Tuesday, November 18, 2008

That's an option.

Last night I was attempting to shop in the grocery store. One of those trips you hadn't planned on making. I picked the girls up, Matthew was with me, he wanted to get to Open Gym at 6:00pm, and rushing home I remember we're out of toilet paper and tampons. Sorry, but that's a stop we're making. Run in, run out. Sounds simple enough, right?

Then the temper tantrum struck. We've all been there: a desperate to control the situation overreaction to having to do something you don't want to do. (Except mine is 13.) I grabbed her by the arm and pulled her out of the store reminiscent of when she was two. The exagerations (pained look, pleas of "Please don't hurt me" strategically voiced as we passed fellow customers) continued until we were in the car and once home she was sent to her room for a much needed nap. That's when the threat came in (and they all threaten). "I'm going to go live at my dad's!" My calm response: "That's an option." She was silenced for half a second before she continued, "At least HE lets me do what I want!" I shrugged, "that's one way to solve your problem." Silence again, followed by, "What do you mean? You don't even care if I go to my dad's and NEVER SEE YOU AGAIN?!" (I continued working about the kitchen...) "Even though I love you more than anything in the world, it's time for you to decide for yourself how you're going to live your life. Choosing to live at your dad's is an option." More silence. (I'm sure she was trying to gauge my sanity.) "What about Dotter? I'll never see her again...that's not fair to her." "I'm sure you've thought about that. You're smart; I'm sure you'll come up with a way where you can see your sister if you choose to live at your dad's." It continued on for a few more minutes before I explained that her choice of behavior in the grocery store resulted in the consequence of her going to her room. She went in her room.

I had forgotten all about the "That's an option" statement. Oh, how many times it saved me when they were younger! Threats are made by children in attempt to emotionally steer you off course. Toys that needed to be picked up were met with a cool "I don't care" when I explained they would be removed from the house if they were still there in five minutes.

I've heard things ranging from "I'm going to scratch you!" to "I don't want you to be my mommy anymore!" to "I'm going to run away from home!" (Ironically, each time was when they wanted to do something contradictory to what a house rule was.)

When they were little I'd say something like, "That's an option. You could scratch me, but then you would get a time-out for hurting me, and you would still lose your toys because you haven't picked them up. Or... you could choose to pick up your toys and keep them to play with them later."

I realized the "That's an option" statement is probably more pertinent now than ever. THEY need to do all the thinking to get them out of the situation they're in, and THEY ultimately need to take ownership of the problem. For better or for worse the decisions they make in their lives are ones they will have to accept. Somehow I've got to get them thinking about the consequences of their choices. Somehow I've got to get them to think "If I do this, what logically comes next for me? And can I handle that?"

Personally, I had a much easier time dealing with picking the toys up off the living room floor...

Monday, November 10, 2008

NINE TIMES?! Are they crazy?!

Did you know that kids will ask an average of 9 times before a parent gives in. NINE TIMES!!

Two things stand out to me:
(1) that a child can be so strong-willed as to ask 9 times.... and,
(2) that I give in somewhere around 4 or 5 (my kids have it easy).

"Parents have this illusion that if they give their child the reason why they can't do what they want, the child will stop wanting it."

Oh, boy. Didn't I learn that a tad too late.

Raising the Jellybean (my oldest, now 13) I felt strongly that I wanted to give her a voice. (Probably because subconsciously I felt I didn't have one growing up.) I wanted to give her the words to use to defend herself and to explain herself. I wanted her to see that when you made a decision you should be able to back it up with why you chose what you did. I wanted her to have her beliefs and yet be able to explain why she believed what she did. I explained every decision I made in order to help teach her to be verbally responsible for her choices and actions.

Now, at 13, I find myself wondering why she just can't respect me as her mother. Why does she question, debate, unfold, remix, battle every decision I try to make? (Because I taught her to.)

I am unable at this point to simply say, "No. End of discussion." And have it stick. Instead I have taught her to Problem Solve.
Can't go to McDonald's for dinner? Why?
- Is it because I have no money? I'm sure she has some at home in her piggy bank she'll offer to use.
- Is it because it's unhealthy? I'm sure she'll order the fish sandwich instead of the Big Mac.
- Is it because we haven't eaten dinner together as a family in a long time? I'm sure we can all eat inside together, or we could order to go and eat together at home.
- Is it because I just don't feel like it? I'm sure I could get something in a different drive through more to my liking after she gets her meal at McDonald's.

So how does a parent maintain that balance between teaching a child their voice of reason and teaching a child that sometimes they just do what Mom says because they respect her decision as an adult & parent even if they don't agree with it?

Boundaries. Setting clear boundaries. It's ok to say, "This is not a decision that is discussed with you in our house." It's ok to say, "This is a decision that Mommy makes, not you. When you are a Mommy you can make this decision, but not right now."

For example, the child can pick out her clothes for playtime, but for church Mom makes that decision. (Dotter wore bright pink snow boots every day two summers ago, but those were set aside for sandals on Sunday.)

For dinner, I've started a night each week where one child decides dinner. But whatever they decide they're responsible for. If the food is in the cupboards they can make it. If they want to go out to a restaurant they have to be ready to be financially responsible for that decision. (Amazing how McDonald's loses its appeal when you have to pay for EVERYONE.) The rest of the week it's MY decision - and mine alone - to make.

Try a little challenge today. Keep track of how many times you're asked for the same thing you've said no to. Simply state, "no" and when asked why simply state "this is the decision I am making." Say this the 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th time - no matter how long it takes until it ends.

You aren't going to convince your child not to WANT what they want, no matter how much explaining you do, but perhaps you'll be able to further establish that as the Mom you can make decisions without having to explain "why" ... and having them approve.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Choose Happiness

"An old Cherokee was teaching his young grandson one of life's important lessons. He told the young boy the following parable:

'There is a fight going on inside each of us. It is a terrible fight between two wolves.
One wolf is evil. He is anger, rage, envy, regret, greed, arrogance, lies, false pride and ego.
The second wolf is good. He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, kindness, empathy, truth, compassion and faith.'

The grandson thought for a moment, then asked, 'Which wolf will win the fight?'

'The one you feed,' his grandfather replied."

It's easy to feed the evil wolf. The world encourages to nourish the traits he thrives on. We're bombarded with gossip magazines and "news" stories exposing the dirty laundry of someone famous. When feeling slighted "friends" may encourage us to 'get even.' The Jones' seem to always be doing better than us, flaunting their sucesses in the form of new cars and fancy homes.

In time, however, the evil wolf will begin to feed off what makes you human. God brought us into the world filled with only good. We are born full of joy, peace, love.... He knew the exact ingredients needed to make us human, which he filled within us. It is unfortunate that over time we choose to replace that goodness with evil. At birth we are 100% goodness. Would you be able to honestly state your ratio now? Is it 75% good 25% evil? 50/50? More? Less?

You must make the choice to feed within you the good wolf or the evil wolf. It is our choice alone to make; no one can do it for you. Not even God. Well, he could - but He wants us to choose the right way because WE WANT to.

I received a letter once that ended not in the typical "sincerely" fashion, but with the words "Choose Happiness." Choose Happiness. Choose. Every day, every situation, every thought - choose happiness. Want. Decide. Opt. Select. Pick happiness. It doesn't matter how you say it, it means the same: you are the only one who controls the happiness you let in to your soul. You are the only one with that power. You are the only one with that control. You are the only who chooses what enters into your being.

We've all done this... we've had a bad day, the kids gave you hassle in the morning, you forgot your lunch, your boss blamed you for something you didn't do, your hair looks horrible, you come home to find the phone disconnected when you swore you paid the stupid bill, dinner gets burnt, the kids are fighting, and your mom calls with the sole purpose of making you feel like a failure (you're quite sure of that).... your spouse walks in cheerful, tries to kiss you on the cheek (but your're really busy - can't he see that?) and announces, "Steve and his wife invited us out to dinner tomorrow night; let's ask your mother to watch the kids." And you erupt. The house is a mess. There's so much grey hair on your head there's no way you're sitting next to Ms. Hoity-Toity I get my nails done twice a month because I don't have to work I'm so rich. The kids need to get to bed early for a change because their attitude sucks and there is NO WAY you're going to ask your mother to watch the kids after how she was on the phone with you earlier - she was practically screaming that you're a failure (you're quite certain of that).

It was YOUR choice to not accept that happiness. It was YOUR choice not to see the kiss as a wonderful example of how we should all greet the loves of our life. It was YOUR choice not to see the kindness of an invitation of a friend. It was YOUR choice not to look forward to the joy of spending time with someone who likes you for you, not for what your hair looks like.

I have personally struggled with the whole "Choose Happiness" campaign. It's easy to do when everything is going great! But how do you choose happiness during the really tough stuff? How do you choose happiness when you have a child terminally ill? How do you choose happiness when you learn your spouse has been unfaithful? How do you choose happiness when you find out your sibling has chosen suicide over his wife and three small children?

You choose God.

You choose God.

You turn to Him. You ask Him to hold you in His arms and you ask Him to allow you to feel His love. He will show you the way; He will show you how you can choose happiness if you trust in Him and believe in Him. You simply choose God.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Weeding Our Personal Gardens

"The only thing you have to do to let weeds thrive in your life is nothing. And doing nothing is a choice."
~ Alicia Britt Chole

I have a friend who purchased a new home about two years ago. She bragged (and I mean bragged) about the beautifully manicured lawn and immaculate gardens. I must admit a twinge of jealousy the first time I made it over. The grass was the most beautiful green velvet I'd ever seen. The sidewalk to the front porch flanked with tiny white flowers (for some reason it made me think of Alice in Wonderland). The shrubbery was nicely clipped and sculpted. Tulips proudly stood in an arrays of bold colors. Everything just looked perfect!

I stopped by again near the end of this summer. The shrubs had limbs poking out all over, weeds grew up amongst the tulips, grass was growing in the sidewalk cracks: "What did you do to the lawn?" I blurted out. "Nothing," she answered.

Nothing. She chose to do nothing. Here she was given this beautiful precious gift and she chose to do nothing to maintain it or take care of it.

There is a much bigger sin than letting your garden get overrun with weeds... and that is letting your LIFE get overrun with weeds.

Take stock of your personal garden: Can you list the flowers? (Spouse, children, good friends, your job.) Can you name the weeds? (a bad relationship, jealousy, anger, weight, tiredness.)

We can choose to start weeding our personal gardens: put boundaries on toxic relationships (mother-in-law drives you crazy? Limit her daily phone conversations to five minutes by telling her, "Oh! We were just getting ready to ____ but I've got about five minutes to talk!"); get to bed early; start choosing a fruit or vegetable over a sweet; seek counseling for those really big issues.

The point is, we ALWAYS have a choice. God blessed us with reasoning and judgement and motivation. We can choose to start weeding out the things that block the beautiful flowers that grow up around us, or we can choose to do nothing.

Just remember... doing nothing is a choice, too.

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