I got shut out of my medical benefits login the other day because 1) I couldn’t remember my password, and 2) when I tried to reset it, I was unable to answer the three security questions correctly: my mother’s maiden name. My favorite vacation spot. My best friend’s last name. Hmmm… I’m pretty sure I got the first one right, but I simply don’t know where I went wrong with the others. It could have easily been the one that asked something about “my best friend.”
A lot in our culture suggests that we all should have a best friend, that we should find our soulmate, that we should settle for nothing less. For children and adults alike, this can be a difficult and damaging message, particularly for kids who may not feel like they have a best friend, or who cling desperately to a friend for fear of losing that relationship to be be cast adrift.
When kids struggle with the “best friend” question, one thing to do is help them think about the contextual nature of friendship. Start with your own—I, myself, have friends who I enjoy talking about my family with. I have other friends who I will call to go running, share art, or who love to have a drink and listen to live music. I have friends who make me laugh all the time and some who will always have good advice. There are some great people who I really like spending time with, but with whom I probably would never share a deep secret. These are not one person. Sure, there is a lot of overlap, and a very special few who are many kinds of “friends” to me. But they each have their place, and my life is richer because of every single one of them. Does your child have someone special they like to play with on the playground, and another who they like to do crafts with? Is someone particularly fun at imaginative play, and another good at building? Is there one friend who is fun to meet for lunch and another who is a great homework buddy?
Feeling like we have to find everything in one person is unrealistic. It puts pressure on relationships and makes us look too critically at what someone isn’t giving us. Better to focus on and value what each person brings to a friendship and what parts of ourselves we enjoy when we are with them. –t
It’s February school vacation and cold and snowy and gray here in the northeast. I was at the grocery store this morning and overheard a mother, sullen children in tow, sigh to someone at the other end of her phone: “and I didn’t even get to yoga this morning because of the kids. It’s going to be a long week!”
I, too, like my yoga. I like the dedicated time to consciously center myself physically and mentally, and in so doing allow some of the static that builds up to drift away. I am a better version of myself when I take the time to be actively focused and mindful. I am a better decision maker, I am more patient, more creative, more present, and I’d hazard to say, more likable.
But a secret (that’s really not such a secret) is that so much of the benefit of mindfulness practice that comes from active meditation or yoga is (woo-hoo!) available everywhere and in everything we do. Every moment is an opportunity to do whatever-you’re-doing mindfully. Folding laundry. Grocery shopping. Cooking. Walking. Playing with your kids.
Probably people know that. It can just be hard to get there sometimes, what with all of the thoughts and feelings and things-to-remember constantly bubbling up. So I want to share a strategy that helps me shift into that place of conscious awareness, something simple that I’ve been doing for truly as long as I can remember, that you can just break out for a few minutes anytime, anywhere.
And that is to do something–whatever it is–as quietly as possible. I did it as a child walking in the woods and descending the stairs in the morning. I do it now putting away dishes and laundry, or preparing a meal. There are sounds inherent in any activity, of course, but the effort required to control my contribution to the noise has a magical way of bringing focus and mindfulness to the task at hand. Just the frame of “quietly” forces me to slow down, to hold and place things with care, to be cognizant of the sound of a plate under a stream of water, a sponge on a plate, a plate in a dish drainer. I notice the weight of my footfalls, the scrape and click of a doorknob. It changes the quality of time as it’s passing, and even in just a few moments, shhhhh…a hit of mindfulness and renewed focus.
I’ll take it. Happy vacation week. –t
Communicating with pen and paper is increasingly rare these days. In our fast, digital, swipe and click lives, writing a note is a more deliberate, physical act that requires us to slow down, think it through, and write legibly.
As we look for ways to find balance in our fast-moving days, here is a fun family activity: set up a mail system in your home. Turn an old box, a can, or a jar into a personal mailbox. Then decide on some period of time (a week or a month) and exchange notes. Write notes and “mail” them when others aren’t around so checking is exciting and the surprise of finding a note is real. Deliver a compliment. Share a thought that might be easier written than said. Send invitations to play games or for outings. The pace and the method of interaction may inspire and offer connection in rare or unexpected ways.
Over the past week I’ve been in the situation where I’ve had to talk people into accepting help. Namely, my 75 year old father and my 11 year old son. I mean really talk them into it, which meant walking them through why it’s okay to accept someone’s help, whether with outsourcing certain aspects of international travel logistics or finding the area of an irregularly shaped garden in chapter 12, question 3a.
It got me thinking again about why it’s just so dang hard for us to accept the help sometimes. In our book we talk about the shift to parenthood being a time to sift through feelings of vulnerability and insecurity, a time to thoughtfully recalibrate the needs and demands of a new and complicated role. It can be hard to let go of our sense of control, to feel our competence questioned.
There is no shortage of cultural messages that portray independence as a sign of strength. And, don’t we raise our kids to move toward greater autonomy and self-reliance, applauding as they feed and dress themselves when they’re little, hoping that someday they will be able to “stand on their own two feet?” But as kids move toward greater independence in all the places that are developmentally appropriate, it is also important to help them balance this increasing independence with maintaining interdependence – connection to others. And being in connected relationships includes accepting help. (No surprise, it also includes helping.)
Relying on others—and being reliable and relied upon—is an important part of being a family, of being a friend, of being a citizen in the Great-Big-World. People help each other. And it feels good to help—which requires a recipient— and we all need to take our turns. Someone who understands the ways in which he can be helped is a good thing. It is self-knowledge. Hooray for the person able to recognize their own limits, to self-advocate, and to know how to connect with the experience, talents, or insight of others. What better way to learn and grow? -t
The other day I was having dinner with friends, all parents of our son’s crew at school. (In order to protect the innocent, who might just want to have a cocktail on a school night, yet still share this story which is straightforward but confusing when everyone is called “friend,” I will call one Jane and one Emily.)
…So Jane was recalling a day when she had offered to cover school pick up for Emily, only to discover a conflict late in the day that left her unable to help out as planned. Being the generous and thoughtful person she is, Jane was recounting how badly she felt about her mistake, about letting Emily down. She then proceeded to tell us what happened next.
When she reached out to tell Emily that she could no longer help, Emily replied in a way that brought a healing and helpful frame. Her response was relevant to that day, and so useful in many of our daily interactions with others. She drew focus to intention. The intention was to help, not to inconvenience.
It seems so simple, but considering someone’s intention—particularly in the case where something hasn’t quite gone as planned—helps us to understand a context, be more empathetic, and see the good.
Rather than the one who messed up or lost track of a schedule, Emily saw Jane’s intention, which was one of kindness and generosity. Focusing on the positive elements was, and almost always is, a good thing for everyone.
As parents, when our kids miss the mark, or further, maybe don’t think before they do something that ends badly, it’s also helpful to think about intention. Instead of quickly finding fault, in considering a child’s intentions, we can often find patience and understanding, which is so important in supporting our children as they learn and grow. –t
On a recent trip we stayed in a hotel in a small town in western Pennsylvania near where I grew up. At least one person in our family is particular about their morning coffee, so we had brought some along to make in the room. Most in-room hotel coffee service now has single use self-contained brewing pods to put in the basket over the carafe, but what we needed was a filter.
I went down to the breakfast area and asked one of the employees, named Cindy, if they had any coffee filters. The desk clerk overheard, and quickly offered more packages of pods. I clarified what I was after, but neither Cindy or the woman at the front desk knew if they had them, or if so, where they were kept. “I know where they keep them in the other hotel,” Cindy mentioned, “I work over there too,” she said, pointing out the front door to another hotel across the way. “Give me a minute…” she said, and headed out the door.
A few minutes later, she was back with a small stack of filters.
Call me cynical, but these days I so often I hear “I’m not authorized” “I wish I could help you,” or “Let me connect you with someone who can assist you (only to encounter someone with a gentler voice and greater patience who, in the end, is only says “I wish I could help you” in a nicer way), that this woman’s simple gesture of seeing a solution to a problem and making it happen nearly brought me to tears.
When did it become so difficult to be helpful? Why did this feel like such an exception?
In addition to the coffee we were hoping for that morning, it reminded me how much better it is, in SO many ways, to come from a place of “how can I help?” rather than “not my problem” or “not my job.” I would argue retrieving coffee filters created no more additional work burden for this woman, and in a few short moments many people were warmed and bouyed by her kindness. It was an opportunity to appreciate someone’s simple effort to be helpful, to notice how much it affected me and my outlook that day, and realize the value of being able to pass it along.
As we kick off this new year, here’s to looking for places where we can help others.
Last year around this time I shared a favorite Santa story (below). Several people mentioned being glad to have heard it, glad to have thought about what is wondrous and special and real in childhood, and how to navigate the times when others’ beliefs challenge what is important to us.
We all know that it is so important to be honest with kids. How else can we as parents build and maintain trust, establish ourselves as a resource for our kids, someone they can depend on? I never wanted to be one of those parents backed into a corner, stuck behind some expedient fib, having to reinterpret where babies come from. And so, for all of you thinking about Santa, a wish for a wondrous holiday and the chance to enjoy all the magic of the season. And now, the truth about Santa.
My son has a friend who grew up in a proud and pragmatic family free of fairies and magic. For them, there was never any Santa. One evening we were sitting around the dinner table and my son, then 5, asked directly, “Is Santa Claus real? Because Ethan told me it’s just your parents.” A silence came over the room as everyone—including my older children and my husband—waited for an answer. At that moment, taken off guard, there was no choice really but to tell the truth. “Santa is real,” I replied, “but when kids stop believing, their parents usually do take over.” Everyone, with relief and what seemed like renewed hope, happily returned to their dinner. –t
We are huge fans of games – they create family time, allow us to model and practice good sportsmanship, and teach and hone skills. A great last minute gift and something for everyone. Here are some of our faves broken down by skills, inclinations, a a few for solo play:
A quick list of 10 “little” ideas to stuff the stockings of kids and teens!
1. Spy glasses
2. Magic tricks
3. Mad Libs
5. Head lamp
6. Corn starch (easy tactile fun – just add a little water)
7. Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty (lots of kinds)
9. Shaving cream (great bathtime fun for littles)
1. Ear buds
2. Head lamp
3. Magazines / subscription
4. Cozy socks
5. Gift Cards (Starbucks, iTunes, Sephora)
8. Nail clippers / file
9. Flash Drive