One is Silver the Other Gold

Make new friends

But keep the old

One is silver and other gold

Anyone who was in the Brownies and/or Girl Scouts growing up like I was is probably familiar with this little tune. I’ve always been fond of it: it’s short, sweet and in its way very poignant. As a child I didn’t fully grasp the concept of friendships and their value the way I do as an adult.

My oldest son, who will start first grade this year, is starting to learn lots of big lessons about what it is to have, and to be, a true friend. As his parent, this is something that leads to moments of great pride and can at other times be very painful.

When he has a play date with a friend, it can be fun to watch the interaction and see the joy on his face.  But when he wants to engage in something with someone and gets rebuffed, it breaks my heart.

Our family recently took a trip out of town and for the most part, we really enjoyed ourselves. During the trip, there was a group of boys my son’s age who were playing and he wanted to join them. But instead of including him in the game, they made a game out of excluding him. They would lure him in as though they were going to let him play and then laughingly reject him. Thankfully, their game ended when I encouraged my son to simply say “no thanks” the next time they asked him to play with them.  Once he’d turned the tables on them and the kids no longer knew they could engage him, they lost interest in teasing him.

During this exchange I struggled with a range of emotions: from pure anger and a desire to discipline or yell at the boys (where were their parents?), to reminding myself to keep calm, knowing that I have to let my son make his own choices. I won’t be able to witness all of these encounters every day for the rest of his life after all. All I can do is try to prepare him to handle situations himself and give him different things to think about and different approaches he can take.

Truthfully, my son wasn’t nearly as phased by the encounter with the bullies as I was. After the incident, I reflected on my own childhood and tried to pinpoint when it was that I truly figured out what real friendship entailed, and realized that it wasn’t until I was in my early 20s.

I shared some advice with my son. He may be too young to understand it right now, but I hope he figures it out earlier than I did.

“A friend is someone who makes you feel good about yourself,” I told him.

He looked at my quizzically so I elaborated some more. “A true friend doesn’t ask you to do, be or act in a different way. They don’t like you for what you have or what you can give them. They like you for who you are. ”

The experience was a good reminder for me that true friendship doesn’t come with a price. It’s more valuable than anything money can buy and best of all, it’s free.

Marriage: It’s all about Communication

When my brother-in-law got married, a friend of his gave him some solid advice, “Marriage is all about communication,” he told him. My brother-in-law shared this with my husband and me when we got married a few years later. While we were in agreement with the statement, we didn’t really know what to do with it at the time.

What is communication in a marriage?  Is it simply the act of talking and listening?  I’ve come to believe that it’s much more than that. My husband and I recently reflected on this advice that we’d received nearly eight years ago. My husband pointed out that successful communication in a marriage was more than talking and listening, it included understanding—the need for each partner to work to empathize with the other, to try to understand their point of view. Each person also has to work to make themselves understood, to get their point across. Not an easy task.

You may have heard the expression “heart talk” which refers to talking about how you feel rather than talking about what you think.  Here is an example:

Talking with your head:

“You didn’t take out the trash after I asked you to five times!” 

Talking with your heart:

“It makes me feel discounted when you don’t acknowledge and act on what I ask of you.” 

See the difference? Talking from the heart may seem a little uncomfortable to some, after all, we’re talking about feelings, and most of us run for the hills when we have to do that. But communicating this way can be very effective in helping your partner understand where you’re coming from.

My husband and I have also discovered that a key to communicating well is to understand your individual needs.  What are you getting from each other in the relationship that is making it work? What are you not getting from each other? Or, in other words, what’s not working?  Marriage is partly a journey of self-awareness and you have to have the confidence to bridge the subject of open communication with your spouse.

Do you feel comfortable asking for what you need? Try some of these phrases out:

“I need to feel valued”

“I need to feel respected”

“I need to have some autonomy”

“I need proactive communication”

“I need to be unconditionally loved”

“I need to be listened to”

“I need to be supported and encouraged” 

This may seem like a lot of “I needs”, but being clear about what you need and asking for it is the only way you’re likely to get it.  And having need doesn’t make you needy.  Would you say your child was needy if they said any of the following?

“I need food to eat”

“I need a bed to sleep in”

“I need unconditional love”

“I need respect”

“I need to feel valued and important to you”

“I need to be listened to”

“I need you”

Of course you wouldn’t! And it’s no different in a marriage.  How many married people don’t ask for what they need and maybe haven’t even thought about it?  I suspect many. Most of us are just trying to get through each day and our hectic schedules don’t leave much time to reflect.

Good communication is key to a good marriage, but it’s more than simply talking and listening.

Do you talk to your spouse with your heart or your head? Are you asking for what you need?

What is your child’s currency? What’s yours?

We implemented a reward system for our boys when my oldest son was around three. For every task or chore he completed, we would reward him with a sticker. When he had accumulated ten stickers he could turn them in for a reward: a small toy, game or book. Rewards like these work to a certain degree with both children, but I’ve realized over time that there are other things my children value beyond these prizes—like watching TV and playing Legos—and that allotting them extra time for these things could be just as effective as a reward. My husband and I work hard to teach our children not only skills like reading and math but manners, responsibility and accountability. We also want to teach them confidence in their ability to get what they want via hard work.

When I was growing up, I was given an allowance starting around age seven. It was modest to begin with (fifty cents a week) and then over time it increased. By the time I was in high school, I was getting twenty dollars a week and was required to complete all of my household chores to receive it. I was also expected to spend my allowance wisely. My family was on a budget so there wasn’t additional “fun” money given out if I blew my twenty dollars. My dad did also give us a clothing allowance of seventy-five a month which was for everything: socks, undergarments, shirts, shoes, accessories, etc. which meant that if we wanted one hundred fifty dollar jacket, we had better save up for it! It really gave me an appreciation for the concept of earning money and spending it wisely.  When I look back on those years, it wasn’t the money that served as the biggest motivator but rather the expectations of my parents. My parents set a high bar and I was forced to work hard to meet it. In the end, I really learned something about my own values and abilities and it gave me a tremendous sense of self-confidence.

With my children, I continue to ask myself if the reward system we’re using is working. Our children’s currency won’t always be stickers, TV, books or games (though some may stay in rotation for a long while). We’ll have to continue to understand what our children’s currency is and adjust accordingly. More importantly, we need to set the right expectations and be consistent—not always easy to do when we’re all so busy.

It got me thinking about what currency I use for rewarding myself as an adult. We look to different things as rewards as adults: a bigger paycheck, more time with our spouse or children, maybe just more time for ourselves. And often, (just like we learned to do as children) we feel best about these rewards when we feel we’ve done something to earn them.

Just as we have to understand what really motivates our children to be able to teach them responsibility and hard work, so do we need to understand what motivates us.

What are the rewards that really matter to you and what are you doing to get them? What is the cost (monetary, mental or emotional) for the things you want? How hard are you willing to work?

None of these are easy questions to answer, but they’re important ones. Know your child’s currency and better understand them; know your own currency and better understand yourself.

Living in the Present

During one of our recent date nights, my husband and I went to see the movie Safety Not Guaranteed. It’s about a group of journalists who answer a want ad in pursuit of a story. Writing the story becomes a journey in being honest with yourself and learning to be vulnerable to experiencing something you didn’t believe possible—true joy, adventure, love and um, time travel (you’ll need to see the movie to understand this part). Despite the surreal bits, the movie is mostly about living in the present instead of getting mired in the past or waiting on the future.

As parents, living in the past can be alluring as you find yourself romanticizing about the life you had pre-child, or reflecting on the many things that you’ve had to get done since.  It’s similarly easy to lose yourself in thinking about that future—what’s needed to give your child the best shot at a top notch university, or even just planning and being prepared for all the activities that are on the calendar for the upcoming week. Each takes concentration, and can being a range of emotions from excitement to sheer terror.  Regardless of which direction you’re going–whether you’re thinking about the past or planning for the future–doing so takes your mind away from the present. But is living in the present really so dull that we need the distraction?

Our oldest son graduated from kindergarten in June and there was a picnic for the two kindergarten classes at his school to celebrate the occasion. At the picnic they had a ceremony of sorts, where each child was called by name and crossed through a decorated hula-hoop that was turned on its side.  It was very informal and the kids thought it was fun to stand up and have people clap for them.  It struck me during the picnic how glad I was to be experiencing what I was experiencing right in that moment. I wasn’t thinking about all the activities that had led up to this day in recent weeks or what would come next. I just took it all in and it was pure joy.

I understand that my children will be grown and off on their own before I know it. Time seems to go faster with each passing year so I’m trying my best to experience the present as it happens, to not focus on what happened yesterday or what’s going to happen tomorrow but what’s happening right now, today.

How do you live in the present?