Spoiled Children: A Parent’s Biggest Fear

A father and toddler handsThe worst thing I could’ve imagined was having someone think I ever coddled or spoiled my children. Okay, perhaps this is slightly exaggerated as the “worst” thing, but recently it did happen and I reacted with more emotion than expected.Continue reading “Spoiled Children: A Parent’s Biggest Fear”

The Greatest Gift of All

Heart cup with coffee in snowI heard her first. Annoyed by the crying, I looked over. The little girl appeared to be about five years old with long, jet black hair pulled back with a bow. Her mom held her closely in the seat of the cart while her cries steadily grew louder.Continue reading “The Greatest Gift of All”

Learning to Do the Hard Things

Alex and me standing side by side in PhillyWe are a family who values independence. My daughter jokes about how she and her brother were expected to pack their own lunches in fourth grade. It’s true, though. While I made sure the shelves were filled with things they could easily make, they were responsible for their own lunches.Continue reading “Learning to Do the Hard Things”

How to Master the Art of Listening

Father and son sitting by the water. As parents, we often feel the pressure to have all the answers. While imparting wisdom can be important, it is worthless if we’re not heard. If we are to parent well, we must improve our ability to listen.

Empathic listening is the one practice upon which all parenting successes and failures rest.

Stephen R. Covey explains empathic listening in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  Empathic listeners “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival—to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated, to be appreciated.” ~ Stephen R. Covey

As parents, sometimes we have the illusion that we have control over our children. The truth is, at best, we have some influence, yet still very little control.

Influence is earned with building trust. We build trust by working on things we have control over like our attitude, responses, and habits.

It is impossible to build and maintain trust without empathic listening. Trust me.

When you listen with empathy to another person, you give that person psychological air. And after that vital need is met, you can then focus on influencing or problem solving.” ~ Stephen R. Covey

When I first heard about empathic listening, I thought it was more like active listening. You know, the skills we’ve heard are so important like eye contact, nodding to show interest, and leaning in. While these skills are important, they only scratch the surface of what it means to listen empathically.

When another person speaks, we’re usually ‘listening’ at one of four levels. We may be ignoring another person, not really listening at all. We may practice pretending. “Yeah. Uh-huh. Right.” We may practice selective listening, hearing only certain parts of the conversation. We often do this when we’re listening to the constant chatter of a preschool child. Or we may even practice attentive listening, paying attention and focusing energy on the words that are being said.”

For me, when I focus only on the words, I’m listening with the intent to reply, which is both controlling and manipulative. While I never intend to control or manipulate, it is what I am showing.

So, what is empathic listening?

Empathic listening is about…

1) Listening until the other person feels understood.
2) Listening for feeling and meaning.
3) Staying present and allowing space.
4) Remaining curious and not pre-determining other’s feelings.

Mostly, empathic listening is a gift. While it can be uncomfortable and challenging, it is the most important thing a parent can do to build trust and show unconditional love to a child.

How Much Screen Time is Too Much?

Hands using an iPad in front of laptop As the debate continues over how much screen time kids should be exposed to, many parents in Silicon Valley have taken an extreme position. Not only have they forbade their children any screen time, but they also restrict their children’s nannies.Continue reading “How Much Screen Time is Too Much?”

3 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Became a Parent

I have a theory about the popularity of the hit show This is Us. For me, it is a television show that dives deep into the complexities of parenting. Even with the best of intentions, and a whole lotta love, Jack and Rebecca still got a few things wrong. Yes, even the perfect dad, Jack, made mistakes.

There are things in life you only learn through living. Sometimes, a little reading, mentors, and, now, the internet can help. However, lessons in life can’t always be taught.

There are three things I wish I knew before I became a parent.

1) Parenting well is challenging.
Anyone can become a parent, but being a great parent is challenging even under the best of circumstances.

Alfie Kohn says it best here:

Even before I had children, I knew that being a parent was going to be challenging as well as rewarding. But I didn’t really know. I didn’t know how exhausted it was possible to become, or how clueless it was possible to feel, or how, each time I reached the end of my rope, I would somehow have to find more rope. I didn’t understand that sometimes when your kids scream so loudly that the neighbors are ready to call the Department of Child Services, it’s because you’ve served the wrong shape of pasta for dinner. I didn’t realize that those deep-breathing exercises mothers are taught in natural-childbirth class don’t really start to pay off until long after the child is out. I couldn’t have predicted how relieved I’d be to learn that other people’s children struggle with the same issues, and act in some of the same ways, that mine do.” ~ Alfie Kohn

2) Show healthy vulnerability.

Often parents want to protect their children from the pain of struggle. The problem with parents keeping all of their challenges private is that children blame themselves every time their parents seem upset or angry.

In a child’s world, everything is their fault. Of course, what is shared with our children must be developmentally appropriate because children should never bear the burden of adult problems. But, there are many everyday challenges that can be shared in a way that downplays perfectionism and models healthy vulnerability. Think of it as an “it’s okay to not be okay” mindset.

3) Stay present.

These days we really excel at doing three or four things at once. We pack lunch-boxes while having breakfast and put on our mascara while checking email. We can also buy a birthday gift online while the TV is on and while we are sending a text message and while we are helping with homework.” ~ Irene Smit and Astrid van Der Hulst, A Book That Takes its Time

I once prided myself on being able to juggle lots of things at one time. Now, I realize the gift of presence and the value of complete and undistracted focus.

I’m learning that getting everything done means nothing if my friends and family feel they’re less important than those things.

Even if I were not a parent, I would like to think that practicing vulnerability and presence are valuable skills. Let’s work on them together, shall we?

3 Things Every Parent Should Remember About Being Good Enough

Two children blowing out candles on a birthday cake.

As you can tell by the picture, I wasn’t very good at planning my children’s birthday parties. I’m more the kind of mom that remembers birthdays just a week or so ahead. That is why I forgot the candles for my son’s sixth birthday as you can see in the picture.Continue reading “3 Things Every Parent Should Remember About Being Good Enough”

Making Memories of Us

Every Halloween I make chili in the crockpot. After school and work, we would have dinner before we went trick-or-treating.

One October after my son had left for college, I mentioned the possibility of not making chili on Halloween. Upon hearing that, my daughter (tearfully) insisted I keep the tradition. It was then I realized the importance of traditions.Continue reading “Making Memories of Us”

Encourage the Heart

“You are my sunshine,
My only sunshine.
You make me happy
When skies are gray.
You’ll never know dear
How much I love you.
Please don’t take
My sunshine away.”

This song was a staple in our home. I must have sung it a million (okay, maybe a thousand) times when my kids were growing up. They were young. I suppose my intent was to remind them how much I adored them.Continue reading “Encourage the Heart”