January 1, 2017
This is an updated version of a 2014 blog. The tips still work. Maybe now more than ever.
Well-meaning New Year’s resolutions typically peter out by January 15th. If we’ve been zigging, it’s hard to start zagging and keep at it. Which is why self-improvement is so hard to do. I’m thinking it just might be easier to stop doing something that’s not working than to start in with a whole new game plan. I asked a bunch of teens what they’d like their parents to stop doing in the new year. Instantly, they came up with these three. I pass them on to you, since we’re all in this parenting trip together and building a healthier relationship with our tweens and teens is good for everyone.
That’s it! I’ve had it with you kids!
1. Yelling. Parenting can be messy and stressful. With everything that’s expected of us it’s easy to get frustrated or overwhelmed. If yelling has become your go-to place, you need to stop. When you lash out at your kids, your spouse, or your dog, you are polluting your home and hurting your family. If you don’t have at least one healthy stress-management tool that you’d be happy to see your kids emulate, you’ll be a less effective parent. I recommend breathing. Breathing requires no gym membership or special shoes. It’s free and always available. Yes, it’s habit-forming, but in a very good way. Try this 6-step Relaxation Response. It works. Tip #1 – Stop yelling and start breathing and your kids will give you less to yell about.
2. Tuning out. Parents, teachers, coaches… adults in general spend a lot of time telling kids what to do, how to act, and what to believe. When kids take the bold step of opening up to us (because they need to be heard), we often don’t listen… not one hundred percent. When we do listen, we may jump in and invalidate what we hear if it makes us uncomfortable. (“You don’t really feel that way.” “Oh, that’s not true.”) We want our kids to stand up for themselves amongst their peers – whether they’re being overpowered in the kindergarten playground or in a teen relationship. But how are they going to learn to be speak up if we don’t give them practice by respectfully listening to what they have to say?
Tip #2 Stop tuning out and start listening with a more open heart and mind and your kids will feel more confident in themselves.
3. Rushing around. Every family needs down time without distractions, digital or otherwise. Hopefully we all got a healthy serving of down-time during the holidays. Vacations are great, but they’re not enough. Not in the noisy, speedy, aggressive world we live in. Most of us need and deserve daily down time, alone and together, as a family. If your kids are still young enough for bedtime stories, what a great chance to cuddle and reconnect each evening. If your children are past being read to, you can still make it a nightly ritual to check in with them for a quiet talk about how the day went for each of you. This is an excellent way to teach kids that conversations are a two-way street. If you want to raise young adults who are empathetic, show your empathy. When you notice something affecting your child’s behavior you can ask, kindly, “You seem upset. What’s going on?” You can also ask this simple question, “What can I do to help?” That lets a child know you care. It also helps him or her think about what kind of help they need.
And let’s not forget meal time. Maybe you’ve heard this before but the research findings are so amazing they’re worth repeating: Kids whose families sit down and eat dinner together at least three times a week get all kinds of benefits. Have dinner together at least 3 times a week and your kids are more likely to do better in school, less likely to use alcohol or illegal drugs and to engage in other high risk behaviors. They’re even less likely to have friends who do drugs. That’s some powerful mojo.
Tip #3 Stop rushing around and start carving out end-of-the-day time to be together right where you are.
Happy New Year from our home to yours. May 2017 bring you and your family many of opportunities to celebrate life and to help others. World peace begins at home.
December 22, 2014
Just started blogging for Huffington Post. Long time goal on my bucket list… check! I haven’t been at it for long, so you haven’t missed much. If you’d like to catch up, here’s where you can subscribe to my RSS feed and/or read the three articles I’ve posted so far.
Since I’m starting this gig during the holiday season, I’m seasoning my posts with holiday spirit. Like this one, from today: This Holiday Season Have Compassion for Relatives Who Drive You Nuts.
It’s a little funny and a little serious. Bottom line, we’ve all got folks in our extended family who can push our buttons like all get-out. (Not sure where that expression comes from but I’ve always liked the sound of it.) Don’t know about you, but when I get my chain yanked I’m at least as unpleasant as the aforementioned button-pushers. No fun for me or anyone else. So in this post I give tips for turning irritation into compassion. Why? So you (and I) can spread a little love in Aunt Gertrude’s direction while teaching our kids that there are times when we all need to put on our ‘company manners’ and be pleasant to everyone.
Time to get together with the family…
Go ahead, read it and you just might have a happier holiday. I hope so!
May 7, 2011
That's my mom
My mom, Martha Scolnick Larris, has been gone for 17 years. I’d be lying if I said we had an easy relationship. It was often contentious and frustrating and hurtful. (As much for her, I’m sure, as it was for me.) But there was also a lot of good stuff.
Memories of Martha pop in throughout the year… her impressive vocabulary and quick wit, her instant rapport with every young child she encountered, her self-reliance and her sense of fairness. But it’s springtime when she comes to me most often. As I admire my neighborhood in bloom, pick aphids off my roses… I think of her. The fact that I have a garden which gives me so much pleasure is a direct result of being my mom’s daughter. Let me tell you, that woman knew her flowers and because of her, so do I.
Maybe it seems a small thing to know a freesia from a forsythia, a hydrangea from a hyacinth. And who really cares if those irises I got from my neighbor seem bluer this year than ever before? I care. I can’t help it. This special awareness of plants provides me… no compels me to pay attention and celebrate color, light, form and fragrance. If I saw them all as “just flowers” I’d be missing most of the show. Seeing at that level ain’t small potatoes, so thank you, Mom.
My mom grew irises and now so do I.
I’ve been thinking about parental legacies so I asked friends and family what “life lessons” they had learned from their mom. Here’s a sampling of what people said:
- Don’t take too long to shuffle the cards. It drives people crazy.
- Don’t be so dramatic.
- Don’t be like me.
- Don’t waste money, water or electricity.
- It can’t hurt to ask.
- Be kind to children.
- Always put your best foot forward whatever you do.
- Go for whatever you want in life.
- Creativity is a good thing.
- Do for each of your children what they need.
- When you go to dinner at someone’s house, bring some cake.
- When you get a gift, write a nice Thank You note. Do it now!
- Taste it, you might like it.
- Enjoy life today, you could be hit by a bus tomorrow.
- Honesty, loving kindness, selflessness, humility, femininity, grace.
- Aging is in the mind of the beholder.
- A women needs to be educated, to have a career and a profession. You never know what is going to happen to you, you always need to be able to support yourself and to stand on your own two feet.
- Live in and enjoy the moment. That became an internal positive tape – that I can do anything and that I’m beautiful.
- Due to my mom’s inability to handle her own life, I learned to do many adult things and my opinion was heavily relied upon even as a small child – of course, that greatly prepared me for taking on adult responsibilities and taking for granted that I could do those things.
- My mom taught me about unconditional love and acceptance. She was very tolerant/accepting and allowed me to experience things for myself without judgment. She also was accepting and helpful to many of my friends during my adolescence – something I tried hard to do as well for my kids and their friends!
- Mom had two distinct personalities, one usually light and happy, and one dark and unhappy, so I had to make adjustments in the way I thought about her. I began to see the light and dark sides in others, also, but with others, the line of separation was not as distinct. As I grew older, I learned how to fight the dark influences from others and enjoy the lighter sides that people offered.
- How to listen without projection or attachment and lovingly to others, especially those you love. Trust that they will find the right way for their unique path.
- At my mother’s funeral an actor who’d worked with her on stage in her later years (she started out on Broadway before she met my father) told of a local parade where the cast was asked to participate. This actor was resistant to doing it. My mother chided him “You’ve got to love it!” He said it shifted his attitude completely and that he’d learned much from working with her as a professional actress. This is a side of my mother I never knew. I now throw myself into projects with more abandon remembering her words.
My glasses aren’t so rose-tinted that I see all moms as a positive influence on their kids all the time. I know that people, including our own parents, come into our lives for a reason. Even in a less than wonderful childhood there are positive lessons we can take from our relationship with our mothers.
As you take a moment to look back, see what you can find, from all that you learned from Mom, that’s been helpful to you. Acknowledge that contribution in whatever way makes sense. Now think about the long and short-term choices you make in relation to your own children… that’s a legacy you’re handing to them. Hopeful it’s a life-affirming one.
February 7, 2011
Hey Cupid, I'm waiting...
One week ’til Valentine’s Day. Non-stop teen emails scream for my attention and romantic advice. Not sure how I became such an expert. I mean, honestly, if some fortune teller sidled up to me in 7th grade and whispered “Some day, Annie, you will be a relationship guru sought after by thousands for your expansive knowledge of love,” I’d have choked on my incredulity then looked around to see which of the Popular Girls was messing with me.
But that was then and now apparently people actually believe I know something about love and the rest of it. Here are some questions from recent seekers:
My best friend has a great boyfriend. I’m happy for her, but I’m also extremely jealous and I feel like I can’t find anyone. I’m definitely not ugly. I’m pretty, smart, funny, easygoing and friendly. But why is it that I can’t find a nice guy who is interested in me?!
Any guy I crush over does not feel the same about me. They always have a reason why I’m not “The One.” What can I do to get guys to like me???
And just so you don’t get the impression these are exclusively “girl” issue, check out these poignant queries from guys:
Whenever I see this girl that I’m really in love with I freeze up and don’t know what to say. I would do anything in my power for her. Can you please give me some tips on what to say to her? I would really appreciate it.
Freeze up Dude
I’m 15 and I really want to be with someone and share feelings and secrets and also we can support each other. The problem is that I’m not a popular guy and I’m rejected by many people at school (I used to get picked on and bullied for no reason). I’ve asked girls out a couple of times but they all rejected me.
Dear Still Single…
If one of these kids were your son or daughter of course you’d want to ease their suffering, but how? First with the recognition that we’ve all been there. Too shy to talk to a crush and frustrated by our own boundless ineptitude. Lonely. Desperate to be part of a couple. Crazy jealous of a friend who had a bf/gf. Then there was the inescapable fear that no one would fall in love with us… ever!
If Valentine’s Day is bringing your kid down, try to be empathetic. Take the lead and open a respectful conversation about it. This could be a great opportunity to show some compassion and understanding. That’s going to make your child feel better while it strengthens your bond. Please do not joke about, trivialize or invalidate their pain. Teen angst is real and it hurts.
So remember your kid this Monday. You’re not the love of his or her life, or a close substitute, but when they’re feeling unloved or unlovable (like Freeze Up Dude and the gang) it’s nice to know that Mom or Dad cares.
On a personal note: My father never forgot me on Valentine’s Day. His thoughtfulness was especially important during my “Everyone’s got a boyfriend but me” phase. I knew Dad loved me and that counted a lot. He died suddenly when I was 15 and I still smile at the memory of a tiny bottle of L’Air Du Temps he gave me on Valentine’s Day when I was 12.
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