How to be ignored by your kids in 3 easy steps

Jun 9, 2020 • 8 min read
First, a true story...

The other day while on a plane, a woman sat next to me who I had been observing just moments earlier while at the gate waiting to board. It was quite the show to say the least. After asking her teenage son to stop slapping his brother’s head and then running away, the boy merely rolled his eyes and kept at it.
His dismissive snort at his mother’s request suggested she was being ridiculous by asking such a thing. At the same time, the younger daughter was jumping up and down on the seat singing a song. The mom asked her daughter to sit down, but the girl bolted down the long hallway leading out of the gate area. In mid-stride, the girl surely heard her mother’s threat of “Don’t make me count to 3,” but by the time she got to 7, the girl could barely be seen. Meanwhile, I noticed that the husband, who was quiet and obviously irritated with his wife’s nagging, kept telling her that the kids were tired and “just being kids.” He also kept reminding the kids that “mom is just stressed out right now.”

While we chatted on the plane, she discovered that I was a child and family psychologist and immediately began asking me how she could get her kids to behave. She had a lot to tell me, which took nearly the entire 50 minutes from takeoff to landing. Essentially, her oldest boy has AD/HD, and as she explained, he really struggles with being impulsive and hyperactive. He was basically running around annoying everyone all the time. I believed her because he sure had annoyed me. "I have tried everything with him,: she said, including removing privileges, giving rewards, setting up a behavior modification chart, changing medications, seeing a therapist; all to no avail. Nothing worked she assured me.

Her next youngest boy was quiet, reserved, and “a good boy.” He did get teased a lot at school and missed some school because of frequent stomachaches. But otherwise he mostly kept to himself and wasn’t a behavior problem. The youngest daughter, the future Olympic sprinter I’d seen in the gate area, never listened to her, threw amazing tantrums, and “probably has AD/HD too, but we haven’t confirmed it yet with our doctor.”

I find myself in this situation frequently. Because I travel so much, I meet many people from all over the world. When they ask what I do for a living, I usually get one of two reactions. The first is they ask if I’m analyzing them. Sometimes it hurts when my eyes roll that far back into my head. You have no idea of the depth of my lack of interest in analyzing you. The second reaction is that some will quietly tell me about a problem they are having and ask how I suggest they deal with it.

So back to this mom. You would think that after spending 10 years in college and another 22 years working with teenagers and their families that I would have a ready answer for these parents I meet on the plane that would fix things efficiently and quickly. She wanted me to tell her, in the 3 remaining minutes we had, how to fix her children’s behavior problems. If you were to do a quick Google search or review any number of parent blogs, you could find countless 3- and 4-step approaches to fixing behavior problems in children. Here’s a sample one and it won’t do jack for this mom:
Step 1: Be Consistent
Mean what you say. If you mean you are going to count to three and then impose a consequence, don’t count to 7. Make your expectations clear, and always follow through. There’s no room for gray area here, because if you change your mind, your child will learn that they just need to work harder the next time to get you to give in again.

Step 2: Reward Positive Behaviors
In his work on marital relationships, Dr. John Gottman came up with a “magic ratio” that says, in essence, happy couples have on average five times as many positive interactions as negative interactions. Personally, I think this is a great rule of thumb for all relationships. We should be providing at least five times more positive validations compared to every criticism. Positive reinforcement will literally result in an increase in the behaviors we want to see, so naturally we should spend most of our time reinforcing these behaviors. You can even use a reward system by rewarding those behaviors you want to see the most. My kids and I have had many a Slurpee together over the years with this very thought in mind.

Step 3: Pick Your Battles
If you pick every battle, you’ll lose them all. This is the single best way to teach your kids to blow you off. This was certainly the case with this mom, right? She nagged about everything and had no energy to follow through. I’d encourage her to pick the battles that are most important to her. In our home, I can’t stand fighting. I just won’t tolerate it. So, when our kids are fighting, I’m willing to make their lives miserable unless they figure it out and resolve it. It’s a battle that’s important to me, and I will win it. With my teenage daughter, I don’t truly care if she is home by midnight on the weekends or if it’s 10 minutes after midnight. She’s a pretty responsible kid and this just isn’t a battle I need to get into with her. So for this mom, she needs to figure out what matters most and then win those battles.

So there’s the 3-step approach for this mom, and like I said, in her case, it won’t do jack for her. Is it just bad advice? Why won’t it help her? Because even the best advice is sometimes just missing the boat. In three minutes’ time, there’s not much I could say to her, and I was only able to provide her the name of a colleague in her city that could help her find a good therapist. I’m sure she thought she sat next to the world’s worst psychologist with that response. 

If I had more time, however, here’s the 2-step approach I would have taken:

Step 1: Trade seats with your husband. He’s the one that needs the counsel and advice.
Step 2: No, seriously, I realize you just got upgraded into this nice seat, but go get him because none of what I told you earlier will matter if he doesn’t listen to what I have to say.

The Real Problem

Yes, misbehaving kids are a problem, and this mom could probably do better at being consistent, rewarding positive behaviors, and picking her battles more wisely. However, the best parenting advice in the world cannot fix one parent undermining the other. I don’t care which direction this takes, and I’ve seen it go both ways. Sometimes as parents we just spend too much time trying to “make up” for the perceived weaknesses of our spouse. This problem is normal because we all have different personality styles and backgrounds, and so our parenting styles can sometimes be highly conflictual. So back to this husband. What will help him? Do I have a multi-step plan for him? Of course I do!
Step 1: Stop Undermining Your Wife

I realize you think she is too harsh and negative, and you wish she could just relax and not make a big deal out of everything. I get it. You work all day and want to come home to some peace, and most of what you see is your exhausted wife who is yelling and nagging the kids to get their homework done. Remember that she is in the trenches all day long. You guys chose to have her stay at home to raise the kids while you became the breadwinner. This means that she’s been at war all day while you’ve been at work. You coming home to smooth things over is just making things worse. Would you like me to give you a 2-step plan to make your wife resent you? 

Step 1: Come home and criticize her parenting flaws, and make sure the kids see this so they know they don’t have to take her seriously. Step 2: Never mind, Step 1 is all it took. This is the message I want you to understand: YOU are creating these little monsters, not her. By telling her that their misbehaviors are just “kids being kids” and by telling them that “mom is just stressed out right now,” you have completely undermined everything she’s been working at all day. They can now blow her off just like you do because this is what you’ve taught them is okay. You wife has ZERO credibility with the kids, and this is because of you.

Step 2: You 100% Must Establish Credibility for Your Wife

Understand that it is your job to help establish credibility for her. That means having her back regardless of how ridiculous you think she is being. The only exception to this is abuse – if she is hurting the kids, then, of course, you have to step in. (By the way, not letting Johnny play with his Xbox for the next week because he keeps forgetting to turn in his homework is not abuse.) 

So when she is telling Johnny to stop slapping the back of his brother’s head and running away, you definitely do not follow up by telling Johnny that Mom is just stressed out right now. You support her even if you don’t like it. And you act like you like it. You can hash the details out with your wife later in private. My rule of thumb in your family is that because she is the one who is in the trenches, she gets 80% of the vote. So support her first, and then you can work on coming together in private moments later. If your wife feels your support, she will be 10 times more likely to ease up and see things your way, or to at least be influenced by what you have to say.

In this family’s case, they were a “traditional” family in that he worked and she was a stay-at-home mom. If both parents work, or mom works and dad is the stay-at-home parent, credibility still must be established for both parents, and especially for whomever is doing the bulk of the day-to-day parenting. Dr. Gottman also found that successful, happy marriages include spouses who allow themselves to be influenced by the other. 

Unfortunately for men, he also found that, for the most part, women already tend to do this, and it is primarily the husbands that must learn to accept their wives’ influence. See my article on how to get on the same parenting page for more information.

Step 3: Get on the Same Page

As impossible as it sometimes is, try to get on the same page with your parenting goals. At least try to get close. This will require you to sit down and talk about how you want things to be in your family. What kinds of goals do you have? What is important to each of you? Which battles are the most important to you? What kinds of structure and rules do you want to establish? 

What do you each need from the other in order to accomplish these goals? Learn how to talk about difficult things, like how you want her to stop yelling all the time, or how you want him to support what you’re doing with the kids. You can learn more about how to get on the same page and have these difficult but rewarding conversations.

Having Difficult Conversations

Jun 12, 2020 • 9 min read
Colleague #1
Her husband is finally doing well at work, the business has been steadily growing, and she (who pays the bills) is finally starting to see some light at the end of this very long tunnel. 

Then, with a full day of 10 business appointments, which will earn him about $1000 total, he decides to take the day off and go golfing with some buddies. What??!! It seems like every time he finds some success at work, he almost immediately starts to sabotage it. It’s almost as if he can’t tolerate the success. She wants to shake him, and tell him how frustrated she is that he keeps putting her into this situation. She’s even considered asking him to leave, because she can’t believe that after all they’ve been through, he is sabotaging it again. 

But she remains quiet, because anytime she has ever tried to talk with him about this, he completely shuts down. He won’t fight, and she wishes he would at least do that. But instead, he goes completely silent. She knows he has lots of issues from his childhood, and is afraid of pushing him too far, so she suffers in silence as usual.

Colleague #2
He admits that he hates conflict, shrinks from it actually. He’d rather be anywhere except in the middle of a fight. But part of it is anytime he tries to talk with her about anything, even minor things, she becomes defensive and accuses him of not appreciating anything she does. There’s one subject that is really quite painful to him, and he wishes they could talk through it, but he knows that she will see it as a direct attack on her as a wife and mother, and she will go on a tirade about his “attacking” her. 

He fears she will leave him, even though the issue is by no means divorce worthy. He doesn’t want to be “that guy” with no wife and only able to visit his kids on the weekends. This is his main fear, so he says nothing, ever. He has learned over the years that silence is far better than the war that comes from trying to communicate something he dislikes.

Each of these individuals believe that silence is better than conflict. But I would suggest that the absence of conflict is a very cheap substitute for intimacy and connection. Moreover, you are teaching your kids in the most direct way possible that it’s okay to not communicate. I can guarantee you that your kids know if you and your partner are disconnected. 

You cannot hide this from them, even though I’m sure you think you are doing a fine job of it. So learning how to communicate about difficult topics is not only going to benefit your relationship with each other, but it will be a huge gift you’ll be giving to them. You’ll be modeling the very thing they will need to have successful relationships in the future.
Didn’t Know Dr. John Gottman was the first to suggest that marital conflict can divided into two categories: solvable and unsolvable (perpetual). Yes, that’s right. Some problems will never be solved. In fact, marriage research suggests that about two-thirds of all marriage conflicts are here to stay and will never be resolved.

Any of you that have been married for more than a few months can think of a number of problems that you’ve had over and over and just don’t go away. This is normal. As Dr. Dan Wile, one of my favorite marriage writers said, “When choosing a long-term partner, you will be choosing, along with that person, a particular set of irresolvable problems that you’ll be grappling with for the next ten, twenty, or even fifty years.” Let me give you a personal example:

The other day Valerie got frustrated with me because of the following: 
I had left my socks on the floor of the bedroom, my slippers, laptop, and sweatshirt on the floor of the living room, my glass of water on the bedside table, and my towel on the floor next to the shower. Valerie is neat and organized, and I am like the absent-minded professor, minus the professor part. This is a problem we’ve had in one form or another for the entire time we’ve been married. I don’t intentionally try to be cluttered, but sometimes my head just ends up in the clouds and it doesn’t register with me. 

I can get so hyperfocused on what I’m doing in the moment that I don’t pay attention to certain details. Valerie and I still laugh about the time many years ago as I drove by a carnival and Ferris Wheel in our town that had just set up camp for a local fair. I noticed it in my rear view mirror after driving past it on my way home from work. When I mentioned it to her at home, she informed me that it had actually been there for a week already. I had literally driven past it every day for a week. So you see, some problems will never get resolved. I will continue trying to be less messy however, because it’s important to her.

What Should You Do?
The first thing I want you to do is accept this fact that you just learned. It’s hard to let go of the idea that some problems will never get fully resolved. We don’t want to think this way, especially when we’re young. I’m sure if Valerie had a crystal ball 26 years ago and could see that she’d still find me just as forgetful now as I was then that she might reconsider what she was about to do. 

As much as I’d like to be less forgetful, it is just how my brain is wired. That doesn’t mean I stop working at it, but I’ll never have the attention to detail that she does, because that’s just how she is wired. However, I have learned from personal experience that one of the beautiful things about marriage, and in fact maybe the most beautiful thing, is the relationship that comes when two people love each and come together to make up for each other’s weakness.

Now that you’ve accepted this new fact, let’s quickly readjust our goals. More important than even solving a particular problem, is learning how to talk about problems. We need to develop the ability to maintain an ongoing dialogue, especially about those problems that don’t seem to go away. Following are some suggestions for how to have these difficult conversations. Many of these ideas are not mine, but are based on the work of Dr. John Gottman. Google him, he’s the real deal.

Step 1: Have the Dang Conversation

Stop avoiding because you don’t want conflict or are afraid of the consequences. Take the risk and have the dang conversation. Say what you have to say, and say all of it. Don’t take the route of comfort and silence for the sake of “peace.”
Step 2: Don’t Have the Conversation in the Heat of the Moment

As I have mentioned in previous articles, when you’re angry and upset isn’t necessarily the best time to have the conversation. Once your heart rate is above 100 beats per minute, you are now emotionally flooded and not much good comes from this place. It takes most people a good 30 minutes to get out of this survival mode. Once your heart rate returns to normal, wait a bit longer and now you’re ready.
Step 2: Go in Easy

Dr. Gottman describes the need for using a softened startup. This is critical. If I ever say to Valerie that “I can’t stand it when you…” I’m guaranteed to get nowhere fast. This type of beginning immediately puts us on the defensive. How you say something is critical. This doesn’t mean you have to treat your partner like an infant, but be polite, respectful, and kind. I don’t care how angry or upset you are. If you can’t start this way, wait until you can.Try to make a complaint without blaming your partner.

So, instead of this: Hey, you’re doing it again and leaving us in financial ruin. You always run off to golf when things start going well for us. Why can’t you ever be dependable. BLAME

Do this: Hey, I am unable to pay our bills. We agreed that you not take off work to play golf and I’m really upset about this. COMPLAIN

I am not saying that the above examples of my colleagues are either solvable or unsolvable. Who knows? It could possibly take years for this husband to quit sabotaging himself (or just a couple of visits to a good therapist) – I have no idea because I don’t know the details underneath that drive his self-sabotaging behaviors. Maybe the wife in the example above will always struggle with being defensive, possibly because of her own unresolved family issues that go back to when she was a young child (I’m guessing here since I really have no idea). 

Since I’m guessing, I think these issues are solvable, but one thing is for sure, they never will be if no one talks about them. Sitting around saying nothing to your spouse in order to keep the peace comes at a price, that’s a fact.

Step 3: Be Clear, and Please Try to Be Concise

Do not expect your spouse to read your mind. When we were first married and I was so totally immature, I would make sure that Valerie knew by my facial expressions whenever I was upset about something. A few months in I realized that Valerie was not real great at facial expression, so I made sure to do a better job with them. I enhanced them to the point that of course she would know I was upset. A few months later it dawned on me that facial expressions were not her strength, and I was being silly waiting around for her to recognize when I was mad or upset.

Don’t be ridiculous like I was. Don’t make facial expression or use the silent treatment to “communicate” when you’re upset. Say what you have to say, and be clear about what you are communicating. Your spouse is not a magician nor is he or she a mind reader. Say what you have to say as clearly as possible. So instead of saying: “You left our bedroom a complete disaster,” you might try saying “I’d appreciate it if you picked up your laundry.” Also, please try to be succinct. No one wants to hear a 30 minute dissertation on why you’re upset that he didn’t do the dishes, or why you’re frustrated that she invited her parents over for Sunday dinner.
Step 4: Soothe Each Other and Deescalate

This is definitely a skill to be learned. Most people do not know how to do this, but it can be learned with some practice, and it’s best if you can do this for each other. These types of difficult conversations ALWAYS bring out very intense emotions. This is why we avoid them in the first place, so count on it getting intense. 

That’s okay and is what should be happening. When things get intense, you feel angry, defensive, or scared, learn how to deescalate these feelings and the conversation. This is critical to keep it from spinning out of control. There are three things that work for me:

1) Own it. 
If Valerie tells me that I am being insensitive by leaving the house cluttered, the very best thing I can respond with is something like, “You’re right, I know I do this and I know it’s frustrating to you. I’m sorry.” This almost always calms the situation down immediately. She feels heard and doesn’t feel like she has to convince me to understand why she is so frustrated.

Side Note: Want to know a great way to get your apology rejected? Saying something like, “I’m sorry that you feel…” Don’t be sorry that your spouse feels something, because that’s really saying they shouldn’t feel however they feel. This never works, trust me, I’ve tried it.

2) Use Humor. 
I will make fun of myself, or the situation, without making fun of her. Sometimes I tease her, but never in a way that hurts her. I may crack jokes while letting her know that I am hearing what she is saying. It’s really hard to be angry when you’re laughing.

3) Express Genuine Appreciation. 
Confession: I LOVE that Valerie is so naturally organized and neat. It is the exact opposite of me, but I love how she makes our home feel. It feels good and I appreciate it, and I tell her this frequently, even when she is complaining about something. So if she is upset at me about leaving a mess, I’ll actually tell her that I do appreciate how she makes our home feel. It has to be real and honest. Don’t make stuff up, express your appreciation for something real with your spouse. It makes them feel good, and it’s hard to be upset when you’re feeling good.
Step 5: Express Acceptance

Another finding from Dr. Gottman (can you tell I’m a fan?): It is a fact that people can change only if they feel that they are basically liked and accepted as they are. When they feel criticized, disliked, or unappreciated, they are unable to change. Take a minute and read that again. If I feel that someone doesn’t like me or accept who I am, I will not change for them, and neither will you. But if I feel loved, appreciated, and accepted for who I am, then I want to change for them. At least if we are talking about someone that I care deeply for, like Valerie.

Remember in all of this, nothing is more important than communicating your basic acceptance of your partner as a person. This has to be the guiding principle in all of your communications.

This might be especially important for anyone like my Colleague #2 above. In this situation, you have a very defensive spouse who takes almost any kind of criticism and translates it into being a horrible person. Some people, because of their backgrounds or just their makeup, have such a difficult time hearing that their spouse is upset about something. They personalize it into feeling unaccepted and unloved. If this is your spouse, you will need to double your efforts in making sure she knows you like her for who she is, but that you want is the behavior to change.

5 Steps to Getting on the Same Page with Parenting

Jun 9, 2020 • 7 min read
In my article How to Be Ignored by Your Kids In 3 Easy Steps I described a relatively common parenting problem where no matter what “parenting tool” you used, the problem would never resolve because it was all being undermined by issues in the marriage. This current article will provide some specific suggestions for how to get on the same page, even if your parenting philosophies are on different planets.
It Starts with Allowing Yourself To Be Influenced

Several years ago a group of scientists invited me to speak to their support staff at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama City, Panama. I was given the topic of how to have influence with your children. As part of my presentation I shared an interesting finding by Dr. John Gottman in his research on successful marriages. He essentially discovered that happy marriages are made up of spouses who allow themselves to be influenced by each other. Dr. Gottman noted that for the most part, women already do this; they tend to naturally allow themselves to be influenced by their husbands. 

However, men are a different story. I then encouraged all of the men in the audience to consider allowing themselves to be more open to influence by their wives. What happened next stunned me. Immediately after saying this, all of the women in the audience erupted into cheers and gave me a standing ovation! When my presentation was over I was almost hugged and high-fived to death. Allowing yourself to be influenced by your spouse is the first point I want to emphasize; especially as it pertains to resolving parenting conflicts. 

This means being open enough to consider their thoughts and ideas on parenting, even if you strongly disagree. This plea for openness and allowing your spouse to influence you is particularly made with men in mind because, as I just noted, we men do not do this very well.

Please note: I am not talking about abuse – if your spouse is physically, emotionally, or sexually abusive to your children, then you must at all costs protect them.

But, She’ll Go Hungry!

Now, for a real life example. When my oldest daughter was in the first grade, the cool thing was to bring a homemade lunch to school. I totally cannot relate to this because when I was a kid, you were considered a dork if you showed up with a brown paper bag, which I did daily. But I digress. Jessica was very excited about making and bringing her lunch to school, and carefully prepared her lunch the night before. 

She put the various food items in a brand new lunchbox and placed it in the refrigerator for the following day. The next morning she got up, had breakfast, and took off for school. Unbeknownst to Valerie or me, she left her lunch in the fridge. Just before noon that day, I received a phone call from Jessica at school. Our conversation went something like this:

Jessica: Hi Dad! Please bring me my lunch, I left it at home. Hurry, I’m hungry!
Me: Ok. See you soon honey!

Five minutes later, all was well. Later that night, the routine was repeated: lunch made, carefully placed in the fridge, anticipation set. Unfortunately, the next morning was similar as well, with a nice lunch sitting in the fridge long after she left for school. The only difference; later that morning Mom answered the phone instead of Dad. Valerie and Jessica had a similar conversation that I had the day before. With one exception. That conversation went something like this:

Jessica: Hi Mom! I forgot my lunch at home, and I’m starving. Can you please bring it to me?
Mom: I’m so sorry honey, we are not going to bring your lunch to you every time you forget it. It looks like you’ll be going without lunch today, and I hope you remember to bring it tomorrow.
Jessica: Can I talk to dad for a sec?

As I sat listening to my wife’s ensuing conversation with Jessica, my immediate thought was, “But, she’ll go hungry!” An argument followed in which I did not keep these thoughts to myself. Valerie explained that she didn’t like Jessica being hungry either, but wanted Jessica to become responsible and that some suffering might be necessary in order to teach her this lesson. 

I believed that making a six-year-old go hungry just because she forgot her lunch was a bit extreme. After all, hadn’t I done the same thing SO MANY TIMES growing up? Who was I to judge?! Valerie won out this time because she was the one that answered the phone, but I was not on board with this approach.

Who was right in this situation? 
Was I just being too easy, projecting my own problems with forgetfulness into this situation, and rescuing her when I shouldn’t be? Was Valerie really being too strict, with expectations that were just too high for a first-grader? After all, she was only six! With this in mind, I present to you 5 steps to getting on the same page with your parenting.
Step 1: Have the Dang Conversation

You have to be intentional and set aside some time to have a conversation that is specifically geared towards your parenting. Make some time to do this, with the goal of developing an effective, ongoing way of talking about the problem. Sometimes the topics can be emotional and difficult but you owe to your children to have it nonetheless. See my article on how to have difficult conversations for a few tips and tricks. 

Timing here is important. Never have it in the heat of the moment. Once your heart rate is above 100 beats per minute, you are now “flooded,” meaning that your emotions have taken over, and you are now in survival mode (i.e. the“flight-fight” response). We want to avoid flooding (or learn how to navigate it, which you will learn with my how to have a difficult conversation. So have the conversation, but definitely not in the heat of the moment.

Step 2: Talk About Your Dreams

I very fondly remember the first time Valerie and I had this particular conversation. Our kids were very young, and we were on a work trip in San Francisco. We had a free afternoon and lay down under some trees in a park in Sausalito and just started talking about what our dreams for our family were. This was a completely spontaneous conversation which lasted for several hours, but had an enormous impact on me. 

This is where I learned why it was so important for Valerie to have feelings of peace and love fill our home. I hadn’t realized the effect that her own home had on her. While I love her family dearly, there was a lot of conflict and fighting growing up, and she was desperate to never have this in the family she and I were creating. We talked about what we hoped for our children someday, how we wanted them to be kind, unselfish, and capable.
Remember, this conversation, at least initially, can and should be a daydreaming exercise. This is not a time to criticize, but rather a time to allow each other to talk about your dreams. So talk openly about these dreams and hopes you have. What do you want? What do you not want? Remember also that this is a time to really listen to your spouse. The very act of having this type of conversation will bring you closer together as a couple and will allow you to talk about the harder things.

Step 3: Talk About What You Like About Your Spouse’s Parenting

Now, about those harder things. One of the main points of this exercise is to allow you to talk about changes you would like to see in each of your parenting approaches. The best way to start this is to be conciliatory. I can guarantee that if you go from talking about your dreams directly to mentioning what a jerk your husband was for the way he treated little Johnny, the conversation will be over and won’t likely happen again.

Describe one or several things you like about your spouse’s parenting. It can be simple, such as the time Valerie mentioned how much she appreciates my emotional availability to her and all the kids. 

I didn’t know what she meant when she first said this to me. She told me that no matter what was going on in my life, no matter how busy I was, if she or the kids were ever upset by something, I would always drop whatever I was doing to be with them. This surprised me, because 1) It was true but not something I was consciously aware of; 2) It meant I was pretty awesome (at least it made me feel good); and 3) It was so cool that she actually recognized this about me. After she said this, I was willing to listen to almost anything else she wanted to communicate to me, good or bad.
Step 4: Label What You Wish Could Change

It’s important to be specific, and though you are complaining about something, don’t blame and make it personal. So instead of saying: “You are always so easy with Jessica, you give her whatever she wants. I knew you’d handle it this way.” Say instead, “I want Jessica to become more responsible, and I wish you hadn’t delivered her lunch to her.”

Be specific, be brief, be clear, be polite, and don’t blame and make it personal. It’s important that we LISTEN. Talk about specific situations with which you are struggling. In my example with Jessica’s lunch, by listening to Valerie, I was actually able to see what a problem this had become in other areas of Jessica’s life as well. 

This wasn’t just about lunch. Once I heard this, and saw it for what it was, and saw how Valerie’s motives were all about teaching Jessica to be responsible and capable, it was easy for me to get on board.

Step 5: Commit to Being Influenced By Your Spouse

Make a conscious decision to be influenced by your spouse’s thoughts, ideas, and feelings about the situation. No matter how right I think I am, if I let myself really listen and be influenced by Valerie, I am almost always happy that I did. In fact, in all of our parenting conflicts, I really can’t remember ever regretting doing this. Plus, you’ll find that as you allow yourself to be influenced, your spouse will do the same.

The Magic of Family Rituals

Jun 9, 2020 • 3 min read
Valerie and I try to do a few things in our family that keep us connected with each other and with the kids. The kids don’t know that we do these things purposefully, but we have developed some rituals over the years. These are small and seemingly insignificant, and most of the time are quite mundane. They include things like having dinner together and tucking the kids into bed at night. Some rituals we suck at and others we’re pretty good at.

The nice thing about these rituals is that they provide a little window of time to make connections with our kids. These are always just little connections, and involve finding out what’s going on in their lives. For example, yesterday Maddie told me about a college campus she wanted to visit this week and wanted me to come with her. She was excited about this and several friends were planning on going. 

Katie told me about her plans for working out and getting stronger for soccer. She informed me she needed more “upper body strength” if she wanted to be an elite soccer player. Bryan and I spent about 3-5 minutes alternatively reading out loud pages from the latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid book. These books are freaking hilarious by the way. They also single-handedly turned a little boy who hated reading into one that can’t put the books down now.
Why are these rituals so important? Because they tie us together. They allow me to keep a storage space in my brain of all the important things that are going on in my kid’s lives. This creates an intimate familiarity with them, how they’re doing, and what they’re up to. It creates an intimacy in and of itself. By doing these little things, my hope is that maybe, when they have really important things they are dealing with, they’ll feel comfortable coming to me.
One of the rituals we suck at, but do occasionally, is what we call a “family home evening.” 

This is something that our faith encourages families to do on a weekly basis. It’s basically one night a week dedicated to doing something solely with your family. Sometimes we do it on Sunday night, sometimes we do it on Monday night, sometimes we do it no nights. These evenings usually include a small topic of discussion, singing the same cheesy song together that we’ve now been singing together for years, and a family prayer. Like most of our rituals, these are always relaxed and low-key. Sometimes magic comes from them though, such as an experience we had just this week.

Valerie had been talking about gratitude, it is Thanksgiving after all. Just when we were wrapping things up, I decided on a whim to ask everyone to share one thing they felt grateful for about each other. We then spent almost 30 minutes going around the room, each person sharing one or several things they felt grateful for about each other. It was an amazing, emotional, very tender and touching experience. 

Many tears were shed, there was a lot of hugging, and a feeling of peace and love permeated our home unlike anything I had felt in quite some time. Even Bryan, my 9 year old boy was able to understand and articulate some very special feelings, and it was amazing to see his reaction as his sisters talked about him.

When Valerie and I went to bed that night, we couldn’t stop talking about what had just happened, and how out of the blue it was. Maybe this is something we should all consider doing more of, both formally and informally. Let’s tell each other why we are grateful for each other. I promise that this will create deeper connections for you in your family.
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