Five Minute Sherpa

an espresso shot of thoughtful guidance

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Making Room in Your Family

Earlier this fall I was asked to share some practices and habits our family does that help to make room for relationships. So much of family life is dictated by events and schedules that we often miss out on relationship building with our spouse or kids. Here are a few of the ideas I shared. Disclaimer: by no means does my family have it figured out, rather we are figuring it out as we go. Our kids are all under 12, so I expect these ideas to expand/evolve as our kids grow up.

We think of making room in our family in two sections: Work/school week, and weekend.

During the school week we attempt to eat together as a family as often as possible. We don’t allow technology or other distractions (books, TV, toys, iPods, phones, etc) to be at the table and we try to have conversations about our day. It usually begins with discussing our high and lows. It almost always includes at least one of our four kids trying to sabotage our efforts. I did the same thing as a kid, so I can’t blame them. Conversations are “boring,” as my kids put it.

We, my wife and I, limit our personal technology use. We try not to use technology (tv, phones, etc) while the kids are awake during the “school nights.” It’s really easy to want to come home, turn on the TV and check-out. The “screen” has become the biggest influencers of relationships.

For the kids, there is no tv, no video games, or other technology use on school nights. This helps the kids to focus on the homework but also allows for us as parents to play or relate to them in whatever it is they have going on.

On the weekend:

We don’t police tech use on Saturday. It’s the day to play video games, watch a cartoon in the morning, and let the kids be kids in this modern day and age. Surprisingly, whenever we ask the kids to turn their iPods off on the weekend, they rarely complain. They intuitively know that too much technology is not a good thing.

We have made Sunday until Noon our time of rest. We generally stay in bed and have all the kids with us after they wake up until breakfast. We lounge around together in our pj’s, reading, playing board games, legos, or something else that is open for everyone (Our kids range from 3-11 with one girl and 3 boys).

Sunday mornings are the few hours of the week that Stephanie and I feel the most present and available with our kids. It’s my favorite time of our week because there are no agendas, the kids know we’re not doing anything outside of being together as a family.

Lastly, one of our favorite practices together is sitting by a fire. We have the benefit of a big backyard that allows us to build a great campfire. Usually 2-3 times a month during the spring and fall we are outside sitting around the fire together. It is probably the single most influential relational time that we have together as a family. The fire sparks so many conversations and openness between all of us. The fire is one of those things that unites people. I’m not entirely sure why that’s the case, but it slows us all down.

The main idea we have come up with for our family is the limiting of technology. There are very few places we humans can go where technology is not surrounding us. If you as a parent don’t do anything else with you kids but eat dinner together, and limit their technology use, you’ll be in rare company.

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Parenting as a Vehicle

Parenting. Hordes of books dominate the shelves of bookstores, teaching you the love languages of kids, the brain rules, and even how kids raise parents (which is my most suggested book for current and aspiring parents). There are classes, techniques, and even some really stringent cult-like ideas that all hope to help parents master the art of parenting.

I enjoy referring to parenting in football defensive references. If a family has two kids, it’s “man coverage,” with 3 kids they are in zone coverage, and with four or more, the all important (and most anxiety producing for a football fan) Prevent defense. It’s clever, I know.

The truth is, no metaphor, book, technique, or principal can help to prepare someone to be a parent. And yet, we all need help to shepherd us along the way.

It’s really hard work, and mostly exhausting to deal with free-willed little people who refuse to be your robot.

Go to bed. Unload your dishes. Be nice to your sister. Pick up your clothes. Turn off the lights.

If you’re a parent, you get it. Most of the time parents are directing, pointing, teaching, yelling, and ending the day praying the kids turn out ok. It’s the ultimate journey of faith, trust, and powerlessness.

Parenting is the vehicle that gets our kids onto or nearby the launching pad for their lives. Each kid has their own unique launching pad. Sometimes parents don’t see that different kids have different needs, which produce different lifestyles, goals, and vision for their lives. If we take all our kids to the same destination, the same launching pad, only one is going to pleased.

This vehicle is the container that provides safe travel while the journey is still in the confines of childhood. Slowly, methodically, and gradually the kids will begin to branch out and become curious about their world. More often than not, a kids curiosity will trigger a parents fear of losing control. This fear, left undressed or unexplored, leads straight to the command center of the kids’ launching pad.

As a fearful parent, I want to be in the command center. I want to be in the control room that has the correct flight plan, path, and coordinates for my kids rocket. I want to know what is going to happen, where they are going, and that they will be ok. In reality, I just want to be ok. My kids are an extension of me (they’re still in the early journey of curiosity), and if they hurt, so do I.

It’s easy for parents to be in the mindset of putting the kids in an auto-piloted vehicle, and retire to the control room where they can push the buttons, speak commands, and remain aloof from the reality of the kids who are in the vehicle. This is the safest form of parenting, but it’s not really parenting. It’s more like a warden, a boss, or an autocrat.

James Masterson, a therapist and author, says that the role of the therapist is to be the guardian of the true, real self. Not surprisingly, this is a lot like the role of a parent. Our role is to guard our kids from buying into the lie that posturing, faking it, or performing is what works. It’s our job to show our kids that money doesn’t buy happiness, nor does money solve the real challenges of life.

The ultimate challenge of parenting is to cultivate a relationship, the vehicle, that allows for safe return from misplaced curiosity, foolish choices, or damaging actions.

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The Way We Heal

The way we heal the wounds in our lives is to tell the story. Tell the story of your harm over and over again until you are no longer limited and harmed by what has happened. This is the essence of therapy … to become familiar with our own truths (and lies) and live honest and peaceable lives.

You cannot do this alone. We are not unbiased about our wounds, nor the words we use to describe our experiences. We need others to hear our stories, and to help us to see parts that we’d rather not see. Parts that we hate.

Untold stories (secrets) poison our hope, dreams, and relationships. Yes, there is much pain in these stories but pain is only there because there has been a fracture of relationship. Just like cold is not it’s own created thing, it is the absence of heat, so too is pain. Pain only exists because a relationship (love) has been broken.

If we cannot forgive those we hate the most (and this doesn’t mean that we have to like the person we’re forgiving), we will never be able to accept the forgiveness of others. Telling our secrets—our stories—is the process of grief, of forgiveness.

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Project Parenting

What is your goal for parenting? Is it to just “survive” the process? Or perhaps might it be to “make sure I don’t screw them up too bad?” I often joke with friends that I don’t have a college savings fund for my kids, I have a therapy savings fund. My kids will probably need twice the therapy to work through their dad being a therapist. Bless them.
 
“What is your goal?” is an important question that I don’t think about a lot, but whatever my stated or unstated goal is, it drives my attitude and actions towards my kids. There are many days that I get home from work and don’t want my kids to be kids. I love them dearly, but goodness they can make a mess of things. Kids force me to see that life doesn’t work by my rules, nor does the world revolve around me (despite my best efforts to make it so). This is a big reason why I (and you, if you’re honest) both love and dislike my kids: They alert me to my self-centeredness. 
 
Poor parenting happens when my goal for life as an individual, a selfish person, is different than my stated goals for my kids. When I don’t pick up my shoes and socks on the living room floor, but get onto my kids for not picking theirs up, I’m not being a good parent. Living life with different standards will teach kids that duplicity is an acceptable way of living. 
 
Becoming a parent is a two-fold challenge (and there’s probably more folds than this). First and foremost, we have to learn how to raise the kid inside all of us. We have to be kind, respectful, loving and at the same time tough, hold boundaries, and be willing to say no to that part of us that wants instant gratification. We cannot be helpful parents until we have first learned to parent ourselves. 
 
The second challenge is to raise our kids as unique individuals with similar and different challenges in life than what we ourselves face. Parenting our kids as though they wrestle with the exact struggles as we do is myopic and not helpful guardianship. 
 
My goal as a parent is to be a guardian of my kids’ true selves. Said more simply: I want to help my kids find out who they really are … not just what they love to do, but to believe in and be able to express the uniqueness of their own voice. 
 
Most days, I get caught up in training my kids to be good performers. Showing them what is good and bad from a perspective of human doing. The days when am content with them are when I’ve not tried to control or train them like I would an animal, rather that I’ve allowed them to speak their own creative ways. 
 
One final thought. Err on the side of being in relationship (not a friendship) with your kids, that’s the only way you’ll thrive together once they are no longer under your care and protection. 

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Book Review: Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters

371fe__51vm4spIX8LDad’s beware: Reading this book will likely provoke anger, shock, shame, guilt, and fear. There are stats and eye-opening realities that the author presents suggesting the current and future perils our daughters will face in the world. For this reason alone, dad’s need to read what Meg Meeker has written. Yes, it’s a shock to the system, but that is sorely needed. While this is a book catered to dad’s with daughters, I think it’s a book that all parents need to read.

Some of material Dr. Meeker talks through is in regard to relationships, not only between dad’s and daughters, but also between daughters and boyfriends. Parents of all boys would be wise to read this because of the unique insights into the needs of young women. It takes a village to raise a child, and by engaging with our boys we will be setting up the girls to be treated respectfully and decently.

One thing I did notice about the book that seemed a bit heavy handed was the sole emphasis on the role of the dad in the daughters life as the most important parental relationship. While this may have been done intentionally to get through the “thick heads” of many men, it does leave a gap as to the importance of mom in the parental relationship. I don’t think Dr. Meeker would say that the mom isn’t important, but it’s omission was notable. This will undoubtably be offensive to some, but does not discredit the overall merit of the book.

I appreciate Dr. Meeker’s call to action, specifically to make dad’s aware of the overwhelming need of their presence in their daughter’s lives. Being engaged with their daughter is likely something already overwhelming for dad’s (at times, I feel this way with my daughter), which is why this point is made over and over again throughout the book. I agree with the reality that daughters need their dad’s to be present and to show up with them. Too often I hear of grown women lament their dad’s absence as a key factor in their lack of self-esteem, self-worth, and self-image.

This is a must read for all dad’s with daughters, regardless of their age. The stories she shares really help to bring home the heart of her writings, which was extremely helpful as a reader to put flesh on the ideas she presents.

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Marriage as the First Child

There is no doubt; having a child is one of the greatest and most terrifying moments in life. It is one of the most electrifying times that produces crazy amounts of anxiety, adrenaline, and joy. And that’s just from the guy’s perspective. Despite this reality with a baby, when the first child arrives it is a couples’ second offspring. Let me explain.

In college, two of my best friends, who were also my roommates, got married within a week of each other. I had the honor of being the best man for both of them, which might help to explain some of my surprise (and hurt) that they essentially disappeared from life after the wedding. It was as if they’d moved to a different state altogether. I’d expected them to be less social after they got married, but nothing to the extent that I experienced.

Fast forward a little over a year later, I’d been married for a few months, and I realized why my good friends disappeared after they got married: They had created something new, fragile, and precious. They weren’t parents, but in tying the knot, together as husband and wife they created a new relationship that was bigger than their individual lives could hold alone. I saw this in my marriage as well. Here was a union that Stephanie, my wife, and I had created that now required our attention and care.

When a marriage is born, much like a baby, it takes a similar level of attention, commitment, and care. If we treat our young marriage as though it is one that’s been around for 20 years, we’re likely going to fail in many ways.

Love is a choice, as is commitment, and both are a process. This process happens over time as we hold tightly to someone or something that we care deeply about. The infancy stage of love is motivated primarily by underdeveloped fear. If I don’t hold on tight enough, something terrible might happen. Now as a dad of four, I can safely say that I have some ideas about what it takes to care for an infant child. It took me struggling through the first two to get to this stage, and only through this struggle did I gain confidence about how to be a dad.

Similarly, I am confident as a husband because I have struggled mightily through the early stages of our marriage relationship. Just as parents understand the frailty of their children, I understand the frailty of a relationship. One look at an infant and it’s easy to see that they would not fare well on their own.

Marriages are no different. It’s an easy trap to fall into, but many marriages do. The trap is to believe that once a commitment is made, the relationship will coast into glory. Nothing could be further from the truth. Much like a baby needs an adult mother and father, so too do marriages need an adult husband and wife. This adulthood, maturity, can take shape in a couple of different ways.

For one, couples are wise to search out mentors to walk through life together. These mentors need to be a couple that has been through a couple of rounds of hardships together and can be far enough down the road so as to provide wisdom and perspective. These are couples who will be available to meet with you late at night when that time comes. These are not friends, they are guides, sherpas. An older couple might be the difference between a successful and failed marriage.

Another way this concept plays out is that the husband and wife take care of the marriage together. Viewing the relationship as it’s own entity creates unity and togetherness that can offer a unique experience. When the relationship is faltering, viewing it as a co-created entity allows for the responsibility of care to be had by both parties. The opposite way of doing this creates a fertile ground for the blame-game: Finding the “bad guy” who is responsible for the screw up.

Marriages are in danger for a variety of reasons. Viewing your marriage as your first child will create opportunities for your relationship to thrive. Furthermore, it will also provide a context for parenting together if and when that day comes.

(Article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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A Father’s Redemption

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I was invited to be a guest speaker at Fourth Avenue Church of Christ this past Sunday on Father’s Day. I’ve spoken in many venues before, but it was a first for me to give the sermon in a church. I’m grateful for the opportunity and blessing of being able to share from my experience as a son and a dad to help cast a vision for father’s as they navigate the difficult waters of fatherhood.

There is a relational disconnect between a father and his children. For various reasons, this disconnect creates disharmony and obstacles as the children grow up to become adults. There are three roles that we as dad’s can play in our kids’ lives to not only raise them into adulthood, but also to ease the relational disconnect that exists. You can listen to the message here:

Click Here to Listen (35 minutes in length)

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A Year Ago on 5 Minute Sherpa

March, 2012

Seeing the Real You

It’s human nature to care what others think of us, but this nature can get us into trouble. If you care what others think, more than you think you ought to, then it’s a good chance you don’t know you. When we come to know ourselves, we come realize that we have flaws, dings, dents, and a beauty that is only possible because of those human things. Joseph Campbell says that we don’t love others because they are perfect, we love others because they are deeply flawed. Without flaws, there is nothing to love.     Continue Reading….

Run To, Not From

We’d just spent 14 of the past 15 waking hours at the baseball fields. The first two games rained out twice due to heavy storms of lightning and rain the previous evening. Instead of playing games over two days, we had one day to play at least 3 games. A lot to ask for of a group of 9 year olds. Nine and a half hours at the baseball fields on Sunday, and we didn’t sniff victory for one inning. I was deflated. So was my son.     Continue Reading…

March, 2011

The Ways We Love

Love is strong. Love is tender. Love is hard. Love is the nourishment of life. Of all the needs in life, none is more common or more core to us than love. We are all born into this world in dire and desperate need of love. In the early years of life, love was expressed to us through feedings, holding, rocking, and playing. As we grow up, we become more defined in our personalities and in who we are as individuals. And with each step of growth towards being independent, so too our need for the expressions of love we received as kids.     Continue Reading…

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2012 Most Read/Shared Posts

One of my goals for 2012 was to write more. Beyond writing weekly for the online publication Start Marriage Right, I was able to share some thoughts and writings here on my counseling site. Below are the top 5 shared and viewed posts from the past year.

Stop Trying to Be Normal, You’re Not 167

Normal is depressing. Normal is just plain vanilla, no toppings. Normal is the path of no resistance. Not least resistance, no resistance. Normal is normal, and more and more people are looking for the supposed feel-good nature of being normal. Let others define what normal is, then jump on the bandwagon to feel accepted, part of the team. But you’re not accepted or connected. You’re a drone that parrots what you think others want to hear, what you think others value as popular or normal. …Stop Trying to Be Normal, You’re Not

The Sexual Commodity of Beauty 92

There are two issues here. First is the need for women to transcend the message that to be sexy and hot is to be beautiful. To take it one step further, women need to reject the notion that beauty is synonymous with being sexual. Some of the most beautiful people in the world would never be selected to appear on the cover of a vanity magazine. Capturing and extending external beauty is a losing battle. It’s not just the women’s responsibility to reject this, it also requires men to engage beauty and sexuality in a mature and person-centered manner. …The Sexual Commodity of Beauty

Seeing the Real You 77

We care what others think because it’s easy. It’s easy to ask someone else to define you. To judge you. To tell you who or what you are (and in most cases, they will tell you what you are, not who you are). We want easy, because hard is painful. Hard is just that, hard. And not many of us like hard. … Seeing the Real You

Parenting Kids, Not Controlling Them 62

Parenting is the essence of training a child in how to relate to the world around them. There are hundreds of books to help you along this journey, but the most important piece that a book can never teach you is how to engage your child in who they are. When we control our kids, we ask them to be someone that they are not. It’s scarier to be in relationships with others, our kids included, where we are not in control. Control will crush a relationship, and your child’s spirit. You will do more harm than good by ushering them down the path of life that you want for them. … Parenting Kids, Not Controlling Them

Fear of Losing Her 57

I’m afraid I’ll lose him or her can be one of the most powerful motivators in a relationship. There are many stories that shape the foundation of this fear, but regardless of it’s origin, the way you behave out of this fear will either result in bondage or freedom. If we’re honest, we all have fears about doing or not doing something that will bring an end to an important relationship. This fear may not be consciously present for both partners, but it’s in there.

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The Importance of Parenting, and Childhood


 (image via despair.com)

Ask any parent, and they’ll agree: Parenting is hard. Despite the humor in the above picture, it really is difficult. As my 4 year old was running away from me the other night, screaming at me as he ran, I realized why this relationship is so hard: My desire to be safe is threatened by my kids.

I’ve invited and brought these little humans into the world. I’ve fed them, hugged them, disciplined them, and have done my best to love them. Ultimately, though, what I have given them is a part of me. They walk and run around this world with my heart draped over their shoulder.

The reality of being unsafe with them comes alive in moments of panic. When my 9-month old is choking on something he’s found under the dining room table, I become aware that his life is the container of a part of me that I’ll never have back. If he goes away, so does his portion of my heart. It’s why a child’s scream of terror or pain makes me move with the speed of a superhuman. When my son falls off the bed at night, I’m in his room quicker than his tears.

My heart is with them, and I am not safe. They will do as they please. They have the same free-will as I do, and I really don’t like them for that. In fact, I often resent them for being human. Sometimes, I wish they were robots, doing as I say, playing nice, and behaving on behalf of what’s right. I want them to be safe, so I can be safe.

But really, safety is just an illusion. Our cars have air bags, but at 75 mph on an interstate, compressed air isn’t going to keep me safe. An airplane has seat belts, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m in a rocket with wings going 500 miles per hour 30,000 feet above the ground. I lock my house at night, but a deadbolt is not going to keep a tornado at bay, nor the rising waters of a flood.

Much of life is building and creating supports that give us the illusion of feeling safe. Kids don’t factor into that illusion. This is only a realization understood by parents. Kids are humans, and they’re going to do what they think is best, or whatever pleases them. There’s nothing I can do to be in control of them. This reality coupled with the gift of my heart to them creates a mess. If I want to be safe, I must control them; if I am okay not being safe, I must find a way to cope with the inevitable pain. This is a sobering thought as a parent.

It’s sobering, because I know that I often try to control them. I try to get them to stop smacking their food, stop eating pizza on the couch, and stop fighting as they brush their teeth. When I realize that I can’t control them, I get jealous (Hey, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, right?). I’m jealous that they get to be the kids and I have to be the grown-up.

I think life as an adult is lived in the infamous 80-20 rule: Eighty percent is doing things we have to do, and 20 percent is what we want to do. That equation is the opposite for kids. To be an adult, we cannot play 80 percent of the time. And this is the problem for most of us adults. We don’t want to do the 80% of work that life requires. We want easy, and 80% work is not easy. The result … numbed-out adults

Kids aren’t numb (depressed), rather they feel and express. Kids expression in life challenges adult depression. When I want to sleep, don’t wake me. Adults want to go to sleep, figuratively, and when a kid wakes them, they wake the rage of being roused from the comfy sleepy world of depression. Getting angry at a kid for being curious is like getting mad at water for being wet.

This is why parenting is so hard: As a parent, I can’t keep kids from being kids … and, they invite us to see the world through untamed eyes. It’s both wonderful and frightful. Parenting is about helping kids become adults tomorrow while holding onto hope, wonder, curiosity, and awe they live with today.