One Hundred Princesses

Duckling #2 was sitting at the table eating breakfast the other morning. She was quiet and I could tell she had something on her mind. Then, out of the blue, she asked me this question:

"Daddy, if there were 100 princesses in a row and me, who would you pick to be your daughter?"

I immediately said that I would choose her to be my little girl, which pleased Duckling #2 greatly. But it got me thinking - am I telling the Ducklings that I love them enough? Or, more specifically, am I telling them that I love them for who they are?

In clinical terms, "unconditional positive regard" means that clinicians are trained to accept their clients no matter what. This does not mean that clinicians need to accept everything their clients DO unconditionally, but that's a topic for another blog.

As parents, we don't choose our kids. We have who we have. We see our own qualities and characteristics (good and bad) reflected back in them. Our kids will have gifts and talents. They will also have crosses to bear.

Our kids may have strong personalities. They may be independent or clingy. They may be awkward or rambunctious. They may be thoughtful or impulsive. But do they know we'd choose them out of a lineup of all the other princes and princesses in the world?

A friend of mind once said it was up to the parents to help their children know that they are cherished. I love that. Parents aren't just called to help their kid feel accepted or appreciated, but truly cherished and valued as a pearl without price. Sometimes this is easy, we feel incredible pride in our children or share in their innocent joys.  But sometimes showing that we cherish our kids may be tricky. How do you convey "cherished" to the child who just dumped yogurt down an AC vent or dropkicked the cat? In those moments we have to dig deep and find the positive things that we sincerely love about our kids. When we get in the habit of actively looking for things that are going well in our relationships with our kids, it becomes easier to see those positive elements. Not that we become naive to the challenges and struggles in our family, but if we make a commitment to look for the positive, we're less likely to overlook the dozens of small blessings that occur throughout the day.

This week, try to help your child feel cherished by sharing one thing you love about your child every night when you tuck them into bed.

Dinner Time

I've had the opportunity to speak at a number of different events in February and March, mainly talking about families and relationships. Last weekend, I was speaking at a parish men's group on creating genuine encounters within the family. At the end of the talk, I opened up for some Q & A and got a great question. One of the men asked "How important is it really to have dinner together as a family?"

Before I get into my answer, a little context. This was a parish in Northern Virginia.  I've lived and practiced all over the country and I've never seen an area more demanding on family time than Northern Virginia. Everybody is overworked, over-scheduled, and overtired.  Traffic is a mess (the stretch of I-95 that I take to get home was recently named the most congested in the country. Great job, everyone!), cost of living is high, and the pressures and expectations are higher still.

So when this gentleman was asking how important is it for us to eat together as a family, what he was likely saying was, "My kids have some activity every single night of the week and with my commute, I don't get home until 7pm if I’m lucky. Family time is very much more aspirational than a reality. Is that a problem for my family?"

Yes, eating dinner together matters and is extremely important. Even if it's the only 30 minutes of the day that the family is able to be together in one place. Dinner time is a key opportunity for us to connect with all the other members of the family. We can share about our day or discuss opinions. Most importantly, we can listen to what the other people around the table have to say. This shows them how much we respect their dignity and value their perspective.

What does not show that we respect the perspective of others is allowing ourselves to be intentionally distracted. To that end, keep phones and tablets away from the table. They're too distracting. Keep the TV off.  It can be hard enough as it is to connect as a family, so why invite things that make it more challenging by added extra obstacles and distractions.

Given how busy we all are between work and the demands of dozens of different activities, there seems to be less time available for families to be together. So why wouldn't we take the low hanging fruits and make dinner time a priority for our families so we can reconnect everyday.

This week, commit to having at least one undistracted family dinner as a family. Afterward discuss the experience with every member of the family.

Loving When You Don’t Like

Mornings can be an adventure at our house. We have a bunch of non-morning people, which is a polite way of saying "cranky before 8am." And, at times, one of my cranky little ducklings will do something one of the other cranky little ducklings.  I've been known to say any of the following: "Stop kicking your sister" or "You may not hit your brother" and once even "Biting is not OK in our family!" But when I'm saying this for the second or third or millionth time in a morning, I always want to try to make it clear to my kids that although I don't LIKE what they're doing, it doesn't mean I don't love them.

Who we are and what we do are two different things.  This tends to get blended together often.  I've had parents in my office tell me that their children say, "If you don't accept my choices, you aren't accepting me." I'd disagree with this. There is a difference between the person and the action. True, our actions can say a lot about who we are, and those actions do impact us over time. Virtues are just an ingrained pattern of making the good choice. Bad habits form over many instances of choosing something bad, and don't just set in after one mistake. 

So with this in mind, it's possible to love our children (or anyone in our life) without condoning every decision they make. By extension, we can disagree with a person's action and not have that be a rejection of the person.

Part of parenting is being able to say, - clearly, calmly, and compassionately - I love you but the choice you’re making or the behavior you’re engaging in, is not OK. By separating the person from the behavior, we can guide and encourage our kids in the most loving way possible.

Today take the opportunity to let your children know that they are always good, even when the decisions they make aren't.

Make The Change

My job with Catholic Charities takes me all over the Diocese of Arlington. The running joke is that my office is a Toyota Corolla moving at variable speeds along I-95. So I spend a lot of time in the car. I schedule phone meetings, listen to audiobooks, and try to say my rosary. I also think. A lot.

Because I'm part Irish (and by default a pessimist) I tend to think about things that didn't go well. I'm not a brooder by nature, but I do find myself thinking about the ways I didn't do an awesome job in a number of areas. Parenting screw ups are often high on that list.

I had one of those moments earlier today when I realized that I hadn't had any one-on-one time with my son in a few days. It wasn't intentional; I just didn't have the opportunity for him and I to spend time together just the two of us. We'd planned on watching a little bit of football together Sunday but it didn't work out (stomach flu making the rounds among the other ducklings). He was disappointed and got frustrated. I responded to the frustration (with much less patience than I wanted) but never empathized with his disappointment.

As I realized this today in my office-on-wheels, my first thought was "Nice job, you jerk. Way to not be patient with your son AND not even find another way to make up that time you were going to spend together."

Introspection can be a good thing. It helps us understand ourselves better, and as part of that, can help us see the areas of our life where we're doing well, and where we need to make improvements. Introspection without a willingness to make changes isn't helpful. It just becomes internal griping or a pity party for one.  If we see things that could have gone better, address them. If you see you've done something that requires an apology, apologize. And if you see you missed an opportunity for something good, don't spend all your time kicking yourself, go try to create a new opportunity instead.

My son and I couldn't watch football together tonight, but we could watch highlights and read a story together. And I had the chance to tell him how grateful I was to have the opportunity to spend time with him.

This week, what changes can you make to create opportunities for connection with your kids?

The Importance Of A Strong Marriage

Having kids, especially young kids, takes up a lot of time. Kids have a lot of needs, both physical (my two year old duckling can't change her own diaper and my five year old isn't really able to make her own lunch) and emotional (they've never met a cuddle and a story they didn't like). And sometimes in the divide-and-conquer world of team parenting, parents can start to feel less connected. It happens. We get pulled in a lot of different directions and often, it's time spent on our marriage that tends to get dropped.

So is this about to turn into a blog on the importance of date night? Not really. Date night is great but it's not the "getting out" part that's important. What matters is the effort we make in intentionally connecting as spouses. My wife and I are homebodies, so the idea of "out" is much less appealing than sharing some ice cream and watching an old episode of The Office. It's not the activity that matters but the time to connect. Even if it's only in 15 minute chunks.

Why am I talking about marriage on a website about parenting? Because whether we realize it or not, we can't be good parents without first being good husbands and wives. If I were to say that I was disrespectful and rude to my wife but was really a great dad, people would find that hard to believe. 

Marriage affects our kids in two ways. First, if the spouses are getting along well, the home is calmer and more peaceful. This is a better environment for kids to grow up in than one with a lot of yelling, screaming or violence. Second, our kids base their model and expectations of marriage on how they see their parents interacting. Sadly, I’ve seen situations where clients will talk about why they tolerated domestic violence in their marriage for years was because they saw their dad abusing their mother and just assumed that was a normal, albeit upsetting, part of marriage.  Because they grew up in a home where spousal abuse was common, they didn’t realize that domestic violence is never an acceptable part of a healthy relationship.

When we model warm, loving, respectful and affectionate relationships with our spouse, we teach our kids about the healthy and appropriate relationships that husbands and wives should strive for.

Today, think about the sort of marriage you hope your child will have one day, and what positive examples can we give him or her now?


I was tucking my son in bed recently when told me that he wished I was more patient with him. Ugh. What a gutshot! It made me feel like, if not the worst dad in the history of the Western Hemisphere, definitely in the top 5.  The kicker was that I'd been patting myself on the back earlier that night for staying cool when all three of the kids had a choreographed meltdown.

I asked him if he could think of a specific time when he believed I was being impatient with him. He could think of several and proceeded to share them in vivid detail.  The first reaction I had was to get a little defensive inside; to justify and give an explanation for why I hadn't been patient during those times. But then I realized two things - 1) the rational explanations wouldn't help and 2) it wasn't really about me. My son felt hurt. And I had a chance to help him.

Asking for forgiveness is never fun. We have to face the fact that, whether we meant to or not, we hurt someone we love. I've met some parents who don't believe they should apologize to their kids; they're worried that admitting wrong doing will somehow undermine their parental authority. Not so. Admitting we aren't perfect (which our kids figured out ages ago) is a great way to model humility. Asking for forgiveness is a great way to repair relationships. And it also teaches our kids the skills to repair relationships too.

John Gottman, a marriage therapist and researcher, has done some great work on what makes a healthy marriage, and by extension, a healthy relationship. It's a myth that happy couples don't fight. I've seen plenty of couples who don't fight because they avoid each other like the plague. Happy couples, Gottman says, are the ones that - when they fight - can repair the relationship. So being able to show our kids the value of admitting when we're at fault, and seeking forgiveness is one of the most important lessons we be able to teach.

Today, take a few minutes to reflect on whether there is anything you should apologize to your child for, and gently approach them to ask for forgiveness 


I like to have a plan. My wife teases me that I think in schedules and charts and time tables. It's true. Growing up in England gave me an odd sense of things-should-be-done-in-the-appropriate-way-and-order.  Our children did not get this gene from me. They're a little more spontaneous, and like to do things their own way. This can make bedtime tricky.

If I ask my son to clean up his room and get in his pajamas, in my mind that's the order it should go in. Clean up first, then pjs.  Otherwise he...uhhhh...might get his pjs dirty while he's cleaning up? Probably not. It's totally arbitrary, and I just happened to say it in that order. So why do we get so worked up if things aren't going exactly to plan?  Often we want things to go the way we imagined they should because we're much more comfortable with the "known" as opposed to the "unknown."  If things go the way we want, we can move along to the next thing quicker. If not, there's always the worry that we just have one more mess to deal with.

But do things always have to go our way? Does it really matter what order my son does his nighttime routine? Not really.  But when things deviate from our plan, do we rigidly try to force things back on track or are we able to take a step back and ask ourselves if this is really a big deal.  Not everything can be a big deal. We can't make every disagreement with our kids the hill that we die on. Sometimes we need to take a deep breath and try to be patient.  This is particularly true when our kids are trying to learn or master something.  Letting our kids do things their own way, when appropriate, is an important part of them learning how to be independent and successfully solve problems.  Even if it means they have to start by learning all the ways how not to do something.

Today see what you can do to allow your child to try tackling a problem or chore his or her own way.