Simi Valley Family Magazine --

Spring 1999 Edition

Prescription for Parenting

by Deborah Tucker, MA

Parenting can be one of the most rewarding experiences in life. That doesn't mean that it is one of the most pleasurable. Part of what makes it tough is that it's such a mixed bag, both fun and hard work, both gratifying and terrifying. We were all children of our parents, and we bring to the table memories of what felt good and what didn't. The trouble is that sometimes we get confused between our feelings left over from childhood, and our current role as parents. It's true that a lot of hurts can get healed as we parent our own children, but a lot of old buttons can get pushed, too, and not all of them should be resolved through our parenting style.

Probably the toughest concept for many of us to get is the idea that the hard parts of parenting are just that - hard, hard work. One of our main tasks is to study each of our children, determine what they need as individuals, and then provide it. This is not necessarily fun or easy. Giving our children what they need may not be the same at all as doing what makes us feel good as parents. Personally, I prefer to feel like the benevolent, easygoing ruler of a peaceful, self-sufficient little kingdom, but in reality, sometimes I have to be a vigilant and cynical inspector who says, "I need to see just how well you did the job before we consider it done."

As we study our children, each of us will define what we think they need according to what we value and the goals we are hoping to achieve with them. Two common values or goals are responsibility and a sense of self-worth. If these are what I want my children to acquire, then I need to provide them with experiences that will result in these traits. Obviously these experiences will vary according to the age of the child. Self-worth is obtained through meeting challenges and achieving successes. Responsibility ultimately means being accountable for one's actions and needs. So what will I do as a parent to help nurture these traits?

In a very young child, I might emphasize predictability in their environment to help them learn what is expected. This may sound a bit premature to a parent of an infant, but even very small babies benefit from a predictable rhythm to their day. They learn very quickly, for example, that breakfast is followed by bath, then playtime, then a walk, then lunch, then a nap. Toddlers demand predictability, and if limits seem too vague to them, they let us know with tantrums. They show us, too, how good they feel about mastering early tasks, like feeding themselves, getting dressed, cutting their hair - oops! Well, you get the idea.

Elementary age children still need predictability, even as our rules and standards change with their growing maturity. They have many opportunities to gain self-worth through mastery of school challenges, sports, social situations, and responsibility at home. Hopefully, we help them to take more and more responsibility for the consequences of their actions as they grow. Just when we think that maybe the challenge should be lessening, our children hit the teen years. Countdown to adulthood - they need to be able to take care of themselves in a responsible, competent manner by the time they leave home. And even though they challenge us constantly, they are depending on us to provide a steady, predictable set of expectations and values. They may need to fight us about them, but if we don't provide something to butt up against, they don't know where the limits are.

Please understand - I think it's very important to enjoy our children, let them know how much we love them and like them as the unique and interesting people that they are. There are lots of opportunities to have great fun with our kids, and they keep us young if we let them. But at the same, only we are their parents, and only we love them enough to do the hard work required some of the time to help them grow into the best people they can be. So take your vitamins, get plenty of rest, and take lots of deep breaths - you're parents, and you can do it!


What Makes a Marriage Work?

Karen McQuade, M.S.

Successful couples have a few basic traits in common. Let's take a look at them.

1) Vive La Difference! Successful couples acknowledge and accept that men and women think and do things differently, and they believe that this is okay. They also know that people have differences in personality and life experience, beliefs, and interests. They don't see their differences as disappointing or as robbing them of something. They're enriched and challenged by their differences, and they work on their ability to communicate respectfully and bridge the gap. They know the rewards are great.

2) Successful couples know it isn't always obvious. Successful couples know that what is obvious about people and situations to one person is not necessarily obvious to everyone because we all think differently and pay attention to different details. Your spouse will not always see what is obvious to you. It is not because he or she is stubborn, stupid, or dishonest but simply because people are different. Some common differences are personality, gender, life experience, beliefs, and interests. Successful couples know and accept that it isn't always "obvious."

3) Communicating and acting out are not the same thing. In successful marriages spouses try to express their emotions to each other rather than act them out on each other. Expressing and communicating thoughts and feelings helps the other person understand you. In acting out you want the other person to know you are angry, afraid, or sad by what you are do to them. (For example, an acting out spouse might lock his or her spouse out of the house when they went to get the mail after an argument.) Or you want them to have the same experience so you do something to them to make them feel the same feelings you felt. This is usually thought of as"teaching him or her a lesson." It's usually an aggressive or passive-aggressive act.

4) Successful couples know hard times will come. They know that illness, financial struggles, disappointments, loss, and other hard times happen to all people. They know that there are times they may have to give up what they want right now for the good of their spouse, their marriage, and their family--and they are willing to do it. Some people feel deprived if they do not get everything they want. Successful couples know neither of them will get what they want all the time. They work at maintaining an attitude that will preserve rather than destroy their relationship during the hard times.

5) Not everybody is always in the mood. Spouses in successful marriages know that their sex drives might be different and they find a good middle ground.

6) Love takes time and effort. Spouses in successful marriages know that a good marriage takes time, and they commit themselves to giving their mate an adequate amount of quality time. Their relationship is a priority.

7) Successful couples give each other the grace to be human. In growing marriages, each spouse is given the grace to make mistakes, to be tired, to be sick, to misunderstand, to be occasionally grumpy--in other words to be human. Human failure is not interpreted as a personality flaw, evil, or intentional malice. "We're both fallible and human" is their motto. Unless their spouse has shown themselves to be consistently hostile or untrustworthy, successful couples believe in the good intentions of their spouse.

8) Mutual Respect. They treat each other with respect as someone who is valued. Even when they disagree, they respect each other's viewpoint. They never disrespect each other in public by criticizing and speaking badly of each other.

9) Successful couples don't sweat the small stuff. Successful couples save the intensity for important issues. The right way to peel a carrot, or being a few minutes late is not a major catastrophe.

10) Spouses can't read minds. Successful couples don't believe that if someone loves you enough, the other person just knows what the loved one feels, thinks, needs, or wants. They tell each other what they feel, think, need, and want and don't feel badly about it. They know that due to the differences in people, it is foolish and self-defeating to expect mind reading.

11) Checking it out. In successful marriages spouses check out what they think they heard. They realize sometimes we all say things that don't come out quite right, or that we don't hear others correctly, or that we assume motives and meaning that just aren't there. So successful couples say,"I heard you say…." This way they make sure they didn't misunderstand.

12) Successful couples trust each other. Each is honest and sincere with the other. They are generally responsible and reliable. They each have reason to choose to trust and they do.

13) A safe home. Successful couples don't call each other names or hurt each other physically. Successful couples can speak their mind or go about their lives without fear the other will blow up and hurt them. Successful couples do not allow themselves to be abusive.

14) Mates who are accountable for their own behavior and growth strengthen their marriage. Successful couples don't blame each other for what they say and do, but each knows every individual is responsible for his or her own words and actions. When each is willing to look at his or her own behavior and take full responsibility for what they say and do, trust and intimacy can flourish.


Integrating the Spiritual and the Physical

Jackie Ford, M.S.

Life is often full of surprises. Some of these unexpected events give us time to pause and reflect on what is of real value in life. One of these moments occurred to me last December. It was at this time that our youngest son was to undergo his third open-heart surgery.

As we planned to go to the surgeon’s office, we had prepared ourselves for the usual conversation. We expected to hear about the procedures and risks involved. What we were not prepared to hear was the comforting words spoken by the surgeon. As he ended his conversation with us, he turned to our son and told him to get a lot of rest, eat a good dinner and to pray when he went to bed. Pray? This is not what I had expected. As we left the office, the surgeon put his hand on our son’s shoulder and said, “God bless you.”

Each of us later spoke of what these words meant to us. I walked away with a new awareness of myself as both physical and spiritual in my human nature. That night and the rest of that week, I consciously took the time to reflect on what life means to me. I listened to the sounds of nature and stood in awe of the trees in winter. I found the physical strength to cope with the stress through this spiritual approach.

Integrating the spiritual and physical is a lifelong undertaking. It begins with conception and ends with death. Throughout life there are peak moments in which we have the opportunity to look at how well integrated we have become. These peak moments are usually accompanied by crisis.

Crisis is accurately defined as an experience of radical change. There are both positive and negative types of crises in our lives. While we easily recognize negative crises some of what we term positive crises would be marriage, graduation from school, getting a new job, winning the lottery. While we tend to look upon these changes with favor, they nevertheless cause us to take stock of where we are in our lives. How does a person actually assess integration during crisis? What does this process look like?

To be spiritual is to place “emphasis on the personal dimension in which one finds nurturing and growth through forms such as talking with friends, meditation, nature or music.” These experiences usually occur outside of a church setting, but may also occur within that setting. It is taking the time to develop ourselves in the spiritual as well as physical realm that often leads a person to better mental health.

Certainly, we are aware of the need for exercise and nutrition for good physical health. Imagine the amounts of money and time spent on health clubs, health foods, vitamins and nutritional supplements. No one would argue that good physical health is a laudable (if not necessary) goal. Many of us expose ourselves to opportunities to increase our physical well being. Yet, how often do we consider that our spiritual well being is also a factor in good health?

One of the most common phrases I hear when I ask another person what he or she does to renew or re-create themselves is, “I really don’t have time to do that.” Or “I’d love to walk along the beach or through a rose garden or go to a concert or spend twenty minutes a day in quiet reflection, but I can’t. I’m too busy.” I very often find myself saying these very same things. How do we find time? We don’t! We must make the choice to use the time we have.

I believe one of the reasons that seeking counseling works is that one takes the time to reflect on life with another person whom they trust. There are many that look for opportunities to grow in an awareness of who they are and what life means. They find workshops or seminars to attend. This is one of the reasons I provide opportunities for workshops for others.

Yet, enriching your spirit as well as nourishing your body is a conscious choice. In your daily plan, do you take time for you? Is there a ten or fifteen minute time period that you are willing to establish as time for your spirit? Or maybe you are not sure what this is all about – this spiritual aspect of your being. Perhaps you are looking for more in this area. A walk through the “self-help” section of a bookstore will let you know of the many areas of your life that might be reflected upon. It is the reflection that is spiritual.

Beginning Tuesday, May 11, I will begin a three-week workshop on spirituality. If you are interested in attending this workshop, please contact me at Families. If I am not available, leave your name and number and I will return your call. In the meantime, make a choice for yourself to nurture that very wonderful aspect of your human nature that is spirit. Enjoy a walk through the park, a visit with a friend or the leisure of really listening to music.


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