Monday, February 14, 2011

Marathon Moments

If you are looking for an instant boost in positive emotion or if you want to be elevated by the joy and camaraderie of a group of people, I highly suggest that you stand at the finish line of a marathon.  Yesterday my husband and I walked through New Orleans City Park on a beautiful afternoon and listened to the jubilant sounds, watched the joyful expressions and felt the evocative bliss as runners finished the Mardi Gras marathons.   Having the top strength of Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence in my back pocket, I was not only elevated by watching the runners, but I was awestruck by the number of children holding signs and banners , watching their moms, dads or relatives running past the finish line. I loved one humorous sign was on bright orange poster board with black letters reading “Daddy, it’s okay if you potty in your pants.”  Other banners were inscribed with words of support and encouragement.  Step after step along the route revealed children waited with anticipation on the sidelines and celebrating a great accomplishment with their parents.
The people who committed to run the Mardi Gras marathons are a great example of setting complex goals and creating the pathways toward success.  Although there is a greater chance of failure with a complex goal like running a marathon, the sense of accomplishment upon completion is greater as well.  Is it worth the risk reward?   If not for you, it is worth it for your children.  A child who watches a parent endure through training and cross the finish line on race day has a greater understanding of the goal-setting process.  The caveat is that parents need to include their children in their personal goal-setting process.  When we include children in conversations and dialogue around our individual goals, they will understand the process itself and possibly show a greater interest in setting attainable goals.   Talking about goals and ambitions encourages a growth mindset in children as they watch parents put forth effort to achieve something desirable.  Children will see firsthand that completing a complex goal takes effort and determination, illuminating the belief that skills are malleable and strengthened with practice and hard work.    Whether the goal is simple or complex, include children in the process.  They will learn from you. 
You can introduce goal-setting with your children by talking with them about a skill they want to develop or a behavior they want to change or strengthen.  Right now my three-year-old is working on sleeping in her room until the sun comes up and my six-year-old is strengthening her skills of being responsible for her school belongings.  They both have marbles they add to a jar for each day they achieve their goal, which is a tangible and concrete way for them to see growth.  Goal-setting theory cautions that goals need to be specific, so instead of getting marbles for “good behavior”, you and your child should narrow it down to the one good behavior or skill that needs the most attention.    Remember that a vital step in the goal-setting process is feedback, which allows one to adjust goals if needed.  Give consistent praise of the process and feedback that will help him access alternative pathways if he meets some obstacles in the way.   This is another great opportunity to discuss how you may have overcome hurdles in the past.  I can imagine the runner sharing with her child, “At about mile ten I started to really get tired and I didn’t think I was going to make it to the finish line.  I envisioned what that finish line was going to look like and feel like and it got me through the last three miles.”
Child rearing is the ultimate marathon and many days parents envision the finish line, whether it be the eighteenth birthday or a child’s wedding day.  During this race, modeling goal-setting is an important mile marker along the way of nurturing them into adulthood. 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Yinch Who Stole New Years

The words Scrooge, Grinch and Bah Humbug are commonly used to describe people who are not in the Christmas spirit. Is there one to describe someone who loathes New Years? A yinch (Grinch + year)? Whatever the word may be, I became it this year. I was despondent about the year 2010 and all of the sadness and grief my family experienced in its wake. When I reflected on the year, the circumstances surrounding my husband's unemployment, a commuter marriage, and my grandfather's death outweighed all of the accomplishments. I realized that the temporal nature of New Year's was majorly affecting my attitude. I was measuring my life by the subjective failure of a year, instead of seeing my life with varying degrees of triumph and failure, birth and death, struggle and tranquility. So, I decided to think about "Life Resolutions" instead of "New Year's Resolutions".

Thinking about life resolutions naturally leads me to think of how I want to grow in life and what I want my children to witness each day. Hence, I look to one of the greatest teachers and parents in my life; my pop. Here is some of what he would want me to tell you:

  1. Reach out – Pop formed communities. He was a long time member of Quaker City String Band in Philadelphia and his friends from the club were very much his family. Pop was also the neighborhood enthusiast and he could tell you about all of the kids on the block and what they were doing in school. He even formed a community of friends at the diner, The Dynasty, where he and mommom would eat breakfast. He loved everyone and everyone loved him back. He reached out and formed friendships and relationships that sustained him in very rough times. The four principles of resilience are overcoming, steering through, bouncing back and reaching out. People who reach out know themselves well and find meaning and purpose in their lives. Reaching out is risky, especially after overcoming and bouncing back after hard times, but it strengthens you. Pop was a pillar of strength.
  2. Believe in something greater than you - I don't think I've ever seen someone pray as hard as Pop did. He was a man of extreme faith and spirituality. His time in Alcoholics Anonymous helped solidify his faith and reaffirm the belief that "the universe is not just about me".
  3. Give – Whether it was St. Jude's, The Poor Claire's or a neighborhood kid, Pop loved giving to people. He not only gave monetarily; the greatest gifts were his time, attention and love. He was an extremely generous man. If anyone experienced a helper's high, it was Pop when he saw the expression of joy on your face when opening a gift.
  4. Pursue a Passion. There were many things Pop loved. He was a skilled mechanic and enjoyed working on cars. He also loved his boat Gemini and fishing while at the shore. I remember sitting with him and crabbing for hours on end. He loved wood working. My sisters and I each have a set of handmade wooden trains that we place under our trees each Christmas. Earlier in his life one of his passions was dancing. His nickname was Crazy Legs and he won many competitions on the dance floor. No matter the hobby, Pop was always engaged in something that he found passionate and enjoyable.
  5. Get outside and sit in the sun – If it was sunny outside and not too cold, you would find Pop sitting outside in the sun. He loved sitting on the stoop, which he insisted on doing even when he was bound to a wheelchair. I think the sun made him feel alive.

The commercialization of New Years prompts us to think about the year behind and the year ahead, instead of realizing that life is a summation of minutes, days, weeks, years and decades. It is not just the culmination of the 52 weeks we experience every December 31st. I am hoping for a much better 2011, but I realize that I don't need to know how the year will end, because I know how it is starting; with reaching out, giving, praying, playing, and sunning. Pop helped me be a little less yinchy this year, and I hope you find resolutions that will become part of your life too, not just your 2011.