Archive for ‘Family Systems Theory’

August 26, 2018

To Educators, everywhere

by Rod Smith

Etched in the Heart

To the Teachers I Know And Those I Don’t

Thousands of lives are enhanced because you demanded your students do their homework, tell truth, stand up straight, and look you in the eye.

You showed them how, and when, to use commas, solve x, and how to exercise and care for their bodies and run on and on and on, but not with their sentences. You helped little hands measure, cut, paste, and draw, and, then, when they got a little older and their hands were a little bigger, you taught them how to march and blow a bugle or beat a drum and pass a baton in relay races and score touchdowns and dance and sing on a stage to crowds of proud and adoring parents.

You showed them why bullying is not a good idea, and why it is wise to share, and unwise to dig in your nose, but wise to cover your mouth when you cough, and to turn away from others and say “excuse me” when you sneeze.

And to wash your hands. Always, wash your hands.

You taught them the power of “please” and “thank you,” and calculus, algebra, and pi, and that “i comes before e, except after c” and how to apologize and to play fair and how to make a paper doll and a paper airplane.

You told them about the planets and volcanoes and why Rome fell and about the International Date Line and salmon in Washington and Oil in Texas and corn in the Midwest and why the Big Apple is called the Big Apple.

You told them about the painful history of our nation and of its victories.

When they told you something was unfair you told them, as if for the very first time it has ever been said: life is not fair.

They cried on your shoulder when a crush crushed them, or a friend betrayed them, or a parent walked out never to return. They cried on your shoulder when you stood with them at a graveside as a body was lowered into the waiting ground; the body of a friend, or a dad, mom, brother, sister. They cried on your shoulder, yes, your shoulder, because they trusted you.

Why? Why did and do they trust you?

They trusted you because, because you trusted them. They trusted you because you had an ocean of patience when you taught them and you demonstrated the necessity of humility, generosity, kindness, and grit, and why we need verbs and adverbs and conjunctions and why we learn things we will never need once we leave school.

A thousand times, when they asked, “Can I use the restroom?” you said, “I don’t know, CAN you?”

Yes, teacher, yes, head of school. Yes, principal, librarian, coach, administrator, referee, custodian, lunchroom lady, superintendent of schools. They trust you because you taught them to play and to win with grace. You taught them that when they lose they could applaud the opposition and lose with courage. You taught them to hold their heads high in defeat or victory.

You taught them to look life in the eye and not back down.

You taught them to forgive when people didn’t deserve it and to love the unlovely, and to respect their elders and to protect children.

You taught them the difference between “lend” and “borrow” and you corrected them when they said “me and my friends” when they really meant, “my friends and I.” You taught them to love books and stories. You showed them they are made of the same stuff as the greatest writers and heroic sports figures world has ever known. You showed them that they too could win a Nobel Prize, the Booker Prize, a Pulitzer or the Superbowl.

You told them they had it in them to be astronauts, artists, acrobats, architects or all of them all at the same time.

You gave them the greatest gift of all: your faith, your trust. You believed in them and, by believing in them, you paved the way for them to believe in themselves. You showed them that if they did none of these things, like write a best seller or score the winning touchdown or get a call from the Oslo and the Nobel committee, their value and worth as humans was unsullied, because they were loved and treasured for who they are and not because they could spin a fine sentence or write a water-tight thesis or slam dunk a ball or run like the wind or play a piano like Beethoven.

When a woman or a man who is not your mom or your dad teaches you to tie a shoelace or how to be nice or helps you read a difficult novel to the very last page and get the thrill that only reading a novel to the very last page can offer – that person gets etched into the heart of a student, forever.

And that’s you, dear Educator.

Thank you.

August 2, 2018

The power of impartial listening

by Rod Smith

If you can find an impartial listener when you are troubled, or when you are embarking on new adventures, facing tough decisions, or find yourself in a relational impasse, you have found gold.

This person will listen attentively and ask probing questions. Questions will serve to drive you deeper to the heart and core of what you are facing. He or she will be unafraid to challenge you, evaluate your logic, and draw your attention to your blind spots.

Such invaluable encounters usually lead to greater objectivity. The very act of preparing and then articulating an issue can expose necessary steps or unearth essential nuggets to finding resolution, with or without the impartial listener’s help. Talking helps. Listening, even to your own voice can lead to new insights that may be unavailable otherwise.

Great comfort can be found in spending time with a person who has no ulterior motives, who can help you to reflect and act as your sounding board.

Perhaps even better than finding such a person is to be such a person.

Offer your mature, impartial ear to those who need it and you will be offering, and discovering, gold.

July 18, 2018

Good with people?

by Rod Smith

Do you want to be an excellent employee especially when working with people?

  • Look people in the eye. Listen with your whole body. Listen to others before you speak. When you do speak, speak up and speak clearly. Avoid thinking you already know what a person is going to tell you or is trying to tell you.
  • Anticipate needs and wants of your clients (customers) while simultaneously being aware that you may anticipate incorrectly. It’s a fine balance. When you near perfection at this you will regard your work as art and not a job.
  • When faced with complaints or problems do not escalate matters, take sides, or assign blame. Focus on understanding and solving, not diagnosing.
  • Don’t chew gum at work, ever. Dress well and be well groomed, always. Shower, often (not at work).
  • Tell the truth efficiently and kindly. A good reputation, which can take years to build, can be permanently ruined with one lie.
  • Don’t date co-workers or anyone with whom you work. You’re at work to earn a living not find a spouse.
  • Turn your phone off at work.

Seeking a fellow teacher: A teacher, whom I know well, wants to have her 40 students (eight and nine-year-olds) correspond with similarly aged students in KwaZulu-Natal. Teachers, please reach out to Stacy directly at SGraber@SRESDragons.org.

June 26, 2018

The power of a really good friendship

by Rod Smith

He or she is able to sit, stand, walk, and rest with you when times are really wonderful and when times are not.

He or she is almost always able to finish your sentences and complete your thoughts but chooses not to. Similarly, he or she is able to predict most of your moods, needs, and wants while simultaneously offering you all the room in the world to be unpredictable and spontaneous.

You notice, after years, that he or she has been a transformative influence in your life even though that was not the reason you became friends; you were not looking to be “fixed” or changed but it happened and is happening because your lives have touched.

He or she is unafraid to tell you where you may have blind spots and shortfalls but  delivers the message with such grace and kindness it feels like you are hearing really good news or discovering something wonderful about yourself and your life.

He or she is almost always excited to see you no matter how many times you cross paths and no matter how intertwined your lives are.He or she remembers things you’ve talked about and remembers things that are important to you.

He or she opens possibilities for you, extends your friendship circle, and is not possessive or jealous.

May 29, 2018

Rifts, wars, schisms, in families

by Rod Smith

Extended or immediate family discontent, even family rage, is more easily solved, healed, or negotiated sooner rather than later. Wait too long and it may go on for generations.

The longer schisms linger, the deeper they become and the more entrenched and “default” the reactive behaviors become. Bitterness, cynicism set in. Cut-offs become a way of life. Walls get higher and stronger.

The stories about who did what to who expand, often beyond recognition, in the heads of those who harbor and perpetuate the conflict.

To find healing or reconciliation, the “bigger” person, or the stronger member of the family, or the one who has the highest levels of “differentiation of self,” the one who wants the healing, initiates a conversation. That conversation must be devoid of all blame and all finger pointing. He or she does the necessary preparation and decides exactly what is wanted and what healing in a particular family may look like. Such an initiative demands humility, flexibility, and a deep desire for reconciliation.

Some families have been at war with each other for so long those who started it are long buried and those on the front lines do not even know anymore why they are fighting.

Please, don’t let that be true for you and for your family.

The consequences are too extreme, especially for innocent children who are inevitably caught in the crossfire.

May 17, 2018

Voice – part 2

by Rod Smith

Compromise yourself, your talents and skills for no one. Be silenced or made “smaller” or rendered without a voice for no one. It is never worth it. There is no cause, no relationship, worthy of your silence.

There is no person of any rank, no spouse, boss, or spiritual leader deserving of your downplaying or silencing who you are. Only those with dark motives will seek for you to be less, minimized, diminished, or silenced.

Walk away from such small-mindedness, even if it is costly to do so.

Loving, good people will celebrate your strength, encourage your freedom, and admire your talent. Stick with such people. Stay with those who enlarge your world, not restrict, shrink, or contain it. Live fully, love fully, and speak fully.

I am weary of men and women, irrespective of who they are, who hold others captive, especially in the name of love. I am weary of spiritual “leaders” who are afraid of gifted people; of bosses who silence talented people lest their own inadequacies be revealed.

If you live above, and beyond, the damaging jealousies that surround you, you will stimulate the dreams of everyone in your circle of influence, and make your dreams come true before your very eyes – and the world will hear your voice.

May 6, 2018

Abandoning mother?

by Rod Smith

Somewhat of a theme has emerged of late in my private practice. I’m seeing several parents, particularly mothers, who have difficulty treating their adult sons and daughters and their families as whole, separate entities from themselves. They appear to want mothering to continue when their mothering is over.

Yes. Mothering ends.  I’ve written on this theme often in this column.

It is as if the adult women are saying, “I raised them to have wings but I did not expect them to use the wings,” or, “I gave them wings but they need me to show them how to use them and where to fly.”

I have compassion for these parents. It is pronounced for those who have lost a spouse to death or divorce and who then see the natural separation their adult sons and daughters rightfully and appropriately enjoy as another evidence of abandonment.

If the adult sons or daughters are prone to guilt they will quickly capitulate to the pressure to take care of mother and/or come under her control. This will often expose stresses and stimulate conflict within the marriage.

It’s even more complicated when both spouses each have a parent who inflicts a couple with such expectations.

Am I suggesting abandoning mom? Of course I am not.

Remain loving, remain out of control, and remain connected. That’s what loving adults do. 

Write to RodESmith122@gmail.com

March 27, 2018

The Art of Leadership

by Rod Smith

I read, think, observe, leadership a lot. I’ve seen dismal attempts at it and men and women who seem to fully understand its art. Here are a few observations. Please, send me yours. I am always interested in new perspectives and approaches others have found useful:

  • Having your name on the top of the list or possessing the title leader does not make you a leader. You are a leader if your constituents are following you or are doing what you are commissioned to lead your constituents to do or to be.
  • If you are authentically leading your group, church, or business, and you are doing it well, you will sometimes (even often) feel a strong sense of isolation. It comes with the call of authentic leadership. It’s lonely. It is unlikely you are leading well if you are not facing some, if not strong, opposition. Authentic leaders stimulate necessary imbalance and some humans, those who set in their ways, will naturally resist such provocation for growth and change and may even portray you as an enemy.
  • Your own growth as a person within your family (all of your family) will do more for your effectiveness as a leader than anything you implement at work or at your church or wherever it is that you are supposed to be the leader.
March 17, 2018

I will call her Mary

by Rod Smith

I’ll call her Mary. She is a woman with a highly specialized career. Her work, traditionally dominated by men, takes her to multiple countries every year for high-level negotiations with government officials. Mary is known as a force to encounter and is widely respected. She is seldom intimidated by the challenges of her career. Mary and her husband run a home. Their high-school aged daughters, like her parents, are high achievers. By all appearances the marriage is solid.

Mary’s parents live within blocks of their daughter and they have not seen each other much at all in years. They wee her husband’s family a lot.

This is a source of great pain for Mary’s family. Cordiality rules, but there is no vulnerability, no free exchange of ideas, no joy. The tenseness is palpable when the generations meet for more than an hour.

“I can talk to boardrooms full of scary people without a problem,” says Mary, “but meeting my parents undoes me! I cannot put my finger on it.”

I am reminded of family therapist Rabbi Ed Friedman who claims it is impossible to have long-term emotional wellness while a person is disconnected from significant people their family of origin.

Deep joy (and some pain) awaits Mary as she determines to remove the blockage she experiences but cannot now name.

March 8, 2018

Is your high-school student a leading executive already?

by Rod Smith

How to know your son or daughter “gets it” when it comes to his or her future:

  • Blame runs for the hills. You no longer hear her blaming teachers or textbooks or peers or parents.
  • She gets down to it, whatever it happens to be. She regards immediate hurdles as opportunities to grow.
  • He assumes personal responsibility – for the people he chooses as friends, how he spends his leisure time, and especially how he uses money.
  • She “sees” her future and plans for it – this means aligning herself with the people and institutions that can help her achieve her goals.
  • He remains connected to his family but it aware that these connections can trip him up and become a problem. He therefore clearly states where he is going without apology and invites those who love him to join him on the journey.
  • Her sense of ambition is neither cold nor callous but it is determined in ways that observers admire.
  • He is quick to learn from errors and is open to hearing about how he could have better handled a problem – especially as it relates to dealing with people.