Little things in life make the biggest difference

It’s the little things in life that make the biggest difference.

‘What did you miss?’ I asked my husband Chris when I returned from several trips interstate to visit family–for the first time without him.

‘The silliest things,’ he said as he tilted his head, like he does when he’s thinking deeply. ‘It seemed so strange that I’d put things away in the morning before I went to work, and they’d still be there when I came back home at night.’

I grinned at him and he grinned back. Each of us knew better than to ask whether that was a good or a bad thing.

Little Things

He’s taught me more about the little things over the past 30 years than I thought possible; that a kind word diffuses anger; how doing the mundane small jobs that need to be done, but never complaining, grows fondness in the observer’s heart; that finding the good in everyone you meet helps laughter to ring out in your house every day; how pain is less burdensome if someone listens and cares; that children delight in laughter and lightheartedness…and terrible, repeated dad-jokes that never get funnier; how picking up things left all over the house by those of us who are easily distracted, can be done without getting annoyed; that brewing a coffee in the morning when it’s seven degrees in the kitchen shows love of the deepest kind; how love never gives up.

 

Attitude is almost everything

Chris has shown me that it’s not simply what he does, but his attitude towards the little things in life that helps him to love more deeply, more practically, more effectively. He believes that everything is better with a good attitude towards whatever happens and that’s how he lives his life.

In every little thing, he has the attitude that it is good. If the weather is cold, that means it is good for running on the beach. When the weather is sunny, then it’s a great day to swim at the beach. If the beach is nowhere in sight, then whatever the weather, it’s a great day to be dreaming about running and swimming at the beach.

When a person is annoying, he digs until he can find the positive. If something hurts, he compares it with a time when he felt much worse, and another story ensues. When money is tight, he finds a small thing in the garden and brings it to my notice. On the very rare occasions that he loses his patience, he goes for a run and dreams he is kicking the footy through goal posts. And his demeanour returns to normal; easy going, not hassled about too much, unflappable, cool, calm, collected.

Is he perfect? Not quite

His attitude is catchy. It’s taken 30 years, but he’s taught me to be more settled. Calmer.

Side note here:  Telling me to ‘calm down’ never worked, but his example did.

He brought up the kids calmly. His energy level seems to almost never run out. But when it does, he has strategies such as lying down on the ground and letting kids climb all over him. He’s never been a great reader, so instead of reading to the kids at night, he used to tell them stories about when he was a little boy. He often fell asleep next to them – and they thought that was wonderful.

I understand that he has a similar effect on his co-workers. His positive attitude helps him (usually) to rise above politics and personality issues, and to keep looking for the good in all. And he becomes confidante because he quietly listens and accepts, and then just gets on with his job.

Is he perfect? Not quite. But his attitude and action in the small things help make this marriage great.

Small things, often.

The Gottman Institute have studied hundreds of couples over the past 35 years. They’ve studied the difference between what they call ‘Masters and Disasters’ of Relationships. One of the most important secrets they’ve identified is doing small things often.

Small things often: Do small things, say kind things often, and make frequent choices to have a good attitude to the little things in life. And while you’re not looking, your life becomes truly blessed.

P.S. I’ve written this while he’s away. Perhaps it says, more than anything else, I miss him.

 

 

Daring Ducks: How to Make Boundaries Work

I would never have thought I’d learn about boundaries from a farmer and his ducks.

On a trip to Bali, long before everyone else had been to Bali too, my friends and I stayed in a home in Ubud. One afternoon, as we walked back from a nearby jungle full of cheeky pick-pocketing monkeys, we encountered a farmer walking his ducks.

I can still see the farmer dressed in his traditional rural Bali clothing, complete with a broad-brimmed thatched hat. In his hand he held a thin rod of cane – about three metres long.

Waddling up the path in front of him were several hundred ducks. Most of the ducks walked straight ahead, as though they’d walked the same way dozens of times.

But on each side of the raft of ducks, there were the more daring ducks who kept trying to veer off into neighbouring fields, wandering off from the remainder of their buddies.

Whenever this would happen, the farmer would very gently stretch out the cane in front of him, but to the side of the raft of ducks. By gently alternating his stick from one side of the ducks to the other, the farmer effectively created a physical “V” boundary.

Only those dauntlessly daring ducks who wandered a little further than the edge of the flock ever felt the cane. And never did they feel it as a weapon – more like safety rails on a walk, or bumpers on a ten-pin-bowling alley.

So there were several dozen plucky ducks leading the flock, knowing where they were going, the daring ducks and their buddies in the middle and only a handful of dawdlers who stayed at the back, close to the farmer.

The ‘V’ of Love

Years later, when I was introduced to the ‘V’ of love’ memories of the farmer and his ducks rushed back into my brain.

In her book ‘How to parent so children will learn: clear strategies for raising happy, achieving children’ Dr. Sylvia Rimm* uses the ‘V of love’ as an illustration of how boundaries can be applied effectively.

Boundaries work best when they grow as our children grow.

Picture the sides of a ‘V’ as boundaries, and the length of each side as a time-line.

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If we picture a baby at the bottom of the ‘V’, we can see that babies are restricted in freedom, have limited choices and no responsibility. Their place in the ‘V’ of love’ is within firm, close, nurturing boundaries.

As the baby grows, her freedom, choices and responsibilities within the ‘V’ should grow in proportion to her stage of development. The boundaries expand as she grows.

We can give our children safe and reasonable boundaries

If we’re aware of our child’s development, we can give them safe and reasonable boundaries that allow them to explore, stretch and grow. And to retreat into when necessary.

Rather than being restrictive, effective boundaries are like safety barriers at the sides of steep, narrow, windy roads. They don’t hold us onto the road. But they give us the security that if we wander too far to the right or left, there’s something that will stop us from damaging ourselves.

Within the boundaries of the “V” of love, there needs to be an expanding volume of choices, complete with consequences (especially positive ones), freedom and responsibilities.

Here are some suggestions as to how boundaries need to change as a child grows.

Toddler

For example, reasonable choices for a toddler might include a choice between two options such as:

  • Would you like apple or banana?
  • Would you like to wear the green shirt or the purple shirt today?
  • How are you going to get to bed tonight? Will daddy give you a horse-ride on his back, or will he carry you in his arms?

The boundaries are set:

  • Children need to eat nutritious snacks.

It’s the parent’s responsibility to provide a nutritious choice. The child chooses whether to eat and how much they’ll eat.

  • These are the clothes you can choose from.

This gives your toddler an amount of control suitable for their age and development. If you’re not sure what I mean, watch a child in a department store being given free-reign. Too many choices are overwhelming. Let their choices expand as they’re able to handle them.

  • The toddler’s freedom and choices remain within the boundaries of a familiar bed-time routine.

Eight year old

An eight year old might like to have a bigger choice of which clothes to wear, but with that comes responsibility.

For example: If she forgets to pick her clothes up off the floor she can choose to pay 50c  for every article of clothing dad picks up at the end of the day – or she can figure out and negotiate an alternative.

Eight year olds LOVE the opportunity to debate. Don’t take it personally.  Try to use it as an opportunity to encourage respectful negotiating techniques.

The boundaries are set:  Clothes belong in the cupboard.  If you’re old enough to shop for your clothes, you’re old enough to look after them.  (I’m still working on this one!)

Fifteen year old

A fifteen year old can probably manage his own finances for clothes, mobile phone, social outings and gifts for friends – and learn to save and be charitable.

The boundaries are set – “This is your allowance. If you believe you need more, you will need to negotiate or you will have to find a job.”

Wise parents remain available to help and guide through budgeting at this stage. Allowing teens to have responsibility for managing their own money, within stretching boundaries, gives them the knowledge to be able to manage their finances later.

Some kids will continue to test the boundaries

Just like the daring ducks, some kids will continue to test the boundaries. Some will discover new ways to teach the parents about different dimensions in parenting.

Hang in there, parents! If they are testing out new boundaries, you may need to stretch the boundaries a little or patch up some holes in the boundaries. And be prepared to apologize for not having appropriate boundaries in place that may have protected them from the consequences of unwise choices.

If your kids haven’t had safe, secure boundaries, it’s never too late – but you’ll probably need to find someone who can guide you through applying boundaries to older kids. Speak to the teachers at your school, your GP, or other parents who you know have a great relationship with their older kids.

The ‘V’ of Love works. Kids (and parents) appreciate the security of knowing they are safe between boundaries set by someone bigger, stronger, wiser and kind.

They tend to respect boundaries when they can see them growing with added choices and freedom. And, believe it or not, they take pride in accepting responsibility for the consequences of their actions–good and bad.

By the time they’re independent enough to borrow the car, kids who’ve grown up with ”V’ of love’ boundaries have had the experience of making wise and not-so-wise choices, and are more prepared to navigate safely through adulthood.

And, just like the Plucky ducks up the front, they’re likely to lead the world in the right direction.

 

 

*Used with permission. Thank you to Dr. Sylvia Rimm for permission to cite her book and webpage. www.sylviarimm.com

Thanks to Kay for the photo of a Balinese farmer and his ducks.

Originally published as ‘PLUCKY DUCKS’ in The Lutheran