Archive for December, 2012

Learning to Live One Day at a Time

Monday, December 31st, 2012

“The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time.”                                                                -Abraham Lincoln

Each January, when the next year unfolds, we are bombarded with articles on goal-setting and New Year’s resolutions. Many of these otherwise helpful articles fail to mention just how difficult it can be to change- especially when tackling old time worn habits. Often we need to be hit in the side of the head with a two by four (metaphorically speaking) before we get up the courage or willingness to address our problems.

As Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled, says so eloquently,”The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling uncomfortable, unhappy or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.” If your goal is to create a happy family or have more fulfilling relationships, don’t wait for a crisis. Instead, start with small steps, and make tiny changes one day at a time.

If you want to laugh and think and be inspired about how uncomfortable change can be, watch or re-watch the movie Groundhog Day, made in 1993 with Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. The movie is about Phil Connors, a weatherman who is the proverbial “glass is half empty” kind of guy. Phil is self-absorbed, sarcastic, and unhappy. In an odd magical turn of fate, he keeps repeating the same frustrating day, which just so happens to be Groundhog Day, over and over and over again, trapped in a time loop.

Like all the rest of us with our own repetitive tapes of self-defeating behaviors, Phil is doomed to remain stuck if he keeps doing the same thing. On the other hand, if he changes, people will respond to him differently, and new opportunities and realities will slowly but surely begin to emerge. Watch the movie with your …

Teach Children the Gift of Giving

Monday, December 24th, 2012

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”    -Winston Churchill

“Set your heart on doing good. Do it over and over again, and you will be filled with joy.”      -Gautama Buddha

This is the time, beginning with Thanksgiving and lasting through the arrival of the new year, that most people think not only about themselves but also about how to help others less fortunate. Given the difficult parts of the holiday season–extra things to do, children out of school wanting to be entertained, increased financial burdens, bigger crowds, more traffic, and what often feels like exponentially increased pressure from all directions–the attention turned to serving others can be one of the best parts of the season.

From the time our children were toddlers, we went together as a family to sing at convalescent hospitals for the elderly. We always went on Christmas day because the people left that day were often all alone, without loved ones visiting. Some were silent and looked like they were dead, while others cried and clung to us when we approached their beds. Some spoke gibberish, and many didn’t smell very good.                              

Our children were at times very afraid and hid behind us or begged not to go, and at other ages were more curious, comfortable, and open-hearted. They learned first by watching, singing from a distance as we held people’s hands, stroked their hair, and wiped their tears. Every year our family shared the miracle of watching perfect strangers, fellow human beings, come alive and smile or weep at the touch of a hand, the sight of a child, or the ring of a familiar song.

No matter what the age of your children, there are many wonderful books that can inspire you and your family to find ways to give back in your community. One of the gentle souls who taught children (and adults) about many positive values such …

10 Tips for Reducing Holiday Stress

Monday, December 17th, 2012

“Gift suggestions: To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. To yourself, respect.”  -Oren ArnoldBelieve it or not, the holidays rank right up there on the stress scales with asking the boss for a raise, moving, or starting at a new school or job. If the timing coincides with other current stressors such as financial troubles, relationship problems, family illness or the loss of a loved one, the holidays can put someone over the edge. That someone might be you or someone close to you.

Whether celebrating at home or on the road, most of us need to learn how to manage our stress better and how to be together more gracefully. Here are some practical suggestions to help bring out the best in everyone:

1. Remember the big picture. A holiday can be a great opportunity to create fun and lasting memories. Consider making learning, loving and living in the moment your highest priority. Try not to sweat the small stuff or get bogged down in all the details.

2. Have appropriate expectations. Thinking the holidays will be “perfect” with the whole family together can be a set-up for disappointment. People get sick, Aunt Tillie might be late again, and the kids’ excitement can sometimes morph into meltdowns. The holiday will most likely include both ups and downs.

3. Set realistic goals and rethink your obligations. Think ahead of time about what are the most treasured rituals of the holiday. Family meetings are an ideal way to make group decisions about plans and help everyone feel respected for their preferences. Since it adds to the family’s stress to be super busy, decide on the top priorities together and prune the rest.                      

4. Don’t over-indulge the children. Help your children learn the value of giving instead of just getting. Insist on mutual gift giving, and create a family service activity that helps others in need and reminds …

Give the Gift of Laughter This Year

Monday, December 10th, 2012

“Humor is mankind’s greatest blessing.”     -Mark Twain

Every year, at this time of year, tensions mount. The arrival of the gift-giving holidays like Christmas and Hanukkah (“What should I get my mother-in-law?”) accompanied by impending vacations from school (“What will we do with the kids all cooped up in the bad weather?”) collide with the week-long visits of friends and relatives (“Will my divorced parents fight in front of the kids? What will we do with everyone? How can we feed a group with two vegetarians, a die-hard carnivore, and six fussy kids?”). These questions and others like them threaten to put most of us over the proverbial edge.

What can you do to prevent the slippery slope of irritability and overwhelm? How do healthy families manage? Although the complete answer to these questions could fill an entire book, the swiftest solution is to find the humor wherever possible. As William James, the father of modern psychology, so aptly said over a hundred years ago: “We don’t laugh because we’re happy, we are happy because we laugh.”

What Kids Can Teach Grown-ups     

Did you know that the average kindergartner laughs 300 times a day–in vivid contrast to adults who average only 17 laughs a day? They also indulge in generous amounts of spontaneous play. Now that is something to stop and think about. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to start counting my giggles and see if I can get back into the hundreds. Clearly, most of us grown-ups are taking life far too seriously for our own good. The more stresses that build up, the more essential that we find something, anything, to laugh about.

Laughter Cures What Ails Us

Not only will our laughter make the holidays go more merrily, but we will be less likely to catch the latest virus. Although we have known instinctively for millennia that laughter, like crying, can be a powerful antidote to pain and suffering, the scientific world is catching up. According to the American Association for Therapeutic Humor, laughter may …

Parents, Tend Your Own Garden: Practicing Self-Care

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

“The best gift you can give your kids is to tend your own garden–cultivating strength, humor, and kindness.”   -from How’s Your Family Really Doing?

It’s tough to be a good parent. Actually, let’s be honest. Sometimes it’s tough just to show up, let alone be good at it. Personally, I think it is one of the hardest jobs in the world. What other job demands you be available 24/7, offers no paid vacation or sick time, and routinely disturbs your sleep? And once you’ve accepted the job, so to speak, it’s yours for the rest of your life, like it or not.

On the other hand, raising two sons to adulthood with my husband (and fellow team leader), has been one of the most fulfilling, growthful, intense, fun (I could add dozens more adjectives) and precious journeys that I have ever undertaken. Both my husband and I have had to learn a lot of things along the way–some by trial and error, some by educating ourselves on child development and effective parenting strategies, some by pure luck.

One of the most important lessons we have had to learn–and continue to teach the many parents who have been coming to our counseling clinic for the past thirty years–is how important it is to take care of yourself in order to be able to take care of others. We use the metaphor of a garden because even the most beautiful garden, if left unattended, will eventually wither and die.                                             

Just as plants need water, healthy soil and regular weeding, so do budding humans need care and attention in order to thrive. Perhaps this seems obvious (as truth often does), but most parents get so caught up in taking care of the kids, the house, the job and all the other responsibilities of daily life that they simply forget themselves or run out of time.

How's Your Family Really Doing?
Don MacMannis, Ph.D. & Debra Machester MacMannis, MSW are the author of How's Your Family Really Doing?.

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