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

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Importance of Meals Together

Barbara Billingsley died the other day.  Who's that?  Some of you know she played the mom on Leave It To Beaver, the classic TV program back in the late 50's and 60's. Yes, that show was a far cry from family life today and in some ways that's a good thing.  Women in the 21st century don't all wear dresses and pearls around the house, the dads aren't all suited businessmen who work at some unknown office and the kids' problems aren't worked out in thirty minutes.

But something of importance seems to also have died in the forty or so years since shows like LITB were on the tube. The family mealtime. In a lot of homes there is rarely a few minutes when the whole family stops long enough to eat together to talk about the day, life in general or one anothers hopes and dreams. There's no common place to laugh, show off projects and just enjoy each others company.

Instead, many meals these days are either eaten in shifts, in a hurry or more likely out on the road. Parents who work arrive later or meet the rest of the family at that evening's event. Parents watch from the stands or the audience while their children perform, play or practice. There's little interaction other than "Good game," or "Is your homework done?"

There is research galore that shows that at a minimum the social benefits of mealtimes together matter.  Teenagers suffer less depression, do better in school and are less likely to use drugs in homes where time together around meals is valued.

But there are other important outcomes. You get to really know each other.  You teach the value of family. You honor each other more. You learn that life is about more than just activities and accomplishment.  And perhaps most important, you have a forum in which to teach spiritual, moral and social truths to your children that you want them to carry into adulthood.

My trips overseas always remind me that other cultures are typically so much better at enjoying time together around a meal, sometimes for hours.

However, I realize that to even add a couple of meals per week to our schedule some things might need to change.  Let me suggest that those changes are worth it. Here are a few ideas.

Don't let your children dictate their schedule.  Say no to doing everything. Give them some choices but they cannot and do not need to be in a sport or activity every season.  They don't have to participate in every cool event, class or program the school or community has to offer.

Decide a reasonable number of meals per week you'd like to have together.  At least think about holding one night a week that is sacred as a family night.  If there's an activity on that night, the answer is automatically "no" unless everyone agrees you'll make an exception that week. What about Sunday?  Have you ever considered making one of the weekend days or part of it a different kind of day?

Start early. If your kids are young and you make family mealtime a priority they'll learn to enjoy it sooner and simply expect it as they get older.

Have some mealtime rules that everyone abides by.  For example, when one person's talking everyone listens. Second, no electronics. Phones, mp3 players and the like can wait for later.  That includes mom and dad! Third, no one leaves until they get permission.  And finally, no put downs or making fun of each other.

Be creative.  Parent ought to do a little thinking about some ideas that will generate some discussion, fun and enjoyment of the mealtime. Have some good questions to ask or activities to try.  For example, ask one another to guess each others favorite in a category - i.e. dessert, movie, TV show, etc.  Or pick a current topic and give everyone a chance to provide their take on it. Talk about something you learned on the weekend at church or youth group.

Expect push back but don't give in.  Be the parent.  There are lots of things in life that may seem lame or boring to a middle schooler or teen but you can expect them to be done anyway.  Your kids won't die and will likely appreciate it years from now.

We'll miss you Barbara, Mrs. Cleaver,  but maybe we can hang on to a little something from your world.  "Hey, Beave?"
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Accepting and Blessing Your Child's Uniquenesses

My favorite humorist Dave Barry writes, "I wish there was an early morning kids' TV show called Let's Go Back to Bed. The licensed characters would yawn a lot and say: 'I'm tired! Let's all lie down and be very quiet until at least 7:45am!' Wouldn't that be great? Daddy would send money to that show."

Can you relate? Some kids are early risers no matter what was happening the night before. Others are laid back and take life as it comes. We had one who was up every morning by 6 or so and ready to live life! In fact that's what he has had to do for his radio work for years now. Some are creative and artsy while others love sports or technical challenges. 

And it's easy as a parent to subtly or not so subtly push our kids to be who they are not or to do those things we like the most rather than watch them blossom and be who God made them to be.  Yes, we must still be the parent or parents and there are times when we have to encourage our kids to push through and do something that on their own they would choose not to do.

We need to remember that there are decisions they can't possibly make at a young age about whether an activity or talent should be pursued.

However, it's still important that even when we push them a little we have one eye on what is it that really makes them tick, what skills truly help them come alive and what is it that their personality best matches with in the long run. In addition, we must monitor how much time will their activities require from our time together as a family.

As I drove by a local sports field this morning at 7:45am, I saw scores of five or six-year-olds playing flag football. While I can't know all the circumstances surrounding the families' motives and kids' interest I  had to wonder just how many of those little ones needed to be on a field already on a Saturday.  I'm assuming they were all up going to school Monday through Friday last week. When can they just have time to one, rest, and two, to simply be kids?

I pondered how many of those parents had taken serious inventory of whether Saturday morning football was really going to add value and meaning to the lives of their children and family as a whole.

Where is the time when the family just does something together, spontaneous, agenda-less and simply to have a good time?  Some parents forget so often that each child is different and they don't all need to involved in an organized activity every waking hour nor are they all athletes, artists or musicians.  Find out what your child loves (and yes, that takes some experimentation) but help them to also learn to enjoy rest, refilling and just coming up with their own creative ideas for play and activity.

Are you living through your children or are your children learning to really live through you?  What will you look back someday on and say, "yes, we're glad we committed ourselves to that?"  It's your decision but remember it's an important one.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Is Mistaken Identity Paralyzing Your Home?

A woman went to the hospital and during surgery had a near-death experience. But during that time she saw  God so she asked Him, "Is this it?  Is life on earth over?"  And God said, "No, you actually have 35 years left. You're going to make it."

So before long she woke up in her hospital bed and realized she was alright. As a result she decided to stay and have some plastic surgery done - a tummy tuck, some implants and major face alterations.  She even had her hair dyed as well figuring that if she had all that time left she might as well make the most of it.

However, as she finally left the hospital, she was hit by an ambulance racing to the ER and was killed.  So this time when she comes before God she is very upset. She says to God quite dramatically, "I thought you said I had 35 years to live and then I get hit by a car and killed."  To which God replied, "Oh sorry, I didn't recognize you."

A case of mistaken identity.  And while that's just a silly story, mistaken identity is a major problem for many people. No, not that they are thought to be someone else. Instead, THEY think they are really someone else they really are not.  Some think their identity is determined by their circumstances: loss of a job, poor finances, location and the like.  Others believe their worth is decided by their lack of ability - they can't sing, can't fix things, aren't athletic enough or whatever.

Another group thinks that who they are is determined by what they're feeling:  hopelessness, grief, anger.

On the flip side, we've also been taught that our worth is tied up in what we do, have or know. We have money, a great education, good looks, lots of accomplishments.  But what if any or all of those things are taken away?  Do we hand off our value at the same time?  God says we don't.  Our worth and value are never determined by anything other than what God thinks of us.

And God believes that every human has value, matters, is loved and can be forgiven.  And when we choose to follow Christ and receive His payment for us on the cross, we receive that forgiveness and literally become God's child. That's where our worth is.

So what are you struggling with today?  Remember it doesn't determine who you are, just what you're experiencing. Ask yourself what you're teaching in your home. Are you implying to your kids that their value goes up and down based on school work or other achievements?  If so, change the message.  Show your kids that they are unconditionally loved by you and by God. Keep a case of mistaken identity from taking over your household!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Modeling REAL Christianity At Your House

I was recently told on Facebook for at least the hundredth time that I would finally be a real Christian if I would click that I liked their post. Wow, if I'd only known it was that easy years ago. I hope no one actually believes that authentic faith is so simple but apparently some do.

It sure isn't at home. In fact I wonder how many of us have taken inventory lately of our closest relationships to see just how real our faith is where we live. While there's no one right answer let me suggest a few helpful questions to use in your exploration.

First, are you honest?  No, I don't mean do you overtly lie or not? Instead, do you openly talk about your weaknesses, faults, temptations and mistakes?  In some Christian homes, being near-perfect is the goal and the image that adults especially try to portray. And yet, most of the heroes of the faith in the Bible were people who struggled much of the time and were open about their humanity.  Why would we model anything different?

Second, where do you turn in the hard times? Our spouses and children will learn much about trusting God if we show them what it's like to look to Him when things aren't going well.  When they see us overtly ask God for wisdom, strength and courage they can see that God really is our source of hope. Difficulties don't develop the character of our homes as much as they reveal it.

Third, do your values at home reflect your faith?  Do you as a family or couple hoard most of what you have or freely share it? Is your home a place where visitors, neighbors, friends and those in need are welcomed. Are you looking for opportunities to serve others or to just get more for you? How do you spend the majority of your time?  What do you imply is most important at your house?

We were far from perfect at this but I'm thankful for the times in our house when we went next door with cookies at holidays, invited people from other countries to join us for meals and were as generous as we could be with our tithes and offerings.  We put a limit on extra activities so that we weren't just running around non-stop every day.  And watching our kids today freely serve God with their resources and talents makes those choices worthwhile.

Finally, are you growing closer to God or just learning more about Him?  Too many people are into more knowledge about the Bible, the details of Christ's life and even end - times scenarios than they are about growing their relationship with their Lord. Knowledge has its place but don't fall into the trap of worshiping the wrong thing or person.  Real faith is grounded in a relationship not a routine.

Somehow it's questions like us stay focused on real Christian faith, not what we say because we're supposed to or do because everyone else does. If our faith in Christ is truly genuine, then there will be a pervasive authenticity in our life, where trusting God is simply the norm, where it's what we do and who we are when no one else is looking.

So take inventory and be a real Christian today whether any of your friends hear about it or not!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Power of NO in Parenting

I was babysitting for my 14 month old grandson Liam some years ago now. And it became obvious again that his parents had taught him well about things that are not OK. He'd point at something like a plug or the computer and say "No," (sometimes Nah but we know what he means). It's pretty fun, really,  but it also shows that he can grasp the idea even at his young age.

However, he's also very human and so wants to see if he can push past the roadblock.  He tried several ways to get me to say yes as he reached for some DVDs near our television.  First, he just touched them and then looked at me to see what I'd do or say.  So I repeated "No" to him calmly.  He tried that several times but to no avail.

Then he went for the "cute" option.  He would pucker up his face and then smile at me while reaching for the treasure. I had to work at not starting to laugh. Thankfully he didn't push it too far and I was able to move him on to something we could have fun with together.

Of course, rules, discipline and guidelines always have to be considered in light of a child's age and maturity but too many parents seem to have this fear or at least reticence to tell their kids "no." I spoke with a man just the other day who told me exactly that about his teenage son.  "It's so hard to say 'no' to him." And I could identify because we don't want to be the parent of doom or have our kids upset with us.

However, having concrete boundaries and clear rules actually help our children to function more freely and have more fun doing the things they can do. It's when they don't know the rules or the rules are always changing that they begin to fear us more and wonder when the gavel will come crashing down on them again.

Secondly, saying "no" helps prepare them for the real world.  No one gets to do everything.  And yet if kids grow up getting to make all their own decisions and rarely getting turned down for anything they'll expect that from their work, family and friends as adults.

In fact, there's a line you might use when you have to make a decision on the spot but aren't sure if you should say no or not.  Maybe you simply haven't had time to think about it or to talk with your spouse.  Try this.  "If you need an answer right now, the answer is 'no.'  If you need an answer in fifteen minutes the answer is maybe."

Now you have an opportunity to think about the wisest decision. Most of the time your kids don't have to have an answer on the spot even though they may think they do.  But it's better to wait and make the right call rather than just give in.

So when it's appropriate and needed . . . just say "no."  It's not so bad.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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