How to Create A Family Mission Statement

Not by You but by Them

In my daily video this morning, I talked briefly about our Family Mission Statement, although the message was about Lies Lies Lies (FB Video).  As promised, here is copy of our statement written a few years ago.

DeVriesAre

Now that you see it, feel free to copy it, crib from it, tweak it, or use it as a template.  But, just do something with your family and kids.  Do it this evening. It does not need to be perfect.  It does not need bible verses.  It just needs to be you and your spouse and your kids mapping out the theme for your family.

Local Man Duct Tapes His and His Son’s Mouths

Teaching Your Boys How to Respect Ladies

Nashville, TN — A local man used a roll of duct tape this past weekend to tape his mouth shut, as well as that of his 8-year-old son, to allow the ladies in their home to speak. “I just got so tired of interrupting my wife every time we spoke,” the local man said, “And I figured that I would do something to just SHUT UP.”

shut up bracelet

The local man also used the incident to teach his two sons about respect and encouragement: “You have to treat a lady like a lady, whether its your sister, mom, friend or spouse. And that means allowing them to speak and be a part of your conversation.  And one of these days I am going to get it right with your mom, who (when I stop to listen), has a lot of great things to say.” 

The man and his two sons have now made a line of duct tape “SHUT UP BRACELETS” to sell to other men in the world as a reminder to … JUST SHUT UP!

Okay. So this local man was me.  Not years ago. Not months ago.  This past weekend.  I think you get the picture, but there’s more to the lesson.

A couple will never be able to communicate if one of them is always talking and the other one is always listening.  I understand that we all have talents in our lives, but I have recently  learned that my talent or strength as a construction litigation attorney during the day is setting me up for conflict and failure at home in the evening.  My wife and family are not my clients, they are not a judge or jury, they are not my legal problem to solve.  They are my family.  Many times, my wife just wants me to listen as I walk into the door: listen to her problems, listen to her excitements, listen to her ideas….JUST LISTEN TO HER.

So what’s your challenge in communication with your spouse or children?  Do you need to listen more?

Gail and Michael Hyatt Ask: “Are You A Student of Your Marriage?”

They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder.  I agree.  Courtney and the kids have been out of town for the past week visiting family and the dead silence in the home felt nice … for about … an hour.

Home

Over the past few days, however, I heard the return of voices every night I came home after a long day of work. The voices were not those of children giggling, fighting or running amok. They were my own voices:

  • Matt, how’s that juggling thing going?
  • Matt, are investing in people as much as your work?
  • Matt, do you know your spouse better today than when you married her?
  • Matt, are you playing to win? Or just playing to get by?

That last one has been haunting me for months.  You see, as a busy construction attorney and father of seven, it is easy to put on my work boots and trudge to the next deadline and task.  I tell myself that my wife and kids will be there when I get home, no matter how late.   Not so … this week.

I found great solace this morning in a two-part podcast by Gail and Michael Hyatt, called Help, I Married An Entrepreneur. You don’t have to be a businessman or woman to find these messages relevant.  All you need is an open mind and heart to seek some great wisdom from this married couple of over 35 years.  It is definitely worth listening to both sessions, and here is what I learned:

  1. You need to be a student of marriage.  Gail makes this point very clear, in that a successful marriage for them did not happen by chance.  They sought mentors. They read books. They talked with each other regularly.  For me, it means “playing to win” in your marriage.  It is more than just going through the motions of living life with your spouse.  It is attacking your marriage with the same passion as your work.
  2. Marriage is hard work.  Michael and Gail share about some of the valleys they experienced in the early years of marriage.  Perspective and commitment were two recurring themes that enabled each of them to work through the difficult times.  Michael shares that in 2001, he put his business savvy planning into his personal life by writing down a vision for his marriage, family and personal life. (You can get a copy of his Life Plan e-book for free.)  Again, the lesson learned here is: Successful businesses require hard work. Successful marriages take hard work, too.
  3. Words matter in marriage.  As businessman, Michael shares that “encouragement [from Gail] has made all the difference” in the world.  They talk about the importance of appreciation and affirmation.  Appreciation is thanking your spouse for everything brought to the table, whether big or small. It is communicating to your spouse that their sacrifices do not go unnoticed. Affirmation, on the other hand, is focusing on what you love about your spouse.

I would strongly recommend Gail and Michael’s message no matter what your career or circumstances.  If you want to play to win, you need to be purposeful in the steps you take.

Question: As a student of your own marriage, what have you learned?

Image: Powderruns

Top Signs You Know Your Work-Life Balance is Out of Whack

One evening after I returned from an extended out-of-town work trip, I overhead my eldest daughter Alex tell my wife that she (my wife) would make a great single mom.  Ouch!  That’s not something you want to hear when you are married to this supposed single mom.

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While my daughter meant no harm by the statement, it’s the underlying meaning behind the statement that was important.  Here are some of the top signs you know you work-life balance is out of whack:

  1. Your family jokes about your absence.  Alex is quite the comedienne. But underneath the laughter there is a grain (or sandbox…) of truth.  You see, in my daughter’s eyes, my wife has carried the brunt of the family workload over the past few weeks.  In my daughter’s eyes, my wife has been living like a single mom and doing a great job at keeping the household together.  In my daughter’s eyes, I have been absent from the family.  That’s a sign!
  2. You see disappointment in little faces.  Just last week as I was heading out the front door at about 6:00am for an early morning of work, my second daughter Addy ran downstairs to give me a hug.  I filled up with joy as I heard those first few words, “I love you! Have a good day!”  Then, as a took a step away from my home life and towards my work life, I saw and heard her disappointment, “See you tonight…maybe…”  That precious 8-year-old voice crushed me with a boulder of truth.  By saying “maybe” she knew that I was not going to be home another night.  And that’s a sign!
  3. You miss details of family life.   You certainly may be busy with work obligations that keep you from home activities during the week.  But when you get home,  you have to check-in to your surroundings  If you find that you missed a soccer practice, or a birthday party, or a family outing to the park, DESPITE THE FACT THAT YOUR SPOUSE TOLD YOU MULTIPLE TIMES, then that’s a sign.

You and I can make all the excuses we want about how much work has to be completed during the week, but if we miss the signs and details of what is happening at home, we cannot find balance.

Question: What signs tell you that your work-life balance is out of whack?

How to Deal with Insecurities in Your Relationships?

My wife and I have an insecurity problem.  She’s insecure. I’m not. Okay, maybe that’s reversed.  Maybe it depends on the day…or the hour.

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One of my readers recently sent us the following praise, along with a question:

I have found your blogs to be very honest….you guys put it all out there and expose the reality that it isn’t all ribbons and rainbows! Appreciate and value the perspective you both share.

Anyway, how do you navigate the waters day to day together without losing connection and/or questioning the direction along the journey?

The questions really are about insecurity.  I am not joking when I say that the insecurities in our marriage ebb and flow with the tides.   But as long as we know that truth prior to getting into the boat, we tend to find our way through stormy waters.  Here’s how:

  1. Talk openly.  We got much of our fighting done prior to getting married.  We went through a 12-week pre-marital counseling program at our local church, where we talked about all the stormy waters of a relationship: finances, in-laws, children, expectations, sex (…can he say that?…yep!…), church, communication, work, etc.  The program created an environment where we could talk openly about these issues before they arose, since we knew they would arise sometime in our marriage.
  2. Walk humbly.  The storm will get thicker the more your focus on your own individual losses, feelings, emotions, goals, etc.  As an attorney, I can argue (or justify) my way out of any marital situation.  But that is not the best route for the relationship.  Most of the time when I think I am “right” about something, I dig my heels into my position and let her have it!  And every time I do so, I am closer to losing what I love most.  I have learned that even if I have the better side of the argument, most times I can calm the storm with two words: “I’m sorry.” If you humble yourself, you can minimize each of your insecurities.
  3. Hold tightly.  We navigate the waters without losing connection because we hold each other tightly…both literally and figuratively.  In a literal sense, no words can give my wife the security she desires more than a tight hug, arms wrapped around her tightly, and a kiss on her forehead.  Figuratively, we walk hand-in-hand through each challenge.  When your hands drop from your partner (out of selfishness, anger or laziness), you stand alone.
  4. Laugh regularly.  When you realize that you are navigating rough waters, with no oars in the boat, and you are out of food, sometimes you need to look at your spouse and say, “Good time to start a diet, sweetie! Look out Sports Illustrated: Couples Swimsuit Edition here we come!”  Courtney and have become marital comedians over the past few years because we have decided to change our outlook on situation.  It does not always take the hurt away, but a giggle or a smile will often help you weather the storm.
  5. Learn continually.  All of this may sound really good and may help you through a fight or two, but Courtney and I find success when we remember the lessons of a prior storms just as we are going through a new storm.  It won’t be a guarantee success this time, but we often know what “not” to do based upon the prior challenge.  And so will you.

Question: How do you deal with insecurities in your relationships?

Image: Kathy

All Hell Breaks Loose at Home and You’re Busy At Work: What Next?

All hell breaks loose…can he say that in a blog post?  Yep, and I am not talking about the Eminem song featuring Dr. Dre.  I am talking about the phone call you receive from your spouse in the middle of the day and you just hear in their voice that something is wrong.  You want to help out, but frankly you are in the middle of putting out fires at work.  What can (or should) you do?

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Air expectations.

This means you and your spouse should openly talk about “bothering” each other.  In my marriage, my wife has often said that she does not call me because she is afraid of “bothering” me at work.  Whereas, I have a different expectation: I won’t let you bother me.  Sounds harsh, but let me explain that a little better.  I often have told my wife: “Call me any time. If  I am busy or not there, I won’t answer the phone. If I can talk, I will answer the phone.  If it is an emergency, text me and left me know it is an emergency.”  Over the years, by airing our expectations, we have gotten better in communicating about emergencies.

Answer if possible.

If you can answer the phone, then answer the phone.  There have been times (… I hope she is not reading this…) that her number came up on Caller-ID and I did not want to answer the phone.  I may not have been working on something at that particular moment, but I was sure that I did not want to talk to anyone.  You’ve been there…I know.  Anyway, it just takes a minute to answer the phone and ask them if you can call them back.  If you are kind with your words, then they will certainly understand.  If it is something important, then you will be glad you answered the phone.

Avoid the minimizing.

Sometimes all hell breaks loose at home and, since you are not there, you don’t fully appreciate and understand the stress on the other end of the line.  In fact, this happened today.  I heard kids screaming in the background, but there was a chilling monotone in my wife’s voice, as she said:

“Can you talk?”  Of course.

“I need help.”  This sounded really serious.

“Your son bit himself and blamed his brother.  That’s devious of him and I am so distraught.”  I laughed.

That was the wrong response.  I actually said the words, “Whew, I thought it was something serious.”  In the end, my wife just wanted some encouragement and I (wrongfully) minimized her problem.  I should have saved my humorous words for tonight’s pillow talk.  But, I messed up.  Don’t minimize your spouse’s feelings.

Attend emergencies.

So what happens if the call is truly a family emergency?  You need to do whatever is necessary to attend to the emergency.  If you are in a staff meeting, they will excuse you.  If you are on a client conference call, it can be rescheduled.  Even if you are in a court hearing or in the middle of a momentous marketing pitch, they will (or should) understand.  If they do not, then you may have to make a choice between family and work.  And I suspect depending on the emergency, you will make the right choice.

Question: What do you do when all hell breaks loose?

Image: Victor1558

You Know You Are Grumpy When … You Dream in Grumpy

Over the past few months, I have been so stressed that my wife cornered me on more than one occasion to let me know how “grumpy” I have been with the children and with her.  My first reaction … No way!  You’re the grumpy one, chica!

grumpy

I soon realized that my wife was right when I started dreaming in grumpy. Last week I woke up at about 3:00am with anger in my mind and a frown on my face.  I woke up from an insanely realistic dream where I was yelling at my children, picking apart my wife and kicking the cat.   I woke up and wanted to run away from myself.

Language studies show that if you begin to dream in a foreign language, then you are comfortable with the foreign language and may be on the verge of fluency.  So what does it mean when you dream that you are angry and “on edge” with everyone?  I think it means you are angry and “on edge” with everyone … and on the verge of hurting those you most care about.  Here is what you can do turn those dreams around?

  • If you’ve yelled at your kids, it is never too late to apologize. Even where a few days has gone by, my children truly appreciate (and understand) when I take them to the side to “say sorry” for being grumpy.  Addy Joy, do you remember when Daddy yelled at you two days ago for getting out of bed?  Well, I am sorry.  I should not have yelled at you.  It is your job to stay in bed and it is my job to teach you to obey instructions.  But it was wrong of me to yell at you.  Will you forgive me? Those words can make a huge impact on a child.
  • If you’ve been short with your wife, it is never too late to open up to her. Just because my wife is an adult, I cannot assume that she will fully appreciate the stress that consumes me during the day.  I am learning to make a concerted effort to take a few “moments of silence” after pulling into the driveway to prepare for my entrance into the home.  Again, the words are simple: Honey-babe-schmoopy-pie … I am sorry for not understanding how my stresses affect you and the kids.  It’s been tough on me for the past few days and I forget that we are on the same team.  Will you forgive me? Most of the time, she will embrace you with open arms.  And by the way, sweetie, wanna make out?
  • If are you dreaming in grumpy, it is never too late to change. Luckily for me (and for my family), I have only had one grumpy dream.  But it was a huge wake-up call (…pun intended…) that I needed to change my attitude toward my children.  I realize that my grumpiness is not going to solve the stresses that are making me grumpy.  Does that make sense?  If eating ice cream is not going to help you lose weight, then why would yelling at your kids or spouse help you with the stresses at work, or the financial strains, or the problem you may be having with a friend.  It won’t.

Are you dreaming in grumpy?  If so, how can you turn those dreams around?

Image: sokab

Quality versus Quantity: How to Balance Work and Family

Whoever said that “quality is more important than quantity” when spending time with your family probably had more kids than me.  If you don’t know, we are blessed with seven wonderful children ranging from age 15 years to 16 months.

I don’t know about you, but I think the amount of time you spend with your kids is just as important as what you do when you are with them.   So the real question becomes:  How can you juggle the demands of a busy career, community or church involvement, and your family obligations?

While I don’t have all the answers, here is what I have learned over the past few years:

  • Your family should be a top priority.  Throughout my career as a lawyer, I have struggled with finding the right balance between work and family.  It always seemed to be a competition between which of the two got my attention at any given point in time.  It took a long time for me to realize that my family is critical to my success as a lawyer.   (Even now, it continues to be a daily struggle … but I am getting better!)  Once you realize how important your family is to your overall well-being, you can better plan your days.
  • Your work will (or should) appreciate your priorities.  I have worked at three separate law firms throughout my career, and I can say, without hesitation, that every one of my employers valued the importance of a healthy family unit for their employees.  As an business owner, I expect my assistants and staff to have the same balance and mindset.  While not all employers share this ideal, I think it is important that you set proper boundaries going into any new employment so that you can love your job, at the same time as you care for your family. (Again, this continues to be a commitment that I have to remind myself daily!)
  • Your family needs both quality and quantity time. There is no secret or magic formula to finding the right balance, as each family has a different make-up.  For my wife, who homeschools our children, it means that she still needs to take time to spend with each child separately, even though she spends most of the day …  every day … with them.  For me, it means that my kids need to see me every day,  even though there may be times when I leave to work before they awake and I come home from work long after they have gone to bed.  (… Tell me how to figure that one out?…)  For example, at least one day a week I try to spend breakfast with the family and go into work late.  Late Friday nights and early Saturday mornings are also a must! When I have an errand to run, I’ll take one or two smiling faces with me on what we call “an excursion of a lifetime” … even if it is to Home Depot. Whether or not you have kids, you also have to take the time to invest in your marriage.  (This is where I have the most room for growth.)
  • You have to meet your kids at the playground.  I mean this both literally and figuratively.  Kids love the playground and even the 1/2 hour quick stop to the playground will meet your children’s expectations.  This also means that you need to get down to their level …  and I mean their eye level …  so that they feel you are connecting with them.  For example, just this morning as I hopped in the shower to prepare for the day, Jackson knocked on the shower door and asked if he could take a shower too.  While I could have said no, because I had to get to work, I opened the door, sat down in the shower with him, and we played with buckets of water for ten minutes. The giggles from my three-year old were the perfect assurance that I had made the right decision for this ten-minute interruption to my morning ritual.

If your life is like mine, there are not enough hours in the day to get everything done. However,  you need to make sure to plan for both quality and quantity time with your family.  It’s crucial to your success.

Question: Do you have any tips and suggestions for this juggling father?

Image: Earls37a

Words, Tones and Looks Are Game Changers

It’s no secret that the words you use with your spouse or children have a tremendous impact on your relationship with them.  But did you know that the tones you use or the looks you cast have the same meaningful impact?

As I was hanging an over-sized dry erase board this evening, I gathered all the right tools to make it a quick install: the stud-finder, the large level, the tape measure, the drill, and a handful of screws with washers.  I was marking the wall with the stud-finder, a nifty little grown-up toy that caught Dylan’s attention.  As I got the first few screws in place, Dylan broke the silence.

“Dad?”

“Yeeeeeesssss, Dylan?” I snarled back, eye brows pitched and eyes rolling.

“Um … Nevermind.”

I looked down at him and saw that I had changed his entire thought process with two small words, stated angrily, coupled with a facial expression that crushed his enthusiasm.  I had to act quickly.  I jumped down from the step stool, dropped the drill and got in his face with a smile: “What do you want, son?”

“Nevermind, Dad.”

Was I too late? Did I truly steal his question from him?

“Dylan, I am sorry.  This project is not more important than you.  Your question matters to me.  You matter to me.  What did you want to ask me?”

“It’s no big deal. I just wanted to know how that thing finds wood behind the wall.  That’s all.”

“That is a big deal … and a great question!  I am sorry I tried to steal that question from you.”

We spent the next 15 minutes laughing and giggling about the stud-finder.  It was close, but I almost put another wedge between me and another kid in my family.  I’m good at that … are you?   As you think about your words, tones and looks, remember these tips:

  1. Words are alive.  When I think about the negative words I use with my spouse or kids, my mind often flashes to my dad and his father, who chastised dad every time he spilled his milk as a child.  It became a prophecy of milk-spilling because my dad had heard those words so many times.  Those words from granddad were alive…they pierced my dad’s young mind and heart…and they grew inside him like a tumor.
  2. Tones and looks change the words.  You can say the same word, “Yes”, with 20 different tones and have 20 different meanings.  You can roll your eyes with sarcasm or gaze softly, each sending a distinct message.  People easily pick up on your tone and if they think you are unapproachable, they will stop approaching you.
  3. All of them are game-changers.  Negative words are discouraging and positive words are encouraging.  When you realize that your words, tones and looks can tear down your spouse or children, as well as build them up, there is not much of a choice to make.  Proverbs 17:22 says that a “joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.

Which do you want?  You can make a difference.  You really can be that parent who runs up and down the soccer field screaming “Go! Go! Go!”  You really can be the spouse who says, “Great job with the kids today. I know it’s hard, but great job.”  To be joyful is to be ready to spread encouragement, enthusiasm and positive words to others.  Are you game?