Category Archives: Parenting

A Children’s Secret Desire: An Unbroken Home

ainsley's prayerMy friend opened her daughter’s prayer necklace on Easter Sunday and found this shred of paper that read “I pray that my family will never fall apart.”

It may surprise you to learn that this child’s parents have a loving marriage and that she has a secure and strong family unit. But her aunt and uncle are going through a divorce, and she sees how traumatic it is for them and for her cousins. Even this glimpse of divorce is enough to make her fear for her own family.

Given the prevalence of divorce today, most children have seen a glimpse (or more) of its sorrow and pain. Due to this eye-opening experience, they may have insecurity about divorce. Your own children may be more insecure than you realize.

Imagine that your child wrote this note (pictured). Would it motivate you to work harder to ensure your marriage is strong and your family is secure? It did motivate me to think about whether I am doing all I can to maintain a strong family. What would you say to the child to reassure her? Do your children need to be reassured? The mother who found it reassured her by telling her that just because her parents argue doesn’t mean they are breaking up and that they made the decision to get married as a “forever” decision.

If you have been thinking about giving up on your marriage, please realize the shock and sorrow that children go through in a family breakup. That sorrow is not a transition that goes away. Children are not as resilient as we give them credit for being.

Choose to love your spouse, even when you don’t feel particularly loving. You will have ups and downs, but over time individuals are happier when they stay together through the rough periods. The odds are better for you to find love and happiness in the marriage you are in than if you look for happiness after a divorce. And children are better off being reared in an intact family—emotionally, physically, financially and educationally.

What is your secret desire for your family? Do you know if your children are secure in their family? Have you asked them?

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

The Parenting Lesson that Works Wonders in Marriage

blogpicSometimes a great parenting technique works wonders in marriage, too. Not that we should treat our spouses like children—we shouldn’t. But it’s more a reflection that children’s needs are in fact human needs. A need recognized in children often exists in adults as well.

Case in point, Seattle marriage therapist Claire Hatch, LICSW, recently wrote “Marriage Advice You Can Learn from Your Kids.” Her advice struck a chord with me both in how I should interact with my children and with my spouse, particularly when expressing a problem or complaint.

She explains that a child who thinks she is “bad” is not going to be interested in self-improvement. Instead, when she is treated like a “bad girl” or criticized, “she has to raise her defensive walls high to protect her ego from messages that feel critical. Which means she’s not really listening to you.”

That comment was a strong reminder to me that the way in which we complain or criticize may in fact be closing the other person off to us. We may be ensuring that they don’t listen to us, which is of course the opposite of what we want. Bad feelings may turn into hopelessness and a lack of motivation to change.

On the other hand, if the child feels loved and accepted, she can relax that defensive wall and hear you out. Your suggestions just might make it through that wall.

While our spouse is hopefully more emotionally mature than a child, he or she still has the need to feel appreciated, accepted and loved. But when we’re upset, we don’t communicate any of these. (Well, maybe you’re better than I am.) We usually just focus on our criticism or complaint.

What your spouse might conclude when hearing regular criticism is “I can’t make her happy,” or even “I’m a failure as a husband,” says Hatch. While you need to address issues in marriage, you’ll be much more effective in getting your spouse to listen if your loving messages outweigh your critical messages, she adds.

Her ideas for you to try to soften criticism include:

1. Verbalize appreciation regularly so the criticism comes off as less harsh.

2. Be curious and invested in what is on your partner’s to-do list, supporting and helping him or her as a loving spouse.

3. When raising a complaint, verbalize the difficulties you recognize your spouse faces.

What do you think? Are there other parenting tricks that you use in your marriage?

Check out Claire’s web site at http://www.clairehatch.comand read her full article at Marriage Advice You Can Learn from Your Kids.

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Don’t be Afraid to Underachieve in Life to Better Achieve in Your Family Life: Lessons from a former Indpls Colt

smith-hunter-01Last week, I attended a talk in Indianapolis given by former NFL punter Hunter Smith and his wife, Jen. One of his biggest messages was this headline. The former Colt advises those who want to be good spouses and parents to not be afraid to underachieve by the world’s standards, in order to make the time to succeed in your family life.

“I’m never going to be all I could be, and I don’t want to be. In America that’s counter-cultural,” says the former Indianapolis Colt. “Achieve in your marriage and with your children, and not in what the world expects of you.”

Other pieces of advice from their talk at Better Together included:

  1. Keep good company—trusted friends who will help keep you from making wrong decisions.
  2. Be who you say you are—live your life well.
  3. Understand that men have the tendency to be lustful and passive, while women have the tendency to be controlling. As men, don’t abdicate leadership in the home.
  4. Be willing to show your true self to your spouse.
  5. Be willing to share each of your needs honestly with one another.
  6. Place your spouse’s needs above yours. If you both practice giving, you will both receive more.

Hunter and Jen have four children, and they aren’t afraid to “miss opportunities” for their kids to develop in sports or other areas. Instead, they focus on the priorities of their family and their faith life.

Hunter shared openly about life in the NFL both with the Colts and with the Washington Redskins. He also expressed how much impact one person can have, using the example of Tony Dungy changing the culture of the Indianapolis Colts team by calling all the players to be authentic men full of strong character.

You can read here in an Indianapolis Star article about how Hunter calls the life of NFL athletes “tragic” with false images and frequent divorces and bankruptcy following the end of their football career. Hunter took a different path and retired to follow his interest in music and singing. His wife shares his love of singing.

Is his advice to underachieve difficult to hear, especially from someone who at one time made a multi-million dollar annual salary and who has a Super Bowl ring? My opinion is that he seems genuinely interested in using his platform to share the lessons he has learned. What are your thoughts on the other suggestions?

My next post will be about how earning more money does not usually make us happier. Instead, working more takes time away from activities that would probably give us more happiness.

Photo credit: Indianolis Colts

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Are You Focused on Productivity over Warmth in Your Family?

In today’s post, I’m continuing some thoughts on the book The Self-Centered Marriage by Hal Edward Runkel, LMFT. You can read part I here: When a Self-Centered Marriage Isn’t a Bad Thing.

In the last post, I shared several misconceptions about marriage that Runkel debunked. An interesting insight he writes about has to do with the family unit and our American culture’s desire to make our family life as efficient, productive and equitable as our work life. We want the wheels to run smoothly, and if there is a problem, we want to make the repair and get those wheels back on the track of life. So, here’s the problem, written so aptly by Runkel:

“You’re a family, not an office. You can’t operate on skill sets charted out and replace the person who doesn’t fit well. We are not simple machines and gears, working together toward a goal of increased efficiency and productivity. We are men and women, living together as a way to feed one another’s souls and create a warm home that is anything but mechanical and operational.”

I do think we need to be reminded of how our cultural desire toward productivity can get way out of hand. I’m often guilty of this. For instance, after my kids get home from school, the gears/tasks of homework, cooking and serving dinner, cleaning, making lunches and bedtime routines immediately begin. I’m often the productivity driver, constantly assessing progress on each task. When my husband is home, I delegate some of the tasks or supervision to him or he simply jumps in to help. Sharing warmth during the evening is often not a priority, at least until the above items are complete. Sometimes we carve out time for one-on-one discussion with each other or with each of the children, but often we are so concerned with completing tasks that the nurturing and loving feelings in the home can be hidden.

We need to refocus our energy and priority on the things that matter most, which should include accomplishing what we need to do in the midst of a loving home environment.

One couple dynamic which seems fairly common writes Runkel, is that one spouse is focused on productivity and is “over-responsible” to make up for the spouse who is “under-responsible” and does little to help. The overresponsible partner’s actions may help in the short-term by preventing some arguments, in the long term it creates a worse dynamic that pulls the couple apart. So, I appreciated Runkel’s examples and steps that help couples solve this sort of conflict not by changing their partner, but by changing their own actions and responses. (We can’t expect different results without changing our actions, right?) What I also very much appreciated was that these changed actions are done in a very loving, calm, mature, positive manner that doesn’t push the spouse away. No passive-aggressive behavior, no asking for “help” simply apologizing for contributing to the problem and acknowledging the co-responsibilities. Then, moving forward in a new way. (Check out the book for anecdotes.)

The next step is to grow in gratitude, which is something I preach here frequently. Expressing gratitude has been shown in research to be very effective at improving a couple’s bond. Thank your spouse for all the ways big and small that they help you in life. Do this instead of focusing on getting recognition for your own efforts. Waiting for your spouse to change only keeps you stuck. Be responsible for your own actions, and let your spouse be responsible for his/hers.

After focusing on yourself and experiencing personal growth, pursuing your partner with your truest self, then growing in gratitude for your spouse, we can learn to truly love one another.  That means we want the absolute best for that person. It means you will try to be the best spouse for them, even if you feel they won’t reciprocate in the same manner.

When you become a person of integrity, you become more attractive to your spouse, says Runkel. This replaces scorekeeping and resentment and helps you grow together.

Above all, this focus on the self means holding yourself to a higher standard, no matter what is going on around you.

What’s your take? Is it difficult to maintain integrity and commitment when you feel your spouse isn’t pulling his/her weight? Do you agree that changing your own attitude and actions can help transform the relationship?

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com. Pick up your copy today!

Photo by ddpavumba courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Real Men aren’t Like TV Dads—How To Be a Good Family Leader

I recently talked at a men’s group about marriage and family leadership. We discussed the dads we usually see on TV. They’re inept, unorganized, forgetful, immature, and easy to make fun of. The moms are usually in charge of the family and very bright, not to mention gorgeous and well dressed. And the kids are terribly cute and funny and have all the answers before they leave grade school.

Thankfully, most real men aren’t like those we see on TV. Most of the men I know are hard-working, intelligent, and try to get as much time with their families as they can. These real men (sometimes) cook dinner and scrub floors, change diapers and bring home the bacon. And the best of them provide excellent family leadership as well.

During my talk, some of the guys said their wives don’t always give them a voice, let alone allow them to make decisions. This is fairly common in our modern world in which women learn to multitask and make many decisions at work. We may forget that men want to be respected and appreciated. They want to feel like men, not little boys who are told what to do. So if you’re thinking that your husband needs to be a better leader, ask yourself if you have prevented him from taking that role. Do your best to encourage and support him, rather than nagging or complaining.

What does it mean to be a family leader?

Leaders are responsible for the wellbeing of their family/unit/group. Being a good leader means having a servant mentality—being willing to help without being asked and do whatever is needed for the good of the family and its members. Second, it means being aware of the direction the family is taking and being willing and able to redirect course if needed. Third, a leader gets input from everyone involved and is willing to make tough decisions.

A strong leader helps develop a common vision and a plan for achieving that vision. Everyone in the family should participate in this process. Other important skills include budgeting, ability to deal with change, encouraging/supporting everyone in the family, and developing the team (family members). Here’s a list from CNN of 23 traits of good leaders that is a great start if you want to assess your own leadership qualities or develop your leadership skills. It mentions things like having confidence, caring for others, having integrity and humility.

My thinking about family leadership is of course colored by my own experience with my husband who has always had strong leadership skills both at home and at work. He does well to be a consensus builder and seek out input. He researches thoroughly and is not afraid to make a decision. He models service to others and has strong financial leadership. He spends time with other mature men who support him, and vice versa. He is a spiritual leader in our family, leading prayer and character lessons for the kids. (You might think kids would find this dull, but there are so many resources to make it fun. Our kids remind us that it’s time to do another. ) He encourages each family member’s development of skills and hobbies and cheers us on. He always displays honesty and hard work. And one of his more important leadership traits is that he admits when he is wrong. We are much more willing to listen to a leader who admits he has faults and failings, aren’t we?

Delegation is a skill not to be ignored. Being a leader does not mean that person is in charge of everything. A husband who is weak at finances may do much better with the wife at the helm of the family’s pocketbook. A tech-savvy teen may be just the person to make a decision about the family’s computer needs. A loving husband respects his wife as his equal, and a family leader makes the most of each person’s contributions.

Being a leader doesn’t mean ordering other people around or being a control freak. I grew up in a house like that, and it wasn’t fun, nor was it productive.

What does being a family leader mean to you? Husbands, how do you show loving leadership? Wives, how does your husband best display family leadership? Does media’s portrayal of dads/husbands affect your view of how they should act?

Lori Lowe is the founder of Marriage Gems and author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.

Photo by digitalart courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Are you chasing time or cherishing time?

This time of the summer each year I become a little melancholy due to the marking of time by my kids birthdays and my own, as well as nearing another school year. I’ve often struggled with looking back far too often, lamenting the lost time, rather than enjoying the present.

You may have noticed fewer posts this summer, and that’s due to me wanting to cherish more family time while my kids are off for summer break. Yet even though we share many hours a day and most of our meals together, I still feel time is passing faster each year. Do you feel that way? My dear grandmother, who is sadly not long for this world, says each year got faster and faster for her, clear into her 90s when seasons would pass in the blink of an eye.

I am especially grateful for a long history with my husband that allows us to reminisce our travel days before kids, and the infant days of no sleep, and many memories with extended families. Sharing memories with him somehow makes them seem more permanent and important.

The point of this post, other than rambling on about life being short, is that we all aim to live each day in a way that we will look back with fondness. Making time for our husband or wife, spending fun time with family and friends–these are treasures we won’t regret. It’s only through spending time together that we can keep our connection strong.

On the other hand, juggling too-busy schedules with too many activities doesn’t leave time for spontaneous memories. It isn’t enough to schedule a great two-week vacation each year if  your life is otherwise chaotic and stressful. Particularly in marriage, we need regular intervals to relax and reconnect, to breathe and appreciate the present.

What about you? Do you often dream of the future? Spend your time thinking of the past? If you are good about living in the present, please share your tips for the rest of us.

Special note: My grandmother passed away the day after this post and is now at peace. She had a wonderful way of treasuring time with family.

Lori Lowe is the founder of Marriage Gems and author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com. Note: Amazon has First Kiss to Lasting Bliss currently discounted at $13.95 for a hard copy and $8.19 for the Kindle edition! A pdf is available for $7.99.

Photo by Winnond courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

6 Tips to Save Family Time and Have More Fun

If you read the time-saving solutions in Parts I and II that help you save hours a day, they are mostly technology related. In this last column about saving time for your family (yes, I’ll move on after just one more post) I’ll focus on making choices that allow to have more fun. That is, what decisions are you making about how your family spends time? Are you consciously making decisions about it, or do you get sucked into the wind tunnel of activity and wonder how you go there?

Following are 6 tips to be more deliberate and happy with how your time is spent:

  1. What’s your dream day/week?Prioritize with your spouse about how you would MOST like to spend your time together as a couple and as a family. What are your favorite pastimes? Do you love to go hiking or boating, attend concerts, cook elaborate meals, garden, volunteer, go on dinner dates, ride bikes, read books, take family walks, travel, etc.? Do you currently have time for these activities (and not just on sporadic vacations)? If so, stop reading this and go enjoy your life. Congrats. If you’re still reading, hang in there…
  2. Learn to say, “No.”  The best way I’ve found to do this is to be non-committal when you’re invited to attend an event or asked to fulfill a new task or role. Just say,  “Thanks for thinking of me. I will seriously consider it and will get back to you.” Don’t feel obligated to attend every wedding, birthday party, and social obligation to which you or your kids are invited. Don’t feel like you are the parent who needs to bake cupcakes each time there’s a fund raiser. EVEN IF YOU DON’T HAVE SOMETHING ON THE CALENDAR, it’s more than OK just to have down time to do the things you enjoy most.
  3. Assess your time commitments. For many families, this has to do with commitments to sports and extracurricular clubs. For adults, it may include social groups, sports, church or volunteerism.  Are you booked up every evening with obligations? Do you rarely have time for family dinners? Is your schedule carefully planned with activities with little to no down time built in? Every couple’s needs or family’s needs are different, but assess and discuss the time commitments you have to make sure you are in agreement. Your volunteer time may be very fulfilling and worth every minute.
  4. Schedule your fun stuff first. Then, when you check your calendar on things that come up, you will have to choose between that weekend away or day of biking and the new “obligation.” Maybe you’ll make more time for fun.  When you schedule activities for the two of you, make sure to also get sitters lined up. Once you lock it in, you can honestly say, “I’m sorry we have plans that day.”
  5. Is your job your life? Is the majority of your identity tied up into your career? Do you have little or no free time for life outside of work? Do you get home and then start checking email and text messages from work?  If work is taking up more than a full-time job and you’re not happy with that, consider whether lifestyle changes are in order. Don’t feel like you have to take every career opportunity or promotion if you think your life will be less enjoyable as a result. For example, if 20 more hours a week are required for a small raise, does it really make sense for your family? Is there a similar job you could do with better hours? Discuss with your spouse wither you could downsize expenses, maybe live in a smaller home or share a car. This might allow you to travel more or work in a job you enjoy more.  Another option for some people is to work at home and cut out travel time, or to find more efficient ways to work (i.e., focus on priority tasks and only check email after those are complete) and get home sooner.
  6. Is lack of organization to blame? Do you have a shared family calendar? Do you have a routine for meal planning and cooking? Do you get carry out or fast food more than once a week? Does your family have assigned chores with time allotted to complete them? Do you spend time looking for lost items or important papers? Does everyone in the family help out with age-appropriate tasks? Is your home relatively uncluttered? Being organized most definitely saves tons of time and frustration.

What other tips do you have for saving time? Share in the comments if you have thoughts about lack of time for fun or tips on how to get more enjoyment from family time.

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.

Photo by photostock courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net