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3 Minutes of Silent Night

Copyright: romasph / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: romasph / 123RF Stock Photo

 

The nativity scene has always been one of my favorite parts of Christmas. Baby Jesus in the manger in the center, Mary and Joseph nearby, a collection of shepherds with their animals, the star. The nativity tells the story of the first Christmas, the humble setting, and the miracle of Jesus’s birth. When I look at a nativity it feels peaceful, serene, still, and perfect, just as the song explains, Silent Night.

Then I became a parent.

I still believe the nativity scene tells the story of Christmas, but only about three minutes of the story. The miracle of Jesus’s birth is still there and just as meaningful, but now that I’m a parent I see the simple miracle of a sleeping infant. Now I get the line of the song “sleep in heavenly peace” because when babies are finally asleep, it feels like heaven.

No way Mary and Joseph were able to sit awkwardly as those figurines in my house looking at baby Jesus for hours. I don’t know what they did when Jesus fell asleep but I’m sure they felt stressed. For one, feeling stressed is a basic human condition when you have your firstborn, and two, their relationship seemed a bit tense. Joseph had to be convinced by an angel to even stay with Mary. I’m not sure what they did when Jesus fell asleep, but if they were lucky they fell asleep too. The advice to “sleep when the baby sleeps” could be ancient Jewish wisdom. Perhaps they talked softly in the starlight. If they were anything like us, Mary was reading What to Expect When You’re Expecting and Joseph was busy installing the baby carrier to the donkey.

At Christmas we often expect holy perfection and become disheartened with our real experience. We have visions of perfect holiday peace and joy; we even decorate the house with those words. In reality, the holidays may feel neither peaceful or joyous. Stress and conflict, busyness, pressures, and exhaustion seem more the norm, especially when parenting.

Parenting is difficult. It can be especially taxing to your marriage during the holiday season.

  1. Discuss what you and your spouse would like your children to experience and learn this holiday season. When you understand you have a common goal negotiating the strategy to meet the goal is easier.
  2. Celebrate your kids. Stop, even in the chaos of parenting, and express thankfulness for the blessing of your children. It’s extra meaningful when your children hear you.

To learn more, including three practical strategies to successfully connect with your children and your spouse during this special season, Click here for your Holiday Survival Guide!

boys with nativity

6 Perfect Gifts for Your Wife

Copyright: vitalinka / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: vitalinka / 123RF Stock Photo

Guys, It’s time to get your wife a gift.

The pressure is on.

This year, in the twelfth year of our marriage, I braved the wild world of purchasing clothes for my wife. I’ve decided it is one of the most difficult missions in the world. Nuclear engineering and brain surgery have nothing on clothes shopping in the women’s section. Perhaps you can perfectly comprehend the various sizes of women’s clothing but it’s beyond Greek to me. The risk is huge, get the wrong size, not only do you fail, you also offend. I entered Macy’s nervous and soon became overwhelmed. After some minor panic I got a classy coat for her Birthday and she loves it. Win.

Gift giving can get complicated. The golden rule, give to your wife what you would have her give to you, doesn’t work. Just because you want a fishing pole doesn’t mean you can get one for your wife. Just because she likes butterflies doesn’t mean she wants a butterfly knife. I’m sure there are women who would like a new pocket knife or a fishing pole for Christmas, but if it’s something you want more than her, you’re not fooling anyone.

The perfect gift for your wife this Christmas is emotional connection.

Stay with me guys.

I know emotional connection sounds intimidating. We have heard the message too often that guys suck at emotional connection. No one wants to fail. We especially don’t want to fail our wife. The truth is, you can win at emotional connection.

You have what it takes to connect well with your wife.

  1. Get along with her parents. Interacting with in-laws can be stressful, especially during the holidays. Guys, to really impress your wife and connect better with her, invest in your relationship with her parents. First consider how you were raised and how that impacts your thoughts and behaviors; then discuss how her family has impacted her expectations of the holidays. To give the gift of connection, discuss family dynamics and expectations for the holidays and then build a strategy together to address them as a couple.
  2. Make a holiday money plan with her. It’s also called a budget, but a plan sounds way better. Making a plan for your money together can drastically reduce the likelihood of volcanic eruption type money fights. Detail the amount of money available for gifts, travel, decorations, holiday food, and any other expenses unique to this time of the year. Discuss with your spouse how, together, you can make the best use of the resources you are blessed with. Ideally the budget will be ready before money is spent on holiday items but if you have already started spending simply incorporate the money already spent into the overall budget.
  3. Parent with her. It could come as a shock to you but parenting is hard. Poor communication and planning regarding parenting causes major conflict in marriage. The best gift you can give your wife is to discuss what you and your wife would like your children to experience and learn this holiday season. When you develop a common goal negotiating the strategy to meet the goal is easier when you are a team.
  4. Pray with her. Differences in religious traditions can become highlighted during the holidays. To reduce conflict and move to connection in your marriage this holiday season, discuss the spiritual meaning of each holiday and share your ideas for deepening your spiritual connection. Couples that pray together stay together.
  5. Invest in sexual intimacy. Stress and busyness can limit your time and energy for romance, especially during the holidays. Guys, remember how we like to give gifts only because we like them? Yep, sex is like that, it’s easy to act selfish. Sexual intimacy is important to your wife; the best gift you can give her is focused attention on emotional connection. Try to increase affection, romance and foreplay. When you find little ways to increase the frequency and quality of sexual intimacy for her, you will experience increased connection and less conflict guaranteed.
  6. Get organized. Bottom line, Christmastime is busy. The crazy amounts of Christmas parties, school programs, shopping, decorating, and holiday travel will make your head spin. The best gift you can give your wife is calm. You will only be able to provide times of calm if you are organized. Set up a holiday calendar with her. Make a visual calendar of the events, travel, parties, etc. It will provide a central station for the division of time and help you spot times when you can spend quality time.

The holiday season is full of cheer and happy memories but the busyness and stress that comes too often leads to conflict in marriage. You can reduce conflict and increase connection in your marriage this holiday season. It will be her most treasured gift.

To read more on making this holiday season Awesome, check out my latest resource.

Holiday Survival Guide for your marriage

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The Gift of Connection

Copyright: sebastiangauert / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: sebastiangauert / 123RF Stock Photo

Party! The holidays are here. This week is Thanksgiving, it is the official start to the holiday season. The magical time we call “the holidays” between Thanksgiving Day and New Year’s Day can be overwhelming. The stress, busyness, tension, and conflict of the season can take a toll on marriage all at a time when we desire to feel extra relaxed, joyful and connected. Even good relationships experience stress and conflict during the holidays. One of the stress points in my marriage is when we pack the car to travel. Getting out of town to visit family always brings stressful moments. After packing the car just right so all of the gifts, luggage, and kids fit, I’m stressed and grumpy. Not exactly how I want to feel during the holidays when visiting family.In my work as a marriage counselor I see couples in conflict. They are normal people experiencing normal conflict points including:

  • in-laws
  • money
  • religion
  • parenting
  • sex

At times couples are so busy the counseling session is the only time they are able to spend together all week. The busyness of life makes connecting more difficult and normal conflicts increase.

This year you can move from conflict to connection even during the stressful holiday season.

Subscribe to my email list to receive your Holiday Survival Guide for your marriage available FREE or purchase my ebook Your Guide to The Best Holidays Ever: How to move from conflict to connection in your marriage this holiday season.

In The Best Holidays Ever you will receive detailed step-by-step ways to reduce conflict and build real connection with your spouse. Making deeper connection with your spouse will be your favorite and most cherished gift this holiday season.

Buy e-book now

Give the gift of connection to your spouse this Christmas.

5 Survival Tips for Parenting Defiant Young Children

Copyright: ninamalyna / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: ninamalyna / 123RF Stock Photo

The longer I parent the more I realize: parenting goes fine, until it doesn’t.

My wife and I have two boys, ages five and three. Life with young boys is a loud experience. The sounds of plastic sword fights, chasing each other with Nerf™ dart guns, and ninja “hei-yah” attacks often match the noise level of playoff football.

Then silence.

I search to find the source of the dangerous silence and find them in the pantry with a newly opened bag of jet-puffed™ marshmallows.

“Boys, it’s almost dinner time, put the marshmallows away.”

“NO! I WANT MAR-MELLOWS!”

“No, put them away.”

Then 70,000 mini-marshmallows spray all over the kitchen.

I have never been as frustrated and devoid of patience as when dealing with defiant mess making. Our kids are great and we love them dearly but some days they are more than a handful and marshmallows don’t help.

How to handle defiance without risking a stroke

1. Check yourself.

Before responding to defiant behavior check your own emotions. It doesn’t work to respond with your own tantrum, I’ve tried it. Model the emotion you want to see from your children. To do this well it’s important to become aware of how you developed the expectations you have for your children. Think about how you were parented, how that influences your parenting, and how you can improve your parenting.

2. Get to know your spouse.

It’s not enough to understand your own desires for parenting, you must understand the expectations of your spouse. Talk about their experiences growing up and how they influence their expectations for your children. Couples who understand the unique perspective of their spouse have less conflict in marriage, especially when parenting.

3. Team up.

This is critical for every parent. You may be strong willed but you will break trying to parent alone. For parents who are married, it’s critical to work together for successful parenting and for a successful marriage. For single parents it’s critical you find someone to team up with who can support you and back up your parenting decisions. Develop a parenting strategy together when the kids are calm. Winging it generally provides poor results in parenting. Think ahead, develop a plan together for how you will respond to your children when they are defiant and support each other to follow through.

4. Time-Out.

It may be a good idea for the kids but it’s an even better idea for parents. Give yourself space to think and check your emotions in the moment. I’ve heard experts recommend one minute of time-out for each year of a child’s age. I usually don’t have the luxury of a 35 minute time-out for me. Ten intentional seconds can do the trick.

5. Get down from your high horse and talk eye to eye with your children.

When kids are defiant, it’s a natural reaction to “power up” and display authority by yelling or taking privileges away from them immediately. I have found when I deliberately stop and try to see the situation from their perspective, their negative behaviors are reduced. When I slow down my selfish agenda, and join them to play, I get closer to my goal of raising my boys to be solid young men.

Experiencing defiant behavior is exhausting. Children are experts in “divide and conquer” warfare. Remember, parenting is a team sport; you must team up to survive. The more you know yourself and your spouse the better you can develop a unified parenting strategy. When you Make some Wonderful in your marriage you will Make some Wonderful in your family as well.

What are your best survival tips for dealing with defiant young children?