Lesson 1: Tidy the House

Reflect/Discuss Is parenting hard or easy?
Quote No parent wakes up in the morning planning to make a child's life miserable. No mother or father says, "Today I'll yell, nag, and humiliate my child whenever possible." On the contrary, in the morning many parents resolve, "This is going to be a peaceful day. No yelling, no arguing, and no fighting." Yet, in spite of good intentions, the unwanted war breaks out again. Once again we find ourselves saying things we do not mean, in a tone we do not like. (Preface, BP&C)

Many parents would say that parenting is one of the hardest things a person ever does. But only half of the reasons for that difficulty have anything to do with children. While most lessons in this program will provide ideas for working with children, this lesson will consider the factors in ourselves and our own lives that make parenting difficult.

Reflect/Discuss When we are happy, peaceful, and growing as individuals, how does that affect our parenting?

Your life as a house When it comes to our personal well-being I like the metaphor of a house. Some of us have things in good order in our houses. They are tidy and orderly. But imagine a person who has stockpiled trash and garbage in the living room for decades. A little moldy lasagna from 1983. Dirty socks from 1999. Lots of cat hair from several felines. Let you imagination run wild. You can picture a place that would be a dreadful place to live.

Reflect/Discuss Do our lives and feelings ever get that way? Piles of resentments. Dirty relationship laundry. Spoiling feelings. An awful stench. How does it smell in your emotional life?

What's a parent to do? Each person has only so much capacity. If much of our energy is invested in resenting a boss, ex-spouse, or parent, there is less energy left for the demands of parenting. If our lives feel empty or aimless, we will find it difficult to bring joy to our parenting. If we are burdened by depression, we will have a harder time parenting.

Taking stock What are some of the piles of trash in your personal emotional life that should be hauled to the dumpster? What help may you need to haul it off and clean up the place?

Getting past the trash Once we have hauled off the trash and cleaned up our emotional homes, we still want something more than an empty (though clean) place. We may apply a fresh coat of paint to brighten the walls. We may pull back the curtains to let in light. We may buy new furnishing to add new life.

Where's your energy? What are you excited about? What projects or activities are drawing out your best energy? Do you know your greatest strengths---and are you using them regularly?

Continuing the journey Some people are so emotionally intelligent that some reflection may provide the needed solutions. Some of us benefit from talking with wise friends or professional helpers. Some extend their emotional renovation through good books and websites—self-help aids.

A note: Finding the balance. A house doesn't have to be in perfect order to be useful. A person does not have to have perfect mental health in order to be a good parent. We work at being good parents while striving to be better humans.

Make a plan that works for you.

If reflection works for you, set a time for additional thinking:
If you learn well from wise friends or professional helpers, make a specific plan to get input from them:
If you benefit from self-help aids, here are some recommendations:

Additional ideas:

Martin Seligman Authentic Happiness
Enjoyability (Is the book fun to read?): medium
Credibility (Does the book agree with good scholarship): high
Size of contribution (Does the book have many different ideas that can be helpful?): large

Martin Seligman, in his book Authentic Happiness , describes three levels of happiness . The first is the pleasant life where a person savors the experiences of life. Noticing and enjoying the simple blessings in our lives can make a big difference. The second level of happiness is the good life. This level of happiness is characterized by regularly using our unique gifts in challenging projects. In fact it is possible to get so absorbed in a challenging project that we lose track of time. Csikszentmihalyi calls this flow. People who organize their lives to use their talents in challenging projects are likely to have more of this optimal experience. Interestingly, it is not entertainment that makes life good in these ways. For instance, when we watch television, we are not being challenged.

There is a third level of happiness. Seligman calls it the meaningful life. We experience this kind of happiness when we use our talents in a cause. The cause may be rearing good children, protecting the environment, improving our community, or serving our God. In whatever way we choose to serve, our lives are more rich and meaningful if we deliberately build contribution to a cause into our lives.

If you want to know more about your unique strengths , you can go to Seligman's website and complete the 240 item VIA Signature Strengths Survey (free, 240 items, 30-60 minutes to complete).

David Burns Feeling Good
Enjoyability: medium
Credibility: high
Size of contribution: medium
If you wrestle with depression , some of the best books are by David Burns. He has written both Feeling Good and The Feeling Good Handbook. Warning: They are long. You are wise to take small chunks over a period of time; They are not quick reads.

Mihaly Csikszentimihalyi Finding Flow
Enjoyability to read: medium
Credibility: high
Size of contribution: medium
If you are interested in understanding flow and optimal experience, this book is a good one. It is not as conversational as some. But it is informative.

John Gottman The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work
Enjoyability (Is the book fun to read?): medium
Credibility (Does the book agree with good scholarship): high
Size of contribution (Does the book have many different ideas that can be helpful?): high
The quality of partner relationship can have a big impact on parent child relationships. This may be the best book available on strengthening your marriage or couple relationship.

For special situations

There are many different situations that can add heavy burdens to our lives from poverty to panic disorders. Some of those challenges go far beyond the help available in this program. Some of those challenges can be dealt with fairly easily when we use the right tools. Some are more difficult.

When we are dealing with many personal or emotional difficulties, one guide that can help us determine what might be helpful is Martin Seligman's What You Can Change and What You Can't. The chapters describe the effectiveness of various medications and therapies in dealing with anxiety, addictions, and childhood pains.

You might also go to your library and consult The Authoritative Guide to Self-Help Resources in Mental Health (2003). This guide lists, describes, and rates books, websites, and media in areas such as abuse, addiction, anger, anxiety, career development, depression, divorce, eating disorders, marriage, sexuality, stress management, and various mental health challenges. This guide does not provide answers but wisely points you to best resources in 36 different areas.


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