies at a timeshare condo we bought over eighteen years ago.  And every time I go back I can't help but reminisce about the fun family times we've had together over the years.  We didn't buy the timeshare week for an investment and it probably wouldn't sell for much now anyway but the memories are like gold and I wouldn't trade them for anything.

I wish more families would make real memory-making together a priority. Yes, we can have great theme-park memories and times with extended family, but each family needs to also develop their own unique getaways.  They don't need to be expensive. Ours usually weren't.  We bought our timeshare as a resale and we only get to use it once a year.

But we decided to make the mountains a key part of our times together.  I've climbed ten 14ers (14000' mountains) and six or seven of them were with one or both of the kids. We've hiked scores of miles of other trails many above treeline eating sandwiches in some of the most beautiful places in the country.  We've basked in the beauty of God's handiwork and taken time together to notice the One who created it.  Some of my most church-like moments and greatest God encounters were with family members hiking in the mountains.

Your family times may be along a stream, at a favorite cabin, swimming in the ocean or even serving others together on a missions trip or at a nearby shelter.  Whatever you do, make your own special moments.  And don't just settle for the same thing or what everyone else does.  The big theme parks are fine now and then but enjoy the outdoors, do something a little risky and go places others might not go.

And second, please do not make every vacation a visit to the relatives!  Yes, family relationships are important and need to be nurtured, but our immediate family needs the same attention. Always going to Aunt Phyllis' and Uncle Bob's can get old and stale pretty quickly to a kid.

If you've not done a lot of memory-making start making some plans for the coming year.  Half the fun is in the planning.  Let the kids be a part of the preparation.  Get out some maps (you can teach them a little geography, too) and start considering the possibilities.

And finally, count the number of years left until your kids turn 18.  For some of you that's not a lot of time.  Make the most of the years remaining because soon those kids will be out the door for the most part. 

Guess where our kids go these days when they can get away for a vacation?  The mountains.  I think they enjoyed the memories.  You can too.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Games Couples Play

I'm doing a wedding this fall and I asked the couple what time the wedding would start. Their response was, "As soon as the Texas/OU game is over."

I guess we know what most of the wedding party will be doing before the wedding starts!

Their comment reminded me that any of us who are married can allow our relationship to wane through an inordinate amount of time given to the hobbies, favorite activities and personal interests of one or both of them.  Now there's noting wrong with college football, gardening, shopping or working on your hot rod provided those things are done in moderation and not at the expense of your connecting time.

But some of us need to take personal inventory about how much time, energy and money is going out the door while one or both of the persons in the marriage are obsessing about their golf game, musical interests or the Internet.

So, when is a personal interest, "game," or hobby too much in a marrige? 

First, when it becomes more important than protecting the basic components of a healthy relationship.  When you have time for your activity but won't or can't make time to talk, spend time together or deal with issues, you need to cut back or quit the extras.  In fact, for many their interest becomes a diversion, excuse and escape from meeting their responsibilities or working through problems.

Second, when that activity is simply unwise from a time, cost or emotional standpoint.  Let's say your hobby requires eight hours a week.  That's four hundred hours a year or two thousand hours in 5 years.  Was the enjoyment you got or the sense of fulfillment you received worth that amount of time?  Maybe.  But maybe not.  What else could you have enhanced in your marriage, family or community by giving even half of those hours away to a better endeavor?

I wonder how many marriages simply wilted because one or both spouses didn't water their relationship with enough meaningful time doing things that matter most.

Third, when you can't live without it, or at least you think you can't.  When you wake up thinking about your next time of involvement, when you ponder how to be better at it even  during the night or when that's all you talk about you're probably in trouble.  The classic comment of the addict is, "I can stop any time." Really?  Then try it and see.  Because if you can't go without it that means you've put your obsession before everything even if you don't think you have.

And if you're still not sure, ask your spouse or a friend.  They can often be the mirror you need to see that your hobby or whatever really has become your life.  And when it's your life then it's also stealing life from you, experiences and relationships that someday you'll wish you had made time for.  

Are the games getting in the way of a healthy marriage for you?  If so, you'll need to start with a fast and de-tox so to speak, proving to yourself that there are better things to give your life to.  It doesn't mean you can't ever do that activity.  But you'll begin to control it rather than it controlling you.  And trust me - your spouse will know the difference.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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