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October 2011
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January 2012

11 entries from December 2011

Points to Ponder (100 words or less)

Love should not be relegated to mere theology, with all of its pomp and religious bravado. Love is a way of living - a style of transaction amongst souls hungry for something beyond the day to day. Love is a reckless kindness that shocks the heart back to life. Love is both costly and free. Love is like the wind blowing sweetly across the earth, dancing with glorious song. Love is a daily embrace that feeds the starving child. (78)

~Troy Ray

Setting goals is a good thing

The end of the year is upon us and with its coming many people will conjure resolutions that will not actually make any difference in their life. Gym memberships will swell throughout the month of February. Book lists will be conjured. Mythical numbers will be set for savings accounts. And at the end of the day most of those resolutions will make zero difference in the lives of those making them. And yet.... I want to convince you that you should set goals for 2012. Actually, I think you should set goals more regularly than every twelve months. I think you should set them nearly every week. I think you should set goals for the year, and then break them down. Conversely, almost everyone will benefit from setting goals for the long distance future as well. Too often we approach life as though we are taking a trip and we do not care where we end up when the exact opposite is true. Our life is short. It is often pressure packed and has competing “urgencies” demanding our time. Goals help us get where we want to go. The following five reasons explain why I think goals are helpful.     

Goals give us directions. Knowing where we want to give helps us to minimize the possibility of getting someplace and realizing that is not the place we wanted to go. Having direction can give us hope when the night is dark.

Goals help us to know when to say, “No.” Having goals gives us a filter for the different things that demand our time. Sometimes, there are good things that keep us from doing the really great things that give us life. When we have goals, it allows us to look at where something might take us and say no.         

Goals help us to be able to say, “Yes” to the things that matter more to us. There are good things that simply do not move me. Having goals allows me to say no to those and yet be able to say yes to other things that do move me. It creates the filter through which I can funnel my activities. We all have more time demands than we actually have time in the day.         

Goals help us make course directions. When our goals are measurable (and they all should be) we can examine the path that we are on and make course corrections when our current actions are taking us away from our desired goal. So many times, I meet people who tell me that their life doesn’t make sense or it seems unfulfilling and I ask them what their goals are for their life and they have no idea. How do we know what changes to make if we don’t know where we want to go? How do we know what will bring us meaning?         

Goals help light the way when the path is dark. We all have low moments. We all have times when things seem to be too dark to continue. We stumble our way forward. Goals offer light in these opportunities. Goals help us see the way when there is little or no light to see by.

Goals are helpful in many ways. This list is not exhaustive. How have you found goals to be helpful? What benefits have you discovered from setting goals? Are you going to be setting goals for 2012? If so, what will they be?

I was the one that was wronged: What do I do?

I wrote earlier this year about the idea of being the one who wronged someone. That post can be found here. That post deal with five specific things that someone who has wronged another can do and some issues to be aware of during the restoration process.

But what about the person who was wronged? What can you do to help restore the process when you have been wronged and your heart hurts despite the fact that you want to forgive and restore? The following is an incomplete list of ideas.

  1. You have to commit to forgive the person. Too often we think that forgiveness is something that magically happens. This magic suddenly takes away our hurt and anger toward the person. Nothing could be further from the truth. Forgiveness is almost always something that happens over time. You could be cruising along doing fine and something will be said, or done that brings up new (or old) anger and hurt. It is at these times that we must remember our commitment to forgive the offender. Without this commitment, forgiveness rarely happens.
  2. Don't expect a linear jump from point A to point B. Moving from point where we are today to where we want to be tomorrow is rarely, if ever, a strait shot. It usually takes time moving back and forth with small successes and little set backs. This is normal and to be expected.
  3. Set strong boundaries. This is one of the areas where I see people go too far one way or the other. Either they tend to make it impossible for a person to actually build a relationship or they simply let the person have complete access to their life. Both are unhealthy. Setting strong boundaries is great way to protect everyone. Boundaries are all around us in life, keeping us safe. They need to be a part of our relationships as well.
  4. Give the offender opportunites to earn your trust back. I get push back on this one from both sides. Relationships build over time. They don't spontaneously combust. Relationships need to be rebuilt the same way.
  5. Offer real hope/Check your ego at the door/There needs to be an end. One way or another there needs to be another. No one can force you to be in relationship with them so if you choose to be in a relationship with someone you have to offer real hope that eventually there will be an end to the "rebuilding phase." This means you'll have to check your ego at the door as well. That will be hard because you will have the burden of righteous anger in your belly. If you decide that this person cannot be trusted again enough to be in a relationship than be honest with them. Tell them. If you think you can be in relationship with them but you will never be as close as you used to be, then tell them. The key here is communicating what you are thinking. Giving out confusing signals usually happens when we do one thing but say another. This often happens because we're hoping against hope that something that has never changed will change with little to no intervention. Life typically, does not work that way.
  6. Look for a new normal, not the way things used to be. Things will probably not go back to the way they were before the incident. They may turn out better (I have found this is often true when both parties commit to reconciliation). Things may never be close to the same. Relationship grow, change, and die. It takes two people to reconcile. I believe we all have a responsibility to forgive but we do not have to put ourselves in a position to be constantly wronged again and again.

Dealing with Holiday Stress

In my last post, I talked about the pressures and stress of the holidays. I would like to talk about how to handle the stress of the holiday expectations.

  1. It is what it is. Often our stress comes from unspoken and usually unmet expectations. Try just accepting that your holiday is what it is this year. If you have an expectation, express it and see if it can be met. If it can not be met, just try to let it be. Not everything has to be judged. Just allowing your holiday to happen can be liberating and freeing.
  2. Set Boundaries. Everyone has people in their life that is draining. Set boundaries for the times where you will be involved with these people. Boundaries keep everyone safe. They also allow you to enjoy your holiday.
  3. Don't push a rope. No one can make you angry. If someone is attacking you, remove yourself from their presence if you can. If you cannot, let them know that attacking you is not acceptable and ask them to change the subject. We cannot control how others react to us, only how we react to them. We don't have to get angry or "push a rope."
  4. Find meaningful time for you. Find a way to recharge your batteries. Read a book. Visit with someone who inspires you. Write  a journal entry. Express yourself.
  5. Give it away. Volunteer at a local charity. Give your time away. Helping others can be a very therapeutic endeavor. It can help us achieve calm.
  6. Relax. One of the hardest things to do over the holidays is to relax. The holidays will come and go every year. That is a constant. What is not constant is how we approach them.

Home for the holidays? Stress with those we love most

Christmas is six days away! My wife's birthday is tomorrow! My kids are on break. Life is good. Last Christmas, I worked at the hospital. This year, I have it off and even my school requirements are minimal.

But what about you? Chances are good that if there is more than a few people reading this post, they are actually more stressed right now, then they will be at any point in their life. The truth is that Christmas is a very stressful time for many people.

We say it's not about the gifts, but for too many that is exactly what it is about. They feel the pressure of having to buy gifts for extended family members, co-workers or others. Some people are feeling the pressure of being able to spend money on their immediate family. A few years ago my wife and I hit today (the 19th of December) with no real idea how we were going to pay for our kids gifts.

Then there's church. This past week I was told that I serve the devil (seriously) by a man who has never met me. We were on that wonderful communication medium known as Facebook. He was appalled that I have no intention of attending a church service on Christmas day (the fact that my church has a Christmas Eve but no Christmas day service didn't factor into the discussion much). Essentially, that person (who I am no longer connected to on Facebook) is exerting pressure on those around him that if they don't go to church on Christmas day, they are not good people and will most certainly face eternity in Hell.

Then there is the pressure of balancing work and the holidays. For instance, I do not work at the hospital this year but I would normally work the weekend of New Years. That means I will miss a day. That can cause pressure because now I have lost money I need to make up. 

There is no question that during the holiday season, pressures abound aplenty. Then there's family.

I recently had someone confide in me that she "just didn't really like her family." Another person told me that his wife's family "drove him crazy." I imagine that more family fights break out over the next three weeks than any other time of the year.

Why? Why is there stress with those we love most? Why do people seem so angry at a time of the year when it seems that we should be so happy. Well, of course, I have ideas about this but I want to know what you think. Tell me your ideas below. What is your story? How do you manage the stress of the holidays?

Book Review: The Art of Roughhousing by Anthony DeBenedet and Lawrence Cohen

BookWhat have we become when we need a book to tell us that it is OK to wrestle with our children? What has happened that we need a book to tell us that physical touch of a playful nature is not only good for our children but also important and necessary? I loved this book. In a world where our children are "overscheduled, overprotected, and underadventured" (p. 13) this book is a timely reminder that there is a lot of wonderful benefits for our children when we roughhouse and play with them.

Their bold claim is that "play--especially active physical play, like roughhousing --makes kids smart, emotionally intelligent, lovable and likable, ethical, physically fit, and joyful" (p. 13). This doesn't seem to be all that much of a bold claim to me but I can see how in today's world it could be like Galileo claiming that the world was not actually flat. I have girls. They have loved to wrestle and play their entire life. Everyone of them. This book has a long list of ideas on how you can roughhouse with your children if you are short of ideas, didn't grow up in a family where it happened or just want to look at new ideas.

I imagine there are some who will hate this book because it "increases violence." The authors actually take this idea on directly around the 100 page mark of the book. If you have children and you want to roughhouse with them, this book is for you. If you are already playing with your children and have the wonderful opportunity of having people in your life who give you grief about it, buy this book. Maybe the authors state your case better than you can. As a family therapist, and proponent of playing with our children, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.


**Do you have a book that you would like me to review related to Counseling, mental health, relationships or families? If so, leave a comment or contact me on the contact page. Don't forget you can also subscribe via email  by filling out the subscribe button above. **

Is Crying it Out Dangerous for Kids? What's Dr. Ferber have to say?

Even Dr. Richard Ferber, whose sleep-training method is commonly called the Cry It Out Method, says that he never intended parents to completely ignore their babies nighttime tears.

"I've always believed that there are many solutions to sleep problems, and that every family and every child is unique," he said in an interview with BabyTalk. "People want one easy solution, but there's no such thing. I never encouraged parents to let their babies cry it out, but one of the many treatment styles I described in my book is gradual extinction, where you delay your response time to your baby's wakings. I went to great pains in the second edition to clarify that that treatment is not appropriate for every sleep issue, of which there are many."


I am firmly against the cry it out method of parenting for a lot of reasons. I discovered this article at 11:00 at night so I will not be discussing it more tonight but I do intend to delve further into it in the very near future.
On my own facebook wall, few things generate more conversation than this topic.

7 parenting assumptions that could be affecting how you parent

Our lives are driven by our assumptions. What can be troublesome is the fact that we often do not stop to consider what our assumptions are and they impact us. For instance, couples often assume that conflict is bad. They will often say things to me like, "We never fight!", or "We've never had a fight!" as if this is something of which they should be proud. My assumption is that it is often bad.

What about our assumptions as parents? I want to look at seven assumptions today.

  1. Intensity will overcome consistency. Dr. Robert Lehman says the exact opposite is true and I agree with him. Consistency always wins. Still, parents often think that intensity wins. How do I know? Watch them parent. When it's time to get serious about getting something done, they move to yelling and screaming and threatening. They up the intensity, rather than upping the consistency.
  2. Praising a child will not stop negative behavior. We have to punish to do that. Whenever parents with "problem behaviored" children come in, I often ask them to tell me what type of interactions they have with their child when the child is not engaged in problematic behavior. Often the answer is minimal. Kids crave attention. If they are not getting enough attention from positive behavior they will engage in any behavior that gets them more attention. Negative attention is always better than no attention. What's more, there is a ample research to prove that positive reinforcement gets better results over the time than does negative reinforcement.
  3. Manipulation can be used for a good cause. An unspoken assumption of many parents is that they can manipulate their child into doing the right thing. This patently false. It never works. Often it develops children into emotionally stunted adults.
  4. I can control my children. Parents are raising other humans. The goal is to move the child from complete dependence to independence/interdependence. In order to accomplish this goal, you simply cannot control every aspect of your child's life the entire time they live in your home. When this happens the child never learns to think on their own.
  5. All punishment/discipline is bad. This one should be self evident but our children need to learn consequences for their behaviors. Consequences can be either good or bad (see #2).  Often, parents will attempt to remove all possible consequences from their children. But what does that do? How does that help the child? If you don't pay your electricity bill, there are consequences. If you don't go to work there are consequences. Of course, if you do go to work and pay the bill there are also consequences. That's why almost all of us go to work.
  6. Dictatorships rule. Parents who think that families should be run by dictatorships often have all sorts of problems as their child ages. Why? Because dictatorships fail. Every time. Always. It simply isn't possible for a dictatorship environment to create healthy adults. Children should be taught how to negotiate appropriately. Children should be taught how to express their feelings, even if they're angry with mom and dad. Children should be taught that it's OK to say, "I don't like this rule." Children should be taught to think. Of course, the danger there is that they may not end up thinking like mom and dad want them to think.
  7. There is a magic formula.  Sorry, no there isn't.

Facebook isn't making us miserable. We make ourselves that way

There's an interesting blog post making the rounds. It's called, "Facebook is making us miserable." Interestingly enough, I found it on facebook. Now, it's on the Harvard Business Review blog, written by a published author who is undoubtedly very smart. This is not an attack on him.

It is a complete disagreement with his post though. Essentially, he posits that the problem is facebook.

I say, that's horsemush.

He actually has a great line. He writes,

In writing Passion & Purpose, I monitored and observed how Facebook was impacting the lives of hundreds of young businesspeople. As I went about my research, it became clear that behind all the liking, commenting, sharing, and posting, there were strong hints of jealousy, anxiety, and, in one case, depression. Said one interviewee about a Facebook friend, "Although he's my best friend, I kind-of despise his updates." Said another "Now, Facebook IS my work day." As I dug deeper, I discovered disturbing by-products of Facebook's rapid ascension — three new, distressing ways in which the social media giant is fundamentally altering our daily sense of well-being in both our personal and work lives.

He goes on to list three disturbing things that Facebook is "creating" in us. They are:

  1. First, it's creating a den of comparison.
  2. Second, it's fragmenting our time.
  3. Last, there's a decline of close relationships.

Do all of these happen on facebook? Sure, probably. Did facebook create any of them? No way. They've been around forever and a day.

The problem isn't facebook. It's us. It's how we choose to interact and react. Nothing makes us jealous of anything. We can control that. A core bedrock of change is the truth that we have to own our own choices. We have to own our own responsibility.

If reading facebook makes you jealous of your best friend, you have a problem. You should actually thank Mark Zuckerburg for creating a tool that revealed a character flaw in you. It's not facebook, it's you. Seriously, when you're done thanking him, call and schedule an appointment with a counselor. I can recommend a great Counseling Agency if you live in the Grand Rapids area.

Now, my disagreement as to the cause aside, I agree with his remedies. If a person can't handle facebook and can't figure out how to change themselves, removing the temptation might be a good choice.

Deleting facebook could be a good choice for a lot of people for a lot of different reasons.

Taking away jealousy or being happier probably isn't one of them. Facebook, like adversity doesn't build (or make) character, it simply reveals it.

You can read the HBR post here.

Parenting; Teach what? You're not really going to cancel christmas.

I love being a parent.

I also love watching people. Especially at stores. Recently, I was at a store standing next to a mother who was having a hard time controlling her children. They were not being bad, simply doing something she didn't like. She said to them, "Stop it right now, or I am cancelling Christmas!!!"

Her children snickered. So did I. Come on, really? She's going to cancel Christmas? No she's not. That's a silly, pointless threat. You know she's not going to do it. I knew she wasn't going to do it. So did her kids. In fact, they didn't stop. She just took them out of the store. They were either tweens or teens.

Her objective that night was not to teach her children anything other than to stop. Now, don't get me wrong. I understand that sometimes kids need to learn to obey simply for the sake of obedience.  Obeying your authority is because they are your authority is a lesson that is often lost today.

But she didn't teach that lesson. What she did teach was that she was not in control. The kids were firmly in control.

Every interaction we have with our children teaches them something. For parents who are constantly struggling with obedience a possible issue is that they are teaching the kids the wrong thing. Let's look at a few potential issues.

1.Cancelling Christmas; pointless threats. What happens when a parent offers a consequence that they either cannot or actually will not enforce. The child learns that mom and dad aren't really serious and nothing will actually happen that would cause them to consider not doing something.

2.Disciplining without explaining. Some of my friends really bristle at the idea that they need to explain to their children the discipline they are doing. I confess, I don't understand this at all. How much longer does it take to say why we want our children to do something or not do something? I realize it's not always possible but by and large when it is possible, I only see benefits to explaining. Saying "because I'm the parent" really doesn't seem to all that great of a teaching model.

3. Inconsistent parenting. Three years ago I received a speeding ticket for going 35 in a 25. The next week, the speed limit in that exact spot was changed to 35. I still bristle when I drive by that spot. Inconsistent parenting happens when something is OK this week, but not next week. Two weeks from now, it will be Ok again. This causes confusion in our children.

4. Failure to follow through. This is perhaps the biggest issue I see in parenting. Johnny or Susie is told that is he or she does something this consequence will happen. And then it doesn't. The next time that consequence is threatened the child waits to see if mom or dad is serious this time.

5. Going strait to the big guns. Ultimatums are a dangerous way to parent. What happens if the child says, "So what?" Where do you go from there? There is a fine line between parenting and controlling. There is a finer line between parenting and manipulating. Parenting is hard work. It will often inconvenience us. Sometimes, parents can help themselves by thinking through what they are going to say before they say it. Considering if they will really want to enforce this discipline for the offense is an easy way to avoid being inconsistent.

What about you? What are some ways that you have seen or done that you learned from and want to pass on to others? Tell me in the comments.