8 Ways to Strengthen Love at Home

Mother Teresa has been in the news lately. Even though I am not a Catholic, I rejoice that she will be canonised in September this year.  To me, Mother Teresa was the epitome of love. She had spent her life pouring out her love to “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.” You don’t have to be a Catholic or Christian to feel or receive her love. Her love was universal.

While Mother Teresa was known for administering to the poorest of the poor of different faiths, she had a lot to say about love at home. This article is inspired by her words of wisdom on this subject matter.

Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the action that we do.

Mother Teresa, Nobel Lecture, 11 Dec 1979

This sentence has stayed with me since the first time I read it eons ago. Love. It all begins at home. I can’t do what she did on the streets of Calcutta . But I can pour love into the actions that I do at home.

All the quotes below were extracted from Mother Teresa’s book, “Thirsting for God”. Though the book was a collection of her meditations, the quotes I’ve used are not “religious”.  They are words of wisdom for everyone.  For each of her quote, I have also raised some questions for us to ponder. The questions are meant to increase our awareness so that henceforth we can choose how much love we want to put in the action that we do at home.

1: “Love begins at home—–everything depends on how we love one another at home.”

Home is where the heart is. It is the place where our hearts are most vulnerable. It is the place where our hearts yearn love. When we are loved, we can conquer the world. When we do not feel loved, everything falls apart. How we love one another at home sets the foundation for our interaction with the world. As parents, spouse and children, we wield immense power in shaping the world through what we do at home.

Questions to ponder:

  • How do we love one another at home?
  • Is it unconditional or conditional love?
  • Do we wage a cold war on our spouse, children or parents if they do something we don’t agree with?
  • When our children misbehave or throw a tantrum, do we seek to understand why, or do we demand that they stop this instant?
  • Do we put ourselves in their shoes with their thoughts, beliefs AND maturity, not ours?
  • Do we empathise with how they are hurting?

2: “Much of the hurt in our homes comes from uncontrolled use of words, said anywhere, in front of other people. Let us open our eyes to the harm we do.”

Words have power. The saying “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me” cannot be further than the truth. Most times, our physical injuries from “sticks and stones” will heal, but the caustic words said to us will continue to hurt and haunt us years after they were uttered. Words can either be fertilisers that encourage growth, or they can be poisons that kill or stunt growth.

Questions to ponder:

  • What words do we use on our children? Spouse? Family members?
  • How would we feel if those words were used on us?
  • What kinds of impact do those words have on the emotional and psychological health of our loved ones?
  • What can we say to our loved ones instead?

3: “Criticism is nothing less than dressed up pride… Refrain from prejudice, which means to set your mind against somebody. It is very sad when it becomes a part of our lives.”

We are all guilty of being judgers. We judge our children and our spouse. We judge our parents, our in-laws, our siblings. We even judge ourselves!! Self criticism is a topic in and of itself and I will not touch on here. But criticism of others is a reflection of our self righteousness. When we criticise, it is nothing more than saying “I am right and you are wrong. My beliefs and values are right, yours are wrong. The way I do things is right and the way you do things is wrong.” Criticism is our ego talk. Instead of criticising, attempt to understand. Or even better, do something to help. As Mother Teresa once said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”

Questions to ponder:

  • What do we criticize about others?
  • Why did they do what they did?
  • Do we understand what they are REALLY going through, not what we think they are going through?
  • If we were struggling with the same issues we are critical of, be it punctuality, lack of attention, or worse infidelity, how would we like to be helped?
  • How can we help those whom we are now criticising?

4: “Find at least one good point in the other person and build from there. In the family, you should thank each other, mentioning the good you have seen others do.”

In psychology, there’s a phenomenon called Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, or “frequency illusion”. When we are made aware of something, subconsciously, we keep looking out for that something. Likewise, when we focus on the good of others, we will keep seeing the good. Not only will we keep seeing the good that others do now because we have become unconsciously attuned to acts of goodness, the people doing the acts keep doing them because they are encouraged to continue doing so.

Questions to ponder:

  • What labels do we give to our children?
  • What is one good thing about each of our loved ones?
  • How does that one good thing affect the way he/she behaves and treats others?
  • What other positive traits does this person have?

5: “Today, we see that all the suffering in the world has started from the home. Today, we have not time even to look at each other, to talk to each other, to enjoy each other, and still less to be what our children expect from us, what the husband expects from the wife, what the wife expects from the husband. And so more and more we are homeless at home because less and less are in touch with each other.”

Many have accused the pervasiveness of technology for the collapse of family communication because people start turning to their mobile devices at every available (and unavailable) moment. Family members spend more time staring at their mobile devices than they do looking at one another. They spend more time texting with their friends, or keeping in touch with virtual friends on social media than they spend with their families. But the same technology also allows the family to be in touch when someone is physically away. The fault is not in the technology. It lies with how we use the technology.

It all begins with love. For there to be love, there needs to be connection. For there to be connection, there needs to be interaction. For there to be interaction, there needs to be time spent together. For there to be time spent together, there needs to be a commitment to want to bond. For there to be a commitment to want to bond, there needs to be love.  It all begins with love.

Questions to ponder:

  • How do we stay connected with our loved ones?
  • How often do we tell our loved ones we love them?
  • How often do we SHOW our loved ones we love them?
  • Do we even know how our loved ones want to be loved?
  • What is one thing we can do to be available for our loved ones?

6: “You must open your eyes wide so that you can see the opportunities to give wholehearted free service right where you are, in your family. If you don’t give such service in your family, you will not be able to give it to those outside your home.”

As cliché as this may sound, ask not what our family can do for us; ask what we can do for our family. And it refers to every single member of our family. By “service”, I take it to mean several things. It could be a word of encouragement or love. It could be spending some time together. It could be giving a gift, or a massage. Or it could be as simple as running an errand for that person. These services show our love in different forms to our loved ones. We need to open our eyes wide to know what kinds of services are needed and yearned. The service required of us may not be a service we feel comfortable doing. For example I dread giving gifts. I see it as an encouragement of materialism. But my daughter lights up whenever she receives something, even if it doesn’t cost anything. So I put in an effort to either make her something or buy her something once in a while. That is because that is the “service” she craves from me to know I love her and I cannot deny her that just because it is not a service I like to provide.

Questions to ponder:

  • Do we really know what kinds of “service” our family need from us?
  • How do we find out the kinds of service they need?
  • What can we do to provide those services?

7: “We must reach the heart. To reach the heart, we must do—–love is proven in deeds. People are attracted more by what they see than by what they hear.

If I want my children to be kind, first I need to be kind, not just tell them to be kind. I need to model what kindness is in deeds and in words. If I want my children to be polite, first I need to be polite. I need to model courtesy not only to my peers or those more senior than I, but also courtesy to the children themselves, and especially to the “invisibles” of our society, the cleaners, domestic workers, construction workers etc. The values I want my children to learn must be applied to all stations of life, not only the higher echelons. Children are very sharp and they will pick up inconsistencies in our actions and words. When we tell our children we love them, we need to show it to them ALL THE TIME. Even when we need to discipline them, it needs to be done with love, not in anger.  It is through our actions that we teach and show values.  It is through our actions they feel our love.

Questions to ponder:

  • What do we need to do to show our love?
  • What kind of values do we want to inculcate in our children?
  • How do we walk the talk in inculcating love and values in our children?

8: “Let us make our homes real places of love so that we can overcome any hatred. “

That, my friends, wraps up this blog post. The way to overcome hatred is with love. The path to peace is through love. And it begins at home. May we all parent with love.

Please leave us your comments. We’d love to hear from you!

– Vivian –

 

12 Ways to Connect with Your Teen

Parenting the teen years in many ways is challenging. The teens have developed an identity for themselves. They spend less time at home and become less communicative. Very often, their friends mean more to them and have a greater influence over them than their parents. Children do not naturally shun talking with their parents. They are “trained” to stop talking to their parents because they feel that their parents are not interested in what they have to say or that their parents do not understand them. So here are 12 ways you can establish your link with your teen so he/she feels more connected with you and becomes more willing to communicate with you.

1) Be Interested In Your Teen

Continue to show an interest in your teen and his life. Be genuinely interested in what he has to say.  Ask him to tell you about his friends or his interests. Ask him open-ended questions that encourage more conversation rather than questions requiring only “Yes” or “No” answers. Let the conversations be about him, not the homework he needs to get done, or why he did not do what you asked him to. Engage in conversations that do not put him on the defensive. By and by, your teen will feel safe enough to share more about himself with you. The more interested you are in your teen and the more you encourage him to communicate with you without judgment on your part, the less he feels the need to hide things from you, the more open he will be with you.

2) Be Available

Put down your phone. Give your teen 100% of your attention. It may not be a convenient time, but do your best anyway. Every time you turn your child away when she wants to talk to you, you train her to stop talking to you. So minimize turning her away when she wants to talk. If you are never available when she wants to tell you the small stuff, you can be certain she will NEVER come to you and tell you the big stuff.  Be sensitive to your teen’s body language. Sometimes she may have something to say but is hesitant. When you are attuned to your child, you will pick it up. Then gently rope her into a conversation and do your best to put all distractions aside. When you show your teen you are available when she needs you, you are building the link for her to come to you when she REALLY needs you.

3) Hold The Advice

Sometimes, teens just want someone to listen to them. When your teen shares his angst with you, hold whatever advice you may have at the tip of your tongue. Just listen, don’t advise. Acknowledge how he feels and bite your tongue. You can ask him questions to help him clarify his thoughts or help him look at the issue from a different perspective. Help him to come up with a solution himself. And when your teen doesn’t feel you are trying to tell him what to do, but are respecting him to come up with his own solutions, he will be more willing to communicate with you.  The best part is, by not jumping in to provide advice or solution, you are helping your teen develop guiding questions to ponder whenever he faces a problem. And that is teaching him to fish for life.

4) Show Affection Daily

Give your teen a hug or a kiss, but definitely not in public unless she doesn’t mind it. If hugging and kissing are not expressions of affection in your family, give her a back rub or an affectionate pat on the back. Tell her “I love you”.  Make her her favourite meal. Buy her a gift with no strings attached. Or perhaps, bring your teen out for a special date and spend time with her. Just because she has grown up to be a young adult does not mean she does not crave for affection from you. Take every opportunity you have with your teen to show her your love. And no, discipline and punishment, while out of goodwill and concern for your teen, do not come across as acts of affection. When your teen feels your affection for her, she develops an emotional connection with you and knows she can count on you anytime, especially in times of difficulty. And that encourages her to be more open and communicative with you.

5) Let Your Teen Know You Are Proud Of Her  

It is human instinct to be drawn closer to those who approve of us.  The reason why teens tend to be drawn closer to their friends is because they feel accepted by their friends.  Does your teen feel you are proud of him? Does he hear you praising him more often than you giving him a piece of your mind?  Does he feel safe to come to you if he is in trouble?  Other than showing him affection, let him know you approve of him and believe in him.  Tell him you accept him as he is and will support him in his endeavours.  If he is a performer, turn up for his performances.  If he is a sportsman, cheer him at his sports games.  And should he stumble and fall,  encourage him and gently help him pick himself up. When he makes a mistake, do not pounce on him.  Instead, let him know you are by his side and will help him through the difficult times.  Let him know you believe in the goodness in him and help him to do the right thing to make amends.  When your teen sees you are with him through thick and thin, he will naturally be drawn to you and feel connected with you.

6) Give Your Teen Freedom

Acknowledge that your teen is no longer a young child. Treat her as the young adult that she is. Give her freedom. Do not helicopter parent her. The tighter you hold on to the rein, the harder she will struggle to get out of it. If you are concerned about her safety, talk to her about it. Share your concerns with her and encourage her to address your concerns with the plans she has.  This is the time your teen needs to learn how to extend her wings to take flight. Show her how to fly safely. Do not clip her wings or she will either fail to learn how to soar when she becomes an adult, or worse, go somewhere else to learn how to fly and pick up bad habits along the way. The irony is the more freedom you give your teen, the less she finds the need to stay away from you.  So let go of your apron string and you may be surprised to find your teen hanging around you more.

7) Spend Time Together

Such a precious resource time is. And precisely because it is a precious resource, you need to spend it with your family, your child. Do fun activities together once in a while. Go camping, watch a sport together, go on vacations. Spending time together builds common memories and shared experiences. You have something common to talk about for years to come. It also helps you know each other better. And when your teen feels you know and understand him, he will become more open and willing to communicate with you.

8) Create Rituals To Connect

Other than spending time together, having some rituals help you to connect better. It could be a monthly date night with your teen. It could be a Friday night ice-cream. Or even regular weekend brunch with the whole family. Something consistent, something your teen knows will be a time for connection. This is even more important if your work takes you away from home for long hours or long periods of time. Creating these rituals will help you carve out time for each other. And for all you know, it could be something your teen looks forward to, knowing you will be there for her. Like spending time together, this creates shared memories and helps you and your teen understand each other better. And with increased understanding, communication links open up.

9) Do Something Meaningful Together

More than just spending time together, when we are doing something meaningful together, it gets imprinted more deeply in our memories. What could be meaningful time together? It could be doing volunteer work and helping the less fortunate. It could be chipping in and helping to do housework TOGETHER. It could even be a family project of picking up trash while hiking through a park or the beach. When the family contributes together for a common good, the bond gets stronger.

10) Ask Your Teen To Teach You Something

What is your teen good at? Programming? Orienteering? Rock Climbing? Music? Ask him to teach you a little of what he knows. Let him take the lead and be the teacher. There is no greater compliment to a child than having his parents be interested in what he is good at AND having him show them. At the end of it, you may even like it so much you grow your expertise in it. Then you’d have even more common grounds to talk to your teen. However, if at the end of it, you decide you are really not cut out for what he is teaching you, the fact you asked your teen to teach conveys your acknowledgment of his expertise. That helps him feel more connected with you.

You may think your teen is not good at anything enough to teach you. Well, then let your teen take the lead in doing something. It could be letting her plan a family day out and everyone going along with her plan. It could be letting her decide on a family vacation and itinerary (with a budget given) and letting her be the tour guide. It could even be a family movie marathon night and your teen gets to choose all the movies. Whatever it is, let your teen lead and you follow. When you do that, you are telling her “I trust you” and that helps her to trust you in return.

11) Get To Know Your Teen’s Friends

Your teen’s social circle is the key influencer in his life. To understand him, you need to know who his friends are. Invite your teen’s friends over for meals or have him bring along a friend on family outing or vacation. You may get to see a side of your teen you have never seen at home. Sometimes, there may be things he is unwilling to tell you directly (eg boy-girl relationships), but will do so indirectly through his conversations with his friends. Through interactions with your teen and his friends, you share even more common grounds with your teen. It helps you allay some fears you might have when you know who he is hanging out with. It also helps you be more sensitive when he shares problems he has with his friends.

12) Be In Touch With Your Teen’s Online World

Connect with your teen.  Ask if you can be her friend on her social media platform.  That is where she shows the world who she is.  And the most important thing when you are there is you do not stop her from being who she is.  You are there as an observer and friend.  Do not at any time “discipline” her online for that will guarantee you being booted out before you can say “Facebook”.  Send her text messages, whatsapp her to let her know you are thinking of her (NOT keeping track of her).  It is extremely important to touch base with your teen to let her know she is on your mind, that she is important to you.  When she feels she truly matters to you and that you care about who she really is, she will be more willing to open up to you.

So there you have it, 12 ways to connect with your teen. How do you connect with your teen? Do share it with us in the comments section.

If you have found this blog useful, please share it with your friends.  Thanks!

– Vivian –

 

Sleep Training Then and Now

Looking back on my 14 years of parenting journey, I realised I have come a long way. Yes, I had started my parenting journey reading a ton of books, and I am still reading a whole lot now. However, in my early days, many of the books I read were “how-to” books. In particular, I read a disproportionate number of books on how to get babies to go to sleep on their own, how to get babies to sleep through the night etc etc. Why? Because I was exhausted by the demands made by my firstborn every single night.

Ferberising #1

For those who are unfamiliar with Dr Richard Ferber’s sleep training, the idea behind Ferber’s sleep training is to help the baby learn how to soothe himself to sleep. However, to do that, it also means he needed to be left on his own so he can learn how to self soothe. The books warned that some amount of crying was to be expected and if I wanted my child to learn how to self soothe, I needed to leave him alone for increasing intervals of time and if he cried, I should not attend to him until the time interval was up. The theory is after a while, the child would figure that there was no use crying and would go to sleep on his own. That is how Ferber’s sleep training has become synonymous with Cry It Out method. Of course, this is a very simplified explanation and I am not doing justice to his work. If you want to know more, please read “Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems” by Richard Ferber.

Even now, as I am writing this, I wonder how on earth I could ever subscribe to the idea of Ferberising my baby. Don’t get me wrong. There are many families who swear by it but it just does not fit the mom that I was. So why did I do it? My excuse was I was beyond exhausted. I so wanted to regain my independence and stop being a mom at night. I wanted a good night’s sleep without waking up every 2-3 hours to attend to him. So against my better judgment, I decided to Ferberise R.

I Failed Again and Again…

The first time I tried it, R was 6 months old. My poor son would cry and I would wait anxiously for the designated time interval before attending to him and when I left, he would cry harder and longer. This would go on for two hours or more each night and my heart broke every single night. By night 4 or 5, I would be in a wretched state. I would be sitting outside the door crying with him. I struggled between not wanting the previous nights’ efforts to go to waste and trying to convince myself he was not ready to be Ferberised. And in the end, I chose to give up. I told myself I would try again next month.

The next month came. I was more tired than before having been sleep deprived for yet another month. History repeated itself. He cried, I waited for designated time to go in to soothe him. I left, he cried harder and longer till I went in again at the next designated time. After 4 nights of him crying for two hours or more before he collapsed in exhaustion, I could not do the fifth night. I gave up and waited to try again the following month. This went on two more months. Each time, no matter how hard I resolved I wanted to reclaim back my sleep, my maternal instinct won my ego EVERY SINGLE TIME. I just didn’t have the heart to hear him cry and not do anything. I felt like a failure as a mom for having made him cry so much and a failure as a mom who couldn’t sleep train her child.

My husband had been supportive of my decision to Feberise R. He was supportive when I decided to give up because I couldn’t take the crying. But when I gave up the 4th time, he asked me, “Why are you doing this to yourself?” No reproach of me making our son cry. No condemnation of my lack of resolve. Just love, acceptance and an attempt to understand me.

Suddenly, something inside me clicked and I was no longer conflicted. I accepted that my son needed me. I accepted that I was ok with him needing me. I accepted that being sleep deprived when I had a young child was ok. I was no longer so attached to the notion of having early nights to myself after putting my child to sleep on his own. So the next night, I laid down on my bed which was beside his crib and let him hold my finger till he fell asleep. It still took 2 hours for him to fall asleep, but this time, it was peaceful. And I did this every single night for the next 2 years.

No Need to Sleep Train with #2

2 years after I gave up Ferberising R, C arrived. She could not have been more different than R. She didn’t need me or anyone with her to go to sleep. As an infant, as soon as I put #2 down in her crib, she would turn away from me and talk to the shadows on the wall. Even as I left the room, she would look away from the dancing shadows to watch me leave and turn her attention back to the wall. I had my early nights to myself and my uninterrupted sleep. There was no traumatic cries or bleeding hearts.

#3’s Turn

Now, we have A. Like R, A needed me with her to fall asleep. Unlike R, she would scream whenever we put her in her crib.  Still traumatised by R’s crying when I had tried to Ferberise him, I could not bear A’s cries whenever I put her in the crib. So we got rid of the crib and put her on the bed with us. For three years, she slept right next to me on my bed. In the past 6 months, she started developing acrobatic sleep stunts. It became increasingly difficult sleeping next to her and I yearned to move her out of my bed as soon as possible. Still I kept Ferber away with a 10-foot pole.

Exhibition of Readiness

The opportunity came after A turned 3. She started asserting she was no longer a baby. She would correct everyone, family or stranger, who called her a baby. “I am a big girl,” she would assert instead. So we got a bed for her and told her as a big girl, she needed to have her own bed, like her older brother and sister. For the first few nights, I laid down with her on her bed till she fell asleep. Then one night, after she nursed, she said, “Goodnight, mom,” and turned her back to me. I asked her gently, “Can mom leave now?” She rolled over, gave me a hug, and said again, “Goodnight, mom.” Then she rolled over with her back to me. I left her bed and she did not protest.

Some nights she would still want me with her, some nights she was ok being on her own. To me, that was progress. She was weaning herself off me. She was growing up at a pace she was comfortable with, not pushed into growing at a pace I wanted her to. Each morning, she woke up happy because she had gone to bed happy. As my family always says, “Happy baby equals happy mommy. And happy mommy equals happy family.”  How true!

Conclusion

While I may not subscribe to Ferberising for sleep training, by all means Ferberise if it works for you. It is not my intention to judge moms who Ferberise. It doesn’t matter how we sleep train our children, or if we sleep train at all. As fellow moms, we can all do with some support and understanding of the methods that we use, no matter how different they may be. What matters is we understand ourselves.

For me, I realized over the years that I prefer peaceful parenting.   After all, love is peace and parenting is all about love.

What about you? Would you care to share your insights on sleep training? What worked? What didn’t? Was there something you learned about yourself in that process? Share with us on the comments page so we can all learn from one another.

If you have found this post useful, please share it with your friends.  Thank you!

– Vivian –