The Little Things and the Big Picture  

As I have said before, not only am I a detail-oriented person, but I am also good at seeing the “big picture” and how the details make up the big picture.  So I am used to focusing on little things and big things, sometimes at the same time.  What I am not always so good at is taking time to APPRECIATE the little things in my life as they are happening and the bigger things for which I can be grateful.  I’m so busy thinking about everything that needs to be done that I often forget to stop and take in the little things like the number of times in a day that my one son usually tells me he loves me or that he cleaned up something without me having to ask for a change. Today I thought about how much I appreciate that my mom always remembers to call and see how a doctor’s appointment went or if one of us is feeling better.  My kids are all very capable of doing well in school and keeping up on their assignments with very little prodding or help from me.  That’s something to appreciate but is often overlooked.

I think about these things at the end of the day when my brain is more calm, but I have to remind myself every so often to live in the moment and not think about the next thing that needs to get done or not let my mind wander to thinking about a conversation I had earlier, for example.  I sometimes reflect back on the day and wish I had made more of an effort to just relish what was going on around me or enjoy a positive moment with one of my kids a little longer before asking them to get something else done.

Every so often I stop and think about how so many things in my life could be worse than they are, but I need to do that more often as well. I do have a roof over my head, I have clean drinking water whenever I need it, my kids are all pretty darn intelligent and don’t suffer from any major illnesses, they are getting a pretty decent education, I can easily get to just about any kind of store to buy anything I might need within 15 minutes, I do not live in a country that is at war or where women do not have the same rights as I do in this country, I am fortunate enough that I can choose to be a stay-at-home mom for now, and so on.  I have my fair share of problems, but they seem so much smaller and manageable when I stop to think about them in comparison to the problems I could have.

So much of life is all a matter of perspective and how we choose to look at things. Yes, there are plenty of negatives in my life, some of which I cannot control or change.  But there are plenty of positives as well.  Sometimes I have to look a little harder to find them or think about them more consciously, but they are there.  This Thanksgiving, I will not be out shopping and thinking about the next holiday.  I will be spending the day with my extended family and will be consciously appreciating them and all the other big and little things for which I can be thankful.  This is as much a reminder for me as it is for anyone else reading it…

give and take

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In my mind, there are sort of two different connotations of this word, even though they are really the same thing.  The first that probably comes to many people’s minds right off the bat is being sympathetic to those who are less fortunate than we are and doing what we can to help them out.  That’s only part of it.  The broader definition is to be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see and feel things from their perspective and understand that what they are feeling, experiencing, and how they are seeing and interpreting things could be very different than you what are, good or bad.

Unfortunately, not everyone has the ability to do this.  My husband is one of those people.  If someone else in the family complains that something he is doing is bothering him or her, he thinks to himself that it wouldn’t bother him, therefore, it couldn’t possibly be bothering the other person or people and they must be making it up just to make his life difficult, to point out something he is doing wrong, or to prevent him from doing something he would like to do.  I think part of the reason why he is not very good at picking out and giving gifts, doing kind gestures, showing appreciation, and other similar things is that he can’t or doesn’t think about how good those things would make the other person feel.  Similarly, he doesn’t understand how his constant interrupting and talking over people makes them feel, either.  This would apply to many other negative behaviors as well.  Yet, he gets how it makes him feel when it happens to him.

I believe that’s why we have so many double standards in our house.  He can’t seem to make the connection, so I have to draw the “big picture” for him.  I have to spell things out and give him examples of how frustrated he gets when his boss or someone else constantly interrupts and talks over him and how frustrated and disrespected that makes him feel and then relate it to what he does.  So this is a big part of why I consider him to be a “me” person, because he primarily thinks about how things will make him feel and makes choices based on that rather than factor in how other people will feel and react as well.  I know several other people who don’t seem to have this skill either, and I have seen the negative consequences of that.

I have a few neighbors who think the town code stating you are not supposed to block the sidewalk while parked in your driveway is stupid.  They can’t see how it is inconvenient for those walking themselves, their dogs, or their kids in strollers on the sidewalk, or that it makes it difficult for parents to tell their young kids to stay on the sidewalk while riding a bike or scooter.  It seems to be the same neighbors who don’t understand the problem with hosting a party with loud music until all hours of the night.  They are not empathetic to the rest of the neighbors who may be trying to sleep or get their kids to sleep.  They are “me” people who do only what is convenient for them.

So, in my book, being able to be empathetic is a very important quality to have. Without empathy, you can’t be as compassionate, giving, understanding, patient, tolerant, forgiving, etc., all of which, in my opinion, are also very important qualities to have.  I don’t know if some people are born being naturally more empathetic than others, but I do know it is something that can and should be taught starting at an early age.  It’s hard to teach how to show empathy when you don’t practice it yourself, though.  It’s one of those things I wish more people would be better at and more conscious about and then teach it to their kids as well.

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Make Up Your Mind

In my house there are a lot of double standards, too many to mention here.  But there are a few that are a reoccurring theme or just stick out like a sore thumb, to me anyway.  I can’t seem to get the rest of my family to see them though, let alone want to do anything differently to eliminate them or at least minimize them.

I can’t even count the number of times one of the kids has gone into another sibling’s room when the sibling is not looking to “borrow” a book without asking because they know the sibling is going to say no, but then when they discover one of their siblings has done the same thing to them, they are furious and confrontational.  The first thing I say is that they can’t have it both ways, so they need to make up their minds. Either don’t “borrow” anyone else’s book, or don’t be upset when someone “borrows” yours.

The same thing applies to reading books at the dinner table.  My kids love to read (and believe me, I love that, but they like to read so much that it’s hard to get them to put a book down at times when they shouldn’t be reading).  There have been occasions where their dad has scolded them for reading a book at the dinner table only to open a magazine a few minutes later that came in the mail that day that he starts reading during dinner, or he’ll pull out his phone and read an email.  You can’t have it both ways.  Make up your mind.

Another example that happens on a regular basis has to do with self-initiative. Everyone in my family seems to be annoyed if they get reminded to do something that needs to get done or are asked to pick up their belongings and put them away, but they don’t have the self-initiative to do these things on their own.  It seems like I am always pointing out that they either need to take care of these things on their own or the first time they are asked or not have a negative reaction to a reminder. Make up your mind.

House projects are another double standard.  If I try to have some input on a house project that my husband is primarily going to be working on or even just have a conversation asking him how he is going to get it done, I get “Why don’t you wait until I am done before you criticize me?” as a response.  (The fact that I am not actually criticizing him is whole other topic.)  If I wait until he is done and then comment on anything that he did, I get “Why didn’t you say something earlier because now I have to go back and redo everything?”  In this case, I think he has already made up his mind that he doesn’t want me to have any input whatsoever on house projects.

Lying is another big one.  Don’t clearly lie to me in front of the kids and then when you catch them in a lie not too long afterwards, lay into them they just committed the biggest sin ever.  And don’t get all irritated when someone inconveniences you when you don’t think twice about inconveniencing others.  It’s not a good idea to snap at me and be all defensive on a regular basis, yet lecture the kids about how they shouldn’t do that.  Make up your mind.

Actions definitely speak louder than words.  We all need to think about that and make the connection between the decisions we make vs. how we react to the decisions others make.  We cannot have different expectations for others than we do of ourselves, and we cannot be upset at anyone who treats us in the same negative manner in which we treat them.  We need to decide what is acceptable behavior for everyone and then act and react accordingly.

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Not Just a Smile

I’ve been thinking a lot about smiling lately. I knew there were some health benefits to laughing, but I hadn’t thought about any health benefits of smiling until my yoga instructor mentioned one time that that smiling actually triggers the rest of the muscles in your body to relax.  She often reminds us to smile throughout the practice, but I always thought it was just to get us to consciously think about being happy.  I found myself purposefully smiling more after that class and did find that I felt more relaxed right afterwards.  It got me wondering about other health benefits to smiling, so I did a little research.

I had heard before that it takes more muscles to frown than it does to smile, and I was aware of some of the social benefits to smiling such as making yourself more attractive and helping put yourself and others in a good mood.  What I didn’t know or may have heard before but had forgotten was that smiling and laughing can boost your immune system, relieve tension and stress by releasing endorphins and lowering levels of cortisol, relieve pain, and lower your heart rate.  Laughing is good for the lungs and can increase blood flow as well.  Smiling can also increase your productivity, your attention span, and your life span, and it can also make you look younger. Smiling also helps to promote teamwork.

While your friends and family may be able to tell the difference between a fake smile and a real one, your brain cannot, so you can take advantage of these health benefits whenever you wish!  You can help others experience these benefits too, since both smiling and laughing are contagious.

With all of that in mind, it’s hard not to also think about how society is rapidly changing in large part due to changes in technology, which may or may not be affecting the amount of time we spend smiling and laughing.  And I mean really laughing, not just typing LOL, LMAO, ROFL, etc.  On one hand, people keep in touch much more frequently now through means such as texting and social media rather than in person or over the phone.  People generally laugh and smile more when talking to someone face to face or over the phone, so people are missing out on that when they are texting or typing emails back and forth.  And then there is the increased amount of time people spend playing video games and surfing the internet or doing other things with our phones rather than interact with people around them.

On the other hand, we have an endless supply of YouTube videos to keep us laughing, and being able to do a video chat with someone and smile and laugh together is sometimes better than a regular phone call or most other means of communication.

I definitely agree with E. E. Cummings who said, “The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.”  I know I personally wish I had more reasons to laugh and smile. After reading about all of the benefits, I am even more motivated to laugh and smile more often and to help others around me do so as well.  I hope you will join me.  As my son just read off a magnet on the refrigerator this evening…

If you see someone without a smile, give him one of yours.

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Owning Your Mistakes

Mistakes…we all make them, some of us more than others.  And we should all know that it’s OK to make mistakes and that we should try to learn from them.  One of my many favorite quotes that I read recently is, “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”  However, not everyone responds well when they have either realized on their own or someone has brought to their attention that they have made a mistake or could have done something better.  Over and over again, I have seen people who not only can’t seem to admit that they made a mistake but always seem to have to deflect their mistake on someone else and make it seem like that person is the “bad guy” for bringing it to their attention.  I’m sure I’ve done this as well now and then, but I generally have no problem admitting I made a mistake and usually try to rectify it or at least apologize.

It Is hard sometimes to admit that you made a mistake when it is something significant, but when you can’t even be apologetic or accountable for the small things like stopping for a red light and blocking people from getting in and out of a business entrance in the process and you get mad at anyone who points this out to you, then maybe you need to examine why it is that you can’t be wrong about anything.  There’s no need to spout off a bunch of sarcastic statements as you’re backing up about how you hope everyone is happy now, and so on. You are the one who could have been courteous, but now you are blocking traffic and are inconveniencing everyone else.  Just be graceful and do something to indicate you are sorry you didn’t see the people waiting to get in or out of the entrance as you are backing up.  There’s no need for the defensiveness and sarcasm.

Think about what kind of example are you setting for your kids when you always react in this manner and what you are teaching them about making mistakes, treating people with respect, being considerate, being accountable, and so many other things. I think it takes a more secure and humble person to admit they made a mistake and handle it gracefully.  If you can’t do that, then you need to think about your own insecurities.  Another quote I read recently seems to be appropriate…”You are strong when you know your weaknesses. You are beautiful when you appreciate your flaws. You are wise when you learn from your mistakes.”  We should all take accountability for and own our mistakes rather than deflect them on other people, and then try not to make that same mistake again.

owning mistakes

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Are You A Leader Or A Follower?

Some of us have natural leadership skills and can step up and be in charge in a variety of situations.  In this case, being able to take control without being too controlling is a good quality.  Being good at delegating and giving direction while overseeing things are good qualities to have as well when you have to or choose to be in charge.  I am a “big picture” thinker but am detail-oriented at the same time, which I think is conducive to being a good leader.  I can see things from an overview perspective but can hone in on the details that are necessary as well.

However, there are times when I choose be a follower and like having someone else be in charge.  I very much enjoy helping in my son’s classroom on a regular basis, party because I am not the one making the decisions about what is being taught and don’t have to be in charge of the students.  Having been a teacher, I am well aware of all of the things that a teacher needs to think about and keep track of in the course of just one day, and I am glad I don’t have all of those things in my head and can just take direction from the teacher and focus on helping the students learn the subject matter.  I also like the unpredictability of not knowing what I am going to be doing on any given day until I get to the classroom.  It’s a nice change of pace, particularly since there are so many other things I do need to make decisions about and be in charge of in my life.

There are plenty of people who are primarily followers and wait for someone else to tell them what to think and what to do.  Everyone can’t be a leader, so we need followers, but I think it’s the followers who can’t make decisions about things and don’t have self-initiative who kind of get lost in the shuffle and never make anything of themselves.  On the other hand, people who like to be in charge all of the time are sometimes perceived as being too controlling and assertive and have difficulty letting other people call the shots.  They can be difficult to work with because they don’t necessarily make good team players.  Every good team needs someone who can lead the team but knows when to step out of the spotlight and let others shine and do their job.

So from my perspective, the best answer to my leading question is that you are both a leader and a follower and know when to be each one.

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Parenting Your Spouse and Constructive Criticism

Long before I met my husband and thought about actually having kids, I knew I wanted to have three kids.  And I do have three kids who can be very wonderful but also very challenging at times.  I expected parenting to have its ups and downs, highs and lows, and good days and bad days.  However, what I was not expecting was to have to parent a fourth child … my spouse.  I am still undecided as to whether it is more difficult trying to teach him how to be a better person and set better examples for the kids, or trying to teach the kids how to be good people with all the bad examples they see on a regular basis.  Both are a pretty significant challenge, especially trying to deal with them at the same time.

At least the kids are still somewhat impressionable, but when you are a grown man and still think, act, make decisions, and react to things like you are a spoiled teenager, it’s not too likely that you will make any changes.  And if you don’t know any better because of how you were raised, that presents even more challenges.  It all comes down to whether or not you care about being a good person, making good decisions, doing the right thing, and how your actions and decisions affect those around you.  If those things are not in the forefront of your mind because you are self-absorbed as most children are, then you will never grow as a person.  And if anyone thinks they are perfect just the way they are and don’t need to make any improvements, then you need to think again.  We all have things we could improve on, and we should listen to those around us who may be trying to give us a little help as to what those things might be.

That leads me to a related topic…constructive criticism.  Some people are very open to constructive criticism and feedback or suggestions from other people about what they could do differently.  These people are generally aware that they are not perfect and want to be the best person they can be.  There are even people who are way more critical of themselves than they should be and seem to need constant reassurance from other people.  While I would hope those people eventually become more self-confident and less critical of themselves, I would much rather be around someone like that than someone who thinks they know everything, are always right, and think they are perfect just the way they are.  In other words, confidence is an attractive quality, but cockiness is not.

I obviously have a spouse who falls under the category of not being open to constructive criticism.  The thing is, whenever I bring something to his attention, it is in the spirit of trying to prevent the same negative pattern of behavior that is causing frustration, stress, or hurt feelings from continuing to repeat over and over again.  It is not to just “hammer” him about his numerous faults and shortcomings, as he puts it.  I often include suggestions as to what might be a more respectful or appropriate thing to do or say the next time.  If he doesn’t tune out as soon as he hears anything resembling a criticism and actually hears my suggestion (or even when he asks what he should do or say differently), his response is often something sarcastic like, “Oh right, like that would really work.”  I don’t know how I can possibly be wrong about what I would prefer to hear him say or see him do, but I guess he knows better than I do.

Because of the negative way he reacts to constructive criticism and so many other things, I now have three kids who often react the same way.  That makes life in my house so very pleasant.  Unfortunately, my spouse is reacting and behaving the same way his parents did, and now it is being passed down to our kids.  I am doing my best to try to break the cycle, but it is definitely not an easy task.  I certainly am not perfect myself and am trying to make improvements, but even that is much more difficult within my given situation.  I will keep trying though!

constructive criticism

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