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

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Real Parents Actually Parent

There are all sorts of things we can purchase these days that look like the real thing. You can find faux leather, fake diamonds and a luxury countertop that only looks like granite. When you're buying something that only mimics the original it's called a knock off and we have to constantly make sure we're not ripped off.

To be fair, there's nothing wrong with having a less expensive version of something if it saves us a little money and still works well, as long as it's not illegal.

But it's different with parenting. A fake version isn't acceptable or effective. It's really just a cheap substitute and can be harmful or damaging in the long run. Too many parents only think they're parenting well when in reality they're for the most part faux moms and dads.

A few samples of fake parenting might be . . .

Having discussions all the time with the kids instead of enforcing the rules.  "You need to get ready for bed," typically leads to "wait a minute" or "as soon as I'm done," rather than immediate, yet calm, action that gets the child to do what was asked. Instead of the child heading to their room mom or dad gets into a discussion with the child or children about why they can't obey at the moment. There's a place of healthy discussions with children, but not at the expense of obedience and fair discipline.

Giving children everything instead of expecting them to pitch in. Even little children can do small chores and bigger ones can handle larger responsibilities. Real moms and dads aren't always picking up the kids' clothes, cleaning their rooms and putting away their dishes or food. There can come a time when children are given an allowance and expected to contribute to certain things they want, give money away or to church and save for something in the future. Parents just manage these moments.

Making empty threats and not keeping our word.  This is another version of the first one, but extends into other promises such as expectations for school, attitudes and actions towards others. It's essential that husbands and wives stay on the same page here and not undermine each other's authority and leadership. Say what you mean and mean what you say.

Spending more time watching sons and daughters participate in activities rather than building relationships and making memories.  Parenting today has in many ways become a glorified taxi service where mom and dad are expected to oversee a multi-faceted schedule, a fleet of family cars and an ever-being-drained pool of income to support it all.

Real parents talk to their kids, limit their commitments and engage in learning, growth and fun activities together.

There are lots more examples. Take a look around and see where you too might be unintentionally faking it.

You see fake parents produce fake, shallow, boring families. Fake parents ultimately hurt their children and keep them from being all God intended.  There's a better way. But you'll have to be willing to invest a little more, maybe a lot more - time, energy, emotion and even prayer. You'll have to do some hard things, not always be popular and put up with more push back and griping. 

But sometimes it's worth the extra price to get the real thing, isn't it? Splurge. Live it up. When it comes to parenting, quality matters!

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Is Your Spouse Still Your Best Friend?

How many times do you hear it at a wedding or see it celebrated on Facebook years later?  Today (or on their anniversary) they say, I married my best friend. And that's a good thing. How wonderful that a two people grew through a wonderful, deep, meaningful friendship and decided to marry? Maybe you've said it and totally meant it.

The problem is that many couples have lost the reality of being best friends. They have no time for it anymore. I mean, don't best friends just naturally find time for each other, listen, talk without time limits, find things to do that they both like, do spontaneous things, dream dreams and laugh a lot, just to name a few?

But how many couples after a year or two or more would have to honestly say they've lost most of those friend-like actions? I would guess that most argue that they have jobs that demand more commitment, kids who require more attention and possessions that need more maintenance. We struggled too.

But if we have no time for each other to act like friends, then frankly we're not best friends anymore. We can say it publicly and sound romantic, but we're not. Sorry, but your friendship is over or at least on hold for a while.

The good news is that our excuses can be set aside and we can go back to a friend-filled marriage if we'll commit to several things. But I need to warn you . . . they can be a challenge for some.

First, build more margin into your family world. Yes, a few things might have to go or be cut back but is your marriage relationship worth it?  It should be. Make it that way. Shove some of the less important things out.

Second, intentionally put some friend actions back into your world. No, that need not require some some sort of schedule or fancy programming. Too much regulation will make it an obligation more than something enjoyable. But you will likely need to plan some spaces and ideas - coffees, lunches, evenings out or afternoons free - that will make it more natural to slide into a friendly activity. The more you do them the more natural and anticipated they can become.

Third, if you're a parent, you need to get over your child or children being the sole important focus of your lives. Great marriages based on friendship can never put their relationship on hold for the sake of their children's well-being alone. Where will your kids learn how to be married themselves, be friends and keep growing in body, soul and spirit? Yes, kids complicate things and may even reduce the frequency of your friend commitments at times, but never let parenting stop you from acting like your married . . . and friends.

So if you're going to say that your spouse is still your best friend, then man-up or woman-up and commit to living like it again if you're not currently. In today's culture, friends are hard enough to find. Don't forget about the one closest to home!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Five Discomforts Every Parent Needs To Embrace

There are lots of things parents endure that are certainly yucky or at least not much fun, right? We live with these irritations but would rather not have to face them: dirty diapers, kids with the flu, filthy clothes, messy rooms and food that lands on the floor, just to mention a few. You get the picture. These facets of parenting, though necessary, aren't exactly the most enjoyable parts of being a mom or dad.

But I want to suggest that there are at least five potential kid qualities that, while they too may make us cringe at times, should actually be welcomed. They will in most cases shine a beacon on wonderful, future possibilities that our children might never encounter without them. Don't push them aside.

The child who always has a better idea. Do you have a potential lawyer at home? You know, the one who you always had evidence and even witnesses to present as to why what they want to do, be or think is better than what you have in mind. These kids can be exhausting and of course at times need boundaries.

But these are also the kids who are going to be entrepreneurs, try new things and have the ability to think subjectively. They'll one day come up with better ideas for all of us and likely go a long way in the adult world.

The child who questions your most valued beliefs. This may also be the same child in the better idea group but here we add that they regularly question everything from your political perspective to your personal faith in God, the Bible or Heaven. And yes, you may spend much of their adolescent years debating and getting them to quit hating church or even go.  But trust me, they have the greatest potential to develop a deep, long-lasting, passionate faith, because they've dug deeply into truth. They don't just believe something because you as a mom or dad did. They make their belief system their own.

The child who doesn't like doing the things most others like. We live in a very activity-driven culture these days, with accomplishments, trophies, scholarships and other awards that are often agreed upon spoils for being successful.  And you're not popular if you don't participate. Add to that the fact that there are a limited number of acceptable arenas for that success - i.e. certain sports, certain music options and certain kinds of schools to enter - most parents would rather their child didn't deviate from that list.

But some of our kids do not gravitate to these common talents, skills and interests but take the road less traveled. They're into writing, specialized art, other cultures, history or acting and we need to  celebrate, encourage and listen to them. These are people in our churches who also need to be told they can do something in our gatherings and ministry that counts and is just as important as the more common talents. They add color and fabric to any group if we'll just let them.

The child whose temperament is different from the others. This uniqueness often fuels the others I've talked about but it's worth its own mention. One child will want to be with people all the time and rarely plays by himself or herself. Another, however, can stay busy and interested in lots of things while alone in a room for an hour or two. I have one of each extreme in my immediate and extended family. And at times I've honestly worried about both of them for different reasons.

But today one is a successful entrepreneur while the other is a tremendous graphic artist who's helped me on numerous occasions.

The special needs child who adds a little more challenge to each day. I've never parented a special needs child so I'm hardly an expert. But I've rarely talked to a special needs parent who doesn't regularly get blessed because of their child's extra insight, perspective and focus on what's important. Yes, they are often more work, at least for a long while. But that little bit of discomfort always brings greater joy that would not probably be experienced in the same way without them there.

So, mom and dad. If you're feeling a little overwhelmed about having a child or two or three that doesn't exactly fit some sort of mold you were expecting, consider yourself blessed. You may not see all the positive outcomes today, but the best is yet to come. Wait for it.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, February 5, 2016

Why Your Marriage May Be Getting Stale Without You Knowing It

Have you ever headed to the refrigerator anticipating a cold drink of milk or juice, a crisp piece of fruit or a crunchy vegetable. Or maybe your more decadent taste buds were already salivating as you thought about that one piece of pie or other dessert still there.

But when you went to take that first drink or bite, you knew in an instant your choice was no good anymore. The delicious flavor had lost out to time. Nothing would save it and you threw it all away.

Things get stale, deteriorate if left alone, even in an environment designed to keep them fresh a little longer like a refrigerator. And so do marriages. Without attention, care and intentional feeding our relationship, though perhaps in a relatively healthy environment can become pungent and lose its flavor if we don't make caring for it a priority.

We get busy, focused on our kids or parents, run ragged at our job, overwhelmed by too many commitments and don't notice the deteriorating relationship with our spouse.

And if we don't stop and re-evaluate, shore up our time, intimacy and connecting as a couple, the results may approach being irreversible like that piece of fruit that has lost all its flavor and shape.

So what do we do to keep a marriage fresh?

Of course, there are hundreds of ideas that can help, some working for one couple, different ones being effective for others.

But let me repeat a few general guidelines:

Take inventory. Get away or take an evening or two now and then and admit how you're doing or not doing. Be honest. Ask each other, How do you think I've been doing as a spouse the last few months? Be lovingly ruthless and admit it if you've gotten distracted. Talk about what the two of you might work on to put some focus back on yourselves.

Add margin. You will never enrich your relationship if you don't make time for it. I can't tell you specifically what to do but I can pretty much guarantee that you'll need to cut something  -  attending so many kids' activities, not volunteering as much, letting go of some overtime, you decide. But it will be worth it. Is anything worth losing the most important relationship, apart from God, that you'll have in this life?

Do some planning together. Think about some things that you both would enjoy doing that you're not going to wait to do until after you retire. You can't do them all, but how about some of them?  A trip, weekend away, take a class, do a missions trip, a cruise, etc.

Marriages left alone don't stay healthy and vibrant. And we can't blame when they do on nature alone. It's our choice to keep our relationship strong, exciting and always growing. Check your marriage refrigerator often.  That can save you a lot of surprises and disappointments.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Monday, February 1, 2016

Three Things Every Child Needs To Learn About Leadership

Most of us parents have these dreams that someday our kids (at least one of them) will be in front of a team of people, maybe even thousands, motivating them to do great things, change their lives and perhaps lead others as well.

Of course the reality is that not all of our kids for a host of reasons will aspire to or have the talent to be in that dynamic a situation. They aren't all born with the skills, personalities and temperament to be great influencers of people.

But there are some things that every child needs to learn, especially at home, about leadership whether they ever become a leader or not.

First, they need to learn that everybody leads. No, not everyone is gifted as a leader, but everyone will lead even if it's only by default. As John Maxwell and other leadership experts suggest, leadership is influence, and we all will influence others in some way for good or bad.

Perhaps a corollary to this idea is that our actions towards others matter. We may only influence a sibling, a friend or two or a neighbor, but we're still leading. In other words let's teach our kids that their actions have consequences and often that will mean impacting someone else.

Second, teach them that not everyone is designed to be an overt, formal leader. Leaders need good followers. In fact following well is also a taught and nurtured skill. We parents can make a huge difference in how children actually learn to follow, us as their parents and the other leaders in the world.

And yet many parents are absent when training to follow is possible. They expect others to set up the rules and keep their kids on task, leaving the guidelines and boundaries open ended much of the time at home.

Third, we need to model for our children that leaders are to be respected even if we disagree with them. Yes, children will need to deal differently with peers who exhibit leadership skills early on and may want to use those skills to dominate or control them inappropriately. We'll probably have to help them navigate those waters and learn how to respond.

But, too many kids never learn how to talk respectfully and graciously to adults at school, their job in the future or church. They hear their friends talking down about leaders so they can be swayed to do the same.

Leadership training is not something to be put off until our kids are adults. Leadership is modeled and nurtured as well in our homes and we dare not skip our responsibilities in that. The dividends are significant.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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