Tuesday, July 26, 2011

To be a good parent

I am a parent of five children. I am a therapist that has given people instruction on parenting both in therapy and in parenting classes. I would like to think that I was at least an OK parent, but you’d have to ask my kids. I know very few of the things I did well as a father but I could tell you every thing I did badly, largely because I wish I could do them over again in a more attentive and gentler way.

I have seen people yank at their kids. I have seen kids ignored. I have seen symphonies of tantrums followed by admonishment from an angry, tired, and frustrated parent. I have seen these parents, I have had these kids, and I know how both of them feel.

And with regard to parenting, I have learned two things over the years that all the strategies and seminars tend to bypass. In being an effective, loving parent there are really only two things that matter, the rest of which is window dressing in the form of theory and behavioral modification.

The two things are this: To be a good parent, you need to believe in your child and absolutely need to believe in yourself.

This isn’t such an easy thing. If you’re a parent with any kind of conscience at all, you worry about your child all the time. From the day they're born, you worry if they’ll talk, walk, run, and do all the things the other kids do. You worry if they’ll have friends, do well in school, and be happy with themselves. The best thing you can do for your child is believe in their ability to excel. Expect it from them, and reinforce this expectation with encouragement, kindness, consistency and love.

Secondly, believe in yourself. Believe that you can manage the basic tenets of being a good person. Believe that you can stay calm in the midst of difficulty, that you can keep your temper when everyone around you is losing theirs, and that no matter how often your child loses control you remind yourself that you just need to keep focused on their feelings, being the strength through which they can express themselves and grow. You are the example for how they should behave. Believe that you can be the person you want to be, and you’ll be the parent you want to be: Kind, patient, attentive and engaged. These four qualities are the basic foundation of any great parent and, for that matter, any great person.

One last thing. Good parents will let their children flourish. The day will come when they will begin to have lives of their own. That’s how it is supposed to be. But in their growth, give them the following quote. It’s from Winnie the Pooh. Let them take these words with them always and you will always hold them close to your heart.

“If ever there is tomorrow when we're not together.. there is something you must always remember. you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. but the most important thing is, even if we're apart.. I'll always be with you.”

Saturday, July 2, 2011

What do you choose to make yourself happy?

Recently, a friend of mine told me that she really needed to get out of town and spend a few nights at a five start hotel to unwind. She planned on renting a car, taking a long trip to see the sights, eating fabulous meals, drinking very expensive wine, and just relax.

I asked her how much she much she thought she’d be spending on this trip and she told me about three thousand dollars, which roughly comes out to about $750 a day. But she qualified this by adding that she had been working hard and she deserved to treat herself a little. She says that she tries to do this about once every three months as part of her “self maintenance program.”

Now, two things immediately stood out about her trip. The first is that she said that she “really needed” this trip. The second was that she deserved it. The cost made my head spin, but it was how she defined her needs and her deserving nature that really puzzled me.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve listened to people tell me of their needs or what they felt they are entitled to. I have mediated over more than a few divorces that bring out the worst in people when it comes to their rights about money, property and the like. It is an adversarial process and I understand, in that context, why folks get so caught up in themselves.

But to feel you deserve to spend that much money on yourself in such short period of time for such a distinct degree of self indulgence seems, actually, a little counterproductive. I would submit that when she comes back from her trip, she is going to feel just as stressed and overwhelmed as she was before she left in a matter of days. She will be trying to find more relief shortly, and probably once again discover that her ways to relax just don’t work.

The field of Positive Psychology did a study that wanted to find out what made people happy. They had two groups: One that did what they would normally do in order to find happiness, whether it was going on vacation or seeing a ballgame or something, and the other group was to give of their time and service to somebody in need to make that person feel happy. Guess what the results showed? The second group, the ones that were told to give of themselves to another person, responded as being more fulfilled, content, and happy than the first group in every single test.

I suggested to my friend that if she really wanted to feel better, there was a homeless women’s shelter on her way to the airport. She would also pass schools, hospitals, day care centers and nursing homes, all in need of help, all in need of a little support, a little time, and a little love. And the money in her purse wouldn’t hurt, either. I’m certain that it would add a great deal of joy to whomever she decided to share it with.

I don’t know what my friend ultimately did. But I know what I would choose if I truly wanted to further my own sense of happiness and contentment. And I hope each and every one of you would choose the same thing…