Unintended Consequences of Parenting Styles

The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility

and the wings of independence.

~Denis Waitley

Parents: I think all of us can agree that we want to see our children happy, admirable, and successful.  But, how we help them achieve this is all over the map, isn’t it? When I grew up, authoritarian parenting was the norm. Those were the days of “Because I said so,” and non-negotiable chores. Teens were expected to leave home after graduation, whether that meant to college, a job, or the military. The ball was in their court to sink or swim. Tough love ruled the day.

Times have changed, in part because of the pitfalls associated with this approach to parenting. However, as it usually happens, the pendulum swings to the opposite extreme. We overcorrect and new issues surface. Like now.

Despite our best intentions, sometimes our parenting methods can get in the way of achieving our objectives. Although our children bear the primary responsibility for how their lives turn out, parenting influences are significant. With this in mind, and understanding that there are no perfect parents, we’d like to share some inadvertent consequences we see in three of today’s most common parenting styles.

 

Helicopter Parenting

In our efforts to be an involved parent and protect our kids from failure, we can micromanage and control them if we’re not careful.  Figuratively speaking, we can’t let go of the handlebar. We hover, orchestrate, remind, nag, interfere, and even do their homework and chores. Although we don’t like to be treated that way by our own supervisors, we often display these tendencies with our children. The bottom line is this: we stunt their social-emotional growth and skill development and rob them of the joy of doing things themselves.

Here are telltale signs of children and young adults who have been helicoptered: low self confidence, co-dependence, poor life skills, difficulty with problem solving, lacking resilience/coping, weak conflict resolution, and a poor work ethic and motivation. College administrators and employers are regularly observing these.

 

Performance Parenting

Although we all want our children to succeed, some parents take this to such an extreme that they appear to value performance more than the person. They view their children’s outcomes as a direct reflection of their parenting and can apply intense and unfair pressure to perform to unreasonable standards. Common parent behaviors are harsh responses to report cards, competitive comparisons to siblings or friends, forcing their careers onto their children, complaining to teachers and coaches when grades/play time are disappointing, and defending poor child behavior in teacher/administrator meetings.

It is especially painful to visit with students on the receiving end of this parenting style. Telltale signs in children are lacking self worth/value, anxiety, depression, intense fear of failure, untruthfulness, resentment, isolation, cheating, coping challenges, blaming tendencies, and sibling rivalry. Additionally, significant relationship strains are common when the child doesn’t perceive the parent as a safe person with whom to share fears, dreams, and life. Not surprisingly, resentment and distance are frequent outcomes, especially in the adult years.

 

“Buddy” (or Permissive) Parenting

Parents also have an intense desire to raise happy children and provide a harmonious home environment. Often, the teen years are challenging on both fronts as pressure builds and children express their independence. These years are exhausting! In response, many parents are pursuing a child-centric approach to life and inadvertently raising children who think the world revolves around them. At the extreme, these parents treat their children as friends, abdicating any sense of authority. Common examples of this are enabling, failing to enforce discipline/consequences, doing their children’s basic chores, allowing excessive time allowances for technology, etc., living vicariously through their children, passivity in the face of disrespect, and endlessly giving in to their children’s desires.

Telltale signs in children affected by this parenting style are entitlement, disrespect for authority figures and rules, arrogance, lacking motivation and work ethic, manipulation tendencies, and addiction to pleasure sources. They believe the world owes them a happy life and often struggle in the competitive adult world.

Do any of these sound familiar in your parenting or your children? Most of us can “plead guilty” to at least a few. So, with the dawn of a new year, why not take a pulse check to your parenting? Are any midcourse corrections in order?

Here’s to making 2018 your best parenting year ever!

 

 

The Best Gift I’ve Ever Given. . .

What’s the best gift you’ve ever received? How about the best gift you’ve ever given? Can you come up with your top three? What’s the common denominator between them all? What makes the gifts so special?

More often than not, when I ask people these questions, they usually respond with gifts that:

  • were not expected
  • were ones they (or the other person) really needed
  • showed how much one person knew or understood the other
  • were not necessarily things, but experiences
  • were sacrificial on the part of the giver

That’s how I would describe the favorite gift I have ever given. And today, I’d like to tell you about it. Grab a nice cold glass of egg nog and enjoy . . .

It would be my first Christmas away from home. Four months earlier, I trekked from Wisconsin to my new home in Seattle to seek my MBA degree. Having left all of my family and friends behind, I knew Christmas of 1979 would be tough.

After experiencing (and not enjoying) my first solo Thanksgiving, I decided to see if my meager bank account could support a surprise trip home. Although a flight to Green Bay was out of my price range, I could pull this off if I flew to Chicago and had someone drive me the remaining four hours north. Bless his heart, my friend Bruce offered to be my chauffeur to and from O’Hare.

Once my top secret trip was scheduled, I made a point of sounding extra lonesome on my weekly calls home. (Yes, a little nasty but in the end they wouldn’t mind!) My parents were having mixed emotions about this Christmas, too.

After our long, snowy ride, we arrived at my brother Rick’s house late on the 23rd and reviewed our plans. Rick had acquired a large empty cardboard box, big enough to fit yours truly. It would be addressed to my parents from the North Pole, and the grand unveiling would be set for 9:00 a.m. Christmas eve on their upstairs apartment doorstep.

As Rick drove me to my parents’ place, the suspense became almost unbearable. When we arrived just outside their door, I placed the box over my head and crouched down, sitting on top of the bottom flaps to hold it in place. After giving the “all clear” signal to Rick, he rang the doorbell and rushed down the stairs out of sight.

Let’s pause so you can fully imagine this. You are an unexpected Christmas gift on your parents’ doorstep and are about to shock the living daylights out of them! My heart was about to explode.

My mom, in her mid-Sixties, answered the door and shouted, “Oh my, Lil, what’s this?” (Lil was a similarly aged neighbor visiting.) Her presence only added to the raucous. Next was “My, this is heaaavvvvyy! What could be in here?” Lil added, “I don’t know, but let’s try lifting it.” Listening in on their speculation, I almost lost it!

Well, to make a long story short, these ladies tried their best to lift it (while I, inside, was desperately holding down the flaps!). When one of my boots stuck out, I knew it was time. I counted to three and in one move jumped out of the box and cried, “Merry Christmas!” Just try to imagine their shock. It was truly priceless. And, within five minutes, it was all around the entire complex.

A Christmas present no one would ever forget.

This season, we focus on what I personally consider to be history’s greatest gift—a savior, named Jesus. He was and is an unexpected gift that came to mean everything to this world, and He came from a Giver who knew exactly what we needed.

Over the next week as you spend time with those you love, think about the reasons behind your gifting. Is this the year for your greatest gift?

Merry Christmas from the LifeSmart family.

Holiday Traditions to Start with Your Kids and Teens

We’ve arrived the holiday season and the hustle and bustle abounds. There’s a holiday activity to attend at every turn—tree lightings, festivals, family parties, cookie exchanges, Christmas pageants, church services, and much, much more. For a family with kids—especially ones in early teen to older teen age range—it can be hard to find activities that “fit” their current interests.

It’s not too uncommon for teenagers sense the independence in their future and pull away slightly from parents and family (we wrote a bit more about this phenomenon here). In fact, I recently had a conversation with a friend who was trying to enjoy holiday traditions with her teen son, but she described him as disinterested and sullen. This mom was frustrated and nearly at her wit’s end—she said these things were so much easier when he was younger.

As a parent with two adult children, I’ve been through this stage myself. I can understand the pull between wanting to enjoy the holiday season with your kids, and also wanting to respect their changing interests. In order to help, all of us at LifeSmart have put together a list of ideas for things to do with the teens or young adults in your life during the month of December. Without further ado’, here it is:

  • Go to an outdoor ice skating rink. These are becoming increasingly popular and are popping up in shopping centers or city centers all over.
  • Watch a Christmas movie, their choice. Don’t try and push “White Christmas” or “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Let your teen pick the flick . . . and the snacks.
  • If you celebrate Hanukkah, let your teen pick the theme of each night. As they get older, they may not be as interested in the little gifts. Choosing a theme allows your family to branch out and participate in activities that engage even the older kids.
  • Donate to a charity or complete a service project of their choice. Is there a kid at their school who may need help with Christmas gifts or food this year? A cause your teen is passionate about? Make your holiday giving about something that’s important to them.
  • Have them invite their friends over to do some holiday baking. Teens are often more likely to enjoy a family activity if one or two of their friends get to join as well.
  • Let your teen lead the Hanukkah rituals and activities—and allow them to invite their friends to participate as well.
  • If you’re up for helping to host, let your teen host a Christmas party. Planning it can be their job. It can be a great chance for them to learn administrative and organizational skills! And, if the Christmas party idea isn’t a hit, perhaps a get together to watch the NCAA football conference championship games.
  • Paint Christmas ornaments at a local pottery painting studio.
  • Go skiing, snowboarding, or sledding as a family.
  • Check out an area play or concert, including local high school performances
  • Ring the Salvation Army bells as a family or as a group with their friends.

Creating new winter holiday traditions as your children grow and change their interests can be hard to navigate as a parent. The important part is communicating that you care, and are willing to adjust your own expectations in order to spend time with them. It’s a great opportunity to let them take the lead on ideas and event planning. And, most of all, to share in their world a little bit more.

May this season bring you love, joy, friendship, and endless fun with family.

Happy holidays from LifeSmart!

Keeping the Peace During the Holidays: Part Two

In last week’s post, I shared four things to help avoid communication breakdowns, especially during the holiday season when we’re surrounded by so many family and friends. One consideration for promoting peace and harmony (and not just for the holidays!) is the form of delivery our communication takes, especially when dealing with a highly charged topic.

Writing letters, emails, or texts is certainly easier than speaking about sensitive subjects in person, especially if you’re the type to avoid confrontation. The distance provided by written forms can theoretically offer a protective shield. However, if the receiver doesn’t accurately perceive your intended tone, it can be an unmitigated disaster. Interestingly, this is becoming a big issue with the younger generation that prefers to communicate via technology than face to face.  BIG problem.

Whenever you’re dealing with sensitive, controversial, or emotionally charged subjects or feelings, it’s generally much better to talk it out rather than write it out. Here’s why …

A friend of mine once sensed a growing distance with a family member and was feeling improperly judged. Rather than talk about it personally, my friend decided to write a letter. After reading the carefully crafted draft, I implored my friend not to send it, for fear it would be misconstrued. Unfortunately, my advice was ignored, and in the aftermath, their relationship was severely damaged. My friend made the mistake of assuming the receiver would insert the intended tone when reading the letter. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way. Their relationship has never been the same.

This is a classic example of what can happen when you use written communication in a situation where face to face (or at least over the phone, if that’s not possible) would be better. When speaking, you’re in control of your tone of voice and body language, and there’s less chance of misinterpretation. At least if happens, you’re there to correct the situation through give and take. In contrast, written correspondence leaves far too much to chance and takes much longer to rectify if your words are misunderstood. It’s a risk to avoid if you can.

Another problem with written communication—especially in this digital age—is that you have no guarantee it will stay with the intended recipient. When you send a text or email, you have no control over where it goes. With the ability screenshot everything, who knows where it could end up! (It also means we should think twice before hitting “send” on basically everything.)

I can’t stress enough why it’s so important to try and have our sensitive conversations in person. It may be easier to jet off an email or post a rant on Facebook, but in the long term, that’s probably not going to be your best bet.

If you have a strained relationship with a friend or family that you are looking to reconcile before the holidays, I urge you to reach out to that person and ask them out to coffee (or some other comfortable setting). Although the thought of confrontation may be uncomfortable, the outcome will likely be much better than if you sent a text.

May your holidays be filed with good conversation, reconnection, reconciliation, peace, and unity for you and your families.

How do you handle the communication of sensitive or emotional topics? Have you ever written out your feelings in a letter, email, or social media posting and later regretted it? Or, been on the receiving end of someone else’s?

 

Happy Holidays from the LifeSmart team!

Keeping the Peace During the Holidays

Now that Thanksgiving and the holiday season are upon us, there are a few things we can be certain of: good food (and too much of it!), sweet treats, festive activities, shopping until we drop, and time with extended family.

Unfortunately,, for some of us, time with extended family can be strained. And when tensions are high, people are much more likely to take offense. This week, I’d like to talk about HOW you communicate with others and how you can avoid conflict as you interact with family, friends, and others over the next month.

Miscommunication and spats happen to all of us, probably more often than we’d care to admit. There are, however, some simple things you can do to minimize them, especially by remembering how others receive our messages:.

 

  1. Word choice – This factor is huge, especially when we discuss sensitive topics or relationships (here’s a hint: No talking politics over turkey dinner!). In these situations, our emotions can interfere with our thinking, and we often use more provocative language that we later regret. In the “heat of battle,” we can be so focused on proving our point that we forget to show tact, empathy, and understanding to the other party. The end result is that things spiral out of control, and frustration and anger take over..

 

  1. Delivery – Sometimes it’s our manner of delivery that gets in the way, even if our word choice is fine. Examples include speaking with a harsh or condescending tone of voice or displaying arrogant facial expressions or body language (e.g.,, eye rolling). No matter what words we use, if the “packaging” is incongruent, our message will lack credibility and rub people the wrong way. No one is convincing when they show disrespect to their audience.

 

  1. Form – Ever wanted to jet off a nasty email when you’re upset or irritated? Don’t be so quick on the draw. The advantage of verbal communication is that the audience hears you speak, allowing your tone to help convey your ideas. In contrast, written communications (e.g., emailing, texting, social media comments and messages) have a major disadvantage because the audience imposes their own interpretation of your tone. Aunt Sue’s perception may be light years away from what you intended. If so, you have a big problem on your hands.

 

  1. Filter – Depending on whether your audience likes or distrusts you, whether they’re in a good or bad mood, or focused or distracted by other thoughts, your message may not get through in the way you intended..Unfortunately, you can’t control their filter.

 

There are two other irritating tendencies that are becoming more common and sabotaging our times together. One is when people use every opportunity to politicize, even during get-togethers that are supposed to be festive and harmonious. The second is when people emphatically express opinions as though they are facts. This is a predictable consequence of the media bias we are seeing. Please be mindful of these tendencies and respectfully suggest a change of subject if you’re on the receiving end.

This holiday season, I hope you never find yourself having to say “I didn’t mean it like that!” to an uncle, aunt, parent, sibling, or cousin. By remembering these influences before you speak, you’ll do your part in spreading peace and harmony to others.

Do you pay close attention to how you communicate and how your words are being received? What are some ways you’ve learned to be a more effective communicator?

 Happy Holidays from all of us at LifeSmart!

Last week, we shared the first five of our top ten parenting goals for the year. Here’s a recap:

  1. Equip and empower for independence
  2. Develop soft skills and professionalism
  3. Invest in your relationship
  4. Build a strong work ethic
  5. Quash any sense of entitlement

We hope you took some quality time to consider how you’re doing and ways to improve. As imperfect parents, we can all do better. So in that spirit, let’s review the remaining five:

  1. Help them build their network: Parenting is a team sport. And, during the teen years, we need all the help we can get! Research shows that every child needs at least five caring adult role models who offer wisdom, love, encouragement, friendship, and connections. In addition, workforce recruiting is changing so much that having an inside advantage is almost a must. The time for your teen to build his/her network is NOW, and parents, you can give them a big head start by introducing them to great people you know. It’s one of the most valuable gifts you can give to your children.

 

  1. Promote effective time management: Today’s teens and young adults are bombarded by attention grabbers and distractions. Whether it’s technology, social media, or video games, their ability to focus, problem solve, and spend time on what really matters is being compromised. It’s vital to teach our children that time is a precious asset that needs to be managed wisely. Among other things, that means: 1) developing daily “to do” lists organized by priority and urgency, 2) understanding that work comes before play, and 3) limiting the time they spend on low value activities like social media. It’s all part of the “adulting” process, and one day they’ll thank you for it.

 

  1. Cultivate self awareness: In our conversations with high school (and even college!) students, we’re struck by how little they really know themselves. And yet, many schools and parents are pressuring them to know exactly what career or major to pursue. That’s one reason why we encourage students to build their self awareness. Among other things, this involves: 1) inventorying their strengths (assets) and challenges (constraints), 2) identifying their interests and passions, and 3) understanding their personality style and personal preferences. Tools such as the DISC personality test and LifeSmart’s Personal Balance Sheet help students to understand who they are, what they have to offer, and what opportunities will help them thrive. Let’s help them make these long-term decisions with some clarity!

 

  1. Avoid overcommitting/respect balance: You’ve all heard about the rise in mental health issues among teens and young adults, including anxiety and depression. We’re stressing out our kids in a major way, and some of this is the result of overscheduling and committing our kids to build their resumes. Their lack of down time to decompress is clearly taking a toll. Parents, we need to be mindful of how much free time our kids have to reflect, chill, enjoy nature, and pray if they’re so inclined. Let’s be more vigilant about the time requirements for activities before they sign up. Proper balance is a key ingredient to good mental health, and you can help make that happen.

 

  1. Have fun: College prep exams. Resume building. College applications. Career planning. Financial aid forms. Yes, the upper high school years are fraught with pressure—all the while our students have to be… students! And, as parents, it’s easy to be so consumed by our children’s success that we get stressed out too. When that happens, we can forget about one of the most important things for a family’s well being—having fun! What do your kids enjoy doing together the most? Camping? Hiking? Playing sports? Watching movies? Playing games? Building things? Cooking a meal? Attending concerts? Enjoying a campfire? Whatever it is, be sure to make room for it. The years really do fly by, and these moments will build relationship capital for a lifetime. #enjoyyourkids

 So, these are our top ten. How about yours? We hope you enjoyed them and that they serve you in the years ahead. We’d love to hear your thoughts and encourage you to share with your friends, too.

With best wishes for stronger families and brighter futures,

The LifeSmart Team

 

Five Tips for a Purposeful and Engaging Summer with Your Teen

I think we can all agree it feels like Christmas was just a month ago. But in a flash, we’ve blazed through winter (which for us Pacific Northwesterners means suffering through copious amounts of rain) and the end of the school year is already upon us. In fact, some college students only have a couple weeks left!

So, now what? Your teen will be home with you for the summer until you move them into the dorms or they take off to start a new career. What can you do as their parent to make their summer at home memorable, engaging, and most importantly, purposeful?

I believe summer is the best time for us as parent to take advantage of our teens’ presence and slip into some special moments that would otherwise difficult to accomplish. Without further ado, here are five tips for a purposeful and engaging summer with your teen:

  1. Dream about the future together. Over a cup of coffee or at their favorite place, talk with your teen about his or her dreams. What do they want to major in and why? What places do they hope to travel to over the next couple of years? Share your own life experience and how you’ve made your personal dreams a reality. Consider completing this values checklist together, (and this personal balance sheet, if they’re up for it) and let them know you’re always available to talk.
  2. Go on a hike. What better way to build relationship capital with your teen than getting some fresh air? Sometimes new experiences and adventures facilitate conversations you wouldn’t have had elsewhere.
  3. Encourage your teen to invite their friends over to your home. Play host or hostess for a night and get to know the people your teen hangs out with most. Be familiar with their third party voices and know that your teen’s three closest relationships are the ones that impact his or her life the most. It’s a great opportunity to see your teen in her or her element!
  4. Attend a sporting event together. Baseball season is in full swing, and enjoying the fresh spring/summer air while watching a game of ball with your teen is a great way to bond! A round of golf is another great choice—potentially a sport you can enjoy for a lifetime.
  5. Participate in a service project together. Ask your teen what causes she or he is passionate about. Seek out your local churches, shelters, or nonprofit organizations to find what ways you can get involved with your community through volunteering. Impacting the world around you will be an incredibly inspiring, uplifting, and relationship building experience that you’ll never forget.

 

Remember, your teen experiences a ton of pressure during the school year with academics, extracurricular activities, plans for future, and more.. So, be sure to use the summer months to help them decompress and do things they wouldn’t otherwise have time for. These young years will be gone in the blink of an eye (for both of you)!

What timeless memories can you build with your teen this summer?

 

A Mother’s Day Salute

Moms, this week is for you! This is for the sleepless nights, the time spent sitting in the rain watching  sports games, the time spent helping with college apps and figuring out the FAFSA, the time spent encouraging, hoping, praying, dreaming, and the countless other ways you’ve invested in your children. This week we honor the immeasurable effort you’ve put into raising your children.

How we raise our kids now—even if there are years until launch time—will impact them for the rest of their life. After all, we aren’t just raising kids; we’re raising future adults. Putting in our due diligence to instill important values like resilience, respect, responsibility, integrity, honesty, work ethic, and determination, will impact the way our teens thrive in adulthood.

At LifeSmart, we are committed to equipping and educators and mentors with the tools they need to help their students thrive. Our aim is to help prepare the next generation with CRUCIAL LIFE SKILLS so they can excel in independent life, college, career, and beyond.

However, educators are not our only focus. Parents play an indispensable role in preparing the next generation.  What they do is not easy; in fact, it’s probably one of the hardest jobs in the world. Moms, today we’re looking at you.

Navigating the world of parenting teens can be tricky. They can be moody, unpredictable, and aloof. They can rely on you for too much, or distance themselves when they’re ready for independence. Sometimes they betray our trust or test the limits on a daily basis. Sometimes it’s difficult to know how or when to communicate with them and whether any of your words are sticking. And one of the hardest parts of all, is knowing that it will soon be time to let go and adapt to a new role as chief encourager and on-call advisor. Dropping off your recent high school graduate at the freshman dormitory is the beginning of a new chapter for both of you. And for moms especially, it’s fraught with mixed feelings.

Today, we at LifeSmart want to acknowledge all the different ways that parenting can pull your heart in a million different directions. We affirm your hard work, and appreciate your effort in raising up the next generation of leaders, teachers, thinkers, and artists, even when it gets difficult.  So moms, here are three encouraging tidbits of wisdom for you as we embark on Mother’s Day weekend:

  • In this season of “launch time,” find a community of parents who are in the same stage of life. How are they coping? What are they doing to ensure a successful launch? You will find you have a lot in common and much to talk about (and eventually, more time to “hang out!”). Surrounding yourself with other people who are also parenting older teens will make you feel understood, encouraged, and give you a shoulder to lean on. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO DO THIS ALONE.
  • Remember, moving from driver’s seat to passenger’s seat can be hard, but know you’re gaining a relationship with your new adult, not losing a child! Even though allowing your teen to begin making their own life choices can be a scary thought, they will always have you as an ally. You will forever be their biggest cheerleader and friend.
  • It’s okay to focus on you. Self-care is one of the most important steps in a being a good parent, spouse, and friend. As the dynamic of your life begins to change as your kids get older, you may realize you have more time to do things YOU want to do. Use this as an opportunity to rediscover old passions (or develop new ones), learn a new skill, and remember what makes you YOU, aside from your role as mom. You deserve it!

Happy Mother’s Day from all of us at LifeSmart. Where would we be without you?

What Christmas Traditions Can Do for Your Teen

cookies“Aaaaw, do we really have to do        __this year?” (eyes roll)

Got teens?  If so, it may be easy for you to fill in the blank. Many times, these are the years parents get the most pushback from their kids when it comes to family traditions.  (Think Audrey in Christmas Vacation, if you’re a fan.)

But while some Christmas traditions may well need to be put on the shelf as children get older (e.g., a 16-year old on Santa’s lap at the mall to get that annual photo may seem a little over the top to some and downright humiliating to others), many traditions can serve to reinforce the bonds we share as a family.

As our (Arlyn’s) five children were growing up, we went out each year on the weekend after Thanksgiving to cut the family tree (more visions of Christmas Vacation, the slightly-edited-for-language version).  Early on, in an attempt to settle the inevitable squabbles that would arise as we searched for the “perfect tree,” we settled on the practice of having a “girls’ year” and a “boys’ year” to pick the tree. Did this eliminate conflict?  Not always, although it certainly minimized it. What it did do was cement a tradition that to this day continues to forge an impression in our kids’ minds of who we are as a family: we do things together. We communicate. We negotiate. We take turns.  These are important aspects of our family brand—all year long.

The “kids” now range from 19 to 30. And we still go out to cut a Christmas tree together each year … adding sons and daughters-in-law and a few grandkids to the mix, and still alternating girls’ years and boys’ years!

The traditions your family establishes and maintains—like going to church together on Christmas Eve, taking cookies to your neighbors, wearing matching jammies on Christmas morning, or whatever—can accomplish far more than just fun memories. They can be a significant part of creating a strong sense of security, identity, and values in your children. These are the kinds of qualities that can ground them and give them the internal strength they need to navigate the world with confidence.

Trust me, there were a lot of eye rolls and even a few spats over the years on our annual Christmas tree expeditions. (I remember an apple fight that turned ugly one year; the boys found rotting apples in a nearby orchard and decided to pelt the girls with them!). But bottom line, the tradition became something that contributed much more to our family brand than we ever anticipated: our traditions helped to cement our relationships.

What traditions does your family practice at Christmas?  Have you ever thought about what qualities they contribute to your family brand? Please share your ideas and memories with us; we’d love to hear!

An Out-of-the-Box Holiday Idea

Tired of shopping from gift card-laden lists that remove the element of surprise? Tempted to play it safe yet again? Or, are you willing to take a calculated risk and think “out of the box” for the special people/person in your life? Allow me to share a true story that might just influence your decision… and add a little magic, too.

I grew up in a family with limited financial means but who went “all out” at Christmas. Imagine a Norman Rockwellian Christmas on steroids. That would be us! Cookies and candies made from scratch. Tinseled tree. Snowball fights, sled riding, and ice skating. Midnight mass. Caroling in the neighborhood. Home made eggnog. There was nothing like it.

But things were looking different for us in the Christmas of ’79. Earlier that summer, I moved from Milwaukee to Seattle to attend grad school. I didn’t have the money to fly home so this was destined to be my first Christmas away. We avoided the subject during my weekly calls and for good reason. I knew this would be hard on all of us—probably me the most.

However, I decided to play a hunch in early November. What if I flew out to Chicago on a cheap ticket and had someone drive me the rest of the way? Ka-Ching! I immediately made the arrangements with my friend Bruce and didn’t tell a soul. I even sounded a little extra “down” during our December phone calls to help “set the stage.” Okay, I was milking it!

After the four-hour winter drive from O’Hare, I arrived at my brother Rick’s house where I plotted the big event for the following morning. I would be placed inside a large cardboard box sent from the North Pole on my parents’ upstairs apartment doorstep. Rick would ring the doorbell and “ditch” out of sight. And, at the appropriate time, I would jump out of the box and shout, “Merry Christmas!!!”

Now, I’d like you to imagine this for a moment. You are inside a box about to startle the living daylights out of your parents who are clueless to what they’re about to experience. Try to imagine.

My heart was pounding like never before as I sat inside the box. Eventually, my mom answered the door and immediately called out to her (visiting) friend to see what was on the doorstep. For reasons of space, I can’t replay the entire event, but imagine two ladies in their sixties trying to lift this mysterious carton into the apartment, utterly clueless as to what was inside. After they put in some effort, I knew it was time. I counted to three, and jumped out, providing the most delightful shock of our lives. Within five minutes, the story spread like wildfire throughout the apartment complex. A surprise for the ages.

My first Christmas away would have to wait for another year. Simply unforgettable.

As I reflect on that moment, I am reminded of what made it so special:

  1. It was a complete surprise—certainly not on their list!
  2. It was a gift from the heart—it spoke volumes about their importance to me
  3. It was creative—you might say, “Out of the box!”
  4. It made a lasting memory

And, wouldn’t you know it, but years later, I would receive my all-time favorite gift—one that possessed these same qualities.  It was an engraved license plate frame from my kids on Father’s Day that says, “Dad’s are Cool!” Now, that’s a keeper!

So, to you adults: who might benefit from an out-of-the-box type of gift that reveals how much you care? And, to you teens: what might you share with your parents, teachers, mentors, etc., that honors them for their investment in you?

It needn’t be any more elaborate than a handwritten note, straight from the heart.

Merry Christmas everybody!