Thursday, August 30, 2012

She's a Prince$$

The television network CNBC has a show called PRINCE$$.  I am a total sucker for this kind of program because I like to see reality TV that at least tries to change people's lives for the better. Each episode features a young woman who lives far beyond her means. She is nominated by people who have enabled her bad spending habits but who no longer want to support them. She is challenged to face reality and change her ways by Gail Vaz-Oxlade. In the first scene Gail requires that families, friends, and romantic partners commit to cutting off  all handouts and bailouts to the Prince$$. Then she issues a series of challenges to the Prince$$ to help her change her ways. If the Prince$$ rises to meet the challenges and change her habits and her attitudes Gail gives her $5000 toward paying off her debt. No changes, no money. It's intriguing.

On one recent episode I saw something new: a Prince$$ who admitted with no apparent shame that her plan was to spend her way to $100,000 in debt and then file for bankruptcy. She was 27 years old. I was appalled!  So was Gail. Now Gail almost always finds the soft spot she can poke to help a Prince$$ change her ways. This time she let the Prince$$ Tonya in on the secret that Grandma, one of Tonya's frequent bailout targets, is living on three-fourths of what the Prince$$ makes each month, yet still bails her granddaughter out when asked. Grandma says: "I would go without anything if it helped her." That was when Prince$$ Tonya began her transformation.

I was struck by the power of love to create change. Once Grandma understood that saying no to Tonya was the more loving choice, she buckled right down. And once Tonya understood that she was hurting her Grandma it was easy for her to stop asking.

It is much easier to say yes than to say no. We have to love our kids enough to say no. We are living in precarious times. We have to love them enough to make sure they know how and when to use this tool we call money - because they, and we, may have to face significant money challenges before this is all over. They may, or may not, learn about handling money from watching you; it is better if you teach them with intention.

My parents were frugal and wise and conservative with their money. I didn't follow their example until long after I became a parent. I'm still not totally there. We didn't talk about it; they assumed it was obvious. And in fairness to them, it probably was but they were up against a culture that completely undermined their example. Easy credit was rampant as I came of age, and  I learned other lessons from Madison Avenue that encouraged me to spend because "I was worth it." Guess which voice sounded more appealing?

You love your kids. That's why you read this blog. Love them enough to teach them about money. Not to love money, or to accumulate money, but to handle money. It will be like swimming upstream at times, but will benefit them greatly in the long run.

Prince$$ got me thinking a lot about how we teach our kids about money, so this is the first entry in a series about kids and parents and money. I hope you'll add your comments so we can learn from each other.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Off-to-school Blessings

Back to school is just around the corner. For some children, this will be the first day of preschool, for others it is kindergarten. Middle school and high school first days are also scary for both kids and parents, and sending them off to college is usually one of the hardest things we have to do as parents. Any first day is a great time to introduce the off-to-school blessing.

Short and sweet should be your bywords, and I recommend you try this even if  off-to-school means off-to-college.

  • Touch your child; on the head or on the shoulder is good.
  • Say a single sentence: "God watch over _____________ while we are apart. Amen." You can make up your own but short and memorable is the key.
  • Give them a kiss and send them on their way.
  • Repeat tomorrow, after Thanksgiving break, or when they leave to sleep over at a friend's house on Saturday night. Make it like saying goodnight or goodbye. Natural. Predictable.
  • Wait for the day they decide to bless you when you leave.

Rituals are powerful for children and adults. They improve the quality of our relationships by giving us common memory and a means for expressing our feelings when the words won't come. They can be internalized, and pulled out when needed. A ritual blessing like this pulls God in as a partner.

Though you may baptize your child with tears as she leaves, you can also bless her with confidence that all will be well. It is almost certain to be - and if it isn't, you will both be aware that God is there too.

In the meantime, I pray that God will watch over you as you send your child off to school.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Cousins and brothers and friends, Oh My!

My daughter got married last week (lots more on that later, after I have fully processed it) but one thing I really enjoyed was meeting the groom's family and the couple's friends. Over 150 people attended the wedding and I knew less than half of
them when it all started - but a lot more by the time it ended. This was my kind of event! Lots of new people to meet, seeing lots of friends and relatives who I don't see all that often. It was fun! Still, I know that not everyone was feeling my joy. . .

School is starting soon. How do we go about teaching our kids to meet new people? What is the one thing they should know to do when meeting a new person? Just say hi and stick out their hand? Introduce themselves and offer to help with something? Wait for someone else to approach them?

I have no simple formula for doing this. You know yourself, and you know your child. If you relate to the world in the same way then model how to do this. If you don't, help your child observe someone more like himself. If meeting people is challenging for your child, then set a goal with her. On the other hand, if meeting people is like breathing for your kid, then help him or her learn to be a better friend and move beyond superficial relationships. It's a new year, and a time for re-invention.

As a natural extrovert I am always drawn toward people but I recognize that not everyone shares this inclination. I am moved by the knowledge that every person I meet is created in the image of God, and I learn to see God more clearly through other people's reflections. Some of us will have to meet a lot of people to get a fuller picture of God. Some of us will plumb the depths of a few close friends, and also get a fuller picture of God. Whichever method suits a person is fine. Just make sure that making friends is not overlooked in the busy, competitive, demanding days of school. It is one of the great blessings of going to school - just ask any family who home-schools how much intention it takes to make sure kids get enough socialization. Love your child enough to help them make friends - by the time you reach the age of parenthood you should know a trick or two.

Here's to new friends and new reflections of God all around us. Hope the new school year goes swimmingly!

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Listener

They were already at their table when I was seated a short distance away. I barely took note of them until I heard the older one say "Well good on you!" Lover of words that I am, I perked up my ears and jotted down the expression, wondering what part of the country it came from. I turned back to my coffee and list-making but repeatedly found myself eavesdropping on their conversation.

I studied them covertly. It was a young man of about twenty and an older man probably nearing his middle-forties. They didn't appear to be father and son.  Their dress seemed similar. Both were clad in denim and tee-shirts. The older guy wore a baseball cap; the younger one wore glasses and an earnest expression. They clearly didn't know each other well but something drew them together.

The older guy asked a lot of questions:  "How's that pick-up running? Who's this guy you're gonna live with this fall? How old is your little brother now? Is he still in Houston? What are you planning to do when you finish all that studying?" Every answer the young man gave received an affirming response: "That was a good move! There you go, now your mind is starting to work like it needs to. I understand. Great!" Sometimes he asked a question, either to make sure he understood, or to get more information. The young man sat up straighter under all that positive attention. His answers got longer and were punctuated with quick smiles.

I listened through their whole breakfast. I learned, from listening to their exchange, that the young man's father had recently passed away and that the older guy was his dad's friend. When the young man heard that he was getting to be "more like his old man every day" his eyes shone with tears and he grinned with pride and delight.

I don't know who the father's friend was, or how they met, or what their relationship meant to him. I don't know how much time he had spent with his friend's son or who initiated breakfast. What I do know is that when that man took a younger man to breakfast and listened and encouraged and cared about him, he made a difference in the world.

What a remarkable person. He demonstrated every listening skill I have ever been taught: he nodded as he listened, repeated what he heard in his own words to check for meaning, affirmed the speaker, and asked follow up questions. He also used great encouragement tactics: he smiled, nodded, affirmed, talked about what mattered to the other person, remembered stuff from previous situations, and said repeatedly how much confidence he had in the young man. In a final act of generosity he picked up the check. Good on him!

This should not have been a remarkable conversation.  Sadly though, a lot of conversations between people of unequal ages consist of the older one talking and the younger one listening.  When that is the case, the younger one doesn't get to hear words of encouragement and the older one doesn't hear anything new.  It was refreshing to see someone use God-given talents of listening and encouragement with a person who clearly needed it. The young man soaked in the older man's approval and encouragement and at the end he stood taller, like grass after a rain.

Is there someone younger who you could listen to and affirm today?

P.S. According to Google, "Good on you: is Urban Slang; a congratulatory expression to let someone know they have excelled at something.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Are We Friends?

Am I your friend's mother, or your mother's friend? Are you the daughter of my friend, or the friend of my daughter? Or are we friends in our own right?

Nothing can bring a puzzle like this to light like planning where everyone should sit at a wedding reception. My daughter did all the heavy lifting on this for her wedding - I just did the overthinking part on the sidelines. Some choices are easy - work people sit with work people, bride's family with bride's relatives, but there are always people who don't fit, exactly.  People who have independent relationships with the bride or groom and with their respective parents. Do they sit with friends of the bride and groom? Do they sit with family friends? Where do they fit in?

Maybe I was extra sensitive to these divisions because I was also doing camp where young counselors were part of my team and as the week progressed I got to know them better than I knew some of their parents.  I can now count them as friends because we have laughed and suffered together as friends do - especially when we are the "adults" in a room full of children.

This week our "sermon" was delivered by young people who had recently attended the ELCA National Youth Gathering in New Orleans. They shared some wonderful stories of their experiences but one haunting note chimed in: they did not feel part of the church before they went to the Gathering. They felt that they were not fully part of things - that church was intra-generational. The youth group did things together, and the adults did things together. They did not whine about this - in fact they celebrated the knowledge that this is not actually the case. It made me wonder though; when did people stop mentoring young people at church?

I think banishing young people to a single generation lifestyle is probably a bad idea. It robs them of mentors,  restricts their activities and conversations to a particular cognitive level, denies them the opportunity to see things from another perspective, makes nearly everything competitive, and also limits their historical perspective. On a purely utilitarian level - who will be more qualified in the job market, the one who understand her peers, or the one who understands people of multiple generations? From a faith perspective, it seems to have similar benefits: knowing people's stories helps us to understand how God works in the world and we reap the richest rewards when we hear those stories first-hand.

Engaging in real friendship with people of another generation is not a stream that trickles down from the oldest to the youngest. It is a two-way street where I gain from knowing my daughters' friends and my friends' daughters, and they gain from knowing me. While the mechanics of relationship probably differ for men and boys or across the gender divide, the benefits remain.

Blessings on your friendships! May they span many generations.