Tag Archive for: Challenges

Leaning Into The Stress of Parenting

Keep your head above water with these tips.

I can’t believe that it is less than 90 days from Christmas! It seems like yesterday I was actually looking forward to school starting because it brought some structure back into my carefree summer lifestyle. Today, I am headlong into sports, extracurricular activities, and community service events. It’s far from carefree- it’s stressful. But that’s okay.

I feel exhausted, overwhelmed and don’t know how to get off this merry-go-round that is my life. The real dilemma for me is, do I really want to get off the merry-go-round? Should I get off? Do I know when I need to hop off? Despite all that is swirling around, I am choosing to enjoy this season in my parenting life. I realize that it will only be for a SEASON. So, how do you lean into the stress that is unavoidable?

I am the proud mother of three sons ages 21, 16 and 13. I realize that the time for me to be a Hands-On Mom is quickly coming to a close. If you are like me, living in the midst of chaos, you want to know how to keep your head above water.

Here a few tips on handling the stress of parenting:

  1. Plan, Plan, Plan: I am not the most organized person. I try to keep the car on the road by creating a plan. Understanding that things will probably change, I still have a calendar with everything on it color-coded. (I need the color-coding!) I include my work schedule, the boys’ school calendar, sports, meetings, extracurricular activities, and even my husband’s two work schedules.
    Stress might be inevitable, but NOT having a plan dramatically increases my stress.
  2. Learn To Say, NO: I am generally a social butterfly. I am learning to say “no” to things that are not the BEST use of my time, energy and attention.  Even good things and fun things. Sometimes the answer is just, “No.” (If I say “yes,” I make sure to add it to the calendar and, yes, color-code it!)
  3. Empower My Children: I have to be honest and confess that, often, the reason I feel so overwhelmed is because I am continuing to do things for my sons that they can do for themselves (e.g., washing clothes.)  I rationalize doing things for them by telling myself that I can do it faster and get it done correctly (e.g., not placing a red shirt in the white clothes with bleach.)
    The reality is that I need to empower my children to be independent and to learn how to do certain things for themselves. And that’s less stress for me.
  4. Follow Your Child’s Lead: If we are honest, there are activities that our children participate in that they HATE. Why do we make them do those things? We tell our kids: It looks good on your resumé. It will help you get a scholarship for college. I would have loved to have this opportunity when I was your age.
    There can be a lot of truth in those statements, but what is the balance with letting our children develop their own interests? Sometimes we are stressing ourselves out as parents by rushing our kids around town to do things they don’t even enjoy. Are we really doing it for them or is it to relive our past or fulfill our own hopes and wishes?
  5. Build Relationships: Sometimes stress is relieved in community. I am a proud Band Mom. I have created friendships with other parents whose children are in the band. We tailgate together, sit at the games together, and do the funny band dances with the band. It’s nice knowing we are in this together! (I also get to spend time with my son enjoying something that he enjoys.)

I often hear from moms dealing with an empty nest, “Enjoy your time with your kids. It flies by so fast.”  They’re not wrong. In spite of this being a crazy season of life, I cherish these moments with my sons and try to handle the stress in healthy ways.

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If you have multiple children with different personalities, is it possible to parent them all the same way?

Even if you just have two kids, you know the pressure to treat them both the same.

I am the proud parent of three smart, handsome, curious sons and often refer to them as “The Boys.” It would be so very tempting and easy to parent them exactly the same way and to make the three of them conform to me. Yes, they are all my sons, but each one of them is a fearfully and wonderfully made individual.

I attempted the “all-for-one” parenting style for a while. The rules and consequences were the same for all. Bedtimes were the same for all. I had an interesting encounter with my then 5-year-old son where he asked me why his 14-year-old brother got to sleep downstairs, and he had to sleep upstairs with us.

This is where the proverbial rubber meets the road in parenting.

I recognized that I have three sons in three different stages of life. The recognition that I have to communicate, discipline, and spend time with each of them differently caused me to become Three Parents: Advisor Mom for my oldest; Relator Mom for my middle son and Hands-On Mom for my youngest. I now try to meet the individual needs of each of my children, and worry less about what they consider “fair.” I have become the parent that they need instead of the “throw noodles on the wall and see what sticks” parent.

In order to become the best parent they need, I use the following steps:

  1. Know your child:
    I am very clear on who they are. Each of them has their own likes, dislikes, and aspirations. I am able to recognize their moods – when they are hungry, sad, or just need time alone. I spend time with each of them. I would take my oldest grocery shopping with me. He was leaving for college and I wanted to teach him about shopping and meal planning. My middle son and I talk as I drive him to school. My youngest wants to watch movies with me while he holds my hand. I am being three parents all at the same time.
  2. Don’t compare your children to each other:
    As a young person, I was compared to another family member. As a result, I vowed to see the unique value that each of my sons brings to the world. I am conscious not to say, “Why can’t you be more like your brother?” We often have children who make parenting them seem ‘easy’ because they are compliant or have an easy-going disposition, while your other child is defiant, stubborn or moody. It is natural to want them all to be the same, but it’s not realistic.
  3. Realize that this parenting style takes time, energy, insight, effort, and adaptability:
    Using this approach to parenting will make you tired. It takes time and effort. It takes time responding to individual needs rather than reacting to the tyranny of the urgent and just reaching into my parenting bag of tricks.

My life as a parent is full.

I may feel pulled in several different directions, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I see my sons growing into the young men that they were created to be. This job of parenting may require me to have three different personalities, but the end result is worth it.

For more resources, see our Parents & Families page here.

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We’re Total Opposites! Can Our Relationship Work?

Examining your differences can be key to finding out.

You’re in love and you’re total opposites. Is this your true love? Can your relationship last forever? Do you guys stand a chance? You’ve heard “opposites attract” and you’ve definitely felt that attraction, but you can’t deny how opposite you are either. (Your friends and family constantly remind you…)

Then, maybe in quiet moments, the nagging questions creep in…

How different is too different? Are we total opposites? Maybe opposites attract, but can opposites also drive each other crazy? Is there a point where you are so different that you are forced to concede that you aren’t compatible? Does it matter how different you are if both of you are willing to accept each other’s differences? Can there be a “balancing act” between the differences? He has this one t-shirt that he thinks is so cool and it’s all I can do to not burn it! THIS CAN NEVER WORK, CAN IT?

Calm down. Take a deep breath. These are (mostly) good questions to be asking! 

If we start with the idea that EVERYONE is already different from each other to some extent, then the next thing to understand is that the bigger the differences, the more you will have to work to function as one, to be unified, to be a team AND the more you’ll have to work to avoid conflict, arguments, and deal with disagreements. 

This is a key concept. Got it? Bigger differences equal more relationship work.

I’m using “bigger” here as in how important are the differences? (Personality and character, core values like religion or politics, issues like whether to have kids, parenting styles, or approaches to conflict, communication, sex and money.)

Some people get hung up on the little differences and don’t even consider the BIG ones. The little differences are the spice of life. Different taste in music or food. City or country upbringing. Cake or pie? (Pie of course!) Those kinds of differences keep things interesting. But there are Big Differences that can make things difficult down the road. Have you thought about those?

In theory, you’d think it doesn’t matter how many differences or how big they are if each of you is willing to do the required work. (“But we love each other!”) That sounds so nice.

In practice, people have limits, get worn out, or have certain things where their partner just has to be on the same page. Worse, sometimes you can’t predict the impact of the differences down the line. Listen, the rest of your life is a long time.

Give some serious thought to these next little pieces of wisdom:

First, marriage tends to magnify your differences, NOT minimize them. It certainly won’t make them go away. Oh, and you or marriage aren’t gonna “fix” him or her. If it’s a “thing” while dating, it will really be a “thing” when you get married.

Secondly, in general, while they are dating, people tend to greatly underestimate the impact of these differences, while, at the same time, overestimating their ability to look past them. (Read that last sentence a couple of times. I’ll wait.)

Why can’t they see straight? They have these big blindspots called “Attraction,” “Being In Love,” “Infatuation” or “But He’s/She’s So Hot! Then at some point, a few years into the rest of their life, they are like, “Wow, this is really, really hard!” (If children come into the picture, multiply the difficulty level by a factor of at least five.)

Here’s the thing, nobody is going to be able to tell you definitively, “You guys are just too different.” There is something there or you wouldn’t be dating, right? But here is some help seeing around those blind spots…

Are the differences in core values, non-negotiables, or just preferences?

I’ll use my 25-year marriage (That’s twenty-five years. A quarter-century!) as an  example. We. Could. Not. Be. More Different…

Her idea of a fun Saturday morning is re-organizing the kitchen cabinets so she can check that off her List of Things to Do. (That’s an illness, right?) Then she wants to proceed to the next things on her list, all equally as exciting to me. My perfect Saturday is watching some (pretentious) art-house movie, then analyzing and endlessly discussing the cinematography and the significance of the director’s color palette while listening to some obscure Icelandic band.

She is a grounded, list-making Doer. I am a list-averse, head in the clouds.

She is concrete. I’m abstract. She’s about accomplishments, I’m about … not.

All these are real differences, BUT we pretty much completely agree right down the line when it comes to religion, spirituality, and politics. We have the same non-negotiables of honesty and loyalty. We both wanted kids and wanted the same things for them. (But, man, if my life depended on buying a dress for her that she would actually wear, I’m a dead man.)

Do the differences complement or compete?

She is more of an extrovert who loves people and parties. I’m an introvert who is good at faking being extroverted. She loves the crowds on Black Friday. I hate them. But, if she has to return something and has lost the receipt, I will be called upon to talk our way out of that with the manager. I’m just good at that sort of thing.

See, when encountering differences, people often make a judgment as to who is better and who is worse. If you can avoid that kind of thinking and be more like, “Where does THIS come in handy? Where does THAT?” now you are complementing each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Boom.

Are the differences an obstacle or an opportunity?

Religious differences are unique. Now, you can say that in this arena you’ll just agree to disagree. That’s sounds grown-up. Might work for you two. But It will be a thing with the in-laws. In fact, it will be THE thing. If you have children, you will have to pick which traditions they will be raised under. That can cause some serious tension! I’ve seen it. Just sayin’…

Speaking of children, it can be really good for them to have parents who are significantly different but model how to make that work and play to their strengths. Maybe the kids end up being balanced and learning valuable life skills. Or maybe they grow up seeing their parents arguing all the time because they are so, so different. Are you guys arguing a lot now?

Are the differences a problem to be solved or a tension to be managed?

Some differences might get smoothed out a bit over time so they don’t rub each other so sharply. but they will always be there. These differences aren’t something you solve, they are something you learn to live with the rest of your life. You cool with that? 

I don’t have a wife who enjoys talking about philosophy, movies, music, books, art, or the beauty of the word “oblivion.” She indulges me and works at it and is a really good sport about it. I try not to wear her out and corner her with lengthy conversations about Southern Gothic authors.

She doesn’t have a husband who will ever be organized, be good about budgeting, will jump up to tackle some project around the house, will ever want to go jogging, or organize my day around a list of things to do. I know that stuff is important to her, so I work at it. We both have accepted these thingsWe had to grow into it… It was hard for a long time until we figured it out.

Are the differences equally valued?

This is important. For us, this has taken some time and has been tough. When it comes to our differences, she likes to claim, “Hey, at least I get stuff done.” Then I say, “Yeah, but you miss out on so much beauty and wonder and will likely die from a stress-induced heart attack.” (Point, mine. Check THAT off your list…)

We have learned to play to our strengths. Who do you think makes sure that bills get paid on time? Who do you think helps our kid with his Shakespeare project?

Spending the rest of your life with someone doesn’t require uniformity – that would be boring. It does require unity. Whatever the differences, you will need to be able to stand unified. Unified against challenges, problems, hardships, the test of time, and even sometimes things like in-laws and often your own children. It’s gonna be you two total opposites against the world. Is there enough common ground for you to stand together?

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

For more resources, see our Dating and Engaged or Marriage pages.

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6 Ways to Deal with Emotional Pain

Being honest about the hurt can help you move forward.

Have you been to the doctor’s office or emergency room and they asked you to rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10? I really stress out over this question and probably way overthink it. I want to know what a 1 or a 10 stands for so I can answer accurately.  If I am going to be healthy – physically and emotionally, I better answer honestly. People are counting on me.

After 31 surgeries in the past couple of decades, and surgery 32 right around the corner, I have probably been asked to rate my pain hundreds of times. Hundreds. By doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists, physical therapists, mental health professionals. Sometimes it’s hard to pin an exact number to your pain, but you know when it’s there. What do you do with yours?

Over the years, I’ve learned the patterns of my pain. For me, physical pain usually leads me to emotional pain like loneliness or depression. When I’m depressed, I’m more likely to do something like skip physical therapy which then prolongs my recovery time which only makes me more depressed. And the downward spiral spins…

If I am going to have a healthy relationship with myself (and my family, friends, neighbors and co-workers) it begins when I answer these questions honestly…

How would you rate… your pain today Mr. Daum, on a scale of 1 to 10? How would you rate your…

Depression…

Anxiety…

Anger… 

Stress…

Loneliness…

It is so tempting to ignore or downplay our pain. Are you honest about yours?

Call in the Professionals.

Whether your pain is physical or emotional, know when to get help. Some problems are just bigger than you are. Don’t be a hero. Don’t let it paralyze you. Do not let it make you do something you’ll regret. Don’t pretend your anger is a 2 when you are at a 9. There is nothing wrong with calling in the pros.

Laugh.

Seriously, laughter is the best medicine. Mock your pain by laughing at it. Take some of its power over you away. If the people around you see that you can joke through your struggles, it puts them at ease, too. (This doesn’t mean you don’t take it seriously, just that you won’t let it steal your smile.)

Perspective.

All the perspective. True, sometimes the pain that you are feeling is the Worst Pain in the Whole Entire Universe to you in the moment, BUT there is always someone out there who would trade problems with you in a second. That doesn’t make your problems magically go away, but it gives you perspective

Embrace the Pain.

This one is a tougher sell. Work with me here. There is a huge upside to pain. Whether it is physical or emotional, your pain is trying to teach you something. Pain is a strict teacher, but it teaches some of life’s most important lessons. Lean into the pain. Be open to the lessons. Be grateful for them…

Keep It Real.

If someone asks how I feel, I usually tell them. They asked. (You don’t have to dump EVERYTHING on them, but you’ll soon learn that your Brave Face doesn’t help anyone.) At least have one or two people in your life that you can be real with about how you feel when you are hurting or depressed or angry or stressed. These are people who will let you vent, not be dismissive, listen for a while, but then help you get centered and refocused again. These people are your angels.

Prevention.

Listen to this, the cool thing is that a lot of what keeps us healthy physically also helps keep us healthy emotionally. Good sleep. Exercise. Eating healthy. Getting out in the sun. Spending time with friends and loved ones. Gratitude. Check-ups with professionals. Listen: The absolute best pain, physically and emotionally, is the pain that you avoid.

On A Scale Of 1 to 10, How Honest Are You About Your Pain?

For more resources, see our Self-Care page here.

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Have you ever had a friend who completely began to ignore you when they started dating someone? Or a friend who began acting differently once they were in a relationship? How did that make you feel? Angry, irritated, frustrated? However it made you feel, we all say that will never be us until… it is.

Dating can be hard, especially in today’s digital age. You can’t open Instagram without feeling bad that you are single. When it comes to dating (or not) there are some things we have to be aware of. There’s not a right or wrong way to date, but there are unhealthy and healthy ways!

How can we make sure we are staying true to ourselves while also being in a relationship? Here are some dos and don’ts of dating…

Dos:

  • DO take your time. Good things come to those who wait. Anything worth having is worth waiting for.
  • DO stay true to who you are. Never forget where you came from. Be who you are because losing yourself is not worth it.
  • DO know what you stand for! You don’t have to compromise what you believe for others. Be strong and stand for your values. If they don’t like it, it is possible they’re not supposed to be in your life anyway.

Don’ts

  • DON’T block out your loved ones! Closing out the people who have always had your back is the last thing you should do. There is such a thing as having a family life and a social life while in a close dating relationship, trust me!
  • DON’T let your relationship status determine your worth. No, you’re not a loser because you’re the only one in your friend group that is single. Go live your best life. Being single can be lit! You don’t have to worry about someone eating your food, Valentine’s Day isn’t a huge deal for you, and no one gets upset with you for not calling them.
  • DON’T get in a relationship just because everyone else is in one. It’s completely fine if you’re single…

Listen, you don’t have to date right now. It’s okay to date yourself for a little bit. It’s okay to live in the moment by yourself. It’s okay to take yourself on dates. It’s okay to learn about who you are. It’s okay to tell yourself you’re beautiful or handsome. It’s okay to reassure yourself that you’re not alone- you have people in your corner! Don’t rush for the status. The heartbreak isn’t worth it.

For more resources, see our Dating and Engaged page here.

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What, exactly, were you expecting when you got married? Did you expect marriage and your spouse to make you happy?

Are you on the verge of stepping across the line into the world of marriage with your beloved? What do you expect when you get there? Are you expecting your “happily ever after?”

If you’re like me, I had all kinds of aspirations about traveling the world with my wife, going on endless adventures. It was going to be tons of fun! We would be so happy! But of course, real-life quickly set in, and we came to understand these weren’t the most realistic expectations we could have.

Great expectations in marriage make a marriage, well… great! Expectations give you hope for a fulfilling and enjoyable relationship. And who doesn’t want that? I’ve never talked to any couples who desired a less-than-happy marriage together.

But there’s often a very fine line, though, between great expectations and unrealistic expectations. And unrealistic expectations make marriage—you guessed it—unrealistic. So these unrealistic expectations, often unspoken, wreak all kinds of havoc on the marriage.

And ironically, what is the biggest and most popular of all unrealistic marital expectations? Expecting your spouse to make you happy. 

Yup, you heard me right.

Every married person wants their spouse to be happy. But a married person can’t control their spouse’s happiness. If your partner feels pressure from you to be the sole provider of your happiness, that pressure will eventually cause damage. You will always be looking for something from your spouse that he or she can never provide enough to satisfy you, leaving you in a constant state of frustration. Your spouse will always have a weight on their shoulders – a sense of inadequacy and failure.

This is such an unrealistic expectation because happiness is a complicated thing—it is a combination of genetics, circumstances, and decisions you make, not a reality your spouse can manage and maintain. Making your spouse your Happiness Manager sets him or her up to fail at something they weren’t meant to do. 

The fact of the matter is, life is full of ups and downs, unexpected turns in the road, and bouts of chaos- happiness is never a guarantee. And life in this regard does not change once you are married. Marriage does not solve problems, alleviate stress, cure addiction, create balance, nor give enlightenment. Marriage is not an automatic happiness dispenser. Therefore, your spouse is not—and cannot be—your source of happiness in life.

Author Gary Chapman calls these kinds of expectations “If Onlys.” If only my spouse would work less… If only my spouse would lose weight… If only my spouse would wash the dishes, take out the trash… Then he/she would make me happy

So how do you go about reversing these unrealistic expectations?

First, ask, “Where is this coming from? What is it that makes me think my spouse should provide my happiness?” These kinds of expectations usually come from something in your past – maybe some kind of unmet need that you’ve experienced earlier in your life. Or maybe they come from our culture, our circle of friends, or maybe even social media.

When you start recognizing the source, you take the pressure off your spouse for “fixing things” and “making you happy” and “making everything alright,” and you can put energy toward resolving the source of that need for happiness and getting it in perspective.

Another way to counteract this unrealistic expectation is to start recognizing marital expectations that are truly realistic and healthy

Dr. John Gottman lists several marital expectations that healthy couples aspire to in their relationship:

  • Be good friends.
  • Have a satisfying sex life.
  • Trust one another.
  • Be fully committed to one another.
  • Manage conflict constructively – arrive at a mutual understanding and get to compromises that work.
  • Repair effectively when one hurts the other.
  • Honor one another’s dreams, even if they’re different.
  • Create a shared meaning system with shared values and ethics, beliefs, rituals, and goals.
  • Agree about fundamental symbols like what a home is, what love is, and how to raise children.

These are good, healthy, realistic expectations to aim for. And they are hard enough.

One thing to remember—just because it’s unrealistic that our spouse provides all our happiness doesn’t mean that a fulfilling, remarkable marriage isn’t attainable. When you turn toward your spouse‘s needs and focus on them—you find true marital joy and fulfillment is much more within your reach. Now you have found true happiness!

Looking for more marriage resources? Click here!

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Sometimes you find yourself in relationships, social or romantic, with liars. You might say something like, “I can’t put my finger on it, but something is off about this person, explanation, or story.”

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Learning how to lead in a new marriage is hard. Trust me. I’ve got the scratches to prove it!

“WILL!! YOU’RE PUSHING ME UNDER A TREE!!!”

It was at this moment I realized my husband and I should not have gotten in the same canoe on this family trip.

You see, my husband (the most laid-back, easy-going guy ever) and I (an admittedly fiery redhead) had only been married 3 months when my family decided to go on a canoeing adventure over the 4th of July weekend.

Since we both love the great outdoors, neither of us thought it would be a problem! That is until I was pinned under a fallen tree while my kind, loving husband was steering us in the back of this two-person boat.

As I saw three spiders crawl onto my legs and felt my arm scratch up against the branches, I quickly pushed us away from the tree while he fervently apologized to me for not paying attention to where he was steering us. But it was a little late in my book. At this point, I had brushed off the spiders, tended to the scratches on my arm, and built up a wall of disappointment and anger against him.

I thought to myself, “This would be going so much better if I was the one in the back steering us. Why can’t he see that too and offer up his seat??”

Yikes.

You might be thinking something along the same lines about your relationship, too. Whether you’ve had a moment when your spouse pushed you under a tree (literally or figuratively), or maybe you’ve been feeling unsure about your role as a spouse. When should you be the one steering? When should you follow your spouse’s lead? I’ve got a few words for you.

First of all, know that there are times for both spouses to lead! After going a little further down the river, I realized how wrong I was to think that I should be the one steering the two of us. If it were me in the back, my competitive nature would have paddled us straight to the finish line with little to no time to stop and look at the scenery, play around and splash each other with our paddles, or talk with family in the boats around us. But since he was the one leading us, I was able to enjoy myself (outside of the whole tree thing) and embrace a moment where “winning” didn’t matter.

This was his moment to lead, even if he did mess up a little.

It’s also good to see that each spouse should lead in the ways that they are strongest. Will and I have decided that when it comes to caring for things, from plants to animals, or handling the finances and budget, that’s on me. But with planning get-togethers and deciding what we’ll eat throughout the week, he’s totally got those. My husband and I both recognize each other’s strengths and our own needs, so we can lead each other to be better versions of ourselves. And that really is the key.

SO! That being said, here are just a few questions and tips for you and your spouse to look over together and decide how you both can lead in the best ways possible.

  • Ask yourself, “Where are areas that I know I’m lacking something (whether that’s a skill, a way of thinking, etc.)? Can my spouse help fulfill that need in our relationship?
  • When my spouse is leading us, do I ever feel any resentment toward them? In what ways?
  • Define each of your roles in your marriage and decide who gets to lead what/when.
  • Once you’ve set boundaries around leading in certain areas, DO NOT overstep those guidelines! Trust your spouse to do it well and to do it their way.
  • Do your best to gain a little humility. Ask your spouse to lead in ways you know you can’t (or shouldn’t).

Learning how to lead in a new marriage is hard. I promise there will be times you will accidentally pin your spouse under a tree, steer you both in the wrong direction, or maybe sink the boat altogether. But the key to a successful relationship is understanding that, as a team, it’s going to take some time to grow together, communicate strongly, and lead each other well. Thank goodness you get to figure it out together, spiders, scratches, and all.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***