Thank you & You’re Welcome

A few weeks ago, I witnessed how a friend of mine had so deeply instilled a sense of appreciation and gratitude in her children.  I watched and I admired love and graciousness and although the economic times had delivered a severe blow to their family, there were smiles, there were hugs for everyone, there was a sense of well-being despite the tough circumstances.  They displayed appreciation for their parents and the sacrifices they had made to make all of their lives complete…I thought to myself, these are good parents and we could all learn a little something from them.

Raising children who appreciate what they have been given can be a daunting task for parents these days.  Perhaps it is our incessant need to be their friend instead of their parent, perhaps it is a lack of time to invest in instilling gratefulness, perhaps it is easier to cater to their every need rather than say “no” and have to wage a battle of wills.

I’m the first to admit parenting is a complicated job because it requires not only our full-time attention but our emotional and mental strength and let’s face it, there are not too many of us with a lot of spare time in our day.  Whether you are a work-at-home parent or a work-outside-the-home parent, life is fast paced and full of  “gratefulness obstacles”.   Taking the time to teach our children to appreciate not only what they have, but to appreciate us as their parents is imperative to raising a well-balanced child who will eventually become a well-balanced and successful adult.

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.  ~G.K. Chesterton

 A child who is appreciative typically understands what you’ve sacrificed or given whole-heartedly as a parent (even if they are not willing to admit it).   This also creates respect, which is a key element to appreciation and gratefulness.  There has been enormous debate recently, regarding the Tiger Mom and her views on parenting and although this concept is from a completely different culture and not widely accepted or utilized among the typical American family, it does spark conversation on how we, as parents, can successfully instill responsibility and respect into our children.   I believe there is a middle ground out there that works but it is not without parental effort, dedication and follow through.

Courtesies of a small and trivial character are the ones which strike deepest in the grateful and appreciating heart.  ~Henry Clay

Through my parenting years I’ve learned that in general, children do not see past what effects their immediate world, which is a natural response, especially for the challenging teen years.  On the flip side, it’s important to consistently discuss gratefulness and appreciation with our children and provide examples of what it means and how it feels.  Asking them to write a thank you note for a gift, requiring them to say “thank you” every time someone, even a family member, does something nice or helpful, helping someone in need and even parental instruction, advice and rule setting can bring about a more grateful and appreciative child.   They may not see the lesson or the love as the instruction leaves your lips, but it will most certainly be heard and felt and it will provide a basis for gratitude because it shows you care.

I believe in asking our children to work hard for good grades, be responsible with their time, help with chores around the house, be respectful and loving to parents and siblings and in return, mom, dad or both provide the things they need and/or want.  When disrespect, ungrateful expectation and taking parents for granted come into the picture, it’s a red flag to take a step back and evaluate life in your home.  Raising children who appreciate their home and their surroundings, naturally brings with it loving side effects like graciousness, self-respect, self-confidence and overall happier children…that is well worth the effort.

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I Have The Power To Change My World

“I have the power to change my world, to change my circumstances, to change myself, to make a difference and I alone have the power within to be happy.”

 

Some years ago, I sat at the top of the stairs in the home I had created and I realized, it was now just a house.  I felt alone and as if my feet were stuck in cement and I could not move myself out of my life drama.  Some years ago, I lost my HAPPY.  I couldn’t find it no matter how hard I tried.  Everything seemed cold, empty and pointless.  

Not too long after that deeply pathetic moment I discovered empowerment.  Mostly because, quite frankly, I could not stand the sad, needy, wisp of a woman I had temporarily become and I discovered that if I could find my HAPPY, I could empower myself to move forward, reach goals and see change.   

So how do you empower yourself to find your HAPPY and change your world you ask?   Hmmm…well, I put a lot of thought into that and tried a few things that worked and a few things that did not work.  However, I’ve narrowed down my recipe with three ingredients to finding your HAPPY and getting your self-empowerment and self-motivation back on track…here we go!

FEED YOUR MIND

We feed our bodies food and water, even vitamins so why not feed our mind, heart and soul?  When I was at my lowest point in life I became a ferocious reader.  I would take myself and my daughter to the library, find a stack of books for her and a stack for me.  I love reading from real books but audio books are good too, especially if you have a long commute each day. I read everything inspirational and instructional that I could find on those dusty shelves.  I drank in knowledge, perspective, instruction and guidance on everything that applied to my life at that moment.  I knew that if I could arm myself with information, I could begin to thaw out my brain and think things through on a different level.  It worked.  It was a satisfying meal for my mind.

FEED YOUR HEART

So, this one was tough because sometimes our hearts are cut and bruised and there’s not a band-aid in the world that stops the bleeding.  However, there’s no better medicine for a hurting heart than to do for others who have less.  YES, you heard me, give of yourself, your time, your expertise, your assistance.  I know what your thinking, “are you kidding me? I’m a mess!  I can’t help anyone!”  Okay, yes, those words crossed my mind a time or two and perhaps even left my lips as I was talking out loud to myself;  however, if you can find somewhere to volunteer and help make someone else’s life better, you will have provided your hurting heart the medicine it needs to recover and at the same time, given valuable and maybe even life changing help to someone in need besides yourself.  I’m not suggesting you spend all of your free time volunteering, but find something that will fit into your life and commit to it.  You will begin to discover that while you are helping the world around you, the cut heals, the bruising goes away, the starvation leaves and life begins to seem more beautiful.   And then…real happiness begins to enter back into your heart.

FEED YOUR SOUL

Feed your soul with something that touches you on a spiritual level. I’m a nature girl and I feel completely at peace outside with the trees, birds and blue sky. For me, long walks or runs in the outdoors takes my soul to a place that restores me on a level like no other. It’s my church. However, it doesn’t matter what works for you, a Catholic church, Jewish Synagogue, Mosque or traditional Christian Sunday School. It’s finding a place where you can quiet your mind and your soul long enough to hear God. I grew up going to a traditional Christian church and I remember what I felt when truly in the presence of this higher being. It still resonates with me. Feeding your soul is as important as feeding your mind and your body. I found this to be paramount to my empowerment and my well-being. 

Finding your happy is a continual process. It eventually leads to the deepest joy imaginable and you will soon realize that it’s a product of understanding the power you have to change your circumstances and thus the world around you. It’s a journey, so don’t sprint, take your time to walk the road, view the beauty, reflect and listen. You will begin to see a change and feel true happiness. 

This One’s for the Single Dad

 

Thank you to the Single Dad who gets it… 

Although he is not listed as the primary caregiver on the divorce papers, he never stops giving all of his heart and all of his soul to care for his children.    

Thank you to the single dad who wholeheartedly participates in his child’s life.  He conducts his share of the “pick up and drop off” at school, volleyball practice and Karate.  He learns to boil water, make an awesome hot dog, iron school uniforms and can’t wait to play wiffle ball in the park, because it means so much to be with his kids.   

A big thanks to the single dad who chooses to drive a car loaded with miles, weathered paint and worn out seats because that means there are no more car payments and it frees up extra cash to buy the airfare, hotel and rental car required to see his children as much as possible.  Thank You to the single dad living miles away who decides to use his personal days and vacation time to make the recital, the school play and a baseball game or two.   Thanks to the single dad who arranges a special “daddy/daughter date night”, only to spend most of it listening to his teenager talk incessantly about things he cannot really comprehend but tries desperately to understand, because he loves her.  Thank you to the single dad who understands that no matter what happened between the mother of his children and himself, his children remain his priority and he chooses to take the “high road” during angry confrontations or unfair accusations, because he knows the young tender hearts of his children could never comprehend the complicated emotions of adulthood.    

 

 Thank you to the single dad for not giving up on himself, his children or the world around him, even when his heart slowly breaks as he views a little league game in the distance, wanting nothing more than to be there with his own child.   Thank You to the single dad who understands how much his presence in his children’s lives contributes to their emotional stability and their happiness.   And although they may not know it now, his children will someday recognize the sacrifices, the unconditional love and the support that he generously and unselfishly gave from his heart.   Thank you to the single dads who have plowed through the negative stereotypes to be a force of strength, love, stability, reason, discipline and courage for their children and the children who will someday be our tomorrow.

Spread the HAPPY and Don’t Wear White After Labor Day

 At my house we give these awesome little “Happy’s” to each other.  Not all the time, just now and then and I think it’s such a cool idea (which I cannot take credit) that I wanted to share it with all of you today.  I really love this…here is how it started. 

During my first job out of college I met one of my dearest friends, Susie.  She was (and still is) a lovely, gracious and beautiful Southern Belle with perfect skin and hair (of course).  I, on the other hand, with a lot of the SoCal girl still in my blood and a love for all things a bit left of center, flip-flops and my Jeep, didn’t exactly scream “Debutante”,  but hey, I managed.  Anyway, I think she was the first person to embrace my somewhat offbeat personality and I think I might have been the first to admire her complete sense of style and total togetherness.  It was then, and is still today a relationship that I treasure.  Not only did I learn more than I ever thought I could learn about the appropriate wardrobe for good Southern girls (like never wearing white or patent leather after labor day (which was never and is still probably not a rule in California), she taught me a little something about spreading happiness to the ones you love.

     

A “Happy” is a little surprise gift you give to a friend, a loved one, a spouse or a child.  It’s a simple gift that says “you’re important to me”.   A “Happy” doesn’t have to be expensive or a one-of-a-kind treasure, just personal; no breaking the bank on this one.  One of my first “Happy’s” from Susie through the years was a necklace.  It was not just any necklace because it had a little glass bird charm on the chain and she knew I LOVED birds.  How thoughtful, how very cool it was to have her sunshiny self drop by my house with a “Happy” for her friend.  It meant so much to me and made me feel so good that she thought of me that day and she didn’t even realize it had been a difficult week.   This was the little ray of happiness that gave me a smile and made me feel like things were looking up.   

I adopted this creative gift giving ritual and use it with my family.  Although sometimes a “Happy” in our house is simply bringing home their favorite ice cream and movie, It’s also finding my daughter a fun set of earrings and wrapping them up in a colorful bag and placing it on her bed so she will find it after school or surprising my nieces with cool and colorful flip-flops.  It’s a small gesture that delivers a big dose of wonderful. 

So here’s a challenge; think about a little something special you can bring home tonight to your kids, the hubby, significant other or a fantastic neighbor and start spreading the “Happy” beginning today!

No Whining…Please

 

I’ve been wondering this week why I’ve noticed so many books, movies and women trapped in what I’ve decided to call, “the whining mode”?  I’m not sure why it’s bothering me so much but it’s like someone scratching a chalk board or chewing on tin foil…I’m really annoyed by all this seemingly female whining.  I think I have developed a low tolerance because I’ve been there, right smack in the middle of total chaos, where the world seemed to be chewing me up and spitting  me out, coupled with emotional turmoil that was attempting to hold me hostage for forever, all while raising a child on my own.  I was, where a lot of single moms are today; feeling alone, desperate, financially strapped and my future completely on hold and quite frankly out of reach.   I have been at that very place and managed to pull myself back into the world of the living and the productive so, I say this with much love in my heart…stop whining, please! 

“Adulthood is defined by the willingness to accept full responsibility for where you are at in life; no longer blaming others or circumstances.” — Joe Westbrook

A few months ago I discovered an amazing home for single moms who had previously been homeless, sleeping on the streets or in their cars with their children.  You think you have it bad?  These women were some of the unfortunate recipients of the demise of our American economy.  They were the hard-working moms who washed the towels from your luxury hotel room and scrubbed the floors of your class “A” office building.  They lost their jobs and then they lost their homes.  There are over 900 homeless children in Osceola County, Florida alone which is astounding to me.  These women are living in the depths of poverty, lost in an emotionally taxing maze and not complaining, just trying to get through it the best way they possibly can.   The home I visited had a caring staff dedicated to helping these mothers and their children get back on their feet and into new jobs and new homes.  They are provided with what most middle class Americans would consider “the basics”, but to them its gold.  Shelter, food, clothing, safety and someone to help them in their quest to change their lives for the better.  I admire them, these beautiful ladies who have a large cross to bear and are willing to work diligently to change the future for themselves and for their children.  No whining,  just hard work, graciousness, humility and love.  We can learn from these mothers and their dedicated focus to change their circumstances. (www.osceolahome.org)

I usually like to focus on the positive, but today, although I have many glorious friends that I admire for their courage and their fortitude (you know who you are) I’m really just giving a shout out to all of you who are in “victim” mode.  C’mon ladies, reclaim your dignity, pull up those boot straps and save yourselves by learning to take each day at a time and focus on taking positive steps towards rebuilding your life and a healthy productive life for your children.  It’s a tough place to be, I understand that, but at some point we have to move forward.  Take your first step today and then tell me about it.  I’d love to hear from you.

“The world is wide, and I will not waste my life in friction when it could be turned into momentum.” —Frances Willard

Mom, Your Child-Like Spirit Was Genius

The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of childhood into maturity – Aldous Huxley

When I was about nine I remember my mother strapping on roller skates and taking me for a spin on the carport that sat just below our house.  I also remember her taking my sister, brother and I to the top of our motor home,  in the middle of the desert, with canvas and paints in hand so we could paint the sunset.  How cool is that?  At the time, I couldn’t appreciate her child-like enthusiasm for life but now I draw upon it as if it were a part of my very existence.   I love these memories of my mom because she was so unconventional and she didn’t think like a grown-up.  I’m certain her child-like enthusiasm gave me a piece of my inner self that otherwise would not exist.  Whether I knew it or not, spending this kind of play time with her was a huge confidence booster and made me feel secure inside. 

This brings me to one of the core pieces of the H.A.P.P.Y. plan, “Playful Parenting”.  I think most parents naturally play fun games with their kids but this is a subject worth revisiting because we live in a crazy busy, high-stress world with computer games, movies-on-demand, Ipods, Ipads, etc.  and the child who may be struggling with a family related crisis could definitely benefit from a dose of play-time with mom or dad.

Over the weekend I attended a friends baby shower and the group was asked to individually fill out a card with a bit of parenting advice for the new mother.  I spontaneously wrote down an idea for a really fun kitchen game that I used when my daughter was  between the ages of 3-6.   I would spread a large piece of wax paper on my kitchen counter and pour prepared chocolate pudding on the wax paper.  We would then begin drawing the most wonderful pudding art in the world that was spectacular if I do say so myself.  The best part was licking the pudding off our fingers while we were painting!  I was kind of proud of myself for remembering this idea, after all, it’s been quite a few years since my daughter and I spent the afternoon making pudding art.  What I remember most, however, is how much fun we had.  As she became older our playtime changed; there were Barbie’s, American Girls, bike riding, roller blading and now it’s “family game night” or “girls night out” (which is a great excuse for getting dressed up for dinner and a movie).  

Spending time with your child regardless of age, creates security and stability and eventually shows up in their self-confidence and self-esteem.   And as it turns out, it’s not only good for your kids, it’s good for you too.  If you’re in the midst of a family crisis, whether its divorce, financial problems or some other issue, you can bet your child is feeling the stress of the situation.  So dig deep, find your inner child and become a playful parent today…relax, enjoy and give them the most valuable gift you can give – your time.

Be Careful, Contents are Fragile

After a conversation with a friend of mine this week,  I was reminded of how fragile a child can become when managing emotions and life while their parents go through a divorce.  This was one of the subjects that prompted me to even begin working on H.A.P.P.Y.   I found I had come in contact with many other single mom’s concerned about this same issue and quite frankly, we were all muddling through and hoping we were handling things well.   

Most children enter and exit an extremely fragile state while trying to navigate their emotions during divorce.   So our jobs as mothers becomes even more demanding as we find ourselves the key to helping our children overcome this fragile state and move into a more secure and stable emotional place. 

Now that I’ve revisited this subject, I thought I’d send out a bit of mommy wisdom for those of you that are in the same situation I was in a few short years ago.

If you are a single mom reading this and asking yourself, “is my child still in this fragile state and if so, how do I fix it?”   I’m not a family counselor so my first recommendation is to see one.  I believe in getting a good family counselor that you can see on a regular basis or when you feel everything is becoming too much to bear.  A good counselor will guide you through helpful steps specifically for your family needs.   Secondly, there are a few basic things that you can do at home that I found effective with my daughter as we were trying to adjust to divorce.  

I 100% believe in the power of a positive attitude (Go Zig!)  So #1 is as expected:

1.  Keep a positive attitude or as a very good friend of mine always says…”keep your head high” (which is her German version of stay positive)

I feel this should be repeated because a healthy attitude and positive view on life is good medicine.  I don’t want to oversimplify the situation and I don’t expect anyone to glide like a ballerina around the house singing “Zippidy Doo Da” ; however, it’s like baking a cake, if you use quality ingredients and follow the recipe to the best of your ability, you will have created a beautiful cake that is ready for the frosting.  Your child (the cake) will be ready for life (the frosting).

2.  HUG ME time…refer to my earlier post on this subject.

3.  Turn off TV, phones and computer and have dinner together.  Talk, laugh, tell jokes, whatever it takes to focus on them for at least 30 minutes.  And don’t talk to much, let them do most of the talking; listen as much as possible.  Listening to your children tell stories and showing interest in what is important to them will light up their little brains and their hearts.

4.  Go to Church, Synagogue, Mass, Temple, etc.  Take them to a place of serenity, respect and quiet even if it’s just a few times a month.  This is not only a benefit to them, but to you as well.  There’s just something so peaceful, enriching and calming about spending a few moments listening to spiritual instruction and participating in spiritual reverence.  It rejuvenates the soul.

5.  Don’t tear down your Ex in front of your kids. 

Our little guys and gals can only handle so much, so if you fight with your ex or display your anger in front of your children on a regular basis and say things that tear him down, your child will potentially do one of two things; retreat or rebel.  Both are equally serious.   If your situation is dire, go see a family counselor and vent to them, not your children.  I’ve witnessed the damage of a newly single mom who cannot seem to wrap her arms around her situation.  My heart hurts for her because I’ve experienced the same feelings and I understand the frustration but at some point we have to pick ourselves up and move forward for the beautiful little people in our lives.  It’s ultimately our responsibility to be sure their hearts and their minds are healthy and maturing at a normal pace.

One last recommendation is a book that I’ve found to be extremely insightful and helped me to understand my daughters emotional behaviour and needs.  I recommend reading The Five Love Languages of Children and/or the Love Languages of a Teenager by Gary Chapman.  I’ve recommended this book before because it gave me important insight and ultimately helped me as I parented my daughter through divorce.

Keep in mind all situations are different, some more serious than others; however, these five simple steps worked for me and my daughter.  None of us need to reinvent the wheel, so try them on for size and see how they fit.  You may find your home a happier place and your children loving life just a bit more.