Friday, June 16, 2017

And now a word from Mr. Nurse Judy - Father's Day 2017

Happy Father's Day to all who are celebrating this weekend. 

Warning: Last year when Sandy wrote his first Father's Day Post for my blog, I got reports of parents sniffling all over Bart. Welcome to "Mr. Nurse Judy's" annual post.
XOXO  Nurse Judy

I want to thank you all for the kind comments I received after last year’s post about my wonderful relationship with my children, a relationship that continues to get better, even now as I close in on the end of my 6th decade of life, and my daughters near the end of their 3rd decade. It is a role that is paramount to me, and I refuse to let time and distance interfere with my efforts to continually improve it. So far, I think I’ve been pretty successful, and the rewards are immeasurable. Certainly it’s a lot easier when they are young, living in your home, and “need” you to be involved in their lives. But the foundation you create early for how you want that relationship to be makes it a lot easier to enable it to grow, flourish and blossom at any stage of life, even now as they establish their own lives, careers, and relationships. For those of you who didn’t have the chance to reads last year’s post, you can find it here:

I want to make clear that I have no special training or educational background in this area. What follows are simply my own philosophies about fatherhood; you may disagree with some or all of them. But this is what has worked for me and I cannot really imagine a father with a better relationship with his adult kids than I have!

So first an update on my relationship with my daughters.  At this time last year, Lauren and I were weeks away from traveling to Tanzania for the challenge of a lifetime. AND WE DID IT!!! We summitted Kilimanjaro on the morning of July 19th, an absolutely grueling climb that took me to the very limits of physical, intellectual, and emotional endurance. In fact, I couldn’t have done it without Lauren’s support, and I was quick to make sure she knew that. We spent two weeks together in very close quarters, most of that time unwashed, extremely sleep deprived, and cold. Summit temperature was 24 below zero! The only cross words that were exchanged were over a misplaced towel (I both misplaced it and spouted those cross words!) I never want to face an ordeal like that again!! At least not until April 2018 when we climb to the base camp on Mt. Everest! See – the relationship just keeps giving!

If you are an avid reader of Nurse Judy’s blog, you may remember that when she was in grade school, Alana ended every night by telling one of us all about her day…in exquisite, and often lengthy, detail! The big, the little; the important and the minutiae. Well, more than 20 years later, I get to do that with her all over again. Every day. And I look forward to it and resent it when another friend has a need for Alana’s time! After obtaining her MSW last June, Alana is now a practicing therapist in a community mental health center in Michigan. She has about a 30-minute commute in each direction and on her car ride home, I get to keep her company!!!! And we talk all about our respective days. The time flies past and she is home before we both know it, but not without each of us learning a little bit more about something in each of our lives. What I have primarily learned is that her counseling clients are the luckiest people in the world because they have Alana as their therapist. I listen in wonder and respect as I get to share in the progress they make dealing with the issues that brought them to her in the first place. She is changing lives on a daily basis and I get to be the fly on the wall. I am overjoyed that she still wants to spend that time of her day with me. I frequently tell her that I am in awe of what she is doing and remind her that she has to take the time to sit back and reflect on that also, and not just move on to the next client…  which brings me to my first point of this year’s father’s day recommendations for building that relationship with your children:

Find reasons to be proud, and praise them whenever you can!  From the first time they can lift their head by themselves, to the first crawl, to standing up, and that first use of the potty, let them hear your voice filled with pride and encouragement. Let it become ingrained in them that you are their number 1 supporter, for both the little and big accomplishments in life.  As I mentioned last year, that’s why I took a day off of work to go see a very shy 2nd grade Alana (right now, all her friends are saying “who the heck are you talking about?”) get up on stage just to say one line in a play; it was a grand small accomplishment that deserved to be recognized. When younger, even though they can’t understand the words, they can hear and feel the sentiment in your voice, and for the rest of their lives, that sound will provide great sources of satisfaction and comfort, and it will provide a lifetime of encouragement for future exploration. Now, I am not one of those in favor of participation trophies and I am not saying that everything they do should get this level of exuberance. But be generous with the praise, especially in their formative years.  This brings me to my next recommendation:

Value the efforts too, not just the successes! There is an old saying that good judgement comes from experience; experience comes from bad judgement! It is a cycle that cannot be completed without falling down. So let them fall down, but don’t bemoan the failure; commend the attempt, and any part of the effort that will help them gain “good judgement” next time. It is quite easy for children to focus on your critical evaluation of whatever it is they are attempting, while underappreciating the praise you may simultaneously be conveying. For example, if you’re trying to teach them to throw a ball, don’t focus on the fact that the ball landed by their feet. Appreciate that there are things they may simply be incapable of at any given age. It’s up to you to understand that, not them, so focus on the things that they can do well (gripping the ball, placing the feet, shifting the weight…) and celebrate these building blocks that will one day end up in those ultimate tasks being that much easier, and enjoyable! Simply focusing on the failure of achieving the end result will certainly lead to frustration, and possibly anger and resentment.

It's ok to be wrong. In fact, it’s good! Admit it, and apologize!It is sad when I see a parent who either insists they are never wrong, or twists circumstances to make it seem that they were not wrong in a specific situation. It’s very easy to play that mental game with a child in an effort to demonstrate that you always know what’s best, or think you will be respected because you are always right. Satisfied that you out-strategized a child in this mental arena? Get over it; it’s not that hard. And it’s not that smart. I (and I think my daughters would agree,) created some of our most profoundly important relationship building moments by admitting I was wrong about something, and apologizing for it. Think about it – is there anything more empowering to your young child than having a person in a position of authority implicitly say to them “I not only heard you but I really listened to what you had to say. I thought about it with all my years of advanced experience, education, and knowledge, and I realized that you were right and I was wrong.” Trust, confidence, consideration, kindness, communication…. there are innumerable benefits to acknowledging your own fallibility to your child! And it tells them it’s ok to be fallible too! You don’t expect/need/want perfection, and they don’t have to live up to that standard. And it teaches them that being wrong is a part of life, not something to be defensive about, and can be dealt with responsibly and respectfully.

Tolerance! I mentioned above that you should “appreciate that there are things they may simply be incapable of at any given age. It’s up to you to understand that, not them…”  You must acceptvery early on that you are incapable of thinking like a child, nor they as an adult. Kind of like the “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” paradigm, you and your children speak the same language, live in the same environment, are familiar with the same behavioral mannerisms, yet you have such different frames of reference, experiences, emotions, intellect…that at times it will seem to each of you that the other is speaking a foreign language. And you are!! It is so very easy at those times to get frustrated, and even worse, angry. But it is unrealistic for you to expect them to be able to think, analyze, and express themselves at the level you do. They don’t have your emotional and intellectual development and it is unfair to simply use your advanced capabilities as the measure of their intent. When you feel that coming on, take a break, remind yourself of this, and try your best to see things as they do. You most surely won’t completely succeed, but every little bit of empathy you can muster will bridge that gap just a little. It’s also never a bad idea to voice this self-realization; let them know that you are consciously aware that you are cross communicating and invite them to help think about how each of you can get your respective thoughts out. They’ll develop patience, compassion and problem solving skills!

Establish ground rules for how to disagree! My girls and I had a very useful rule – we weren’t allowed to go to sleep mad! The rest of the argument or disagreement could proceed along its natural course, but ultimately it had to end at this rule. It was really quite simple in its effectiveness since it forced (encouraged?) us to resolve our differences. There were times long after bedtime that one of them would either come out of their room to say “I’m still mad” or amusingly, would slip notes under our door detailing the issue (Alana was the talker; Lauren the writer!) This led to frequent comical exchanges of notes going back and forth under each other’s doors but it was such an easily understood rule that it almost always worked! The key though is to take it to heart! As my brother-in-law sometimes says “gravity, it’s not just a good idea, it’s the law,” my daughters and I made this a law, and if one of us was “violating” the law by claiming fatigue, or anger, or issue complexity, or…etc., the other party was free to demand that we follow the law, sometimes leading to late nights and missed bedtimes! But always successful resolutions of the issue. And guess what? Most of what I wrote above represents the philosophies that I tried to use to help make sure each day ended on a happy note.

Happy father’s day to all. See you next year when we get back from Everest!

1 comment: