Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Rethinking Retirement: Yes, No or Maybe Later

When are you going to retire?

More people are working later in their lives rather than at or near 65. Life expectancy is at least 25 years longer than it was a century ago. A later retirement might be for financial reasons, but there are  plenty of other professionals who really enjoy the work they are doing. Some people want to continue to work either part or full time beyond age 65. Maybe it's good that people are mixing up the three boxes of life- play, learning and work- and not limiting over 65 to just one.

Over half of baby boomers say they are planning to work past age 66. We should expect that people at work and your family and friends may ask you about your plans for retirement, so it's an advantage to have a plan in mind and think through what you envision for your 60's, 70's and beyond.

In planning for the emotional shifts in retirement, it's essential to prepare for how you will replace the satisfaction, contribution and people contact you may have had through work. You want to consider not only what are you are retiring from, but what are you retiring to? Shifting from full time to part time work can be a strategy to ease into the transition and give yourself time to adjust.

Retiring later has to be worked through as a couple if you are partnered, with consideration for your age difference and individual needs. Some couples retire together, while others negotiate one working months or years longer. Before and after the retirement of one or both partners, couples need to work through how roles may need to change, and how they will continue to cultivate both separate and joint activities. I don't recommend that couples spend all their time together as it's not enough fresh input and could lead to suffocating each other emotionally. Balancing individuation and close connection is key at all stages of a couple's relationship.

Learning to love, honor and negotiate through different visions for the this chapter of life is key. Couples can be on the same clocks while working and raising children, but have very different hopes and dreams after that. I'm working with several mature couples who are trying to navigate through their different ideas about retirement and relocation in a way that is loving. Think about discussing these hopes and needs, not assuming that your partner's align with yours.

It's also important to position yourself at work to stay later in your career if that's what you choose. Stay up to date with technology. Keep doing continuing education. Join and be involved in professional associations. Meet and befriend work colleagues of different ages. Communicate your intentions to others at work that you intend to stay longer. Stay engaged and passionate about your work. Learn new things. Take on long-term projects. Be involved in mentoring and reciprocal mentoring relationships. Keep setting goals and working towards them.

Retirement? Maybe, maybe not. It's a whole new world of possibilities, and all the old assumptions are out. If we are likely to live past 80, we're getting bonus years our great grandparents didn't have. It's bonus time to do whatever we enjoy and the things that keep us active and engaged in life.



Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Saving Your Relationships From Death by Cellphone


Angels baseball pitcher Jared Weaver was quoted in an article in the OC Register yesterday by sports writer Jeff Fletcher yesterday that things are very different in the Angels clubhouse before games now than they were when he came up to the majors in 2006. Players used to talk, bond and communicate with each other freely. Now people are, "checking all their stuff on their phones." Minnesota Twins manager Paul Molitor has made a rule asking his team to not use phones for 30 minutes before all regular season games. It is hard to regulate adults, but clearly cell phone use is impacting relationships not only on sports teams but also at work, between couples and within families.

It's great to stay connected, but when are we too connected to our cellphones and not connected enough in person, live with the people we live with? How can we put some limits on our phone habits so we are intentionally present in our relationships? What rules can we set with our children and teens, and what can we negotiate to clear sacred space for our relationship with family and close friends?

In the Sunday, March 22 edition of the New York Times, writer Bruce Feiler focused on cellphones in his This Life column. Fieler reminds us that despite children and teens having cellphones, you are still the parent. I like to remind parents in family counseling that they are the co-architects of their families and can take bold moves to make families stronger and better places to be. Cellphone habits can deteriorate the quality of your family relationships without your action and intentionality.

Here are a few of his excellent suggestions:

1. Put some limits on when phones are used. Children and adults may need to park and plug in their phones with a curfew on phone use. The Obamas don't allow their girls to use cellphones during the school week, for example. Park the phones in a place where you can monitor. Several studies have shown that teens with their phones in their rooms sleep less.

2. No cell phones at family times---mealtimes, connecting times, etc. Stack the cell phones up in a visible spot if you are out to eat together.

3. Car rides are important connecting and bonding time. Some families have a no cellphones rule for the first 20 minutes of any car ride. Remember the games we played in cars going on road trips when we grew up?

4. Do more electronics free activities with each other, like bike riding, hiking, camping, swimming, surfing and walking.

5. Teach your kids to read texts twice and when it is okay and not okay to text. I want parents to teach their children that texts are fine for brief data transmission like a time to meet, but not a place to work through relationship conflicts because it is full of miscommunication possibilities and is no substitute for brave in person discussions about emotionally charged topics. For example,
it's fine to make plans to meet at 5:00 for the movie, but don't break up with someone by text.

6. Keep talking with your children about bullying, sexting, gossiping and other potential cellphone mistakes and the possible harm that can be done. Remind them not to send out anything that they wouldn't want broadly distributed.

7. Do unto yourself. Make sure you abide by the same limits and set times when you put your own cellphone away. I often have children and teens complain to me in counseling about parents who can't stop being on their phones.

8. Don't interrupt special moments with your partner or your child to answer the phone.

Taking an active leadership role in your family is important for making sure that your family relationships don't get fragmented by cellphone use. Whether you're out on a date night, a walk with your partner, or interacting with your children, it's of crucial importance to the relationship to be engaged and fully present. This shows the other person that they are more important than anyone or anything else in the world right now, and that feels wonderful. Isn't that attention from those we love the thing we all crave and need so deeply?

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Opposite of Spoiled

Raising children in an affluent area like Orange County, California has its unique challenges. For example, if you have a nanny when the children are little, when is it time for the children to make their own beds and clean up after themselves? If we are going to launch great young adults they need life skills and independence, not helplessness and entitlement. How can you raise responsible, kind and capable young adults even when they come from an advantaged family? A recently published book by Ron Lieber targets this concern in The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money, (Harper, 2015).

Many parents feel that they want to do more for their offspring than their parents did for them, but also don't want their children to become spoiled. What is the opposite of spoiled? Perhaps it's raising children who are appreciative, grateful, and unselfish?

Children and teens often envy and want the things they see friends having, as well as things on social media and television. Lieber takes the stance that parents need to have conversations with their children and teens, throughout growing up, about responsible and irresponsible choices with money.
Children need to giving financial education at appropriate ages about saving, credit, limits and wastefulness.

Lieber's book made me think about parents I am working with who are making decisions about the first car their 16 year-old will drive, and what portion of the cost of the car, gas, and insurance the young person will pay. Even if parents can afford a fancier car, maybe the best decision involves helping to teach your teen about money and earning things. Maybe a safe used car sends a better message.

Lieber has some good advice on how to answer questions about money, like "How much do you earn?". He has a fun 'hours of fun' metric that he recommends parents introduce kids to before they are purchasing items. For example, how many hours of fun might you get from this bike versus this phone. Lieber has his suggestions on how to teach children to save, spend and give parts of their allowance. They have to learn from making some of their own mistakes, Lieber cautions.

Volunteering with your child or teen is another great way to introduce conversations with them about money, values, and service. While my youngest daughter went to a private, religious high school with plenty of advantaged teens, we had some good Saturday mornings volunteering for a local food pantry together.

The books assumes a degree of privilege in the family, so it's not a book geared at every family. However if you are raising children in an affluent area, this book is full of good ideas on teaching children about being wise with money, saving, being generous with others who are less fortunate and making good decisions. Conversations about money are also conversations about our values.
Why would we let social media or the Kardashians have a bigger say about what's important than we do? It's time to start talking with our children about money as it's a part of preparing them to launch successfully into adult life and be grounded.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

7 Ways to Be Her Hero

Doug Fields has a great new book in which he targets advice for men about stepping up and becoming the man their partner can love and respect. It's called 7 Ways To Be Her Hero: The One Your Wife Has Been Waiting For (W Publishing Group 2014). While Doug has a background in ministry and church leadership, he's an entertaining and approachable writer and speaker whose book has universal truths no matter your background.

Fields encourages each person to develop some depth, as well as slowing down to get out of living life like a NASCAR race. There is more to life than speed. Quality relationships take time, effort and intention. Anyone can fall in love, all it takes is a pulse. It's keeping the connection that is admirable and requires that people dig deeper into understanding themselves and the other person.

So what does Fields recommend that men do to become their partner's hero?

1. Edit. Don't say everything you think. Avoid defensiveness and criticism.

2. Choose your words carefully. Use them to support, encourage and build up your partner. Be sincere and specific. Notice what is loving and right in the other person. Let them know when and how they positively impact your life. Fields recalls Gary Chapman's five love languages, encouraging men to find out whether their partner prefers:

  • Words of affirmation
  • Quality time
  • Receiving gifts
  • Acts of service
  • Physical touch

When you identify your partner's preferred language, use it.

3. Become a world-class listener. Ask questions to deepen your understanding. Make eye contact. Don't multi-task. This creates emotional intimacy. Try to grow beyond sharing clich├ęs, facts and opinions into the deeper levels of sharing feelings and needs.

4. Go big with small things. Be generous emotionally by noticing her preferences and needs. Pay attention and do small actions that will please her. Doug shares great examples in his book of moving past selfishness to being sensitive to making your partner's day easier or better.

5. Increase non-sexual touch, like holding hands, hugging and kissing hello or goodbye, sitting by her on the couch, or touching her gently when you pass her. It's been said that when it comes to sexuality, men can be like microwave ovens and women are more like crock pots. Gentle, non-sexual, non-demanding, affectionate touch is something that most women want more of.

6. Putting the pride aside. Great guys can apologize and admit mistakes. Humility and confidence are a winning combination.

7. Care for her heart. Help her heal from childhood wounds and past relationship pain through your devotion and steadfastness. Point out her strengths and the things you love about her. Fill her tank. Help her to feel safe by being trustworthy and honest. Inspire her respect by being impeccable with your word.

Doug Fields' insights come partly from many years of facilitating and leading men's groups, speaking with women, and his own marriage. 7 Ways to Be Her Hero is a quick, easy read and has lots of relatable vignettes. It's a gem of a book that just might make a big difference in your own life, or the life of the man you love. Emotional intimacy in relationships is built one day at a time, and this book can give you practical tools to do it.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Teaching Children Virtues

Parents of school-aged children get busy, and sometimes focus on their children's negative behaviors. It's important to know that as a parent, you have the power to create teachable moments to introduce your children to developing positive character traits that will serve them well all their lives. Parents don't have to take a passive role, feeling frustrated with the values in movies, society and media that impact their children and teens. Instead, you and your partner can be the choreographers in teaching your children to be virtuous.

Grandparents, aunts and uncles can also make valuable contributions by teaching positive character traits, and discussing them with the young people whose lives you touch.

To get started, you will need to make a list of the character virtues that you admire in people. Here are some to consider, but you can develop a list of your own personal favorites:

Humility/Modesty

Gentleness

Self-control

Patience

Kindness 

Compassion

Self-discipline

Productiveness

Tenacity/ Perseverance

Courage

Integrity

Honesty

Self-care

Independence

Creativity

Resourcefulness

Open-mindedness

Love of learning

Justice

Personal leadership

Forgiveness

Gratitude

Playfulness

Teamwork

Spirituality

Cultivating joy/happiness

Appreciation of beauty

Social responsibility/service

Humanity (caring for others)

You might begin by choosing which trait you want to focus on with the young person/people in your life for the next month. I generally encourage parents to begin with the virtue you believe your children are most needing for their development. For example, if your children argue with each other and annoy each other, you may want to begin with focusing on teamwork.

If you hold weekly family meetings, as I encourage all the families I work with in family counseling to do, the meeting is a great time to introduce this month's virtue. You can have one of the children make a poster to hang up in the kitchen about that value, and have each family member add examples that they see at the next family meeting.

Make a plan for how you can teach the value of each trait. You can discuss it, help the child make an art project/collage demonstrating it, do some volunteer work together to experience it, or go on an outing together to explore it. You can look for examples of a particular character trait in the news or within the people you each know and talk about it. Asking children to watch for an example that they see among their friends of a particular virtue is fun and engages them. If you are teaching about service, perhaps you can do some volunteer work as a family as well as have each family member do random acts of kindness for others and compare notes.

Have some fun and be creative. I can remember being a child and learning about choosing a positive attitude by having a hall table with an empty drawer that we pulled a smile from each day when we left the house. Small children love to use their imaginations to learn things.

Grandparents can share stories about family members and others who demonstrated living the virtue you wish to help develop.

Parents, as well as family therapists, too often focus on negative behaviors. Helping actively develop character virtues and strengths is a healthy way to help create a next generation who are wise, transcend self, humane towards others, self-motivated and wonderful to be in relationship with. I can't think of a better legacy to leave behind us.