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Are You a “Mean Mom”?

SOURCE:  Joanne Kraft/Family Life

The definition of the word mean is to be unkind or malicious. But a good mean mom defines the word quite a bit differently.

Call me crazy, but moms are becoming nicer. There used to be a time when kids could spend hours regaling one another with mean mom stories. I know it used to be a favorite pastime of mine.

“My mom is the meanest. Listen to this …” I brushed aside my big ‘80s feathered hair for emphasis. “She wouldn’t let me come over today until after my homework was finished and after I cleaned the kitchen,” I complained to my girlfriend.

“If you think your mom is mean, Joanne, listen to this one …”

Legendary stories have gathered over time—too many to recount. My parenting style has been molded and shaped by them. As far as I was concerned, my mom was the meanest of all. She wanted to know who my friends were and what I was watching on TV. She upheld curfews, expected me to do well in school, and paid close attention to what I wore.

Mean mom flashback

I was hoping to slip out the front door before my parents caught a glimpse of my outfit. I was a typical 16-year-old, and I just knew they wouldn’t be able to hear the whisper of “cool” announcing my presence. Nor would they understand that my black stretch pants made a statement.

Unfortunately, I had never learned the art of Navy SEAL stealth operations, and my mom intercepted my exit. “Sweetheart, what are you wearing?”

Questions asking the obvious are the bane of every teenager’s existence. “Black pants,” I blurted, searching for an escape route.

“Those are not black pants. Those are skintight.” She called for backup. “George!”

Dad is a former U.S. Marine, so I knew he would be up for a battle. I would lose this skirmish. Mom would make sure of it.

“What in the world are those?” He looked down at my legs, his face scrunched up as if he were in the presence of something extraterrestrial.

My earlier confidence squeaked out as a pathetic question hoping for approval. “Black pants?”

With Dad as her wingman, my one-and-only “mean mom” began her rant: “No daughter of mine …”

Yep, here we go. The “no daughter of mine” speech.

As you can imagine, my response was predictable. I stomped off to my room and whimpered over my shoulder, “Mom. You are so mean!” Needless to say, I never left the house in those skintight stretch pants.

Fast-forward 30 years. Yesterday, while at church, this memory came rushing back. The beautiful young singer on stage seemed to have discovered my thigh-strangling pants from my teenage years. Her parents are apparently much nicer than mine and let her leave the house.

I debated with myself, Poor thing. Does she realize how skintight those are? Is that what I looked like 30 years ago? Stop it, Joanne, you’re being old-fashioned. Those pants are in style again.

My thoughts were interrupted by my extremely cool 17-year-old son. Right in the middle of a worship song, he leaned down and whispered to my ear, “That girl should not be wearing those pants.” Once again, confirmation that my very own mean mom had been right.

What does “mean” really mean?

The definition of the word mean is to be unkind or malicious. Though you might cringe at being defined this way, it’s exactly how your children feel you are behaving when you keep them from what they want, enforce daily chores, or thwart their Friday night plans.

This is the moment the parent-child language barrier begins. You see, a mean mom defines the word mean quite a bit differently.

  • A mean mom keeps her word when it’s hard.
  • A mean mom gives, models, and expects respect.
  • A mean mom knows her child’s friends and where they live.
  • A mean mom instills dinner times, bedtimes, and curfews.
  • A mean mom treads water longer than her child can make it rain.
  • A mean mom never makes excuses for her child’s strengths or weaknesses.
  • A mean mom doesn’t let her own fears overrule her child’s freedoms.
  • A mean mom sees the adult her child can be and inspires until he or she catches the vision.
  • A mean mom asks for forgiveness for her mistakes.
  • A mean mom loves passionately, encourages openly, and behaves righteously.
  • And if she’s married a mean mom puts her husband before her child.

In the context of mean mom, the word mean can be defined much differently between mom and child. So begins the expansion of that communication gap you’ve heard about. What a son or daughter sees as malicious or unkind, a mean mom sees as keeping protective boundaries and inspiring good character traits, so she makes no excuses for uncomfortable situations that are fueled by a loving boundary.

Children don’t understand boundaries as being helpful or for their lasting good. Their minds can’t wrap around anything more than their immediate wants and needs at this very nanosecond. This is where mean moms dig in and remember they are training each little one to overcome obstacles, never quit, and never, ever give up.

A mean mom’s mission statement is this: I’m not raising a child. I’m raising an adult. This mission statement becomes her mantra and reminds her of the ultimate goal: to work herself out of a job.

The wrong kind of mean

When I shared my idea of a mean mom book with a friend, she expressed concern, “My mom was incredibly mean. Not the mean you’re talking about. She was so disciplined and hurtful. The scars she’s left affect me still. She’s the reason I’m such a pushover with my girls today. I tend to be a marshmallow mom. I know I need to be better at keeping boundaries, but I’m so afraid I’ll become like my mother that I cave every time. I don’t want my kids to hate me like I hated my mom.”

It’s sadly true. There are moms who have a genetic mean streak. Oftentimes victims of their own parents’ physical or emotional abuse, they pass on discouragement and warped parenting disciplines that mold their children in painful ways.

Let me be very clear here. This is not the kind of mean I’m talking about. The mean mom I’m talking about loves her children more than she disciplines them. Joy is what permeates her home, and faith is the foundation and the groundwork she is laying.

Even when a mother is kind, caring, and understanding, she looks mean to her children when she lays down a boundary or rule. What is considered mean in the eyes of a 4-year-old is considered wise in the eyes of a 40-year-old. This is the kind of mean I mean.

“To tell you the truth …”

Ask most adults over the age of 30 if their parents were mean, and you’ll get lots of different answers. I posed this very question to my girlfriend.

“Yes, I thought my mom was very mean.” Gina, a mother of two, answered the question as she cut my hair. “She wouldn’t let me stay out late at night and needed to know my friends’ first and last names. But, to tell you the truth …” She stopped snipping and held her scissors midair. “I don’t think she was mean enough.” A tiny smile etched my face. “She was actually pretty naïve. She should’ve been meaner.”

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Adapted from The Mean Mom’s Guide to Raising Great Kids by Joanne Kraft. Published by Leafwood Publishers, copyright ©2015.

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Adult Children: Praying for Your Prodigal

SOURCE:  Jodi Berndt from Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children

I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the Lord. They will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with all their heart. — Jeremiah 24:7

Lauren stared at the photo on her phone, barely comprehending what she saw. It was a picture of her son, William, lying in a hospital bed, his head wrapped in a bloody bandage. He had been assaulted in what he said was a random robbery, and Lauren wanted to believe him. Given what they knew about their son’s current lifestyle, she didn’t know what to think.

Lauren and her husband, Mike, had been lukewarm about William’s plan to move to Chicago when he graduated from college. They understood why a guy from a small town in Alabama would want to spread his wings, but his idea — to launch a neighborhood-based classified-ad service to sell things like used furniture, cars, and household goods — sounded iffy. William had majored in business, but he knew very little about technology and even less about Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods. But after a six-month job search closer to home turned up nothing, she and Mike had gotten William a plane ticket and wished him well. Their son was hardworking, creative, and intelligent, so who knew? Maybe he’d be one of the success stories.

And if not, well, what was the worst that could happen?

Lauren had run through a dozen worst-case scenarios in her mind — maybe the business would flop or William would get sick from the city dirt and noise and pollution — but nothing had prepared her for the sight of her son lying in some unknown hospital, more than six hundred miles away. She wished Mike would get home soon; she needed to talk. An orthopedic surgeon, he was usually at the hospital all day on Thursdays, and she hadn’t been able to reach him.

Lauren thought back over the past several months. William had burned through most of his start-up money, and then in an effort to recoup his losses, he had started gambling. His drinking, which Lauren and Mike had hoped would lessen once he got out of college, had gotten worse. Lauren didn’t know much about William’s friends and business associates, but the words from Proverbs 13:20 kept coming to mind:

Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.

Apparently, William had been walking with some fairly serious fools.

When had that started to happen? Lauren didn’t know exactly. William had given his life to the Lord at age twelve, and as he grew, so had his faith. He had been a youth group leader in high school, and when the time came to go to college, he elected to live with a Christian roommate. Lauren and Mike were thrilled when William joined a campus Bible study; surely, the friends and the teaching he’d be exposed to there would help guard him against some of the secular philosophies he would encounter in the classroom.

But things hadn’t turned out that way. Parties, football games, and study sessions with his classmates filled William’s calendar, and he began to drift away from Bible study and other fellowship opportunities. It wasn’t as if some atheist had talked him out of his faith; rather, the shift had come gradually as William spent more time with unbelievers than with his Christian friends. And then, almost as if he was looking for an intellectual reason to account for his behavior, William began to question some of the most basic tenets of his faith. Salvation by grace seemed far too simplistic. And the resurrection? Nothing he learned in any of his science classes made that even a remote possibility; it seemed (as William told his parents during his junior year) to be a story designed to bring comfort and hope to people who would grasp at anything to keep their faith alive. Which was fine for them — just not for him.

Mike and Lauren hadn’t wanted to alienate their son by revealing the depth of their concern or by arguing against some of his claims. Instead, they welcomed William’s questions, pointing him toward authors like Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, and C. S. Lewis, apologists whose work they thought might appeal to him on an intellectual level.

“But honestly,” Mike had said, after one of their conversations, “I don’t think he is looking for evidence to support Christianity. I think it’s a moral issue, masquerading as an intellectual one. I think he wants to find a worldview to support his quest for independence and self-sufficiency as he runs away from God, something that will justify his rebellion.”

Prayer Principle

Ask God to work in your prodigal’s mind and spirit, demolishing arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God. (2 Corinthians 10:5)

The kitchen door opened, snapping Lauren’s mind back to the present. It was Mike, home from the hospital where he had been making rounds. Lauren showed him the photo and filled him in on what little she knew.

“He says it’s nothing serious,” she said. “Some guys jumped him when he was walking home from work. He says they took his wallet…”

“Maybe they did,” Mike said, “but we aren’t sending him any more money.”

He picked up the phone and enlarged the photo. “It looks like a good bandage job at least. He’ll be okay.”

Lauren knew Mike wasn’t being callous or insensitive, and that he was hurting just as much as she was. He was just being practical. But for a mom, it wasn’t that easy.

“Mike, I want William to come home,” she said softly.

“I think he should,” Mike agreed, “but we can’t make him do anything. He’s literally living the life of the prodigal son — he got us to give him some money, and then he went away to a distant city and squandered it all in wild living. For all we know, he has been eating with pigs!”

Lauren knew the story Mike was talking about. It was a parable in Luke 15, one Jesus used to illustrate the heavenly Father’s love and the power of redemption. In that story, the son finally comes home, confessing his sins and giving up any claim he had on the family name. “I am no longer worthy to be called your son,” he says. “Make me like one of your hired men.” (Luke 15:19)

Lauren loved that parable — especially the part where the father sees the son in the distance and, throwing dignity to the wind, runs out to embrace his boy in a very public, very emotional reunion. It was perhaps the best illustration she knew of to show how God feels about us, and how utterly ecstatic He is when we acknowledge our own unworthiness and turn to him.

Missing from the story, though, was an account of the prodigal’s mother. Surely, she had longed to hear from her boy, to receive some word that he was at least alive. And certainly, when she heard the sound of his greeting, her heart would have leaped right along with her husband’s. Who knows? She might have even beaten him down the street.

Lauren knew the story wasn’t about a literal, historical family, one with a real mom and dad. But if it had been, Lauren knew one thing for sure: that mama would have been praying.

Prayer Principle

God knows what it’s like to grieve over a prodigal child — and to rejoice over his return.

Listening to Lauren and Mike, I was reminded of any number of similar accounts people shared with me as I worked on this book. Mothers and fathers told me about their kids’ faith; how they’d grown up in the church, attended Christian camps, or gone on mission trips; and read The Chronicles of Narnia at bedtime. These parents, like so many I interviewed, had done everything in their power to produce Christian kids — and sometimes, as one parent put it, “A plus B really did equal C.” But sometimes (a lot of times, actually), it didn’t.

I think my favorite comment came from a mom whose daughter has walked a path no parent would choose for a child. Looking at all of the bad decisions (and tragic consequences) the girl has experienced, and stacking those things up against verses like Genesis 50:20 (“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good”), this sweet mama summed up her perspective like this: “I don’t know what God is doing in my daughter’s life, or why she does the things she does. All I can figure is that she is working on her testimony. And it’s shaping up to be a good one.”

For parents who’ve staked their trust in the Lord (and for those who believe, as author Max Lucado puts it, that “we see a perfect mess; God sees a perfect chance to train, test, and teach”1), the idea that our kids are still “working on their testimonies” is a lifeline to hope. And it’s not just their stories that are still being written; Lauren and Mike don’t know what the future holds for William, but they’d be the first to tell you that his experience has shaped their own spiritual journey in a powerful way.

“We’ve prayed more than ever before,” Lauren told me, “and we’ve learned to wait on God. It’s hard not to let fear and worry cloud the picture, but the more we look into the bright light of God’s love, the more those dark things are obliterated. This trouble has been a gateway for us to get to know God better; our prayer is that it will also be a gateway for William.”

Prayer Principle

The light of God’s love is what scatters the darkness. Tether your prayers to the brightness of His promises.

“We’ve learned that we are completely helpless,” Mike added. “We cannot change or control our kids’ lives; all we can do is trust in a God who has given us great and precious promises.”

Mike is right. We are helpless, at least insofar as it comes to dictating the way our adult children think and behave. Many of them are out of our reach, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

But they are not out of God’s — and He invites us to join Him in the work He is doing, through prayer. We are not helpless there; even when we have no idea how to pray, God has us covered. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness,” Paul writes in Romans 8:26.

We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

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Max Lucado, You’ll Get through This: Hope and Help for Your Turbulent Times (Nashville: Nelson, 2013), 10.

God’s Broken Family

SOURCE:  Elisa Morgan

It’s tempting to freak out over the fact that our families are broken — to think that if we fix the issues of marriage, money, and faith, we’ll fix the future of our families, and voila! — all will be well. But in reality, broken families are not new. We all come from a broken family because God’s family is broken. The thing is, this isn’t the tragedy we assume. Broken is right where God wants us — and right where He can powerfully reassemble us.

In the beginning, God created man and woman. Adam and Eve were a family, a man and a woman evidencing the image of God in their beings and in their union. But before they even got around to making children, they fell and broke. The original family was a broken family — separated from the very heart of God.

The very first child was born into this broken, messy family.

In the space of the first five chapters of the Bible, man and woman became one, disobeyed God’s only prohibition, and gave birth to two sons, one of whom murdered the other. The result is that by Genesis 6, the inhabitants of the planet were those whose hearts were turned so wholly toward evil that God decided to start over again.

God’s heart broke over His broken family.

The second time around, the results were no better. God started again with one family — this time Noah’s. For forty days and forty nights they did okay together. But once the Flood ended, Noah and his sons lost their footing — and the downfall of the family continued.

  • At the request of his wife, who was impatient for a child, Father Abraham took their slave, Hagar, as his mistress and had an illegitimate heir.
    Jacob married one sister but actually loved — and also married — another.
  • David committed adultery with Bathsheba and then murdered her husband.
  • The prophet Hosea was betrayed by his unfaithful wife, Gomer, yet took her back.

In Scripture, we find families built with love and chastity and families formed from rape and sin. Children born from one father to mothers who were sisters. Children born out of adultery, through prostitution, and into polygamous marriages. Children born to people of humble means and then relinquished through adoption to rulers and royals. And because respect didn’t come naturally to His people, God had to tell them to honor their parents.

That’s just in the Old Testament. The New Testament begins with an unwed — though betrothed — pregnant teenager…

We all come from a broken family and then create another broken family, because all families are broken. Even God’s. In our brokenness, we are just where we need to be. Fractured. Messed up. Sinful. Needy. Redeemable.

Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Pain makes theologians of us all… Pain is one of the fastest routes to a no-frills encounter with the Holy.”1

There is beauty in the broken.

Our Creator God pants to bring His children into being, and then his heart tears in pain as we run, hide, and reject His love. Our Father God christens us sons and daughters and then releases us to our own stubborn ways but stands in the road, watching and waiting for us to return to Him. Our hereafter God dreams of redemption, when we are restored to His original purposes and put in pleasant places in relationship to Him and to each other.

Humankind is a broken, messy family. And we all come from this broken family. The family broke before it was even completely made. Just as my efforts fell short of fixing the breakage of my first and second families, our efforts will also miss the mark in making families whole and healthy in our broken world.

Think of it this way: If God’s family was and is broken, why do we think ours will be any different?

Isaiah 53 prophesies that healing for the broken will arrive through an unexpected channel: a broken Messiah. In Isaiah 53:2, the coming king is seen as less than lovely. Seemingly no “beauty in the broken” there.

He had no special beauty or form to make us notice Him; there was nothing in His appearance to make us desire Him.

My pastor, Robert Gelinas, compared the beauty of Jesus to that of Fiona in Shrek. There was beauty in the princess, but it wasn’t revealed until she became an ogre, revealing to Shrek and others her beauty from within.2

The beautification of brokenness appears as God’s despised man of sorrows takes our infirmities upon himself. Isaiah 53:5 underlines God’s provision for the broken heart, the broken soul, the broken human, and yes, the broken family.

But He was wounded for the wrong we did; He was crushed for the evil we did. The punishment, which made us well, was given to Him, and we are healed because of His wounds.

The word “wounded” in this verse actually refers to bruises — black and blue marks created by broken blood vessels.And the word “healed” comes from a root meaning “mended, repaired, thoroughly made whole — spiritually forgiven.”4 By His broken blood vessels that resulted in black and blue blotches we are made thoroughly whole.

Somewhere along my journey from my first broken family to my second broken family, I began to understand that the brokenness in my first family wasn’t my fault. God led me through the layers of shame and fear to convince me: I had no control over my parents’ choices. I didn’t run my father off. I didn’t force my mother to overdrink. Gently, God led me to the words of 1 John 4:18:

Where God’s love is, there is no fear, because God’s perfect love drives out fear. It is punishment that makes a person fear, so love is not made perfect in the person who fears.

I realized that I did not need to fear because Jesus had already endured any punishment I might face. We are healed because of His wounds.

Hear me well: the brokenness inflicted on you in your first family is not your fault.

The years passed and I mothered my second family. In spite of my imperfect, broken places, gradually I faced the reality that God did not evaluate my mothering by how perfectly or imperfectly my children developed. Rather, He expected me to address how I influenced my children by how yielded to His love for me and then acted it out in life. Period. He did not ask me to control their responses, their choices, or their consequences. I could throw my body over the potholes in their path, and they might or might not heed my warnings. I could not fix my family — my first family or my second — any more than I could fix myself. I was broken. They were broken. I was to offer myself to God and to allow Him to use my best, but still flawed, mothering to shape their development.

By His wounds we are healed.

While the brokenness you experienced in your first family is not your fault — remember that — there may be elements of brokenness in your first or second family that you are responsible for. If so, say so. It is up to you to take responsibility to right the wrongs and move toward healing. I’ve had to go to each of my children and my husband and confess my overparenting, my fear, my judgment, my inadequacy. At times the list of my failings has been so long that there was no gathering it up in my arms. I dragged it about behind me like a length of toilet paper stuck to my shoe. Humiliating, but necessary to notice and shake away.

Jesus alone has the power to heal the broken. Jesus alone has the power to save the lost. It’s by His wounds that we find healing. Broken families find healing as the broken people within them admit their brokenness and yield personally to God’s healing power. Rather than praying, “Make my family whole,” we pray, “Make me whole.”

When we are broken, we are exactly where God wants us.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. — Matthew 5:3 NIV

When we are broken we are bankrupt. When we are bankrupt we are dependent. When we are dependent we are done with ourselves and open to God.

Crazy thing here: we tend to view our fallings as grounds for disqualification from meaningful ministry, from lasting relationships, from worthy contributions to our world — when exactly the opposite is true. When we fall and then turn to God for the hope and help he alone offers us, we can actually become more qualified for fuller living. Our brokenness makes us more able to invest in the lives of those around us as we bring God’s healing of us to our relating to them.

Make your way through the pages of Scripture and you’ll see human after human used more mightily after a fall than before. Abraham. Moses. Rahab. David. Ruth. Jonah. Peter. Mark. Paul.

There’s no such thing as a perfect family. Yet hope emerges through understanding that the broken family is anything but an unredeemable reality. Compassion comes as we understand that all of us — every one of us — is birthed forth from God’s broken family. As we embrace our own need for mercy, we can extend grace to others. While vibrant and full of life, the healthy family of today is also gritty and real, a place where assembly and even reassembly is required. When we are broken, we are right where we need to be before God. And where we need to stay.

There is beauty in the broken.
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Excerpted from The Beauty of Broken by Elisa Morgan

Parental Conflict Can Cause Lasting Emotional Damage to Kids

SOURCE:  Traci Pedersen/PsychCentral

Children who regularly witness parental conflict may be sustaining lasting harm to their emotional processing abilities, potentially becoming overvigilant, anxious and vulnerable to misreading even neutral human interactions, according to a new study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

The findings are particularly strong for children who are naturally shy and sensitive.

“The message is clear: even low-level adversity like parental conflict isn’t good for kids,” said Dr. Alice Schermerhorn, an assistant professor in the University of Vermont’s Department of Psychological Sciences and the lead author of the study.

In the study, 99 children (aged 9 to 11) were divided into two groups based on their scores from psychological tests which assessed how much parental conflict they experienced and how much they felt the conflict threatened their parents’ marriage.

Next, the children looked at a series of photographs of couples engaged in happy, angry or neutral interactions and asked to choose which category the photos fit.

Most of the children from the low-conflict homes consistently scored the photos accurately. However, children from high-conflict homes were only able to accurately identify the happy and angry couples, not those in neutral poses. These children would incorrectly perceive the neutral photos as either angry or happy, or they would say they didn’t know which category they fit into.

According to the researchers. one possible reason for the inability of those in the high-conflict group to evaluate the neutral photos could be hypervigilance. “If their perception of conflict and threat leads children to be vigilant for signs of trouble, that could lead them to interpret neutral expressions as angry ones or may simply present greater processing challenges,” said Schermerhorn.

Alternatively, it could be that neutral parental interactions may be less significant for children who feel threatened by their parents’ conflict.

“They may be more tuned into angry interactions, which could be a cue for them to retreat to their room, or happy ones, which could signal that their parents are available to them,” she said. “Neutral interactions don’t offer much information, so they may not value them or learn to recognize them.”

The study also reveals the impact of shyness on the children’s ability to process and recognize emotion. The shy children in the study, who were identified via a questionnaire completed by the subjects’ mothers, were unable to correctly identify couples in neutral poses, even if they were not from high-conflict homes.

Shyness made them more vulnerable to parental conflict. Children who were both shy and who also felt threatened by their parents’ conflict were unable to perceive photos of neutral interactions as simply neutral.

“Parents of shy children need to be especially thoughtful about how they express conflict,” Schermerhorn said.

The findings have significant implications, according to Schermerhorn, because they shed light on the impact relatively low-level adversity like parental conflict can have on children’s development. Either of her interpretations for the findings —hypervigilance or not being able to read neutral interactions — could mean trouble for children down the road.

“One the one hand, being overvigilant and anxious can be destabilizing in many different ways,” she said. “On the other, correctly reading neutral interactions may not be important for children who live in high conflict homes, but that gap in their perceptual inventory could be damaging in subsequent experiences with, for example, teachers, peers, and partners in romantic relationships.”

“No one can eliminate conflict altogether,” said Schermerhorn, “but helping children get the message that, even when they argue, parents care about each other and can work things out is important.”

Source: University of Vermont

 

How a Parent’s Affection Shapes a Child’s Happiness for Life

SOURCE:  Sandi Schwartz/Gottman

How often do you hug your children?

We all live busy, stressful lives and have endless concerns as parents, but it is clear that one of the most important things we need to do is to stop and give our kids a big loving squeeze. Research over the past decade highlights the link between affection in childhood and health and happiness in the future.

According to Child Trends – the leading nonprofit research organization in the United States focused on improving the lives and prospects of children, youth, and their families – science supports the idea that warmth and affection expressed by parents to their children results in life-long positive outcomes for those children.

Higher self-esteem, improved academic performance, better parent-child communication, and fewer psychological and behavior problems have been linked to this type of affection. On the other hand, children who do not have affectionate parents tend to have lower sself-esteemand to feel more alienated, hostile, aggressive, and anti-social.

There have been a number of recent studies that highlight the relationship between parental affection and children’s happiness and success.

In 2010, researchers at Duke University Medical School found that babies with very affectionate and attentive mothers grow up to be happier, more resilient, and less anxious adults. The study involved about 500 people who were followed from when they were infants until they were in their 30s. When the babies were eight months old, psychologists observed their mothers’ interactions with them as they took several developmental tests.

The psychologists rated the mother’s affection and attention level on a five-point scale ranging from “negative” to “extravagant.” Nearly 10 percent of the mothers showed low levels of affection, 85 percent demonstrated a normal amount of affection, and about six percent showed high levels of affection.

Then 30 years later, those same individuals were interviewed about their emotional health. The adults whose mothers showed “extravagant” or “caressing” affection were much less likely than the others to feel stressed and anxious. They were also less likely to report hostility, distressing social interactions, and psychosomatic symptoms.

The researchers involved in this study concluded that the hormone oxytocin may be responsible for this effect. Oxytocin is a chemical in the brain released during times when a person feels love and connection. It has been shown to help parents bond with their children, adding a sense of trust and support between them. This bond most likely helps our brain produce and use oxytocin, causing a child to feel more positive emotions.

Next, a 2013 study from UCLA found that unconditional love and affection from a parent can make children emotionally happier and less anxious. This happens because their brain actually changes as a result of the affection. On the other hand, the negative impact of childhood abuse and lack of affection impacts children both mentally and physically. This can lead to all kinds of health and emotional problems throughout their lives. What’s really fascinating is that scientists think parental affection can actually protect individuals against the harmful effects of childhood stress.

Then in 2015, a study out of the University of Notre Dame showed that children who receive affection from their parents were happier as adults. More than 600 adults were surveyed about how they were raised, including how much physical affection they had. The adults who reported receiving more affection in childhood displayed less depression and anxiety and were more compassionate overall. Those who reported less affection struggled with mental health, tended to be more upset in social situations, and were less able to relate to other people’s perspectives.

Researchers have also studied the benefits of skin-to-skin contact for infants. This special interaction between mother and baby, in particular, helps calm babies so they cry less and sleep more. It has also been shown to boost brain development. According to an article in Scientific American, children who lived in a deprived environment like an orphanage had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol than those who lived with their parents. Scientists believe that the lack of physical contact in the orphanages is a major factor in these physical changes.

Finally, numerous studies on the effects of massage show the positive benefits it offers to reduce anxiety in children. Massage is also a good way for parents to connect to their children, both physically and emotionally. Starting in infancy, a parent can begin to massage their child, which can create a strong bond. Studies have shown children and adults who receive massage experience less anxiety during academic stress, hospital stays, and other stressful events.
So, how can you bring more hugs into your family’s day?

From the moment you bring your baby home from the hospital, be sure to hold, touch, and rock them in your arms. Spend many precious moments caressing your baby so that their skin can touch your skin.

As they get older, be playful by doing fun activities like dancing together or creating silly games like pretending to be a hugging or kissing monster.

Set a reminder to make sure hugging is part of your daily routine. In the recent Trolls movie, the Trolls wore watches with alarm clocks that would go off every hour for hug time. If that’s what it takes, then set yourself an alarm. Or make sure to give your kids a hug during certain times of the day, such as before they leave for school, when they get home from school, and before bedtime.

Another interesting idea is to use affection while disciplining your child. As you talk to them about what they did wrong, put your hand on their shoulder and give them a hug at the end of the conversation to ensure them that, even if you are not pleased with their behavior, you still love them. If your children hit their sister or brother, hug them and explain how hugging feels better than hitting.

Finally, be careful not to go overboard and smother your kids. Respect their individual comfort level, and be aware that this will change as they go through different stages.

Why You Should Not Mix Compliments with Criticism

SOURCE:  Mark Merrill

Several years ago, my son and I had a brief conversation that has really stuck with me.

My Son: “Were you there for the first quarter of my game, Dad? I started!”

Me: “I didn’t get back into town and to the game until the second quarter…but you did great!”

My Son: “Oh.”

Me: “But you really need to start eating better.”

My Son: (Silence)

So, what was wrong with what I said? Well, he understood my flight was late and so I missed the first quarter. And my compliment was good. But, the “but” was the problem. Instead of just praising him for his accomplishment, I criticized him for his eating habits. And that criticism crushed the compliment.

Looking back, I realize that the words I had spoken weren’t the same words my son heard. The moment I said, “But you really need…” what my son heard was, “What you did was good, but not quite good enough.”

So what did I take away from this experience?

First, I learned that compliments should be strong and specific. Saying “great job” or “good work” is a good start when complimenting. But it’s even better to say something like, “I’m so proud that you made the starting team. You persevered and worked really hard to get there.”

Second, I learned that criticism should not be mixed with a compliment. Criticism can be so loud to the listener that he won’t even hear a compliment when they are spoken at the same time.

Third, I learned that it’s important to compliment exponentially more than criticize. Mark Twain once said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” Giving your child a strong compliment can greatly inspire and propel him forward. Criticizing your child, although necessary at times, can quickly take the wind out of his sail. In a previous post, I shared some things you can do to increase your compliment to criticism ratio.

10 Ways Parents Embarrass Their Teens

SOURCE:  Hayley DiMarco/Family Life Ministry

How to prove to your kids that you’re not weird.

It’s sad but true—most of us will embarrass our kids at some point in our lives. Some relationships will be unaffected, as many teens just shrug off the goofy things parents do, but others will suffer because of your teen’s fear of what you’ll do next, and that’s what’s really at issue here.

If you fit into any of the following categories, please give these ideas some thought. You might want to consider some lifestyle improvements, teen style.

1. Yelling at them in public. If I were going to suggest you change any one thing you’re doing, I’d suggest you change this one. When you yell at your teenager in public, you do a great deal to damage their young hearts and minds. Your goal, I assume, is to raise a confident, successful person, and yelling at them and belittling them in public is a surefire way to create a weak, depressed, and dysfunctional adult.

You usually yell because you feel powerless, and that shows your teenager that you are out of control. So maintain your composure. If you feel like you’re going to explode, you should excuse yourself, take a break, and talk to them when you are more in control.

2. Dressing less than fashionably. This is a hard one. You’re busy; you don’t have time to keep up with all the fashions and shop till you drop. I understand, but if you are still wearing clothes you bought more than 10 years ago, you might just be causing your fashion-conscious teen to blush. It’s true that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and judging appearances is so superficial, but it’s how we think as human beings. Whether you realize it or not, how you dress tells people how you want them to think of you.

3. Trying to be “cool.” A lot of parents hate the fact that they are getting older, and in order to forget it or to hide it, they act like teenagers themselves. Or at least they try. Now, there’s nothing wrong with having a really cool mom or dad. But that means a parent who isn’t embarrassing and who is kind, friendly, non-invasive, and loving. It doesn’t mean a parent who dresses and talks like they’re still 22.

If you find yourself trying to entertain your kid’s friends or spending every weekend with the gang, then perhaps you’re trying too hard to be the kid and not the parent.

4. Being too loud and drawing attention to yourself and them. This is often closely related to wanting to be “cool.” Loud parents are an embarrassment because they are trying to draw all of the attention to themselves. This makes the child feel like they are being either upstaged or humiliated. When you draw attention to yourself by being loud, you are really saying to your child and the world, “It’s all about me! What about me? I need some attention.”

5. Being too affectionate in public. Adolescence is the time when kids are exploring the world. They are learning how to function as individuals, and when you are overly affectionate, you make them feel, and look to their friends, like a little baby. For teens who are learning to grow up and fend for themselves, this is a huge embarrassment. So save the affection for the privacy of your home, and help them make the giant step into adulthood by giving them their space in public.

6. Treating them like a little kid in front of their friends. When your child was a baby, you would wipe their face because they couldn’t do it themselves. But when you do that and other babying-type things now, you make them feel like they aren’t big enough to care for themselves. And as I’ve been saying, this is the time in your child’s life when they need to practice leaving the nest and flying solo. If they can’t take care of themselves now, then how will they ever do it when they are truly out on their own? So control yourself. Resist the urge to treat them like they are a kid in front of their friends.

7. Grilling their girlfriend or boyfriend—This one is totally understandable. When your teenager has a date, it’s good for you to know who they are dating. I don’t want to tell you not to do this, but it can really embarrass your teenager. Frankly, I think it’s something they’re just going to have to learn to live with, although there might be ways of doing it that are, say, more sympathetic than other ways.

8. Saying something stupid in front of their friends. This one is almost unavoidable … at least I know it is for me! Sometimes you’re going to put your foot in your mouth, no matter who you’re with. Just do your best not to be too unguarded with your word selection in front of the friends.

9. Drinking too much or doing drugs. This one seems obvious to most, but some parents feel like they have a right to keep on doing the things they’ve always done, including mood-altering substances. If this is you, I encourage you to get help. If you want successful teens, then consider the fact that if you continue to abuse drugs or alcohol, you will more than likely soon be estranged from your teen, who is at great risk of taking on the same behavior as you.

10. Not taking care of your body. No one said parenting was easy, so why would you be shocked that it might also include taking better care of yourself? Giving your child the gift of your health is priceless. If your body draws attention to your teenager, then I can almost guarantee you that they are embarrassed. Teens desperately hope to avoid situations that will make them look odd, and that includes having an odd parent.

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