Thursday, December 20, 2007

Holiday Life-Saver!

Hi –

As a family counselor and family coach at this time of the midwinter holidays, I, Randy Rolfe, hear frequent moaning from parents about how busy they are, how demanding and un-understanding their children are, and how they can’t wait until it's all over!

Celebration is a crucial part of family life. Taking out time to appreciate our love for each other with ritual and fun helps reenforce our devotion to one another. Celebration is one of the seven secrets, in my book The Seven Secrets of Successful Parents, by Randy Rolfe.

But sorting out schedules with multiple families to consider , or trying to accommodate everyone’s special dietary preferences, let alone finding the exact electronic gadget that each kid wants or putting up the hottest new trendy decorations, can wear out the most stalwart among us.

There is another way. So here is my best all time holiday advice.

Randy Rolfe’s take-home tip for the holidays: Ask each child who is old enough to talk with you what makes this holiday special for them. Ask for one thing that they look forward to more than anything else. Just one thing. It may amaze you what it is! And don't assume it is the same as last year. Then make sure that their one thing is part of your holiday plan. Start a list of holiday projects with each person’s favorite thing on it and then add them up. There should only be as many things on the list as members you have in your household. And don’t forget yourself!

Then the hard part: Consider eliminating everything that is not on that list! Don’t worry about what the neighbors think you should include, or your in-laws, or the latest TV news magazine or mailing from your local store. Unless those things are on your own list. If impressing your parents with a fully decorated house is the number one thing on your list, then do it. But if it is not, then muster the courage to say: “We’ve made some changes this year to give us more time to be together and to do what each of us really likes best.” They can take it or leave it. But when they feel the love and good feelings which fill your house as a result of everyone contributing and sharing their own favorite holiday element, they may surprise you with their tolerance.

Here are some of the surprising things our family members came up with, over several different years:
All being in the kitchen at the same time baking holiday cookies;
Shopping all together at the mall;
Watching old movies by the fire;
Seeing piles of colorful wrapped gifts under a well decorated tree;
Going out together to buy the tree;
Listening to harp and flute Williamsburg Christmas carol recordings;
Sledding together in the snow, even Mom;
Mixing gobs of dried fruits for traditional fruitcake;
Opening stockings Christmas morning with a glass of champagne;
Wrapping presents late into the night; and
Addressing Christmas cards with a mug of eggnog and Andy Williams records.

This list meant we could eliminate: lonely shopping trips looking to surprise each other; fancy outdoor and lawn lighting; extravagant cooking and baking; expensive toys we wouldn’t really use much or surprises we really didn't want; staying up to date in holiday fashion; doing Christmas jigsaw puzzles; or trying to adopt other families’ preferences instead of simply enjoying them.

Instead, we realized more little gifts would serve the purpose better than a few expensive ones, hanging out together around Christmas cards, music, and baking was high priority for all, and going out together too was important. And simply consulting each member of the family, no matter how small, served to start the holiday off right. Do try it!

Come back for another tip! Thanks for reading! And happy holidays!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Cheerleader and coach, not referee or teammate

Hi –

I, Randy Rolfe, am currently reading a fine book just now called In Defense of Childhood by Chris Mercogliano. I have a library of over 3,000 books on parenting, anthropology, natural health, political and social theory, history and theology. And this one belongs there too.

Chris Mercogliano addresses what he calls the progressive domestication of children, suppressing their inner wildness and as a result stunting their ability to be happy productive people in adulthood. Get this book!

In Defense of Childhood was recommended to me by my dear friend and colleague Dr. Robert E. Kay, a psychiatrist who has long been an advocate of letting the natural developmental processes of children govern their raising and education. Mercogliano brings you up-to-date on what’s happening to our children by identifying the most recent of many deadening influences on them, whether it is parental efforts to prevent any pain, schools’ efforts to control, or media’s efforts to sell. It seems the more parents try to avoid problems in today’s society the more deeply their children are disempowered.

For example, more parents than ever are interceding for their children in school, defending them from school criticism and preventing them from taking responsibility for their actions. As co-director of the Albany Free School and a parent himself, Mercogliano has seen how letting children face age-appropriate choices and risks breeds not only sounder judgment but more confidence and also more empathy for the freedom and feelings of others.

Here’s a take-home tip for today: When your child wants you to go to bat for them at school, here's a good script: “I can understand that you want me to handle this for you, but I believe you can do it for yourself. How about you spend a bit of time to think about how you got into this situation in the first place and figure out if you want it to be different next time and how you can make that happen. Then I suggest you be respectful and truthful - with yourself and with the school authorities. I’m sure you can do it. I’m your cheerleader and coach, but I’m not your referee or teammate.” Just try it!

This way you are empowering rather than disempowering. Parenting is a subtle but relentless progression from coddling an infant to pushing the grown kid out of the nest. The delicate judgments you make at each step make the difference. And it’s okay for your child to see you weighing that delicate judgment. After all, they learn primarily from imitating your model. Modeling is one of The Seven Secrets of Successful Parents.

Come back for another tip! Thanks for reading!

Monday, December 10, 2007

You Can Postpone Anything But Love

This is the first of what I hope will be a rich series of messages, on a daily to weekly basis by me, Randy Rolfe, your most reliable resource for advice on how to create happy healthy families. My mother is a sociologist and my father was a doctor specializing in infertility, or as he put it, doing the most fun job in the world - helping parents who really want a baby to have one! Both were amateur anthropologists, and they took me all over the world as a teenager to get a healthy world view of different cultures, beliefs and peoples. So it's no surprise that my passion is building a healthy future for the world by building happy healthy families! I've purused that passion through everything I've done, from studying international relations, law, theology, and natural health to publishing and promoting five books on relationships.

Having put my convictions into action, I speak from personal experience with my own family as well as from the results I have seen with my counseling and coaching clients, my readers, and my seminar students over the past 30 years. That's a long time, and parenting has changed immensely, but my philosophy of parenting is grounded not in the changes that can happen over a generation but in the consistency over the thousands of years of what it takes to raise children who are happy, capable, and productive and who add value to the human community.

Here's a take-home tip: You Can Postpone Anything But Love. That was the title I chose for my first book, and I still believe it is the one essential, core secret to parenting. When you are connecting with your child, in the morning, after school, going to bed, correcting behavior, or whatever, do the love first.

Offer a hug, no matter how troublesome they're being (and don't be hurt if they at first refuse). Start what you say with something positive about who they are in your life no matter how frustrated or concerned you feel. Say something like this: "I'm so glad you are part of my life." It sounds corny, but kids hear and appreciate corny more than you know. Just think about how you felt, or would have felt, if your own parent waxed corny. Just say it, and watch you child's face. If they try to reject it, just say it again at your next opportunity, and believe me, the face will eventually soften. You are giving your child the power to hear whatever you have to say without feeling diminished but instead feeling empowered - to be ever more like what you want.

Come back for another tip! Thanks for reading!