Ripping up the Naughty and Nice Lists

All I really want for Christmas is for all the naughty and nice lists to blend into one spectacular ‘I’m ok and you’re ok list’ so peace and joy descend over the land.

 No more sexual harassment or predators

Cutest thing ever:  My nephew and his wife have been teaching their two and four-year-old boys about ‘stranger danger’ so when they were sitting on Santa’s knees for their annual visit and Santa’s hands accidentally patted the little one’s privates he informed Mr. Claus, “You touched my penis” and gave him the cold shoulder.  Good job mom and dad; message received and appropriately acted on.

Sad that we have to have those types of conversations with our kids…but there’s been a whole lot of sexual not at all nice things in the news lately.  Nice to know there is hope that the youngest generation will refuse to be victims or predators.

Stop race and religion from becoming divisive

For years there has been racial and religious prejudice.  Black and White.  Native Americans and first European immigrants.  Irish Catholics and English Protestants.  Muslims and Christians and thousands of years of “this group” fighting with “that group”.  We are just people.  We can agree on some things and disagree on other things but don’t have to label others by one trait or one belief.  We don’t have to hate anyone because what they believe or how they look–millions of mirror image of ourselves would be so boring.  My mom and dad used to say, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  Boy have they gotten smarter as I’ve gotten older.

Stop expecting government (translated others) to be responsible for the consequences of poor choices

We are in some pretty deep holes as a society and this one is going to take some climbing up and/or reaching down and pulling up others before we can move on, but it can be done.  How much better when we reach out one-to-one than when we think a check from “the government” is enough.  No one can make another person change, but everyone can change others through their actions.

We can love each other enough not to start wars that pull families apart.

Nothing is more heart-warming than watching soldiers, marines, sailors and the rest of our military surprise their partners, children, parents, etc. when they come home unexpectedly.  Nothing is more heart-wrenching than watching a family member bury their moms, dads, siblings and loved ones.  Help the warriors who come home transition back to peace.  Help the veterans of the past deal with their past…the horrors they saw and things they had to do should be lessons, not legacies for our grandkids.



Five-ish Things That Kids Learn in Families

“What we remember from childhood we remember forever…”   Cynthia Ozick, American writer 1928.

Young children, and teens, sometimes have values, priorities, behaviors and feelings that they have to unlearn, or re-channel if they have been exposed to traumatic life events, or unhealthy behaviors by their parents. It can be a long, slow process but don't give up.  Healthy life skills, coping mechanisms and trust building come from watching you, as well as, being given opportunities to experiment, grow and change. 

The parameters of ‘normal’.

Family life is a microscopic version of the world. It’s where children and teens learn to interact with others. Learn how they fit into social and work (chores or working for others) relationships.  It’s where they learn boundaries and where they learn to evaluate what is acceptable, unacceptable or just plain bizarre behavior.

Often, if tragedy or abuse occurs in a child’s life, they tend to expect bad things unless we help them put things in perspective. It should be every parenting adult’s goal to help kiddos see that life is a series of possibilities–not just a steady stream of problems.

How to handle feelings and conflict.

It can be especially hard for youth who have been threatened or punished for “talking back” to engage in any conversations that they know would have triggered a violent reaction in their mom or dad.  However, their day-to-day success, as well as all ongoing and future relationships rely on their learning how to give and receive feedback honestly, respectfully, and at appropriate times.

If kids yell obscenities, hit, walk away when you are talking with them, or demonstrate other extreme behaviors create a cooling off period, and then explain rules of engagement.  Let them practice when they are calm saying “I” statements that don’t threaten or demean. Role play examples they can relate to such as, “I feel scared when you yell, like you just did.  I know that the odds of a plane crashing are very slim, however, it makes my stomach hurt when you make fun of me for not wanting to fly because that’s how my parents died.  It’s my turn to decide what movie we are going to go see since you choose last week. Was there a reason you want to choose this week too?”

Feelings are honest.  It’s okay for children and teens to be angry, mad, sad, glad, silly or whatever.  What’s important is how feelings are expressed by words, voice tone, body language and timing. They learn respect as much from watching and listening to how you talk to others, and about others as they do from lectures or coaching. If a birth parent is, or was, abusive they may need professional counseling.

Being responsible isn’t easy.

Kids learn from experience–so even when it’s painful let them try new things or re-try old things in new ways giving them more and more control and responsibility. Let them make mistakes. Let them learn about natural consequences, and most important set them up to succeed.

Not all their efforts will be painless, or pretty, but from each attempt they will learn. Show them trust and respect by honestly praising successes (even partial) and together talk through events and feelings when things don’t turn out so well. Be open to their suggestions and be flexible.  When you can’t ‘flex’ explain “why”. Is it too expensive, are you overbooked, or is it simply too dangerous, illogical, or against your values?

Learning to be a good winner or a good loser.

Don’t believe the drivel that anyone can do anything they set their mind to.  I am 5’2″ and will never be 5’7″.  At seventy, I’m too old to become an Olympic champion in anything.  They too have some skills and gifts and some restrictions. If they have been cut from the high school varsity basketball team help them access the situation.  Would extra practice or coaching help?  Would joining a ‘rec’ team improve their future chances in high school, college and beyond?  Are they simply, at 5 foot, too short to compete unless they get a growth spurt?

Additionally, everyone cannot be best at everything.  If they try something and fail then they will have learned a little more about themselves and be better prepared when passed over for a job promotion or maybe learning that there are physical reasons that they cannot eat sugar without serious health consequences.

Sometimes winning comes easily.  They will be better served if they learn early on how to share the glory in a team sport or turn the spotlight to encouraging others.  “I am the greatest” (you fill in the blank) comments can quickly turn off others.

Values and ethics.

We live in a world where everything we do is quickly picked up, passed on and/or critiqued by others on social media.  It’s not easy to be bullied at school or work, but it’s mega multiplied when the bullying jumps to cyber and your child is exposed to ridicule from those he/she interacts with every day.

Since we can’t control everything that happens to our children as youngsters or young adults, we have to help them develop the self confidence and self worth to ride out the storms. Teens don’t always believe that character counts more than immediate popularity. However, surrounding them with family, mentors, good friends who share your family’s values and faith will help them mentally shrug and walk away or calmly say, “that’s not cool”.

Let them know that they aren’t victims and that asking for help from God or others takes courage and strength but we all need others…and we all can help others.

Met earlier this month in Seattle with a number of other grandfamily members (and Donna Butts from Generations United) at the Casey Leadership Retreat. Amazing people. Amazing organizations.

How Kids of Addicts & Alcoholics Define Normal

Normal is learned.

I remember after my grandson came to live with me when he was very young and diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome after living with his dad that he didn’t laugh for the longest time.  In fact, a couple of years passed and one day while making dinner I heard a noise that I couldn’t place.  It took a minute for it to register that Chad was laughing out loud at something on the TV.  Normal is so darn nice when it’s been missing but suddenly appears in your life.

The thing about ‘normal’ is that it is whatever is customary and usual to each individual. When kids, or teens, live in a household where normal is substance abuse crazy, it’s like they are trying to see through a pair of glasses that have been severely shattered.  They think everyone, and everything, has cracks.  They may suspect their family life is different, but they don’t know for sure until they have something to compare it to.  You can explain abnormal until there is a baseline for normal.


To children of an addict normal means:

Parents aren’t predictable.  They leave you sitting on the steps at school, forget your birthday, and then out-of-the-blue one day surprise you by being sober and telling you they are sorry, promising they’ll do better.

Parents aren’t trustworthy.  The tennis shoes they promised to buy when they got paid so you could participate in PE end up being put off one more month because they stopped at a bar on the way home.  So you cop an attitude at school–not telling anyone the real reason you skip class.

You’ve probably live in a lot of different “homes” and by high school have been in ten or twelve schools.  If you’re lucky you get sympathy and passed on even if you leave before the end of the term–and even if you really don’t know the subject.  If you are unlucky the same thing happens and pretty soon you are so far behind in every subject that you give up.

You live with the blinds or drapes always closed…keeping the world out and what happens inside private.  No one sees the dirty needles, dirty dishes and dirty money made by your parents from stealing or dealing.  You talk only to the neighbors who look and act like your family.  Cool kids avoid you, and for awhile that hurts until you put up barriers that others can’t pierce.

Life is a series of handouts, not hand-ups…but you don’t see life in those dimensions.   Why eat a homemade sandwich when you can get free breakfast and lunches at school?   Even if you want to change as you get older, why apply for a part time job when your parents won’t be there to pick you up after the stores close and the buses quit running?

You learn to hate drugs and alcohol and what they do to people…or you learn that they blur the edges of pain, of anger, of hunger, of failure and you get someone pregnant–or are pregnant–and do the ‘normal thing’ and get an entry-job, get food stamps, or start dealing.

You can’t explain normal.

You can’t explain normal because someone who hasn’t seen it, won’t buy it.  You can only demo it by hanging out together and just living it.   If you are parenting say what you’re going to do, and then do what you said.  ALWAYS.  If you are just a friend, mentor, teacher or other concerned adult–LIVE YOUR VALUES more than you talk your values.

“I would like to buy you a pair of tennis shoes because I see you need them and it would make me happy to do so, but I want them to fit.  Would it be alright with your mother if I took you after school to the mall?”  Or, “I have a lawn that needs cutting, I’ll pay you to do it every week, but I need to know I can count on you to be here or let me know in advance if something special comes up and you want to reschedule.”  Or,  “Nice job on mowing the lawn, but you didn’t pick up the grass clippings along the edges, it’ll take you ten minutes and then you get paid.” Or, “The tennis shoes, aren’t charity–I’m paying forward a kindness someone did for me years ago.  Someday, I’ll tell you about it.  Someday you can help someone else.”

Commitment.  Honesty.  Opportunities.  Feedback.   Repeat–repeat–repeat. Nicely normal, this messy thing called life.

Standing alone…together.

“We Stand Alone Together.”  search

They were men of the 101st Airborne Brigade.  Members of Easy Company. Soldiers of war.

I watched We Stand Alone Together and other parts of the WWII television documentary Band of Brothers honoring Easy Company and the contributions they made to the allied victory.  It was a testimony to the courage of individual men, the vision and tenacity of leaders (who weren’t always identifiable by rank) and the solidarity of American home support.

I watched it on the third anniversary of the 9/11 attack.  The day the world changed forever for Americans and our allies.  Changed forever one more time.  In Paris, Boston, Manchester, Alexandria terrorists keep adding hate, violence and death to the “changed forever one more time.”

Interspersed throughout the battle reenactments, surviving soldiers recalled friends, enemies and history.  These now elderly gentlemen sacrificed much to give us the gift of a safe homeland, a gift that lasted nearly fifty years.

I thought they deserved to be heard before they and their memories pass on –even if I was only one listener, alone in the dark.  Touched by their motto, which came from a Native American name for a mountain where they trained.  We stand alone is a worthy mantra.

I am my brother’s keeper, but only if I am worthy.  I have to be willing to stand alone, before others will trust me to stand alongside them.

We stand alone together when we say, “Not in this house,” and turn off the vulgar, the violent, the lewd and the offensive–whether it’s a television show, a song, a radio disc jockey, a hateful rant, political lie, or a video game.  It makes it easier for other parents, and for our children when they begin to parent.

We stand alone together when we say, “You’re out of here” to politicians, athletes, entertainers and businesspersons who want a free ride and no accountability. When we say, “You’re out of here” to those who use drugs or break laws or violate our youth; to those who shoplift, are unkind, or drink and drive.  To those who kill others they don’t even know because they feed on hate and dishonor their families, their nation.  

We stand alone together when we say, “Come for Thanksgiving Dinner or because I can see you are stressed or hungry, or new to the neighborhood” and start the celebration by giving thanks.  It may be listening to a Native American drummer, a Scottish bagpipe, a poem, or a prayer written by the youngest member of the family.  It may be by asking each guest to express what he or she is thankful for, or it may be a moment of silence to remember, honor and praise.  It may be a compliment, a smile, or simply, “I understand what you are saying, and hopefully we can agree to disagree but still be friends.”

We stand alone together when we send words of thanks to veterans in our hospitals and soldiers in Iraq and throughout the world–and help their struggling families in their absences.

We stand alone together when wherever we go, there we are.

So, sixteen years ago I wrote the above except for the sentences in blue. It published in Portland Family Magazine in, my then monthly column, “Family Gram”™ which I retained rights to–for moments like this I guess.  I updated it two years ago.  Today, there is nothing I would change except to add that we stand alone together by being strong against that which is bad and that which is evil (and they are different). We need to be as strong for championing what is right and good.  We do this in our homes, our courtrooms and with boots on the ground when it is absolutely necessary. Today, for our children and grandchildren, it is absolutely necessary.

“Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power.  America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”  Written by the French philosopher, Alexis de Tocqueville when he came to America in the 1830’s.  searchsearch-1