Category Archives: Relationships

Love Is Like Rice

When it comes time to add a sibling to the family, young children are often concerned if there will be enough love to go around. I have found it helpful to make the answer as concrete as possible.

Concrete thinking is a well-documented characteristic of children. Jean Piaget described how our thinking changes throughout childhood. A child under the age of 6, for example, tends to overlook a transition. They see the beginning and end but not the transition itself. So, if given play dough, and asked to roll it into a ball and then into a sausage, and asked if there is more, less, or the same amount of play dough as a ball or sausage, they will tell you there is more when it is a sausage. They see it as bigger and cannot see that material was not lost or gained in the transition. I understand why children, who have such difficulty with abstract ideas, find this difficult to understand and persist in their worry about whether their parents will love them as much when there is another child.

So, when dealing with a child’s concern of a new baby brother or sister, it is best to respond as concretely as possible. A simple way to do this is to demonstrate the transition from uncooked to cooked rice. I have them hold a cup of uncooked rice in their hands. Then, together, we add it to the pot and add the water. Then we watch it boil and we wait. We keep watching and waiting. Then we uncover the pot and see how much the rice has grown. This is followed by the simple statement: “Love is like that. When we add something, like a new baby brother or sister, it makes the total amount of love grow. Just like the water made the rice grow. There will always be enough love to go around.”

What is even more interesting to me is the idea that, at times, adolescents and adults find this concept difficult too. Middle school and high school students worry that there is not room in the group for everyone; so letting someone in means someone may have to be excluded. First-time parents worry that they will not love each other as much once their child arrives. They worry that a child will take up their time and they will “lose the romance”. Parents worry that they will not love the second child as much as they love the first. These worries reflect a concern that there is only a limited amount of love to go around; that when we have to divide it among more people, each person will get less.

However, that is simply not true. Love is meant to fill the space that is available to it. It fills the spaces and brings us closer to each other. The more people we share our love with, the more love there is to go around.

Love is like the water that makes the rice grow. Be afraid to skimp on your love, not to share it.

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Just Change Your Pants, George

“Just change your pants, George.”

“I’m gonna change my pants, Alice. But if I change my pants, I gotta change my jacket! If I change my jacket, I gotta change my shirt! If I change my shirt, I gotta change my tie! I hafta change my belt! I gotta change my shoes! I gotta change my socks!”

“Just change your pants, George.”

This interchange from the movie Beethoven (1992) takes place because Beethoven, a large St. Bernard dog, drooled on George’s pants and by doing so, “destroyed” George’s morning schedule – which George feels is the start to an overwhelming pile of problems.

These few lines make Beethoven one of my favorite movies of all times. It captures the thinking we all experience on those “bad” days when nothing seems to go our way and when we see problems everywhere we turn. More importantly, it represents the panic we all experience when change is required.

Sometimes, all we can see are the negative effects of change, blinding us from the opportunities for growth and happiness that are in front of us. In George’s case, innumerable problems confront him if he accepts the need to change his pants: he’ll then have to change his jacket, shirt, tie, belt, shoes, and socks. In the moment, George cannot see that changing his pants presents him with the opportunity to, on the most basic level, go to work with pants that are not full of dog saliva, but also with a more important opportunity: the chance to start his day over, look and feel better, and, most importantly, change his attitude about “life”.

This scenario is a humorous depiction of our tendency to “not be able to see the forest for the trees.” He is so caught up in the details that he misses the opening into the clearing. We all have the tendency to do that sometimes. The details overwhelm us and we lose sight of the bigger picture. Like George, we get caught up in the anticipation of change. It is the anticipation that often overwhelms us, not the actual change.

Change is an inherent part of life. We change physically, mentally, and emotionally every day. Most of these changes go unnoticed. It is the larger changes – the ones we anticipate – that cause us to worry.

As I have written before, worry is simply an indicator that some kind of change is necessary. So the key is to minimize the anticipation of the negative “what ifs” and keep our eye on the goal – that change is natural, that it represents an opportunity for our growth.

Let me provide some examples:

  • The start of the school year brings changes in schedules, routines, and expectations. A parent gets caught up in the chores that are part of the start of school – the need for backpacks filled with supplies, the need to prepare breakfast and lunch, the need to get to the bus on time. They anticipate that if their child is unprepared in some way, that the teacher will get annoyed, the teacher will have a bad opinion of their child, the child will have a bad year (in other words, the pants, jacket, shirt, tie, belt, shoes, socks of school). They forget that the actual goal is to prepare their child to enjoy school, to enjoy learning, and to listen to the best and worst parts of the child’s day. Once that goal is recognized, the chores can become part of the solution. If the chores are done together, as a family community, then chores provide an opportunity for chatting and for listening to each other. The change that occurs is positive and reflects the natural growth in all members of the family.
  • Generally, the rule in elementary school is that everyone in class must be invited to a party. As that rule changes, a child anticipates that not getting invited to a specific party represents the end of their social life. The spiral of catastrophe (they will never have friends, their social life is over, school will be awful – the pants, jacket, shirt, tie, belt, shoes, socks of school social life) is all that is seen. If they focus, instead, on the goal of having friends who share their interests, and values, and who are kind, then the change in rules provides an opportunity to learn how to be more selective in our friendships – a lesson that we learn and re-learn throughout our lifetime.
  • A couple considering their future together is often confronted with a considerable amount of negative statements about commitment. They are bombarded with information that tells them that people are not meant to be monogamous, that long term relationships get boring, that they will get on each other’s nerves (the pants, jacket, shirt, tie, belt, shoes, socks of commitment). They worry that the commitment will lead to a negative change in their relationship. If they focus instead on the goal of making each other happy, they will continually find ways to do that, making their relationship a “living” entity that must be nourished and attended to as it grows (changes) over time. If they want to make each other happy, they will find ways to do that. They may not (in fact will not) be able to do that all the time, but the want provides a path toward happiness.

The next time you feel the anticipation of change, don’t let it impact you in a negative way. Think of the anticipation as a sign that change is necessary. Try to identify the goal – the change that is required – and let the goal help you find a solution to the problem. Recognize that the anticipation is almost always worse than whatever the change will actually be. Remember that change is natural and necessary; change represents an opportunity to start over, to improve, to add to our lives. Remember to just change your pants, George, and it will be okay.

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If/Then

Our English teachers taught us that complex sentences use conjunctions – a “joiner” word – to bring two thoughts into a unified whole. Not only do complex sentences help us sound more intelligent, they also help us shape our lives because how we connect our thoughts can have a profound effect on our happiness.

For example, when a client says, “I want to meet someone but I know I never will” they are unhappy in the moment and see a future filled with unhappiness. If they say, “I want to meet someone and I know I will” they are filled with hope in the present and optimism for the future. If they say, “I want to meet someone so I went out” they are actively doing something that might change their present condition. It is not the connecting word alone that matters – it is the thoughts that are logically connected by the word we choose. It would not make sense, for example, to say, “I want to meet someone so I stayed home alone.” The so demanded an action to accomplish the goal stated in the first sentence.

In other words, being aware of these connections – and choosing to make more effective connections – is a fairly simple way to change our perspective. Let me give you more examples:

 “If I stay in this job I hate, then I will become more and more unhappy.” A more effective connection would be, “If I look for a new job, then I might find one that brings me more satisfaction.” “If I leave this relationship, then I might be alone forever” could be changed to, “If I move on to a new relationship, then I might find greater happiness.” Similarly, if only statements can get us stuck in the past rather than move us toward a more satisfying future: “If only I had not pushed for a commitment, we would still be together” keeps us pining for a relationship that is over.  Saying, “Although he/she was not ready for a commitment, I’m glad I let my goals be known”, however, allows us to take the positive from the past while moving toward a future in which both parties can find greater fulfillment. “I want to spend the rest of my life with you but I’m worried that I don’t make as much money as you so I will be a financial burden” changed to “I want to spend the rest of my life with you so I was wondering how you feel about the differences in our income” allows greater problem solving and less anxiety/worry.  It keeps the focus on the goal and invites multiple options to emerge.

 Even if can also be problematic. I have heard clients say, “Even if I meet someone now, I’ll be too old to have children.” Here the focus is on unfulfilled dreams and, in essence, provides no path to new dreams or fulfillment. Changing the statement to “Whether I meet someone or not, I will find a way to make some children happier” leads to finding a way to fulfill the original dream in some form (work in a hospital with babies born to mothers on drugs, volunteer to coach or spend time with children who have single parents or are in foster care, spend time with nieces/nephews/children of friends, etc.).

Words are important; they matter. So, choose your words carefully and use them as a pathway to greater contentment. If you seek greater happiness, then you will find it. It will “pop out” at you because your new perspective will allow it present itself.

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