Saturday, December 18, 2010

Great Expectations, or Feeding the Monsters of Discontentment

My special memories of Christmas were simple memories: times of togetherness with my family; outdoor picnics; a cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows with our "secret family recipe"; gifts my Uncle Santi would send us, usually a brush set or something K-Mart style…

I take such great pleasure in simple memories that I wanted my children to have them too. I tried to keep Christmas simple and focus on simple joys in every day life as well. Now, when my children and their friends and spouses watch videos from the past, they laugh at some of the "simple" joys we focused on.

Godliness with contentment is great gain, 1 Timothy 6.6 tells us. "Contentment" – sufficiency – it is enough. It is "great gain" because people are so discontent! Our society feeds discontentment. How do we purposefully ward against discontentment? Here are several ways I tried to incorporate the joys of contentment into my life and into the lives of my family:

*Take time to appreciate the "little things" in life – be verbal in expressing joy over a cup of coffee together, simple "regular" things – a bowl of popcorn, etc. In order words, be a "commercial" in expressing delight over little things!

*Make little fun traditions: set out a bowl of nuts and nutcrackers to sit around and share memories while you crack nuts together! Do cooking projects with loved ones; light a fire and make some popcorn and watch a cheesy Christmas or old movie.

*Give SIMPLE gifts to each other! I used to give my children their "own" scotch tape and glue. A new toothbrush was something to get excited about! (I STILL love getting a new toothbrush!) A fun stapler (ha – actually Gary just got ME a fun stapler for our last anniversary gift - hehe). A new color book and crayons. Keep little things special and you will always delight in them.

*Don't just rush out and buy the latest and greatest things and charge them. SAVE for them. Put up a chart. Open a special account. Work extra hours and put the money towards things; give up your Starbucks or a dinner out and put the money towards things. Teach your children to do the same. I can guarantee you that you will appreciate the things you work towards WAY MORE than the things you just go and buy. And you will be way more content too.

*Don't want everything you see. Colossians 3.5 tells us to put to DEATH and deprive of power worthless desire and covetousness. Remember, everything you get you need to take care of. Be content with less and you'll have less maintenance too!

*Enjoy others' possessions without wanting them! I LOVED when my children were little that I was able to go to a good friend's house and enjoy her pool. I was also glad that I didn't have to maintain a pool. I was always happy to enjoy ponds at other places. When we purchased a house that had a pond, I began to realize what FREEDOM it was to enjoy ponds other places – our pond required constant maintenance and financial investment.

*Avoid having the latest and greatest of everything. Wait a few new versions before you update your technical toys. Make sure you need what the newest versions offer before you spend money to update things.

*Deny yourself. Sacrifice. Make these things part of your daily life. Look for opportunities. Your life doesn't consist in the abundance of things you possess. Let your moderation be known to all men!

*Don't "set yourself up" that everything has to be done in such grandiose fashion. You don't have to go to New York to sit in a restaurant or go to a shopping area. If you are in a restaurant in New York, you don't even realize it anyways! Just go to a LOCAL restaurant and enjoy it like a "special vacation" without the costs of leaving the state! Make LOCAL places little "vacation" spots!

*Delight in little things: a walk together; a cup of coffee at a local coffee place; a local playhouse. Stop and watch the leaves chase each other, the snow fall, the lightning flash! Delight in creation. Visit your local library and see what's happening there. Visit your local park and take a walk there.

*Don't be "hung up" on "name brands." Force yourself to get a "copycat" and be satisfied (and use the extra money to pay off your credit card debt from having to have the "real" stuff). Learn the contentment a close friend of mine who is blind told me about: "If every one lived like every one else is blind, they wouldn't be buying all the things they think give them 'status quo' from others looking at their possessions."

*Delight in whatever season you're in: watch the birds outside your window; make snow angels and have a snowball fight; make a snowman by yourself! Support your local artists by going to a concert. Be creative; think creatively. There are so many little things for you to enjoy right in your own back yard. Stop looking for the MAGNIFICANT and train yourself to delight in simple pleasures. You will start to see so MUCH beauty and purpose and life around you!

*Make people your focus instead of THINGS. Visit a neighbor. Call someone in your family that doesn't get a lot of phone calls. Visit someone going through a difficult time.

*Play a retro game you used to play. Marbles. Dominoes. Backgammon. Play a party game. Make a puzzle. Play War or Fish or pinochole.

*Go to the craft store and get a craft to do together. Even a crazy one! Make FUN and AMAZING times doing simple things!

*Focus and talk about the blessings you can NOT see: the IMPORTANT stuff like compassion, forgiveness, redemption, restoration, reconciliation. Make these things topics of conversation.

Challenge: STOP waiting and looking for the "spectacular" and learn to delight in the little things in life that make every day living so meaningful. Learn to be content with less and focus on the things that matter more than material possessions. Make it a point to enjoy the world at your fingertips instead of longing for what is outside your reach!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Sun and the Planets or Doesn't the World Revolve Around Me?

One of the things I am so thankful that I learned from my Mom is the importance of teaching your children at a young age that the world does not revolve around them.

I have had a lot of mothers, when their children get to the age of 14-18, come to me in despair seeking help for their teenagers because their teenagers feel that the world revolves around them. It is no surprise.

When you have children, you feel your world DOES suddenly revolve around them! You need to change their diapers and feed them, most people believe on demand. They fall down as they start to walk; you need to catch them! As they start gymboree, reading and other toddler programs, you arrange your days around those times. When school starts, you virtually have an hour-by-hour schedule to follow.

Here are some of the tips I've used in my life for teaching my children, beginning at a VERY young age, that they are not the sun, and I am not the planet, and that my world and everyone else's world does not actually revolve around them.

*Do not be afraid to integrate patterns to teach your infant routine and scheduling. At birth, you can have a certain place for your baby to sleep. As they get older, keep the routine of putting them into their bedroom at night, and as the many little naps in the living area give way to a morning and an afternoon nap, be thinking ahead of cutting the morning one eventually to make it one long afternoon nap. I did this by keeping my baby in the living area for the morning nap, and then making the afternoon nap in their bedroom. That way when the regular nighttime becomes more established, you will be able to know that the morning will involve a little nap (which you may have to cut short as they get older), then the longer one, then dinner then bedtime.

*I worked towards an 8-12-4-8-12-4 schedule as soon as I could. That way, I eventually worked towards an 8 (breakfast), 12 (lunch), 4 (dinner) as they got older, dropping the nighttime feedings.

*As your baby starts dropping those naps, have a pack n play or playpen in your living area. When you have to go get a load of laundry to fold or prepare dinner, your child can have fun safely in their protected area with special toys there. Still within sight of you and communicating with you, your baby will learn to be content there. As they get older, or another baby comes along, this will be a big help to know that if you need to tend to a baby, change a diaper, etc., your crawling or toddling baby isn't poking their fingers into an electric socket or getting into mischief…

*Make designated "reading" or "quiet" times where your children cannot interrupt you, but need to stay quiet.

*I used to put a pile of smarties in front of each child as I read them a book. If they interrupted they lost a smartie, and at the end the person with the most got the others. Teach them self control.

*I would put a quarter on the dash when we waited for someone's piano lesson to finish to see who could stay quiet the longest.

*Never look at "boundaries," "limits," "restrictions," "discipline," or "schedule" as bad words. Rather, teach your children to delight in knowing where the boundaries or limits are, what the restrictions are to encourage knowing what they are free to do, to enjoy the results of discipline – bring out areas that TAKE discipline to achieve. Explain schedules: how buses leave at a certain time, whether we took longer or not. Teach them to EXPECT schedules and discipline as they get older, and to appreciate it. Remember, my mom says children are like mustangs running wild: they don't stop running til they get to the fence! Set up your fences early!

*Know your children don't learn to give by watching YOU give to them... they learn to give by learning the JOYS of giving sacrificially themselves. Make a big deal in how wonderful they FEEL when they give to others and help them repeat the positive experiences of giving rather than taking.

*Discipline means "activity, exercise or a regimen that develops or improves a skill; training." Be sure you incorporate it into daily life when your children are young; it will pay big dividends when they are older! Discipline means "a set or system of rules and regulations." Your child will soon be going to school. Start early to teach them that they need to act in accordance with schedules and consider others. Discipline also means "to bring to a state of order and obedience by training and control." If you want children you can bring to public places that are in a state of order, it begins in your home.

*Have your older toddlers take a time to responsibly interact with their siblings. This will develop the skill of taking responsibility for others and caring for others.

*Teach your children that some things are "off limits" to them. Children can play with their toys and certain things. Children should not expect that nothing is off limits to them. They should know that telephones, electronics, adult possessions, and even toys that belong to other children are not "open game" for them to get into. "No, we don't touch that – your brother is building something!" "No, that is Daddy's cell phone: you can play with your TOY phone!" Train them to know this at home and you and others will be able to enjoy your children in public.

*Keep your holidays SIMPLE. A FEW needed gifts. START THIS YOUNG -- you do NOT need a bunch of teenagers expecting piles of presents. Give a FEW things... include mittens, scarves, things they NEED. Before Christmas have them go through their things and give things away to bless others. Help a needy family at Christmas and have everyone participate in donating money and going and blessing them personally so they can feel the joy. Many times we shopped with family members for other family members and split up and then came back and wrapped the gifts and sent them home with the people. We started this when my children were about 3 and 4 years old. Sometimes we bought things for other families that my children didn't have themselves!

*When your husband comes home, teach your children that your husband is #1 in the home, and not them. Take time to sit with your husband and make them not interrupt. Get a hold of the Burger King crown and keep it there and when your husband comes home, proclaim, "Daddy is the KING, and you are the prince (or princess), so I have to listen to him FIRST!" This will teach your children authority and timing and how to wait their turn and respect people with authority over them.

*When company comes, train your children not to just run into the room talking and interrupt. Teach them to walk into a room, assess, and come over and stand by you and put their hand on your should until you address them. That trains your children that when they walk into the room, everything is not just waiting for them to appear to revolve around them.

*Teach your children to make time in their day for others. Have a list of people that you need to call, send a note to or cheer up, and every day pull a name and do one of those things. Visit people in the hospital together, make time to stop in at funeral homes when someone dies and train them to say "I'm so sorry about your loss." Let them help you bring meals or flowers or groceries to people in need. Teach them compassion towards others in difficult circumstances. Let them know that we need to take responsibility to help others every day, and that we can not live unto ourselves, but must take time in our busy schedules to do things for others. That way your children will learn to revolve their lives around others in need.

*Have your children write thank you notes on Christmas cards and bring gifts to their teachers – yes even if there are 6 of them! Teach your children to be grateful for the people that are pouring into their lives, and to recognize the sacrifices they make and what they have to put up with to do so.

*Teach your children that there are some places that are not appropriate for children: it is "adult time". Whether it is a little break to run, go to the gym, have a cup of coffee with a friend, attend an event, or go to a work function with your husband, train your children early that everything doesn't include them.

*Teach your children respect for authority. If their teacher says they went outside the lines, don't disagree with their teacher and side with your child. If your child tells you their teacher or coach has something against them without a cause, do not take the side of your child against their teacher or coach. Instead, go with your child and have them learn to approach their teacher/coach and see how they can do better and how their teacher/coach sees them. Teach your child to change THEIR behavior for the teacher/coach and not expect it the other way around.

*Make sure your holiday traditions and daily habits always are more about others than serving just your own family. Adopt a nursing home once a month, go to a cancer group, adopt a child from another country, foster children.

*Read your children management books. By age 5, my children were being read "How to Win Friends and Influence People," "Seven Habits for Highly Effective People," then "Seven Habits for Highly Effective Families," and "The 8th Habit." We read books about children with diseases. I brought the books to their level and they learned so much that way.

*Bring your children to management and leadership seminars when you can. We brought children as young as 8 years old to leadership training programs when we could get special permission.

*Never deny your child the opportunity to want something for a long time before getting it. Do not give things to your children before they even know they want it! Make them want something, save for it, wait for it, shop prices, and then get it. If you want to help them, pay PART of it but never all. Even for their first bike, sit down and let them know they have to put SOMETHING towards it. That gives them ownership. It gives them an opportunity to sacrifice things to get something. It gives them the joy of working towards something. Don't take that away from your children!

*Teach your child to give every opportunity they can. Every time an offering is taken, put SOMETHING in – even a nickel. If the Salvation Army is collecting, donate SOMETHING – even a coin. Put SOMETHING in to good causes. This teaches them to put INTO their world and not just draw FROM it.

*Teach your children the value of putting into their family's lives. We made "bank books" and showed that you need to "put something in" to each other's bank books, because when the time came that you needed to draw out, there had to be something there. Make it fun to demonstrate real life successful living and how it all works.

*Don't ever do chores alone. Put the timer on and have everyone chip in. Have everyone take responsibility for something. Work together as a team. Enlist help for anything you do if a child is around. Make it pleasant and a team effort.

*Don't hand your child luxury items -- make them earn them. They'll work towards them, appreciate them more, and take better care of them.

*When your child (eventually, believe me, this happens!) turns 14, sit them down and explain they have two summers to earn money to buy a car. Match what they earn. Make them work towards it. Some of mine had to work an extra year to get a car. Now they tell me this is another thing that taught them so much and that they are so grateful I did. I was so blessed to work for a millionaire lawyer who worked with other lawyers that all gave their children everything. My boss made his children work for everything, and I could clearly see the difference. I decided to raise my children the way my boss did. I am grateful for his example.

Think of other creative ways to encourage discipline, respect for authority, compassion, guidelines, honor for others, respect, diligence, self-control, and respect for rules. Talk to your children about how things would be if everyone ran red lights, or threw garbage, etc., and encourage them to appreciate order and structure.

This will help you train your children into young adulthood with more of a conscientiousness of others and what their purpose in life is. Too many parents realize too late that their children are bored and disinterested in life because their only purpose in life is to amuse themselves and have others do for them. That is why depression is at an all-time high with teenagers: they do not have purpose in their lives and cannot operate within the structure of society.

Challenge: Think of creative ways to integrate lessons into your children's lives that display and incorporate the benefits of rules, regulations, self-control, discipline and character. Look at effective teams and explain to your children how important it is that they learn to adhere to rules. Teach your children to respect and care for others; that it is NOT all about them! Teach your children to sacrifice, and save, and deny themselves things for the future. Make productive citizens in the future who are not of the current persuasion that they are the sun and everyone else the planets!