Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Getting the Most Out of Marriage Counseling

Ellie and Pete were struggling in their relationship. The kids were now in elementary school, playing sports and going in many different directions. Both Ellie and Pete were tired all the time from the non-stop running and seldom had time for each other anymore. The kids had kind of taken over the relationship. In recent weeks, both had begun thinking about the possibility of divorce, or at least getting some help. Both are starting to see some signals that the marriage is not going well. So, in one of their few quiet moments together, Ellie suggested that she and Pete see a marriage counselor that Ellie's friend Kiara had recommended.

Pete never really thought it would come to this; when he and Ellie were first married, life was so sweet. What had happened to them to make them virtual strangers in the same home? They were certainly more parents than they were lovers anymore. Maybe working with a marriage counselor would be worth the investment emotionally, financially and with the time it will take if it might save their family and rebuild their relationship.

Pete and Ellie are like many young couples with small and growing children. Their marriage has suffered as they have invested in their children and their needs and have let their own marital relationship go from lack of maintenance. When a husband and wife find themselves in such a circumstance, they often choose to find help through a trusted adviser, family member, clergy member or marriage counselor. As they are seeking advice from a competent professional, husbands and wives need to consider a number of factors.

Finding a good counselor. One of the first big hurdles a couple will face when choosing to seek marriage counseling is to find a counselor that both can feel comfortable with. You can ask other couples for referrals, your employer may have an employee assistance program which may have counselors available, or you may want to ask your minister or clergy for a suggestion. Once you have selected a couple of possible choices, ask to meet with the counselor to see if he or she will be compatible with both of you. Counseling works best when both husband and wife feel good about the choice and are willing to share their concerns with and accept advice from the counselor. If you can't find one you can both agree on, keep looking until you do.

Understand the process. Usually, the counselor will start with an assessment phase where he or she tries to understand the dynamics of the relationship and what both of you want from the counseling experience. Be patient with this process; it may take several visits to get all of the issues on the table and to the point where the counselor is ready to begin helping you work on the relationship. If your expectations are for a short-term fix, you will probably be disappointed. Plan on about three to four months of therapy before you begin seeing meaningful results.

Be willing to be the one who changes. I have seen many couples go into marriage counseling with each partner hoping that the counselor will "fix" the other one. The truth is that if a marriage is going south, there is probably lots of responsibility on both sides of the couples equation. So go in with your eyes wide open and recognize that you will need to make some changes to make the marriage work. Creating a successful marriage takes full engagement from both marriage partners.

Put yourself out there. Often marriage counseling at the outset is hampered by one or both of the couple members who is not willing to share all of their thoughts and feelings and to come to grips with some of the negative emotions that have formed. Being willing to be wide open in your communication approach can be painful, but in the end, it pays huge dividends in the counseling process.

Remember that couples therapy can have non-marriage benefits as well. The relationship skills that a therapist will help you and your partner develop will work in a marriage, but will also help with relationships with children, other family members, coworkers, friends and more. Watching for opportunities to practice what you learn in multiple settings will help hone the skills for better relationships in your marriage and family.

Remember how brave you are. Taking the important step of going to counseling is a real act of bravery and faith. All your secrets are at risk, and you were willing to do that in order to rebuild your marriage. That bravery and trust will be needed in abundance as the process rolls forward, and if you remember how you felt when you first started, you can hang on for the long haul and make it a positive experience.

Marriage counseling can seem daunting and even threatening at first, but for couples who are willing to invest the time and the emotional capital, it can be an experience that brings your entire family closer together. Doing all you can to preserve your marriage and keep your family together and strong is worth the effort for you, your partner and your kids.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Teaching Children Financial Awareness

"Dad, I really need that new baseball glove. My old one is just not working any more and the team is counting on me in the outfield. Can't you get me a new glove? I will pay you back." Such was the plea made by Stephen to his dad. Dad wasn't planning on a new baseball glove with this paycheck, and the utility bill was higher than he expected. And he realized that he had not done much to teach his children financial awareness. So Dad decided he needed to help his children learn more about money, so he devised a plan.

"Stephen, we are not going to get a baseball glove today, and this evening we are going to have a family night where we talk about the family budget and how we all need to be more aware of our resources."

That evening, Greg and Pam called the kids together and got out the play money from the Monopoly game.

"OK, kids. Tonight we are going to learn about our family budget. Every two weeks, from Dad's full-time job and Mom's part-time job, we bring home about $3,000.

So, we have put in this pile of Monopoly money $6,000. That seems like a lot, doesn't it? But then we have to take $1,900 for our mortgage payment. Do you know what a mortgage is?"

And on the evening went. At the end of the evening, the kids had a greater appreciation for the family's budget and why so many things they wanted had to be put off for another time.

Fathers have a big responsibility for helping their children learn to be aware of the value of money and to teach them the importance of financial awareness. Taking a pass on this important teaching responsibility can cause children later in life, as early as their late teenager years, to find themselves in debt and in trouble.

Here are some ideas about how fathers can help their children become more financially aware and prepare them to manage their own money.

Discuss finances at home. Like Greg did with his kids, take the time to explain where the money comes from to support the family and where it all goes each month. As the children learn to appreciate the family's budgetary limits, they will also learn the importance of staying financially solvent in their own lives. As our children watched us come up with ways to save money for a big family vacation or major purchase, they learned about what it means to be financially disciplined. It has been fun to watch each of our children come to grips with their own financial picture as they earn money and prepare to head off to college and manage their own personal budgets.

Help the children set financial goals. Most often, financial goals start when the kids want something and need to save for it. For our children, it was most often a bicycle to increase their mobility that was the first savings target. For others it may be the latest designer jeans or a cell phone. Take them shopping to compare prices and then help them use their math skills to figure out how much they have to save how often to be ready to buy the item. As they get older, you can talk about saving for college expenses, for school fees for the extracurricular activities they want to do, for a car or other larger ticket items. Helping them set goals and come up with a plan, and then track their progress can really help them learn to appreciate money and the need to save.

Develop an allowance system to help them learn about money. When kids have access to money they have earned, they tend to appreciate it more and they learn hard lessons about money when there is not much at stake. A good allowance system that balances between working to earn and being a responsible part of a family is a good place to start teaching money management. And whether they directly earn an allowance for chores done or whether chores are just expected and a modest allowance given, keeping track of what is earned, saved and spent will be the most important lesson.

Get them a bank account. About the time your children hit second grade or so, you should head down to your bank or credit union and set up a savings account. Getting their saved money out of the home makes them a lot less tempted to be raided for the latest whim. And as they watch the balance grow and see those few pennies of interest added, they will become more excited about saving. Just make sure you are also a signatory on the account so you can keep control of their assets if needed.

Don't give into financial demands. Children are notorious for going to the store with you and wanting a candy bar, a toy or something that attracts their attention. Be firm and don't give in. Those are moments when they learn the need for delayed gratification and to make choices for long term gain, even if it results in short term pain. Teach them the need to avoid impulse buying by setting the example yourself in their presence.

Share the pain of setbacks. When you experience a financial setback due to job loss, the need to replace a major appliance or another financial reverse, don't protect them from the consequences. Whether fair or not, life hands us financial reverses from time to time and it is good for kids to get a dose of reality. So you may have to put off a family vacation or a major purchase that they were looking forward to - they will learn the need for good planning and for adapting to changes in life.

Helping your children learn about money and how to be aware of financial situations that may confront you now and them later will help them learn to make good financial choices in their lives.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Miracle Morning Book Review

I first encountered author Hal Elrod and The Miracle Morning by listening regularly to Hal’s successful podcast “Achieve Your Goals.”  The Miracle Morning is primarily focused on beginning each day in a positive and productive state of mind, starting with purpose and then living through the day deliberately.  It is hard for me to think of a simple practice that could have a greater impact on fathers with the many demands on their time and attention.

Since my teenaged years, I have found the value of what I have called a “morning devotional.”  In this process, I have read scripture, pondered and prayed in an effort to refocus my spiritual life each morning.  And while I have not been perfect with my morning devotional, it has always helped me have a better day.

So I got motivated to take a look at his best-selling book The Miracle Morning, which seemed to resonate with my morning devotional practice but bring more to the experience.  And I was not disappointed.

Hal Elrod is a personal success coach, author and speaker who was an extraordinary direct sales success and who nearly lost his life in a head-on automobile accident.   As he recovered from his injuries, he retrained his thinking to becoming more positive and focused. Achieving great success in his sales career, he turned to writing and speaking to share his story and to motivate others to success.  His first book, Taking Life Head On, speaks to his specific story and what he learned, and The Miracle Morning is a how-to tome based on his mantra that “You can’t change the past but you can change everything else. Take your first step toward making a significant change in your life, today.”

The concept of the Miracle Morning is to get up earlier than you otherwise would and to focus 30 minutes to an hour on six “Life S.A.V.E.R.S” or practices which can cause your day to start right and to bring focus and energy. “Life S.A.V.E.R.S” is an acronym for these practices:
·        S – Silence – this practice is about praying, meditating or doing things that are without distraction
·        A – Affirmations – this practice, recommended by many self-help gurus, is about speaking aloud your key objectives and vision for yourself (your affirmations)
·        V – Visualization – this practice involves visualizing yourself in situations in which you are successful and progressing
·        E – Exercise – as it suggests, this practice is about physically getting active with a deliberate strategy
·        R – Reading – this practice involves reading things that motivate and inspire and could include scripture, self-help books, or articles that instruct and focus on self improvement
·        S – Scribe – this practice involves writing in a journal or blog and recording the experiences, feelings and lessons learned of your life

In the book, Elrod writes in detail about the values of each of these Life S.A.V.E.R.S and then suggests a series of tools for implementing the Miracle Morning in the life of the reader.  He talks about starting with a 6-minute Miracle Morning and moving to a longer period of time, about how to customize the Miracle Morning concept and how to successfully develop a habit of the practice over a 30 day time period.

In addition, Hal has created a Miracle Morning Community on Facebook that allows folks using the Miracle Morning at all stages to post, support one another and share ideas.

I have found The Miracle Morning to be a very effective tool that helps ground me and set my day up for greater personal and professional success.  I have tried to look at it specifically from my role as a father and as a writer about fatherhood topics and believe that it could help any father who wants to be more committed and deliberate about his role as a dad.  Whatever you hope to achieve in life, the principles and practices of The Miracle Morning will be a blessing and an effective strategy in helping a father get there.

Hacks for Hated Household Chores

If you are like me, a feeling of dread sweeps over you when you contemplate the idea of doing household chores.  Not that I am all that intimidated by a toilet with a hard water ring around the water line, but I hate the “drudgery” associated with the same old chores, over and over again.

So, I have been trying to collect some hacks for some of my most hated household chores.  As I shared a few of them with some dads I know, they suggested that I put them in an article to help other dads find some easy fixes.  I hope that some of these ideas will be helpful to you as you move through your own list of hated household chores.

Decluttering.  When your house is loaded with kids, the clutter seems to grow without limits.  Our secret to decluttering, when we have done it well, was to have a few nesting laundry baskets, each one labeled with the name of a family member.  We would get the laundry baskets out when we started to clean up and then just throw whatever we found belonging to a family member into the appropriate basket.  Then we took the full basket to each person’s room and dumped the contents on his or her bed.  It was a pretty easy way to save a lot of steps and still get things where they belonged.

Hard water stains on windows.  Whenever your outside irrigation system gets water on windows, it can be havoc trying to get them clean.  I usually start by getting the dirt and grime off with a good window cleaning solution and then using a towel soaked with vinegar to attack the hard water stains.  In most cases, the vinegar wash and applying a straight razor blade will do the trick.  If that fails, use a toilet bowl cleaner sprayed onto a clean rag to apply it to the window glass.  Let it sit 5-10 minutes and then wash it off with water.  Make sure and use gloves – both the vinegar and the toilet cleaner can be murder on your hands.

Cleaning sink drains.  Slow running drains in tubs or sinks can make you crazy and often they seem to defy all of our efforts to make the work better.  I usually start with a little tool called a 
Zip-It drain clearer. It is a little plastic gizmo about 2 feet long that you run down the drain and then pull back out, bringing hair and gunk with it.  If that doesn’t quite get it there, you can use the baking soda and vinegar thing.  Start by pouring a couple of quarts of boiling water into the drain, then put a ½ cup of baking soda in there.  Mix one cup of vinegar with a cup of very hot water and then pour the mixture into the drain on top of the baking soda.  Then cover the drain opening with a towel or a plug and let it work.  After ten minutes, flush the drain with another 2 quarts of boiling water.

Getting soap scum out of showers and tubs.   One of my favorite cleaning chemicals is called Kaboom, and it works wonders as a regular weekly cleaning strategy.  Just spray in on the shower or tub surface, let it sit five minutes and then use a scrub brush and water to peel off the soap scum.  But Kaboom alone won’t do it if you have neglected the cleaning for several weeks.  If you have let the soap scum build up, my favorite cleaning solution is 1 cup of Borax cleaner mixed with 2 tablespoons of dishwashing soap and 2 cups of water.  It will make a batter about the consistency of waffle batter.  Dip your soft bristle brush in it, spread it all over the surface of the tub or shower, let it sit for 15 minutes and then scrub until the soap scum is gone.

Cleaning the microwave.  I don’t know about your kitchen, but sometimes the toughest cleaning job (besides a non-self-cleaning oven) is getting all of those splatters off the surfaces of the microwave.  Other than getting the kids to cover that bowl of leftover spaghetti sauce, the easiest thing I have found is to microwave a bowl of hot water for about 3 minutes.  The steam generated from the heating water will tend to loosen the splatters and food that have gunked up the walls and top of the microwave, making cleaning up a whole lot easier.

Getting it all done.  It can be a challenge just to keep up with the cleaning and management of a home.  Years ago, we bought a little binder that fits pre-punched 3 x 5 index cards and then color-coded the cards for daily, weekly and monthly cleaning chores.  Then we bought 7 dividers – one for each day of the week.  Then we used the index cards to allocate the daily, weekly and monthly chores to the weekdays.  So, on Monday we did all the daily chores, 1/7 of the weekly chores and 1/28 of the monthly chores.  Dividing it up can make a big difference in getting it all done.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Using Natural Consequences

Craig called me one afternoon in a panic about his daughter’s behavior. “She pitches a fit every time I tell her to do something that she doesn’t want to do. If she is busy playing a game on the Wii console, she just ignores me until I turn off the console and then she screams so loudly that I just don’t know what to do!”

I asked Craig what happens to Sydney when she acts that way. He asked me what I meant. I replied that I wondered if she had any consequences for her unacceptable behavior. The fact that he wasn’t sure what I meant was a good indicator that he didn’t have a real grasp of effective discipline using natural consequences.

The Concept of Natural Consequences

If you think about it, the world is full of natural consequences.

For example, if a tiger in the jungle just sits around all day, chances are that he won’t eat. If he doesn’t eat, then he will grow weaker until he dies. But, however, if the tiger gets himself in gear, stalks his prey and then kills and eats, he will survive and even thrive.

All too often, as parents, we have a bias toward protecting our children from the natural consequences in the world around them. For example, if our teenage son doesn’t get a summer job and earn money, we still pay for his school clothes and give him spending money. If our smaller child acts antisocially like Sydney did, she still gets to stay with other people and interact.

Our children have a hard time learning when we continue to protect them from natural consequences. Unfortunately, we probably won’t be there when the children who don’t learn from natural consequences have to face them and then lose a job, destroy a family or find themselves in other negative situations. They might end up wondering why someone “didn’t bail them out” of their situation.

Teaching Through Natural Consequences

So, let’s take Craig’s scenario for a minute and try to apply the principle of natural consequences. When Craig approached Sydney to get her to take care of her assigned chore and she blew him off because her game was more important, Craig took a good first step by turning off the game console. But what he didn’t do was to help her understand that the loss of her game was a natural consequence of her behavior.

“Sydney, you know that we have a rule in our family about not playing games until our chores are done. Chores are something we all have to do to keep our home liveable for all of us. If you learn that it is OK to skip a responsibility in order to do something fun, you will have a difficult life. So, let’s go get that chore done now and then you can come back and play your game for a while.”

If Sydney were to continue to throw her tantrum, Craig could gently pick her up and carry her to a time-out location and calmly say, “Sydney, when you are loud and angry, other people don’t like to be around you. So, you can sit here in time out and then, when you are ready to act appropriately, you are welcome to come back out and we will get started on your chores.”

The pattern here is to impose natural consequences based on the child’s behavioral choices. And when a parent teaches what the behavior does in the real world, he helps a child learn to understand how the world works and prepares them for their later years.

For example, if a teenager is late coming home from an activity, is the natural consequence of that behavior that she should scrub all the floors in the house? Of course not; there is no link between the behavior and the consequence. But grounding might be an acceptable natural consequence. When a child violates a parent’s trust, it takes some time to rebuild that trust. And while the rebuilding is going on, a parent can’t trust a child to be away from home without them.

If a child is found texting while driving, a couple of good natural consequences might be the loss of a cell phone or placing a lock on text messages, or maybe the child should not be driving at all. Imposing those restrictions are natural consequences. Making the child cook dinner for a week is not quite as intuitive.

Consider these tips for helping children learn through natural consequences.
  • Protect the child from physical harm. None of us want a child to learn that a stove burner is hot by letting the child touch the burner. Natural consequences that involve physical pain or danger are things parents should not use in teaching this principle.
  • Don’t just impose; teach. Too often, parents will simply impose a natural consequence without helping a child understand what is happening. Discipline moments are teaching moments and a father should not waste a good opportunity to teach a correct principle.
  • Give warnings when possible. Part of a child learning about natural consequences is giving them a fair shot at behaving in a way to avoid the consequence entirely. For example, if toys are left all over the room, the first time a dad could say to a child, “Tara, let’s go pick up the toys downstairs. If you leave your toys out, they might get broken or someone might step on them. When you clean up the toys, things go better here at home. If you don’t, you might lose the chance to play with them for a few days to help you remember that it is important to clean up.”
Helping children learn self-discipline through natural consequences and using natural consequences to impose discipline will help you get compliance as a father but teach them how the real world works. That understanding will bless their lives for years to come.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

How to Make Flexible Work Schedules Work for You and Your Family

I recently received an email from a father who had been offered the chance to have a flexible work schedule from his employer.  He was able to work from home part of the week, and to do much of his creative work after normal hours.  The flexible work schedule had been helping a lot with him being able to spend quality time with the kids, but he also felt that he was sacrificing his professional reputation by being away from his work group so much.  “Is there a better way to balance this opportunity so that my family, my employer and me all are finding it a win?”

Great question.  Flexible work schedules and employers who are willing to offer them to their employees can be a real benefit to employees and families, if the employer can still get the value and the productivity needed to be successful.  But, truth be known, it is a balancing act that demands our very best effort to make it work for all concerned.

So, I asked around among my father friends who have flexible work schedules and who work at least part of their week from home to get some advice from the trenches as far as making flextime work well for them.

Schedule kid-free time for work from home.  While we may have this ideal image that we can shift on a moment’s notice from being a super-dad to being a super-employee, it is not always quite that easy.  Business meetings on the phone or via Zoom or Microsoft Teams cannot be interrupted by kids needing something.  And our best creative work isn’t done in an environment with new distractions every few minutes - or sometimes, multiple times a minute.  So dad who work from home tell me that setting up some time when they are always available for work and free from distractions is important.  It may be a time when the kids are at school or preschool or when their mom is home and taking over the child care duties.

Do the most creative work at the quietest time.  You can certainly respond to routine emails with a baby or your lap or when kids are eating a meal, but when you really need to think and be creative, it is best to do it when there are fewer distractions.  One dad I know told me that he would do his best creative work early in the morning before the kids were up, at nap time or after bedtime.  Try to program your work so that you can work best when you work best.

Find ways to connect with colleagues.  Several dads I spoke with talked about feelings of isolation from their peers at work.  After all, when you are working part of the time from home, you are not engaging in the casual conversations at the “water cooler” or in the hallways.  That lack of small talk can help you feel unconnected with the people you work with.  So still go out after work occasionally with the guys at the office, keep up on their lives on social media, or have them over to your place with their families for a barbeque or similar event.  Finding new ways to connect can help with the sense of being left out at work for being at home more often.

Coordinate calendars.  Scheduling for family and personal relationships can get really tricky with a flexible work schedule.  Several of the dads I talked with started using an online family calendar integrated with their work calendar to make sure that everyone in the family knew everyone else’s schedule.  This is a good idea for any family, but it becomes more important when the dad’s schedule is flexible.  Getting soccer practices, piano recitals and weekly dates on the online calendar will minimize scheduling conflicts which can result in human conflicts.

Flexible scheduling options for employees can be a major blessing in the life of a family, but only if the family is careful to make sure it works.  A few simple steps taken together can result in greater family time and more productivity at work.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

When You Wonder if Fatherhood is Worth It

I remember vividly a time when I wondered if all the effort at parenting was worth it.  I was trying to cover work and parenting once when my wife was out of town.  I was cutting my work hours short so I could take care of kids before and after school, and I was burning the candle at both ends.  One of my children was in junior high school, and was the last one to head out the door to school, and this particular day there was no way he was going.  He hated school. He hated me.  He was mad that his Mom was gone.  In the midst of a big blow up about school he ran into the back yard and climbed a big willow tree higher than I could get and dared me to come get him down.

I was late for work, and I was really tempted to just leave him up there and hoist his meals up with a rope until his mom came home.  But I took a deep breath, got myself calmed down and decided to take the time to listen rather than just yell.  It took about 15 minutes, but he finally did come down and we got him to school just barely in time.

Every parent has days when they wonder if parenting is worth it.  We may have fantasies of sitting on the beach in Aruba - if only we didn’t have kids.  We may long for the day when we could just sit down and read - or write - or do anything else we love doing for more than 30 minutes at a time.  Especially after three nights in a row of 4 hours of sleep or less, we get discouraged about this parenting adventure and wonder if it will ever end.

Truth be told, parenting is a lifelong commitment, and we are never quite done with the role.  Certainly the intensity of the effort can diminish when our kids are all adults, but we are still and always will be parents.  But when the intensity does get to us, and we wish that we could just check out for a few weeks and get a meaningful break, what is it that we should do?  What strategies work best for dealing with parental burnout, and, more particularly, what should dads do when they feel this way.

Take ten.  There is almost never a situation when you couldn’t take ten minutes away from the pressure and have a little daddy time-out.  Settle the older kids in with a video game or a movie, put the little guys in a crib with some toys (even if they are crying) and retreat into your bedroom, back yard or man cave.  Plug in some noise-cancelling headphones, set a timer and meditate, listen to music or just vegetate.  It is amazing how refreshing a ten-minute time-out can be.  Then take a deep breath and jump back into the fray.

Release some endorphins.  Throw on your sweats and lace up your shoes.  Put the kids in a stroller and head out on a brisk walk.  Chat with the kids as you go, but keep your pace up.  Moderate exercise can release those magical hormones called endorphins that elevate your mood, help you feel hopeful and convince you that there is still good in the world.  It may not feel as good as a 10K run or an hour on the treadmill or elliptical trainer, but it is physical activity and it will help you feel better.

Plug in a podcast.  I have discovered the value of listening to podcasts in the last few years while I exercise, commute or just putter around the house.  There are some great fatherhood podcasts that I really like and that are really entertaining as well as informative.  I know in my profession when I am feeling a bit overwhelmed, spending some time in professional development and recharge my workplace batteries.  Think of listening to podcasts as professional development for parents.

Talk with other parents.  It is good for us to interact with other parents.  Most of our fathering friends are not discouraged on the same day as we are (and vice versa), so picking up the phone, setting up a playdate, or just going out to dinner or having friends over for a barbeque can be really therapeutic.  

Focus on the long term vision.  I know that it can be hard to believe at times, but kids do grow up.  The years go by faster and faster and when they are all adults and out of the house, you will be amazed at how quickly the time seems to have passed.  Remind yourself that you are raising the next generation of people and contributing to their good and to the good of society.  You are making a difference in the world and the effort is worth it.

So, the next time you feel overwhelmed, stressed and have doubts about whether what you are doing matters, take a deep breath, get some perspective and seek out support.  In the long run, you will recognize that you indeed made a difference in the lives of the children in your family and improved all of society in the process.