Tag: children

Sharing memories, creating connection

Recently, grandson Reece asked if he could interview Cindy for a school project. He had chosen the subject of travel and began with this question: “Why did you decide to travel the world?” Ten questions later, Reece knew more than anyone else about his grandmother’s passion for seeing different places.
A couple of years before, granddaughter Haley interviewed Cindy about her early years—grade school through high school. It was fascinating to watch Cindy reflect back and find moments and stories she had not thought about or spoken about for a long time. It was also nice to watch Haley and Reece be leading the conversations thoughtfully and intentionally—so easy to forget what kids are capable of doing.
Look for opportunities to share
Kids don’t often ask about the past; it’s usually only as adults that we become curious about our parents and their childhoods.
Recently, I ran across some photographs of my father in India and Burma during WWII. It reminded me that there is a lot about my parents that I don’t know, such as how he got there and what that trip was like. And now it’s too late to ask.
I would love to be able ask my parents about what they did for fun, their first car, when they saw their first movie, their friends—even the tough times. It would be wonderful to go through all of the old black-and-white photos and ask for the stories behind each one.
Often a child’s interest in the past begins with a school project like Reece’s. Other times, however, something in the news, or perhaps their own interests or problems, will prompt a question.
Be ready for these questions. When one appears, stop, reflect on it thoughtfully, and then respond authentically from a viewpoint of sharing rather than teaching or influencing their thinking.
This is not a time for short answers!
I’m reminded of an e-mail that my daughter, Amy, sent me long ago. It was brief and to the point: “Dad, you need to share more.”
Ever since I received that note from Amy, I intentionally listen for opportunities to say more. For instance, one of the grandkids asked me about my new shotgun for pheasant hunting. So I told him about my relationship with my father, about my love of the outdoors, about our concern with having guns around the house. We probably talked for twenty minutes. That conversation reminded me that some conversations need us to focus on listening and others call for a focus on sharing.
Start a journal or collection of stories for later
We all have our own memories and stories that are prompted by familiar events of everyday life. Cindy and I were driving through a small town In Kansas, and as we passed a park, I was reminded of watching movies as a child on a big wooden board in the little city park where my grandparents lived. And that moment created a wonderful hour-long conversation about the small towns in each of our pasts.
Now that baseball season is upon us, I am reminded of Saturday afternoons of watching baseball on TV with my grandfather. The announcers were Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese, and Grandpa Pete had all kinds of superstitions. Never strike out the first batter because you’ll lose the game was one he truly believed in. He would go crazy if the Cardinal’s pitcher struck out the first batter. I’m sure the grandkids will love to hear about my grandfather.
The stories are there. The question is, Are you in touch with all the memories and stories from your past? If you are, you’ll find moments when they are wonderful additions to the conversations with family and friends.
Perhaps the most important reason of all for sharing our stories: Relationships are enhanced by having wonderful conversations about things that matter. People love stories, and when we share ours, we add depth to our relationships and broaden our points of connection.

Interview with Rachel Macy Stafford, Hands Free Mama: Part 1

I’m honored that Rachel Macy Stafford, author of the blog and book titled Hands Free Mama as well as the soon-to-be released Hands Free Life: 9 Habits for Overcoming Distraction, Living Better, and Loving More, found some time to speak with us about her books.
I love Rachel’s writing—partly because she is a gifted storyteller using everyday life to make salient points. Partly because Rachel’s thinking about raising children parallels mine—that noticing and paying attention and conversation all make a difference. And partly because Rachel is writing about what we all know but rarely act upon—that a chaotic, distracted, technology-filled life isn’t going to be fulfilling.
Changing this is as simple as having one or both of Rachel’s books on your night stand and taking a few minutes each evening to remind yourself of what matters and how to go about making it matter.
Rachel’s first bestseller, Hands Free Mama, asked a wonderfully simple question: “What do you want your children to remember you having in your hands.” So I thought we’d start with her first book.
Paul: Rachel, I’m sure you have hundreds of stories about the impact of your first book on parents and children. What three or four ideas could parents embrace and experience wonderful results?
Rachel: Here are four ideas I advocate in the first book:
1. Give an undistracted goodbye. The day I realized my family’s loving goodbyes were getting lost in the morning rush was painful, but I knew I had the power to bring them back. My daughter made a sign for the door that said: “XOXO Before You Go.” Those ten seconds have become the most important minutes of our day, even as my children age. Before you part ways today, hold your loved ones for at least ten seconds. Hug them tightly. Inhale their scents. Tell them you love them no matter what happened in the frustrating or hurried minutes before that goodbye.
2. Greet them with a “Sun Delay.” When you greet someone with happiness, excitement, interest, and love, the message you are sending is: You are loved. A few years ago, I decided that showing my family I was happy to see them was very important to me. I made a vow to let go of my distractions long enough to cause a “Sun Delay,” which means: No matter what I am in the middle of doing … no matter how inconvenient it is to look up … no matter how ‘busy’ I think I am, when my loved ones walk into the room or return after a separation, the world is going to stop for a moment so I can shine love into their eyes and hearts. Today, let your loved ones see AND feel how much you love them when you are united.
3. Establish a sacred daily ritual. Cherishing every moment in life is simply not possible. There are jobs to do, bills to pay, deadlines to meet, and obligations to fulfill. But there are moments in between life’s obligations when we are in the presence of our loved ones that can be made sacred. Meals at the kitchen table, caring for pets, walks around the block, morning snuggles, afterschool chats, and nightly tuck ins are daily rituals that all hold the potential to be all there—no distractions, no interruptions, just love. In those sacred minutes, relationships can be strengthened, lifelong memories can be made, and peace can come to your frenzied soul.
4. Go public. To increase accountability, announce to family members or a trusted friend your aspiration to live a less-distracted life. A public declaration might sound like this:
I am making an effort to refrain from using the phone while I am driving. I may need your gentle reminders. Would you help me?
I am making an effort to put away my devices from six o’clock to nine o’clock each night. Would you like to do this together?
I am making an effort to use a peaceful response in times of stress and overwhelm. Can you put your hand on your heart when I am hurting you with my words or tone as a reminder of my promise?
Paul: A recent study concluded that a critical part of raising successful children was giving them the ability to converse. How can parents do this?
Rachel: Within just a few weeks of starting my Hands Free journey, I was able to identify several red flag behaviors that prevented me from meaningfully loving, living, and listening. When I found myself doing these particular actions, I said to myself, “Whoa. This is not a behavior I want to see my child imitate. This is not how I want to be remembered when I’m gone.” Part of the vow was this line:
Today I want you to remember my listening face—not my fake listening face, the one that nods robotically and looks right through you. Today I want to love you by listening, really listening.
Out of all the behaviors listed in the vow, the most important one to me is The Listening Face. My dad gave me the gift of The Listening Face throughout my childhood and tumultuous teen years. Looking back now, I am quite certain it saved my life. The fact that my dad valued what I had to say—no matter how unimportant or trivial—gave me the confidence to speak up even in the most intimidating and dangerous situations. It gave me the ability to speak up for my beliefs, my dreams, and for those who could not speak up for themselves. My dad’s listening face gave me a voice.
Here are five practical ways parents can encourage children to converse and demonstrate that their words hold value:
1. Make conditions right: Push aside distractions. Stop doing anything else. Be still. Look into their eyes.
2. Preface the moment with, “I’ve been looking forward to this time together.”
3. Decide there is nothing more important than hearing their words. Decide listening is the most important thing you could be doing right now.
4. If home is too distracting, step outside … walk the dog … grab a quiet table at the coffee shop … go to the library … wash the car. Find quiet spaces where distraction cannot sabotage your moment.
5. Ask a follow-up question about something he or she said in an earlier conversation. This will build trust—trust that you listen, remember, and value what he or she says.

Paul: What is it that you would like every mother and father to be aware of when interacting with their children?  And perhaps the answer is different for fathers and mothers.
Rachel: I would like every parent to be aware of the power of the three-second pause. In the midst of a challenging moment with a loved one, I find it helpful to do a three-second preview of what might result from a hostile reaction. Although I may feel like yelling, controlling the situation, or sighing in exasperation, I have done it enough times to know the result of that choice will not be positive. I will hurt someone. I will not bring reconciliation to the issue. I will create fear. I will experience regret that could last for minutes, days, and even years. I will shut down future communications with my child so that she learns to confide in someone who is less reactive and judgmental. Or worse, she will not tell anyone when she’s in trouble and try to go it alone.
Taking a three-second pause enables us to choose love over anger, hurry, condemnation, shame, or sarcasm. And when love speaks, we are all better heard. And when love looks, we are all better seen.

Paul: What are your best ideas for breaking free of technology?
Rachel: I once wrote, “When you live life distracted, you’re missing more than life.” So celebrate the fact you’ve decided you don’t want to miss the moments in life that matter, and then use these strategies to curb tech use and engage in real-life moments:
1. At least one day of the weekend, give yourself a break and relish the downtime with your family. If your pull to work and ties to technology is too strong to resist at home, go places where there is no electronic distraction and leave the devices at home—the library, a hike, a picnic, museums, farmer’s markets. Not only will you will end up making memories and meaningful connections, you will also find you are rejuvenated and more productive when you return to your work duties.
2. During the workweek, get outside. There is just something about being outside that causes me to abandon my technology and just enjoy nature. Even if it is only for fifteen minutes, go outside and watch your children investigate their surroundings. My children are the best “Hands Free” role models I know. Being outside creates mindfulness that we are part of something much larger than ourselves and our day-to-day problems. Being outside is like a slap in the face to cherish the moments that matter.
3. Refrain from using your phone when driving your children or family members. Use this time to talk to them or play their favorite music and sing together. Ask open-ended questions. Talk about what you are grateful for. Point out picturesque views along the drive. Let your minds wander. It’s okay to not be “doing something” every minute of the day. The car is a good place to think and simply be.
4. When you are with your children/family in “waiting” situations like the doctor’s office, restaurants, events, or activities, resist the urge to look at your phone. This wait time is ideal connection time. If necessary, bring paper, crayons, books, or anything they might enjoy doing with you while you wait. You might be the only person in the waiting room not looking at your phone, and your children will love you for it.
5. Create at least one daily ritual where time with your loved one is sacred, meaning void of distraction. Whether that be tucking them in bed at night, having dinner together, or enjoying morning snuggles, do it every day so that no matter how the rest of the day goes, your child (or significant other) can always count on that one period of connection.

Rachel Macy Stafford is the founder of www.handsfreemama.com where she provides simple ways to let go of daily distraction and grasp what matters most in life. She is the New York Times bestselling author of Hands Free Mama. Her highly anticipated book, Hands Free Life, releases on September 8! It is a book about living life, not managing, stressing, screaming, or barely getting through life. Through truthful story-telling and life-giving Habit Builders, Rachel shows us how to respond to our loved ones and ourselves with more love, more presence, and more grace. Those who pre-order Hands Free Mama from now until September 7 will receive the FREE e-book of Hands Free Mama. Click here to learn more about the book and pre-order bonus.

Tattoos, association, and interpreting the world

Recently, my friend Brad shared this story with me about his four-year-old son, Eric, which occurred as they were driving:
Eric: Daddy, what is that?
Brad: That is a prison. Do you know what a prison is?
Eric: No. What is it?
Brad: Well, a prison is where they put bad people. Do you know what a bad person is?
Eric: Yes, people with tattoos.
This is a good illustration of how young children (and you and me) make sense of a complex world. Our minds make associations so that we can figure out how the world works.
“We have the tendency to make assumptions about everything.
The problem with assumptions is that we believe they are the truth.”
—Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements
The beautiful thing about young children is that they share their thoughts so easily. And when they do, we can help them revise or refine their thinking about how the world works.
Here’s how rest of the conversation went between Brad and his son:
Brad: So, what makes you think that bad people have tattoos?
Eric:  Pirates are bad people, and they all have tattoos!
Brad: That makes sense. Are there any good pirates?
Eric: Yes, but I like the bad ones. They’re scary!
Brad: How about other people—do you know any good people who have tattoos?
Eric: Yes. Auntie Alice has a butterfly tattoo.
If you listen, you’ll begin to hear limiting thoughts your children have about the world. Then when you hear them, you can begin to explore these interpretations—where they came from, what they mean to your kids, and how you can help them make different, expanded interpretations.
The association between tattoos and bad people would most likely have sorted itself out over time because there are lots of wonderful people with tattoos. But there are other associations your children make about life and themselves that might not sort out well unless you explore them with your children.
   I’m not smart.
   Boys are stronger than girls.
   Big boys don’t cry.
   Reading isn’t fun.
   I’m not good at….
So listen, then look for ways to explore—not correct—the interpretation or association you hear.
“The mind associates things and has them be equivalent when they are not. Associating hides differences and therefore power. It limits us to a past-based world rather than a future exploration…. No real thinking occurs when you are associating.”     —Robert Sheckley, Mindswap

Keeping kids connected to college-bound siblings

Dear Paul: My mother has asked me to call my younger sister regularly from college. Emily isn’t very talkative, so I’m wondering if you have any advice about how to make this work. Thanks, Stephan
Dear Stephan,
It’s wonderful that you are open to this request from your mother. Many older brothers simply forget how much their younger siblings look up to them.
Given that relationships are, in essence, a series of conversations, it is important to be thoughtful about the best way to construct some of those conversations.
It’s also important to set up definite times to talk—and do everything you can not to miss a call.
Consider the following structure for your conversations with Emily:

The first week, you should share first for about 10 minutes. That is, imagine you are responding to this question from your sister: “Stephan, what did you do this week?” Tell her about what you accomplished, the fun you had, the things that didn’t go well, things you learned, things you found yourself worrying about. Just keep reflecting on your week and finding new things to share. Over time, you’ll find that you will want to keep notes about what happens throughout the week so you can remember them in your call.
Then ask your sister to tell you about her week. When she finishes one thought, just wait. If you feel compelled to say something, try “What else?” When appropriate, make short declarations to let her know you are following the conversation. Try: “Cool,” “OK,” “Got it,” “Good…” But mostly just listen and wait. One watch out—don’t jump in with advice about what she should do unless she specifically asks for it. When people are sharing, the value is in the sharing. This is not about problem solving or looking for help. This is just talking with your sister.
At the end of the conversation, thank her for talking with you and tell her a couple of things you got out of or liked about the conversation. Perhaps, “I appreciated that you told me about….” or “I never thought about that before—that’s cool.” This lets her know that you valued the conversation and what she said. Very important.

Then the next week you can ask her to go first. Sometimes, going first gets the conversation started and helps the other person know how to respond.
Since Emily loves to listen, she will likely be slower to begin to speak. By taking the lead for a while, you help her get an understanding of what kinds of things she might talk about. With her, you are going to have to be more direct, such as “Emily, it’s your turn. I want to hear about your week, too.” Then learn to tolerate the pauses in the conversation. In life, you’ve got to learn to be willing to wait longer than the other person.
Again, let her know at the end of each conversation that you appreciate talking with her. And send her a text the next day thanking her again!
Good luck, and thank your for your question.

As a parent, how easy are you to talk to?

When Amy was small, she frequently lied to me, which was upsetting and left me bewildered. Then, after spending a weekend with our family, a friend commented as she was leaving, “Paul, I think Amy is scared of you.” Wow. That thought had never crossed my mind, but upon reflection, I could understand it.
So, I did a number of things:

I told Amy she would never get in trouble if she told me the truth. 
I stopped reprimanding her when I was upset and waited until my tone of voice could be supportive.
I found ways to spend three to four more hours a week with her just being together.

Interestingly, the lying disappeared. Amy was simply reacting to a Dad who was scary at times. Stop being scary, the lying disappears.
Linguistics scholar Deborah Tannen says that you are either creating relationship or controlling someone with how you are in a conversation. Now, I agree that this is a simplistic, either/or, way of looking at conversations. Yet sometimes the simple ideas are the most profound.
Here are some other quick ways of assessing your conversations:

you are either easy to speak with or in some way threatening. 
you are either creating possibility or eliminating possibility. 
you are either providing room for your children to push back on your conversation or leaving no room or safety for them to do so. 
you are either indicating to your kids that you are interested in their views or you are not.
your kids either look forward to speaking with you or they don’t.

Think back on this week’s conversations with your kids. What were you creating with what you said? How did your words or tone affect how your child might respond?
Remember—you matter to your kids, and therefore what you say has an impact on them. If you remember this, you’ll be more aware of what you say and how you say it.
One last thought: Maybe it’s all reaction—and if we change how we approach our kids, they will react to us in a different way. 
Thanks for reading. I hope these periodic blogs are keeping the ideas in the book alive for you. 

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