Tuesday, October 28, 2008

8 important words for parents

Once again, I stole this material, this time I think it's from Parenting with Love and Logic, by Foster Cline and Jim Fay. An excellent book, worth reading several times. An aside: these guys are Christians and their parenting philosophy is Christian, but they forgot to mention that in their book and just set forth the principles and guess what? Their material is used in the public schools and teachers are trained in this philosophy! In our Godless public schools which by the way both my kids attended and maintained their faith and got an education, but that's another blog.
1) "Good luck"
By the time your child is 3 or 4 years of age, if you've been using this phrase and philosophy from the first birthday, he/she will know that they are getting ready to mess up, or maybe mess up, or take a harder way than necessary, or be uncomfortable. It is a method of 'detachment' as a parent that as an observer of your child you are commenting on something he or she is getting ready to do. As long as the consequence or cost of the poor choice they are making is not illegal, immoral, or life threatening, 'good luck' is a very effective couple of words. You can start anytime, but the earlier the better.
2) "I'm sorry"
You (or at least I) have to watch the tendency toward sarcasm when using this powerful phrase. When your child is hungry, cold, hot, when he has failed a test or been allowed to forget to turn in a project and gets a '0', these words come in very handy. The mental mother in your head is standing there shaking her finger saying "if you had just done what I said, this wouldn't have happened". But don't succumb to her influence. It is far more effective to empathize sincerely and allow the child to come up with the "if I had listened to...". By the time the choices have illegal, immoral, or life threatening consequences, your 'good luck' should bring to mind many 'I'm sorry's' and perhaps a better decision.
3) "Nice try"
Instead of crushing your child's spirit when he throws a fit or makes an argument you can give him credit for the effort and keep the part of him that was passionate about and willing to sacrifice time and effort to get what he wanted. Jesus has a couple of parables with a 'nice try' in them: the parable of the wicked (or shrewd) servant where the guy is getting fired and he knows it and he makes deals with businessmen who owe his boss money so maybe he can get a job when he gets his pink slip. the other is the persistent widow who just pretty much bugs a judge who finally makes a ruling in her favor to get her to quit pestering him. In these cases, the effort is rewarded, and in the case of the widow, the  'nice try' even works. This can be accomplished with your kids in several ways. I've always thought that parents should have a set of flash cards with numbers on them, like 7.5, 9.0, 9,5, etc., to give kids a visual 'score' for their 'effort', whether it's a tantrum or just an argument. Just the acknowledgment that you noticed and appreciated their effort will go far toward changing behavior while maintaining 'spirit' and 'spunk'. I'm not recommending tolerating bad behavior, but I see and hear parents squelch their child's 'fire' when a 'nice try' would have been appropriate. Such a tactic can be hard in the day to day activity of dealing with kids, but it is worth the effort.
4) "Regardless"
This, along with #5, is a "stopper". Use this when you've exhausted all the other tricks, when a 'good luck' won't work. When you have to say 'no'. After you've said 'no', and the argument/tantrum is going, you could give them a 'nice try' but still you have to stay 'no'. That's when 'regardless' comes in handy. "Regardless of the fact that all your friends' parents have bought them cell phones, we are not buying you one."
5) "Nevertheless"
Another "stopper", this word takes into account all the arguments, acknowledges the effort put into changing your mind, and comes close to agreeing that your position is hard to explain or defend. It is maybe a longer and wittier version of "because I said so"."Nevertheless, you are in the 2nd grade and you may not get a tattoo." 

Most parenting scenarios can be handled using these words or variations on this theme. Practice them when your kids are young, and when they are a little older, they will give up and beg you not to say 'nevertheless'!

Monday, October 27, 2008

rolling billboards

I truly cannot stand seeing those bumper stickers that say "my child is an honor student at...". Who cares but you? And the grandparents? What if the kid now is pressured to stay in honor society because you've put their achievement on a rolling billboard. But those aren't the worst things I see that really irk me. It's the baseball or soccer ball or batter or football player or gymnast or name your sport and its image. Now picture the kid's name under or beside that image. Besides the fact that I'm philosophically opposed to kids in team sports before middle school, these window dressings are a gross form of pride. As if the parent has no identity other than the chauffeur of their little Jack and Jill to and from practice and games all the time. "Look at me, my kids are on the *&^%^&'s and I get to drive them back and forth and probably yell at the coach and the ref or ump and make a general nuisance of myself while wondering why I have no life". Are these window stickers fundraising materials? I hope so. I truly hope they don't decorate/desecrate their $50,000 Escalade just to be able to find theirs in the parking lot along with all the other high dollar SUV's, even, God forbid, Porsche SUV's! Maybe the kid should have a sticker on his bat or bat bag or maybe his soccer ball that has a picture of the Escalade, or maybe the Cadillac symbol, and his dad's name under it! How about on their book bag or school desk "my parents apparently love me more because I'm in the honor society". 
I really don't think most parents' love is conditional, I really don't, but man, it sure seems that way. "Son, you need to join a team with a cool logo because I've still got a little space in the back window of the Hummer". "I have no life, I didn't achieve much, but I'm going to make sure you do, and to help you along, I'm going to give as much attention to your achievements in first grade as I will to you graduating from high school or college or making it into law school or med school or whatever. I've set the bar so high right up front that there is no way to distinguish the big achievements from the little ones." It's like I've blogged about birthday parties - don't make their first few birthdays such big affairs that you're going to have to go to Disneyworld to celebrate #5 because you blew it so big early on. Save yourself. Chill. 
Acknowledge privately your happiness that Susie is on the honor roll or that Bobby plays on a baseball team that is successful. The bumper sticker just adds a cheesy note to the whole accomplishment or activity and is embarrassing. Maybe grandmothers should be exempt from my recommended ban on child-praising bumper stickers and window decals. Kids are way too self-focused today as it is without their parents confirming their lofty opinions of themselves so blatantly and without tact. Put the sticker on the refrigerator with the finger painting and other 'gifted' artwork and accomplishments. Then don't drive your refrigerator around town. You will like your kids a lot more if you don't put them on pedestals at all, but definitely not at young ages and for achievements of dubious merit or significance. I think I'll take a poll of kids and ask them how they feel about all these 'isn't my kid great'  displays. My bet: they agree with me!

i'm in a hurry

I get this reality reinforced regularly, but I think it bears mentioning. maybe it will be a gas saver or even a life saver, certainly a stress saver. There is an Alabama song called "I'm in a hurry (and don't know why)" and it came out a number of years ago. True then, it remains true today. 
I was on my way to the hospital this morning and an elderly man pulled out in front of me on a stretch of road where the speed limit is 55 and the usual speed at this area is 10 or miles per hour higher than that. He was going maybe 35 and showing no sign of increasing that turtle pace, despite the fact that the light was at least 1/2 mile away. I passed him, on the right, because he also was a left lane loser, and continued on to the light. Guess who pulled up right behind me at the red light? You guessed it. Tortoise and the hare, and despite my jackrabbity move he plodded right up to where I was waiting and we made the turns together and entered the hospital parking almost simultaneously. 
This is not even close to the first time such a thing has happened. It happens on I-35 when I pass somebody doing less than the speed limit, zip merrily on my way only to find them exiting and/or getting to the destination at the same time I do. It is not worth it to stress over who's slow and who's fast. We all get to our destinations at nearly the same time, more safely, less stressed, and maybe the 'slow' guy even gets a little lift when he sees me stuck at the light with him after I had blown his doors off with my Volvo precision racing machine (well, it is a Volvo). 
I find the same thing happening with patients in the office. The more hurried I get the more 'by the way' questions I get, and against all ethical and patient satisfaction advice, my hand is gripping the door handle throughout most of these encounters. That's a big no-no. And it always backfires. If I can go in each room with the idea that I'm there for that patient at that time and take care of their needs and answer their questions readily and ask at the end of the visit "did we cover everything you wanted to have checked?", I'm happier, they're happier, and it took no longer, and arguably less time, than it would have had I been rushed.
So, take a deep breath, go the speed limit, pay attention to the people passing you and seeming to be in a hurry, then look for them at the next stop light and smile, maybe give a thumbs up sign. Especially if you have a fish on the back of your car. God's not a fan of bad advertising. 

Saturday, October 18, 2008

an answer to reverend mom

there is a place in heaven for people like reverend mom. her comment on 'my real healthcare plan' brings up an excellent question. children or adults with multiple medical problems pose the biggest problems for and biggest burdens on the current system. obviously not everyone is healthy. disclaimer: i am not a politician or an expert in healthcare policy or funding.
to be candid, i have mixed feelings about this particular case, but it brings to light issues that need to be addressed. i admire all the reverend moms out there, people who are willing to adopt children who have multiple medical problems are truly being 'religious' as defined in the book of james in the bible - caring for widows and orphans. under the plan i laid out, her daughter would cost her quite a bit of money in flexible spending account funds and it is possible her major medical policy would have a higher cost as well. certainly there needs to be some way to make such adoptions more financially feasible for those families willing to take on the responsibility. i don't know who should provide the funds to help. it seems to me that it is not the state or federal government. perhaps the christian community could facilitate such sacrifices of time and love. i may be wrong, but it seems that it's usually christians who do such things. i hope i'm right. maybe some of that money that goes to 'art' or all the money used to advertise tobacco while telling people they need to quit smoking, that would be a start. some of the private funding for the campaigns of politicians could be redirected and more than pay for it, given there is a commercial starting or ending with 'i am ............ and i approve this message' competing with the 'mattress brothers'. 
people with multiple medical problems need health care. if such a person is a child with no family, it takes a special person to even become involved in their life, much less adopt them. it shouldn't bear a penalty, but it will come at a cost. but here are my 'mixed feelings'. the person who is willing to adopt this child needs to know what they have to look forward to in the way of health care costs. yes, it may be a deterrent to said adoption. a family needs to know up front the financial costs involved and make the decision to adopt with eyes wide open. 
so, having a system where the costs of care are known as i have mentioned would allow there to be a forecast of future expectations of the financial aspects of such an adoption.
as for those families whose children or parents or brothers or sisters have these problems, but who are not up for adoption, or even for those people who have these problems themselves, there should be a way that they can live without their health consuming all of their assets. i'm talking about things that people have no control over - to provide aid for those with all the 21st century ills representative of our lifestyle would break any bank.
i still don't think the government is responsible for these problems. the government shouldn't penalize people for doing the right thing, but subsidizing them? i don't think so. there should be ways to not tax the money used for healthcare that's legit. much like where insurance pays for your gallbladder surgery but not your boob job, pre-tax dollars could be used for the former but not the latter.
so...rambling, i don't have an answer for people who, by doing the right thing, have added burdens to themselves that are not 'fair'. i really think many would do the same thing regardless of who pays for it. they would find a way. it may be the government involvement in health care that has caused the problems we have currently. without their 'help', the 'church' as a whole would have been responsible and it would have had to step up and show that the 'true religion' is their true goal. regardless of how these things turn out, He knows what He's doing, we don't have to worry. we have to work, we have to be active and we have to pray, but we don't have to worry. i suspect that many of our health problems would be gone, and others more easily managed, if we stopped worrying. but that's another blog.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

mirrors 2

ok. this may be a little deep and maybe i'm going down a rabbit trail or rabbit hole or whatever, but i thought of another angle on mirrors. here goes.
as parents, our children are mirrors. they do reflect what we do more than what we say, that is true. and it has been said that most of our beliefs are in place by the time we are 8 years old. 8 years old.  our 'programs', if you will, are up and running, including our world view, the way we treat other people, and many things of which i'm not certain, but i'm pretty sure there's more. that should make us pretty nervous if our kids are under 8 and very observant if they're older. we should take care of what our children see and hear. we should teach them the values we want them to have. they are like clay that hasn't hardened, cement we can put our handprints in, a blank slate we get to write on. we too often delegate this to others. i'm not talking about schools, because most of the time before 8 is gone before kindergarten starts, so even though some can make homeschooling work, not everyone can, and public school won't ruin your children any more than homeschooling or christian school will fix them. you are the most important teacher your child has, even if he spends a good portion of his day at school. your influence will reach through that of the teacher and the principal and the friends. your attitude toward others, how you treat them, what you say about them when they are there and when they are not, how your actions look when people are watching line up with those when you're alone, all these things will show up in 'the mirror'. your mirror. 
do you know those microphones that seem to have a delay between what is said and when you hear it? or those keyboards that have you typing for several characters before you can view what you've written? multiply that delay by a lot. what you do today with your kids may not show up for a long time. a very long time. the bible says 'train up a child in the way he should go and when he grows old he will not depart from it.' i had trouble with that verse in proverbs for a long time. i know plenty of people who are good people whose kids have turned out not so good. and i know the opposite occurs as well. but someone clarified it for me - it doesn't necessarily mean that they won't depart from it but it also means it won't depart from them. hence the discussion about programs that are running.  and mirrors. mirrors with delay. so thinking about our kids as mirrors should sober us and make us consider our actions. but there is a danger in this mirror philosophy. some people, many i would say, see these mirrors as something different. 
when we treat our kids like mirrors that are reflecting back on us, we make a mistake. we can't let this occur. by doing this we don't let our kids fail because we don't want to be seen as failures as parents. mistakes, poor choices, are good teachers if we allow them to occur and go to their logical end. when they are toddlers, we should let them be hungry when they don't want to eat what we've prepared for them. but she's so thin! if i take away her bottle she won't eat anything! the lady at walmart says she thinks my child has malnutrition! maybe even a vitamin deficiency! 
it gets worse when they go to school. teachers and school counselors are either witting or unwitting (is witting a word?) participants in this phenomenon. 'he's gifted, you need to get him into a special program after school' ' she's not performing up to her potential' ' he's our best player' 'she's not turning in her homework' ' he doesn't seem to care about his grades'. you name it, you may have heard one or more of these. the undertone of such comments is 'you're not a good parent' or 'you can succeed  through your child'. both are bad. moms seem to be more susceptible to the former, dads the latter. so you do their homework, put them in the special program, let them join the traveling soccer team, whatever. but so you look good in the mirror, you will do it. it often shows up as mom saying things like 'we have a lot of trouble in school' or 'we're not eating very well' or 'we're so busy going from practice to practice'. when moms say 'we', i cringe. in this setting, this means she is taking over for the child, and the child will be damaged by it. what is that mirror (the delayed one) going to look like when she grows up? when he goes to college? gets a job? never having been allowed to fail or quit the gifted/ap class or take time off or not perform at full steam all the time, he will have unreasonable expectations of himself, not knowing that he never did it alone when he was younger. she may be distressed, depressed, stressed. he may keep it up and pass it on to his kids, like the mirror that he is. his programs are telling him that to rescue his children is the right thing to do and that he would be a bad father if he lets them fail so he goes against what his education/religion/faith/psychology class/pediatrician tells him to do, and goes ahead and does what his mother/father did, almost without thinking. so the cycle continues ad infinitum. i see it daily on both sides, the 'bad mom' side at least as often as the 'dad living through his child's success' side. of course the 'bad mom' victims come to me for help for their 'poor eaters' and 'underachievers', while the stress fractures and misuse/overuse injuries of the latter group are their ticket into my office. it's amazing what one can see when one looks for it.  you just have to look in the mirror. 

Saturday, October 4, 2008


the only thing worse than having televisions (and loud music bothers me, too, but that may be my age) in restaurants is having mirrors. big mirrors, along the walls, where one can't help but look. it may be tempting to some to watch a sporting event while eating if the tv is within easy view. it truly is a temptation, no doubt, and for me, at least, it doesn't matter what's on, just that something is on. and i don't even watch that much in the way of tv sports at home on my own tv!
ok, though, mirrors are worse. it's nearly impossible not to look at oneself in a mirror that's within view. am i looking good? bad? do i have something in my teeth? is my fly unzipped? is somebody watching me watch myself in the mirror? it's a big problem. humans are drawn to mirrors like flies to ...
my favorite preacher on the radio, alistair begg, recently said "the value of the mirror is not narcissism so that we can congratulate ourselves, the value of the mirror is in order for us to see our predicament and do what we can to fix it." well, in a restaurant, beyond fixing a hair that's out of place or an unzipped zipper, we're faced with either narcissism or seeing our predicament. it always looks to others like narcissism, trust me. but to me, unless i happen to be in some place where i can compare myself favorably to the others in the mirror, i'm faced with a predicament, and that predicament isn't going to be helped by eating in that restaurant. i'm overweight, slouching toward obese. i'd like to be thinner. maybe they should put skinny mirrors in restaurants as they allegedly do in clothing store dressing rooms. then narcissism could at least have a turn. as it is, the mirror that i can't help but look at is showing me this guy looking back who's not the guy i picture in my mind's eye. and i hate the mirror for that. for showing the truth. 
my wife recently gave a great statement - "our bodies are older than our minds are willing to admit". ouch. what happened to "you're as young as you feel?" 
in the bible in 2 corinthians 10:12, paul says "we do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise." so really a mirror is just a way to compare ourselves with ourselves of the past or some other "themselves" who are svelte and fit and look great. we are not to do that. sure, we are to see our predicament and look for a way out of it, whether it be physical or spiritual.
but the real fault is not with the mirror or the restaurant, they are just players. the fault is that i, like many of us, spend too much time, whether in front of a mirror or not, looking at myself. not in aristotle's "an unexamined life is not worth living" way, but in a "what about me?" "why me?" "what am i going to do?" "what do they think of me?" "what can i do to make them like me/love me/keep coming to me/keep working for me/keep paying me/keep being my friend?" way. those things are not for me to consider regularly. sure, a brief check in the mirror is fine, but to get lost in it considering the person in it is wrong. we are called to consider others more than ourselves. humility is not thinking less of oneself, it is not thinking of oneself. what a goal! in 2kings there's a king named hezekiah and he shows off his "stuff" - all the treasures of judah and the temple - to some people, in a "look at me and what i've got" way. God wasn't happy with that and so isaiah (i think it was him) told him that he would be punished and that the punishment was that his children and his children's children, yada yada, would never be kings and would suffer all kinds of stuff and the country was going down after he was gone. his response? "but nothing's going to happen to ME?" we are hezekiah, or at least i am. more concerned about us and now and what i've got or don't have than about my ancestors and neighbors and those around me every day at work or school or wherever and what my actions and words do to them or for them beyond what they get me and to heck with the budget deficit and the environment and social security and medicare and world hunger and the war in wherever and my church and my pastor and the lady who's ministering to inner city kids and my friends who are in pain from divorce or their kids and the effects on them and ... i can't go on. i feel like the teenage girl in boulder, colorado, from early in my practice when "mall bangs" were all the rage and cans of hair spray were used daily and 'green' boulder began to broadcast the depleted ozone message and the effects of aerosol cans and global warming and all that when it was new and news and her response was "to heck with the ozone, i've got to have my bangs!" ouch.