Archive for ‘Children’

January 18, 2018

Yes, No: teaching both….

by Rod Smith
Teaching children “yes” and “no” is, in my mind, as important as teaching a child how to read, write, and to count.

I want my sons, according to their respective ages, to…

  • Say YES to opportunities even if they involve risk or if they involve venturing into the unknown, learning new things, and breaking unhelpful habits.
  • I want them to say YES especially if the opportunities involve meeting new people and people other than those with whom they’d usually mix.
  • Say YES to opportunities to travel, to serve, and to build and to assist in mending broken places.
  • Say YES to reading new ideas and to writing responses to them.
  • Say YES when they encounter opportunities to offer hospitality.
  • Say NO to toxic secrets, to behavior that judges or excludes others.
  • Say NO to religious teachings that limit their capacities for generosity and for freedom.
  • Say NO to anything that will potentially delay their formal education no matter how appealing or adventurous the idea may be.
  • Say NO to those who disrespect them or encourage them to treat the adults around them with anything less than utmost respect and close-to-perfectly good manners.
  • Say NO to those who dismiss their ideas and who treat them as a means toward their disclosed or undisclosed ends.
January 17, 2018

Is your child a genius? If so……

by Rod Smith

It has struck me time and again how the genius within some of the children and youth I encounter will probably never be unearthed. So much is done for them, so much is given to them, so much focussed parenting, there’s no hunger (I don’t mean food) to be satisfied. If you want your child to discover and develop and use his or her latent genius you may want to:

  • Stop solving every issue that comes his way for him. Lasting lessons are learned and skills are developed when children have real problems to solve.
  • Allow “clean pain” – the kind that comes with growing up, making mistakes, and trying new things.
  • Get out of the way so she can really explore new territories of thought and experience. It’s very likely your daughter will go “beyond” you and the earlier it starts, the better. Provide the platform; allow her to write the script.
  • Allow him to be as different and unusual as he wants. “Well-balanced” and well-rounded” people who “fit in” are very unlikely to do great things or at least discover new things. If you see your son being “sharp-edged” and investing a lot of time in a singular area of interest you may have a budding genius on your hands.

 

January 10, 2018

When your parents tell you they will be divorcing*

by Rod Smith
  • You may not be able to think about anything because such news can be like a powerful anesthetic. Do not be surprised if you feel dizzy and your thoughts and feelings jump around inside you. This may last for a while. You will settle into the new truth about your life and new routines.
  • Your parents will probably tell you they still love you and each other. Try to believe it. This can be very confusing. Parents can often forget they are finishing something they started as adults. They’ve had lives without each other before you came along. It can feel like you are losing everything because you’ve never known life to be any other way. For you love, security, and feeling safe are all wrapped in one package. The package always included both parents. Their change shifts everything about your life.
  • Now that you’ve been told, don’t be surprised if you think you are the only one who did not know it was coming. Your world is the only one you know. This was how you thought life was supposed to be.
  • Many young people create successful lives even though their parents divorced. Decide to do the same.

*Written to 13 and 14 year old

January 9, 2018

On a personal note….

by Rod Smith

I cashed in frequent traveller awards and sent son (19) to Northern Ireland for ten days. This is third solo international trip. He handles it like the seasoned traveller he is. We’ve made it practice not to communicate much when we’re apart. I recall the tension I knew as a younger man knowing my parents were waiting to hear from me and so we shelved that expectation years ago. He knows how to find me if he needs me and I can track him in an instant if necessary.

While he has been away the weather has somewhat dictated that my younger son (15) and I spend quite a lot of time together cooped up in a snow-bound house. With the one so very close and the other so far away, I have enjoyed this brief, concentrated time.

I’ve learned:

Even cool, tall, and tough fifteen-year-old basketball players enjoy being the only young man in the house, sometimes. We haven’t talked that much, but quietness and togetherness has its own rewards.  It’s been beautiful.

The boys get what they need no matter where they are – with or without me.

“I love it here, dad, but I can’t wait to get home,” is a message he just sent from Belfast.

 The airport run tonight will be a joy. 

January 2, 2018

I am my first reader….

by Rod Smith

If you want a more spiritual 2018 do the following….

  • Tell the truth with love and with kindness. Truth may be brutal but you don’t have to be.
  • Pay your debts and pledges. If you cannot be honest about why declare your plan about how you will.
  • Be kind to everyone, especially those who serve you, annoy you, and those you have somehow misunderstood as being “below” you. None of us is above or below anyone.
  • Seek mutuality, equality, and respect in every relationship. If any of these qualities is missing from any relationships delve into why it is so and fix it. Fixing it may involve humility and courage. Be assured, both are good for you.
  • Define yourself before someone else does. This does not necessitate confrontation, but it may.
  • Take hold of your life, finances, and habits before someone else has to. Remember spiritualty is measured in how you handle money and what you do with it.
  • Join or create a community of equals. Stay with it even when, and especially when, it may become uncomfortable.
  • If your faith or religion has made you hard and certain and rigid find a new church.

Please, dear reader, know that I am my first reader, my first audience. I write what I need to hear.

December 26, 2017

The doldrums are for planning…

by Rod Smith

I call these few days between Christmas and New Year the doldrums. They’re a breather: a time to drift between calendar high points. I get nostalgic. I experience strong elements of necessary regret as I wait for the promise of the new calendar year to kick in.

I am always reminded:

  • Integrity, honesty, kindness, forgiveness, and reconciliation – all captured by the word holiness, is local. By “local” I mean immediate and with the people with whom I share every day life.
  • If it (idea, principle, program) doesn’t work right here, now and with this family member, neighbor, colleague, it’s worthless.
  • All worthwhile positive change is first internal – the outward follows the inward. It may be convenient to switch this – thinking the inward follows the outward – but doing so is a waste of time.
  • It is possible for people to regard each other with deep, authentic respect but it is impossible without commitment to profound listening. All love begins and is demonstrated with listening and listening takes commitment and time.
  • Things are not fair or reasonable or kind while one party is gaining or advancing at the expense of another.

Please, let me know the things you think about as you prepare for your year ahead. I know we can learn from each other – it just takes a commitment to listening.

December 13, 2017

Definition of family…..

by Rod Smith

When my first born was a few days old a woman whom I had known for a few years, and was really well-meaning, arrived at my house and suggested I give the baby to a real family.

Her understanding of the context and reason my son’s birth mother choose me to be his (solo) parent was very limited. While the immediate (minimal) shock and pain of that encounter has long worn off (and healed), the exchange – which happened to be the first of many strange or unexpected encounters – did give me what I believe to be a greater acuteness or awareness of what it is that makes a group of people family.

I’d really like to hear your views. Here are a few of mine. A family:

  • Is a place where people are most often related by marriage or blood but often they are not.
  • Is a place where people, who usually share space (but not always), are enduringly committed to each others highest good even if and when the highest good is painful and costly.
  • Is a platform where people can express their differences without being alienated or made to feel bad or wrong for expressing or embodying differences.
  • Is a place where members feel safe (mostly) and when they don’t (feel safe) they can say so and someone in the family will listen and hear and try to understand.
  • It’s a place where, if someone doesn’t feel safe and says so, the person who listens and hears will be able to help discern if feeling unsafe or unsure is appropriate. The process of growing and learning can be very unsettling and feeling unsettled can lead to increasing feelings of vulnerability.
December 9, 2017

Of course I believe in Santa

by Rod Smith

I saw Santa at the Children’s Museum with a feather of a child pleading her case. They were locked in discussion, a confessional of sorts, as she entered into detail of her every Christmas wish. Hands, eyes, and all of her face enticed Santa closer lest he miss a detail living so clearly I her head.

“Oh, you want, oh, I see it. Why yes, of course. Perfectly,” Santa said, his voice tapering off into her ear, “I will see what I can do about that.”

Then she nestled into his side, her shoulders comfortably enveloped by his plush red suit as if to declare her mission accomplished. He was a perfect depiction of everything I imagined him to be and the sight easily immersed me in the voices and music of my own Christmases past.

Santa came all year round to our home. I’d look through the window in April or mi-August and Santa would be strolling up the driveway on his return from visits to every home on the street. He’d be wearing dad’s shoes and one of his ties underneath the tatty red coat, but I knew better than to expose his identity. I wanted to believe in Santa and he I turn needed me to believe. Such faith had rewards and I knew better than to dash my own hopes. I wasn’t ready to lose my trust in Santa for anyone and certainly not by my own hand.

He couldn’t resist visits to the whole neighborhood and would drop in from time to time and inspire children toward good behavior, perfect obedience and remind them to count their blessings one by one. At every appearance in our home we’d sing “The Little Boy that Santa Clause Forgot” and we’d all have to cry. He insisted on it.

The lines “he didn’t have a daddy” and “went home to play with last year’s broken toys” really got us going.

It was clear he sang to all the children I the world who’d had to skip childhood and known poverty, children who’s fathers had gone to war or whose fathers or mothers had fled their families.

Donning the suit, surprising the children, was Santa’s way of making the world right.

His visits created intrigue in the neighborhood, and to every child he repeated the promise that this Christmas, no child of his street would be forgotten. As far as I could tell none ever was.

The last Christmas we had together was in August of 1994. We were riding in a car and in the curves of Bluff Road when spontaneously he began to sing, “Christmas comes but once a year.”

The car became a holy place as I heard once more of the boy who “wrote a note to Santa for some soldiers and a drum and it broke his little heart to find Santa hadn’t come.”

The tears we both shed required no encouragement for we both somehow knew this would be the last time he’d sing this nostalgic hymn.

Now, to this old song is top of my list of Christmas songs.

The melody emerges randomly in my awareness, most particularly when faced with children who are in need, and I have had to silence it at all times of the year.

It was the little girl’s confidence, Santa’s grace, and the loving parents looking from the side that caught my attention last week. As she touched his flowing beard and told him her every Christmas dream I was listing my own requests with childlike zeal. It gave me renewed hope that you and I, the real Santas of the world, could deliver a more hopeful tomorrow for “those little girls and boys that Santa Claus forgot.

First published December 9, 2000 in the Indianapolis Star     

November 16, 2017

Lessons: what is life teaching you?

by Rod Smith

What is the year teaching you? Please, reflect and let me know. Here are a few things I am learning afresh and re-learning:

  • Trust broken is hard to restore. My experience is that forgiveness can restore broken trust but the ability to trust again can take a long time to restore. This is especially so with close friendships and infidelity in marriage.
  • No one is more important than anyone else. To be intimidated by another is a waste of opportunity and energy. Yes, we all have different roles. We are afforded a variety of degrees of power and responsibility that come with our varying roles, but using that power to lord it over another is the surest indication that the power is in the wrong hands.
  • Some individuals are so significantly hurt that the real person has disappeared behind shame, regret, and pretense. The defense has become the identity. The vulnerable person inside died a very long time ago and, sadly, will probably never be known.
  • Ignored conflicts and family issues that are unaddressed will remain and usually grow. The issues may change shape, may go into hiding, may remain latent for decades – but they will surface and get necessary attention.
November 15, 2017

Be more human

by Rod Smith

Slow down. Stop. Look at the beauty around you. Take it in. Breathe deeply. Treasure the moment. This will embolden you to….

Listen to others. Make eye contact. Don’t wait to speak or one-up things someone tells you with a better or more dramatic story. The person with whom you are talking probably wants human contact and meaningful connection and validation more than he or she wants a contest or a race. Listen to what people say and to what they don’t say. The latter may be far more meaningful and significant than the former. The person with whom you have this sacred moment is probably as lonely as you are, as afraid as you are, as desperate as you are, and as desirous of significance and validation as you are. Welcome this fellow sufferer into your circle – even if it for a few brief minutes – and make it unforgettable.

If you are talking to a child do what is necessary to be eye-to-eye and unearth the patience within yourself to treasure the moment and to ask questions and to engage the child on the child’s terms.

Indifference is a killer; engagement, involvement, and interest are its antidotes.