As you read this, you are either a parent anticipating the first day back to school, or you at least remember the butterflies that start the night before. For our family, this is the first year that both of our boys do not have to set an alarm, organize school supplies, or anticipate that first day of class. As I contemplate this milestone for our family, it made me stop to think about some of my closest friends and how we each find ourselves at various stages with our children and families.
I’m excited for my niece Olivia and dear friend’s daughter, Tenley who are anxiously awaiting their first day of kindergarten tomorrow. My sister-in-law and friend have been busy attending meet-the-teacher night, filling new backpacks with school supplies, and choosing the best outfit for that exciting first day.
My other friends find themselves at the other end of the academic journey with their daughters. One with a daughter ready to start her senior year of high school, wrapping up her school experience, and another friend who will be helping her daughter transition to college away from home. On a personal note, I am making a concerted effort to enjoy every moment with Logan at home before he ships off to boot camp in a few months. This is probably why I find myself so sentimental contemplating our individual experiences as parents.
My hope for your family as another school year begins is that you will take the time to pause and enjoy the moments and milestones. Whether you are a first-timer with a Kindergartener or beginning the process of helping your precious one leave the nest, these are the moments that life is made of. Don’t let the long hours, crazy schedules, sleep deprivation, and mile-long to-do lists keep you from enjoying each stage. There will be tears, arguments, disappointments, and discouragements, but at the end of the day, it’s about the solid foundation we provide for our family and the relationships we are strengthening every day.
Tonight, as you’re preparing for what will be an exciting, exhausting, and possibly challenging week, make a commitment to yourself and your family to gather around the dinner table as often as possible and listen to each other talk about your day. Maximize every opportunity to connect with those you love the most!
After many years of working with teens and their parents, and more importantly as the mother of two boys, these are some of the most important realizations I have come to and feel strongly that parents should know.
In a time when more children than ever are being diagnosed with mental health issues at alarming rates, it is critical that as parents we are involved in our child’s life in a healthy way that provides stability, structure, and balance.
A warning as you read the following thoughts: Some of these may be hard to hear because they may hit close to home. However, on a positive note, you can choose to parent differently tomorrow than you did today.
“Just because I’m quiet, doesn’t mean that something is wrong. Sometimes I just don’t have anything to say. I’m not mad; I’m not depressed, I just happen to be quiet.”
“When I do have something to say, please treat me with kindness and really listen to what I have to say. I’m old enough to sense that you are disinterested or disappointed; this hurts my feelings and makes me not want to talk to you, and sometimes I just shut down.”
“Even though I’m not little anymore, I still need your time, your attention, and to hear “I love you”.”
“Please respect me as a person with my own opinions and points of view, even if they are different than yours. Please take the time to ask my opinion and then listen with an open mind.”
“Sometimes, I need to hear that you’re proud of me; not just what I’m doing wrong.”
“When you yell, I don’t hear you.”
“I still need hugs.”
“Your major life decisions DO affect me (such as a separation/divorce, a move, or changing schools).”
“I am affected by negative energy and attitudes in my home.”
“I do crave rules, routines, and structure, even if I argue about it sometimes.”
“Spending time together at the end of the day is important to me. Eating dinner and talking about my day in a positive way helps me know that you care and gives me stability.”
“I do need opportunities to make some mistakes. These mistakes help me to learn life lessons that I can’t learn any other way.”
“Please don’t make your conflicts, unhappiness, or poor decisions my problem. I’m not yet equipped to handle your adult problems, nor is it my job.”
“I want to be your son or daughter, not your best friend or therapist.”
“Please don’t complain to me about my Mom or Dad.”
“I learn more from your actions than I do from what you tell me.”
“Please don’t make your dreams my dreams; I have my own and I need you to be interested in them and support them.”
Some of these statements may feel a bit like a punch to the stomach and may hit a little too close to home. The good news is that tomorrow is a new day and a new opportunity to be a better parent than you were today. Seize that opportunity and look for openings to compliment your child, build them up, engage in a conversation that is focused on them.
Parenting our teens is full of challenges that make us question our skills as a parent, cause stress and tears, and frequently push us to our limits; it’s so critical to keep in mind just how important these years are as we are preparing our young people to become happy, healthy, contributing members of society. Love them, teach them, nurture them, and forgive them when they make mistakes. This is not conditional based on their good behavior. It is our responsibility as the adult in the relationship to provide these non-negotiables. They deserve nothing less from us.
“Capture the still frames in your mind…” ~ Green Day
Let’s face it, we are busy. Regardless of our age, stage in life, gender, or economic status, most of us would admit that our days are packed full of responsibilities, deadlines, meetings, and errands, all dictated by at least one (or sometimes multiple) to-do lists to be checked-off, completed, and rewritten, all to be repeated the next day. We seem to be on the proverbial hamster wheel, unable to slow down, let alone, stop. This is the confession of someone who finally took a chance, jumped off the hamster wheel, and lived to tell about it.
I am writing this in hopes of reaching those of you who find yourselves attached to lists, calendars, and self-created deadlines. I completely understand this type of organized life because it’s where I have spent most of my 40+ years. I will admit that I am still a list-maker and use my calendar to keep myself organized; the difference is that I have learned the fine art of balance when it comes to using these tools to my advantage, rather than to my downfall.
Our lists and calendars should work for us as organizational tools that help to keep us focused, organized, and on-track with completing projects and arriving on-time to meetings and obligations. However, there are many of us who instead, use these “tools” as a means of self-sabotage. In my experience, there are two categories of “organizational sabotage”.
For many of us, the list-making and calendar-keeping is the easy part, but we get stuck in our tracks when it comes to the follow-through. We have the purest of intentions and try to set ourselves up for success by keeping multiple calendars, making lists-upon-lists, buying stock in Post-its, and setting alarms in our phones; all to find ourselves frustrated and discouraged by uncompleted tasks, extended deadlines, and a true sense of self-defeat. If this form of self-sabotage doesn’t sound familiar, maybe the second one will resonate with you.
I happen to fall into the second category and consider myself to be a newly reformed “over-extender”. Like the first example of self-sabotage, I admittedly have several lists going and confess that I have multiple calendars that I manage. My husband and I spent many years battling over my nightly calendar writing. I truthfully would not end my day until I had crossed off the tasks of the day and added new tasks to the next day. (On a side note, this presented an issue because of my inflexibility, in that, I insisted on making this part of my nightly routine). The main problem came from my pattern of perfectionism that caused me to beat myself up whenever tasks were not completed and checked off my list. I wonder if you can relate to cramming your daily to-do list so full that it is literally impossible to be successful in completing it. The self-defeating conversations that I had with myself at 2:00 a.m. when I would wake up thinking about getting a jump start on my day, just to try and accomplish more than I had the day before, was a daily reality. I viewed the weekend not as a time to relax and reconnect with my family, but a chance for more time to “get things done”. I felt like I was running a race that I could never win because there was no finish line in sight. I never gave myself permission to “schedule” time to slow down and just enjoy my life.
If you find yourself in either of these categories, please know that you are not alone, and in fact, many others are dealing with the same stress related to balancing their life. We are multi-layered, multi-faceted individuals who need to balance our home, family, work, health, and enjoyment and most of us struggle to find this healthy balance.
I am happy to say that although I consider my work-life balance a constant work in progress, I am a reformed “over-extender”. I have found a peaceful place in which I have learned the importance of making time for the pleasures in my life, and taking the time to take snapshots of memories as they occur. Although I still make lists, the major change that I’ve made is that I no longer see it as a failure when I don’t tackle every project or complete every task. Instead of making lists every night, I now make time to workout, eat dinner, talk with my family about our day, and play with my pugs.
I encourage you to reflect on what brings you happiness and whether you still find time for these moments. It may be time with loved ones, attention to your health (exercise and healthy eating), hobbies you’ve let slide, renovating your home, or traveling. If these moments in your life have become elusive and hard to recall, I encourage you to take some advice from Green Day; take time to “capture the still frames in your mind”, and “have the time of your life”!
Oftentimes when we live with someone on a daily basis, we fall into routines that ultimately become a trap. This includes routines in our communication with our significant other. In the busyness of our daily lives, it can become easy to forget the niceties that we were so generous with early on in our relationship. We fall into the trap of feeling comfortable enough with our partner that we may not see the value or importance in saying what is on our mind in a nice way.
Think about the way you speak to your partner versus a new client, a new friend, or a co-worker. Measure your tone of voice; think about your choice of words or lack of compliments. If you take the time to talk as nicely to your loved one as the other people you encounter during your day, you may be surprised at how it can enhance your overall relationship!
Take Extra time to…
- Ask how your partner’s day went (without talking about your day first).
- Touch your partner; a physical connection such as a hug, back rub, kiss, or gentle touch can be reassuring, comforting, and encouraging; it can be a small gesture that goes a long way to connecting!
- Pay your partner a compliment. Oftentimes a compliment from you can mean so much more than from anyone else.
- Say “Thank you”, “I love you”, “I value our time together”, or “You did a great job” if you’re thinking it. Don’t just think it, say it so that your partner hears it and in turn is validated by your compliment!
- Do something thoughtful; bring his favorite ice cream home; give her the night off even though you’ve been at work all day; let her have the remote for the evening; encourage him to spend the evening out with his friends. Encourage him to go golfing after a long week at work.
Choose your words carefully
- Are the words you are using to communicate your feelings building up or tearing down the recipient? Negative, blaming language does nothing constructive to enhance a relationship and can in fact, chip away at the foundation in an insidious, gradual way.
- If a “filter” is a foreign concept to you, immediately work on developing one! The brief moment that it takes to “think” before you speak can salvage a conversation, avoid hurt feelings, and in the grander scheme, strengthen a meaningful relationship.
- Pause before initiating that difficult conversation with the other person. Think about how you would like to be approached if the situation was reversed. How would you receive your comments if they were being directed at you? If the answer is not well, this is the time to reflect on a more positive approach!
Be an Attentive, Affectionate Listener
- In a calm, reflective moment (not in the heat of an argument or an emotionally-charged state), take a few minutes to evaluate your own listening skills. Often-times we are so busy focusing on the fact that our partner isn’t effectively listening to us, we don’t look within to evaluate our own listening habits.
- Are you listening to the other person with positive intentions? In other words, are you really focused on better understanding his or her point of view and feelings? If not, work on listening with a positive rather than a selfish
- Listen with love. Even though emotions may be running high in the heat of an argument, keep in mind that ultimately this is a loved one, a person who you truly love and care about; hence the reason for the strong emotions! Your purpose should be to better understand the other person and to connect with them on a deeper level. Many times these difficult conversations become about “being right” rather than “righting” the conflict for a closer relationship.
Look for Opportunities to Spend Quality-time Together
- In the chaotic nature of our lives, it becomes all too easy to overlook the importance of planning and spending quality time with those closest (and most important) to us. One of the most important keys to relationship success is deliberately planning meaningful activities to do together.
- The activities do NOT need to be expensive or cost anything at all
- Make the “small” moments count. This could mean coffee together on the patio before heading in your separate directions for the day; at our house, it’s Date-night Pizza Night every Friday. In a pinch, it may mean a thoughtful text in the middle of the day to let your partner know you’re thinking of him or her. Make the most of the time you DO have together.
- Quality time takes planning! Many of us keep not one, but multiple calendars. It should be a priority and a reality that you and your partner are syncing your schedules to carve out “together” time. Not every “date” has to be expensive or formal. It can be planning a hike on a Saturday morning; a quick coffee break between appointments and errands, or even a designated movie night on the couch in your pj’s.
- Reflect back on how easy it was to “find the time” to spend together when your relationship was new and exciting. Try to go back to that place and get excited about dating your partner again!
It’s NOT a competition; it’s a partnership!
- Try to keep in mind that you and your significant other are in this thing called life, together. Again, it’s a partnership; an agreement entered into by two willing parties. You are on the same team; support each other in all areas of your life!
- Keep in mind that individually we all have strengths and weaknesses. This is what makes us unique and initially, probably attracted us to the other person. In our role as a supportive friend and partner, we should be celebrating each other’s strengths and extending help and support in our partner’s weaker areas.
- Keep the basic idea of a team or partnership in mind at all times. That sense of support, camaraderie, encouragement and motivation go so much further than negativity, pessimism, criticism, or apathy.
- Avoid the idea of assigning a “winner” and “loser” in disagreements. A “win” is a successful resolution to a conflict or problem; a “loss” can be categorized as avoiding confrontation; stuffing down feelings, or making purposefully hurtful comments to drive home your point or to get the final word.
Ebbs and Flows / Peaks and Valleys / Highs and Lows
- It is common knowledge that relationships go through phases and growing pains. Try not to be too hard on yourself or your partner when you experience the ebbs in your relationship.
- Conversely, make sure to celebrate and acknowledge growth when it happens. Take credit for the patience, sacrifice, and maturity it took for the growth to occur and use this as important knowledge as you move forward into the next stage of your relationship.
If you find that one or more of these points resonates with you or your partner; or, if you realize that your relationship is in need of a “tune up”, coaching is an effective means to reenergize and strengthen your relationship.
Tyrrell Coaching and Consulting offers individualized coaching packages to meet the specific needs of your relationship. Relationships can be challenging; therefore, the coaching process allows for an individualized approach that will be tailored to your specific goals. You’re only one decision away from having the relationship and life you truly desire…