Motherhood, Marriage and Other Wild Rides

Health, Happiness and the Pursuit of Mommyhood

How – and Why – to Instill True Gratitude in Your Kids November 16, 2010

I’m not going to say my five-year-old is ungrateful–I’m not entirely certain he has a complete understanding of the concept, but I also know that he has searched his heart earnestly and decided he would rather live with us than be raised in the Jedi Temple among younglings and padawans. Trust me, I’m flattered by his choice.

Nonetheless, he wants one of every toy he lays eyes upon, and has kicked up quite a fuss in stores when he has not been awarded a toy he deems “rightfully” his.

Worse, he has adopted a habit of leaving a wonderful activity (such as a park outing or birthday party) only to hop in the car and demand to go immediately somewhere else equally as fun. Eerg! How about, “Thanks, mom! That was fun!”

Overall, it seems all parents  have thrown up their hands at some point in frustration, but husband-and-wife authors  David and Andrea Reiser say, “Yes, it is possible to refocus our children’s attention and values,” in their new book Letters from Home: A Wake-up Call For Success and Wealth (Wiley, 2010, ISBN: 978-0-4706379-2-0, $27.95, http://www.ReiserMedia.com).

“And at the center of the values we teach ought to be a profound sense of gratitude—for where we live, for the rights and privileges we have here, for family and friends—not to mention the many material blessings most kids have.”

Yes, teaching your kids to say “thank you” is important, but truly instilling a sense of gratitude in them is another matter entirely.  “Gratitude is an attitude of deep appreciation and thankfulness for the kindnesses and benefits you perceive yourself as receiving,” David explains.

Written in the form of letters to the authors’ four sons, the book explores 15 basic American virtues that built our country and that foster individual and familial success.   If you’re ready to start growing an attitude of gratitude in your own household, read on for additional reasons why gratitude is good, and for tips on how to establish it in your own family.

WHY INSTILL GRATITUDE? Gratitude is good for you! Believe it or not, gratitude is good for you on a very basic level. In fact, a study conducted by Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, reveals that cultivating gratitude can increase happiness levels by around 25 percent, and can also cause individuals to live happier, more satisfied lives and enjoy increased levels of self-esteem, hope, empathy, and optimism.

Gratitude grants perspective—even in kids. When you take into account the sheer amount of opportunities, privileges, and material possessions most kids enjoy through no effort of their own, it’s easy to see why many of them feel entitled. After all, they’re used to getting a great deal without knowing or caring where it comes from. However, practicing gratitude underscores the fact that all of those toys and lessons and creature comforts don’t just pop out of thin air. “When your children specifically articulate that the things they own and the opportunities they have come from someone other than themselves, they’ll develop a healthy understanding of how interdependent we all are on one another…and they’ll be more inclined to treat others with genuine respect,” explains Andrea.

Gratitude improves relationships. Who would you rather work with: a colleague who freely acknowledges and appreciates your contributions, or a colleague who takes your efforts for granted with—at most—a perfunctory grunt of thanks? It’s a simple principle: gratitude fosters stronger, more positive, and more genuine relationships.

Gratitude counteracts the “gimmes.” “Fundamentally, gratitude is all about being aware of who or what makes positive aspects of your life possible, and acknowledging that,” Andrea explains. “When your kids learn to think like that, they’ll be much less likely to make mindless, self-centered demands. Plus, they’ll appreciate what they have, and their happiness won’t be based as heavily on material things.”

HOW TO INSTILL GRATITUDE

Don’t just count your blessings—name them. Have a minute of thanks at the same time each day—you and your kids can each name a few things you’re thankful for. Whether the list includes a favorite toy, a good grade, or a hug from Grandma, this tradition will start the day off in a positive frame of mind.  David suggests, “If you have older kids, encourage them to keep a gratitude journal and write down a few things they were thankful for each day before going to bed.”

Be a grateful parent. As most parents know, the way you treat your kids affects their development much more than the rules you set. When it comes to gratitude, tell your kids why you’re grateful to have them….and do it often.  “It goes without saying that you love your kids, and that you’re thankful beyond words for their love, their smiles, their hugs, and so much more,” David says. “When you tell them those things, their self-esteem will be boosted for the right reasons (not because they have the latest smartphone or because they’re dressed fashionably). Plus, your example will show them that gratitude extends well beyond material things.”

Don’t shower them with too much stuff. This dilutes the “gratitude” impulse. Remember, all things in moderation…including your kids’ stuff.  “If you buy your daughter whatever she wants, whenever she wants it, she won’t value or respect her belongings,” Andrea points out. “After all, there’s plenty more where everything else came from! And what’s more, she’ll grow up believing that getting what she wants is her due.”  When your child wants something, make him pitch in. (Don’t be the sole provider.) If your child receives an allowance (or, for older kids, has a job), think twice before letting him pocket every last penny. If he wants a new video game, bike, or even to go on a trip with friends, ask him to help save for those things himself.  “Depending on the amount of your child’s weekly allowance or how much he makes mowing lawns on the side, you may still end up footing a majority of the bill yourself,” David admits. “And that’s okay—after all, you are the parent. The point is, though, that your children will be active participants in working toward what they want. When they understand the real value of a dollar, they’ll be more likely to appreciate what you and others do for them.”

Keep a stack of thank-you cards on hand. Insist that your kids use them often. By and large, sending out thank-you notes is one of those arts that seems to be dying. Don’t let that be the case in your house. Send out regular thank-you notes—definitely when your child receives a gift, but also to teachers at the end of the school year, for example, and to Little League coaches and ballet teachers. “Make sure your child is the one composing and hand-writing the notes, not you,” Andrea clarifies. “However, realize that parents need to set the example by modeling writing formal thank-you notes on a variety of occasions.”

Set a good example. Say “thank you” sincerely and often. The values your children espouse as their lives proceed aren’t those that you nag them into learning, but the ones they see you living out. “Every day, there are numerous opportunities for you to model gratitude to your children,” David instructs. “For example, thank the waitress who delivers your food, the cashier who rings you up at the grocery store, and the teller at the bank who cashes your check. When your kids see you expressing thanks, they’ll do so too.”

Ask your kids to give back. The old saying, “It’s better to give than to receive” has stuck around for a reason. It really does feel great to help someone else out. Depending on their ages, encourage your kids to rake leaves for an elderly neighbor, say, or volunteer at a nursing home a few hours a week. “You might even make service a family activity,” Andrea suggests. “When your kids give their time and energy to help others, they’ll be less likely to take things like health, home, and family for granted—plus, selfless service tends to dilute selfishness in kids and adults alike.”

Insist on politeness and respect all around. When your kids treat other people with dignity and respect, they’ll be more likely to appreciate the ways in which those folks contribute to and improve their own lives. They’ll be less likely to take assistance and kindness for granted, and more likely to value it as much as it deserves.  “Specifically, it’s important for parents to model to their children the importance of treating all people with respect,” David clarifies.

Find the silver lining. We’re all tempted to see the glass half-empty from time to time…and kids are no exception. When you hear your child complaining or griping about something, try to find a response that looks on the bright side. It’s called an “attitude of gratitude” for a reason—it’s about perspective more than circumstance.  “Often, kids and adults alike are more unhappy than they need to be because they’re overlooking positives for which they should be grateful,” points out David.

Andrea concludes, “We truly are a nation built on gratitude—think about the scores of immigrants who have come here over the years, bursting with thankfulness for the chance to start a new, free life. “Your own children are probably being raised in vastly different circumstances, but it’s still important that they carry on a legacy of gratitude. Start taking steps to instill this important attitude in your family today, and we all just might wake up to a more pleasant tomorrow.”

David and Andrea Reiser are proud to contribute 100 percent of royalties and other income from the publication of the book by supporting three personally meaningful charities in the following proportion: 50 percent to Share Our Strength (www.strength.org), 40 percent to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (www.mskcc.org), and 10 percent to FORCE (www.facingourrisk.org). For more information, please visit http://www.ReiserMedia.com.

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Toy Story 3, the end of preschool and holding on and letting go June 24, 2010

Laden with teachers’ gifts and a sense of anticipation for what the summer might offer, my little boys joyfully ran to their preschool classrooms for their final day before summer break.

Much like the first day I left them at preschool, I cried the whole drive home. I’ve planned a rather complex web of summer activities for us, so they have much to look forward to. My sadness comes from how quickly it is all passing by.

In September, my oldest will enter kindergarten. I can’t help but recall the countless hours I spent researching and visiting preschools, understanding what a significant impact his first five years will have on the rest of his life, his approach to education, his ability to socialize, his future success…

I know it seems cliche, but it really does seem like such a short time ago that I gave birth to my oldest son Joseph, and now his younger brother is three and leaving little bits of his baby life behind him every day as he leaps toward little boyhood. In fact, I’m beginning to cry again as I write this. My babies are growing up!

Last night, we went to see Toy Story 3, and if you are going through anything similar with your children, it might be tough to watch. I remember the first time I saw the original Toy Story movie. It was 1995, and I was 24 years old. I was babysitting the niece and nephew of my boyfriend at the time, and we watched it on VHS. I sat there for the length of show with my jaw hanging. I couldn’t believe how much children’s movies had changed since I was a kid! I loved it.

At the beginning of my career, I was old enough (more or less) to be Andy’s mother, but at the same time, I could perceive the story with warm memories of being a child. Seeing Andy last night as a 17-year-old boy preparing to leave for college was an emotional blow I had not in any way expected. Enough time had elapsed for that character to grow up, and I had gotten older along with him. Yes, I’m aware it’s just a movie with a fictional character, thank you.

However, with my youngest perched in my lap, and my oldest at my side I was suddenly aware that my first experience of Toy Story hadn’t seemed so far in the distance, yet when the exact amount of time elapses again, my children will be 17 and 20 years old!

TS3 is about change: the agony of watching the toys long for the carefree joy of children’s imaginative play (with the understanding that their playmate would and should continue to his next milestone) and the support of Andy’s mother who is proud of her son’s succession toward college, while also wishing she “could be with him all the time.”

Don’t we all want that? To hold our children in our arms forever, while at the same time teaching them independence, encouraging them to make  and achieve personal goals, to be courageous, forgiving, and to grow in maturity?

As the poet Kahlil Gibran said about raising children, “For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.”

With the summer ahead, I intend to savor each precious day. Before long I’ll be helping them pack for college.

On a side note, I do agree with Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald; this movie was more for adults than children. My husband and I were in disbelief about how it could ever have received a G rating. There is a prolonged near-death scene with the threat of violent, hopeless demise, the toys are imprisoned and in some cases tortured. Yes, I remember Sid Philips tortured and imprisoned toys in TS2, but among the toys themselves (who have always been peers) there was a cruelty and meanness we haven’t seen before in the TS trilogy. Lotso’s turn toward the dark side as a result of a singular incident was so complete and utterly terrifying when you consider that he is a child’s plaything. In the other movies, tough times happened and the toys always found a way to learn from it and grow from the experience.  From our perspective, Toys Story 3 should be rated PG.

 

Is a positive attitude really the best defense? Self esteem as an umbrella May 28, 2010

My husband and I often grumble about the seemingly unrelenting narcissism of Generation Y — those born between 1982 and 2002 also known as the millennials, echo boomers or, fittingly, Generation Me.

In doing so, however, I’m a bit of a hypocrite. While this group has been depicted by employers, professors and earnestly concerned mental-health experts as entitled whiners who have been spoiled by parents who overstoked their self-esteem, teachers who granted undeserved A’s and sports coaches who bestowed trophies on any player who showed up, I too praise my own children at every step. What’s more, I do so because I believe that we are all inherently good, talented, capable and lovable. If we can know that, be wholeheartedly assured of our lovable worth, our lives will indeed be blessed, regardless of outside circumstances. You may call it “knowing the God within” or you may call it irrefutable self worth–whatever your opinion, if you believe you are smart, capable and lovable, you will be happy. And if you are happy, you are successful, by your own definition.

The New York Times posted this incredible story about a consensus has emerged that, psychologically, Generation Y is a generation of basket cases: profoundly narcissistic and deprived of a sense of agency by their anxiously overinvolved parents — in short, a “nation of wimps,” as Hara Estroff Marano, the Psychology Today editor at large, has put it. Below are more excerpts from the story.

Generation Y has its own struggles; the unemployment rate for early 20-somethings is close to 20 percent. Yet despite the fact that the new graduates are in no position to pose conditions for employers, many are increasingly declaring themselves unwilling to work more than 40 hours a week. Graduates are turning down job offers in high numbers — essentially opting to move back home with their parents if the work offered doesn’t match their self-assessed market value.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, which every year surveys thousands of college graduates about their job prospects and work attitudes, fully 41 percent of job seekers this year turned down offers — the exact percentage that did so in 2007, when the economy was booming.

“Almost universally they want to find a job that’s not just a job but an expression of their identity, a form of self-fulfillment,” says Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a Clark University psychology professor who interviewed hundreds of young people across the economic spectrum for his book, “Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road From the Late Teens Through the Twenties.” (I struggle on this point; We need people who find their zen in jobs ranging from trash collection to insurance adjusting, certainly. However, when I was making more money than I ever have in real estate marketing, I came to a point when I simply had to drop it and pursue my dream of writing. Money isn’t everything—Joy is.)

Interestingly, Generation Y believes “perfect jobs” exist; today’s recent graduates also think they’re good enough to get them. “They see themselves as really well prepared and supremely good candidates for the job market,” says Edwin Koc, director of research for the National Association of Colleges and Employers. “Over 90 percent think they have a perfect résumé. The percentage who think they will have a job in hand three months after graduation is now 57 percent. They’re still supremely confident in themselves.”

When the author interviewed some millennials, many were jobless, others were dissatisfied with their work or graduate-school choices, yet they didn’t blame themselves if life failed to meet their expectations. They didn’t call into question their choices or competencies. It was as if all the cries of “Good job!” they heard as children armed them against the repeated blows of frustration and rejection now coming their way.

They’re extraordinarily optimistic that life will work out for them, believing bright days are ahead and eventually they will find that terrific job. With their seemingly inexhaustible well of positive self-regard, their refusal to have their horizons be defined by the limitations of our era, they just may bear witness to the precise sort of resilience that all parents, educators and pop psychologists now say they view as proof of a successful upbringing.

But, perhaps it wasn’t so much nurturing as environment. Generation Y has grown up in an era of almost unremitting ambient anxiety: school years spent in the shadow of Columbine, 9/11 and, lately, widespread parental job losses. Maybe chronic unease has simply raised this generation’s tolerance level for stress, leaving it uniquely well equipped to deal with uncertainty.

Perhaps unshakable self-esteem really does serve as a buffer to adversity–I know I want my children to have it.

 

Life would be wonderful…if it weren’t for the imaginary hardships May 10, 2010

The following is a version of my column which appears in San Clemente Presbyterian’s NEWSBREAK magazine. Editors are welcome to use it as a FREE REPRINT.

Sometimes I don’t need a mirror to see my own reflection. My five-year-old son Joseph is a perfectly capable alternative.

Lately, when my answer to one of his requests is “no” (although I am often guilty of indulging my children), Joseph has begun whining, “You NEVER let me _____!” (Fill in blank with any number of things we DO let him do, but just not that moment.)

I’ve talked with him about it, and I believe he now understands that “not now” does not mean “never,” but in truth, he sees a bigger problem. Joseph perceives himself a victim; what he desires is withheld from him and therefore he is in pain.  I would like to guide him to realize that he’s not suffering imaginary hardships—in fact, his life is pretty sweet!

But is this God’s view of us? Is our Father watching over His children whining about our limitations, descrying ourselves as victims of wrongdoing or lacking in His abundance?

Why do we always feel like we’re getting the short end of the stick?

In many ways, we impose our own imaginary hardships on ourselves. We think we can’t do something because we don’t have the resources, talent, courage, opportunity… gifts God happens to have in abundance.

We must ask ourselves: What am I not letting myself do?

A friend of mine who is the mother of three advised me to practice using positive language with Joseph instead of dead-ending his hopes with the word no. “It makes a world of difference,” she assured me.

True enough. Sometimes the answer to my prayer is “Not now” or “It won’t happen how you imagine it.” But God never says “Never.” It will require repeated assurance to help my child accept that mom and dad are lovingly parenting with his best interests in mind–but how many of us trust our Lord to look out for ours?

We can’t use God’s gifts boldly until we’ve received them. We haven’t received them if we perceive ourselves lacking. My husband and I are responsible for raising a confident child who counts at least one blessing each day, encouraging gratitude for all he–we–have been given. If we know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more will our Father in heaven give good gifts if we ask him! (Matthew 7:11, Luke 11:13)

I’m going to demonstrate letting go of expectations, in an effort to better appreciate when good gifts appear. Blessings don’t always look like we think they should—until we learn to recognize them.

Other NewsBreak Columns:

Closing The Gap Of Longing For Closeness

The Gifts Of Loaves And Fishes

Moving From Worry To Wonder

NewsBreak Column: Losing The Weight Of The Past

 

Easy, low-cost tips for improving your tween or teen’s health April 26, 2010

It wasn’t too long ago when health concerns such high blood pressure leading to heart problems were issues only middle-aged or elderly Americans faced. Increasingly, tweens and teens are struggling with health problems that, left unchecked, will only worsen as they age. Here are three tips garnered from the study. It is important to note that in every case, success was highest when the adoloscent was open to the techniques, and the family/parents offered a positive or supportive environment. However, the techniques would benefit all family members, especially busy parents, so total family participation would be ideal.

  • Meditation
  • Walking with a pedometer
  • Life skills coaching/ learning better problem-solving skills

Dr. Vernon Barnes, who has studied the impact of meditation on cardiovascular health for more than a decade at the Medical College of Georgia’s Georgia Prevention Institute has documented the improved stress reactivity in adolescents with high and normal blood pressures as well as lower blood pressures in inner-city adolescents who meditate twice daily. He adds that a positive attitude and family environment increases the effectiveness.

Meditation also sharpens the mind for education. “When you come to school with a stressed mind, you can’t do as well,” Dr. Barnes said. “The benefit of calming your mind is preparing it to learn.” A review of school records showed meditating adolescents miss fewer days and generally behave better, he added.

Another study showed that the blood pressure of students in a high school-based walking program decreased after just 16 weeks compared with non-participating peers. Dr. Barnes said an inexpensive pedometer is an incentive to move.

“It all works together, which makes sense,” he said, looking at the impact of the techniques over just a few months. “If you could maintain that decrease into your adult years, it may decrease cardiovascular disease risk,” Dr. Barnes said.

Researchers also reported reductions in anger and anxiety after a dozen, 50-minute Williams LifeSkills workshops helped adolescents learn to analyze a situation before responding, to listen and empathize or even stand firm when necessary. Psychosocial factors such as anger are known to contribute to a wide range of health problems including elevated blood pressures and heart disease in adulthood.

What does your family do to alleviate stress?

 

Mother’s Day foodie gifts you’ll actually want! April 23, 2010

Mother’s Day is a wonderful excuse to receive gifts reflecting your favorite food passions. Rather than the same-old, these treats from RegionalBest.com look unique and special. I don’t tout products I haven’t tried, but these look tempting enough that I simply must post–if only as a hint!

For the Gluten Free Mom

Caren Wize, chef and owner of Truly Wize Bakery, makes delicious all natural, gluten free products that are beautifully packaged in eco-friendly gift boxes.  We recommend  Assorted Macaroons,  the extra rich and moist Gluten Free Brownies, and the fruit flavor filled Whoopie Pies.

For the Chocolate Lover Mom

Roni-Sues Chocolates of New York City offers several truffle collections, including the Cocktail Truffle Collection, unique handmade truffles featuring a variety of classic cocktails like the Manhattan,  Mojito, Dark & Stormy, Mimosa and Margarita.  They’re made with the finest local ingredients and some include tequila, coconut rum, bourbon and sweet vermouth.  In addition, Roni-Sue’s exclusive Regional Chocolate Collection features a variety of flavors each very different and unique to represent regional flavors throughout the United States, such as blueberry, cherries jubiliee and pecan pie.

For the Garden Lover Mom   
  
Artisanal Shortbread from Simply Nic’s in New Jersey is available in luscious varieties like Rosemary, Lavender and Cardamon Candied Ginger.  Artisan Baker Nicole Bergman gets  fresh rosemary from local farms, and gardens in and around Princeton, NJ.  She harvests rosemary from the herb garden that Littlebrook Elementary School’s Garden Club (in Princeton, NJ) plants, as part of the Princeton School Garden Cooperative.

For the Breakfast Lover Mom

If mom is a coffee or tea lover, you can’t go wrong with Kohana’s Best Coffee Sampler, a selection of Kohana’s best roasted coffees, or the Flowering Teas Sampler from Great Lakes Tea and Spice.  The teas are absolutely gorgeous served in a clear class pot or cups.

For more great ideas, check out RegionalBest’s gift guide.

What foodie gift would YOU like to receive for Mother’s Day?

 

Jane Goodall’s 9 tips for family fun on Earth Day! April 21, 2010

In celebration of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots, the Jane Goodall Institute‘s global environmental and humanitarian youth program featuring service projects, youth-led campaigns and an interactive website offering earth-friendly activities, is empowering kids and families worldwide to care for the planet.

Roots & Shoots (in conjunction with Toys R Us) have developed the following list of free and low-cost activities to help families appreciate the outdoors this Earth Day.

  • Jump! Whether you call it skipping rope or jump roping, it’s a great activity to improve strength and fitness and can be performed on grass or pavement.
  • Retreat to the Beach. Instead of driving to the beach, recreate a piece of the coast’s serene atmosphere with a sandbox in the yard.
  • Be Farm and Garden Fresh. Get to know your local farmer and enlist the kids to join you at the local farmers’ markets. Better yet, plant your own garden that everyone can care for and enjoy all season long.
  • Let’s Go Fly a Kite! Show the kids how to soar into a colorful sky with only the force of nature to power your kite. A centuries-old activity, kite flying can be enjoyed at any age—with a little wind, of course!
  • Give Back. Gather the family for a volunteer day dedicated to beautifying the earth. Many communities have organizations that champion environmental protection and regularly organize events like stream and trail clean-ups.
  • Be Bubbly! Invite the neighbors to create bubble wands out of objects found around the house like straws, pipe cleaners, strawberry baskets and coat hangers. Take the kids outside and have your own bubble party!
  • Take a Hike. Locate a nature trail near you and take the kids on a woodsy adventure. Hiking is a group activity that provides great exercise and hands-on experiences with the natural world.
  • Start a Kickball Game. All it takes is a rubber playground ball, make-shift bases and some friends to start a kickball game. Create a neighborhood tournament and coach the kids though innings of bouncing fun.
  • Catch and Release. Butterflies are some of nature’s most beautiful creatures, although they aren’t easy to observe when they flutter in the sky. Using an insect or butterfly net, capture them and show the kids how to appreciate their beauty up close. Then let them loose.