Sunday, May 30, 2010

Here's To The Good Guys

Father's Day is coming up on June 20. For our family, Father's Day is timed just after a line-up of family birthday celebrations, Mother's Day, Memorial Day weekend, the start of summer, and graduations. It could easily get lost in the parade of other events.

We can't let Father's Day go unheralded. Great men, and the important role they play in our lives---as fathers, step-fathers, and grandfathers---deserve to be celebrated. These good men provide families with stability, protection, integrity, honesty and wisdom. They are role models to sons and grandsons, and set high standards for their daughters and granddaughters to look for in their own partnership.They set a foundation for family and traditions to be built on.

Fathers and mothers are NOT interchangeable for children. Mothers bring children into the world and nurture them with tenderness and understanding. It is fathers who take children out into the world and develop a child's independence and journey into real life. Yale University did a fatherhood study comparing men and womens' parenting style, and found that even with their toddlers at a playground there were interesting and significant differences. Men gave their children more space and freedom and pushed toddlers higher in swings, while women kept their little ones closer.The gender-based differences aren't good or bad, but they do suggest that fathers consistently play a different role in childrens' lives. They often encourage more adventure and healthy risk-taking than mothers might. At times we mothers need to be reminded to let go a little and not overprotect.

A special salute to fathers who end up divorced from their childrens' mother, but stay involved and attached to the chidren. While we would never choose to have children experience their parents divorcing while they are trying to grow up, it does happen. A 50 year longitudinal study at the Center for the Family in Transition in Mill Valley, California, lead by researcher Judith Wallerstein found important implications for fathers. While children have their own grief process in dealing with their parents divorce, one of the worst potential impacts is if the father disappears and is no longer emotionally or financially involved with his children when he is no longer with their mother. Let's praise the divorced dads who hang in there and stay in the game with their childrens' lives.

Lets honor step-fathers, too, who roll up their sleeves and get involved to help finish the parenting job in a loving and kind way. Children who have lived through their parents' divorce need undertanding, friendship, stability and kindness. None of the step-family relationships come instantly. They develop over time and with patience. It may take time to trust. Divided loyalties normally occur in step-families. Taking a gentle, long-term pespective is important. The American Stepfamily Association says that it takes on average 7 years to fully integrate a blended family. Kudos to the stepdads whose hearts are big enough to love not only their own children but also the other hearts entrusted to their care. You will end up being loved by all and having a richer life. The heart is an amazing thing.

Grandfathers who are true patriarchs, and get involved in the day to day lives of their grandchildren, are incredible blessings to their families. Grandchildren can hear advice and loving wisdom from you that they would react to if it came from mom and dad. Grandfathers, if they wish, can teach life skills, and because they have more time, can be more patient than parents. If you have made your own passages in life, grandfathers can be the wise sages and infrastructure of the family core. Hooray for excellent grandfathers who are unselfish enough to share of themselves and help impart life lessons they've learned.

So Happy Fathers' Day, and here's to the good guys who appear in our lives and in our families. We are grateful for your special contributions to our families. What a difference you make.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Keeping The Connection With Your Partner

In a time when Jesse James can have Sandra Bullocks' back and be the love of her life one week, and they split up in a nuclear fashion the next week, everyone seems to realize that relationships are fragile and really shouldn't be taken for granted. Love relationships are dynamic, not static. Couples are always needing to find ways to deepen and enrich the connection. We need to look for new ideas to have fun and lightness together. Here are a few thoughts from my hours and hours helping couples get closer.

Each person needs to bring their best self to the relationship. The relationship can't make you happy. Each partner needs to make himself/herself happy and share it with the other.You cannot extort happiness from your partner.

I love Dr. Phil's line about "How much fun are you to live with?" Each partner needs to bring a positive attitude, an openness to grow and experience new things. Research on couples with children shows they are especially vulnerable to the relationship narrowing down to kids, work and passionless task sharing. Unless you fight for more.

Find stategies to disagree respectfully and fight fairly. Don't hit below the belt, call names, or say things that are hard for your partner to heal from. All couples have their own unique set of perpetual (unresolveable and reoccuring) issues. It is finding a safe process to discuss these issues that matters. Pretty much everyone has leftover hurts from childhood, and you don't want to choose a partner to cherish and rub salt in their childhood wounds. Better to help them heal and help be a healing agent.

You each need to develop your ability to listen----REALLY listen from the heart without getting defensive. Asking questions to better understand your partners' perspective is an important tool. Each person also needs to be able to voice their needs and concerns without going on the attack. The goal is to appreciate the differences between you and your partner, and cultivate your curiosity about each of you. Don't assume anything.

Remember back to Geometry in high school? I often draw two overlapping circles for couples and look at the way each couple has to negotiate how much separate self and how much togetherness they want. It may change over time as well.

Physical and emotional intimacy are both important glue for couples. All relationships can be vulnerable to infidelity, especially in the technologically advanced world we live in. Staying physically and emotionally connected is your most important defense against these betrayals. I am always encouraging couples to talk more openly with each other about how they are doing at meeting each others' needs in these areas. Don't take your partner for granted. A shared faith can make a huge difference.

There are predictable crisis points couples have in their life cycle, too. It is a challenging time for couples anytime someone joins or leaves the family (birth of new baby, teens preparing to exit, death of a parent, etc.)Special care and attention needs to be given to the couples' relationship at these times.

I love the book about the 5 Love Languages also. It feels so good to have your partner affirm and appreciate you in the right currency(yours!)

While these are challenging times for couples, perhaps we have never needed that comfort more than we do now in the current economy. I am glad that divorce stats are down some in recent surveys. I do believe that good, lasting relationships are as much about being the right partner as they are about finding the right partner. In this time of facebook , texting and voicemail we still long for real connection with a person of substance who has our back. And we have theirs.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Endings and Beginnings

Soon our youngest child will turn 16 and be getting a drivers license. We've been practicing for months, and she is so ready to drive herself and enjoy being more independent. For me, it's the bittersweet end of an era in parenting. Countless hours of drop-offs and pick-ups for school, activities, lessons, and birthday parties. I figure conservatively I've logged 20 joyful years of parenting moments in the car.

It's been such a good time to talk. Well, actually, it has been a progression from Radio Disney and the kids in the backseat, I spy ,and car games, to each child happily reaching the size requirement to get promoted to ride shot gun next to me in the front. It's been a great opportunity to connect, comfortably side by side, about school , friends, and life. There have been frustrating moments with teenagers at times........ running dangerously close to tardy by cutting the morning margins close. Now that I'm down to the last few driving days, though, I think I'm going to miss the time together at the start of the day.

When the oldest child starts college, you adjust and refocus on the younger ones at home who still need your hands-on parenting. When the youngest child clears a developmental milestone, like driving herself or a first job, mom and dad have to move along, too. I know that our job as parents is to work ourselves out of a job. I have shared that with parents I see in my counseling practice for years. It's important for teens to feel capable and do as much for themselves as possible. That's where self-esteem comes from---feeling you can handle things.

So, we make another transition as a family. One more new driver on the streets of Orange County. I get to adjust my daily choreography as well. I might not need to get up as early. Maybe I'll take up some new hobby as my 20 years of driving children comes to an end. I will need to look for more creative ways to connect with our teens, because they don't need me for rides.
I think I will always look back with fondness and warm memories about the chapter of parenting that took place in my car.

(Note: This blog attached to my counseling office web-site is one of my new activities now that I am driving less. If you wish to follow it, I will post my observations about building strong families, increasing intimacy in love relationships, parenting tips, and share reviews on related books. I plan to post on Mondays.)