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.

 

 

Messy Christmas!

Christmas Pageant day was pudding day. As the family had done for years, on the first Saturday in November, they went together to the Christmas pageant on the Saturday morning and then returned home to make the pudding.

Round, huge and destined to be delicious, the pudding hung from the rafters for the next six weeks in preparation for Christmas dinner. The pudding was a constant reminder of the tastes, smells and rituals that the family celebrated each year. 2008-04-22-18-46-23

At last the time came for Christmas dinner.

The main course was eaten and enjoyed.

It was time for the pudding.

However, when it came to the ritual of the pudding flambé, the brandy was missing — presumably drunk.

Not to worry! The hostess, being quite resourceful, scoured through her pantry for an equally flammable spirit.

‘Oh that will do!’ she exclaimed as she found a little bottle of spirit at the back of the pantry. She quickly loosened the cap, briefly smelt it and announced, ‘Essence of Lemon’. Thankful that the flambé ritual was saved, she poured the entire contents of the bottle over the pudding in the middle of the dinner table.

By this time someone else had found the matches and then proceeded to ignite the pudding.

‘Whoosh!’

Enormous flames engulfed the pudding and very nearly reached the ceiling.

The first casualty was the holly on top of the pudding, which shrivelled into a remnant of its former glory.

The next casualty was the decorative plastic table runner. It melted into a blackened heap and sent off sparks onto the tablecloth, which acquired several random holes and scorch marks.

But the pudding was saved, and, after the fire was out, eventually devoured.

It was only later, during the after-Christmas cleanup, that the source of the extraordinarily energetic flambé was discovered. Somebody else picked up the ‘Essence of Lemon’ bottle, and, using  considerably better eye-sight than that of the hostess, read the label.

‘Citronella’.

Fortunately, no ill effects resulted from the accidental ingestion of Citronella-flambéd pudding—apart from an acute case of embarrassment by the hostess.

But all the family agreed that the mosquitoes didn’t seem to bother them as much that summer!

…◊…

Some of our Christmas memories are like this funny and true story, aren’t they? They are a mixture of tradition and variations on the theme.

Christmas is one of those annual events that bring back many memories — good or bad, depending on our own life experiences.

I know many, many people who hate thinking about Christmas because of the fuss and bother that goes along with it. For some it is the time their family has the biggest arguments.

I know others who love getting together with family and who believe it really is the happiest time of the year. And still others who religiously disappear to the beach to avoid any possible reminder of Christmas.

For many of us, Christmas is one of the saddest times of the year as, for whatever reason, we are separated from our loved ones.

Whether we love or hate Christmas, we tend to develop our own rituals around it — to celebrate it or to avoid it.

…◊…

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I had a sad moment when I spoke about the Christmas pageant with my youngest.

‘Are you going to the pageant this year?’ I asked  him, remembering the panic he’d thrown the rest of us into when he decided he was going to the pageant, with or without us. He dressed and headed for the bus while the rest of us were still in bed. He’d never caught the bus by himself before, and he had no idea of where the pageant was. Fortunately, one of his older siblings was able to catch up with him and they went together to the pageant.

But this year, he’s grown up and he gave me the answer every mother dreads, ‘No, I’m too old for the pageant!’

…◊…

Christmas traditions have their moments. Some we grow out of. Some we never want to lose. Some should perhaps have never been there in the first place. But not all of them help us to focus on Christmas.

What we focus on grows. Focus on the Christmas dinner that isn’t cooked in the way we would do it, and bitterness and jealousy grow.  Focus on the relationships that aren’t easy – and Christmas cheer grows into hatred.  Focus on Jesus in the manger, and see a king who humbled himself – and our view of Christmas changes.

…◊…

I went to see my daughter perform in several school plays about the cynical views of Christmas. In one play, Santa’s elves went on strike because of lack of pay and appreciation from a particularly consumerist Santa. But, in the spirit of Christmas, the elves returned to work to perpetuate joy and peace, and demonstrated love that gives and gives, despite the rubbish that bad-Santa dealt out.

In every play, peace and goodwill (eventually) overcame the evil and cynicism, and left the audience with several challenges on which to ponder.

It reminded me that my attitude towards Christmas could be like that of the grumpy, greedy Santa, or that of the elves who chose to love anyway.

…◊…

Christmas is about true love—not the wishy-washy, sterile variety we see on the movies that leaves us with a fuzzy hope for a ‘happily ever after’.

It’s about Mary putting herself in a precarious place for the rest of humanity.

It’s about Joseph saying ‘Yes’ to a dream that told him to marry the girl who was in trouble in the eyes of her people.

It’s about Jesus — the one who was there in the beginning of creation, humbling himself to become one of us, in the lowliest form possible — a baby in an animal’s feed trough.

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It’s about the love that is messy; the love that hurts; the love that overcomes the pain; the love that hurts most when somebody else is hurting; the love that makes you want to go through the pain yourself so your loved one doesn’t have to.

It’s about us putting God’s love ahead of our embarrassment and risking life itself to give God’s love to others.

It’s about Jesus giving up his crown to live like us, with us, for us — for always.

As we draw closer to Christmas, may you be truly blessed with a new way of seeing Christmas, and a new understanding of the love that never ends.

Special thanks to the teller of the story – who shall remain anonymous to protect the identity of the not-so-innocent.

Previously published in The LutheranDecember 2010 edition. 

 

How (Not) To Choose Books Your Children Will Love

I went into a book-shop this morning to gather some inspiration for this blog.

BAD MOVE.

I love books. I love writing. I love reading.

But my all-time favourite thing to do is to read with children.

This morning, inspired by recently baby-sitting a very sweet 2 1/2 year old, I went to the local bookshop – the only book-shop in the entire council region.

I would have had a lovely time

except that

as soon as I found the children’s section (my favourite section) I heard

‘The Manager’ instructing his juniors on how to run a book shop.

 

I did not try to listen.

But I heard him. Everyone inside the shop–and probably outside the shop–heard him.

 

When a writer goes into a book-shop, she should almost be in heaven.

Not this morning.

 

When I venture into a book-shop I usually pick up a book, caress the texture of its cover and marvel at the book design; check out the title and author; and  re-experience that great excitement of opening up a book that’s new to me, or a new version of an old, loved book.

And if I’m really, really lucky, I feel that delicious crisp, slidy-crackle as the page edges peel apart for the very first time.

Not this morning.

 

I love to pick up old-favourites and reread the pace and rhythm of great writers. I rarely leave a bookshop without reading at least one of Mem Fox’s stories, and I hear her in my memories of the audio-tapes my children listened to every day when they were small.

But not this morning.

 

The Manager’s voice had no rhythm.

He didn’t teach about books or words or rhymes or rhythms. He didn’t take a book and stroke it, and demonstrate how to love it.

He spoke only of shelves and sales and stock-take.

 

My heart sank.

 

I left the children’s section, went to the bargain table, picked out some trustworthy classics, took them to the counter and handed them to The Manager.

‘I’m writing a blog about children’s books,’ I said. ‘Which is your favourite children’s book?’

‘I don’t have one.’

I wanted to give him another prompt, but my astonishment rendered me mute. He continued without prompt.

‘I left children’s books in my childhood. I don’t have children. Children and children’s books are of no interest to me.’

By this time, I’d managed to pick up my jaw from off the floor.

‘So, if a parent asked you for a recommendation, what would you say?’

I’d ask them about the child’s interests.’

‘And how about a grandparent asking for their two-year-old grand-child?’

‘Then I’d find out more about the desires of the purchaser.’

The pay-wave machine beeped.

The Manager handed me my bag of books–which was much smaller than usual.

And I left–no longer wondering why children are losing their love of books.

 

Let’s not leave the blog there:

Which are your favourite children’s books?

Which books have your kids worn out?

What do you love about them?

What are you currently reading?

What do your kids love about them?

Please let us know your recommendations.

 

 

 

Remote Chance of Chores: Julie Hahn

I did it again this morning.

The first time I did it was months ago, when my beloved child was not contributing at all to the smooth-functioning of our household. Instead of doing his allocated chores, he spent his time and energy on playing x-box on our t.v.

When he went off to school one morning, I grabbed his x-box remote and put it away.

I can’t remember whether it was intentional or not. But after I put it away, I forgot where I put it.

Sometimes I’m blessed with a terrible memory.

To say that for a while I was not a popular mum would be the understatement of the year. However, I do remember telling him that, perhaps, if he did his chores, I might be prompted to remember.

Weeks went past.

Everyone in our house has their own chores to do. Everyone else had already taken on his job of feeding the dog.

Shelby the dog was a bundle of white fluff that you couldn’t actually see on her. Chris used to say that she shed more fluff than she could possibly produce. In the ensuing weeks white fluff carpeted the rugs, the floors and every surface in the house.

It was disgusting.

But we were at an impasse.

Stubborn mum refused to look for the remote until his jobs were done. And refused to do his jobs despite living in dog-fluff circumstances.

Son demonstrated that he can be equally stubborn. He inherited a double-dose of stubborn, with an added pinch of passive resistance.

Possibly prompted by an imminent houseful of guests I decided that, regardless of my intentions to stick to my guns, I needed to do the vacuuming. I went to the cupboard in the laundry, picked up the vacuum-cleaner…and there, behind the vacuum-cleaner, was the hidden remote.

I didn’t need to do the vacuuming that day.
I simply went to find the offending son and explained that I’d suddenly remembered where his treasure was. If he did his chores I could make sure they were reunited.

He looked at me with that look that asks ‘Should I believe you?’.

I walked away.

A few moments later, I heard chuckling coming from the laundry.
‘Fair call, mum. Fair call. I deserved that. That was well done.’

Phew! Not quite the reaction I anticipated. But it reaffirmed to me that logical consequences and ‘assisting’ our kids to take responsibility for their actions works – at least it did, that time.

I wonder if he’ll know where to look when he’s looking for his missing computer…

Sex: You need to talk about it with your kids – Julie Hahn

One of the mothers of our Year 7 class was teaching her daughter about sex. Every lunch time her daughter gave us a little bit more information.  We listened, snickered and stuck our noses up in the air, as Year 7 girls tend to do. We made remarks such as ‘That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. Nobody would ever do that!’

I got the job of going home to ask my mother to validate the latest gory details. After all, my mum was a nurse for three months, so she must have known something about sex. So I’d go home, ask her direct questions and receive direct answers. And I’d report back to the girls.

Whether mum figured out that there was a whole class-full of girls clinging to her every word, I’m not sure. But I’m glad she was open enough to answer questions.

There were no books available to our family back then. Any book that might have been useful in the school-library had been coloured in by a censor. No wonder the kids of the day thought you had to be a doctor or nurse to know about sex.

When our own children were little, things were much different. The impending birth of our son when the kids were 5, 6 and 8 years old gave us a fantastic opportunity to give information in a matter-of-fact way.

We found some books that were helpful, especially our favourite called ‘Who made me?’ by Malcolm and Meryl Doney, and illustrated by Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen. ‘Who made me?’ had simple language, cute pictures and analogies that the kids could relate to: bits that fitted together like jigsaw puzzle pieces, and fruit and vegetables that illustrated the size of the baby as it grew inside mum’s tummy.

Sex was described as the most fun game that mummies and daddies can play. This book spoke about sex as a beautiful gift within the context of marriage…Bonus! That gave us the opportunity to place a lock on our bedroom door – and explain to our kids that if the lock was in operation, we might be playing that game so, best for them to leave us alone.

We also had the opportunity to accompany our children to sex-ed nights at school. The guest speakers gave the audience the facts about anatomy and physiology.  Then they directed each child to ask their parent who was sitting next to them ‘In your family, what do you call this bit?’

These were informative nights that answered the questions that most children ask, and most parents get embarrassed about. We liked them – apart from the question-time at the end, where we would hope and pray that it was not our child who put up their hand to ask more questions that embarrassed parents.

Our youngest had a different up-bringing to his older siblings, largely because issues that the others were dealing with were often discussed quite freely around the dinner table. The girls were having a discussion about periods one night while I kept trying to change the subject. Acknowledging defeat I asked their little brother, as casually as I could, if he knew what periods were. His answer… ‘When girls get grumpy!’

In our church we have a resource library for parents, available to the whole community. One of the resources available is a cd called ‘The Big Weekend’. Produced by the parenting place.com it is specifically designed for parents and their child (aged about 11 years old) to play in the car’s cd drive while they go for a weekend trip.

‘The Big Weekend’ talks about sex and other issues that kids may face, such as self-esteem, bullying, sexuality and depression.

It’s really engaging and is presented in a way that is non-threatening for either parent or child and invites discussion through its use of humour. Chris took Noah on a ‘Big Weekend’ and they found it great. It enhanced their relationship and gave them some great memories that they can share together.

As our kids faced senior school, each of them came home with stories about class-mates who were pregnant. Too often, these young people were from devoutly religious homes. I’ve read books that tell Christian parents to use a flower as the way to teach their adult child about sex … and that’s it!  No other information offered!

If Christian parents can’t recognise that God has given us the gift of sex for our marriage relationship, and pass that on to our kids, who will?  If we feel too embarrassed to speak about sex with them, they will find out in other ways – and the results can be traumatic. Knowing about sex and practicing protective behaviours keeps our kids safer, and gives them the vocabulary to talk about it if ever necessary.

‘There’s no such thing as ‘values-free sex education’.

‘There’s no such thing as ‘values-free sex education’*. People usually learn the values that are associated with sex from the context in which they learn about sex. If people learn about sex behind the school shed; in the context of sexual abuse; in a marriage or relationship where sex is expected but not explained; from lobby groups who have their own agendas; or more than likely from television, movies and the internet, they will also take on board the values with which it is presented.

Is what the kids see on MTV the way we would like them to look at their sexuality?

If we as parents teach about sex, we earn the right to teach our values.

If we are too shy to speak about sex, do we have the right to expect our children to adhere to our values. Or do we think that they will know our values by a simple process of osmosis?

In the context of sexuality in our world, future generations will need to be able to communicate clearly and openly about sex among other issues. How can Christians ever be invited to take part in open, frank, respectful conversations about marriage, relationships and sexuality if they are perceived as never talking about sex?

The most powerful mechanism by which we can change that perception is by parents being open with their kids.  Parents need to intentionally pass on their values openly, frankly and respectfully, in word and through modelling behaviour.

As parents we have the privilege of being able to influence our children’s attitudes to sex. Whether we are embarrassed or shy doesn’t take away our responsibility to teach our children about sex and the values we have about it. After all, if we don’t, somebody else will.

 

Previously published as ‘Bye-Bye Birds and Bees’ in The Lutheran magazine, 2012.  

*The Parenting Place

 

Today (Kakadu, Day 2): Mozzies 53- Julie nil

After my day in Kakadu yesterday, where my energy output exceeded my input and my willpower, I decided to give the others (Chris and Gabby) a day off.  I volunteered to stay behind at our camping ground at Cooinda in Kakadu, while they went to Gumlom Falls, unheeded by me.

Good call, apparently.

That allowed my companions freedom to drive on bumpy roads, climb and swim while I had a personal retreat day.

My challenge: to be still and to simply be.

The car drove off with them in it, only a few moments before I realized I’d left my hat in the boot.  That just meant that I must stay in the shade all day.

Aah…but…Chris had left his glasses in the tent.

So, very soon, the wanderers returned,  we swapped the pair of glasses for my hat and they departed. Again.

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Under the shade of my hat, I gathered my tools together; books, paper, pens, paints, plates, cups, drink, kleenex, esky, hand-bag. And I wandered through the park to find a shady table and bench.

As I strolled past the bistro directly between our tent and the pool, I noticed the queue of between 50 and 60 people lining up for breakfast.PANO_20160705_090414 (1)

I congratulated myself on our choice to camp, and took a photo to remind myself that camping is a good idea, for the next time I felt that I might prefer a few more luxuries than a tent and a camp-stretcher.

I wandered through the shaded area just beyond the perimeter of the pool fence, found the perfect spot, set out the tools of my trade and began to sit quietly.

Aah! Serenity…

Except for the buzz of mosquitoes…

S l o w . . .  m o s q u i t o e s…

Julie: Five in one swoop

Mozzies: zero

Then… the mozzies I missed called for reinforcements.

And I remembered the one tool I’d left at the tent…

. . . Insect repellent.

Dilemma 1: Do I need to pack up everything in order to return to the camp-site to retrieve the insect repellent?

I continued to sit for about three seconds, thinking I might be able to sit it out… until more of the mozzie-army invaded.

Mozzies: 53

Julie: Nil – and 53 Mozzie bites.

Decided to leave most things as they were, but just take things of value with me.
Then sprinted (in a Julie-style-sprint) laden with my hand-bag, esky and books, across the park to pick up insect repellent, and Tea Tree Oil for the mozzies which had already got me.

Note to self: Always carry Tea Tree Oil.
Great for Mozzie bites, wasp stings, burns, infections: And especially soothing for bites from bugs that hitch a ride in your trousers while you’re on guided walks around the base of Uluru, and bite when they want to get out.

I returned to my spot.

And I sat.

And I wrote.

Dilemma 2: I get bored easily

Before I knew it, I was up and looking for some distraction. Any distraction.
Usually it’s food.
Today, I got frustrated with myself, knowing that at last I was all set up and had actually written something, yet I needed to wriggle.
I look at my phoned and jumped for joy that I’d been writing without distraction for eighty-three minutes. I got up, wriggled a little bit, and sat down again.

Julie: one
Mozzie: Zero

I deemed that I’d earned a coffee break…

The bistro-brekky-bunch had subsided. So I ordered a long-black coffee with soy milk on the side, sat at a bistro bench and sipped while I observed the people around me. But the patrons seemed intent on being peculiarly uninteresting. And the barramundi burger was less than inspiring: Not sure how the cook did that.

Refreshed

I returned to my reclusive table outside of the pool, right next to the playground. where a dad and his three little girls played together for the next hour.

I sat and I sat and I sat.  And listened and smiled and wrote and remembered why I wanted to write to inspire parents. The little family was so full of happiness – enjoying each others’ discoveries, helping but not interrupting, encouraging but not demanding, allowing exploration without initiating fear.  I wished I could bottle that love and spread it onto pages.

The afternoon grew warmer – and I edged closer to the pool, found a deck-chair and nestled in. Several families moved in close around me. I wondered if they knew they’d be observed.

A mum nearby read several new books to her children. Then she decided to read a book to herself while the three children shared TWO books.

Uh Oh!

Of course it was Little Mister Three who missed out. And everyone in the whole resort heard about it.

I love to keep bubbles in my hand-bag for such occasions. But with all the travelling we’d done, bubbles had not been on my list of what to pack.

But, as a writer and experimental painter/drawer, I had paper and pencils. So I wandered over to the family.

‘Excuse me, I’m trying to write a book and I need some pictures. Is there anyone here who might like to draw a picture?’

Mister Three’s eyes popped open. He jumped up and shouted.

‘I can. I can.’

Big brother and sister wanted to as well, but the mum said,

‘No, he was first’, so I left Mister Three with my pencil and some paper and went back to my deck-chair.

A few minutes later, little Mister Three was at the foot of my chair.

He held up his picture for me to admire and told me all about it, that his name was Jack, and that he was having a great holiday. And could he do some more, please.

My afternoon progressed with meeting other families who came to enjoy the pool. I talked with mums and dads and kids and aunties. We talked about where we were from, where we were going, places we recommend, things we’d seen, what we’d learnt along the way, and shared any news we’d heard.

‘Do we have a Prime Minister yet?’ I asked a dad, who had grown up in the town next to where I’d grown up.

But while we were talking, my grown-ups returned from their trip, excited at what they’d done, and not-so-secretly thankful that I hadn’t gone with them.

A great day of climbing and swimming for them.
And a day that reminded me of my vocation.

Refreshment for all of us.

The best kind of day.

 

 

 

Reminders of Shelby: Things I’ll miss the most

There are reminders of Shelby all around the house. The irony is that the things I miss the most are the things that most annoyed me:

The blonde fluff everywhere. Her dad used to say ‘She sheds more fluff than she can produce’.

The snoring over the volume of her dad.

The clip of her toenails on the floor in the middle of the night.

The yelping, signalling she wanted to go outside, and inside and outside and inside and…you get the picture.

Her determination to join and oversee every project I ever undertook – finding a comfortable throne in the middle of it.2015-05-20 18.30.52

 

I put my dinner on the coffee table two nights ago – when I was alone to eat it by myself in front of the telly. I put it in the middle of the table so she couldn’t get it. If we forgot to feed her, then nothing stopped her from climbing onto the lounge-chair, straddling the chasm between seat and table, and eating whatever was there.

Then I realized, I can put my food on the floor now, and it will stay intact.

No-doggy to lick the plates clean.

No clicking of her paws as she climbed into the electric fry-pan on the floor.

No spaghetti-stained fur on the top of her head after she’d dug into a big pot and tipped it over so she didn’t miss one lick.

No snuffly noises as she tried to investigate who was on the other side of the door.

The garden won’t be sat on or dug up anymore.

It doesn’t matter if the gas-man leaves the gate ajar.

And no-doggy to sit at the side of the bed or chair alerting me that someone needs more loving than usual.

I’ve never had a dog before so I’ve never lost one either.

But I wish it hadn’t taken me until she was gone to realize how much she taught me.

And how much I’ll miss her.

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Grumpy Pants

Have you got your grumpy pants on?

It was the day before our daughter Gabby’s 21st birthday party. Unfortunately, the timing of the party coincided with a busy time at work, and I was really stressed. For the second time in a few short minutes my husband Chris was the focus of my irritation.

Gabby, who was just passing by, looked at me, put on her child-care voice and asked, ‘Have you got your grumpy pants on?’

In a few words she had summed up the situation, acknowledged my feelings and given me a different way of looking at the situation. Instead of accusing or shaming, she’d pointed out my undesirable behaviour but had not personalised it.

It could have sounded much different.

‘Don’t say that, Mum! You’re always having a go at Dad! He’s done nothing wrong. It’s about time you acknowledged your attitude and took more control over what you say!’

It’s funny how a few words can completely change the atmosphere. They can poison the mood, or sweeten and brighten it.

Gabby’s words absolutely brightened it.

I was able to smile and recognise that Chris was not the cause of my grumps. He was able to smile and forgive me.

And we were able to get on with spending our time more productively and again enjoy each other’s company.

 

Before we were married Chris and I were given some very practical and useful words of advice:

‘Avoid two phrases: You always … and You never

That advice has been very helpful and we’ll never know how many times it has saved us from having horrible, blaming arguments.

Fighting words or Friendly words

Since then we’ve learned about ‘fighting words’ and ‘friendly words’.

Friendly words have become more of a habit in our home than they used to be. For years now we’ve been practising how to use encouraging (friendly) words to build each other up rather than discouraging (fighting) words that tear each other down. I’m not saying that we’re perfect, but it’s quite amazing how choosing words (or choosing not to say something) can completely change a home’s atmosphere.

I don’t think we realised what a difference it made until our kids grew into teenagers and began to bring their friends home. It was their friends who pointed out what was different about our house.

‘I wish my parents would speak to me like that. They just nag or yell, or worse, they won’t speak to me’.

Does nagging happen in our house? Sure does!

Are we perfect? Sure aren’t.

But we’ve tried some techniques that others have recommended. And when new things work we’re happy to keep using them.

We’re also happy to recognise that what works in somebody else’s house might not necessarily work in ours.

 

John and Julie Gottman, through The Gottman Institute, have been studying what they call, ‘The Masters and Disasters of Relationships’ for decades. They have observed thousands of couples over many years and have identified the common important factors that make a relationship successful.

Pretty much it boils down to the way couples speak to each other and the way they fight that determines whether or not a relationship will be successful. Couples can learn to apply these factors to their relationship and improve its quality. Learning different ways of speaking to each other and replacing negative criticism and complaining with positive words and interactions can really change a whole relationship.

Unfortunately, for some of us, we’ve grown up accepting that teasing, criticism and complaining are a part of life. We are so used to nagging or yelling, whining and complaining that we think that is how it must be. I’ve seen many families change (ours’ included) when they’ve been prepared to learn some new language and tactics.

 

I’ve seen many families take this on board and begin new dialogue and create a different atmosphere in their homes. Focus this week on how many times you say ‘Don’t!’ and you might be surprised, especially if you struggle with kids (or adults) who don’t listen.

Maybe they are good listeners but are waiting for positive instruction.

Turn your words around into positive instructions and let the kids be the problem-solvers as much as possible.

Who knows, your kids might be the ones who turn to their grumpy parent to say,

‘Have you got your grumpy pants on?’

 

Originally Published in The Lutheran

He did mend it.

He loves this towel.

He’s used it for longer than he’s known me.

 

He pulled a funny face when I suggested that I could give him a new one.

I already had: For Christmas a couple of years ago.

Bright and stripey.

And in one piece.

 

But this one’s better. Apparently.

 

I’ll mend it, he says.

If you’ll just get the sewing machine organised.

I can do it.

 

I know he can.

He sewed the plastic and vinyl cover for his stereo, on his mother’s Singer treadle machine.

It looked like a professional had made it. I wouldn’t have been so patient or meticulous.

 

But he has no idea how my newish fancy machine works.

Nor that it will take ten minutes to pack up my stuff, mid major project.

Another five minutes to change threads – because anything other than cotton would shred what’s left of the towel.

Another ten to show him how to work it.

About thirty seconds to sew it.

And another fifteen to reset the settings and get my project back to how I had them.

 

It’s a bit like cooking a barbecue really.

I’ll do it and you can relax. 

Yeah, right.

 

And slightly reminiscent of a tempestuous two-year-old.

I do it. I do it.

 

You’d better do it.

If I get my hands on it, it will be in the rubbish.

 

But before I get to think about it for too much longer, it’s going  through the machine

with the scientist looking as excited as if he’d just discovered the cure for cancer.

 

He did mend it.

 

He holds it up for me to admire.

It’s still old and faded and frayed.

But he loves it.

 

Reassuring – for the wife

who’s growing older and faded and frayed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Yes House: Changing from No to Yes

 

In days gone by, theirs had been a No House.

If the children asked for something, the answer was,

‘No’.

If the children reached out to touch something, they were reprimanded with a no!

If they stepped one metre outside of their mother’s reach — in the supermarket, in the shopping mall, in the playground — they were called back …

‘No!’

Even if Mum and Dad wanted something for themselves, they thought the ‘godly’ answer was no.

Where on earth Mum and Dad learnt this, they weren’t sure. They’d heard it on the radio in Southern USA. They’d read it in books about raising ‘godly’ children, and they’d certainly heard it over and over again from several older members of the community who had observed the three-year-old son’s mischief.  Those people loudly disapproved and proclaimed his behaviour was due to a ‘lack of discipline’.

More often than not, that statement sounded something like: ‘What that child needs is a good smack!’

Smacks did not solve the problem.

It’s not entirely surprising that the joy of parenting had gone from the daily lives of this family.

The children each expressed in their own way that life was not as it should be. The four-year-old took control of everything — and everybody. The three-year-old bounced off walls and grabbed attention any way he could. The baby became an expert tantrum-thrower.

Mum appeared calm on the outside — most of the time — but on the inside she was screaming, stressed out and miserable.

Dad, devoted and meticulous, attended to all the needs that Mum did not have the energy or motivation for. His life revolved around working at his place of employment, then coming home to pick up everything that hadn’t been done in the home all day, every day.

If anybody had asked him, he may have answered that he could not remember the last time he had laughed with his family.

Thank God, the family had chosen a local church where they felt they would be cared for. It took a year or two, but the family was nurtured and loved by that congregation. The congregation tolerated the boisterous activities of the three-year-old boy and provided care for the one-year-old baby while Mum sang in the choir. The eldest was placed in a loving Sunday school class. And the whole family attended frequent Sunday school family days.

One day the Sunday school director, Miss Irene, (who also happened to be the three-year-old’s preschool teacher) took the mother aside and asked in her deepest, sweetest Southern USA accent,

‘Mizz Julie, is there a reason you never say yes to your children?’

That question was one of those moments that changed our family’s life path.

That day, when preschool ended, for the first time I squatted down and held my arms out as wide as I could, and my children came running. I’m glad they knew what to do — because it was new to me! But it restored that smile that had gone missing.

From then on, at every possible opportunity, I would watch people like Miss Irene in action — in the preschool, in the playground, in the supermarket, in the classroom. And then I’d go home and practise.

I didn’t make it obvious to anybody else what I was doing. I certainly did not ask questions. But I took everything in, and our house gradually became a Yes House.

Miss Irene and her helpers organised a parenting course — a video with Gary Chapman (author of The Five Love Languages) and Ross Campbell (author of How to Really Love your Children). While we watched a video and had discussion, Miss Irene and her helpers fed pizza to our kids and kept them occupied in the Sunday school classrooms.

So we became part of a group of parents who were also separated from their own parents. We formed our own little community to encourage, laugh and support each other.

If Miss Irene had criticised what I was doing wrong, I would probably have got in a huff and run off in the opposite direction.

Instead, she prayerfully, lovingly and gently came alongside me and trained me to love my children and my husband.

She invited me to pick up the children early from preschool and let me sit in the playground to observe — and to gradually learn how to join the children in their play, allowing them to sort out minor quibbles by themselves but intervening when necessary.

She taught me to sit with children and debrief with them after they’d had a moment or two of ‘thinking time’.

She taught me two very concise but brilliant rules which we were able to adapt to our home rules: ‘Please be gentle with the people here. Please be gentle with the things here.’

But most importantly, she taught me how to love in a very real way — unconditionally, practically, positively and with an element of fun.

Eighteen years later, our kids have grown into beautiful young adults — and our house is definitely a Yes House. Ironically, for a few years I was employed to stand alongside other parents to encourage them — just as I was mentored through that process all those years ago — and to  facilitate parenting courses. And, for years, I wrote a column  about family life called ‘Heart and Home’, in The Lutheran magazine in Australia.

Frequently I am asked about smacking, discipline and many other hot topics. But among the most common comments I receive is,

‘It’s a shame that the parents who really need it won’t come to these courses’.

I reply that every family needs community.

Every family needs to know that they are not alone and that there are some tricks that can make parenting easier and even enjoyable.

As far as those parents who don’t come to the courses … there is plenty of evidence that says that for every family that goes to a course or receives parenting help, another 20 families in that community benefit.

Perhaps other families also watch other parents in supermarkets and playgrounds — just like I did!

 

First published in ‘The Lutheran’ , 2011, July edition. The Lutheran