Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What Is The Purpose of Your Marriage?

"What? What do you mean 'what is the purpose of my marriage?' " Most people will ask (somewhat indignantly), because isn't it a given that people get married because they fall in love and want to live happily ever after? Yet this assumption mixed with the expectation that "happily ever after" will take care of itself, promotes a hazy "non plan" for the most important endeavor of one's life.
How many of us go into marriage thinking, well..."that's what people do" or "that's the next step of the life process, right?" or "I'm in love so naturally that's what happens next"? Then once married, many couples-having not defined their roles, their expectations or their needs--seem to be "lost" more or less, in their new enterprise. If they had good role models for marriage in their parents or others they may assume that their marriage will automatically "be like that". If they had poor role models, they will want to be "different" but may not know how. After children start arriving, these couples can become even more lost. The work and the effort involved in creating a happy, successful marriage and family can become sheer drudgery or even seem unobtainable as they go from task to task or activity to activity without a sense of an overall goal that guides, uplifts and motivates them.
If you were in school just doing homework, writing papers and studying for tests without the concrete goal of why you are doing this (eventual graduation, great career, etc.), it would be very difficult to stay excited and motivated to keep writing those papers--it's all you would see is just a paper that had to be written and not the reason why. How demoralizing would that be?
So many times, when their purpose isn't defined, people will fall into one that they otherwise would not have conciously chosen (like the husband who falls asleep every night in front of the TV). People need stimulation; people need a purpose and if they don't choose one, someone or something will choose them. How often do we see couples--mothers, fathers-- recreating in their own lives and families the very things that they told themselves they would not do?
That is why going into marriage with a firm vision or philosophy of how we want our marriage to be and what kind of "results" we want it to "produce" can be extremely helpful. This may sound unromantic or clinical, but every legitimate, and successful company has a mission statement so why not have one for a marriage? (Which basically is the forming of (it is hoped) a partnership for life (and beyond)!
A mission statement tells what a company does. For example, consider the mission statement of the very successful ice cream company Ben and Jerry's :

"To make, distribute and sell the finest quality, all natural ice cream and euphoric concoctions with a continued commitment to incorporating wholesome, natural ingredients and promoting business practices that respect the Earth and the Environment."

What does your "company" do?

How quickly could you articulate what you do as a couple? Did a statement that sums up your goals, philosophy and purpose flow readily? If not, do you want to think about and define this further? How about a mission statement for your marriage?

A mission statement clarifies your purpose and focuses your energy. It motivates and inspires and paints the big picture of what your "company" does. It describes how you do and why you do it. Marriage is work, it is about purpose and it is about creating. Creating is work, requires vision and a plan. Afterall, you are creating a world together--you are building a life.

Where to begin?
  • Articulate your purpose, but do it as if you were explaining yourself to the public - what - how - why
  • Sincerely ask yourselves: "What do we stand for?" What is our fundamental purpose?" "Why do we exist?" "What's important for the future?"
Developing your mission statement can be started by simply using the phrases:
"We are..." "We like..." for as many items you feel are important. For example:
  • We like to learn new activities
  • We take very opportunity to learn something new
  • We do not go into debt
  • We give service to others on a regular basis
  • We are neat and organized as we do our best in a clean and calm environment
  • We are very loving to each other and make it a priority to contribute to the other's happiness in a real way each day.
  • We are physically active
  • We exercise everyday
  • We like to be prepared for whatever physical challenges come our way
As you work on your mission statement together you will find out what is important to each other. Many times we find out something new or something we didn't understand how important it is to our spouse--even if you've been married for years.
Once your statement is developed and written (maybe even framed and hanging on the wall!) you can put your statement to work. As you set specific goals and choose specific actions, run them through your mission statement. If they do not go along with it or are not supported by it, then you can make adjustments and get back on track. (Using artifical flavoring and making their ice cream in a smoke emiting factory would never be supported by Ben and Jerry's statement, hence they would never do it!)

One of my favorite young couples developed the following mission statement:

"We are a unified, loving, friendly family that is close knitted. The communication in our family will bring us closer together and creat trust and deep rooted bonds that are not easily broken. We are an eternal family which will require obedience to all of the commandments of our Heavenly Father. We are a physcially fit, morally straight and mentally awake family."

When this couple (family) set specfic goals they included: family dinner at the dining table nightly, weekly date for couple in addition to weekly family outing, kneeling, nightly prayer, and performing weekly service to someone in need. You can see that all of these specific things are things that contribute to and are supported by their mission statement.

Try writing yours and see what a difference this can make in your attitude and choices as you go through the daily steps, routines, schedules, work and activities that eventually become the sum of your life.

Who knows what "euphoric concoction" your marriage will become!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Back to School Part III: Making and Being a Friend

Once the groundwork for individual growth, acceptance of self (just as is!) and confidence building is established (Part I- see post of 9/8/10), and the basics for relating to and getting along with others (Part II- see post of 9/22/10), are understood, a child is comfortably ready to form new relationships and deepen those that are already in place (siblings, cousins, neighbors, etc.) .

Think back to your early school days--remember the kid who was particularly well liked by everyone? What qualities did he or she have?

Children who are well liked by others have some common characteristics:

  • They are friendly to others;

  • They show empathy and compassion (are aware of and help others in distress);

  • They are sensitive to others and have good communication skills;

  • They dress nicely (not expensively!) and have good hygiene;

  • They are well rounded and will try new things;

  • They are comfortable with themselves--they don't "try too hard."

If a child can interact successfully with peers, self esteem and confidence in his or her abilites will continue to increase and the resulting companionship and emotional support of peers will be a huge boost to the child's sense of wellbeing.

These early friendships help the child learn emotional commitment to others which is essential in forming long term relationships as an adult.

As long as we are remembering our school days and the kids who were well liked...on the otherhand, think about the kids who were rejected and avoided by their peers---the kids who weren't invited to parties or after school activites. These children often act impulsively or lack self control. They may also be aggressive, hostile or disruptive. Children who seek flamboyantly to be the "teacher's pet" or relish the part of the "tattler" are usually shunned in the lunchroom and playground as well. Physical appearance as well as behavior can also play a part. Although excessive shyness may add to the difficulty of making friends, it is usually the lack of social skills as described above that are the problem.

What can we as parents to to encourage the behaviors of friendly children?

1. Read lots of stories to your child that focus on examples of friendship. Ask questions about the stories and have them think about and name the qualities of the characters that make them a good friend.

2. When watching movies or TV programs, discuss the examples of characters who are being good (and not so good) friends and those who are acting socially appropriately (and those who are not)--their possible motives and of course, the consequences of their behavior.

3. Try this exercise: have your child make a list of "Things I Do to Be a Good Friend" and a list that starts with "I Like a Friend Who..." This will encourage them to think of what it is to be a friend and reinforce appropriate behavior when a situation presents itself at school.

4. Read an age appropriate book about manners/social skills. One that I love for elementary age children (it may be out of print) is the Weekly Reader's Book of Manners by Lucille E. Sette. It is simple and straightforward and discusses many common social situations in which children find themselves. (My adult children can still repeat the rhyming statements at the end of each lesson)!

5. Allow your child lots of say in choosing his or her clothing and hairstyle (they know best what's accepted and approved of in their school environment) and most important, teach them physical self-care and grooming skills. Take care of medical and physical problems right away--one little girl suffered needlessly the entire school year with the unwelcome curiosity and repulsion by her peers over the warts on her hand.

6. Don't get too involved (no hovering!). One mother, worried about her son's lack of friends, sent him to school with weekly treats for a time and then invited all of the kids over for a pizza party. When he quit bringing the treats, his "friends" disappeared. This left him feeling more lonely than ever with the message that "friendship" was conditional on something outside of himself. It would have been better for him to gradually find his way and develop one or two friends that accepted and liked him "just as he is!"

7. Remember that children (and for that matter teenagers and adults) need only one or two truly good (best) friends. While it is important to be friendly and to interact socially appropriately to all others, it is not necessary to have a Facebook full of "friends" in order for one to be validated and considered important. Reflect on your philosophy of the role friends and friendship plays in your life and think about how this may be affecting your child.

8. Role model being a good friend and being friendly yourself--the most important lessons a child learns are not those he hears but those he observes.