Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

The Family Garden

Thursday, June 28th, 2007

Holding HandsSummertime is the season for family vacations, family cookouts, family reunions, and visiting relatives. Whew! That’s a lot of family.

It can seem like visiting a well-planned flower garden, or a fearsome jungle filled with quicksand. I know people who look forward to the chance to renew family ties, and people who dread the very thought of seeing Aunt and Uncle So-and-So again.

It’s all relative. (Pardon the pun.) The more you like the people you’ll be seeing, the more fun you’ll have. But sometimes a sense of obligation gets in the way of just enjoying people.

When you go see your friends, you’re conscious that you choose them because of what you like about them. Sometimes we forget there are things to like about our families because we’re so busy thinking we ‘have to’ be nice to them.

It’s true there are many different kinds of people in every family gathering. Nowadays the problem is complicated by the variety of lifestyles. Divorce, remarriages, and blended families make for a multiplicity of personalities and interests. But instead of getting hung up on having to like all these people, why not relax and try to see the good things in each of them?

You may be so used to your own relatives that you haven’t given yourself a chance to see how you’ve all grown over the years. You may be so familiar with your family that you have your own expectations about them. And these assumptions become Self-Fulfilling Expectations, making us see the glass half-empty instead of half full.

Take the time to listen and look with the same courtesy you’d give a stranger. You might be surprised at how much more interesting they’ve become. Meeting new relatives through remarriage or family blending can make you nervous too. But don’t think of it as a chore or obligation. Pretend it’s a club or party that you’re thinking of joining. Instead of worrying about how they see you, look for what’s fun about them.

I was lucky enough to be welcomed into a family that already had a lot of love and tolerance for all its members. They taught me a lot about how families can let people grow and change, while still holding on to the special relationships developed in childhood. New members came and went, each judged on their own merits and each given the benefit of the doubt.

But even if your family has trouble adapting to changes, you can take a big role in encouraging a better family atmosphere. Start the ball rolling by taking the time to let your favorite relatives know how much you appreciate them. Then practice listening to your least favorite relatives and make it a treasure hunt to find something to like in every one of them.

See your family as a garden, with new plants coming up all the time. Stop worrying about your own image and don’t feel forced. Make it a conscious choice to weed out the negative thoughts and feelings that have sprouted over the years. You’ll be surprised at the richness of the crop you’ll harvest when the summer season is over.

Choosing to have a good relationship with your relatives takes effort on your part. A little consideration goes a long way toward ensuring pleasant family get-togethers. Look at your family members with a new perspective, and see them as potential friends. Find something to like in every one of them, and watch the family garden burst into bloom.


Sunday, March 4th, 2007

Driving down a country road the other day, I stopped behind a school bus and watched a young teenager get out. Even before the bus had pulled away, he had his thumb out in the universal sign for hitchhikers. With nationwide concern over the rising amount of crimes against children, this young man was literally risking his life.

When I talked with some 13 and 14 year olds that I know, I found that they had a distorted view of child abductors. They felt they were too smart to be lured by promises of candy and too big to be forcibly abducted. They became more thoughtful when I pointed out that grown men could be mugged, and that no one was immune to a gun or a surprise attack.

Rapists and child molesters do not necessarily look seedy or suspicious. They would rather offer a ride to a hitchhiking youngster than resort to a public show of force that might be witnessed. They might stop to ask directions, or for help with reading a map.

They aren’t relying solely on the physical weakness or inexperience of a child; they are relying as well upon the trust of children towards adults. This makes the crime even worse, and the need for educating children even more imperative.

Children should be taught to recognize a potentially dangerous situation, and what to do in such an event. No matter how pleasant a stranger seems, a child should never go over to their car, or even within touching distance.

Teenagers need to be reminded that it is not ‘cool’ to be macho in a case like this. However grown up they feel, they will be helpless against a well-planned or well-rehearsed attack. A real hero will run and get help, not try to fight alone.

Families can help by having a Secret Code Word that only the family knows. Teach them not to go off with anyone who claims to be sent by their parents unless they know the family Secret Code Word. This applies to people with official identification, since ID’s can be forged. (It’s harder to fake a uniform and patrol car, although not impossible.)

And with the growing number of sexual abuse cases within families, teach them that this Code Word is the only secret a family member should ask them to keep! If someone tries to touch them, they should never keep that a secret. All children should be aware that they have the right to say ‘no’ to an adult.

Unfortunately, it isn’t just strangers who may try to molest children and young people. Babysitters, relatives, or the friends of friends may be guilty as well. The most important thing to teach your children is that they should tell an adult they can trust about the assault. No one has the right to touch them in a way that feels bad. And they are not ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ because someone else assaulted them; they are not at fault! Let them know that they are not to blame, and that they will have your support and protection.

There is no simple way to be sure that your child understands these suggestions. You will need to sit and discuss these carefully to be sure your children understand them. Open the lines of communication with your children and keep it an open dialogue, and you can increase their safety without frightening them unnecessarily.