Category Archives: Marriage & Family

Being trained as a marriage & family therapists, but being married FOREVER is the best trainer. Experienced insights in an attempt to reduce the rate of divorce and helping parents through the challenges of raising children.

Deciding to Enjoy

I found myself doing something very surprising the other day.  I was admiring the scenery in Amarillo, Texas.  For those who have never been in west Texas, especially Amarillo, let me see if I can paint a picture for you.  Let me use my home state of West Virginia to draw a comparison.  What Mountaineer country has in common with the landscape of Amarillo is…   NOTHING!!!  No hills, no trees, no grass, no water, but other than that, they look exactly alike.

So, for me to find any beauty in this part of the country might be a sign of being in the dry, scorching sun way too long.  Or, I have let myself fall in love with the unique beauty of the high plains.

Have you ever been somewhere, with someone, or in a situation where you only saw what was negative.  No matter how much someone tried to convince you that there was a different, more positive view possible, you were not able to see it.  A fancy phrase for this is, “confirmation bias.”  This comes up a lot when, for instance, someone has betrayed or hurt you, and all you can see is evidence that the person cannot be trusted.  They could do a hundred things right but the one with the bias only sees the mess ups.

There could be several reasons for maintaining a confirmation bias.  First, there is the ludicrous belief that if you continue to look at the negative that you’ll keep from getting hurt again.  If you admit they might be somewhat trustworthy, then that opens you up for the pain again.   Second, the bias can be used as a form of punishment.  If you keep looking at the negative and withhold your attention or connection, then one could believe that the other person is suffering a similar pain that you may have experienced from them.  You might be thinking, “That will teach them,” or “I’ll show them.”.

Either way, if enjoyment of life and relationships are goals one might have, these behaviors or attitudes keep that from happening.  In fact, it sabotages the very things we seek.

So, I walked into the landscape of west Texas already critical and determined not to enjoy any of it.  I was able to keep that up for about 20 years.  So what happened that might have caused me to appreciate the beautiful sunrises and sunsets, the cool mornings and evenings, the tall prairie grass blowing in the consistent wind, Cottonwood trees protecting a lonely spring, and the majestic Palo Dura Canyon with its peaks and valleys?

These were always present, but I was not.  I would not let myself go there.  If I started to appreciate these things this might mean I’ll have to stay here.  So, I would just concentrate on what I didn’t like.  Much to my amazement I was not magically transported to the place of my dreams because of my negativity.  In fact, I was not only here, but I was now miserable.  That was, until I decided that I could choose to appreciate the beauty that was here. I could find contentment where I was.  It has been a wonderful change… in me.  I have even been able to appreciate the different shades of brown.


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It’s Time for Some Rules

It is Time for Some Rules

Summer is coming to an end and the sigh heard around the country is the relief that the children are headed back to school.  Often, with the return to school comes a return to some structure in the home.  This usually means RULES.

One of the hardest lessons I learned was how I would often frustrate my children when I set rules. Making rules is important because rules hold the family together.  Rules help us understand the expectations within the family.  When the boundaries are clear and respected, this leads to a safe, predictable environment.  But if they are not set clearly and followed through with, chaos will follow.

Here are a few tips on setting rules:

#1- Make the rule positive.  The first rule for parents is to make sure that whatever you instruct your children to do, you say what you want, not what you don’t want.  Instead of saying, “don’t leave your clothes strung all over the bathroom,” say, “before you leave the bathroom after your bath, place all your dirty clothes in the clothes basket.”

#2- Make the rule clear- Next make sure the instructions are specific such as placing the dirty clothes into the clothes basket.  You might even need to show the child exactly how to do what you are requesting.  I was told one time by a preacher to “never over estimate the intelligence of your audience.”  I found that whenever I assumed my children knew what I wanted that it often led to many misunderstandings and much frustration.

Now, sometimes it is difficult to be clear.  For instance, Instead of saying, “don’t you ever talk to your sister like that again,” say, “when you speak to your sister or anyone else, say only words you would like to be said to you.”  That statement will no doubt need to be clarified by simply asking the child how they like to be talked to.  This is where you can address the issues of name calling, sarcasm, blaming, yelling, etc.

#3- Set the rule and the consequences prior to the offense. Throwing down a rule and leveling a consequence on the fly is usually unfair to the child.  We all like to know what is expected of us in advance and even what the consequences or rewards will be.

When you tell the child what you want, proceed to the “when/then” & “if/then” statements.  “When you pick up your dirty clothes and put them in the clothes basket after your bath, then you may watch TV for an hour.  If you do not, then you will not have TV privileges that night and you will go back and pick up your clothes and put them in the clothes basket.”  Ask the child to repeat what they heard to make sure they understand. The consequences should lead the child back to obeying the original request.

#4- Include the child in the negotiation.  The older the child is the more they should be incorporated in the negotiation of the expectation and the consequences.  Children, just like us, want to believe they have some control over their lives.  Letting them participate in the negotiations is one way to help this take place.  You will also find that the rules they have helped develop are more likely to be followed.

Sometimes those same rules that are set need to be renegotiated.   Never renegotiate with the child at the point of their disobedience.  Follow through with the stated consequence and then, at a later time, you may choose to negotiate.

#5- Follow through!  This is often the hardest part of parenting.  If they do not do what is expected, follow through with the consequences in a very businesslike way.  Avoid lectures, scolding, shaming, etc.  I can hear my mom now, “Oh, where have I gone wrong?” Simply state what the rule was and do what you said you would do.  No need to say anything else.  This is where your actions speak louder than your words.

If they want to argue or throw a fit, do not engage.  Anytime you argue with a child, you lose. Simply walk away.  For instance, you have a clear understanding with your child that only after taking out the trash would they be allowed to play their video game.  If they go and play their game before they had completed the task, simply go over to the TV, turn it off, and repeat the rule.  You must follow through with the consequence or they will not respect the rule.  If they try to argue or negotiate, ignore.  Simply restate the rule and walk away.

Now I have heard some parent educators say that when you restate the rule as above, stay in the room to assure obedience.  I think you have to decide which way works best.  Regardless of whether you leave or stay, do not engage in an argument.

These are some tips I have found to be important in parenting children. I have posted this article on  Feel free to leave your comments and questions there.  Good luck.  Be strong and courageous.  Summer is only nine months away.Image

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Divorce Rate Among Christians

This article gives great news for Christian marriages.  Read on.

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August 15, 2013 · 3:00 pm

My Amish Adventure: Day 2, Different Culture but Same Pains

On day two of my time with the Amish, we arrive on schedule at my host family’s home.  They had already been up for four hours and finished their morning chores of feeding the animals, starting the kitchen activities along with the host of other duties needed to keep the farm moving.

I had been scheduled to have three meetings this day.  The first was with a major focus of the community’s concern.  It was woman who was struggling beyond the Amish’s ability to help.  Sam, the Bishop of the Amish community, his wife Clara, the woman and I sat in a room about 20’x20’.  We were all sitting about 12’ to 15’ apart, a distance to which I was not accustomed but might represent the distance between our cultures.  Clara sat in her starched solid color dress held together by straight pins (buttons not allowed), serene in her extra starched white bonnet with strings dangling, black hose and black shoes.  The other woman was also in starched garb trying to hold with Amish traditions but appeared more disheveled. Sam sat comfortably in his blue shirt and black pants at a desk with his back turned slightly away from the process as if trying to be invisible. In his way, he was trying to help the other woman feel safe also.

Feeling safe while being emotionally vulnerable with each other is a major challenge within their culture.  Boundaries are often unhealthy as the well-doers take on too much responsibility for other’s issues.  Sometimes their over-involvement is not appreciated but that concern is not often voiced. While once traveling with Jake, Sam’s brother, he commented on how wide open the canyon and terrain was in the Texas Panhandle. I remarked to him how my wife feels smothered in Ohio by all the tall trees.  He replied that the trees make him feel safe.  It is interesting how one person can feel smothered and another safe in the same environment.  This other woman was feeling smothered and this was confusing to the Amish community.

As an outsider, I knew my major task was to just be present, safe and approachable.  I wanted to display for Sam and Clara how to be safer for people which in turn would help them be more open.  Openness in areas where there might be a lot of pain, is not a treasured commodity for the Amish.  The way I showed them how to do this was to talk to Clara with the other lady in the room.  She was watching me very closely.

Because of my history with Sam and Clara, Clara was ready to talk openly.  She talked about the things she had learned at The Hideaway and how she had been applying the principles.  She had found herself stuck in one area and we hammered it out together.  All the while, the other lady was watching, listening and sporadically writing on a notepad she held tightly in her hands.

Then, without fanfare, the other lady got up and changed her seat.  She now sat almost directly in front me, which was a change from her previous position out of my line of sight.  She was ready to talk.  While what she talked about was important to her, I couldn’t help but see a clear reality.  We were living in different cultures and her story was clearly hers, and the pain was all too familiar.  The human condition is truly universal.  No exceptions, no matter how far you try to isolate yourself.  The same pains show up.

We talked about 2 hours and I was very careful not to give advice.  She had had enough of that already.  She was just looking for a safe environment to express her pain.  All the while I would stop and explain to Sam and Clara what I was doing that allowed this pain-filled woman to share.  I did this in front of everyone hoping that the three of them would learn how to be safe to others.

It was lunch time (dinner), we all ate together and enjoyed our visit.  We began and ended our meal with a silent prayer of thanksgiving.  No getting up from the table until everyone had eaten and God had been appropriately recognized.  The television was not blaring in the background and the children were not hitting each other.  A real delight.

The afternoon was filled with another meeting of the leaders of the community.  The Bishop, the Deacon and several church members.  All with their spouses which numbered around 20, filled another home’s meeting room.  This time, I was there to advise them on how to deal with difficult people and situations.  As I listened to their concerns it sounded just like many other meetings I had been involved with church leaders.  Again, similar issues regardless of the culture.

We ended this meeting with another meal.  Men served themselves first, making open face sandwiches of fried venison patties.  The men scattered to the meeting room or too the porch.  The women and female children stayed in the kitchen fixing their sandwiches after the men.  The boys were all outside doing something, surely all productive.

I was invited to their church service to be held the following day, Sunday.  This is not an invitation given to everyone, yet I declined.  My Pennsylvania Dutch and High German is a little rusty, so I was afraid I wouldn’t get much out of the service.  I was however, again honored that they would invite me into this part of their lives.  I can’t wait to see what Monday brings.

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My Amish Adventure: Day 1, The Initial Perception

After picking up our contact to the Amish community we headed toward the location of the fundraiser.  The community had decided to raise some funds for some special needs they had as well as to help subsidize my trip.  My job is to help them learn how to help each other better with some special needs they had been facing.  I was honored they had asked me to assist them.

We arrived at an auction barn where the women had joined forces like a farm of methodical worker ants.  They had been frying chicken since the early hours along with mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, slaw and a host of homemade desserts.  Colonel Sanders was nowhere in sight.

The food was prepared all over gas flames in huge skillets and pots.  The women spoke softly or not at all while they seemed to instinctually know what needed to be done.  I am not sure who was in charge although I feel certain there was a pecking order of some kind.  After all was done, they served almost 200 people from their Amish community and the surrounding English (everyone not Amish).  It was a great success.

They had a raffle where you could buy six tickets for $5.  You placed your raffle tickets in a paper bag next to the item you desired.  The items were all donated from the Amish and some of them were especially delightful to see.  A hamper, picnic basket, and a step basket all carefully and beautifully weaved with dyed cane; a box of jars of precious blueberry preserves; a camouflaged compound box with arrows ready to bring in the years supply of venison; handmade leather shopping bag; several yards of blue cloth; and a box of books.

Since their lives were not cluttered with television and other technology, time to prepare these precious gifts showed up in their craftsmanship.  The stitching was precise, the canes expertly woven, and I know the preserves were stirred for just the right consistency.  No need to hurry. Clara, the woman that is helping host my wife and me, was so excited because she won a set of queen sized sheets for her bed.  My wife would go to TJ Max and just pick up a set if she needed it.  For her it was a gift from God.

One of the English’s name, John,  was called for a prize and the entire barn cheered.  He was a man, probably in his 60’s, who was known for his generosity in providing transportation when needed for the community.  You could tell he had endeared himself to all.

Janice and I observed this culture with amazement; especially as it related to the children.  What was most interesting was what was absent from the children’s behavior.  No yelling, running around, fighting or fits.  When a small child began to cry, the nearest older child responded to comfort them. If the more active children wanted to run and play, they knew that it was to be done away from the activities and not in the middle of everyone else.  They were easily entertained and seemed to be satisfied with just observing with little or no conversation.  You could tell that they had not been overly stimulated to a point where their minds and bodies needed some kind of entertainment fix.

I must admit I was envious of what I was seeing.   Not to the point where I was ready to walk away from my indoor plumbing and electricity.  But where my life was not so cluttered. The slower pace that I was beginning to observe did not mean that their life was absent of deadlines and schedules.  I heard Clara talk about how rushed and busy she felt sometimes.  Then when I tried to explain what my life was like back home, she could not imagine that level of busyness.  I would trade that part of my life for hers anyday.

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Helping Our Children Feel

I sat listening to two men talk about raising white tail deer. One of these men was very passionate about this endeavor and you could tell it by what he said and especially how he was saying it. I listened to another person talk about how excited she gets at Christmas. She spoke with glee about decorating her house, hosting parties, and giving special gifts. Again, her whole mood just became so positive and her complete body was telling the story.

I so envy people who are able to get that excited and passionate about things. I was raised in a culture where my feelings were to be suppressed. Extreme displays of any kind of emotion were discouraged. At least it seemed like that. Loosing oneself in the moment could lead to some kind of catastrophic consequence that would be so horrific it might take a life time to recover. Thus, I might be leaping for joy, deeply saddened, or seething with anger, but you will hardly know it.

This was all set up while I was young and still developing an understanding of who I was and what was “acceptable” behavior. I remember a coach criticizing our football team because we got too excited during our pregame warm up. I was scolded for expressing any kind of disagreement with my parents. It was labeled as “arguing” which meant I was to have no voice on many matters that directly affected me. I remember being made fun of by those close to me because I expressed my compassion for someone with tears.

It is amazing how the messages we perceive from the past directly affects who we become.  Sometimes I think most of our journey as adults is correcting all the harmful messages we received about ourselves as children.

Now, I am older and this training of how to express emotions is like a heavy coat I wear daily. I have been at ballgames and wished that I could yell at the top of my lungs. I have been in worship when my heart was leaping with joy and my arms felt like they were tied to my sides. I have even been so angry with someone that I took it out on myself by pushing the emotion down and stuffing it.

So, why am I bringing this up? Please encourage your children to experience all of their emotions to the fullest. Yes, they do need to be aware of when and how to express them appropriately, but I hope they are encouraged to feel.  It is only through expressing our thoughts and emotions are we able to learn how to manage them effectively.  Let them feel deeply and be allowed to experiment in their expression of those feelings. I think this is one of the most important gifts a parent can give as they teach their children how to live life to its fullest. A lesson I am still learning


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Raising “Us”

Raising children is probably one of the most challenging jobs I have ever had. I have backpacked over mountains, survived three-a-day football practices in scorching heat, and I have swum out of frigid rushing waters to safety. All of these experiences pale to the amount of energy and time that I have expended as a parent.

However, that was what I signed up for when I decided to be a parent. I might not have realized all that parenting entailed, but once I held my first child in my arms, those responsibilities began. If I did not feed, clothe, hold, protect and play with this child, it would not thrive and he may even die. It never crossed my mind to ???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????deny what both of my boys needed to become mature and fit. As parents, Janice and I made decisions on what was best for the boys; not what I wanted or what she wanted; what was going to help them grow.
The same is true for my marriage. When Janice and I married, before we had children, a new entity was born. This entity was “us”. We began to make decisions on what was best for the “us” which meant that our own selfish desires were set aside. It was no longer about me or about her. It was about growing and maturing the “us”.

The same amount of energy and time that we naturally expected to spend on our children was just as needed on the “us”. We needed to play, spend time with each other, nurture, learn to make decisions together and much more. My selfish desires had to be bridled and redirected.

I never lost my own identity nor did Janice lose herself. We found another identity that was greater and more powerful than either one of us was separately. A friend of mine tells a story of him sitting across the table with one of his mentors. This mentor’s wife had just passed away. This man said, “I will miss her deeply, but I will miss even more what we were together.” He missed the uniqueness of their “us”.
I am amazed at how many couples when asked how much time they spend nurturing their relationship, shake their head in shame and disbelief. When you decided to get married, you signed up for a journey in developing a brand new entity. It takes a lot of time and energy. If your marriage was a child, would it be on life support right now? It may be time to reevaluate where your efforts are going.
Please don’t end up like many couples who spend so much of their focus on their children that they ignore their marital relationship. One of the highest divorce rates is among couples married 25 years or more for this very reason. Remember, you signed up for it. It might have been more than you had expected. But just as you wouldn’t discard your child because he/she was too much trouble, you must not discard your marriage either. It is just as valuable.

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