Nurturing the Inner Light?

Nurturing the Inner Light?

I was a member of the Boy Scouts during my early adolescence. I enjoyed being able to be a part of this group as it allowed me the opportunity to learn a variety of practical life skills I still use now and enjoy passing on to my own children. The Scout motto ‘Be Prepared’ has stuck with me to the degree that I find myself implementing its ethos every single day.

Oh, and we were allowed to play with fire so that was a perk.


Or perhaps it would be better said we were taught how to build and maintain a campfire. A campfire was always central to any scouting outing. The campfire was a place to cook our food,  a gathering place around which we could tell stories full of adolescent bravada late into the night, and a place to warm us during the chill of early morning as we sat half-asleep wondering how our fathers could be so awake and ready to go even as the sun had only just barely burnt off the morning fog.

Building a fire and taking care of a fire was an important responsibility. Proud was the scout who was able to get a fire going where others had failed. There was always a competition to see who could start a fire using the least amount of resources or in the most difficult of situations. One match was child’s play, one strike of the flint and steel was considered expert level while none of us had the patience for wizard level (i.e. rubbing two sticks together.)

Two lessons have always stuck with me about building a good campfire.

Lesson one was the importance of building a solid base consisting of some sort of a firestarter material (dryer lint), kindling (small splinters of wood) and no more than two or three logs of wood. The materials were arranged with care to allow for the fire to grow and sustain itself. Most of the time, not taking the time to build a solid base led to a fire that went out before it even really started.

Lesson two was that a campfire needed to be tended. The first spark needed to be gently nurtured until it was a growing flame. A growing flame needed space and constant attention so that it would not die out before becoming a roaring fire. A good campfire that was built well only needed minimal attending. Vigilance was required to ensure it wouldn’t leap outside its boundaries and start an uncontrollable forest fire but also vigilance to ensure the fire wouldn’t go out as the wood burned low. (But, even then there were many times when a new fire was easily started from the embers and ashes of an old one using the same gentle, nurturing touch.)

Due to the nature of field in which I work, I have occasionally been asked my opinion about the source of a child’s potential and how best a parent can unlock that potential. I have noticed that my opinion on this subject is often at odds with the beliefs of the faith community in which I participate as well as the culture of the Midwestern community in which I live.

To some, children are born with an overpowering desire to do wrong. As parents we are then tasked to rid them of this desire, whether through strong discipline or a shaming reproach rooted in a hundreds of years old belief that a heavy hand is needed to essentially ‘beat the devil’ out of our children. Anything less risks our children being lost to those wrong desires they were born to. The logic and application makes sense if that is our belief. In fact, if our belief is that children are born with a bent towards evil within them, it would be (arguably) negligent to not respond strongly through any means possible to save them from themselves.

But, I do not believe children are born with an innate desire to do wrong as the foundation of their identify and morality. I find comfort in the teachings of the Quaker faith (a faith to which I am not a part) in which there is a belief that all are born with an inner light, an inner spirit that is good and pure. For the Quakers, my understanding is that they believed this inner light is God.

As the light is nurtured and tended to like a campfire, God grows in the person until such a degree that the person is completely overwhelmed in the love of God, a love that is then poured out into the world through the actions and character of that person.

Of course, not all believe in God or believe that God resides in us in that way. But, what if the foundational concept was correct? What if we were born with a bent towards doing good, towards creating a just and fair world? If that were true, how might that change our approach to parenting?

Through my work in the social work field, I have met with hundreds of parents who are trying as hard as they can, but who are ultimately failing to parent their children in a way that they find to be helpful and consistent to their child growing to become the person their parents want them to be. I am often told stories that end in some form of “so we end up using physical discipline because that’s what we have to do.” I always respond with a question.

I ask, “If there was another approach that allowed you to raise your child to flourish while also instilling a strong sense of character and discipline, an approach that didn’t use any form of physical discipline, would you be interested to learn that approach?”

Not one parent has ever said no.

There is another way to parent than using an updated version of the Puritan belief that we are all hopeless and need a strong, forceful hand to keep us on the right path.

My approach to parenting is similar to how I learned to build a campfire. I believe that children if nurtured well and gently re-directed when necessary, they will grow to provide much good to themselves and those around them. There is no need to take a strong hand against my children because I am cultivating in them a desire to do what is right. Yes, they will make mistakes and make decisions I do not like. But, so what? Parenting is the constant tending to the fire to ensure that even when it crosses the threshold to the forest, I can quickly and easily move it back to a safe space.

Does this mean I let them do whatever they want and live in a chaotic of world of absolute free choice? Absolutely not. I provide structure, rules and consequences when needed. But, even the negative consequences my children earn are aimed at teaching rather than punishing.

Of course, there’s no such thing as a perfect parent. Or at least I know I am not one. I make mistakes, I miss teachable moments, I raise my voice sometimes, etc. But, as much as I can, I try to remain focused on the bigger goal of my parenting; raising children who know well that they possess an inherent value and goodness and who I hope will one day be independent, healthy and flourishing adults.

But, perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps children are born fallen shells of their potential selves. Potential selves that they can never become. Yet, if that were true, how is empathy then for their plight not always a more helpful response than inflicting physical pain?


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Parenting Siblings

Best Frienemies


Heidi has 2 children, both girls age 7 and 4. Heidi has noticed that some days her daughters are best friends and will play together nicely for hours. Other times, her daughters don’t get along at all. They argue and fight all day and say they hate each other. At some point, Heidi usually gets annoyed and yells at them to stop and that they better start getting along better.


Heidi’s daughters are sometimes best friends while sometimes they are each other’s worst enemies. The longer they get along well, the more likely they are to get mad at each other.

  • Siblings won’t always get along. It’s perfectly normal that they don’t always get along.
  • Children don’t often have the skills to successfully overcome conflict in a helpful way.


Strategy: Be a referee.

  1. You’re not likely going to be able to raise siblings who never have a single conflict with each other. So, when conflict comes up, teach them how to manage it in a helpful way.
  2. Raised voices, hitting, demeaning consequences are not helpful ways. Listening to each other, being able to forgive and move on, having to work together on a task or project, etc. are helpful ways to deal with sibling conflict.

This strategy won’t work in every situation. But, it’s a good start for trying to figure out how to change a child’s behavior for the better.

Questions? Contact or @raisingupdads on Facebook and Twitter! Go here to find more parenting strategies!

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No Excuses Parenting?

Following Through on Consequences


Lori’s daughter Kylie received a referral at school today. It’s Kylie’s 3rd referral of the year. Every referral has been because of the same issue. Kylie keeps teasing another student by making cruel comments about the other student’s appearance. The student makes fun of Kylie back and the two argue back and forth until they are almost physically fighting and need to be separated by the teacher.


Lori always comes to school and yells at Kylie in front of her teacher and peers. Lori threatens to take away Kylie’s phone and Netflix access. But, when they get home, Lori lets Kylie do whatever she wants.

  • After so many times, Kylie knows her mom isn’t going to follow-through. She has little motivation to change her inappropriate behaviors.
  • Lori knows she needs to do a better job following through on consequences, but she feels that Kylie will grow up eventually and figure it out.


Strategy: Understand your child’s behavior, don’t excuse it

  1. Consequences need to be impactful to change behavior. Don’t threaten to take away your kid’s phone. Take it away and clearly explain what you want them to do to get it back. Keep in mind what they need to do must be reasonable to their age and development.
  2. Kids don’t magically figure out how to be good. They’re taught to be good through consistent and fair parenting.

This strategy won’t work in every situation. But, it’s a good start for trying to figure out how to change a child’s behavior for the better.

Questions? Contact or @raisingupdads on Facebook and Twitter! Go here to find more parenting strategies!

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We Need To Talk…

Parenting is Full of Difficult Conversations


Shelby’s best friend since Kindergarten is Angel. Shelby’s parents Tim and Cheryl haven’t allowed her to spend time with Angel outside of school because they don’t like how Angel’s parents let her do whatever she wants. Shelby’s parents think Angel is becoming a bad influence on Shelby. They haven’t told Shelby any of this though, they just tell her no when she asks to go over to Angel’s house. Shelby feels frustrated, upset and confused which has led to her arguing and being more defiant at home.


Tim and Cheryl are avoiding a difficult conversation with their daughter. Also, they’ve set a new rule with no explanation for why it’s been set.

  • There’s no ‘perfect’ way to tell a child they can’t spend time with a friend anymore. But, avoiding the conversation isn’t helpful either.
  • Children do well with consistency and structure. When that structure is changed, it’s common for a child to feel ‘off’ and act out as they try to understand their new normal, especially if they have little parent support


Strategy: Fumbling is better than Avoiding

  1. When any difficult situation comes up in parenting, (limiting friendships, puberty, death of a loved one, etc.) it is important that a two-way conversation occurs between you and your child. (A two-way conversation means you allow them to respond and participate in the conversation. A one-way conversation is a lecture.)
  2. It is also important for the conversation to keep happening. Once may not be enough. Allow your child to ask questions. If they understand, they are more likely to be able to accept.

This strategy won’t work in every situation. But, it’s a good start for trying to figure out how to change a child’s behavior for the better.

Questions? Contact or @raisingupdads on Facebook and Twitter! Go here to find more parenting strategies!

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Are You Lying to Me?

The Trap of Forced Truth


Kylie’s frustrated with her oldest son, Jacob who is 9 years old. Jacob won’t stop lying about everything! Even in situations when Jacob is clearly lying, when the evidence against him is indisputable, he still lies. Yesterday, Kylie watched Jacob hit his younger sister. Kylie asked Jacob why he hit his sister. Jacob said he didn’t hit her. Kylie said she saw the whole incident and demanded Jacob tell the truth. Jacob refused, telling more lies instead. Kylie eventually gave up and walked away because she was so angry.


Kylie thinks she’s doing the right thing by trying to get Jacob to tell the truth, but really all she’s doing is giving Jacob more opportunities to lie and to tell better lies

  • Children generally receive a lot of attention for telling lies, but very little attention for telling the truth
  • The more a parent pushes a child to tell the truth, the more opportunity there is for the child to tell more lies


Strategy: Stop Feeding the Lie

  1. If you suspect (or know) your child is lying, issue them a negative consequence. Don’t question the lie, demand the truth, or give any more attention than necessary to the lie.
  2. Don’t take the lie personally. Children don’t understand lies in the same way adults do. Even for teenagers, their understanding is not as advanced as an adult.

This strategy won’t work in every situation. But, it’s a good start for trying to figure out how to change a child’s behavior for the better.

Questions? Contact or @raisingupdads on Facebook and Twitter! Find more parenting strategies here!

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The Anguish Beneath

The Anguish Beneath

“While you may feel physically and mentally strong, you still experience a forceful undercurrent of anguish. You sleep well, you work well, but there are few waking moments when you do not feel that throbbing pain in your heart that makes everything seem up in the air. You know that you are progressing, but you can’t understand why this anguish keeps pervading everything you think, say, or do. There is still a deep, unresolved pain, but you cannot take it away yourself. It exists far deeper than you can reach.

Be patient and trust. You have to move gradually deeper into your heart. There is a place far down that is like a turbulent river, and that place frightens you. But do not fear. One day it will be quiet and peaceful.”

– Henri Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love


There is a pattern to my life, a pattern which I became consciously aware of last winter. First, there is anger. Then, there is sadness. Anger and outrage at injustice I perceive in the world, anger and outrage at injustice I perceive within myself. Then, a deep well of sadness that seeks to drown everything that I do, a grief that protects me from those who are strangers and a grief that keeps me from those who are closest to me.

It is a pattern I know is coming, but it’s a pattern I often feel helpless to stop. I quickly grow tired of it. Tired of the physical toll anger takes on me, tired of the mental toll sadness takes on me. Tired of wanting deeply to respond to the love and kindness of my friends and family around me but unable to do little but sit stoically as I refuse to let even a smile cross my face.

Yet, strangely; I feel I am making progress in the midst of this bitterly cold winter season. A paraphrase of a song lyric by John Mark McMillan has stuck with me these last few months; “may a river of joy flow forth from the cup of suffering you have received…”

I have only just begun to explore the interconnectedness of joy and suffering. On the surface, it seems like such an absurd premise if not a bit trite to one who may be suffering. It’s an easy platitude to say to someone who is suffering to try to explain away the often unjust luck of fate from which suffering lands.

It has always been easy, almost natural, for me to explore the suffering my own mind imparts on my life. Since around the time of early adolescence, it is what I have known, one of my oldest companions. Joy is a much more difficult, almost frightening, state as it is largely an unknown.

That is not to say I haven’t experienced joy or am opposed to joy. It certainly seems like an attribute worth striving towards. I have experienced joy in my relationships, in my accomplishments and I see joy all around me all the time, especially in my wife and children. But the thought of sustained joy is what eludes and frustrates me.

Why frustrates? Because I convince myself that I should be joyful and happy. I live in a privileged time in history and in a privileged place in the world. What right do I have to not feel joyful at all times?

Ah, but such is the dirty trick of suffering. It convinces me that my own suffering is nothing compared to someone else’s. And then it adds guilt that I should be wasting the access to joy I have been freely given through no work of my own.

Twice now in the last 12 months I have been in conversations with others where I have made some sort of comment along the lines of “In my life, I can identify several factors that could put me at risk for suicide, but suicide is not an act I have ever really contemplated.” Both times I made the comment (once in passing, once during a training I was leading), it was intended as positive reflection on the status of my mental health. Both times, the comment shook me deeply as immediately the question came to my mind of “why not?”

I hadn’t really contemplated this question before. I mean to sit around and wonder “Why had I never considered suicide?” is a bit of an odd practice to say the least. But, I had made the statement and now I had to wrestle with the question.

As I have wrestled with that question these last few months, here is what I have concluded; my overly logical unconscious mind has been looking out for me.

That is, on some level, I had convinced myself of the logic that no matter how angry and sad I might be, objectively speaking because of the privileges I enjoy and have access to, I had no right to feel so badly about myself and my life that ending it was the solution. The problem though is, all those reasons are external supports. My successes, my career, my status, etc. For most of my life, I had relied on these external supports to carry me through my deeply held mental health struggles. So then, the next question became, “What would I do if those supports were removed?” or more so “What if those supports upon which I was basing the whole of my identity were removed and I was left with just myself to fall back on for support?”

It took me awhile for my conscious mind to come to this last question, but I think my unconscious mind sensed it immediately. I believe the reason why the original comment shook me so much was because deep down, I had no good, comforting answer.

But, I did come up with a plan that would lead me to an answer. I took a step I had been contemplating for years, but never I had actually followed through with because I had convinced myself that it wasn’t a step for me. I didn’t feel like I was too good to take that step or anything obnoxious like that, but rather again, I let myself fall into the trap that by external measurements I wasn’t ‘broken’ enough to take the step I needed to. That by taking that step, I was taking up resources that could be better used by someone else. Again, the dirty tricks of suffering are subtle and powerful.

That step I took? I began attending therapy.

It has not been easy, as like any good therapy, it requires me to work on myself, to wrestle with my inner darkness, to fail at making changes, to get up and try again and perhaps most importantly, to accept myself, to accept my strengths, to accept my faults, to come to terms with my own cup of suffering that life has given me.

Slowly I can see progress being made. Slowly I experience more joy in my life. Slowly I come to believe more fully in the ethos of the faith I follow. Slowly, slowly, slowly the cup of suffering, the stream of anguish beneath all I do is turning into a river of joy that seeks to over-run the banks of the my life. Yes, the suffering will always be there, like any stream that feeds into a river, but someday it will be but a slight undercurrent to the peaceful and calm waters that surround it.

Thank you for the gift of your time, I hope I have used it well.


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We Took A Trip

We Took a Trip

A Trip to Nowhere in Particular

A few years ago, my wife and I moved our family back to the area of the Midwest where we were from. We had been living in Las Vegas, Nevada for several years and though we very much enjoyed living there, we wanted our children to have the opportunity to grow up around our respective extended families, both sides of which live within 30 minutes of where we now live.

I have no significant regrets of moving as it has been a tremendous boon to me personally (not surprising as I have been able to invest significantly more time into personal growth and social relationships) and professionally (somewhat surprising to me as moving resulted in me leaving my career at the time.)

I will readily admit I do sometimes miss living in Las Vegas. I miss the people with whom my family and I grew close. I miss walking down the Strip, where I relished the opportunity to be anonymous in a sea of people. A sea of people who often displayed the gritty hopes and dashed dreams that Vegas has been built on. I miss the food and in the midst of Midwest winter, I miss Vegas weather!

My family and I have not been back to Las Vegas since we moved away. Life has a way of moving on and we moved with it. My wife and I had discussed visiting sometime, but the timing just hadn’t worked out yet. But, last winter (likely sometime after another late season storm dumped several more inches of snow on the ground) we decided that we were going to go back and visit for a few days during our kids’ winter break from school.

We made our plans and a few days after this last Christmas, we were ready to go. When we did the math, we realized that it would be cheaper to drive than fly so we rented a car (as ours is not in good enough shape that we trusted it to make such a long drive,) packed it full of luggage, food and a variety of entertainment options for our children. We choose a route through the Southwest as we wanted to avoid the typical wintry weather of the upper Midwest, Colorado and Utah. Our biggest worry was how our children would handle a 20+ hour car ride.

Unpredictable Factors

In a bit of an ironic twist, our biggest worry was nothing to worry about at all and one of our minor worries became our biggest. That is, our children were incredibly well behaved throughout the course of the trip, but driving through the typically mild-weathered Southwest became extremely complicated by not one, but two recording breaking blizzards hitting New Mexico during the days we were scheduled to drive through that state.

The weather conditions were such that we reached a point where it seemed unsafe to press on and waiting it out would have delayed us so much that by the time we reached Vegas, it would have been time to go home. So, we turned around.

Over the first hour after we turned around, I drove mostly silently as I ruminated over the series of events that had led to us feeling like we had no choice but to turn around. I was trying to identify the ‘fatal’ mistake we had made, the mistaken decision made (even in good faith) that started us off on the path of eventually turning. After some thought, I concluded that the ‘fatal’ mistake I made was engaging in rock brain thinking rather than flexible thinking.


Different Ways of Thinking

Rock brain and flexible thinking are terms coined by Michelle Garcia Winner in her social emotion learning curriculum for children titled Superflex. In over-simplified terms, rock brain thinking is stubbornly holding to an opinion and an inability or unwillingness to consider alternative viewpoints. Flexible thinking is being able to consider a variety of options and choose the best one.

Most people in non-stressful situations can use flexible thinking. When stress is introduced though, it becomes harder and harder to make a well-informed decision. For example, imagine ordering a meal in a reasonably quiet restaurant versus ordering dinner in that same restaurant while an upset baby cries loudly next to you.

Further, say you wanted a specific item off the menu. And say the restaurant happens to be out of said item. In a non-stressful situation, you may engage in rock brain thinking initially and insist that the menu item you wanted is the only item you wanted. But eventually, you’ll likely consider other options such as another menu item or going to another restaurant.

Now, imagine that scenario again but with the screaming, crying baby next to your ear. The stress of that situation is going to make it much more difficult to consider other options. Instead of considering another menu item, I may insist on what I wanted, demand to speak to a manager, yell at the baby, become highly irritated and refuse to listen to anyone who is telling me I can’t have whatever menu item it is that I wanted.

In my situation, the menu item I wanted was to take the route I had planned to take and to make the stops along the way we had planned to make. The screaming, crying baby was the blizzard and ever worsening road conditions.

As my wife and I talked through our options, it seemed like the only good option was to stick to our plan with the only deviation being to stay a day extra at one of our stops in hopes that the weather would quickly pass. Suffice to say, the only good option didn’t pan out and as I mentioned above, we eventually turned around. Not surprisingly, once we turned around and the stress was removed of trying to get where we wanted when we wanted, we suddenly were able to generate several options that likely would have allowed us to reach our destination. If only we had been able to think so flexibly while stressed, right?

But, it is not impossible to engage in flexible thinking during stressful moments. It takes awareness and practice.

Awareness includes anticipating potential stressors and thinking through what you would do if that stressor occurs. For me, though I had anticipated weather might be an issue, I didn’t fully consider the potential impact of poor weather over the whole trip. I only thought through the impact of poor weather in the Midwest.

Awareness is also knowing the signs in the moment that you are engaging in rock brain thinking. Do you get irritated at the suggestion of another option? Are you acting abnormally to how you normally act in order to get your way? Do you feel physically agitated or on-edge? Answering yes to any of these may be an indicator that you’re headed to rock brain thinking.

Practice is admittedly more difficult to do as I am not suggesting you purposely create stressful situations for yourself in order that you can practice handling said situations better. Rather, make a habit of intentionally applying flexible thinking to non-stressful situations and slightly stressful situations.

For instance, I live in a city with a lot of railways across main streets. When I find myself delayed by a train, I think about what alternative routes I could take or what signs I could have looked for to avoid the train. Most of the time, the trains only delay me a few minutes so it’s not really worth taking an alternative route, but if there was ever an emergency situation that I needed to get across town for, I have already practiced what I would do and would be able to immediately engage in flexible thinking to quickly find an alternative route.

Flexible thinking isn’t going to ‘save’ every stressful situation. But, it can help to make difficult situations less stressful and potentially lead you to a more helpful outcome.



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Why We Need Others

“No man is an island…” begins John Donne’s well-known poem simply titled Meditation XVII. I first read Donne’s works in high school when I was forced to by an English teacher who knew better what was good for me than I would have cared to admit back then.


The selection was included during a unit on English poets who we were studying. For whatever reason, British prose never caught my attention, (much to the chagrin of my older brother who would sometimes criticize my decisions to read modern American fiction…we led a bit of nerdy childhoods at times…) but Donne’s declaration has always struck with me.

I found the statement ‘no man is an island’ to be challenging. Growing up in an area of the American Midwest which has and continues to be shaped by generations and generations of Protestant self-efficacy, I felt to need the support of others was akin to admitting to defeat. I would blaze my own trail with or without the support of others as my own self-inflated view of my strong work ethic would allow me to function without the need of others (it’s fair to say I was also wholly unaware of the factors outside my control such as my gender, race, educational opportunities, family supports, etc. that heavily contributed to any success I’ve had ‘blazing my own trail’.)

Then, I met the woman who I would eventually marry. I quickly realized living on the self-centric island of my own ego I had created was not where I wanted to be. We dated, broke up, dated again, married and now have been together for more years of our lives than years apart. As we have walked through our lives together, she’s been a constant source of grace and encouragement. And, in a probably less romantic but still tremendously helpful to me role, she’s always been my editor.

In college, I always asked her to read my papers because she usually graded harder than my professors. I knew if I could get a paper by her with minimal red marks, then I didn’t need to worry much about my final grade. Now, she reads every article I write for this site, all the boring technical writing I do for the Raising Up Dads program model and anything else that may come up that I could use a second set of eyes on to make sure what I have written is true to what I’m trying to say.

A few weeks ago, after editing Mister Rogers Got It, she remarked that there seemed to be a theme of combating perfectionism in a healthy way running through it in the last few articles I had posted (You’re Doing A Good Job! and The Jealousy of Good Things.) She asked me if that was intentional.

It wasn’t, but she wasn’t wrong. To me, those articles were merely responses to random thoughts I had had or situations I had observed. There was no deeper insight into myself to be gleaned (or at least I wasn’t aware of any deeper insight to be gleaned.) But, as I considered what she said and re-read what I had written, I realized there was truth to what she had seen.

That is, I have always been a perfectionist. It’s been easy for me to deny because I am not a perfectionist in the stereotypical way (i.e. My desk is never well-organized and tidy, I don’t get upset if a plan doesn’t quite come together in the way I wanted, I don’t expect others to be perfect, etc.) But, I have always had extremely high standards for myself, standards that I know I will never attain but to which I still strive anyway. Usually I can reasonably manage my perfectionist desires, but when I am stressed, overwhelmed or experiencing significant life change, my perfectionism is at its most destructive. I put tremendous pressure on myself to not miss a step. For whatever reason, not only can I not allow myself to fail, I can’t allow myself even the possibility that failure even exists.

A few weeks ago, I was in the office trying to write some curriculum after working with clients all day. I was exhausted so I asked a colleague who is an amazing clinician, how she balances switching gears from meeting with clients to doing more detail-oriented, monotonous work such as paperwork. Her answer: “I don’t, I go home and do it the next day.”

Her answer struck at the root of what my wife had observed in what I had been writing. She recognizes the limits to what she can reasonably do in a day’s work. If something doesn’t get done, she’s okay with it because she knows there’s always another day. In the moment, I struggle to recognize my limits or accept that I can’t do it all.

Over and over again in my life, I return to a pattern of wanting to be John Donne’s anti-man who lives solo on an island of his own making. However, I am learning having others in my life is vital to stopping this pattern (and other potentially destructive patterns of behavior.) We need each other, and as much as I would like to think I can go it alone, life is teaching me this is just not true. I am also slowly learning that life is actually better together anyway.

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The Jealousy of Good Things

The Jealousy of Good Things

Recently, I read about a philanthropist who made a very generous gift that will positively impact mental health in their community both in the present and generations from now. It was an exciting and praiseworthy gift.

Yet, as I read over the press release, I only felt a sense of failure and frustration. I felt a failure as I had to admit to myself I would likely never be able to give such a gift. At best, I can do the work that said gifts often fund but that rarely comes with the adulation and praise that I pettily desire.

I felt frustration at allowing myself to let such envy take hold of my mind. Frustration quickly led to quiet anger, restlessness and unhelpful ruminating. I spent the rest of the day in that state, growing more and more weary as I tried to fight off the demons of my self-created vulnerability.

In a sense, I am suffering from the Facebook effect. The Facebook effect is the very real phenomenon of people developing depressive states from viewing their friends social media posts. This happens because we tend to post the highlights of our lives on social media. As I scroll through Facebook all I see are happy moments. It makes it seem like everyone else’s life is amazing and wonderful and perfect and I am forced to consider that my life is not as amazing and wonderful and perfect 24/7.

But, the Facebook effect is not new. Though the format in which it occurs may be new, the jealousy of good things has been around since the earliest days of humanity.


For my birthday a few weeks ago, my wife gifted me A Song of the Sparrows by Murray Bodo. It is a collection of poems and meditations on life and spirituality. The next morning after the evening I spent alternating pitying and loathing myself, I came across the passage below. (Passage in italics, my reflections follow.)

“When I compare myself to others, I have an immense sense of failure, of inadequacy because I see only their strengths which seldom are my strengths.”

No matter how much I try, I can’t have it all and I can’t be everything. As a child, I never liked Choose Your Own Adventure books. I wanted all the adventures. I hated being limited to only one option and knowing if I picked a particular option then all other options were likely off-the-table. What if I picked the wrong one?

As an adult, I have made intentional choices to prioritize my family over my career. I made this decision knowing full well how it could potentially negatively affect my future earnings and opportunities of influence I may have been on track for.

But, I love the opportunities focusing on my family has given me to spend time with my children and spouse! Being a stay-at-home dad has been an amazing opportunity that has allowed me to build stronger relationships with my children, be a better support to my wife and to go through my own much-needed time of self-introspection and maturation.

And yet, in the moment, I allow myself to feel like a failure when I learn of others who are further along in their careers, make more money, have more influence and success, etc. In other words, I let myself feel poorly for not doing things well that are not strengths I have prioritized developing.

“But when I forget comparisons and look only to what needs to be done, what can be done, I am at peace in the knowledge that I have something to give, something to offer. If I give of myself, it will make a difference, even though someone else could be given more, could have loved more perfectly, could have succeeded where I failed.”

A few years ago while working on a residential treatment campus for adolescents, a youth who was upset told me that I was the worst teacher on campus. For good child development related reasons, I was trained to avoid getting into content with youth when they were upset. But, sometimes, I couldn’t help myself. I responded somewhat jokingly but truthfully that I did not feel I was the worst teacher on campus. I could think of others who were better, but I could also think of some who were definitely worse. And that, all things considered, I didn’t feel I was anything less than the third worst teacher on campus.

There will always be someone better than me at anything I do. But, I have become okay with this knowledge as it allows me the opportunity to fail and not be a failure. It gives me the opportunity to do good work and not listen to the voice in my head that attempts to remind me that I could have and should have done better. I don’t have to be the best at everything I do, I only need to give an honest effort at what I do.

“If only everyone realized that the gift she or he can give is unique and does make a difference! What pain of self-pity he or she would be spared!”

For me, to accept that the gift I can give is unique is extremely difficult. It is easy to assume any skill I have is a skill anyone can learn. When I see people with skills I do not possess any form of mastery in, it is easy to conclude there is something wrong with me that I cannot do everything everyone else can do. It’s a rather selfish way to view others. That is, that another’s uniqueness is merely a function of my own limitations and not a reflection of said person’s unique skill and the discipline it took them to master that skill.

My younger brother is an excellent musician. He can pick up an instrument he’s never played before and within a few weeks, he’s attained some level of mastery over it. On the other hand, my brief middle school band experience as the 3rd chair in a two person trombone section more than confirmed to me that I lacked the ability or discipline needed to be even a mediocre musician. I could pity myself for this. I could be bitter towards my brother that he somehow stole all the family’s musical talent. I could dismiss his talent as a worthless pursuit. Or, I could appreciate the uniqueness of my brother’s gift and enjoy the fruits of his labor. I have long since chosen the latter option and appreciate the opportunities I have since had to enjoy the ways in which he uses one of his gifts.

“We can never be the people we admire. We can only be ourselves, and that alone is admirable.”

What else can really be said? I can never be anyone but myself. If I spend my life wanting to be someone else, I am likely to end up loathing myself as that is a goal I will never be able to achieve. But, if I can accept my faults and focus on my strengths, then perhaps who I am will eventually be someone I want to be.

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Mister Rogers Got It

Mister Rogers Got It

Living and parenting from a strengths-based mindset

My wife and I recently viewed the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? about the life of Fred Rogers and his television show Mr Roger’s Neighborhood. After watching the film, we discovered several seasons of his show could be found on Amazon Video. Both my wife and I, like so many in our generation, grew up watching Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood so we were excited to be able to share that experience with our children.

A few days ago, I found myself sitting on the couch and watching Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood with my children. There was a segment with a man who set up intricate displays of dominoes to be knocked over. The man explained how it was all done, then someone was given the opportunity to knock over the first domino.


The man had setup over 3,000 dominoes and they fell quickly. Towards the end, the dominoes split off into two paths. The main path continued on and finished its run. The second path stopped short of completion and several dominoes were left standing.

The man who had set up the dominoes expressed something along the lines of “Oh, no they didn’t fall!”

To which, Mr. Rogers immediately replied, “But, look at all the ones that did.”

Mr. Rogers got it.

Mr. Rogers saw all the work the man had put into setting up the elaborate display of dominoes. He saw that even though the display did not fully meet the desired expectation, it was still a success in its own way. He saw that a few un-fallen dominoes takes nothing away from the effort and experience that went into setting it up.

Where the man saw 10 dominoes that did not fall, Mr. Rogers saw that 2,990 dominoes did.

I find that time and time again, people struggle to focus on anything other than what went wrong or on weaknesses. When I receive feedback, I often wait impatiently for the positive feedback section to end. Positive feedback is nice and all, but I want to know what “really” needs my attention and correction.

The problem with this mindset though is that I am left never satisfied with a job well done. There is always room to move the goalposts slightly further and further back until they reach a point that even if I am perfect, I still fall short.

Perhaps it is time to see the 2,990 dominoes instead of the 10. Perhaps it is time to rejoice in the successes while taking note of the failures. Perhaps it is time to live joyfully in reality rather than discouraged by a lack of unobtainable perfection. Perhaps it is time to learn from Mister Rogers. Our children and ourselves will be better for it.

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