Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Annual Christmas Crisis -- Dr. Jennifer Baker, Good Dads Founder & Executive Director

Let’s face it. Celebrating the holidays can be very stressful and depending on your family’s background and traditions, the tension can last for weeks. Even if you are able to keep plans for your festivities reasonable, you still have to cope with the behavior and expectations of others. Just trying to find a parking place near your favorite store can be a hassle on December days when every space is taken. This kind of stress is peripheral to the pressure we may feel from family to perform in a certain way (gatherings, gifts, etc.) on specific days like Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Some folks I know spend a majority of their time shuttling their offspring between households of extended family regardless of weather conditions, sleeplessness and exhaustion because it is expected they will do so. A perfect storm of stressors begins to build for many families around this time of year and often reaches a boiling point right at the time we long to be “merry and bright.”
Christmas Amnesia
Because this “holiday hoe down” happens every year, we ought to be smarter about planning for it and preparing to alter the course of our behavior, but most of us don’t. Bill Doherty, author of The Intentional Family, refers to this phenomenon as “Christmas amnesia” and notes that it is akin to “women forgetting the pain of childbirth soon after delivery. It is an amnesia that helps to populate the earth and keep the tradition of family Christmas alive.” We could make plans to do things differently, to allow for demanding people and difficult situations, but we often disregard our discouragement, delay making plans to do something different, and delve back into the same dilemmas a year later. This year, why not plan to do something different.

Be Honest about Discouragements
There’s no time like the present to take a few notes about what discourages you most. You may not be able to extricate yourself from some holiday hassles this year, but the hope of doing something different next year can help sustain you. While the feelings and thoughts are fresh, write them down. This will be critical in March and April when Christmas amnesia is likely to set in. 

Plan Early to Do Something Different
You know that celebrating the holidays can have its anxious moments. You’re aware there are some people—often those to whom we’re related—who will be difficult. If you are the person in charge of seeing that the holiday happens for your clan (Doherty refers to you as the “Christmas Coordinator), then recognize you need help. The key to all these realizations is planning for changes before the season heats up and then letting others know early and often about the changes that will occur. What might that entail?

Developing Solutions for Old Dilemmas
If you are the Christmas Coordinator you’re very likely to assume a martyr role as the holiday approaches, doing more and enjoying it less, while your spouse and family sit on the sidelines and watch you work. Here are some suggestions to assist you in altering that behavior.

1)      Involve other by asking for help with specific tasks. 
         Instead of saying, “I need help with the shopping;” say “I need you to purchase the gifts for your brother and sister. I’ll give you the list at least six weeks in advance.”  Rather than bemoaning that you “always have to do all the decorating,” say “I need you to get all the boxes out of storage and set up the tree the day after Thanksgiving.” Others are much more likely to respond when they know exactly what they need to do to assist and how much time it might take.

2)      Respect the old, but try something new. As families grow they include others, e.g., a new brother-in-law or sister-in-law, who will have new traditions. Take the time to discover how they celebrate. Do they exchange names for gift giving versus buying something for everyone? Do they swap “white elephant” presents in lieu of something more serious? Consider how you might honor the traditions of new members while trimming back some of the old.

3)      Discuss gift exchanges and holiday travel well in    advance. 
        If you want to spend Christmas Eve or Christmas morning in your own home and this challenges the expectations of others, tell them early (e.g. in July) and often (repeated monthly if necessary) about your plans. Expect change back messages on the part of other when you do this, but hold firm.

It’s not easy to make changes in family routines and rituals, but it is possible. Challenge yourself to think about the memories you want both you and your loved ones to have as they recall Christmases past. Will what you’re doing now cause them to remember you more like the happy and fun-loving Buddy in the Christmas movie Elf or someone more akin to the Grinch who stole Christmas? It’s really up to you.

Merrily yours,

Dr. Jennifer Baker

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

What Are You Waiting For -- Dr. Jennifer Baker

Stella, age 4, can hardly wait until Christmas. She is hoping that Santa will bring her a "My Little Pony," preferably blue.

Her older sisters, age six, are hoping for new cowboy boots--the kind with lots of glitz and glitter that girls their age love to wear.
I bet most of us remember the longing we experienced as children, waiting what seemed like an eternity for that special day to arrive when we would receive the much anticipated gift we felt certain would be under the Christmas tree. In those days, most of us waited with some kind of certainty our wishes would be fulfilled. It just might take longer than we would like.

When we grow up, we still long for things but often with less certainty. Some of us long for a life partner; others for a child of their own. Some folks yearn for healing in a relationship, or for the return of a rebellious child, or even an end to chronic pain and suffering. When we wait for these kinds of things our waiting is much less certain. We're not at all certain our marriage will be healed, our child will return from his or her rebellious ways, or our family member will be reconciled. We don't know if we'll ever marry, we'll have a baby of our own, or the pain we're enduring will loosen its icy grip on our lives. When we wait for things like this, it's much harder to be hopeful. In fact, in the dark days of December when other people seem to be so "merry and bright," it can be even more difficult to experience the hopeful waiting that seems to be such a part of this season.

So what can be done? How can one wait hopefully and avoid a dreary descent into anger, bitterness and despair? When it comes to answering questions like these, I turn to people who seem to have done a much better job than I have . . . people who teach me what it means to wait with peace, patience and perspective. One such person is Cathy Tijerina.

Cathy writes the following:

     In September of 1991, I was twenty-four years old when I found myself trying to explain to my two and four year old sons why Daddy didn’t come home that day. “Prison” was a new word to define for my sons - a word that toddlers should not even know - yet here I was trying desperately to provide an explanation to them that would make sense without completely robbing them of their innocence. We were so sure that Ron was not going to be convicted of a crime he did not commit we had not even thought about telling our sons anything. Now, as I sat alone on the floor of our house, holding my sobbing, frightened children, I wondered how on earth our young family was going to make it through that night—let alone the next 14-25 years my husband was just sentenced.
     Little did I know that the devastation I felt as I walked out of the court house alone that day was just the beginning of a journey of pain, shame, disappointment and social shunning that my husband’s incarceration had created for my children and me. 

(See http://www.theridgeproject.com/#/about-us/ron-cathy-tijerina.)

Ron was released from prison after 15 years. He missed most of the growing up years for his sons--the birthdays, Christmases and graduations. While he was gone, Cathy functioned as a single parent, helping her children stay connected with their father through regular visits to the prison, keeping the faith that someday Ron would be released and they all would be together as a family. That time finally came in 2006, but in the interim both Ron and Cathy had to wait with a lot of uncertainty about the future. 
I thought of Cathy when I was driving to work one day week, wallowing in a bit of "December dreariness."  I reflected on all the Decembers she must have spent loading kids in and out of the car by herself, putting up a tree and holiday decorations by herself, shoveling snow and managing wintry weather conditions by herself while she waited for one day, some day, when she wouldn't have to do it all alone.

I know Ron and Cathy, have heard them speak on a number of occasions and talked with them in person. When I'm tempted to feel discouraged or sorry for myself, reflecting on their story gives me a great deal of hope. Here are some things I think they might tell you.

Faith makes a difference. Early in their experience of incarceration, Ron and Cathy became part of a faith community--Ron behind the walls, Cathy on the outside. They would tell you that their faith in God was transformative. They would also emphasize the importance of being associated with like-minded people. If one must persist and endure, waiting with the encouragement of others can be very helpful.

Look beyond yourself. In the first year or two of Ron's incarceration, Cathy began to look for meaningful support for someone like herself--a committed wife and mother who wanted to wait for her husband's release with patience and courage. She writes:

Ron continually inspired me and encouraged me that we COULD make a difference for all those who came behind us. I believed him, and we took on a new mission beyond just our own family. In 1993, we began with a program we developed called Keeping FAITH (now the Keeping Families And Inmates Together in Harmony program.) In this program, Ron mentored other men in prison, while I would meet with and encourage their families on the outside. This was the beginning of the Ridge Project. In 2000, while Ron was still incarcerated, we officially founded the Ridge Project. Ron continued to mentor incarcerated men, while I worked with their families, and I also began an after-school program to help at-risk or struggling youth. 

People forced to wait by a serious illness, marital discord, rebellious children and a host of other problems often report finding great meaning in looking beyond themselves to comfort and encourage others who are experiencing similar difficulties. This doesn't necessarily change the circumstances (Ron was still incarcerated for 15 years), but it brings meaning to suffering.
Enjoy the little things. Although I haven't heard Cathy or Ron say this specifically, I know from my contact with them that they are two of the most joyful people I know. They embrace life and enjoy each other. Their enthusiasm is infectious. One cannot help but be impacted by their presence. There's so much about which they might be bitter and angry, but they have chosen to focus on the good. I want to be more like them.

I confess to being a prone-to-impatience kind of person. Waiting is rarely easy for me. At the same time, I can see that watchful waiting, done in the right way, can soften us into more peaceable persons who bring joy and hope to others. Maybe that's what I'm waiting for this Christmas and I do think it's the kind of thing that's worth the wait.

Waiting with you,

Dr. Jennifer Baker

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Setting Limits -- Nixa Father of Three, Herb Cody

A few weekends ago, during a busy Saturday of shuttling my three kids from once place to another, my 13-year-old son asked if he could make himself some hot dogs. That was once less person I had to worry about feeding that afternoon, so I told him yes.  I went to pick up my 7-year-old, who was hungry and asking what he could eat. I told him what his brother had, and he was good with the same. When we got home, I began to look for the dogs in the fridge. They, however, were nowhere to be found. I asked my son what had happened to them. “I ate them!”, he replied. I could not believe it; he had eaten all six hotdogs. I asked him, “When have I ever made lunch, and served you six hot dogs?”, “Never!”, he sheepishly responded. 

I think one of our main responsibilities as parents is teaching our kids about limits. This applies to food, sports, relationships, money and material things. When I think about it, I’m constantly setting minimum/maximum limits with all three of my kids.

My youngest is a very picky eater, so I’ve found that if I give him a minimum amount of vegetables he has to eat before he gets dessert, he will try to complete the task. With the other two, I have to remind them there is only so much to go around, and there is a max number of tacos or burgers they can have. 

My daughter just recently began bowling more competitively. She practices a couple of hours almost every day, and the thing is, if it were up to her, she would spend her entire evening practicing after school and basketball practice. I have to explain to her, that while I love her commitment, I have to limit her time so that her school grades and family time are not put on the back burner. 

As we all know, teenagers want the newest and coolest shoes, clothes, video games or devices. While some of their friends may show up to school with the newest iPhone, or a $200 pair of shoes, I’ve made it clear to my kids I’ll keep them in style, but I won’t break the bank to do so. We are going to spend $50 on some jeans rather than $250, and put some money aside for a car, college or any other opportunities that may present themselves. 

I’ve found myself having to limit the amount of time my kids spend with certain friends. While I’m happy they have friends they enjoy being around, I also want them to explore relationships with more than just one or two people. Learning to handle all the different personalities of people, while they are young, will only benefit them as they become adults. 

When setting limits with small children, start small, set consequences that make sense to them, stick to those limits you’ve set, and try to keep your cool when those set limits are broken.

Herb Cody is a husband and father of three. He is a part time Uber driver and full time caregiver  of his spouse, who suffered a traumatic brain injury after an auto accident November, 2015. Herb loves football and is a St Louis Cardinals fanatic. He and his family live in Nixa MO. Herb can be reached for questions or comments at herbie05@yahoo.com. You can check out Herb's own blog at www.thecodylife.weebly.com