A Family Constitution

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Sienna came running out the backdoor with a paper in her hand: “Mommy, you need to read this and sign it!”  I had been sitting in the backyard watching the sunset and initially thought it was her daily binder reminder that required my signature.  Instead, she handed me a contract she’d just drafted for our family.

The “Family Constitution” included the following rules:

No hitting. No pushing. No snatching. No saying someone is mean. No name calling. No rudeness. Always share. Be kind. Say please and thank you.

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Dennis had already signed the constitution, and I later teased him that he must be Hamilton, which is appropriate as the head of our family.

“Sienna, this is great!  I’m happy to sign.”  I told her.  “Did you do a class constitution in school today?”

“Yep!” she replied as she went to collect Mateo’s “signature” and add her own, before posting it on the refrigerator.

This morning, she added our return address stamp to make it “official” and declared that she was the President of the family.  Teo proudly announced that Sienna had installed him as the police officer.  I thought it was a brilliant move to give him responsibility for policing these rules as he’s one of the biggest offenders.  Specifically of calling his mommy “mean” when she doesn’t let him do what he wants to do!

“Who decides on the punishment?”  Teo asked.

“Well, you’re the police so you’ll arrest someone and then they’ll go in front of the judge,” I replied.

“Who’s the judge?”

“I am!” Sienna declared.

“You’re the President and the judge?  Sounds like a concentration of power to me!”

When we returned home from work and school this evening, Teo and I had a conversation about these family rules.  He was feeling tired and overwhelmed and wanted to toss out the constitution because it was too challenging.

“Teo, you don’t have to keep these rules perfectly.  No one expects you to do that,” I calmly explained.

“But, I do!” he responded.

I went on to explain that these family rules are in the spirit of God’s law for us.  We can never keep God’s perfect law.  We’re sinners and will always fall short of God’s standard of perfection.  Jesus lived without sin and paid the price for our sins with his death and resurrection.  We’re washed in his righteousness through Baptism.  Therefore, we’re forgiven each time we fall short.  Similarly, in our family, we’ll break these rules, say we’re sorry, ask for forgiveness, and be forgiven.

Wow, that’s reassuring news whether you’re a kid, parent, President, police officer, or judge.

Struggling with Control… Again.

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The little story of letting go that I recently shared was just the tip of the iceberg.  Turns out, I had a lot more letting go to do.

Several weeks ago, I had the sudden realization that I was an “Upholder” based on my tendency to meet all internal and external expectations.  Okay, that’s true and fine.  Then, I decided – “Why not embrace my Upholder Tendency and focus on establishing more concrete habits?  I can monitor them and stop spending so much mental energy deciding what to do.  I’ll decide once and then not think about it!”

Two new apps were downloaded – one for logging my blood sugars, meals, etc. and another to track my habits.  For the past few weeks, I’ve been monitoring my activities, eating fewer and fewer carbohydrates, and generally zeroing in on the habits I wanted to cultivate.  At first, I felt really awesome!  Look at my self-discipline!

But, all along there’s been this slightly nagging feeling that these behaviors were starting to trigger a desire for control.  But, I brushed it away.  Through prayer and surrendering, I’ve come to see that this episode is very much like the time I threw my planner away.  Less dramatically, I just deleted the habits app from my phone this morning.

There is a part of me that LOVES structure, discipline, and self-control.  However, that’s the part of me that, when nurtured, pulls away from the present moment, resides in my head, seeks to control myself and those around me, and generally feels that my little world is subject to my command.  I find myself feeling frustrated and short tempered when my children don’t behave the way they “should”.  I don’t feel my emotions deeply because I’m busy thinking about what “should” happen next, what I “should” be doing.

butterflyTracking and monitoring daily habits reinforces the idea that each day can be mastered by my choices and actions.  This directly contradicts the sense of curiosity that being present and accepting the moment fosters.  Rather than freedom, focusing on these habits started to make me feel agitated and distant from what really matters.

For me, the opposite of being in “control” is a state of surrendering, accepting, and trusting God.  He’s in control and will put in front of me what I “should” be doing at any given moment.  When I consider the fact that I don’t know what the day ahead holds, instead of feeling fear, I feel hopeful and excited.  My prayer becomes: “Lord, show me how I can love your people today.”  And then I stop focusing on my thoughts and instead look around me at my family, friends, coworkers, and strangers that cross my path.  That’s what I’m here to do, to love and serve others.  Not to track how much water I’ve consumed or whether I snacked too close to bedtime.

I have a reminder on my phone that pops up every few days. It says: “The thinking self struggles with control, but the observing self doesn’t.”  This was one of the great insights from The Happiness Trap.  At any given time, we can either be thinking or observing our direct experience with the world, but not both.  While thoughts and feelings come and go, we can actively choose where to place our attention.  Did that passing thought need my full attention, or should I look around me and notice the present moment?  We get to make that decision hundreds of times each day.

The struggle with control comes from the fact that our thoughts are largely out of our control.  When we get hooked by our thoughts, it’s typically because there’s something about them we want to change.  We make judgments, criticisms, or assumptions that cause us discomfort, so we engage our thoughts with other information, in hopes of changing our thoughts to be more positive or comforting.  I’ve learned (time and again!) that recognizing my thoughts are just words running through my head, which often don’t require my full attention, I’m much more peaceful.

When I trust that God will guide my actions through the prompting of the Holy Spirit, instead of relying on my very fallible thoughts, I feel immensely more fulfilled and at peace.

Lifting the Veil

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This week my kids began the fourth and first grades.  It’s cliché, but true: they grow up so fast!  I’ve was home with them for several days before they went back, getting ready for the school routine to start up again.

Teo first day of 1st gradeLast week, I found myself struggling, specifically with Teo’s rejection of every healthy meal I placed in front of him.  I’d been trying to get them to embrace the whole foods diet that I follow.  Teo isn’t particularly picky, but he’s accustomed to the foods he typically eats and isn’t big on change.

At the YMCA pool on Thursday afternoon, I could feel myself struggling with wanting to control his diet and feeling so frustrated that he wouldn’t even try these new foods. The thoughts running through my mind we’re variations of “How do I make him try these foods?!”  I told Sienna what I was feeling:  “I need to let it go, don’t I?”

“Yeah, I think you do, Mom,” she lovingly replied.

Sometimes I can literally feel myself accepting reality and surrendering my illusion of control.  It usually sounds like a deep, cleansing exhale from deep in my body.  I imagine my “struggle switch” literally switching off.

027 (2)The next few days, I felt so much more present and connected to the moment.  Soaking in my children and this particular phase of life felt joyous.  They are at a very fun stage of being more self-reliant and therefore “easier” but also very interested in mom and dad’s attention and praise.  I hear “Mom, mom, I need you!” dozens of times per day.  But now, instead of needing me to do something for them, they’re asking to talk or show me something they’ve accomplished. They’re growing and conquering fears on a daily basis, and it’s so much fun to witness.

When I let go of a need to control, it instantly lifts a veil over my eyes and helps me to see my loved ones more clearly.  I see that they are their own person with tastes, interests, talents, fears, and perspectives that are different from my own. I see that they are imperfect and growing.  They’re God’s little children that have been placed in my care to nurture, teach, support, and love.

With some patience and understanding, a situation that I found frustrating or aggravating can be transformed into one of growth and learning. For both of us.

 

 

Teaching Kids to Face Their Fears and Do it Anyway

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This morning, before dropping Sienna and her best friend off for their first day of Broadway/Disney singing camp, we headed to the park by our house to bring Teo to his first day of P.E. in the Park.  The P.E. teacher at school is our neighbor and he’s been running this activity a few days a week throughout the summer.

When we arrived, about ten kids were already out on the field, kicking a soccer ball or tossing a football around.  I had to hurry to pay the Coach and get back in the car to get the girls to camp on time.  Teo slowly climbed out of the car with his water bottle.

“Lovie, I’m going to go.  Have fun!” I said.

“Okay…. but, wait Mom,” came his tentative reply.

I gave Teo a hug and kiss and encouraged him, “Go on out to the field with the kids.”

He slowly made his way toward the field.  As Sienna and I got in the car, I watched Teo from the rearview mirror.  Oh, my heart.  It was tough to see him surveying the field and trying to find an opening to join the group of kids already engaged in games together.  I knew the Coach would soon get them organized into a group game. Also, it’s good for him to face these moments.  I was so proud of him bravely joining the group and could totally relate to that feeling of being on the outside looking for a way to join the fun.

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This moment reminded me of something I’ve been learning this summer.  As parents, our job isn’t to protect and shield our children from the troubles, disappointments, and challenges of life.  Rather, we are here to guide and equip them to face their fears and struggles so they can learn and grow.

During the kids’ summer program at school, they went on a field trip to the movie theater each Monday.  At this particular theater, Teo recalled that the advertisement for concessions involves a roller coaster ride and the popcorn “pops” really loud and startles him.  He was pretty concerned about going on the fieldtrip the first week and begged me to keep him home.  At first, I actually said, “Seriously, Teo – you’re scared of the popcorn?!”  But, then I realized that I needed to work with him through this fear.  (I think the real emotion came from last year when he accidentally misplaced his fieldtrip t-shirt at the pool and was embarrassed by the way they tried to decipher whose shirt it was.)

When we got to school that morning, I asked him “What would make you less scared of the popcorn?”  He suggested that he could sit with one of the teachers.  So, after signing them in, Miss Rose was nearby and I encouraged Teo to tell her about his concerns.  He did and she said she’d try to sit with him.

Turns out, they were able to leave the theater for the thirty seconds or so that the startling popcorn was on the screen.  The following week, he asked Miss Rose to sit with him again.  She replied, “Yes, Mateo.  Just be sure to find me when we’re at the theater.”

On the third consecutive week, Miss Rose was on the phone as I dropped the kids off.  Teo wanted me to stay so he could ask her to sit with him again.  I told him, “I have to get to work, Lovie.  You can ask her, I have faith in you.”  He nodded confidentially and I left.  Walking to the car, I felt such peace.  He had a fear that was bothering him a lot.  But, rather than saving him from the source of his anxiety by keeping him home or telling the teacher what he needed, I’d encouraged him to express his feelings and ask for the help he needed.  He’d learned to face his fears and do it anyway, a lesson that I’d recently been learning too!  Teo’s confidence to handle the situation grew each week, even if his fear of popcorn hadn’t receded.