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One Friday afternoon few weeks ago, the phone rang. "Hi Mom. What are you doing?" "Just got home from work. I'm fixing dinner. How about you?" "I took a friend to the airport, can I come by to eat with you?"
I glanced at the clock, 5:45. "Of course. But Dad and I have to leave at 7:30 to set up for fellowship. How's the traffic on 880? Drive carefully." What I didn't say is that (just a moment ago) I was tired and wanted to eat a simple meal before catching a nap. Energized by his visit, four main dishes and one pot of soup were on the table within 45 minutes. My husband winked at me, "My compliments to the chef."
"You're welcome." I smiled and thought about our days as newly weds when I was determined to be an excellent wife. That summer, I fixed breakfast, lunch and dinner for him every day. After a few weeks, I asked after dinner, "How do you like my cooking?" Long pause. "Good. Just one thing, could we have a little more variety?" My heart sank and told myself, "I'm not good in cooking. Why bother?"
Maybe my responses were a bit too extreme, but let me explain.
Often times, our energy ebb and flow like tides because of something inside us. In the above examples, I was motivated to cook for the pleasure of enjoying a good meal with my family, but I wanted to avoid cooking when it triggered pain and the feeling of inadequacy. Most people, especially children, need encouraging words, glances, and smiles to do things that we don't naturally enjoy, that do not come easily, or need a lot of practice.
In his book Unhappy Teenagers: A way for Parents and Teachers to Reach Them, author William Glasser, M.D. wrote about seven disconnecting habits. We get into such habits as criticizing, blaming, complaining, nagging, threatening, punishing, and rewarding to control others.
However, such external control never really works unless the other person is also motivated by survival, love and belong, power, freedom and fun. Our children may be afraid of harsh punishments when they are small. As they grow taller, bigger and stronger, we will find that eternal control only leads to power struggles – "You can't make me!" Instead of destroying the intimacy we deeply desire.
Dr. Glasser suggested replacing these deadly habits with seven connecting habits. Think back to your own growing years, would you rather have caring, trusting, listening, supporting, negotiating, befriending, and encouraging words and actions from your parents?
Many mental health issues are symptoms of broken relationships with self, others and/or God. When we feel something is missing (e.g. lack of affirmation being yelled at), we try to find a quick fix to get out of our pain. We turn to food, friends, games, Internet, drug, alcohol, sex, gambling, and even work to feel good, to get high.
Unfortunately, these things can easily take over our lives and become an even bigger problem. When we realize we can never solve our problems, we become helpless and hopeless. That's the core of depression!
Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, co-founder of Guideposts magazine, wrote, "Any fact facing us is not as important as our attitude toward it, for that determines our successes or failure … Change your thoughts, and you change the world."
We cannot change other people and the outside world, but we can always change the way we respond to something when it happens. When I realized mere career successes were not enough, I turned to God for help and He changed my life and my family.
Self-awareness and self-management are intra-personal skills that can be developed within each of us. It is important to teach our children to think and feel and to make wise choices based on Biblical principles but it is even more important to model Christ-likeness in our own lives.
The power of modeling comes when we practice what we preach. Our kids already know we are not perfect. Sometimes, we just have to show them how we repent and seek forgiveness. As we exhibit the fruit of the Spirit which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23) when difficult and challenging things happen to us or around us, our kids will learn, sooner or later.
We cannot isolate our children from bad things in this world. Nevertheless, we can influence them through love, encouragement, support, and good modeling.
Are you consumed by a particular problem to the extent that you can no longer enjoy or love your child or teenager? Stop. Think. Are their offenses a way of getting your attention, power struggle, or revenge? Beating up your child will not stop him from fighting in school. Yelling a lot only hurt your family. "What goes into a man's mouth does not make him unclean, but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him unclean"(Matthew 15:11).
There is a saying, "Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny." We mold our children's future with implicit or explicit expectations. When these expectations are not met, we blame and attack in anger, or withdraw in hurtful disappointment. When we hide our true feeling, we isolate ourselves from each other and create a chasm between us.
Are your expectations realistic? Do you recognize and build on your kids' natural talents and learning styles?
Don't get me wrong, we can always express our desires but we still need to respect them as unique individuals created and loved by God. Most OBC parents reading this newsletter are high achievers with academic and professional accomplishments. Do you expect certain areas of study for your kids in particular colleges? What if he likes playing basketball? What if she prefers drawing? Don't label them stupid or lazy or you will be fulfilling your own prophecy.
Okay, there are kids who are really out-of-control. Often times, the person is controlled and tormented from within by pent-up anger, hurt and resentment. Next time, when they say, "I don't want to do it. I won't do it. You cannot make me do it." Do not involve in a power struggle but try something new: "I have a problem with what you're doing and I think I have to change what I do or we'll never solve the problem." You will be surprised how you can enjoy each other when you don't try to control them!
Family meals are there to be enjoyed. No doubt many moms (or dads) work very hard outside and feel exhausted cooking dinner. I know many of them (me included) would start yelling if nobody comes to the table immediately. Raising our voices would only increase tension. Many years ago, I started to ring a bell to signal dinner and wait. They usually show up within 5 minutes. This simple practice has saved me heartaches ("They are taking me for granted") and arguments. Try it yourself!
On the night of a surprise visit, we had a great conversation at the table. Afterwards, Dad said, "Thanks for dinner. I need to go … Will you give Mom a ride to church?" and I heard, "Sure Dad. Thanks for dinner Mom. Let me do the dishes." As I took a shower, I felt so blessed as I reflected the road we have traveled. You see, I used to criticize my husband and son for not washing dishes or even loading them into the dishwasher my way. It took me a while to figure out why nobody volunteered to help me. Now I just graciously receive whatever help I get, and most often than not, they do things voluntarily without me asking.
I know what is right for me may not be right for everybody. So, I have to admit that I really don't know what is right for you. Nevertheless, I hope this article help you rethink interactions in your family. I pray that each of your families will grow for the better! Happy Mother's Day!!!
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