September 19, 2015

How to, and how NOT to spoil a child…..

by Rod Smith

How to spoil a child

Run interference for your child as much as possible so that nothing has a chance to teach your child that actions (an inactions) have natural consequences.

Give your child the distinct impression that teachers and coaches and school authorities are idiots who deserve little or no respect.

Break rules of civility yourself so your child will naturally learn that your child is above them and that they do not apply to anyone in your family.

Praise your child indiscriminately for everything but most especially where little or no skill or talent is demonstrated so that the pain of having to learn something new or difficult may be delayed or at least avoided.

Blame the teacher if your child doesn’t do homework: attack the way it was assigned, or the timing of the assignment, or the lack of access to what was required of the assignment on the Internet, or the relevance of the assignment – but never even vaguely suggest the child’s homework is the child’s responsibility.

Do your very best to live as though every discomfort in your life is someone or something else’s fault so that your child may carry the same sense of blame into the future.

How not to spoil a child

Have a full, meaningful life before you conceive, adopt, or foster a child. Do this so the child is unlikely to become the center of your universe and therefore have to occupy a place in your life, and have power in your life, that no child is designed or equipped to hold. It’s not too late to develop a life outside of your child. Children who are LEAST important to their parents’ salvation (success, reputation) are more likely to enjoy healthy adult lives than those who are faced with the unreasonable task of making their parents happy or appear successful. (Ed Friedman, Generation to Generation – liberal paraphrase)

Allow natural, reasonable consequences to occur so that your child may appreciate the power of cause and effect, as imperfect as it sometimes is.

Get out of the way as much as possible so your child learns to show up, speak up, and self-advocate as early as possible. Be this way especially with the school.

Try to do fewer things for your child so that your child has to do more and more. Self-sufficiency is among the holiest of gifts you can give your child and it is truly a gift that keeps on giving.

August 23, 2015

Monday Meditation for Children

by Rod Smith
  • My heart goes out to children who live in unsettled houses. Houses where the abuse of alcohol or drugs dominates everything. Houses where rage can come out of nowhere and rip people apart.
  • My heart goes out to children whose parents were once together – and now they are apart. Although the child has received strong and loving messages about why his or her parents could not or would not live in the same house anymore, it still makes no sense to the child.
  • My heart goes out to children who are fighting a deadly disease and to the siblings who are fighting it with them. The necessary lack of certainty bolstered with statements of faith, all within the same adult sentence, can be confusing. It’s at least as confusing for the child as it is for the adult trying to comfort them.
  • My heart goes out to children whose boundaries are ignored and violated and whose voices are ignored or silenced. Such children might as well be invisible to those commissioned to love and protect them.
  • My heart goes out to children who are hungry in a nation of plenty, those born outside the dominant culture, those whose troubles are the fruit of a troubled nation.
August 12, 2015

Her grief – I don’t know what to do…..

by Rod Smith

“My very close friend’s husband died a month ago. She is battling to come to terms with it. We work together. I am trying my best to comfort and to be available for her as much as I can. She has adult children who are married and are very good to her. They visit and have meals with her. This morning she broke down crying again. Please advise me. How can help her. When I see her crying I don’t know what to do.”

Your friend has not had nearly enough time to re-order her life in the absence of her husband. It may be years before she feels as if her life once again has some meaningful traction.

When she breaks down crying at work let her handle that with her immediate supervisors. Perhaps there is a room at work where she could get some privacy to do necessary grieving. Your challenge is to not allow her grief and expressions of it to unsettle and distract you.

You can comfort your friend. You can be alongside her when she is struggling. But, all grief has to be faced head-on by the one who is grieving. Nothing can or should attempt to short-circuit the process.

August 11, 2015

My son (15) has a drinking problem…..

by Rod Smith

“My son (15) alternates in living between his father and me for a week at a time. His dad and I don’t get along we are very cooperative as parents. Our son is an alcoholic and finds it even if it is hidden. I have cleansed my home completely of every drop but my ex won’t do the same. He hides it. He’s not much of a drinker but I think he should get of it. Our son goes to AA and sometimes he’s fine then he slips. He (our son) also uses porn and smokes weed. What must I do?”

Your son does not drink because there is alcohol available at his dad’s house. He drinks because he has a disease. While your urge to get your ex-husband to emulate you is understandable I am going to suggest that you leave the management of your son to his father when they are together.

Control what you can control. Exercise authority over what pertains directly to you.

Your son’s multiple challenges are ultimately your son’s issues.

I have the hunch that this is something your ex-husband is holding out to underscore.

While I have compassion for your son – he lives in a world that will not hide its many temptations from him.

August 6, 2015

A note to dads….

by Rod Smith

I’ve heard these themes (these are not actual quotations) time and again from young people. The spin varies depending culture and economic status.

  • I wanted my father to talk with me – not only teach me or tell me what he expected or to tell me his stories from the past that seemed like ancient history to me – but to engage with me.
  • I wanted a dad, not just a sports coach – although I loved it when he coached me sports.
  • Even though I was trying to be very masculine and self-sufficient I needed to know my dad had my back.
  • Sometimes it felt as if my father was really trying to get close to me but that he didn’t know how – like he was afraid of me. I only know that now – I couldn’t see it then.
  • All I wanted was for my parents to be friends – the divorce didn’t stop the fighting.
  • When my parents were friends everything was hopeful about life – when they fought, even over the smallest things, it would feel like my life was falling apart.
  • “The thing I remember the most was when he’d ask my mother to leave the cooking up to him and to me – those are the times I really treasure.” (Actual quotation)
August 5, 2015

Relating to high-functioning people has its benefits…..

by Rod Smith

Regular relating to high-functioning people (intimate of casual):

  • Will give you the lasting impression that life is an exciting adventure, filled with wonderful, endless possibilities.
  • Will give you the impression that questions are more important than answers and that ambiguity is an ally and not a foe.
  • Will leave you feeling empowered and encouraged and that if you apply yourself you can do about anything you can dream or doing and go anywhere on the planet that you’d like.
  • Will leave you with the desire to read and discover more about areas of interest you did not even perhaps know you have.
  • Will inspire you to become engaged in your own life at least as deeply as they are engaged in their lives.
  • Will engage you in skillful humor that has no victims.
August 4, 2015

Terrible twos…..

by Rod Smith

“I am dealing with the so-called ‘terrible twos’ but mine seems to be worst than most – she has regular temper tantrums, she screams in public places, stamps her feet when she doesn’t get what she wants. Please help. How long does this last?”

See your pediatrician and relate everything you have related to me (and I am sure there’s more). There may be something else going on other than what people commonly refer to as the “terrible tows.”

Many of these behaviors last for as long as a parent is willing to tolerate them. I know many parents (myself included) who simply refused to allow children of any age to misbehave and the children for the most part, responded and did not routinely engage in the behavior you describe.

While my children were far from perfectly behaved they certainly, even at two, knew better than to engage in such outbursts.

That said, as I reflect, I recall nicknaming a brief period when each boy was thee the “thunderous threes” – but that did not last. I was very clear about what would be acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

Stand up to your child – it may take a few meltdowns, but I believe it is a battle worth winning.

August 3, 2015

Designing a life worth sharing

by Rod Smith

Try to be the most generous person you know.

Surely you want to be?

I do.

This is not about possessing abundant resources but it is about being generous with what you do have.

If your life lacks joy you might find, on closer examination, that you’ve been unnecessarily tightfisted.

Meanness is draining. It’s shortsighted.

A lack of joy can be annoying got people who think of themselves “powerful” and entitled to be happy.

Try to be the kindest person you know.

Surely you want to be?

I do.

This is about leveraging opportunities for others and seeking the highest possible good for all within your sphere of influence.

Little is as wearisome as the continual need to negotiate with unkind people – especially if they are in positions of influence.

Don’t be one of them.

I am trying not to be.

Try to be the lowest-maintenance person you know.

I want to be.

This is not about accommodating poor treatment. It is about dropping any sense of entitlement and demanding behavior. Being entitled and demanding denies such a person an experience of authentic community.

It’s hard to let a bully in.

Don’t be one.

August 3, 2015

Packing for Switzerland

by Rod Smith

When I arrived in Geneva – Switzerland (there are others) yesterday, I stepped of the United flight from Dulles wearing Nate Smith’s school shoes. I wore Thulani Smith’s white Butler University bulldog shirt and my yellow hat.

In my DPHS (readers from Durban will know what DPHS is) carryon bag – a treasured gift from Richard Neave – I had Coates’ “Between The World and Me” which I have already read but still can’t put it down and “The Namesake” by Jhumpa Lahiri.

I also brought my (new) red sunglasses and my (new-to-me) red shoes.

Then, it thrilled me to peer out the porthole as we rolled to the gate to see it was raining quite steadily. This meant I could wear (not slung over my shoulder) one of my favorite gifts – my Swaziland jacket commissioned by Bernadette Fourie.

Some other things in my bag?

A pocket New Testament from the welcome desk at Kevin Driver’s church in Banff, the beautiful fountain pen my brother gave me for my birthday, and a plastic model of the human brain.

In my wallet there are two four-leaf clovers laminated beautifully. These are gifts from my friend Jim Cannull. No – I am not superstitious – but several years ago he found the clovers and went to FedEx and laminated them for ME.

Every piece of all this is intentional.

I could tell you exactly why I put it all together and how I put things together for each trip. I will not go into that detail now – although I will be glad to answer specific questions.

Essentially I do this it is because it is NEVER just another week of speaking.

On Monday morning I have the unique, singular joy and unmerited privilege to stand before a class of young men and women (in their 20s and 30s) from several nations (mostly Chinese) and representing very diverse cultures.

I need all these artifacts and symbols and playful pieces of clothing and equipment, not for them, but to enhance my courage to empower all the students to live great and robust and intentional and international lives of meaning and significance.

I need these things to remind me that I come from a community, an international community of men and women who love me. I come from sons who love me. I come from a brother and a sister and immediate and extended family who love me and would do anything for me. I carry a plastic brain to remind me to use the front parts of the real one in my head. I wear a Swazi jacket to be an outward symbol of the Enchanting Continent of my birth.

I wear my yellow hat because it’s Yellow Hat Month and I am going to wear it when a hat is necessary and as long as I can find it – I lose stuff.

I wear my son’s shoes so I can learn to walk in them.

And, beginning on Monday morning (in Lausanne) I am going to tell every last one of the students whom I will then teach for several hours each day that he or she is stunningly beautiful, uniquely talented, and absolutely loved by a Benevolent God and that not a single one of them should put up with a single minute of disregard or ill manners from any person ever (and I’ll add strongly and graphically that I don’t care who it is).

I’ll also teach them Family Therapy 101.

July 28, 2015

Four reasons I enjoyed “To Set A Watchman” by Harper Lee

by Rod Smith

1. Unlike “To Kill a Mockingbird” it’s a very quick and easy read. If you are very familiar with the Mockingbird it is somewhat of a joy to meet the characters (a few at least) later in life. Yes, I know, it was written earlier. I was very disappointed that there is very little of Jem and Dill, and nothing of several outstanding characters who I will not name given some who will read this may still want to read the novel. Perhaps they’ve not yet been “invented” by the time Harper Lee finished ‘Watchman” and then started “Mockingbird.”

2. “Watchman” allowed me to identify in ways with both Lee and Atticus. I had not been able to do this before. Both are superhuman in Mockingbird. In “Watchman” she’s an imperfect writer and Atticus is a flawed man. I found this comforting.

3. I LOVED the portrayal of the struggles the adult Scout has in visiting home from New York. Her Aunt, Uncle Jack, and Atticus – especially her aunt – have ways of tugging on her that she thought were long gone with her childhood. Their hold on her stupefies the adult Scout. The author clearly knows how difficult it is to go home. I was chuckling out loud at Harper Lee’s fine and humorous understanding and portrayal of the intricacies and difficulties of family process.

4. Jeanne Louise Finch has to do what we all have to do to become fully adult – perhaps separate for a while; make up our own minds about important matters; even reject our beginnings (although I believe this is far from essential). By the end of the novel she achieves it. Her journey is not pretty; her process is painful. Yet, it seems that despite her challenging manner and despite the conflicts that rage within her, her family accepts the necessary transitions and stands by her as she does what she has to do to become fully adult.


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