Divorced at Christmas

** The following article was copied from theparentcue.org.

Christmas is a season that evokes a lot of memories.
Some memories are sweet.
Some memories are bitter sweet.
Some memories are just bitter.

I’m fortunate enough to have some of every variety but one from Christmas Day 2002 stands out particularly vividly in my mind.

My younger sister and I were on the winding road that took us over Blood Mountain from Gainesville, Ga. to Murphy, NC. We had made the same drive for seven years. Although, it wasn’t always this particular drive. After the divorce, my dad lived first in one apartment, then another, then his own home, then in the home of my new stepmother—the one in Murphy, N.C. The locations changed but the drive was the same.

We woke up in one home for “morning Christmas,” then jumped in the car and rushed to another home for “afternoon Christmas.” The picture of post-divorce Christmas had become predictable.

Pre-divorce Christmas? That was another picture.

Pre-divorce Christmas was my family of four: Mom, Dad, me and my little sister. It was about opening one present each on Christmas Eve. It was about being woken up before dawn by my little sister, and pretending like it bothered me when I was just as excited as she was. It was waking up our parents—under the same roof, in the same room, in the same bed. It was my dad messing with the video camera while my mom squealed in delight watching my sister and me open gifts. It was gifts from both sets of grandparents while sitting on the same couch. It was watching my parents open the presents they’d picked out for each other. It was spending the entire day in our PJs, playing with new toys, listening to Christmas music and drinking egg nog.

Until one night, the day after Christmas 1993, the fighting—which was in the picture every other day of the year—quieted from passionate screaming to hushed conversation. That evening, my sister and I sat on either arm of the recliner in the living room, our mom between us, as my dad carried a small suitcase and garment bag out the door.

And our picture of Christmas—and life in general—was changed.

So, for the next seven years, we had “morning Christmas” and “afternoon Christmas”. The “morning Christmas” parent would plan an extra special breakfast, or envision watching a new movie together, or want to see one of us try on our new clothes.

The “afternoon Christmas” parent would wake up with our step-parent and step-siblings to a Christmas tree and presents, only to wait, and wait, and wait for us to arrive. A special lunch might be cooked—and then cooled—while they sat waiting.

So here we were, Christmas Day 2002 driving the path over Blood Mountain, and we were already in trouble. In fact, we were in BIG trouble. This particular year no one was happy with the amount of time allotted for their Christmas and my sister and I were stuck in a no-win tug-of-war.

I don’t know if it was the sight of my younger sister completely despondent on what should have been the best day of the year, or if it was because I was lashing out, but I’d had enough. I pulled over and from my new Nokia cell phone, I drew one of the clearest boundaries I have ever drawn: this was the last time we would pack up and move on Christmas Day.

For seven years we had all tried to do everything we could to re-create pre-divorce Christmas. The problem was, things had changed. And seven years into what started out as good intentions, my sister and I were caught trying to maintain a picture of Christmas that wasn’t maintainable.

What I started to realize that year was this:

We never hold our expectations, traditions, or pictures of family tighter than we do during the holidays.

All of us. Married parents. Biological children. Step-parents. Foster Children. Single Parents. Adopted children. Whatever your label, whoever you are, whatever your family story, it’s never more tempting to demand that the people you love most live up to your picture than it is at Christmas. It’s like something begins to rise up inside us to say, “Okay, I will go with this broken picture 11 months of the year, but just give me this one month for us to be normal.”

And, when divorce is part of your family story, it’s also true that holidays have a way of bringing pain to the surface of our lives. Whether you’ve been divorced ten months or ten years, holidays can have a way of making it feel fresh all over again.

The holiday cards with pictures of smiling families.
The twinkle lights hanging on everyone’s houses—because apparently, they have enough adults in the home to both hang lights and watch children at the same time.
The tree farm you always talked about visiting together.

It all highlights the painful fact that the picture you had for your family has changed.

Over the next couple weeks, we will write more practical responses to being divorced during the holidays. But, maybe it starts with just this one thing:

If we want to find joy this season with the people we love most, we may have to lower our expectations, hold our pictures loosely, and embrace our story—exactly as it is in this season.

Low Expectations: A Key to Christmas Happiness

** The following article was copied from theparentcue.org.

Expectations rarely run higher than they do at Christmas. From what to give to what to serve to the pressure to host well, expectations hover just beyond reach of achievability for most of us.

A few years ago I was listening to a speaker who was talking about something I can’t remember anymore, but I do remember this.  As a complete aside, he stopped his main talk and said to the audience: “You know what the secret to happiness is, right?”  — Pause.  —  “Low expectations.”

It’s all I remember about his talk.  It’s so simple, a bit disappointing, and so true.

The only reason you and I ever get disappointed is because we expected something better.  Expect nothing . . . you’ll never be disappointed.

Lowering our expectations could make Christmas so much more enjoyable.  Expecting the perfect gift from your spouse? Drop the expectation. Then you’d be happy with anything she gets you. Worried about Christmas dinner? Prepare well, but lose the picture of the perfect family dinner from your mind . . . then you’ll be happy even when the turkey you labored over for hours is overcooked and your third cousin twice removed is more than happy to point it out.

Lowering expectations also increases gratitude. In fact, I think it’s the key to gratitude. If your expectations are chronically high, you will never be thankful for anything that doesn’t exceed them. Gratitude is easy to experience when you realize that spiritually, we are in a position to demand nothing . . . that we’ve received is a gift from a Savior who is merciful . . . that what we’ve received is far greater than what we have deserved.

Lowered expectations might be a great conversation subject with your kids this week.  If their gift list this year consists of a long list of specific items with size, brand, design, and color all pre-determined, it’s going to be hard to be grateful Christmas morning. Why? Because anything short of their exact expectation is disappointment.  You might even want to have the conversation with your spouse. We can place unrealistic expectations on each other about so many things.

Why not think about lowering your expectations this week? You’ll take yourself less seriously, enjoy others more, and be profoundly grateful for things you might have even resented otherwise.

Start the conversation about expectations for yourself and with your family today.

In the meantime, what have you learned about expectations, gratitude and happiness?

Eight Ideas to Help You Reclaim Gratitude This Season

** The following article was copied from www.fulleryouthinstitute.org

Eight Ideas to Help You Reclaim Gratitude This Season

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I love the weather. I love the food. I love spending four mellow days with my family.

Most of all, I love what Thanksgiving stands for.

In a culture that elevates entitlement and what’s-best-for-me, Thanksgiving invites us to be grateful, and to share that gratitude with both friends and strangers.

As followers of Jesus, gratitude takes on a special meaning. As Dave and I love sharing with our own three kids, we live gratefully because of Gods gracebecause of all God has done for us through Jesus Christ.

Grace is what separates Christianity from every other religion. And grace is the ultimate fuel for our gratitude.

If you asked me to share one insight at your church or your Thanksgiving family table with the young people you care about most, it would likely be this: Because of Gods grace, we live our lives as thank you notesback to God.

But maybe you’re a leader or parent wondering how to help teenagers and young adults marinate in this truth this month—especially because for some of us, this year has been punctuated with more heartbreak than joy.

Parents: How can we help our families reclaim a sense of gratitude that flows from God’s grace?

  1. Talk with your kids about what has happened in the last year that makes it hard to be grateful. Give your young people space to talk about events in our nation and in your family that may be disappointing or distressing. If it feels appropriate, talk about any glimpses of divine light you’ve seen in the midst of those dark moments.
  2. Every night at dinner or bedtime, ask your kids to share one thing they are grateful for that day. Our family has a bulletin board we pull out for the month of November. Almost every night, each of us writes one thing we’re grateful for on a construction paper leaf (that I cut out ahead of time; I’m not crafty at all so truth be told, the leaves look pretty terrible, but we love the conversations they provoke).
  3. Surprise our kids by not giving them a consequence theydeservefor a mistake or poor behavioral choice. While Dave and I believe in being consistent with our kids in our discipline, every once in a while, we don’t give them a consequence. Instead, we make it clear that just like our heavenly father shows us grace and mercy, we are trying to do the same.
  4. Involve your kids in figuring out one special way for your family to serve together. Don’t choose for your kids. Let your kids choose for your family. Before you serve, explain that we don’t serve because we hope God will love us more or like us more. And we don’t serve because it will look good on our college application. We serve out of gratitude for God’s grace.

10 Ways to Productively Argue With Your Children

** The following article was copied from www.allprodad.com.

Most definitions of “argue” suggest the presentation of reasons or evidence, compelling data that have the effect of persuasion. But we’re talking about children here, so the discussion necessarily needs to be broader. Arguing with children is a lot like using gasoline to put out a fire, or drinking hot sauce to deal with a bad case of heartburn. Not only is the way we tend to argue a bad idea, the process is likely to exacerbate the situation and accelerate the destructive cycle. How much of our family time is defined by this kind of conflict?

There are ways to productively argue with your children, but it’s going to need a different strategy than usual. Here’s how to argue effectively with your kids.

1. Listen

When you listen you learn about them. Then, more often than not, we discover we’re not so far apart after all. We also teach our children to listen and not always assume they are right.

2. Avoid patronizing

You may be right, but rubbing it in is never a good idea.

3. Develop a playbook for disagreements

Call a family meeting when there’s no argument pending. Hash out argument guidelines. Respect everyone’s ideas. Offer several alternative procedural guidelines (all acceptable to the parents) and let the kids make the call. Then (this is very important when a real argument comes along) make sure to always follow the rules yourself.

4. Teach effective argument techniques

This is not a case of shooting yourself in the foot, but of equipping your child with a useful tool.

5. Let your child know they are heard and understood.

This goes beyond simple reception of information. Paraphrase what your child has said. Ask them if you have it right. Try the information on for size.

Let your child know they are heard and understood. CLICK TO TWEET

6. Be receptive to new ideas

Let your child know you value their input.

7. Avoid the pride trap

Sometimes, a few seconds into an argument, the unthinkable occurs. You realize you’re wrong and that your child is right. Some parents will continue to argue on principle. Don’t be that guy.

8. Role play

No, seriously, this can be fun. Role play can disarm the tension. Say, “Let’s switch roles. I’ll be the kid and you be the parent.” Then, lay out all the facts and advocate for your child’s point of view. Often, kids will be harsher on themselves than we would imagine.

9. Never put your child down

Name-calling is always wrong. If you say a child’s argument is “stupid,” or “emotional,” or “childish,” then the discussion shifts and kids begin to defend themselves rather than a point of view or an idea.

10. Remember not to confuse a healthy discussion with parental authority

Some things should not be argued about, simply because they’re non-negotiable. However, once your child understands that you argue reasonably, fairly and productively, he/she will accept the non-negotiable points with less opposition.

Building a Healthy Family System – Seminar Recap

Seminar Recap
Building a Healthy Family System
LISTENING & COMMUNICATION
By Pat Nolan

 

Listening

As parents, some times we make things too complicated. In fact, listening seems so simple that it’s easy to gloss over it as a parental skill and favor more exciting things like teaching moments, fixing problems, or making sure our kids listen to us. Parents regularly talk about wanting “good communication” with their kids and kids actually do want to talk to their parents. So if listening is the foundation of good communication, then let’s keep it simple and start there.

Benefits of Listening

Listening will go far, not just in hearing the conversation, but can help fortify other areas of parenting too.

  • We can gather information about a child’s life and what’s in their head
  • Listening builds strong relationships
  • Listening thoughtfully shows respect
  • Shows them you care and that they matter
  • It is always the first step in solving problems
  • Kids are smarter than most adults think – they pay attention and are aware. They will teach you how to raise them if you listen.
  • A child who is listened to… Learns how to listen

What is Listening?

Listening is thoughtful attention. It is intentional, and most parents have listening skills. Sometimes it is a matter of putting them into practice intentionally so that you can be a role model for these skills.

We can be better listeners with:

  • Direct eye contact
  • Positive body language
  • Paraphrasing/summarizing what is being said (“So you want to have more time on your ipad”)
  • Reflecting the emotion of what they are saying (“Sounds like it hurts your feeling when your sister calls you names”)
  • Show empathy (“I remember when my parents made me go to church”)

Listening Quicksand

Just as there are good listening practices, there are also poor listening practices. I call these Listening Quicksand. Be careful not to sink into these practices!

  • Cell Phones – when you look at your cell phone, you automatically make the person you’re talking with a second priority
  • Interrupting – you are focused on just getting a moment to break in and say what you want, not listening to what is being said
  • Wanting the last word – The focus is on you plus, the conversation will never end!
  • Minimizing the conversation to avoid uncomfortable topics
  • Teaching moment – Parents try to use every moment as a teaching moment.
  • Problem solving- It’s hard to listen and “fix the problem” at the same time
  • Showing lack of interest in the conversation
  • Time constraints- shutting a conversation down because of time constraints, then never picking it back up.

Listening Bait

Know what topics become “Quicksand” for you as a parent. These topics become great
“teaching moments” and even better conversation killers. What can you do to be a better listener with these topics?

  • Video games
  • Social Media
  • School
  • Friendships
  • Future

Rule of thumb for Listening

  • If you are talking with your kids, make your contribution 20 seconds or less at a time.
  • If the conversation is 70/30 (70% you talking, 30% them) then you are not listening. Reverse it.
  • Don’t be afraid of uncomfortable conversations. These are ones that stick. Especially when you show respect by listening.
  • Serious conversations are set up by all the small, seemingly innocuous conversations.
  • Have fun with your kids in conversation. Laughter and joking make conversations and listening so much easier.

Encounter.  Formation.  Expression.

One of the things we talk about at Port City Community is the idea of Encounter, Formation, Expression.  The basic concept is that what we encounter in life will help to form what we think and believe.  What we think and believe will inevitably show up and be expressed in what we say and do.  As parents, part of our job is to help our kids maneuver in a world that is ever changing and build a solid foundation in Christ.  When it comes to listening and communication, we need to remember that what they encounter is forming who they are.  When they encounter parents who listen with thoughtful attention, they will begin to know they are heard and what they have to say matters. It builds up their confidence, helps form their identity, and strengthens their relationship with you, their parents. When a kid opens a door to a conversation, don’t hesitate or be afraid, go in!!  And remember to have fun with your kids, they’re pretty cool!

How to Parent During the Teen Years – Dad Edition

Our friend Stuart Hall joins The Parent Cue podcast to share about how dads can better parent during the teenage years.  Check it out!  https://soundcloud.com/rethinkgroup/pcl-50-dad-edition-with-stuart-hall

 

Parent Network Podcast – Michelle Starbuck

Check out our fourth episode where we interview Michelle Starbuck, our volunteer Director of the Parent Network, on intentional parenting over the years.

 

Parent Network Podcast – Mike Ashcraft

Listen to our latest Parent Network Podcast where we interview Mike Ashcraft on “The Power of Intentional Parenting.”

 

 

5 Ways to Help Teens Cope With Change

** The following article was copied with theparentcue.org

I am a planner and always have been. I carefully constructed a plan for almost every life milestone.

Choosing a graduate school program in high school? Check.
Wedding dress selection? Check (as soon as he proposed)
Birth plan? Check (as detailed as it could possibly be)

For as long as I can remember, I’ve enjoyed planning and longed for routine and stability. In middle school, I sat in the same seat in every class. In college, I decided on my class schedule a semester in advance.

I craved certainty and security.Even though I understood that life was anything but certain, there was something very gratifying about creating order amid chaos. Certainty is associated with clarity and predictability.

According to Dr. David Rock, the author of Handbook of NeuroLeadership, not knowing what will happen next is unsettling for humans and can be debilitating because it requires additional neural energy. Put simply, our brains have to work harder to process the unexpected.

But what happens when life throws you a curve ball that you did not, and could not, plan for?

Despite detailed planning for how my life would unfold, unsurprisingly, there were many surprises along the way:

Breakups
Illness
Career changes
Complicated births
Financial downturns
Moving
Graduating

Many of us have experienced these common life events that can potentially trigger a great deal of stress.

And as if change isn’t tricky enough for adults to navigate, teens and young adults have an even more difficult time with the inevitable uncertainties of this journey called life.

Freshmen year is just around the corner, will I make any new friends?
They just announced the new roster and wait, my name’s not on it this year . . .
We dated for an entire year and now she wants to break up. Will this pain ever subside?
How’s this finding a life purpose thing going to play out?

The presence of unknown variables has the potential to disturb even the most grounded among us. For teens, unwanted or unanticipated change may lead to feeling out of control and overwhelmed. We now know that excessive or chronic stress poses dangerous consequences on mental, emotional, and physical well-being.

By fostering a responsive, rather than reactive approach to coping with change, teens and young adults can
learn how to achieve clarity while navigating the inevitable obstacles of life.

Below are some strategies that can help your teen cope with change:

1. ACKNOWLEDGE EMOTIONS

The first step in managing emotions associated with any type of life change is simply to give yourself permission to experience the emotion so it can run its course. Transitions, like graduation, seem to be entirely positive to onlookers but may trigger feelings of fear and anxiety for a graduate. The reality of entering a new chapter of independence can be profoundly daunting. Whether it is a change of schools or the breakup of a significant relationship, change can bring out feelings of anger, rejection, and abandonment. Encourage your teen to share their feelings through journaling, talking to a therapist or supportive friends to help process the full range of difficult emotions.

2. FOCUS ON VALUES

Some of the most trying circumstances in life make us wish we could hide away in safety until the threat has vanished. Remind your teen it’s okay not to have all the answers to every question or to know how every detail will play out. Remembering what’s important—faith, family, friends, creative expression—is a powerful shield against whatever negative emotions threaten to arise. Ask them to list their values and help them to help the keep this life-change in the right context.

3. REFLECT BACK

Studies have shown that people who experience new life events—new schools, new relationships, or new jobs—experience some level of anxiety, even if the change was desired. Reflect with your teen on a time when they faced a significant change and successfully managed it, despite experiencing some initial fear. “Do you recall how terrified you were to start middle school?” Sometimes unfamiliar events are not as scary as they seem initially and may simply require a little time to adjust.

4. SHIFT PERSPECTIVES

We create our own realities in the way we process our thoughts and emotions and through the narratives we tell ourselves. Point out that changes, whether expected or unexpected, are part of the human experience and are opportunities for growth. Rather than be consumed with what was lost, consider potential gains. How can this new situation be a benefit? For example, if they’ve recently moved to a different school or city, help them see it as an opportunity to re-invent themselves. Help them learn to make the best of new situations. They may eventually view the life change as beneficial to their personal growth and life story.

5. BE SELF-COMPASSIONATE

Despite our best efforts and carefully executed plans, life often doesn’t go the way in which we intended. In fact, life can be stressful, and often disappointing. Instead of allowing frustration and self-doubt to take root, encourage your teen to offer themselves compassion. Researcher Dr. Kristin Neff explains how to show yourself self-compassion. If you are confronted with a painful experience, instead of ignoring your pain or chastising yourself, Dr. Neff recommends reminding yourself, “This is difficult right now, how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?” Self-compassionate individuals offer kindness to themselves and others rather than judgment and harsh critiques.

 

5 Things to Do with Kids When They Don’t Want to Be with You

** The following article was copied from allprodad.com

5 Things to Do with Kids When They Don’t Want to Be with You

It seems like just yesterday you couldn’t pry your children off you with a crowbar. Everywhere you went, anything you were doing, they wanted to be along for the ride. Now they’re hitting their teen years and becoming independent. Suddenly, hanging out with mom and dad ranks on the fun scale somewhere between typing a term paper on e-coli bacteria and cleaning out the rain gutters.
It’s tough not to feel hurt when little Johnny or Suzie now sigh and roll their eyes at the very idea of engaging in a game of monopoly when, just two years ago, they would’ve sold their interest in Park Place just to keep the match going for another hour. Here are five parenting things you can do to cope and maybe even reclaim some lost real estate with your kids when it seems they don’t want to be with you.

1. Don’t take it personally.

Easier said than done but still, this is one of those “try and remember yourself at 13” moments. Looking back, the teen years are typically marked by a certain level of first time self-awareness and consequently, selfishness. While you shouldn’t put up with insensitivity and rudeness, neither should you take it too hard when a trip to the mall with friends sounds better to your child than a day at the ballgame.

2. Don’t live on their level emotionally.

This relates back to number one on our list, “Don’t take it personally.” When our children brush off our attention or seem disinterested in our company, it’s easy to feel rejected and to lash out with loud pronouncements about “the way it’s going to be in our house.” Or even more raw, “Well fine then, why don’t you just go waste more time on Snapchat! It’s obviously more important than me!” Even if you feel that way, don’t blurt that out to your child. That kind of anger isn’t likely to lead to anything productive in your relationship and most certainly will cause the divide between you to widen.

3. Stick to common ground experiences that can bridge the gap.

One of the great quotes from the classic comedy, City Slickers comes when Daniel Stern’s character, Phil, reminisces, “When I was about 18 and my dad and I couldn’t communicate about anything at all, we could still talk about baseball.” What pleasures, hobbies, or passions have you and your child shared that might constitute common ground? Pursue them with your child and while you may not have deep, soulful, conversations about all that’s going on in their lives during the teen years, those shared experiences will provide a bridge of communication both now and later.

4. Try taking on the Galactic Overlord for once.

Right? Seriously though, if your teen has a passion for video games or something else squarely outside of your experience, give it a try with them. Sometimes, connecting with your kids means entering their world. This DOESN’T include becoming the permissive parent who tacitly endorses that which is immoral for the sake of appearing “cool”. You never want to secure your child’s friendship at the cost of their respect for you as their parent.

5. Plan regular opportunities that take you both away from familiar distractions and allow you to be one-on-one.

This can be touchy when it comes to insisting that your teen participates. But, when you put together a weekend in the mountains or at the beach, or anywhere but where you live, that doesn’t include anyone but family, you open up opportunities to connect with your child that aren’t usually available in everyday life. Removing peer pressure and the need to fit in allows your teen to breathe a little easier and let down long enough to let you in.