The Family Elder in an Uncertain Time Part IIby Claire Barnes on 08/18/19
While in graduate school working on my guidance counseling certification, I had a very wise mentor, a counselor at a local public school. We discussed family values in great detail, long before family values became a topic entangled in politics and religion.
My mentor suggested adult family members demonstrate their values based on how they spend their resources (time, money, energy). For example, if a parent says to the children, “I really want to spend time with you” but does not initiate time to do so, the message is a hollow one. Actions are always stronger than words, and are the most effective way to exhibit your priorities.
· Keep your word and your promises. If you commit to doing something with or for your grandchildren, by all means do it. Make your promises within your capacity to deliver. Granted, sometimes life interferes and our plans change, but knowing you are dependable can help children feel secure.
· Honesty is the best policy. Keeping it real and honest in your interactions with your family members is important. I wrote a 2013 Huffington Post column on the topic of lying to children, and here is an excerpt:
Children naturally ask question, especially when parents are separating and the family is reorganizing. The context for their questions is grounded in THEIR world and related to their age and stage of development.
Suggestion: Keep answers to their delicate questions simple, factual and age appropriate; no need to add a complex narrative about all the problems within the family.
One of the riskiest behaviors is for one adult to exaggerate negative information about a family member. The whole field of parent/grandparent alienation has developed based on this conduct, and the fact is it can be very tough to control the urges to demonize a parent or grandparent. When hurt, anger, or a sense of betrayal fuels the delivery of information so it stretches the truth, everyone suffers.
Suggestion: When tempted to say negative, inflated things about a family member, remember part of your child’s identity lies with blood relatives. Hurtful exaggerations can also wound the child.
If you are considering lying to your child about family circumstances, consider what you are trying to accomplish and the context of your actions. Do you want to protect your child from feeling hurt or anxious? Is your motive to make yourself look better or superior? Do you feel good about your actions? Are you lying to delay pain, harm or suffering?
Suggestion: Confer with someone you trust before deliberately lying to your child. Consider how you would feel if you were on the receiving end of the story, and make sure you can live with the result if the truth comes out.
And finally, the fact adults are demonstrating behavior their child (of any age) will copy or repeat is a dramatic reason to consider when and if to lie. By lying to your child….and realizing the child may eventually find out the truth…..you demonstrate to your child lying is an okay behavior. Because children don’t have adult filters to determine when stretching the truth might be necessary, their impulses around lying may be hard to control.
Suggestion: Frequently remind your youngster of any age they will never get in trouble for telling you the truth. Always remember, your behavior (not your words) sends the strongest messages to your children.
· Demonstrate your commitment to your faith. The broad range of religious and faith-based belief systems in today’s culture is tremendous. If you have a personal faith which plays an important part of your life, demonstrate it to your grandchildren. Exposing children when they are young to a faith will help them select what works for them as they get older and help them develop a basis to answer life’s big questions. If you do not participate in a structure religion, The Golden Rule can guide you in almost any moral predicament.
· Cooperation, Collaboration and Compassion are the three ‘C’s of human interaction. A cooperative spirit put forth in collaborative efforts (working with others) teaches children there is strength in numbers. Two heads are always better than one, and teamwork skills can be applied later in life. Working closely with others also offers opportunities to experience the point of view of another person. Standing in the shoes of another person encourages empathy and compassion when necessary.
· Keep your sense of humor. Laughter is, indeed, the best medicine. Laughter is contagious and can lighten any mood. Laughter does not make our life difficulties go away, but it certainly helps us get through them.