The hurried child: Are you willing to swim upstream?

As August moves forward, school settles into a familiar rhythm and the pace of family life quickens. School. Practices. Foreign languages. Clubs. Tutors. Private lessons. Games. Church activities. Homework. And the list goes on…and on…and, well, you get the picture. Our homes ring with the words, “Hurry up, we’ll be late” and we rush our kids from one activity to the next. We zip through the drive-thru and throw processed food at our kids as they attempt to finish homework in the backseat. We sacrifice their nutrition and our own sanity to the rush of one more practice or game or commitment. As parents, we have a choice to make: do we follow along with our hurried culture and sign our children up for yet one more activity (who said peer pressure vanished with high school?!) or, do we swim upstream?

Many modern day American parents have fallen victim to this underlying system of beliefs: My children deserve to be happy and successful. It is my job to make them happy and successful. If I give my child more “opportunities” (also known as classes, lessons, tutors, etc.) to obtain experience and knowledge they will be more likely to grow up to be happy and successful and I will have done my job. If we (and I definitely include myself here!) as adults recall the most happy, carefree days of our own childhood it is likely that those memories do not involve structured, organized “opportunities”, but rather (gasp!) unstructured free play with friends and/or siblings. Our children today are stressed-out, over-scheduled, and under-played.

Research is overwhelmingly in support of slowing down the pace of our children’s daily lives and of giving them back the chance to get bored, to find something to do on their own and to relish in pretend play. I could name book after book written by prestigious authors who support this notion, but, at the end of the day it comes down to this: Are we, as parents, willing to swim upstream? It is hard work. It can be exhausting. It is not fun or easy to hold to a different set of beliefs from our culture (pesky peer pressure again!). Are we willing to stand our ground and say “no” to countless “opportunities” that present themselves to us time and time again? Are we willing to listen to our kids bickering and fighting as they attempt to plow through their own boredom to find something to do? It is far easier to sit in the bleachers checking your own email as your child runs up and down the basketball court than to stick it out at home on a Saturday morning as your child struggles to find a new mode of entertainment. Remember, we have created this culture of hurriedness for our children and they will have to “detox” and adjust as we slow the pace.

Okay, you are still with me so I will assume you might be willing to swim upstream. How do we do this in a practical way?

  • Just say NO! Limit your children to one or maybe two activities at a time, depending on their age. If it is soccer season and your child really wants to be on the team, go for it! But let that be the activity for that season. I will warn you, and I speak from experience here, this is hard. There will be times when you think you are depriving your child of the chance to be the next Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan or Julie Andrews before he or she turns 10. You worry that you are not helping your child find his or her “thing.” Hang in there. It gets easier.
  • Unplug on a regular basis. Have technology-free time as a  family: play a board game together, go for a walk, collect items and make a collage or sculpture, take turns asking each other “what if” questions (What if you could jump into a book…which book would you jump into and why?), bake something yummy and share it with a neighbor.
  • Make family dinners a priority. The research here is so strong! Families who eat a meal together on a regular basis have kids who perform better in school and hold up under peer pressure when it comes to big stuff like drugs, alcohol, and sex.
  • Fight the urge to plan every moment. Allow for chunks of time in your child’s day that are not filled with activities and events.
  • Resist the urge to buy every latest and greatest toy or electronic gadget. Provide your child with toys that encourage open-ended play: blocks, blank paper and crayons/paints/markers, play-doh or clay, dress up clothes, boxes of varying sizes that can become anything, etc.
  • Pay attention to your child. Ask your child which activity he or she would most like to engage in right now. Watch for signs of your child being overwhelmed or stressed-out (fatigue, anxiety, irritability, poor sleep habits) and be prepared to scale

Building (and rebuilding) Balance

Balance in our lives is NOT a destination, meaning that once we arrive, we are done.  It is not a static goal we achieve and then maintain forever.

I like to call it “building” balance; as opposed to “achieving” balance—because like building a house, it is a work in progress, it requires maintenance, and occasionally needs reworking.   So how do we “build” this elusive thing called balance?

1)     Stay Present.  Live in the moment instead of fretting about yesterday or worrying  about tomorrow.  If you feel angry about something—feel the anger and work through it.  When you feel joyful about something, embrace the joy fully.

2)  Stop the “Spinning”.  Learn to recognize an manage your internal conflicts. (Anything that disturbs your inner peace, such as unnecessary guilt, excessive worry, unhealthy people pleasing, etc).  Be honest about who you really are and don’t be afraid to stray from the norm.  Live life according to your core beliefs.

3)  Simplify Your Life.  The more “stuff” we have and the more activities we have to manage, makes it more difficult to find just the right balance.  Learn to set appropriate and healthy boundaries for yourself.  This means allowing yourself to say “no” when necessary without feeling guilty!

4)  Know What You Want.  Take time to know WHO you are first.  Figure out what you value, by examining each aspect of your “self.”  Make active choices that lead you toward balance.  If your choices don’t line up with who you are and what you value, then you are not holding fast to your own integrity and your life will feel out of balance.

5)  Nurture Your Spirit and Embrace Love.  We all have a spiritual element to our being and with that comes an innate need to love and be loved.  With all the ups and downs in life, love is the gift that balances it all and brings us back toward a more peaceful state.  Exercise your faith.  Enjoy nature.  Keep your soul filled with positive and inspiring activities.  Be brave enough to let go of activities and relationships that squelch your spirit and prevent you from being your authentic self.  It is then we will be able to give generously of ourselves.

Balance is a fluid state that changes from day to day.  Just like the ocean tide moves in and out, look at whether your life is moving away from or toward balance.

Assess it over a period of time—one or two stressful days here and there does not mean your life is out of balance.  BUT, if chaos is the norm for you, try some of these ideas!

Hopefully, it will be a good “jumpstart” toward building better balance in your life.

The Teen WiFi Epidemic: Teaching your Teen to Disconnect

I recently had my sixteen year old niece over to babysit and was extremely pleased with the job she did. She was timely. She was responsible. She did an exceptional job in getting the baby to sleep and caring for her while we were out. We left home around 7pm after the baby was down and my niece was sitting on the couch playing with her phone as we left. When we returned (6 hours later) my niece was still awake and on her phone. I asked what she had done all night and she said, “Nothing, just played on my phone.” I was a bit surprised but then I remembered my teenage years and how I always tried to stay up late on the phone talking to friends and chalked it up to the “teenage thing.” The next morning we all woke up and the first thing that she did was pick up her phone and check Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, and SnapChat to “find out what she had missed.” We made breakfast and served it, but like a magnet attached to her hand there was the incessant and attention seeking iPhone. When she went to shower or use the restroom she took her phone with her. We attempted several conversations but and it was hard to get a word in with her because she was on her phone. As a matter of fact, she spent the entire day completely consumed with her phone. It was difficult to engage her at any level – troubling. I have a great respect for teenagers – I truly believe many people view them as a nuisance and don’t believe they have much to offer in those challenging stages of life. I disagree wholeheartedly. I think teens are exceptional and when given the opportunity can teach us adults many, many things. I have even chosen a career in which I can work with teens to encourage them and give them a voice. But even for me the cell phone use was maddening. I literally wanted to grab the phone and throw it off of our 2nd floor balcony and yell “HEY THERE!!! LIFE IS HAPPENING OUT HERE AND NOT IN THAT STUPID PHONE!” Of course I didn’t but it did get me thinking…

Disconnecting from technology is difficult these days on everybody, particular teenagers. The good ol’ days of riding down the street on your bike to meet up with your friends are gone…now they just “hit them up on Twitter or Instagram.” It can be challenging as a parent to allow independence and creativity while still setting effective boundaries in regards to the use of technology. Recently a three-year research study was conducted by the Brown University School of Medicine and the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology reflecting the effects of technology on our kids. The results were such that clinically, we are seeing an increase in symptoms typically associated with anxiety and depression. The symptoms include: short-term memory problems, decreased attention span, sleep deprivation, excessive moodiness and general dissatisfaction. The study results were such that when a child or adolescent unplugs, particularly at night, the symptoms decrease. Bottom line, unplugging is necessary.

So-as a parent how do you get your teen to disconnect? How can you allow them the space to express themselves via social media and communicate using today’s technology while encouraging them to look up and see the world around them? How do we ensure their safety? Here a few tips to make it a bit easier:

  1. Give in…a little. Let’s face it- technology is here to stay. As parents you need to learn how this stuff works. Teens love to text- so text your teen. Figure out how social media works so that you can be aware of the dangers and limitations. Google it. If you do not know how to “Google” it reach out for help J
  2. Don’t be the Secret Cyber Stalker Parent: You don’t have to secretly set up a Twitter or Facebook account and cyber-stalk them… just communicate. Tell your teen what the expectations are for social media and that you will be monitoring their activity. Let them know what the dangers of posting things you can NEVER EVER take back. They need to know that you are looking and they need to know what the boundaries are. Respect them enough to let them know what is acceptable and what is not.
  3. Set time limits: Be very clear on when it is inappropriate to be on your phone. For example, when we are at the table we talk to each other and not on the phone. When we have company over, no phones. Leave your phones in the living room before going to bed. Put this in writing if necessary.
  4. There must be consequences: You cannot have limits without clear consequences. This does not have to be complicated. For example: a drop in your grades=less time on your phone daily. The more you communicate the less room for discussion when consequences are implemented. To an extent of course – part of being a teen is testing the limits, so be ready. Again, put this in writing if necessary.
  5. Be an example: Disconnect yourself as well! Model good behavior. If they cannot eat dinner and text, neither can you.
  6. NO texting and driving. Period. No exceptions.
  7. TIME: Spend time with your teenager. Find out what THEY like and DO IT. If you hate video games and your kid loves it – try it! When its time to do something you like be sure it does not involve technology like a walk in the park or time at the driving range. Teach them to enjoy life unplugged and to remember how important a real conversation with another human being is. There is no better way to get to know what your teen is doing than to talk to them and leave an open door for them to talk to you. YOU are important to them regardless of how often they say they hate you.
  8. Let them practice: You will have to give them some wiggle room at some point. How can they practice all the good things you have taught them if you don’t trust them enough to give it a shot? I am all about having boundaries, teenagers need and want them, but have a little faith in the work you have done and let them prove you wrong before bringing down the hammer.

Couples Therapy 101: Staying jolly through the holiday season

Let’s face it-the holidays can be very overwhelming once you become an adult. Gone are the carefree days waiting for Santa the night before Christmas, now you worry about how you are going to pay for all of it. Christmas is now filled with finances, time crunches, crazy holiday shoppers, and for some the worst – the in-laws are coming to stay over! The holidays are filled with extended family and extended family can be a touchy and emotionally charged subject for many couples. Hey, you may LOVE your family to pieces and cannot wait to spend the holiday with them, but your spouse…not so much. You may LOVE your spouse’s family but an extended amount of time with them can drive you to madness. It can be difficult to determine the best way to deal with your frustrations around the relatives and many times those frustrations can be projected onto your spouse. This can put an additional strain on your relationship at a time when stress levels are already high. So, what are the best ways to stay jolly through the holiday visitors and ensure you are able to enjoy your spouse during the season? Try these tips to ease the holiday stress and make sure the memories from this season are the best yet!

  • Give them a break: If your relatives are the ones visiting make sure you are communicating in advance about all the details of the visit. If you have activities you would like to enjoy while your family is in town let your spouse know. Be specific about the activities that are most important for you to enjoy with your spouse and give them a break on some of the ones that are not. If you enjoy shopping with your parents and you know your spouse hates it—give them the day off. Suggest he or she do something they enjoy doing. This will take the pressure off of you to enjoy shopping and your spouse will come back renewed after enjoying a break.
  • Change your expectations: Your partner’s family is likely not going to change. If you’re expecting that one of these years a family much like your own will walk through the door, you are setting unrealistic expectations. Embrace them for who they are and hold on to the fact that they created the person you spend your life with – they have done something right!
  • Set boundaries: Discuss what has been a touchy area in previous visits and find a middle ground. You are a team so you need to present a united front. Respect your partner’s boundaries and understand that this may be a difficult time for them.
  • Remember it’s temporary: This is just a short season and they will be gone before you know it. Soon enough you will be free to enjoy your home and your spouse again. Dwelling on the negative will only make the time go by slower.
  • Have FUN and share it: So you love to play golf and your father-in-law has never tried it. Set up a tee time with him. It’s a lot harder to be unhappy when you are doing something you love. People appreciate it when you take the time to share with them something that you enjoy and even if he is not into it – you’re still on the course! Enjoy! He may just enjoy it too.
  • Fight Fair: So you are trying your best but something a relative did has you all worked up. Remember to communicate this with your spouse without attacking their character or family. Attacking their family can be just as bad as attacking them directly. Voice your opinion about the direct behavior that is bothering you. Behavior can be changed but character is much more difficult and words are not easily taken back. Don’t let this one holiday set you up for a disastrous year!
  • Catch the holiday spirit: Be thankful for family-there are many out there that wish they could have one more holiday with their annoying cousin, hyperactive nephew or weird uncle. Life is short-make memories that will last.