When you stop talking

In the busyness of life, it’s easy to lose track of those closest to you.
It isn’t helpful to assume negative things about your kids or your spouse, to assume they’re blowing it or off track somehow.
On the other hand, it isn’t always wise to assume they’re fine either.
Assumptions prevent understanding, honest and trust.
They allow hiding, lack of accountability and self-deception.

The answer is to courageously initiate conversation.
To overcome avoidance and risk rejection
to get to the heart of what is really going on in their lives.

Going first with transparency, leading with an invitation, not an interrogation, being willing to be wrong about your interpretations and hunches, having a mindset of curiosity instead criticism helps too.

On grace in parenting

On grace in parenting, something I’m still learning,
Giving up control doesn’t mean giving up.
Letting go, not being controlling, doesn’t mean
you don’t care
you are quitting
you are unloving
you are not doing enough
that your kids are going to turn out bad
you aren’t in charge anymore

It doesn’t mean that you are failing as a parent.

The verse is “train up a child in the way he should go.”
It’s not “Make a child go the way he should go”

It does mean you may not measure up to others in the comparison game
It opens you up to finding other ways to avoid feeling anxiety
feeling embarrassed
besides anger, shame, disapproval or power to get conformity.
It does mean you have to find a different way of measuring success besides what’s seen, on behavior
And that’s kind of weird and hard to put your hands on.
It opens you up to being disappointed that everything doesn’t happen
your way and the way you want.
It opens you up to just flat out feeling betrayed because you’ve been lied to or disobeyed.

But that’s a good thing.
For you and the kids.
Because, despite the frustration, stress/anxiety and even pain of it all,
you will actually have a real, living, breathing relationship between a real, live, amazingly human person and not some fabrication of a life that falls apart when you stop micro-managing it.

Parenting and Identity

Parenting is more about your best behavior than your kids’.
And realizing it’s not about behavior ultimately.
It’s about identity.
You can’t create a great story for your family, your marriage – you can’t be heroic in the face of your challenges – without facing and knowing your backstory.
You can’t get to “this is us”, without discovering “this is me”.

I went to a marriage counseling training last week, one of the interventions we learned was how to work through the aftermath of a fight.

One of the keys, besides self-awareness of feelings and listening well, was talking about a memory, a story from your past that brought up those same feelings.

It helps us identify our triggers, it helps us become more aware of how we react.
“None of us get out of childhood without a few crazy buttons.” – John Gottman.
When we understand this, we gain more self-control, we are able to stay calmer and objective (we prevent getting flooded).
This helps us problem-solve, brainstorm, compromise, collaborate and come to agreements more easily because we aren’t overwhelmed (and overwhelming our kids) with our frustration, grumpiness, anger or even rage.
We are able to give our best selves to our family.

Eight Coaching Questions for A Great Start to School

Eight Coaching Questions to Get Off To A Great Start with School

Hope you’ve had a good summer.

We had fun taking ~3500 mile road trip through CA, AZ, UT, NV, ID.

Hadn’t been to Disneyland in 8 years, it’s changed! And we had a chance to go to California Adventure for the first time as well as Monterey Bay, the Grand Canyon, the Narrows at Zion National Park, the Hoover Dam and Las Vegas.

As with most year, summer seems to go by so quickly. With our kids, every year is a formative year.

John Maxwell teaches that we don’t grow just from getting older and going through things, we don’t grow just from our experiences. We grow from evaluating our experience. We can’t control what we go through but we can control what we take away from our experiences.

And we can process our experiences in a way that grows and teaches us by choosing what we underline and highlight what we take out of hard experiences and positive experiences. They don’t have to be painful, challenging experiences. We can grow from mundane, every day, positive things too. With our kids, we can take it for granted that they are doing well or that they are managing the stress and challenges of the new year.

Sometimes kids can be left to fend for themselves, without being intentional as parents to check in with them. Sometimes we can get busy and focused on activities and results and we may neglect asking how they are doing emotionally. One way to process and support your kids is to debrief with them and listen for what they are going through, what they are experiencing.

Our kids learn more what they go through together with us, than what we tell them. Experience is one of the most powerful ways our kids learn.

So, what are your kids experiencing?

This year, ask your kids questions and listen well to what is going on in their hearts and minds.  Doing it early is a way of showing them that you care about them, that you’re with them, that they’re not alone.

When you do this early in their lives, later when they are questioning whether they want you around, or whether they want you involved, when they’re struggling with whether they want to be transparent and disclose what’s really going on with them, they will because there will be a lot of trust, a foundation of lots of support and encouragement that you’ve built up.  They’ll know that they can always come to you.

One of the joys, one the best parts, of parenting is when your kids trust you and are open with you.

Here’s eight questions for debriefing and coaching your kids:

1. What was that like?

When you observe them going through something with a sibling or someone on their sports team, ask them what was it like? You can ask this in the car, around the dinner table.

2. How did you feel?

Asking them this helps our kids develop self-awareness, an awareness of what is going on inside themselves. Being able to understand what is going on inside and giving them a vocabulary, an emotional vocabulary, to understand and express themselves can be very helpful for boys and girls. Not only will it help them identify their own emotions but it will help them develop empathy and emotional and social intelligence. It will help them increase their other-person perspective, an awareness of how they impact their peers, how they impact other members of the family, how what they do affects you.

You can over do that, you can be overly concerned with other peoples’ feelings, you can become enmeshed. But taking the first step of being aware and communicating how you’re feeling can also help with exploring and choosing healthy boundaries. It will help teach them the difference between being empathetic and feeling guilty and responsible for other peoples’ feelings.

Pixar’s Inside Out, if you haven’t already watched it, can be helpful in going deeper with this.

3. What did you notice?

This question sometimes is answered with physical observations, internal or external.  This question can help you see what your child is focused on or concerned about.

4. What did you tell yourself?

This introduces the concept that we have some control in way we respond to different situations; how we react and respond emotionally or behaviorally – whether it’s what we do or what we say – is greatly influenced by our self-talk. We can also increase self-awareness with this question. Sometimes when I ask counseling clients this question they respond, “I don’t know. I didn’t tell myself anything.” If you’re kids respond that way, that’s fine, just give them some time and space to figure it out and answer. Sometimes they don’t intentionally or willfully tell themselves anything. Sometimes automatic, core beliefs or our emotions drive our behavior.  Going back to question #2 How did you feel? And working backward can help reveal what is driving that emotion and reveal what they are telling themselves, maybe subconsciously. This can help with teaching anger management and self-soothing.

Brene Brown has described this in her book Rising Strong describes this as “the story I tell myself”, she notes that when we are in pain our brain searches for meaning to try to cope with the pain. And our brain will make up a story to try to make sense of and deal with the pain. Even if it’s wrong. It feels better than not having a story.

So, what did you tell yourself?

5. What does that say about you?

This is something I’m really passionate about, helping dads to speak truth into their kids’ lives. How your kid answer is one of the keys with whether they struggle with self-worth or self-confidence, with worry and anxiety. Or on the flipside with whether they become confident, compassionate, generous or brave. What does that say about you? When they are going through things.

It’s tough. When our kids are struggling or going through pain, our knee jerk reaction is to jump in there and reassure them.  My girls and boy have had different insecurities and have different struggles as they grown and are growing up.  It’s just like listening and being there for your spouse, instead of jumping in, allow them to express the depths to which they are struggling, try to listen a little longer.  Allow them to open up even more. What they start with may actually not be the most important issue, it may just be today’s symptom of it.  Often, with hard things, our kids will test the water. If they put out something and we jump all over them and cut them off too quickly, you may not get to what you need to get to. We have to handle it well.  If we minimize their feelings, tell them how to feel and think or what they need to do too soon, we disempower them. We have to let them struggle. Allowing them to struggle allows them to put down their mask and take off their “costumes”.

When we take the time and don’t rush, we earn the right to suggest other things that are true, other things that they could tell themselves. We can point them to the truth of Scripture. We can hold space for them when they are discouraged and bear patiently with them as they wrestle with decisions and ambivalence or sadness. When they feel that you’ve understood, when they’ve had a chance to vent without judgment and being shut down, you’ll feel the shift. They’ll start to talk about what they might do.

6. What do you think you’ll do next time?

You’ll know you’re asking this question too early if they “Yes…But…” you.

Asking this question, What do you think *you’ll” do?, instead of Have you tried this? Or Why don’t you do this?  Will reveal whether they are done venting and if they are ready to talk about problem-solving and what they’ll do next time.

7. What went well?

This question can help your child get unstuck and shift to problem-solving mode (Again, don’t get impatient or manipulative and ask this too early).

Most situations, if it’s not just something awful, have something to learn, something to takeaway, positive or strength, something that they did well. This helps our kids to get comfortable with ambivalence. For example, if they go to a party or you have a Thanksgiving Dinner, parts of the time or day may be great and fun and there will be parts that didn’t go great or didn’t meet your expectations. This question can help your kids with negativity, criticism and allowing the negatives to erase the positives with experiences and with people.

8. What would you like to try next?

This question helps our kids not worry about perfection.  This introduces or reinforces the principle of a growth and learning mindset.   We evaluate our experiences, highlight the positives, learn from the negatives and think solutions or adjustments and courageously try again, trying an experiment, trying to observe and improve and what we’ve been through. This question helps them understand that we don’t expect perfection, that we understand that they are growing. And we can say, honestly, that “You did a great job. You’re awesome.” And there’s to experiement with, adjust and learn. We want to give our kids truthful feedback. We don’t want our kids to be like the poor people on American Idol who they thought they are great singers when they are terrible. Somehow, no one’s been able to tell them the truth.  I guess their friends and family were well-meaning, they probably wanted to support them unconditionally but in the long run it doesn’t help our kids to not tell them the truth about where they are at. Their self-worth or how much we love them isn’t based on them being perfect.

Finally, when you ask these eight questions, it takes time.  To do it well it takes focus. Cutting down on distractions, carving out the space and time is important. When you do this with your kids, they will learn that they can put themselves out there and take risks. It will also help your kids not to quit when things get hard.

Our kids used to do musical theater. It always amazed me that they would do auditions in front of a panel of judges and their peers. They’d prepare a scene of dialogue or a song to present. And they learned that when they didn’t get the part that it was ok. And they were going to be ok and that was fine. It was still fun because they would find a way to still participate or be a part even if they didn’t get a main part.  And that was a beautiful thing that has translated to other challenges they’ve faced, like applying for jobs or taking on leadership roles.

How do our kids get brave?

They do that by having a sense that we are there for them. That we are going to walk through the risk with them.  We’re going to listen. We’re going to tell them the truth. We’re going to hold them accountable. We’re going to call them out when they’re getting off track. (It’s something my kids have told me they appreciate.  It’s hard because I want my kids to like me. It was really a struggle when they were younger.  But we’re learning.) We’re going to cheer them on. We’re going to honor their unique perspectives and their choices.

We help our kids by going through stuff with them. And we listen and support them better when we’ve worked through our own anxieties, fears and insecurity. So, maybe run these eight questions by yourself.

I hope these questions will help you coach, connect and support your kids in a deeper, more meaningful way this year.







A parenting lesson from Mayweather vs McGregor

Took my youngest to her first PPV, McGregor vs Mayweather.
It was fun.

Had me thinking about fatherhood.

A lot of guys, especially if they come to marriage and fatherhood later in life, find it difficult to crossover from areas of their strengths into the arena of relationships and healthy communication.

They may be extremely successful and competent in sports, in living independently, at work or with their military service.
They may be extremely motivated because of their own childhood to be a great dad and husband.
But lacking a role model or experience or confidence they can feel inadequate or even scared, talk themselves out of it or give up.

I know I was with my eldest daughter.
I threw myself into training and competing in MMA because it made feel good.
All the while neglecting her and my wife.

I didn’t give myself a chance to win.
A chance at significance and greatness in their lives.
It took a lot of pain, a year of wake up calls to make the changes I needed to make.

He lost but McGregor inspired a lot of people.
He lost but he still won.

I encourage you and other fathers, just get in the arena of relationships.
Swing for the fences.
Learn the fundamentals and basics of empathy, communication, resolving conflict.
Learn how to listen.
Go to counseling or get coaching if you have to learn the skills.
Be humble enough to be a beginner.
And can use the focus, effort and passion that you use to win in other areas and apply them to your relationships.
Give your best at home too.
A lot of those skills can translate.

You may be awkward at first, it might not be awesome.
You feel like you’re failing and you’ve gotten knocked down.
But trust me guys, the battle to be a great dad is worth it.

Individual Counseling Can Help Your Marriage

This week’s lesson in marriage counseling: on the importance of individual counseling for couples’ counseling.
It’s often a surprise to couples how important or necessary concurrent individual counseling can be.
There are a least two reasons for this.

1) the hurts and unresolved issues of our individual pasts impact our marriage. Especially when you notice you’ve been stuck in a recurring conflict or pattern.

2) the effect of the hurts of the present; it’s hard to process the grief and regret of what has happened in the conflicted marriage with the one who has been the source of that hurt.

     Your spouse doesn’t even necessarily have to be unsafe or for there to be a lack of trust, sometimes being hurt and having unmet needs can make it too hard to contain the intense emotions of your spouse who is also hurt and discouraged. We sometimes say things we don’t mean or believe in grief and it can cause a lot of fear and pain for your spouse to hear those things when trust is fragile or they are not feeling hopeful and confident about themselves or the state of the marriage.
When we first come together, often our brokenness and empty places compliment the broken places and emptiness in our loved one. It feels good to be together because it feels like everything fits together like a missing puzzle piece or hand fitting in a perfectly custom fit glove.


     But with time, the movement of life, growth, change, stress, that brokenness, those differences and unresolved issues become jagged, sharp edges that saw and grate against each other.
And we can get caught in a cycle of how we react to how much that hurts, with what we do and say, causing more hurt.
And how messy and complicated that gets is really hard to do in one couples’ counseling hour a week.

Fighting for Your Marriage: Lessons From The Zombie Apocalypse

My clinical supervisor and mentor once told me this about marriage:
Make sure you don’t bury them [hurt/resentments] alive.
It inspired these lessons from zombie hunting, for reanimating your marriage when it isn’t quite dead but isn’t quite alive.

One way to fight for your marriage is learning how to kill zombies.

The zombies of betrayal, disappointment, bitterness, old patterns, unforgiveness.

Here are few ways surviving the zombie apocalypse can help you fight for your marriage.

1) The zombies are the zombies, not your spouse so don’t take the hatchet to each other’s knees.
2) Sharpen each other’s machetes and fill each other’s chainsaws with gas every day.
3) Find ways to the kill the zombies dead, once and for all.  If you bury them alive they spawn and come back worse than ever.
4) Guttural language, listless shuffle, glassy eyes, aimless wandering…your husband may look like a zombie at times but don’t kill him, he may just be tired after work.
5) The zombies are relentless so remember to have fun while blowing gaping holes in them.  There’s always comic relief needed at some point.
6) If you escape the clutches of the zombie horde but leave your spouse behind to be overrun, in the end, you still lose.
7) Bringing up the past is the toxic fluorescent green sludge that reanimates the zombies, get rid of that ASAP!
8) Nurse each other’s wounds.   You can’t always be in fight-or-flight mode.  At some point, you have to pull back from the zombie horde.  Besides humor, the zombies can steal away empathy. When you’re constantly under stress, you lose your ability to think of anything but survival.  You may lose your ability to find solace in each other. So, find that pause in the you-against-the-world and care for each other’s wounds. Who knows with that intimacy and vulnerability you might even get naked and reconnect with a love scene in the middle of the war.
9) Last one: A zombie’s Never Say Die attitude is worth imitating in pursuing an awesome marriage.

What would you add?

A quick tip for stress and marriage

A quick tip for dealing with the impact of stress on marriage.

When life gets hard,

From employment and financial stress

From parenting struggles and sleep deprivation

From busy schedules or illness

From struggling with anxiety or depression

It makes marriage harder in a few ways:

We have different triggers. Different things upset us or cause us stress.

We express being stressed differently. We react differently.

You might ramp up.  Your spouse may shut down.

We manage and cope with stress differently.

You may want to binge on Netflix.  Your spouse may cope with shopping.

The differences all serve to make us feel more alone, misunderstood, overwhelmed.

They amplify the stress because it increases the negative self-talk, paranoia even and messages that

We aren’t enough.

This isn’t working.

We are broken.

We are failing.

We start to believe we’ll end up rejected or even abandoned.

Here’s one thing that can help: remembering

So much of marriage counseling is remembering.

Remember when your spouse looked up to you?

Remember when your spouse made you laugh?

Remember when your spouse was patient and gracious?

When they wanted to get to know you, talk for hours

When they took the time understand you?

Remember when it was hard not to be obnoxious about public displays of affection?

Remember when you did those things for them?

“That was in the past” you might say, how does that help?

Especially in the middle of the stress, or on the other side of the hurt and distance.

Well, remembering the past can give you hope for the future.

And a marriage without hope feels dead.

Remembering the past helps you remember what’s possible.

Not only what’s possible but what was real for you.

It helps you remember what could be real again.

If you can just find away to reconnect and work through it together, instead of on your own.

Find a way to remember together.

When Pain Makes You Lonely

Sat and cried with a few people in pain yesterday.
Things in your life, if they don’t belong there, though small can slowly etch a canyon in your soul or widen the chasm in your marriage.
Things like secrets, addiction, grief, the things you believe about yourself or what someone told you when you made a mistake.
And this emptiness or pain can be debilitating.
Even if you look fine on the outside.
Even if you have to keep going or keep up appearances.
(For your kids, especially for the kids’ sake)

And it’s a pretty scary beak spot to find yourself choosing between letting the pain or the ways you numb define you.
We find ways to cope and not deal with the pain that enters into our lives through the inconsiderate or purposely malicious words and actions of others.
But it’s confusing when they come from those who love us.
And the hole in our heart, the gap in the marriage, the distance that it creates between us and other people can just creep slowly into our lives and become an excruciating numbness.
All from unintentionally holding on onto or nursing secret pain.

I think one of the saddest things about addiction is fooling yourself into thinking that it doesn’t affect anyone else but you.
And I also think we mistakenly believe about evil and pain is there always has to be someone to blame and often that someone just has to be us.
(There’s no one to blame for the long slow loneliness of cancer or dementia.)

If you’re in pain or lonely today I hope you experience some freedom or healing soon. And whatever that takes, whether it is being brave enough to face it and ask for help or share what you’ve been hiding, I pray that you find it.

Encouragement for Dads and Daughters

Hi guys,

It’s a been a bit since I’ve blogged.  The end of the school year gets a little crazy in our family.  We run the gauntlet of musical events and graduations (one week we did two recitals and three concerts).

I was a “guest” on the Launching Your Daughter Podcast recently.  Nicole Burgess a colleague of mine from the Selling The Couch Facebook group invited me to write some encouragement for dads and daughters for Father’s Day.

Part of me jumped at the chance, part of me was nervous to share them. Despite the fact that most of what I shared, I’ve shared with FB friends.

You’ll also hear another reason why our family life has been a little crazy lately (big announcement!).

You can listen to the podcast here. 

I hope it encourages you.

(I just realized, my post a letter To My Daughters On Dating is still the most viewed blog post in the past two years.)