Dear Parent, Cut Yourself Some Slack

parenting

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Dear Parent,

You’re putting too much pressure on yourself.

We all are.

In the poker game that is parenthood, we’ve been constantly upping the ante for the last thirty years now. Our criteria for what it means to be a successful parent have gone through the roof, and it feels like there’s an awful lot riding on every card we play—we bear a tremendous sense of responsibility for the outcome of our children’s lives.

Dear Parent, you’re carrying more than your fair share of the burden, and you can cut yourself some slack for how your kids turn out. You just don’t have that much control over it.

Their personality will trump your performance every time.

Why I Like to Fight with My Wife

A healthy marriage should look a lot like the Stanley Cup Finals. This is what I mean by that…

marital conflict

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Last month, as my oldest son and I watched the Chicago Blackhawks win game six of the Stanley Cup Finals, he pointed out something a little startling during the post-game on-ice celebration. In the 1990s, when it was the Bulls bringing championships to Chicago, at the final buzzer, their defeated opponent would immediately sprint for the locker room, hiding from the victors and their joy.

But last month, the defeated Tampa Bay Lightning did no such thing.

They waited patiently, for many minutes, as the Blackhawks celebrated together. Then, both sets of men lined up, as they’ve been doing since they were little boys, and they slowly moved past each other, giving handshakes and hugs and warm words of affirmation.

Although the teams had been in conflict for seven very intense games, there was a palpable sense of unity, as if both teams were part of something bigger than a contest, part of a great tradition called hockey, part of a mutual admiration for each other and a mutual respect for a game they are all indebted to. As I watched, I knew the post-game handshake was revealing something essential about conflict:

Conflict isn’t meant to be won; it’s meant to make us one.

Where to Find Peace When Peace is Elusive

Progress is a good thing, but not the best of things. The best things are timeless things, because though they may not bring us change, they bring us peace…

mindfulness

Rehoboth Beach, June 16, 2015, 5:41am

A month before we move, I give in to the sentimental thing at the center of me, and I spend a day touring our old haunts in the suburbs—the claustrophobic apartment in which we spent our first lean and tumultuous year in Chicago, the town surrounding it where we lived and loved and laughed and fought, the little townhouse we bought a couple of towns over, a sequence of daycares and restaurants and parks and the nooks and crannies of several different suburbs. I’m planning to see these old familiar places and then let go of them with a tear or two.

But it doesn’t happen.

Instead, I’m confronted again and again with how much changes in a decade. Buildings have been torn down, trees cut down, and businesses shut down. Very little remains the same. In a way, the trip serves its purpose: it helps me let go by reminding me the things to which I’m attached are already mostly gone. Yet, it gives me something new to grieve.

I grieve the death of timeless things.

In Celebration of the Mundane

“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

–Gustave Flaubert

adventure

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I can’t find anything.

We’re in a new house. With new light switches. And no place for my keys. And different cupboards. And a microwave with strange new buttons. And unmapped nooks and crannies. And boxes still taped up, holding answers, I’m sure, to many of the questions I’m asking. And all things are slightly different, which taken separately are pretty insignificant but when taken together amount to standing in the middle of the room, bewildered.

And for crying out loud, where is the toilet paper?

We’re in a new town. I’ve lived here before, but two decades will change anything, and where is the ATM, and which stores contain which groceries, and who provides phone service around here, and what time does the Walmart close because those screws I thought weren’t very important turn out to have been really important, and what are the rhythms of this place and how do we fall into them as quickly as possible?

We’re in a new routine. Actually, we’re in no routine. And, I think, only four days in, I’m ready for a routine again. I’m ready for regularity and order. I’m ready for normal and typical and mundane and boring. Not because I’m tired of adventure.

Because routine is the birthplace for adventure.

How to Look Fear in the Face and Say, “I Just Don’t Care”

“The art of living is to enjoy what we can see and not complain about what remains in the dark. When we are able to take the next step with trust that we will have enough light for the step that follows, we can walk through life with joy and be surprised at how far we go.”

–Henri Nouwen

gratitude

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On the morning we boarded a plane for the TODAY Show, I woke up in a panic. The house was February cold and the morning was February dark. I sat alone in my office and shivered.

I wasn’t shivering because of the cold.

I was wondering what I’d gotten myself into and how I might turn back time and not agree to go on national television. I meditated. I prayed. I couldn’t find peace. But then my prayers were answered by a still, small voice inside saying the strangest of things:

Glitter in the air.

I reached for my phone, played the song of that title, and the lyrics I’d forgotten were a blessed reassurance: 

Have you ever thrown a fistful of glitter in the air?

Have you ever looked fear in the face and said, “I just don’t care”?

It’s only half past the point of no return,

The tip of the iceberg,

The sun before the burn,

The thunder before the lightning,

And the breath before the phrase.

Have you ever felt this way?

For the rest of that surreal weekend in New York and at 30 Rock, as the fear would creep back in, I’d imagine our family with fistfuls of glitter thrown into the air and floating down around us. Crazy. Messy. A little bit out of control. But beautiful. Alive. Awake.

The Power of Friendship (When Friendship is a Verb)

The word “friend” is a derivative of the verb “freon,” which means, “To love.” A friend is a person. And a friend is a verb

friendship

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Two years ago, as my daughter was sprouting up through her fourth year of life, I was helping her put on a pair of jeans, and the waistband strained mightily. I asked her if she would like me to loosen it. She looked at me with puzzlement and asked, “Why?” So I found the stretchy strap inside the waistband and loosened it several notches.  I looked at her and asked, “Better?” This time, she looked at me with awe and she sighed,

“Oh my, that’s a lot of better.”

My daughter didn’t know how uncomfortable her pants were, because she didn’t know how comfortable they could feel. When dis-ease sets in like a slowly dripping faucet, we don’t notice it. We unconsciously adapt to it. This can happen to our pants. But it can also happen to our hearts.

We steadily, quietly get flooded by the almost imperceptible drip-drip of disinterest.

How to Know Who Loves You Best

The people who love us best can’t read our mind. They don’t know what we’re going to say or do next. But when we say something or do something clumsy, they trust the goodness of who we are. They can read our heart

community

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It’s spring again in Illinois, and that means a lot of things—green-soft grass, pollen everywhere, thunderstorms, soccer games, and the countdown to summer. It also means a big empty box sitting in the foyer of my daughter’s preschool, advertising the countdown until the chicks hatch. We arrive at the school on day zero and peer over the edge of the box.

Nothing yet.

I ask her where the eggs are.

My daughter looks at me somberly and says, “The chicks didn’t have a momma, so we needed to keep them warm in an escalator.”

I think about telling her it’s called an incubator, but I know what she means and not every moment needs to be a teaching moment. I smile. She smiles and grabs my hand and we walk into her class together.

How do we know when we belong?

The people we belong to know what we mean.

The Beauty of Being a Quitter

true self

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Six years ago, my wife and I had reached a pinnacle.

We’d just had our third and last child, my wife had become the director of her graduate psychology program, my clinical practice was thriving, and we’d just purchased a house in the right neighborhood with the best schools.

We had arrived.

Before long, though, we realized the place we’d arrived was like a hamster wheel. With a motor. That couldn’t be turned off. We had a mountain of debt, mountains of responsibility, and mountains of stress. We had worked tirelessly for two decades to get to the top and, upon arriving, we were greeted with this disappointing news:

There is no top.

Slowly, it dawned upon us: you don’t find peace by reaching the peak of all good things; you find peace by getting a peek at the good thing you’ve always been. You don’t reach happiness by climbing; you settle into happiness by settling into who you truly are.

The Point of Life Isn’t to Be More Happy (It’s to Be More You)

“Today you are you! That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is you-er than you!”

–Dr. Seuss

identity

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Seven years ago, my wife was the recipient of her college’s Junior Faculty Achievement Award, a symbol of a promising academic career in bloom. It was awarded for excellence in research, teaching, and every other skill of the academy. She hung the placard on her office wall. She went on to run international research projects, head her program, write a textbook, and mentor twenty-four students through their dissertations, amongst countless other achievements, both large and small.

Now, seven years later, shortly after reaching the summit of the academic life—tenure—my wife is resigning from her professorship. Now, she will be working in a small, rural health center, providing services to families who need help, but usually can’t get it. Her decision, on the surface of it, is perplexing at best and crazy at worst. I’ve tried to explain it many times in the last six months, but this is the closest I can get:

She’s a little closer to knowing who she is.

Why It’s Exhausting to Hide

It’s exhausting to hide who we truly are, because the true self is like a beach ball. It wants to float, and it takes an awful lot of work and energy to keep it pushed beneath the waves…

true self

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The cold brick dug into my forehead.

Spring 2005. Early morning. I’d walked out the back door of our small, third-floor apartment, and I was leaning my head against the brick wall on the outside landing. I was exhausted and I had all sorts of good excuses for that—a clinical internship, a young and struggling marriage, a sick baby—but the truth was, my false self was slowly killing me.

Or, rather, the work of maintaining my false self was killing me.

Building an image. Preserving a reputation. Appearing confident and competent. Keeping everyone happy with me. Feeling like I was never enough but always looking like I was more than enough. Falling apart but acting like I had it all together.

Utterly draining.

It’s tiring to hide your true self.