How Can I Have A Life And Still Be A Great Parent?

When you have children they should always come first.  Is that what you were taught?  Is that what you believe?  What happens when the kids always come first and you come last? Do your kids get to see the best of you?

I’ve worked with many, many parents (mostly mothers) who tell me when they take time out for themselves they feel guilty.  They feel guilty even when they’ve left their kids in the care of someone they know and trust; often the other parent.  They admit though that a night out with girlfriends, or taking a class, or participating in a sport makes them feel refreshed and renewed.  They have a better perspective on life and more patience.

When we put everyone’s needs ahead of our own, we start to feel something is missing in our lives and resentment takes over.  A lot of moms tell me they’ve lost their sense of humor, they don’t have the patience they thought they would have and they’re yelling a lot.  I’ve heard:  ” I never thought I’d be this way.”  When I hear that I know right away, they’ve completely bought into the notion that kids have to always come first.  The truth is, in order to be the parent we want to be, and present the best of ourselves to the people we love the most, we have to put ourselves first.  This does not mean at the expense of our kids, it means FOR our kids.

Am I telling you to neglect your kids so you can go out and have fun?  Of course not.  Taking time out for you, now requires planning.  You can no longer be spontaneous in the way you could be, before.  It requires prioritizing.  It means giving up some things in favor of nurturing your mind, body and spirit.

I’ve given many, many workshops on this very topic and when I ask my audience how many people feel they have no life, about ninety percent raise their hand.  My next question is “How does it feel to have no life?”  The answers I get are:  resentful, jealous of those who have a life, angry, frustrated….”  I tell my audience that when you walk around with those feelings, that’s what you project on to your children.  My next question is always: “What would it feel like if you had a life?” The answers I get are:  I’d be more fun, more loving, more patient, less irritable….”.  Don’t your kids deserve to experience you that way?  How do you want them to remember you as a parent?

 

 

Letting Your Kids Fail Is A Good Thing

I was leading a workshop the other day and we got into a discussion about the importance of letting our kids fail.  You might be saying to yourself:  “What?!!  Aren’t we supposed to be guiding them towards success?”.  Yes, a big part of our job is to guide them towards success but all successful people have experienced failure; some much more than others.  What made them successful is that they weren’t afraid to fail and if they did, they just learned from their mistakes and moved on.  They didn’t allow themselves to be defeated by rejection, hurt or disappointment.

I often tell groups the story of my daughter’s Grade 8 year in High School when she refused to apply herself in Math.  Her marks were poor and she didn’t seem to care.  We offered to hire a tutor for her but she would have no part of it and my husband who is excellent in Math, promised to sit with her and help with all her homework assignments.  She would have no part of that either.  We had done our part in offering help so the rest was up to her.  We decided that we were just going to have to let her fail.  When looking at the big picture, I knew it would not have a big impact on her ability to meet all her requirements for graduation and at this stage she could easily catch up.  When her marks came at the end of the school year, she did indeed fail Math and had to go to summer school in order to take  Math 9 in the fall.  Getting yourself to school for 9am every morning for a month during the summer when all your friends are still in bed is not fun.  My daughter was determined to pass this time and decided to apply herself so she could be with her friends for Math 9 in the fall.   We allowed her to experience the consequence of not trying and refusing help which turned out to be the best thing.  Her marks from then on stayed well above average.

I asked my group:  “How many of you have never been rejected or disappointed? ”  Of course no one raised their hand.  We’ve all experienced rejection, heart ache, disappointment and failure.  It’s part of living.  What’s important is that we know how to effectively handle the disappointments and rejections and not feel completely defeated by them.  We can’t see ourselves as failures and then lose the motivation to keep going.  If we don’t let our kids experience failure or disappointment, they don’t learn how to handle it when it eventually comes their way.    Our kids need to hear things like:  “I know it was tough, but you got through it” or “Kids can be mean sometimes but you really handled that well” or “Think of what you learned from making that mistake” or “I know you’ll get through this.”

We do our kids no justice by protecting them from hurt and disappointment.  It’s hard to see them upset.  No one likes it and it hurts us.  We must though give them the tools to rise above their failures.  It’s through adversity that we grow the most.  There is no highly successful person on the planet who didn’t experience a lot of hurt and rejection before they got to where they are now.  Avoiding any kind of pain and always playing it safe, prevents us from becoming the person we’re meant to be.

Parenting: How Do I Know What Is Best?

More than ever, if you’re a parent you have information coming at you from all directions on how best to raise your children. Very often, rather than being helpful, it can make things more confusing because so much of the information is conflicting. How do you know what’s “right”?

What I’ve come to believe throughout my nearly 25 years of working with parents is what is “right” is what’s right for you. There simply isn’t a formula that works for everyone. We’re all different. If we look at two families and family “A” is living peacefully, everyone is for the most part, happy, there are no secrets and generally everyone is functioning well, whatever that family is doing with respect to parenting is ‘right”. If, on the other hand, family “B” is living in chaos, hostility reigns, and the energy of the home is tense and negative, something has to change. Something isn’t working. It could be any number of things. It usually takes an objective, outside person to help determine what that might be. Most of us can’t see our own situations as objectively as an outsider.

I know many parents feel judged because their kids are only enrolled in one activity instead of five, or their approach to discipline goes against the latest trend or they’re doing too much of this and not enough of that. Everyone is doing the best they can with what they have and not one of is a perfect parent. I’m not even sure what that looks like anyway.

One theme I like to work on with my clients is helping them to believe in themselves. When we constantly doubt our decisions and approach to challenges, our kids will doubt us too. They prefer us to be strong and decisive. We all feel more comfortable around leaders who are sure of themselves. Trust your instincts. If someone is suggesting you approach things a different way and it feels wrong to you, don’t do it. If it make sense and feels right, try it.

Remember what is “right” is what’s right for you. If everyone in the family is doing well and you’re comfortable with the ways things are, chances are, whatever you’re doing is “right”.

Life Lessons From Mom

This past weekend my sisters and I hosted a Celebration of Life for our mom who died on March 27th. In the tribute I made to her, I spoke of what she taught me. This is the transcript of my little talk:

Mom, I’m going to miss you a lot. We were buddies. You were always there for me – for all the ups and downs and twists and turns of my life. You listened and you listened attentively. I could also share crazy, trivial things with you – you know the ones. You loved my kids and always wanted to know what was going on with all of them. You were their cheerleader too. Even though it meant leaving Dad at home to figure out the microwave so he could heat up all the meals you made for him, you made the effort to fly down here regularly to be with all of us and be part of our lives.
I know the last six months have been trying for you and I heard you when you said you wanted to go. It was your time and you made your exit very peacefully. We’ll be fine. You lived a long life and for that I will be forever grateful. How lucky we were that we got to see so much of you the last two and half years.

The life lessons we teach our kids are taught by how we live our own lives. These are some of the things I learned from you that I cherish:

• Having a cup of tea every afternoon at 3:30 is a lovely ritual that breaks up the day
• It’s always better to be yourself than try and to be someone you’re not
• Friends nourish the soul
• Dogs will always be there for you, no matter what and they love you unconditionally
• When you’re married to a busy professional, create a life of your own. It will save your soul and your marriage.
• If you don’t have anywhere to go in the morning, stay in your pajamas. Why not be comfortable.
• Having a garden is very satisfying and nurtures the mind, body and spirit
• Homemade food is always the best
• Family meals are essential
• Singing the old songs is always a fun to do
• Always bring hard boiled eggs on a picnic
• Everyone has a story if you take the time to listen
• Always say thank-you
• Listen to the CBC
• Always make sure you moisturize
• Be a good neighbor
• Be there for your friends when they need you
• Have a rest every day
• Homemade jam is always better than store bought

Mom, I know there is more and those things will come to me as I continue to live my life.
Thank you.

Not Enough Attention or Too Much Attention?

I’ve been working with a couple of the past few weeks to try and determine the source of their three year old’s temper tantrums. In order to effectively eliminate  the tantrums or decrease the frequency, we have to first of all discover the source.

We know one of the most common reasons children act out is to get attention. That’s always the first thing we look at. Are we physically there but not emotionally? Are we paying too much attention to an infant sibling and forgetting to acknowledge the first born? Are we spending too much time in front of a screen and spending very little time fully engaging with our child?

Another thing I always like to look at is the child’s routine. Especially with very young children, are they being fed small amounts of food, frequently? Are they getting enough sleep and down time? Are too many activities being crammed into the day and at the end of the day you’re dealing with a child who is over-stimulated?

Another very common reason for a tantrum is when a child kicks and screams to get what she/he wants and out of pure exhaustion, we give in. In that case we’re likely to get more because they’ve learned this is a way to get what they want.

We have a very different approach to parenting than a generation ago when parents were much less involved and things were very black and white. Also, we didn’t have a situation where in most households both parents worked outside the home. Today, we’re much more involved and many parents who are away from their children for long periods try and make up for their absence by being fully present every minute they’re with them. This can create a “As long as I’m with Mom and Dad I can get what I want, when I want and I’m in charge”. Exhausted parents can easily give in to demands because it’s easier. By doing so, in the long run, we send a message of entitlement. Children learn they have a right to demand anything they want. Of course that isn’t our intention when we allow ourselves to respond to every beck and call. However, when we choose to respond a certain way to our children, we always want to ask ourselves “What am I teaching? What message am I sending?” Make sure the message you’re sending is going to serve them in the long run. It is not in a child’s best interest when they’re in charge, and not the parents.

Love

For those of you who follow my blog, I apologize for the big gap from my last post to now. Thank you for sticking with me!

Valentine’s Day is upon us which is a time we’re reminded to acknowledge the people we love. Many will argue it’s become far too commercialized and maybe it has. We can though, with some imagination, express love to someone without spending a lot of money. You don’t have to step foot in a card or flower shop to acknowledge your love in a meaningful way.

Valentine’s Day also gives us an opportunity to think about the whole topic of love; how it’s expressed and what it means to really love someone. As parents, apart from providing food and shelter, our biggest responsiblity to our children is to love them; and to love them unconditionally. We are asked to love them even when they’re not so loveable. There are times when we might say: “I love you very much, but today I don’t really like you.” Even if we’ve been up and down all night long with them, we still love them.

All parents will say they love their children and would do anything for them. Some children though will say they don’t feel loved. It may be because they perceive their sibling gets more positive attention than they do, or there is a lot of focus on the things they’re doing wrong. Notice that I’ve used the word “perceive”. It’s not because they really are not loved, it’s because they don’t receive it in the way it was intended.

In order to truly love another, we have to first love ourselves. We simply can’t give what we don’t have. If we have poor boundaries, don’t take proper care of ourselves, put ourselves down constantly for things we do or say, we’re not expressing love to the most important person in our lives. In order to freely express love to another person, we have first of all know how to love ourselves. By doing so, we also teach our kids to do the same. The more we love and honor who we are, the more we can love and honor who are kids are.

How Do I Raise My Child To Become A Happy Adult?

When asked what we ultimately want for our kids, most of will say “We just want them to be happy”. It seems like an obvious goal but how many of us really understand how to get there? I decided to ask another parenting expert and someone who specializes in teaching parents how to raise happy adults.  I am delighted to introduce Patrick McMillan owner of KidsCanDoAnything.com who agreed to be interviewed on the topic of happiness and kids.

Q.  Most parents say they just want their kids to be happy.  How do you define happiness?

 

A.  Happiness I believe does not have a “one-size-fits-all” definition because joy, love, excitement, accomplishment, contentment, optimism or any emotion for that matter can only be felt by the individual and come from within, so what causes one person to feel positive emotion may not necessarily be the same for others.

 

I believe the word “happy” is used as an overall positive assessment of who we are.  Saying “I am happy” is saying that at the very core of our spiritual being, which is where happiness resides, (the “self”) we feel more positive and satisfied than negative and dissatisfied.  We are content and pleased with our present selves, our past experiences and we look with anticipation to our future.

 

Q.   Do you think some kids are just happier than others, by nature?

 

A.    I do believe in the “set point” theory of happiness in that we possess a genetic set point for happiness and emotional wellbeing.  However given more recent studies we can in fact rise above and sustain higher levels of happiness regardless of our “genetic set point” for happiness, which also is thought to alter the genetics of our children and future generations. I believe nature and the entire Universe is always in a state of growth and change.  However I also believe the rub here is that for our children to benefit from lasting happiness it is up to us, their parents to take the lead role in modeling happiness for our children.

 

Q.  If a parent comes to you whose child is generally miserable, what would be the first thing you would look at if they asked for your advice?

 

A.  The first thing I would look at in the case of the miserable child is the parent’s level of happiness, or in this case the likely unhappiness in their life and how they explain their own life events (i.e. optimistically or pessimistically)   I believe that a child’s lack of emotional control can usually attributed to their parent’s level of emotional literacy and their ability, or inability to model emotional literacy and to “emotion coach” their child to help foster emotional intelligence.

 

Q.  Do you consider yourself happy?

 

A.   Yes I do consider myself very happy, but I also believe the unhappiness I have experienced in my life has allowed me to understand what happiness really means to me and to embrace it more every single day.

 

Q.  Has it been a process for you?

 

A.   Oh yes! It has been so much more than a process.  It has been and still is a daily ongoing journey of learning, growing and forming new habits of thought and actions.  But I must point out that though it has not always been easy and I, like everyone else, have faced huge life changing challenges along the way, putting forth the emotional effort to make a conscious choice to see things in a different and positive way has benefitted myself and my children in remarkable ways.

 

Q.   How are your own kids influenced by your happiness?

 

A.   Modeling happiness by making a conscious choice to BE happier is teaching my kids that we have a choice to react to situations in our lives in ways that empower and motivate us.  They have also learned that our own happiness is enhanced when we help others be happy.  In fact my eldest son who is in 8th grade has become the “go to” guy in his circle of friends when they need advice or cheering up.  He was actually credited by a friend for saving her life when she was contemplating suicide.  I honestly couldn’t be a more proud father.

 

Q.  We want our kids to feel good about who they are.  How can parents contribute to that feeling of worth we want them to have?

 

A.  There are several ways to help our kids feel great about “who” they are and have stable, positive self-esteem and I believe one of the most important is based on the concept of developing a “growth mindset” which is to help our children recognize that it is with effort and commitment and we can achieve what we really want and who we want to be.  By recognizing it is with the effort and commitment to achieve a goal or aspiration we learn our destiny is not “fixed” or based on innate ability or talent but rather our desire and commitment to do what it takes for success.  But another equally as important thing we can do for our children is to help them understand that mistakes and failures must happen and they truly do contain  all the opportunity for growth and learning to become who we truly want to be.  By sharing how I have learned from my own mistakes and failures and how I cope with adversity is how I continue to model for my kids to do the same for themselves.

 

Q.  When you hear about kids being depressed, what factors do you think contribute to their depression?

 

A.  There are many factors that will contribute to child’s sadness, anxiety and even full blown depression but these negative emotional states are all based upon negative and pessimistic thinking and reacting, and this way of thinking is learned from parents, teachers and other important grown-ups in a child’s life.

I also believe that what makes a child unhappy is to see his mom or dad unhappy.  With my children I know this is true so therefore I believe one of the best things I can do to see happy kids is to be happy myself.  This way of thinking has helped my children tremendously as my wife and I went through our divorce.

 

Q.  How much of an impact does our environment have on our happiness?

 

A.  Happiness researcher and Professor of Psychology Sonja Lyubomirski from the University of California at Riverside explains in her book, The How of Happiness, the three factors that research has  determined how happy we are in a three piece “pie chart”.  According to studies using identical and fraternal twins raised separately, among many other studies, research has determined that 50% of how happy or unhappy we are is determined by our genetic blueprint and is, for the most part, unchangeable. Only 10% (just a sliver) is a result of our environment and life circumstances like our health, wealth, marriage, kids, possessions, etc., and changing our life‘s circumstances is not the key to happiness because these things are not completely in our control. We do however get to choose to react to the situations and circumstances in our life, which is the next piece of the pie. The remaining 40% (nearly half of the pie) of your happiness and I believe the most important part, depends on your own choice and voluntary actions toward doing what it takes to think and feel happier. However, it must be stressed that to become happier does take effort.  Nothing good comes without effort and becoming happier takes focus and commitment but will eventually become “who we are”, and one of the most wonderful side effects of our effort is to see our kids follow in our happy footsteps.

 

Q.  How important are friendships for our kids to feel happy?

 

A.  Friendships and social connection play an extremely influential part in happiness for all human beings and giving our children opportunities to develop friendships will benefit them throughout life.  But I have found that we need to be there for our children to help them understand how important it is to feel positive and happy about ourselves and “who we are” first which will inevitably attract more meaningful and long lasting friendships into our life.

 

Q.  I often tell parents it’s not our job to ensure our kids are happy all the time.  How do you feel about that?

 

A.  I completely agree!  In fact we would be doing our children a great disservice if we were to imply that one is even capable of being happy all the time.  There are very important reasons human beings were endowed with the ability to feel the wide range of emotions we feel and our survival is a core reason.  This in fact was one the main reasons I wrote An Exercise in Happiness© (An Emotional Fitness Program for Kids) which I originally wrote to teach my children about how their emotional system works in order to develop more control over it.

As I mentioned above I also believe the unhappiness I have experienced in my life has allowed me to understand what happiness really means to me and to embrace it every single day.  It would be impossible to really understand what brings out happiness from within us if we don’t know or understand what unhappiness feels like.

 

Also knowing and understanding “cause and effect” allows us to see that happiness and unhappiness are the “effects” of some “cause” and that cause can be boiled down to only one thing…How we think!

 

Q.  What else can you tell us about happiness as it relates to our kids?

 

A.   Happiness I believe really comes down to experiencing more positive emotions throughout life than negative.  How we react and respond through thought to the experiences and circumstances in our life will ultimately determine how we can asses our lives as either happy or unhappy, satisfied or unsatisfied and whether we can look back on our lives more joy and happiness than regret or sadness.

 

With that being said we can look at our choice to raising happy kids like putting our oxygen mask on first when flying in a plane and the cabin looses air pressure.  We would be unable to help our kids if we become disoriented from lack of oxygen ourselves.  So I look at my own happiness like “emotional oxygen” and by providing more to myself allows me to provide it to my children and they learn to create more for themselves.  It’s like a “happiness feedback loop” in that when I become happier, so do my kids, which in turn makes me happier, and so on…

 

Links:

 

My free ebook for kids:  The Ultimate Kids Guide to Happiness

http://www.happierkidsnow.com

 

An Exercise in Happiness:

https://backbone.infusionsoft.com/go/kcda3-5/Patrick/

 

Happier Kids Blog:

http://www.happierkidsnow.com/blog

Having Children Later in Life

Recently I’ve spoken to a few parents who started their parenting journey later in life.  They’re in their forties and have preschoolers.  In the simpliest terms, they’re exhausted and frustrated.   Do they regret their decision to become parents ?  No.  They’re doing their best  working at full-time  jobs outside the home and meeting the many demands of parenting young children.

There are times in life when the best decision we can make is just to embrace what is, rather than what we’d like.  If you’re forty-five, you probably don’t have the same kind of energy you had at twenty-five.  That’s just the way it is and comparing yourself to a parent twenty years your junior isn’t fair.  You do though offer things a younger parent can’t, simply because they don’t have the life experience.  We learn the most about life by living life.  The longer we’ve lived, the more we’ve learned.  We’ve made a lot of mistakes and learned some valuable lessons.  Older parents pass all of that on to their children.

Our children deserve to experience the best of us.  Often our co-workers and friends see our best side but the people who matter the most get a watered down version of who we really are.  We therefore owe it to the people we love to conciously nurture our mind, body and spirit, and we’re all nurtured in different ways.  If you’re an older parent who feels pressured to get down on the floor and play with your three year old or plan a designer birthday party but the whole idea leaves you drained and feeling resentful, no one benefits.  When we push ourselves to do things that other people do, but it’s not really who we are, we’re more likely to get easily irritated and bothered by small things that in difference circumstances may not phase us. Those are the times we yell and nag and at the end of the day feel guilty for how we acted.

What our kids want from us is our presence.  They want to feel loved and nurtured.  We don’t have to be keeping up with what other people are doing to be a good parent.  If someone has told you they don’t allow their children to watch TV, it doesn’t mean that’s right and you should do the same.  If you’ve read a book that suggests activities to do with your preschooler and most of them feel uncomfortable to you, don’t do them.  Go with what feels right for you.  A parent who is calm and relaxed is much nicer to be around than one who is stressed and feeling resentful.  If you simply don’t have the energy to do the things you feel you “should” be doing,  give yourself permission to do what you can.  This is not a competition.  If some evenings sitting on the couch with your four year old and watching a TV show together is all you can manage, do just that. Your child will love the closeness and just feeling your love and warmth will be enough.

 

 

Kids Are Back To School – Some Tips To Make Mornings Run Smoothly

You have exactly one hour to get the kids fed and out the door for school and yourself off to work. You have one child refusing to eat breakfast, another not dressed and you can’t find the permission slip that needs to be returned that day. You’re getting more frazzled by the minute and the day has barely started. Without careful organization, weekday mornings can often look like this. How can you avoid the craziness?

I would not define myself as super organized or as a person who has fool proof systems in place. However, when my kids were young what was important to me was that we all started our day on a positive note. I didn’t like the idea of them going to school upset and I didn’t want to start my day exhausted from nagging and running around the house looking for things. It just made sense to set up a system that made life easy for everyone.

When we have to be somewhere in the morning, every minute counts. Ten minutes spent looking for something when you have to leave in half an hour is critical. My morning routine actually started the night before. I made lunches at night and put them in the fridge so in the morning the kids just needed to open the fridge and grab their lunch kit on their way out the door. When they were young, I set their clothes out at night so no time was spent in the morning picking out something to wear. I very often put cereal bowls and a couple of boxes of cereal on the table so in the morning, all they had to do was get the milk out of the fridge. I made sure backpacks were at the front door and permission slips and forms were all dealt with the night before. All of this made the morning routine run pretty well.

Once my kids became teenagers, I decided it was their responsibility and not mine to make sure they got to school on time. I simply wasn’t going to take that on. I knew none of their teachers were going to look at them and say: “Why didn’t your mom make sure you got to class on time?”. I did tell them that once they got into the work world, being late was not going to be an option.

I recently came across a video with health and family blogger, Deborah Lowther that gives some excellent tips on developing healthy school routines.  Deborah definately has some great systems in place.

Parenting and Enabling

My job as a parenting and life coach is evolving much more towards life coaching than parent coaching when I work with parents individually.  The initial contact with me is always about the kids but the more we get into the coaching, the more their own issues come up, but as I always tell my clients, it’s all parenting.  How we respond or react to events of our lives is what we teach our kids.

Are you an enabler?  Do you find yourself walking on egg shells so as not to rock the boat with a difficult partner?  Do you bend over backwards to please in the hopes of preventing an angry outburst?  Do you find yourself trying to fix your  partner? Do you pick up after your partner and do things they’re completely capable of doing themselves?  Do you comply with unreasonable requests?  If so, it may be that you’re an enabler or perhaps a co-dependent.  Children learn what they live.  They watch our every move and soon learn to do the same in their own relationships. Our responses become programmed into them.

We are not responsible for anyone else’s happiness.  The only person we can make happy is ourselves and we have the option to choose happiness or not.  We can see our cup half empty or half full.  We can seek out people and things that give us joy.  Our partners have the option to do exactly the same and if they choose not to, it’s not our problem.  That can be a tough lesson to learn.

The more time we spend trying to fix another person or worrying about their problems, the less time we are spending on ourselves.  When we say “yes” to focusing all our resources on to another adult, we say “no” to our own personal growth.  If you’re a parent of young children and you fit into this category, you have absolutely no time left for the most important person in your life; YOU.  Our children deserve to see and experience the best of who we are.  They deserve a happy, peaceful and fulfilled parent. Your responsibility is take excellent care of yourself so you can be available to your children who are counting on you to be fully  present, both physically and emotionally.  This does not mean focusing on yourself at the expensive of your children.  It means focusing on yourself so you can be the best parent possible.  You are not responsible for another adult.  When you spend an excessive amount of time trying to please another adult rather than yourself, your kids get a watered down version of you.  If you’re an enabler or a co-dependent ask yourself what impact it is having on your children.