Up Next on My Reading List: The Secrets of Happy Families

Image of book called The Secrets of Happy Families by Bruce FeilerIf you’re like me and can’t help but get excited when media turn attention to great deliberate parenting practices, then you may have seen or heard about a new book by Bruce Feiler recently. The book is called The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Morning, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smart, Go Out and Play, and Much More, and I’d highly recommend reading at least an article about it or watching Feiler’s TED talk for a summary.

When a bestselling author recommends tenets of deliberate parenting like articulating family values, creating a family mission statement, problem-solving as a team, and evaluating the narrative of a family’s history, how can I not be overjoyed? This is what I love!

Feiler is interested in what makes a family happy, effective and resilient. Through extensive research one of the answers he found was that a family, analogous to a team, remains effective when it creates and refines a strong “narrative” of the family’s positive moments and its resiliency in bouncing back from the difficult ones. While effective communication and problem-solving within a family can help it remain tight, disclosure of details about the family’s past creates a unique bond which provides family members with a sense of connectedness and resilience. Feiler explains that children who know the facts of their family’s past acquire a heightened “intergenerational self,” which leads to higher self-esteem, a strong feeling of belonging, and greater ability to make sense out of their lives.

I can personally attest to the empowerment that comes from intentionally framing a family narrative for one’s children that highlights positive moments and describes with honesty how we triumphed over the difficult ones. I will also reiterate the liberation that comes from evaluating the story—or legacy, as I like to call it—YOU were given about your family and values growing up. In understanding the rituals, practices, values, and beliefs your family imparted to you, you can then deliberately decide which parts you want to emulate as you grow your own family, which parts you want to delete, and what new components you would like to add that will provide you with the most effective way to raise your children to become resilient, happy and thriving individuals.

If you’d like to discuss these ideas further, you know I’d be more than happy to! Is it weird that the thought of helping a family craft a mission statement sounds more fun to me than an afternoon at the spa? Possibly, but helping families become more effective is my heart and soul, so please reach out to me if you ever need some help furthering your mission to do the best job you can in raising your children.

Pause the Slideshow and Reflect on Your Story

Picture your childhood like a slideshow for a moment. As the childhood slideshow plays in your mind, I’m sure you notice it has moments both mundane and significant, but do you notice how each picture that flashes becomes part of a bigger reel of patterned thought? Oh, there’s my father doing X again. Here’s my mother making me feel X, as usual. There’s another moment where I am acting X.

Image of Slideshow SlidesWe accumulate our ideas for living from the experiences we have growing up. The memories that we have reinforce these ideas and our sense of self. What we have internalized, particularly from our parents, about how to operate in this world creates a narrative in our heads that follows us into our adult years and shapes the way we feel, think, act—and the way we will parent.

Some people get a great story, or legacy, one that provides them with great skills to go out in the world, make productive decisions, and raise healthy children (and kick back and enjoy that mental slideshow when it plays!). Unfortunately, some do not.

Luckily, the legacy we’ve been given does not need to remain our “permanent” story. Your childhood slides may be less than ideal, but sometimes the greatest stories begin in despair or difficulty and end in triumph and clarity. We all have the opportunity to change our narrative and do what is in our power to create the life we want. Is it easy to change the direction of your story? Not necessarily, without some hard work. However, it is wholly possible.

So how is your story working for you? Take a moment to answer these questions:

  • Do you like who you are?
  • Do you like where you are living?
  • Do you like what you do professionally?
  • Do you feel comfortable with the values you hold?
  • Are you living a healthy life physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually and financially?
  • Are you prepared and equipped to have children?
  • Are you with a partner who meets your needs?
  • If you want to have children with this person is s/he someone who is prepared to join you in this wonderful adventure?
  • Are you secure in knowing that you have parenting skills that will work?

These are some valuable questions to ponder to see if you are living the life you want and if you are equipped to create a healthy environment in which to raise children. The story you create for your child begins even before he is born, just as your story did. If your story works, continue on as is. If not, take this opportunity to do some deep reflection regarding the way you live, the way you behave, the way you earn and spend money, the way you treat yourself and others, the way you spend your time and the intention you have for making your mark on the world. What will you do now to create the legacy you truly want for your children?

Get Back in the Game with Gratitude: Ideas for Passing on Gratitude to Young Children

Image of a girl's hands holding a gift

Photo Credit: http://drdainheer.com

Happy New Year. The “ball has dropped,” yet time ticks on. I think the ball dropping to mark the end of the year is a valuable metaphor. To me it signifies an alert, a powerfully visual reminder, that though we might lose our grip momentarily, we might “drop the ball” on occasion, life goes on. And just like with a new year, full of resolutions and plans for betterment, we get back in the game with renewed vigor and purposeful action as soon as we can after a stumble. As I mentioned in my last blog article of 2012, there is no better time than NOW to take deliberate action to live our best lives and work towards a healthy and productive future for all our children.

What’s one action you can take right now to improve your life? Quick, pull out a piece of paper, and jot down five things you see around you that feel grateful for. The computer or handheld device you’re reading this on? The fingers that allow you to move a cursor or swipe a screen? Whatever they are, get that gratitude flowing. Research has shown that actively cultivating gratitude leads to higher lifelong satisfaction, better relationships, and even better health.

If the simple act of counting our blessings yields such high returns, then this is one of the greatest values we can impart to our children. As I’ve said before, expanding the definition of gratitude – being thankful for what we have, and what we can do and give to others – and modeling it require deliberate action.

Now that the gift-giving holidays are wrapped up for the year, what are some ways to cultivate an “attitude of gratitude” all year long, even with very young children? Well, here are some of my ideas for action:

  • Model gratitude in your daily actions by appreciating even the little things your partner and children do to contribute to making your family and home happy and healthy. Stop and say a heartfelt thank you even for things they do that are part of the regular routine in order to remind them their contributions are important and continually appreciated.
  • Discuss how grateful you are for the people in your lives and make a special visit to an elderly relative or neighbor when they least expect it.
  • Take your young children to the supermarket and discuss how appreciative you are that there is so much wonderful food to choose from; then come home and enjoy cooking together and sharing a nutritious and delicious meal.
  • Send a message to a relative or friend just to say thanks for being an important part of your child’s life. If you’re technologically adept, you could get creative and make a video on your phone to send, or use an app like Postagram to send a postcard of your child holding up a handmade sign of thanks for your recipient.
  • Work alongside your child to clean out her closet and collect toys and clothes that are in good condition, but no longer used and donate them to a charity; explain to your child that showing gratitude includes doing acts of kindness for others.

I can tell you firsthand that teaching your children gratitude and appreciation transcends their lives. Here are two personal examples of how children young and older show gratitude. I am still recovering from a broken foot – evidently it takes quite a while to get back to 100% after such an event. A few weeks ago I went to see one of my three-year-old friends whom I had not seen for several weeks. Upon walking in the door the first thing this young child asked me was how my foot was. Now where does a three-year-old learn to be so caring and considerate and offer such a meaningful sentiment? I know it comes from how her parents model gratitude, concern and kindness that she has internalized these values. I just had to bend down and pick her up for the biggest hug to show appreciation for her caring words. That created the nicest circle of gratitude!

Also a few weeks ago we had a light snow. My 23-year-old son told me he was going outside to shovel the driveway and walkway. When he had been gone longer than I expected I looked out the window and saw him at a neighbor’s house shoveling her driveway. A little bit later he came in and told me he had shoveled several of the neighbors’ driveways and walkways. We are very grateful to have wonderful neighbors who look after one another and my son just thought since he is young and strong and had time that day he would show his gratitude. I have to say I am so proud of how he just took it upon himself to show his gratitude.The best way to teach your children any value is to live by that value yourself. Living in gratitude creates a positive home environment and shows children how to be caring, thankful individuals.

How do you create an atmosphere of gratitude in your home? I’d love to hear your ideas below!


Toward a Better Future

I’ve been meaning to write a happy holidays message here on my blog this month, but I’ve been struggling with how to convey lightness and joy at a time when this country is so deeply wounded by recent disasters, both natural and manmade. We are finishing out this year on the heels of a horrific hurricane and an unthinkable school shooting in Connecticut which have devastated the communities directly in the wake of these disasters and sent ripple effects of grief, sadness and fear throughout the rest of the country. It left us with questions such as how and why? It left us with our mouths wide open with sorrow at a time of year when we want to experience joy and take a break from the ills of the world. For me and many other parents, it left us with profound fears about the safety of our children and the future they are facing in an unstable world.

Unstable. I think that’s the word that most accurately captures not only the state of our physical environment increasingly impacted by human beings’ disregard for sustaining future generations on Earth, but the state of so many people’s mental landscapes these days. This emotional instability has its roots in many problems, and certainly isn’t helped any by poor funding for and access to mental health resources. We can advocate for better funding and access, of course, but I think the most concrete steps we can take toward a more secure future begin at home (surprised?).

A stable loving home is your children’s best defense against emotional fragility, plain and simple. Unless your child has a diagnosed mental illness requiring medical intervention, the responsibility rests squarely on you to create an environment conducive to raising thoughtful, thriving children. Parenting for a better world requires deliberate action.

Deliberate action involves conscious, continuous, and consistent effort from all of us, not only to take care of our children, but to take care of our world. I sometimes ask myself, is it too late? Are there too few of us who care, truly care, about the wellbeing of our children’s future and are willing to put in the effort to secure it? It cannot be too late, and we must do what it takes. If you feel you have not yet met the standard necessary to live a purposeful life, then today is as good a day as any to say, I’ve had enough, and today I commit to deliberate action.

So with the advent of a new year, 2013, please take a moment to assess your values, your ideals and the way you live your life. Resolve to do what it takes to raise conscientious and caring children. Commit to being the parent your child needs and the citizen our communities need. It is only by modeling and teaching love, responsibility and humanity that our children will have the tools necessary to change the world for the better.

A Great Visit with the Ambler MOMS Club

The week before Thanksgiving I had the wonderful opportunity to be a guest speaker at the MOMS Club of the Greater Ambler Area, a local chapter of the International MOMS Club, a nonprofit support group for moms. MOMS Club chapters are known for being an excellent way in the community for mothers to socialize, share tips, and get their children out and about, so I was delighted to be invited to the Ambler MOMS Club’s monthly meeting to share my passion about raising young children.

In attendance was a group of dedicated moms and their young children. During our time together I was able to discuss and answer questions about the main objectives of Deliberate Parenting – to instill values and cultivate behaviors in young children that encourage them to thrive forever – and to facilitate a mother-child art activity while providing a sampling of these two Deliberate Parenting techniques:

·         Providing clear and concise directions, and
·         Encouraging the process, rather than the product

I stressed that young children comply more easily when they are given clear, simple directions. I usually go by the rule of one direction at a time for each age – hence one directive for a one-year-old, two directives simultaneously for a two-year-old, etc. Of course you know your individual child and whether he can keep up with you or if you need to go slower to get the results you desire.

I also emphasized that encouraging the process with young children is vitally important, whether the activity be art, cooking, reading, or simply exploring outside. During early childhood children are just beginning to explore who they are as unique people – what their attributes and talents are. Encouraging the process, rather than the end product, promotes self-esteem and confidence, without worry about being right or appealing to some outside standard. So if more paint is on their smock than on the paper, so be it; if more flour is on the floor than in the bowl, so be it; and if more dirt is on your child than in the pail, so be it. It’s the fun and the experience that counts most in encouraging your child’s creativity, self-worth, and sense of self.

After each mom and child had an opportunity to work on their art project, I was able to mingle with the moms and answer their parenting questions while the children played with one another. I had a glorious time interacting with parents who care so deeply about their children’s development and are purposeful in offering them wonderful experiences.

For all those in attendance I extended a complimentary ½-hour telephone consultation, and for all my readers out there, the invitation is extended to you as well. Call 215-663-0632 to schedule your free consult where you can share a parenting concern confidentially and I will provide tips on how to address your situation. There’s nothing I love more than talking with thoughtful, committed parents!