Monthly Archives: March 2011

Love is a verb

Relationships between parents  have been on my mind a lot this week.  I’ve been asked by a mom’s group to come and talk about how to keep them fresh and strong with young children, careers, busy lives and other demands vying for time and attention.

I did some preliminary research by gathering some books, articles and checking sites on line.  The more I read, however, the more I realized basically it was the same information repeated over and over again.

Healthy vibrant relationships between parents require Appreciation, Respect, Acceptance, Humor, Trust, Support and Validation of one another, Shared Commitment to Parenting, Cooperation, Balance, Politeness, Self-care, Empathy, Listening, Loving each other and Keeping the “flame” burning.

Wow – quite a list.  I made up my mind to do some veritable observations of my own.

 Why not check  out my  marriage of 42 years (in May) with the same special guy, against this list.  We did very well. But  have we ever had some off-days?   Should we continue working harder on a few of those things?  Of course, yet our very strong commitment to love and family and our appreciation of each other always trumps.

I’ve had a young couple in my heart and mind this past week whose young 8-year-old daughter died.  At the Thanksgiving celebration service for “Princess” Mia as she was called, I greeted them and experienced the strength of their togetherness.  I can only imagine the struggle and pain they have gone through over the years Mia was sick.  Yet I heard from everyone I spoke with how their commitment to family, their ability to share their grief, their sense of joy, their frustrations, their playfulness and their hope and belief , while parenting two other children younger than Mia, kept them steady and provided  an empowering example for everyone who knew them.

On Saturday night, I got to see more couples in action at Family Resources Blue Ribbon Ball, celebrating Family Resources 20th anniversary.  I loved seeing participants there, who I know best in the role of dedicated parents, enhancing their relationship scores by “looking good” and  keeping the ‘flame” burning on an adult evening out sans children.

I like what Erma Bombeck says about choosing a marriage partner that is both witty and wise.  She compares it to buying a bathing suit.  Choose one that you feel comfortable wearing and where there’s room to grow.

Author Stephen Covey in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families shares a story of a husband coming to him and saying he no longer is in love with his wife.  They have three young children and he doesn’t know what to do.

Stephen Covey tells him to go home and love his wife.  The frustrated man repeats again and again that he doesn’t love his wife anymore.  Covey repeats as well, “go home and love your wife”. 

 He tells him “love is a verb. Love, the feeling, is a fruit of love the verb.  So love her. Sacrifice. Listen to her. empathize.  Appreciate.  Affirm her.”

My conclusions exactly –  even more obvious to me this past week in my own personal life, in the sorrow felt yet thanksgiving  shared for a young child’s life and her parents’ courage, in the beautiful young couples and strong parents that I witness, and in the celebration of Family Resources’ 20 years of supporting and validating families – love is most definitely a verb.

Pass it on.

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Hush, hush no more

I’m glad I went to the window yesterday to see what it was that Tootsie, our dog, was paying attention to – first barking and then wiggling and wagging her tail to beat the drum!

Our neighbor was being picked up for a day’s outing by her friend and her friend’s daughter.  The daughter was standing outside the car waving, smiling and clapping her hands in joy at Tootsie who was also beside herself with excitement.

This young woman has Down Syndrome.  I’ve met her briefly several times and have heard many charming and loving stories about her from my neighbor. 

Last week, while catching up on my mail and e-mails at work, I noticed that Monday, March 23rd is  World Down Syndrome Day. This annual observance fosters awareness and understanding of Down Syndrome while promoting support and recognition of the dignity, rights and well-being of those individuals with Down Syndrome.

I had made a mental note to remember this as I read this announcement in my mail.   When I saw Beth standing ouside my window, engaging with Tootsie – BINGO!  She was my reminder and I knew exactly how I could acknowledge this day by sharing it with all of you.

When I was growing up, there was a family who had a daughter with Down Syndrome, the same age as me.  She didn’t live at home but in an institution.  Her parents picked her up one Sunday afternoon a month and I would sometimes see her when they would take her out for ice cream.    I saw  her throughout the years because I would often be at the ice cream store that was owned by my dad.

Unfortunately, people were uneducated about Down Syndrome in that generation and therefore didn’t speak openly about it.  As a child, I was not given any real information about this young girl. In fact, the “polite” thing  was to keep the whole subject very “hush, hush”.

I have thought of her over the years, however, wondering, realizing and sorry for the huge loss this young girl and her family suffered by this misinformed treatment.

 World Down Syndrome Day takes place on 21 March every year.  This date is significant as it represents the 3 copies of chromosome 21 which is unique to people with Down Syndrome.

In the La Crosse area, there is an organization called Children of the Heart.  It is a group of family and friends of people with Down Syndrome.  As it says on their website, www.dscoth.org  these families are working together to make a difference for tomorrow. They offer activities and events as well as information and sharing.

We are fortunate to have such a passionate, caring, knowledgeable and supportive group locally.  Every Fall they hold the Step Up For Down Syndrome Walk (formerly the Buddy Walk), a mile-long -walk at Riverside Park.  It is a fun event to do with your family as well as a perfect way to champion and cherish every child in the world.

I encourage all to reach out, include and celebrate these families and most especially the children and adults with Down Syndrome.

I’m thrilled to say the subject is  “hush hush” no more!

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Lunch Date

The other day a home childcare provider, after calling Family Resources to see if our Children’s Room was available, showed up with four young children from 20 months to five years old and their yummy lunch in hand.

  I stopped in to say hi and was charmed by the five of them, the four children and their caregiver sitting together at the little table delighting in their lunch, their company and the coziness of sharing food and conversation together.

I recall speaking to a parent who was struggling with getting her two children, two- and four-years-old to ever sit down and eat a meal.  Mom said they would grab a piece of food and wander through the house eating, but refused to have a seat, even at the small table and chairs this mother had especially purchased hoping it would appeal to the children. 

 I remember asking this parent if she sat and ate with the children, to which she seemed surprised at the question and answered” no, never”.  She was too busy chasing them around, trying to get them to sit and eat.  I encouraged her to change this and begin to sit down and eat together.

  She did.  The children noticed.  First one sat down, then both.  They chatted and definitely enjoyed this new interaction.

While talking at a childcare center, it was the same question.  Lunch time at the table was problematic, constant conflicts and upsets among the children.  I again asked the question, “Is an adult sitting and eating lunch also with the children?”  They looked at me like I was crazy. ” No”, they told me, all staff was needed in “putting out the fires” at the table. 

Try it I encouraged.  Have at least one of the teachers sit with the children.  Not just sit, but sit and eat lunch with them.  See if it makes a difference. 

I spoke a few weeks later to one of the teachers.  They’d begun rotating adults “dining” with the children.  Conflicts were definitely down, the children were excited, asking early when they arrived in the morning “are you going to eat with us today?”

This charm of “breaking bread” together extends throughout all ages. “”Let’s do lunch” we’ve all said to our close friends.  And when the opportunity presents itself, we’ve felt engaged, connected and refueled.

As parents, we know that spending one-on-one time with our children is essential.  And as parents, we’ve often sighed and said, “when?”

Well, eating together is an example of an opportunity to grab, take advantage of and enjoy.  If we make use of these routine things in our children’s day, connecting through them versus just getting the job done, we will notice our days flowing more smoothly and behavior increasingly more cooperative.

Think through your day.  Helping a child get dressed, putting on shoes, brushing teeth, driving in the car, straightening up the house, shopping at the grocery store and yes, definitely, having meals are all ways to connect.

Intentionally connecting with your child during these ordinary moments, the moments you have to do anyway, may bring extraordinary results. By connecting, I mean, participating along with your children.  Being present with them in the moment.

Choose one of these moments to focus on.

 See if it makes a difference – a difference you can feel, you can touch, and you and your child can both look forward to.

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“emotionally hijacked”

Heather T. Forbes, author of Beyond Consequences, describes a child kicking and screaming in a rage as a child who has been “emotionally hijacked”.

I’m here to say that being “emotionally hijacked” is not limited to our children.  As parents, who has not experienced this intensity of feelings gone awry?

I spoke with a parent last week on the phone who called announcing that she was a total failure as a mother.  She proceeded to describe her “meltdown” with her three and a half-year-old son earlier that day, after they had enjoyed what she thought was a full morning at home together.

We talked about what led up to the incident, how things might have gone differently, how she could approach her child now that things were cooled down with an apology for her reaction and a brief sharing of how they might work differently together next time.

What I wanted most to have this mom hear from me, however, was in a relationship, with our children, our partners, our husbands, our wives, our best friends, our parents, we are going to experience occasional emotional hijacks.

It is with our most intense relationships, the ones we care about the very most and are so heavily invested, that emotions run highest. When these emotions tailspin, they are a symptom, something telling us that we need to examine the stress in our lives, look for the reasons and make some adjustments.

But always, always, without ever abusing the privilege, rely on the relationship itself and allow the power of this intimacy to absorb an occasional blip on the ‘seismograph”.

Author Stephen Covey talks about an emotional bank account we build in our relationships with our children and others that we love.  We are constantly making deposits into this account, growing it, maturing it, nurturing it with love and support.  These deposits add up and so an occasional withdrawal from this emotional bank account can still hold your account, your relationship strong, loving and trustworthy.

So let’s all focus more on our deposits, building them, strengthening them and accept our occasional withdrawals.

To loving and caring!  You can bank on it.

Keep in mind Family Resources’ Warm Line is there for anyone to call, anonymous if you wish, and talk to a parent educator about any question or concern you may have in your parenting journey.  And as this mom did, share your feelings and receive the support and direction you may be seeking.

Warm lines are available 8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. on Friday.  Also, feel free to send an e-mail to fswift@centurytel.net with a question if these times do not work for you.

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