Are you up for writing a family plan?

Love is a beautiful thing. It’s an amazing feeling, but more so, it’s a powerful verb. All families should be based on it. How is it that so many families disintegrate or fail to function with unity?

Often people come to my office believing they want to fulfill a dream of starting their own business. Some have spent a lot of time and effort thinking through exactly what they want to do, but most come in with a momentary passion for an idea. Many families start the same way. How much more stable and better prepared for the twists and turns of life would a marriage be for a couple that went into it with a plan that they can both agree on? Ridiculous, you say? Ridiculous that a couple agrees on how they will spend their income, how many children, if any, they want to have and how those children will be raised, where they want to live, and how they will handle various emergencies that may occur as one thing is certain, emergencies are going to occur.

Peter De Vries said,

The value of marriage is not that adults produce children, but that children produce adults

. Have you found that certain someone? Are you dreaming together about a sweet future? Has the question been popped yet? Don’t put more effort into planning the wedding than planning the marriage. The wedding is one day, the marriage should be a lifetime.

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Family within a Culture

You can strain your brain trying to think of an instance where a family exists outside of a culture. What am I saying when I talk about culture?  In anthropology, it is “the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to the next.” 

“Ways of living” … I like that. So, I guess, my premise is correct, because a family by its very nature has its own culture … so does a neighborhood, so does a school, so does a workplace, so does a church, so does a gang, so does …  Throughout the day we step from one culture into another, and we human beings, by our nature, drag a bit of each culture into the next one because our cultures are part of us.

I bring this up because I caught a bit of Windy City Live, a daytime tv talk show and they were discussing the violence that is a part of the culture on Chicago’s south side. Garrard McClendon (@garrardmc) was on and I follow Garrard because I think he is one of those “voices in the wilderness” that truly has the ability to make a difference in the world.  In not so many words, Garrard said that the violence will not subside until the influences in the cultures that support it change. It’s hard to tell your kid to not be in a gang, when he is contributing to the household income.

Family Dimensions: I want it and I want it NOW

A desire for immediate gratification contributes greatly to the destruction of family. The ability to delay gratification is a sign of maturity.

In a previous life, I took inventories, which meant I found myself standing on milk crates in grocery stores early on Sunday mornings, an interesting place from which to observe the world. I could hear a young boy in the next aisle whining and nagging his mother to buy him a toy that he had found. This went on for some time until I heard a smack, the sound of flesh meeting flesh. The whining turned to wailing with a scream from the mom, “I told you ‘NO’, now you have a nosebleed.”  Yep, she’d caught him right in the nose.

What a horrible display of being a brat, clearly someone who only thought of immediate gratification.  Not the kid, the mom. Change the kid’s behavior and change it NOW, by the shortest means available … in this case, physical abuse. Take a step back and look at the actions you model, and then you wonder why your child sees something and wants it right away?

Is your family dysfunctional?

“Dysfunctional family” was popular psych talk for quite a while.  You could blame a lot of bad behavior on having come from a dysfunctional family.  Not to minimize the problems that it causes, but my friend Dave Ramsey likes to say that it probably means there are humans in it. Any family with humans in it is probably going to have some dysfunction, assuming a “functional” family is like the Huxtables of Bill Cosby fame.

Pastor Bruce Cole has on occasion referred to the Bible as God’s big book of dysfunctional families, no disrespect intended.  A man and woman wait their whole lives for a child to be born. When one finally is, God whispers in the man’s ear, “Show me you love me, sacrifice your child on the altar.”  Just as the man is about to carry through with the act, God says, “I’m just yanking your chain, here use this goat instead.”  My bad … I took a lot of dramatic license in the retelling of that story. Forgive me, Lord.  Just one example.

It’s difficult for me to write about family although I feel compelled to do it.  I am the primary perpetrator of bad behavior in my family.  I am naturally reactive (aren’t we all?), although I am a student of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and I know Habit 1 is “Be Proactive”.  My family sometimes gauges what they do and say on how they think I am going to react to it. I’ll bet you have people in your family with whom you do the same thing. Trust me, It is as difficult being that person as it is dealing with them.  You don’t want people walking on eggshells around you, so I do fight the reaction demon every day.   The good news is that most of the time I win the battle, but I do have my days. Having a problem person in the family takes patience and perseverance, but it also requires setting boundaries. Sometimes it means tough love and letting that person take the rap for their bad behavior.

How Things Change

Fifty years ago television would not show a married couple in the same bed (in the US).  The occasional scene in Rob & Laura Petry’s bedroom clearly displayed twin beds with a comfortable space between them.  Even Lucy & Desi, who were married in real life, had separate beds on the set.  The families depicted in those days on television mostly showed mom, dad, and children (I.e. Leave It To Beaver; Father Knows Best; Lassie; The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet).  Even The Munsters and The Addams Family had a traditional structure, though it may include some extended family.

For a long time (and still in some countries), women were not allowed to vote. While the right to vote regardless of race was ratified in the US in1870, five years after the end of the civil war, it was nearly 100 years later that the civil rights movement took place and the US culture finally began to realize the impropriety of racial slurs.  Yet even in this growing cultural revolution acknowledging the individual separate from their race, creed or gender, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) became law. The supreme court realized the folly of a law so discriminatory and repealed it. Our Federal government will now have to recognize legal agency in relationships beyond a man and a woman in matrimony. It’s a two edged sword because besides granting legal rights long afforded a married couple, our government can now be expected to enforce responsibility of each person in the relationship for the other, and to no longer turn a blind eye to this relationship where laws preventing related party transactions are concerned. As the old saying goes, “Be careful what you wish for”. 

So now when a scene from Modern Family shows Mitch and Cameron waking up together in bed, remember a couple of things:  1) these cultural adjustments have come very hard for some people and so you need to have patience with them.  Helping them see the real people involved and how they care for each other the same as in a “traditional” relationship will go a long way toward building acceptance.   2) government recognition of a union brings new responsibilities and disclosures. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.

They Think My Wife is on Vacation

The title sounds like the opening to a great murder mystery, a husband’s tell all of how he did away with his wife, maybe to join a lover in some passionate getaway. So sorry, I have no such tale for you.

My wife Kim directs a preschool. It’s not her job, it’s her passion. She has devoted her life to educating the little ones; gets 2, 3, 4 year-olds a good start to the foundation that all people need to win in life. She understands and can facilitate a preschooler’s learning life better than anyone I have ever met. Maybe you’ve heard of a “horse whisperer”? She is the child whisperer, only it’s not just about behavior. With few exceptions, she sees the potential in every child. What she does with children is magic.

Some of the people who work with her see her ability, follow her lead, and learn from her. Some don’t. All think she is on vacation now, a complete diversion from her usual life, away from the roar of the children. She is in a good place with one of our sons hundreds of miles from our home.

Yet at every store, restaurant, park she observes and uses those observations to refine what she knows about children. What she sees goes way beyond behavior to the wonder, the discovery, the uncovering of a world that a child does. She sees into the thousands of ways that children learn. She calls it “connecting the dots”, metaphorically like the child’s game that makes a picture, more specifically the neural connections in the brain. She will read the latest literature in the field. She will write up plans and curriculum for the preschool. She will get new team members in place by long distance, always searching for those with the passion for working with children that she has. She will do a thousand other things for her work that I can’t even think of. They think my wife is on vacation.