Tag Archives: parenting

Real Strength

Rudeness - edited

I like what Sydney Harris, the late American journalist, had to say:

“People who are proud of being brutally frank rarely admit they are more gratified by the brutality than by the frankness.”

Personally, I don’t think there’s anything admirable about stomping on someone’s dignity. It’s easy to be offensive and degrading. It’s much more difficult to get a point across while remaining tactful . . . even kind.

Straightforwardness occupies two categories: assertiveness and aggressiveness. One is respectful while the other is anything but. Check out this website for more on the difference between the two.

Aggressive communicators aim to dominate and control. Their body language and words convey—loud and clear—“I expect to get my way,” and “I’m always right.”

Tom’s boss is a perfect example. According to Tom, he’s  abrasive and undermining.

“No one wants to speak up at meetings,” Tom said. “It’s the fear of being humiliated. Just last week, I was ridiculed for a less-than-stellar sales report.”

Tom refers to the company’s teamwork philosophy as a “joke. Nothing original is discussed in our meetings,” he said. “Brainstorming may be on the agenda, but our ideas and opinions are instantly argued down. Brainstorming is just another word for us nodding while he postures and spouts out his ideas.”

Not surprisingly, such an atmosphere stifles enthusiasm and commitment. So bosses like Tom’s might as well kiss productivity, creativity and innovation goodbye while they watch dedicated employees like Tom walk out the door.  “I can’t continue to be subjected to this kind of treatment,” Tom said. “When you have to literally drag yourself to work every morning—not because of the job—but because of a person at that job, then it’s time for a change.”

No question, we admire people who speak truthfully and boldly—who tell it like it is. Such people are cut out to be leaders, whether we’re talking about leadership in the office, on the football field, in the classroom or in the home.

I frequently hear parents complain about their child’s lack of respect. Respect is a noble quality, but it’s supposed to run both ways. It’s ludicrous for parents or anyone in a leadership role to expect to receive what he or she is unwilling to give.

successful leadersStudies show that the most successful leaders are those who empower rather than overpower, who inspire cooperation rather than foster alienation, who invite input and negotiation rather than dictate orders.

Here’s what one client had to say about her experience with both types: “I felt like I was working for my former boss, who acted like a dictator, but I feel like I’m working with my current boss.”

Let’s face it, force and disrespect may engender obedience and fear, but they don’t engender loyalty, trust and a desire to cooperate.

According the Wayne Dyer, leaders worthy of our admiration share a common principle: “How do we help influence those around us in ways that are going to make them better, us better, the world a greater place?”

Call it strength.

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality

(c) 2015 Salee Reese

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The Truth about Tears

inside out

“Only strong people allow themselves to feel pain.”

–Heather, 16

If you haven’t watched the movie Inside Out, drop everything and head for a theater immediately! The story takes place inside the head of 11-year-old Riley, where five key characters reside—all representing her main emotions: Joy, Fear, Disgust, Anger, and Sadness.

The story carries a powerful message about the important role each emotion plays in our life, including those less desirable emotions such as sadness.

In the movie, Sadness starts out as a bother but ends up the hero. That’s because she knows how to handle Riley’s problems. Unlike the other emotions, she knows where to take things so they can change for the better.

She’s also the only character who demonstrates  empathy. When Riley’s imaginary friend—Bing Bong—from early childhood, becomes sad and discouraged, Joy is powerless, but that isn’t true of Sadness. She listens in the only way that counts—at the heart level. Bing Bong got better.

And when Riley’s parents got in touch with their sadness over Riley’s sadness, they were capable of listening. The result? Things got better. Prior to that, Riley believed that the only allowable emotion was joy. And in the movie we learn that joy has its limitations.

It was apparent that Riley was sheltered from negative emotions from the start. Therefore, she was poorly equipped to deal with the stresses and heartbreak of moving to another state at the age of eleven.

As I lost myself in this movie, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Heather, whom I quoted above, a teenager I counseled who was grappling with overwhelming sadness. Her parents were oblivious to that fact until they found her suicide note. Read her story here.

Both Riley and Heather needed the freedom to feel, and the freedom to express it. They needed to be understood, and that was best accomplished when their parents felt with them.

When I asked Heather: “When you’re hurting, what do you need most from your mom? Do you need for her to be strong?” Without any hesitation, she replied:

“No! I need to see her feelings. Showing feelings isn’t being weak—it’s being close.”

That says it all.  Thanks, Heather.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality

(c) 2015 Salee Reese

 

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I Want a Silverback Father!

Silverback

I’m certain we could learn a lot from silverback gorillas. Not about grooming habits, but about the way they care for their young.

The movie Instinct stars Anthony Hopkins as an anthropologist who lives among a community of gorillas for two years. He starts out as a detached observer, but it isn’t long before they win over his heart. He admires and adores these powerful yet gentle creatures and is especially touched by their undying devotion to their young.

Gradually, he is accepted as one of them.

One day, sitting among the gorillas as they groom themselves and nibble away at leaves, he becomes aware of a constant, attentive gaze that embraces them all. The gaze was coming from the “silverback,” the name given to the chief male—the elder or overseer—of the gorilla clan. His job is to protect and maintain order.

“It’s an amazing experience—the feeling of being watched over,” the anthropologist observed.

The gravity of that simple statement struck me. I wonder . . .  do our children feel “watched over” by their fathers . . . and in this manner?

I think a lot of kids feel “watched,” but not “watched over.” To me there’s a huge difference. To be “watched” implies a suspicious, critical eye. “Watching over” combines guidance with compassion.

Sam Keen, author of Fire in the Belly, has this to say:

In the quiet hours of the night when I add up the accomplishments of my life, those things that rank first, in terms of true success, have to do with my children. To the degree I have loved, nurtured, and enjoyed them, I honor myself. To the degree I have injured them by my obsessive preoccupations with myself, with my profession, I have failed as a father and a man. The health, vitality, and happiness of the family is the yardstick by which a man, a woman, a society should measure success.

To the dismay of many men and their children, that lesson is typically learned in hindsight. One such father put it this way: “Men fall into the trap of believing what their family needs most is a secure financial foundation. This isn’t so. The foundation comes from the heart, not the wallet.”

Turning again to Keen: “We learn to trust in a world that contains evil when we come crying with a skinned knee and are held, hurting, in arms; and the voice that is forever assuring us, ‘Everything is going to be all right.’”

Boys learn how to use their masculinity—in both positive and negative ways—by watching their fathers. Keen says, “A boy naturally learns how to be a man by observing how his father treats women, how he deals with illness, failure, and success, whether he shares in the household chores, whether he cuddles and plays.”

Keen mentions how his priorities as a father have gradually changed. “First time round as a father I had truckloads of rules, oughts, ideals, and explanations—all of which kept me at arm’s length from my children . . . . Lately I have come to believe that the best thing I can give my children is an honest account of what I feel, think, and experience, to invite them into my inner world.

We frequently hear the term “the absent father.” This doesn’t necessarily refer to the actual physical absence of a father. It can also refer to emotional absence. Children need to feel that there’s a special place in their dad’s heart reserved just for them. They need to see a certain delight in his eyes when they talk to him about their day or when they share their dreams and achievements with him. They hunger for his full attention—chunks of time in which he’s not distracted by schedules or electronic devices.

They need to see their father as powerful, but not “powerful” as in domination or through tough displays of fierceness or force. A father of young children once told me that good fathers are good leaders and that being a good leader requires a delicate balancing act. He said, “I must maintain an air of authority, but I have to be the right type of authority. I’m learning that the best leaders lead without squashing the spirit.

So, good fathering is about a warm and receptive heart. It’s about being involved and interested. It’s attentive to needs and distresses. It nourishes self-worth. It protects, guides and maintains order. It’s about cherishing and listening. It models strength, self-restraint and kindness. It comforts when there are tears. It accepts when there are mistakes and failures.

Being watched over is an amazing experience! The world needs more “silverback” fathers, wouldn’t you say?

© 2015 Salee Reese

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Be Brave and Speak Up

 

sunrise

Ever find yourself in the midst of a group of people engaged in a bashfest? Some unfortunate individual is being maligned or trashed behind their back.

What to do?

Join in to feel a part of things? Or stand there, silently uncomfortable? Either choice makes our soul uneasy. It feels like we’re participating in a betrayal of sorts. And we are. It’s a betrayal of the person being targeted and a betrayal of ourselves at some deeper level.

Not long ago a friend of mine, Tina, found herself in one of those situations. The conversation started out as idle chit-chat, but then regressed to bashing other people. “It didn’t feel good,” she said, “but I didn’t know what to do.”

The model for what to do arrived in the form of a woman who happened upon the scene. The first words out of her mouth were:

“Enough feeding the darkness. What are you doing to feed the lightness?”

The woman didn’t wait for an answer to her question. Without a moment’s hesitation, she took charge of the conversation, redirecting it to a positive topic. “It was amazing,” Tina said. “The energy shifted immediately.”

Simply put, the atmosphere morphed because one person decided to feed the lightness.

I love that story of courage. I call it courage because it’s so very difficult to speak up and risk others’ scorn.

Years ago, I was at a picnic, and sitting near me on a blanket was a happy two-year-old. Characteristic of her age, she was a bit squirmy. Eventually, she stood up, clearly eager to do some exploring. But her mother immediately gave her a spanking while uttering these harsh words: “You sit down, young lady, until you eat all your food!”

The little girl’s cheerfulness quickly evaporated, replaced with tears and a crestfallen spirit. It hurt to watch. Like many of us in such situations, I asked myself: What can I do?  I wanted to say something but was frozen, lacking both words and courage. I didn’t feel it was my place to say anything, and I imagined the woman coming back at me with this response: “How I raise my children is none of your business!”

I left the picnic with a sour taste in my mouth, not because of food, but because the incident left me heartsick. Unable to remove it from my consciousness, I pondered the question: Is it really none of my business?

My conclusion: It is my business. How fellow human beings are treated is the business of everyone. That’s because we’re all members of the same family—the human family. And how we raise our children shapes the world we inhabit together.

Every time we ignore or neglect to speak out against unkind acts, we allow one more piece of debris to contaminate the collective spirit of humankind.

If I could redo the picnic scenario, what would I say to the spanking mother? I would hope to muster the spiritual courage to say: “Oooo, my heart aches for your little girl. How bad she must feel, and probably doesn’t understand what she did wrong. It’s so natural to want to explore at her age.”

I would hope that my response would provoke thoughtful reflection and perhaps make a difference. There’s a chance it wouldn’t, but remaining silent would ensure the latter.

I‘m expanding my blog to include a new category, Random Acts of Courage. I invite you to share with me your experiences with courage—times when you’ve successfully fought the temptation to keep silent in the face of unkindness, or when you’ve witnessed others successfully doing so.

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Fishing with My Little Brother

 

fishing

Everyone knows dads come in all shapes and sizes . . . but they also come in assorted forms. Lots of children are fortunate enough to have a man—who isn’t their biological father—step into that role. They may either supplement what Dad is doing or, perhaps, fill in the gap where Dad is literally missing. That man might be an uncle, brother or grandfather, or he might be completely unrelated to the child.

I know such a man. Don is a Big Brother to Logan. His father is completely absent from Logan’s life, so Don—along with other key male figures—has the opportunity to significantly leave an impact.

Recently, Don told me about an outing he had with Logan. The two of them headed for a pond with their fishing poles. When they got there, Don prepped Logan by saying: “Today, you’re going to become a fisherman.” Pointing to the bait, he said: “Which one do you think would work best?” Logan chose. Then with some basic instruction, Don coached him on how to bait the hook.

Don explained to me that it wasn’t their first time fishing together, “but it was fishing at a whole new level. I let him fish. I gave up control. My former pattern would have been, ‘No, do it this way.’ That avenue would only rattle Logan’s confidence and reinforce any fear of failure he might have. So I got out of the way and let him have his own experience.”

Logan’s attempts were clumsy at first. “But that didn’t matter,” Don said. “We grownups need to remember the first time we baited a hook . . . it just wasn’t very pretty.”

Within two minutes, Logan caught a fish. The first words out of his mouth were, “I feel really good about myself!”

“I felt happiness for Logan,” Don said, beaming. “I’m positive the reason he felt good about himself was because he mastered something on his own.”

What made that afternoon so special was the fact that Logan challenged himself to try something new. And Don facilitated it by being patient and by having faith in Logan.

 “I’m learning that there’s a difference between doing something with someone and doing something for them,” Don said.

“That’s how confidence is built.”

So true. After catching the fish, Logan asked: “Can I take the fish off the hook?” Ahhh, confidence in action.

“Logan’s success brought joy to both of us as well as a sense of connection and achievement,” Don said. “You know . . . I feel really good about myself, too.”

Hmmm. Looks like making a significant impact runs both ways.

For more information about Big Brothers Big Sisters, see http://www.bbbs.org/

 

 

 

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Love is the Force

dad and daughter

“I want her to know she can come to me.”

Ben was referring to his twelve-year-old daughter, Madison. He sought my advice because 1) he’s concerned about her grades and 2) he realizes his approach is alienating her.

When Ben talks to Madison about her grades, he doesn’t talk. He yells and puts her down.

“Suppose your boss wanted you to do better at something, ” I asked, “would he get very far by getting upset and criticizing you?”

Ben sighed and said: “I get what you’re saying. I think I take after my dad. He was never physically abusive but he would be up my a** with his tone.”

A closed heart . . . an angry, critical approach only creates resistance and defensiveness.

What’s more, it creates separation and bad feelings—our relationships suffer.

I suggested he try approaching his daughter differently: “I’m noticing that your grades are slipping. What’s going on, hon? How can I help?'” The attitude of kindness that accompanies those words will give Ben his best shot at making something positive happen.

An open heart spawns trust and a close bond. Parent and child become partners instead of adversaries. It says: “Hey, I like you, and we’re together in this.”

Another client, Kim, was equally frustrated with her teenage daughter, Nicole’s, tepid response to a family outing. Kim was pushing, and Nicole was tuning her out. To break this deadlock, each would need to go beneath the surface and see the other’s true feelings—the pain. Such is the pathway to compassion—the only avenue for resolving differences. Interestingly, Kim’s true feelings centered around grief. Click here to read about our session.

By far, the single most important task of any parent is to build a strong bond with their child. Without that foundation, parents are handicapped in their ability to guide and discipline effectively. They may get obedience—which is usually no more than a mere superficial display—but they won’t get the respect and cooperation necessary for influencing a child’s life for the better.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality

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You’re Bigger Than You Think

African-Elephant-on-the-Road-537x357

 

There’s a psychological term I want to introduce you to. You may already know it; the word is “schema” and it means a deeply ingrained belief or impression about ourselves and the world around us.

Schemas take root at an early age as a result of what we experience in life. Certain key people are also tremendously influential in the formation of schemas. By what they say and do, we form conclusions which have lasting effects on our behavior, our pattern of thinking, our choices and our self-concept. In essence, schemas color how we view reality and how we respond to most situations.

Automatic assumptions spring from schemas. Let’s face it, they show up in every argument!

Some schemas are positive, some are not-so-positive. Lorena recently shared a story illustrating a not-so-positive schema. (I wrote about her in an earlier post: “Perfection is Highly Overrated!” Click here to read it.)

Not long ago, her dad pointed to a photograph of her on the refrigerator. “Do you remember that?” he asked. The photograph showed a 4-year-old Lorena dressed in a cute dancing outfit.

She remembered the photo and she also remembered the thought that ran through her mind when she saw it shortly after it was taken. “I was thinking that my thighs were too big!” she said while shaking her head in disbelief.  “I just cannot imagine that someone that young could even entertain such a thought! It’s just so outlandishly sad!”

By the age of four, Lorena had been thoroughly programmed to scrutinize her physical appearance. Yes, that is “outlandishly sad.” Her schema goes something like this: “My acceptance is based on how I look,” and “There is something fundamentally wrong with me.”

“As far back as I can remember,” she said, “I compared myself to other girls.”

Lorena was curious about the origins of her shaping. “Who’s opinion did I buy into?” she wondered. After mulling it over she came up with this: “I’m pretty sure it was my grandmother’s. As long as I can remember, she was constantly making derogatory remarks about how other people looked.”

The remedy for bothersome schemas? A heavy dose of clear minded self-appraisal.

We get free by questioning our conditioned assumptions about ourselves.

Lorena’s on a journey to do just that. She’s busy revamping her schema by disbelieving it. And in the process, she’s realizing she’s a whole lot bigger than some old schema hanging out in her brain.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

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