Monday, July 27, 2015

Ten conversations you must have with your son

Ten conversations you must have with your son, Dr Tim Hawkes

This is a sensible and helpful book with lots of good ideas. Hawkes is a father, and has also been an educator of boys for 35 years as a teacher and headmaster. You quickly realise he has had a lot of exposure to young men over the years and the things we should be teaching them, in schools and in society, but most of all in the home.

He starts with outlining why we want to engage in conversation with our sons, somewhat obvious, but no doubt it needs to be pointed it. Then what we should be talking about and how we could go about doing so.

Each following chapter outlines the 10 major topic areas we should be planning to address with our sons over the course of their adolescence. Most are aimed at the teenage level, but can be adapted to suit younger boys and indeed young men who still need to learn. They are:
  1. You are loved – and the ways we can demonstrate love to them.
  2. Identity – how we help them to discover who they really are.
  3. Values – part of realising who you are is determining what it is you stand for.
  4. Leadership (or taking responsibility). All of us have power, what matters is how we choose to use it.
  5. Living together – this includes living with compassion and kindness in the home and also in society at large.
  6. Achievement - helping to think through how we value achievement, but also helping them to think about what they want to achieve in life, careers, etc.
  7. Sex – how to think about sex, love, wise choices, consequences and values in this area.
  8. Money – practical money management from the beginnings of savings, investing and giving right through to teaching about credit, debt, home loans, etc.
  9. Health – how to instill good habits and knowledge about caring for your body and brain: sleep, healthy food, no drugs, wise alcohol use, etc.
  10. Coping – helping to develop resilience and persistence, especially through occasions of failure, divorce or death.

Most of what he has to say is very helpful and there are many practical suggestions along the way for how to talk about it, and specifics you might want to address. Much of it is common sense, but still helpful to enunciate. There were things that might not be crucial knowledge by the age of 18, but useful to know later in life – such as older men’s health issues, detailed financial matters and how things work when someone dies (wills, executors, etc).

Many will read it and realise they are talking about some of these issues already, some may think “oh, we need to address that now!” or perhaps “we can leave that one for a little longer”. I have found this book (and others like it) have helped me to think about the vast range of things we want to teach our children and to break it down into manageable chunks. In fact we are that process at the moment - developing a list of the things we want to teach our children by the time they are 18.

I felt there were a few minor things that detracted from it. It was longer than it needed to be, he often mentions that we should teach our kids using the stories of others, and then includes some details of such stories.  It was not enough detail to share it with your son properly, but enough to make the sections seem a little long.  Many of them were also military stories, which will only appeal to some parents and children. 

It is written from an atheist or multi-faith perspective, and it will appeal to a wider audience as a result. For those of who clearly follow the Christian faith, it means you will have to adjust it to suit what you are teaching in the home. Of course we do that with everything, so that is not a major challenge.

The only other thing that struck me as I read it was that these are the same 10 conversations I will also be having with my daughters, perhaps with the application varied a little along the way. There is, however, value in thinking about these issues specifically for a son and what we want him to know and learn to become a man, in the true and honourable sense of the word.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Siblings Without Rivalry

Siblings Without Rivalry, Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlich

I have no idea where the recommendation came from for his book, but it was a good one!

Some of you will be dealing with major sibling rivalry issues in your homes whether it is toddlers not coping with new babies, teens picking at each other non-stop, or kids causing actual physical harm to each other. For others it may not be a current live issue. Either way this book is worth reading for all parents who have or hope to have more than one child.

Faber and Mazlich have written a clear, quick to read book with lots of practical ideas and suggestions. It was originally written in 1987, but a review and addendum have been added in the 2012 version.   It is all still very relevant today.

They have written it to mirror a series of workshops they held, so each chapter addresses a specific topic, describing it with specific examples; then shares ways for parents to manage it including details and suggestions; and then gives feedback from parents as they tried to implement the ideas.

Some of the key ideas were:
  • Help children to identify & acknowledge their feelings they have, and then validate these feelings. Enabling a child to identify anger, rejection, isolation, unfairness, etc, and showing we understand can take a lot of heat out of emotional responses. Part of this is helping children find words for emotions, not downplaying or overemphasising the emotions they have, and assisting them to find helpful and constructive ways to manage them.
  • Avoid comparisons between children. Both praise and discipline can be dealt with without comparison to anyone else. Praise a child for their achievement in an area because they have learnt something as part of growing up. Call them to a standard of behaviour because that’s how we live in this family (not because their brother does it well).
  • Avoid assigning roles. Parents, siblings and children all can assign family members to roles – the baby of the family, the smart one, the musical one, the artistic one, the responsible one. Some children take on the roles they are assigned with burden, others flee the roles they are given, but most roles run the risk of pigeonholing a child’s character or opinion about themselves: “I am not the smart one”, “I have to be the responsible one”, etc, without showing them the opportunities they could have if they saw themselves differently.
  • How to deal with fighting. Essentially this was about giving children the skills to solve their problems between themselves, while laying down family groundrules for behaviour, and ensuring no one is in physical or emotional danger.

The emphasis on personal stories, anecdotes and cartoon illustrations makes the application come alive for the reader, as you immediately think how you could implement the same concepts in your family. Also, many of the examples and illustrations are from adults reflecting on their own childhood and the sibling rivalry issues they experienced. The memories of these times remain strong well into the adult years. We should all think about our own childhood experiences in these areas and how it affects the way we parent our children on the same issues.

I came away from it with some personal challenges:
  • To keep prioritising one-on-one time with each child.
  • To keep having family discussion regularly – a family meeting time.
  • To beware of casting our children into roles.
  • To work at validating their feelings rather than succumbing to the temptation to gloss over them.

This reads as a bit of a dry review (the older our kids get the less keen I am to include specific examples from our family as I don’t feel I am honouring them by revealing our own family details), but I assure you the book is anything but dry, it’s full of anecdotes and sensible, easy to implement ideas. If you have kids, you and they will benefit from you reading this one!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Inside Out

This new Disney Pixar animation was a winner with all five of us when we saw it last week. Told through the emotions of an 11 year old girl, Riley - we hear the perspectives of the 5 major feelings she has: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear, all who control her brain headquarters. Throughout a happy childhood with a strong family, good friends, fun playing ice hockey and general fun times, Joy has ruled the roost until now. She has helped the other feelings find moments of happiness and tried to downplay all the sadness, anger, fear, etc.

But when Riley’s family moves to San Francisco, everything is turned upside down. Joy gets accidentally locked out of the brain control room with Sadness, and the rest of the movie is then trying to get back to Headquarters where Anger, Fear and Disgust are trying to keep things running smoothly. At the same time we see Riley trying to cope with her world changing – house, school friends and how she is managing (or not) with it all.

The movie makers have done an excellent job of illustrating each of the five feelings, from Joy’s yellow spiky cheerful nature, to Sadness’s dumpy blue, red Anger’s fiery head when provoked, Fear’s angular anxiousness at everything and green Disgust’s distaste at the general world. Adults and children will recognise and associate with each easily. Even more impressively was how they manage to explain in an understandable way how the mind works: how memories are made and stored, how imagination works, our subconscious, dreams, etc. For the majority of us with no specific knowledge in this area, this is probably as good a representation as we are likely to get that we can comprehend and later recall. We have referred to it as a family in the last week to illustrate a point, such as how a memory fades or imagination works.

Kids watching this will be helped to realise that the emotions they feel are real: true joy at points, yet also true sadness and hurt along the way.  We also see that as we get older emotions are more often complex and multilayered: some memories are happy and sad; and anger, fear and disgust can help us out at times. For me, one of the best aspects of the story line was that it was the strength of her family relationship that held it all together at the end.

The main point of correction we talked about afterwards was that the feelings inside you don’t control you. When my daughter said: “Anger pushes the button and that’s why you get angry”, we thought “uh oh, no – not at all!” So we talked about how that is not the case: your feelings don’t control your reactions, rather you are in control of your reactions. It’s normal and natural to have feelings of fear, anger, sadness and so on, but how you choose to act on them is always your decision. It led to yet another discussion about self-control and how we are always responsible for our reactions, a conversation we seem to be having often at the moment!

I highly recommend seeing this one with your kids. All three of ours (ages 12, 10, & 7) enjoyed it and it provoked good discussion afterwards.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Growing Yourself Up

Growing Yourself Up, Jenny Brown

For years I have been hearing glowing reports about this book. Good friends have benefitted greatly from it and my husband’s organisation has used it in training sessions for improving both team and family relationships.  Brown has taken on board Bowen family systems theory, which investigates how individual maturity affects our relationships.  Because all of us exist in relationships, be they with children, parents, spouses or work colleagues, our individual level of maturity will directly affect the maturity of these relationships.  Essentially the idea is: you need to take responsibility for yourself and manage your own growth, and in doing so, you will see benefits in your relationships.

Part of that is seeking to understand the family you were brought up in and how that influenced you. However she is very much about taking responsibility for yourself.  There is no blaming how you turned out on your parents, but rather recognising that all of us need to grow in maturity no matter how positive our negative the influences on us were.
“As you begin to think about your family experience you might be casting culpability in your parents’ direction.  Before pointing the blame finger, pause to consider the place each parent held in their family: how were their pathways to maturity shaped by how their own parents related to them and by the challenges their family faced?... Our mothers and fathers came out of their own families with a level of tolerance for upset, discord, involvement and demands.  In turn this played out in their marriage and the reactions to each of their children.  None of us, or our parents, has any say in the hand of maturity cards we are dealt as part of the inheritance of generations of families” (p40)

Then she works through the phases of adult life: leaving home, singleness, marriage, sex and parenting and how making decisions to grow your own maturity will reap great benefit for yourself and those around you.  As we are closely looking at a numbers of aspects of marriage and parenting at the moment, those sections were most relevant to me.
“The central challenge in staying mature in a marriage is to find the balance between being a separate person and being a connected person.  Staying separate is about managing your anxieties, addressing your own insecurities and changing the irresponsible aspects of your behaviour in your marriage…  Staying connected is about communicating and acting in ways to strengthen the intimacy you committed to in choosing to get married” (p86-7)

She also addresses relationships outside the family in the workplace and how developing a mature belief system can add to our overall maturity.  The later sections of the book deal with challenging times (separation/divorce and illness) and then working towards maturity though midlife, ageing and facing death.

All in all, it’s a very helpful book.  Because I had heard it so glowingly praised, I came to it with very high expectations.  The content is excellent and the principles well worth implementing, but it does require concerted concentration to read and digest.  None of us can claim to be fully mature in ourselves or in our relationships, so we can all benefit from implementing the principles she presents and then reminding ourselves of them on a regular basis.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Crazy Busy

It’s hard to believe it’s over 4 years ago that I read The Busy Christian Guide to Busyness and blogged through it in such detail. I know at the time I learnt a lot and was challenged in a number of ways.

We are in a less intense life stage at the moment, and I am feel I am less ‘crazy busy’. Even so, I really enjoyed the chance to stop and think about it all again. The reality is that we do live in a crazy busy world and even if at various points it is manageable, it can quickly fall apart, and there are many around us who are struggling.

This is a shorter book that The Busy Christian’s Guide. Obviously that means less can be covered in detail, but it is a very helpful read and one that will challenge you on many levels.

DeYoung’s outline has 3 dangers to avoid, 7 diagnoses to consider and 1 thing you must do.

His theory is that the 3 main dangers we face are spiritual:
  • Busyness can ruin our joy – we are crushed by the daily grind of life
  • Busyness can rob our hearts – we are consumed by the cares of this world
  • Busyness can cover up the rot in our souls – there will be sins we never have time to consider

The bulk of the book is the 7 diagnoses of busyness to consider. All of these are very helpful and some will be more relevant that others at various life stages. All I found challenging in various ways.

1.  We are beset with many manifestations of pride that come out in busyness. There were many ideas here: people pleasing, performance evaluation, proving myself, pity, poor planning, power, perfectionism (yes, they were all ‘p’s!). A helpful analysis of many of our motivations or excuses for busyness.

2. We are trying to do what God does not expect. This is a useful idea for those who think they have to do everything, respond to every request, and be all things to all people.

3. We can’t serve others without setting priorities. This was the most helpful chapter for me personally. Both the idea that you have to set priorities to serve effectively because you cannot do it all, which includes setting posteriorities (the things you should not do! This guided me to think about some things I really should not be putting time into). And secondly, the idea that you must allow others to set their own priorities, and that is up to them to manage and for you to respect.

4. We need to stop freaking about the kids. The idea that much crazy busyness comes from either worrying about the kids or running ragged trying to give them everything.

5. We are letting the screen strangle our soul. We are never alone, we don’t set boundaries with technology and have time away from technology. How’s this for a comparison: the digital age is like a giant room, where everything is happening around us, we can see it and experience it. For a while, we love it. After a while, we may want to take a break from it, but no-one else is leaving and they all want us to stay.
“Like Tolkien’s ring, we love the room and hate the room. We want to breathe the undistracted air of digital independence, but increasingly the room is all we know. How can we walk out when everyone else is staying in? How will we pass our time and occupy our thoughts without the unceasing tap, tap, tap? For many of us, the Web is like the Eagles’ Hotel California: we can check out any time we like, but we can never leave.” (p84)
6. We need to rest before we wreck ourselves. Here he addresses the need for leisure, holidays, days off and sleep.

7. We find busyness hard because we don’t want life to be hard. Here he says we are actually supposed to be busy, and if we struggle we that, it’s possibly because that it’s a small part of the cross we have to bear. Life is messy, people take time, serving comes at a cost. Surely busyness is part of life.

His conclusion – the one thing we must do – is devote time to Jesus. Spend time in bible reading and prayer. Make it an absolute priority.
“If you are sick and tired of feeling so dreadfully busy and are looking for a one-point plan to help restore order to your life, this is the best advice I know: devote yourself to the word of God and prayer… no single practice brings more discipline and peace to life than sitting at the feet of Jesus. “ (p113)
I'll leave DeYoung with the final word on this very helpful book:
“It’s not wrong to be tired. It’s not wrong to feel overwhelmed. It’s not wrong to go through seasons of complete chaos. What is wrong – and heartbreakingly foolish and wonderfully avoidable – is to live a life with more craziness that we want because we have less Jesus than we need.” (p118)