Category Archives: parenting

TMI or Just the Facts, Ma’am

By Bob Collins

How much information do your children need in order to do what you require from them? Over load or insufficient data?

I have several devices, tablet, phone, laptop, etc, etc, as I’m sure you probably do, too. And I have several power supplies which I have collected over time with the devices. The power supplies are different amperages, stated in different ways, which drives my poor writer’s brain nuts.

This morning I was trying to choose between one power supply that said “output: 8.5 Amps” and another that said, “output: 500 mAmps.” >sigh< unable to find my old college math books, I consulted my next favorite source, Google.

Three hours later, after learning about basic quantum electronic theory and the origin of lightning-based home-schooled electromechanics, I stumbled upon a simple converter that told me, with the click of a simulated button, which one was more gooderer. 

We now have WAY too much information available for the efficient delivery of answers to befuddled, overworked humanoids. 

WHAT INFO DO KIDS NEED FROM PARENTS?

In our oversaturated, overstimulated, overinformationalized society, I am seeing so many cases of mis-communication between parents and their kids. We moan about a lack of respect from our children, when – I suspect – the problem is really a lack of connection. 

Parents have lately become victims of “Explain-itis” when it comes to giving directions to their children. The directive to stop hitting a playmate slowly melts into a long, dry lecture on the reasons for mutual respect, societal order, individuals’ personal rights versus self-esteem, and all the other catch words spewed out by everyone from the media to Facebook to educational flyers.

By the time a well-meaning parent has explained the psycho-social theory behind playground fairness and mutual concern for the planet, the poor child has forgotten what the lecture started over. And he has lost a little more respect for Mom’s or Dad’s intellectual usefulness.

A simple, “Tommy! Stop hitting that boy! Now, apologize to him; shake his hand; and get in the car, we’re going home,” is an excellent delivery of the necessary information and steps to be taken for Tommy to end the inappropriate action, reconcile with the other child, and begin his next action.

Our children’s minds are not developed, until their mid-twenties, to incorporate and process complex multiple streams of information. The most effective way to instruct them is with simple directives, delivered in a straightforward order, so that they can process one step at a time.

Long detailed explanations about why some actions must be taken, are best left for later, perhaps at bedtime when the excitement of the moment has passed. 

If you spend too much time carefully enlightening your child about the engineering facts of the internal combustion engine and the momentum-to-surface texture friction ratio required to halt a moving automobile – you may end up finishing the explanation in an ambulance on the way to a hospital.

Just like I was distracted and confused by all the in-depth discussions about amperages, your kids don’t necessarily need to understand the “Why” and the background, as much as they need to know What you want them to do first, second, and third.

Remember that kids don’t like “TMI”! 

[by Bob Collins, Copyright 2017]

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The Bible, Divorce, & Re-marriage

Right or wrong, between 45 and 75 percent of all marriages end in divorce, and most of those divorcees will re-marry!

There’s no use dancing around the obvious point that most stepfamilies are formed from a controversial act: divorce. And there’s no way to avoid the fact that many religions—and therefore many religious people—have a problem dealing with stepfamilies.

Divorce and remarriage are tough fits in our world: the Bible says God hates them (Malachi 2:14-16), but our society encourages them and makes them convenient, so it’s just a fact of life we must deal with. It’s a fact, too, that there are many ministers and well–meaning folk out there who try to ignore — or worse yet, condemn — those of us who are in a stepfamily.

But the fact of the matter is that, while Jesus discouraged the practice (except in particular cases; Matthew 5:36), He never refused His care and healing power to any who sincerely asked for it. So, as Christ-followers (you know…“WWJD”), neither can we. (And by we, I mean both we in STEP- Carefully! Inc., and we as in you, if you’re a Christian!)

Jesus even demonstrated how to deal with this sticky subject. In John 4:6–30, Jesus reminds the Samaritan woman at the well that she’s been remarried several times…then He drops the subject and goes on to minister to her needs. And as a result, you’ll recall, an entire town came out to meet Him.

That’s the model we follow. While acknowledging that divorce should never happen, we accept the fact that it does, help as much as we can, and move on. We don’t have a choice, really, since everyone involved with our programs have been divorced, remarried, or have family members who have lived through it. That’s why it’s important to look for a church, a minister, a counselor, or a therapist who has had personal experience with the challenges of divorce, or who has an open heart and mind about it.

If you ever need to talk, please feel free to contact us. Been there; done that; got the scars to understand!

STEPcoach Bob Collins

Christmas (Talk) In August!

In our local support group this week we happened on a ripe topic. (And when I say we “happened” on it, I mean that literally. Sometimes I have no idea where God will lead us until we get there!) We fell into talking about Christmases past and to come. In particular, what we had all spent on our kids and families last Christmas. Many were not proud!
One couple said they fought so badly she asked to be let out of the car on the way to a family gathering. She just sat at a gas station until he and the kids were through and came back to get her! They both seemed unhappy about that event.
Another guy told of how his family tradition was to just buy for the kids and maybe a gift or two for another family member; however, his new wife’s family tradition involved expensive gifts for each member of a large family. They also held Christmas gatherings and dinners at several houses … where more gifts were exchanged! He still sounded stunned by it all.
How many gifts did they give out? “Way too many,” seemed to be the consensus. One couple looked at each other, counting to themselves and came up with “50 or 55” gifts per child! Good grief!
Why do we do this? Most said they just got carried away with sales and last minute ideas. But one dad admitted that part of his over-gifting was to make up to his kids for their not having such a great life since their parents’ divorce and Dad’s remarriage. Most of the others either nodded agreement or just stared at their hands.
So I asked them, What do you think is a proper number of gifts for a child to receive for Christmas. Not your child, but an average child from an average family in our socio-economic neighborhood. … No one volunteered for what sounded like a trap, so I went around the table and ask each person. The general average seemed to be four or five gifts per child was fair.
Why numbers of gifts per child instead of amount spent, one mom asked. Because most pre-teen kids seem to be more interested in how many packages they have to open and the gifts they walk away with, than how many dollars each item cost.
One dad said they’d settled the issue last year by reading the Christmas story, then pointing out that since Baby Jesus (whose birthday this is supposed to be about) only received three gifts, wasn’t it fair to limit the kids to only three gifts? Nice idea!
We wound up all agreeing that it might be a good idea to set goals or budgets for this year’s holidays. Our homework for the next week will be for each couple to come back with their set plan. It can include only the kids, or be for the kids and all the adults. It can be about numbers of gifts, or about budgeted dollars, or both.
I’d like to propose this same project for your family. Sit down together, you and your sweetie, and decide now – while it’s still hot and very non-Christmas-y – what your goal (or your limit if you’re more comfortable with that measure) will be for your family this year. Write it down and keep it where you can find it again around the middle of November. And then see what you think of it come January.
Please write me and let me share with our other families your ideas. I know they will appreciate hearing from you – we all need to share ideas, don’t we? 
Oh, and … Merry Christmas!
STEP coach Bob

A Voice from Theater 9

Marie, who wrote this blog post, was one of the unsuspecting innocents sitting in theater 9, in Aurora, Colorado when the gunman opened fire. Here is her take on what happened and why it happened. BTW, just for the record, I agree with her wholeheartedly.

STEPcoach Bob
——–

SO YOU STILL THINK GOD IS A MERCIFUL GOD?!

(Maybe, just maybe God spared my life because He loves YOU and wants you to hear this..He wants you to believe that He loved you so much He gave His only begotten Son that if you would believe in Him you would have eternal life.)

“So, you still believe in a merciful God?”  Some of the comments online are genuinely inquisitive, others are contemptuous in nature. Regardless of the motive behind the question, I will respond the same way.

Yes.
Yes, I do indeed.
Absolutely, positively, unequivocally.

Let’s get something straight: the theater shooting was an evil, horrendous act done by a man controlled by evil.  God did not take a gun and pull the trigger in a crowded theater. He didn’t even suggest it. A man did.In His sovereignty, God made man in His image with the ability to choose good and evil.
Unfortunately, sometimes man chooses evil.

I was there in theater 9 at midnight, straining to make out the words and trying to figure out the story line as The Dark Night Rises began. I’m not a big movie-goer. The HH and I prefer to watch movies in the comfort of our own home…where I can use subtitles and get a foot rub. I don’t like action movies. And I don’t like midnight showings.  But, as I wrote in my last post, parents sometimes make sacrifices for their kiddos and I decided I would take my fourteen year old and sixteen year old daughters who were chomping at the bit to see this eagerly anticipated third movie in the Batman Trilogy. Twice I had the opportunity to back out and twice I was quite tempted. But something in me said just go with your girls. I did.

So I was there with them, fidgeting in my seat, some forty or  fifty feet away from the man with the gun. It’s still a bit surreal, but I do know that when the seemingly endless shooting started, as my girls were struggling from whatever gas or chemical had been released, and we figured out what was happening, we hit the floor. I threw myself on top of my fourteen year old who was on the end of the row, straight up the aisle from the shooter.  In that moment, as the rapid-fire shots continued, I truly thought I was going to die. And I realized that I was ready. I have put my faith and trust in Jesus Christ as the redeemer of my soul, and there wasn’t the slightest doubt that I would be received into heaven, not because of any good thing that I have done but because of His merciful nature and the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Still, as I lay over my daughter, I began praying out loud. I don’t even remember what I prayed, but I don’t imagine it really matters. I’m sure it was for protection and peace. It drew me closer into the presence of God. When there was a pause in the shooting, people began to clamor for the exits. The girls and I jumped up and joined the masses. We had to step over a lifeless body, not knowing where the shooter was. We raced to our car and I dumped my purse, frantically searching for keys, looking all around, prepared to hit the ground. I yelled at Michelle to call Matthew and find out if he had made it out of the theater next door. She did. He did. We booked on out of there.

Why would you think such a tragedy would make me question the goodness of God? If anything, both of my girls said it made Him a much more real presence to them; the youngest shared this verse: Do not be afraid of sudden fear nor of the onslaught of the wicked when it comes; for the LORD will be your confidence and will keep your feet from being caught.

He is not the cause of evil, but He is the one who can bring comfort and peace in the midst of evil.  It’s been amazing to see the outpouring of love from so many people after this unthinkable act.  Yes, there was one evil act, but it is being covered by thousands, possibly millions of acts of kindness.

We have not yet slept, so the girls and I are overtired and a bit emotional.  But overall, we are praising God and resting in His Goodness.

I love this word of wisdom and encouragement from a former pastor of mine:
Up to this point I haven’t had words to say that would matter. Of course we are all glad that you and the family are safe. Of course we would all state the obvious that this is horrific and senseless. But those words still don’t carry weight that remain in the midst of the questions. Then it hit me… Do you know what the difference was between Job and his wife in their response to the tragedy of losing everything… Job 1:20 Job was the only one that worshiped in the midst of it. Marie, I know your heart and I’ve seen your worship lived out before your family. Before the weight of this becomes unbearable… worship. Your profile pic was not coincidence, not by accident that you changed it on July 15th, but a beautiful foreshadowing of your need to hear the cry of your heart and give Him praise.

Though we don’t have all the answers, we do indeed listen to the cry of our hearts: When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. In God, whose word I praise, In God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid. What  can mere man  do to me? Psalm 56:3-4

God is always good.
Man is not.
Don’t get the two confused.

We will continue to praise and worship our mighty God, anticipating that He will bring beauty from ashes, as only He can do.

If you want to know how to pray for us: first and foremost, we need sleep. Somehow our bodies seem too wired. We also want the life that God has graciously allowed us to continue to live to not be a gift given in vain, we want our lives to draw others closer to Him. We do not want fear to dominate, for God has not given us a spirit of fear. We want His joy to be seen and experienced in all that we do.

Pray for the families who lost loved ones, and for young people who witnessed such horror. Pray for this to be an opportunity for God to manifest Himself in mighty ways.

As for you…we will pray that YOU might know His goodness.
Still grateful for this wonderful life,
Marie
Original blog post: http://aminiatureclaypot.wordpress.com/2012/07/20/so-you-still-think-god-is-a-merciful-god

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Guest Post: Playtime!

This is a very nice borrowed-with-permission article that I couldn’t resist sharing with you. It originally appeared in Simple Marriage blog at http://www.simplemarriage.net/playtime.html Stepfamilies are all parents – otherwise, you’d just be a couple. And I have been hearing so much lately about issues and clashes between husbands and wives about the kids, that I am pretty kid-minded. So when this post came my way I grabbed it to share with you. Enjoy. And let me know if and how this applies or helps your family.

——————————–

Playtime

 

Post written by Dr. Corey Allan.
Play has become a lost art in the adult world.
Perhaps even in the kid world … play is not be what it used to be.
Gone are the days of tag, chase, tackle the man with the ball, dodgeball, and the like.
Also gone are the “dangerous toys” like the metal Tonka trucks that are indestructible, the monkey bars that tower into the air, the tree house built way up in the tree with a homemade zip line going into the garage, and the metal slide that’s 4 stories tall with no side-rails and several bumps on the way down. Okay so the last one may be a bit of an exaggeration but it’s not far off.
Play serves a great purpose.
Remember when you used to call up your friends or head over to their house and greet them with “wanna play?” It didn’t matter what you played, you’d make it up.
Today it seems that play is all but dead. Especially in the adult world. Even parenting has been impacted.
Parenting often becomes more about the child’s achievement and directing towards goals – be it the child’s – or far more likely the parent’s goals.
Schools are doing away with recess in the belief that giving up play time will allow more time for study. Even preschoolers are not immune to this shift.
Through the 80’s and 90’s a 4 billion dollar industry sprang up … tutoring. With 26% of it being devoted for 2 to 6 year olds. Babies … who should be spending more time in imaginative play than structured learning.
Play develops a child’s cognitive skills.
By play, I mean true child directed play: free, unstructured play where the kids invent the activities that reflect their own curiosities and interests.
Too many children are parentified, or expected to become adults too fast. And too many adults have added too many stipulations and parameters to play – in short, they’ve lost the art of play.
Play is critical in a child’s life. According to David Elkind, play is vital in teaching a child how to control himself and interact with others.
But play is also important in the adult world.
It opens to door to new solutions and creative sparks. It adds passion and energy to life and marriage.
Researcher Jaak Panksepp believes play turns on hundreds of genes in the brain. Specifically, play stimulates neurogenesis to hasten the development of the frontal cortex in the brain.
Play is vital to the development of our children and the health of our families, but it is also vital to us as adults.
So what can you do today?
  1. Encourage your kids to play with other kids. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it doesn’t seem to happen that often. Many parentified children would rather play with adults than other kids. While this may seem mature and grown-up, anytime a kid plays with an adult, imagination and leadership skills are stifled. Adults often take charge or limit the imagination because we can’t compete with a child’s imagination level. When you do play with a child, let go of your imagination restrictions and let them take the lead. When they want you to be a princess or a prince who helps tame the nice dragon so you can fight the mean one, do it!
  2. Play with your kids everyday for at least 30 minutes. Spend time as a family playing. One of my favorite times each day is the wrestling time I get with my daughter and son. My son, before he could even talk, would walk over to the floor and point meaning “it’s time to wrestle dad!” Before long, my daughter and my wife would be in the mix. Now that he’s 5 he just runs and jumps on me anytime I’m within range. It’s a great bonding time as well as a testing of my children’s strength and abilities.
  3. Take your kids out of school for a day. You don’t have to do this too often, but take your kids someplace instead of school. You could even incorporate some learning opportunities into this. Visit the zoo, the aquarium, local museums, or galleries. You could even go to the park. Give them an unexpected break from their normal structure and spend the time together.
  4. Play with your spouse. Pull out the games after the kids are in bed, or go outside ride bikes together. Build a blanket fort in the living room. Point is, you don’t have to be structured in every aspect of your life … just play.
Now … off you go. Have fun storming the castle!

Jumping Off the Cliff

What lead you to get married again? After being burned so badly by your previous divorce(s), why did you – many of us very quickly – run back into another marriage?

Most of you will answer that you fell in love and hoped this time would be different and better. That this adventure into matrimony would not only work, but repair the harm from the last one. But, how could you bring yourself to walk back over that cliff?

I know that in my own case, I didn’t walk, I sprinted toward my second marriage. I remember thinking a good three months before our wedding was scheduled to take place, “Why should we wait? Why not just get married TODAY?! We’re in love, we are ready to start over, let’s go!” I was held back only by the plans that were in place and the deposits that had been paid for the scheduled date. I was so much in love, I couldn’t wait to start being happily married. Again.

As some of you probably know from our working together, the first two years of my new marriage was less blissful than expected. In fact, it was horrible. We jumped into it far too quickly and far too soon after our previous divorces. In retrospect, we should have spent a good two years (bare minimum!) learning about each other and figuring out how to blend our lives together – especially regarding her teenaged daughter’s impact on our marriage!

If I’d paid closer attention in my university classes on psychology, I’d have seen that others had already studied this phenomenon of blindly walking off cliff walls. Back in 1960, two researchers named Gibson and Walk constructed a table to test depth perception in animals and babies. The table, as illustrated below:

was made of clear plexiglass under which was one half a table surface, and one half a drop off to the floor. In the experiment, very young babies – first animal then human – were placed on the “safe” side and encouraged to cross the glass table to the “unsafe” side. Animals almost never crossed, and many babies would not cross. But some babies were so focused on their parent’s facial expressions that they happily crawled all the way to her. They were more interested in Mom’s or Dad’s smiling, encouraging faces that communicated it was OK to cross the divide than what their eyes told them.

Now “the Visual Cliff”, as this experiment has become known, has real application in helping us understand why so many people … people who are generally pretty clear headed … will stumble out of the smoking wreckage of a horrible divorce, right into another relationship as quickly as they can find one.

We, like those trusting babies on the glass table, are so focused on the smiling, happy, beguiling faces of our new love interests (or other body parts besides their faces!), that, although we can see the drop off, we don’t heed our body’s natural warning responses.

“Dude! Stop! Can’t you see you’re leading us off a huge cliff, just like what we just fell from a few months ago? STOP!” To which we reply dreamily, “I can’t stop. Sorry. Her (“eyes”) are just so big and pretty and she keeps smiling at me and making me feel all warm inside,” or “Don’t be silly, Self! Can’t you see how strong he is and how much he loves me? I just know it will be safe” … to blindly crawl out into blank space where common sense tells me I’ll crash to the bloodied rocks below, just like last time!

And off to the races we go!

Relationships, then, are clearly more important to us than safety, sight, experience, or common sense. Statistics tell us that our hearts will lead us where our eyes should force us to not go. Second marriages experience two divorces out of every three attempts, while more than three out of four third marriages fail. Got that? Two out of every three second marriages end in divorce!

The cliff is real! But we just keep on crawling. Why?

Because we NEED love. We need to have someone we can share the joy of life, as well as the fears of facing the world alone. And we are happy to ignore our brains to listen to the hopes of our hearts.

The bad news is that the odds are against you if you’re in a stepfamily.
The good news is there is hope.

Yes, we need love; we need a partner to walk beside us. And that love is possible. Your marriage doesn’t have to turn into a warning sign to others. It is possible to turn back from what may be looking like a disaster in the making. You just need help.

In sixteen years of working with stepfamilies, we’ve had OVER 90 PERCENT success helping you guys beat the odds. I’m still amazed at that number. We’re not magic. What I teach isn’t some arcane secret. I just help couples see the land mines clearly, then understand the best ways through the toughest times.

“The heart wants what it wants,” as Dickinson said. Almost 100 percent of people who divorce get married again. We love that cliff.

If you’re over the cliff, fearing that you’ve made a big mistake, and especially if you have children involved – don’t give up. Don’t freeze up and just wait for the drop to another crash. Get help. From me, from someone else, within yourself, wherever, just don’t give up. Especially if there are children involved. Don’t drag them into that abyss again.

Hold on and get across this time.

STEPcoach Bob Collins

Words That Damage

[NOTE: This is a short excerpt from my guidebook for divorced parents, “Guiding Your Children Through Divorce;” full information is HERE
[Page 20]
Expressing anger felt toward the other spouse,
that is, criticizing, cutting down, attacking, or disrespecting the children’s other parent, either directly to the children or where they can overhear you talking to someone else or to the other parent. Problems caused by one parent attacking the other parent can go deep; and usually leads to the following effects:
1) It Causes Confusion — This is harmful first because it confuses children about which parent to believe (“Daddy says Mom is a liar and mean, but when I’m with her she seems so sweet and kind, so who’s lying, Daddy or Mom?”). Once a child’s innate trust of a parent is gone, it is hard to rebuild.
2) It Causes Loyalty Conflicts — which parent to support. Children have a tendency to see things as black or white, good or bad, his side or her side. Due to this viewpoint, when a child sees his parents separating in a divorce, he immediately perceives a two-sided issue. Which means the child is either on Mom’s side or Dad’s side. 

This mentality can cause a excessive stress for a child who wants the love and approval of both his parents. All to often, these children begin to show signs of feeling pulled apart and torn between two “sides” in a conflict. The child feels they must choose between Mom or Dad, which leads to internal conflicts of being “against” the other parent.
3) It Causes Authority Damage — causes children to disrespect the attacker. As we’ve seen before, a child resents anyone who attacks her parent, even her other parent. Criticizing or badmouthing your ex damages your own standing in your children’s eyes, causing them to lose respect in your authority.
So, what’s the solution: determine to never fight again in front of children — The obvious solution would be to never, ever be guilty of attacking your children’s other parent. Unfortunately, due to emotions and a lack of self-control, many divorced parents find they don’t have the will power to behave in an intelligent, mature manner toward the person their children loves. In some cases, these parents honestly try to control their words and behavior, but are simply too weak to do so.

In most cases, however, parents who belittle and criticize the people their children love are simply unconcerned for their children’s feelings. They plead they are “just too mad” at their child’s other parent to choose to control themselves. They act out their selfish needs to retaliate and ruin their relationships with their own children, and often damage their children in the process. Some feel that ignoring the needs of their children is child abuse. 
[NOTE: This discussion is continued in “Guiding Your Children Through Divorce;” full information is HERE]

A STEPparent’s Job

Dear [stepparent],

Regarding your question about your particular responsibility about your husband’s kids, here’s how that lays out:

1) the stepparent is not legally or morally or physically responsible for their stepchildren. If a child gets into some sort of liable trouble (causing expensive damages to someone else’s property, for example), the biological parent is legally responsible for reparations for that damage. Not the stepparent. Morally, God places responsibility for raising a child and teaching that child how to be an adult on the biological parent. Not the stepparent.

2) The stepparent has the opportunity to bless the stepchildren; to teach them by example how to be a kind, loving, forgiving person. The stepparent also has the opportunity to demonstrate to the stepchild how to react, in a Christian manner, if they are insulted, ignored, or even harmed by the stepchild. The stepparent does have the responsibility to show the stepchild Christ in a very real way through daily living and lovingkindness (just as any child or person). Yes, this can be hard. I remember when my own stepdaughter slapped me in the face in public, (once physically and many times with her mouth and hateful attitude) in front of others, to embarrass me and to challenge me. As a Christian who just happened to be married to her mother, my responsibility was to demonstrate to her how a Christian would deal with a personal attack like that. (Remember what Jesus said about if someone slaps you on one cheek? Forgive and get over it and love them, He said)

So the stepparent, you and I, has no legal responsibility over the stepchild – but the Christian has a responsibility to witness Christ’s love and forgiveness to everyone, ESPECIALLY those in our household.

One more point; Just because a stepparent does not have the responsibility for their stepchild, they are family. And, as family, they have a relationship with those stepchildren. You and I, as family members to our stepchildren must be careful not to shun those children, but to reach out to them as family members. When Dad and the kids are doing something, a family member should show an interest and care about that they’re doing. If the stepkids reject your attempt, that shouldn’t make any difference in your actions. We are still family members with those children of our spouse, and as such we need to show the same care and consideration as we do toward our spouse’s parents, brothers and sisters, or their grandparents. Reach out with patience and love and respect because of who they are related to … your sweetheart.

It is a balancing act: love without having to, care without being forced to. But so is every other relationship we have – with our spouse, our parents, our siblings, etc, etc. It may not be the easiest, but it’s the right thing to do.

STEPcoach Bob Collins

Helping stepfamilies succeed since 1996 – STEP-Carefully! is just for you!

Blessings of Being A Stepparent

1) I married my high school sweetheart after we’d both been divorced upon by our spouses, so new life, new hope;
2) she brought a daughter, sort of a curse AND a blessing;
3) she then had a son, my step-grandson – a definite blessing!

Here is a journal entry I wrote about a day with my grandson, back in 2002:
————
February 2002

What a perfect day with Michael!
I never could have believed (and now I speak with faulty memory, because his presence has altered my mind so much) that I could be so completely taken by a baby boy! I think of him far more often than anyone else, and wonder about him whenever he is not with me. When he runs to me and wraps his arms around my leg, either to hug me or in an attack, I just feel all poured out for him. What I mean is that he seems to take over my full emotions. To make him giggle or even to scream with delight makes me feel like the most successful man in the world.

Today was a Monday, which means that I have promised to set all else aside to care for Michael. It’s definitely a foolish thing by the world’s standards, but I’m afraid I’m completely foolish when it comes to this little boy. After dropping Jo (Nana) off at her job, I came back home to find Jennifer almost ready to leave for her job and Michael still asleep. I puttered with home chores – dishes, trash, etc. – until I heard him call o ut. I called to him, “Hey Buddy, Grandpapa’s here.” In a few minutes, he toddled into the living room, tilted his head ‘way to the side and grinned at me.

We spent the morning playing and watching some cartoons, then while watching Bear in the Big Blue House, he started getting drowsy, so he got up and stumbled over to the couch, climbed up, and scooted over onto my lap! He laid his head back on my chest and stuck his bottle in his mouth. He could only sit still for so long, lest he fall asleep. So he hopped down and sprawled on the carpet, propping his chin on his fist, while his feet were propped up in the air. I couldn’t resist … I laid down beside him, adopting the same pose. He snuck a look at me out of the corner of his eye, then got up on his knees and flopped on my back to watch TV from there. I rolled over so that he fell off giggling, and got on my hands and knees looking at him. He charged toward me, butting me in the head with his head. I dropped my head and burrowed into his belly. He squealed and grabbed my shirt, wrestling with me. I fell back on my back and he pounced on me.

We wrestled like that until we were tired (really I tired much more quickly than he did!) and we sat back on the couch. His mommy came home then for lunch. He had a sandwich with her, and when she left I laid him down in his play pen with a bottle of milk for a nap. He never made a sound, just looked up at me with sleepy, bright eyes. After his nap time, I had gotten us ready for a trip to town, so I went in to wake him. I leaned over his bed and whispered, “I love you. I love you, Michael.” He slowly opened his eyes and then jumped up when he saw me, and held out his arms to be picked up. I got him dressed and we left the house.

We then went to Wal-mart. I took Michael in to get Jo’s medicine refilled. After getting the pills, we played some. I’d push the cart out in front of me, crouch down and growl, “I’m gonna get your belly!” while running up on the cart and tickling his tummy as he squealed. We did figure eights, and drove through the too-tightly-packed clothing aisles, the shirt sleeves ticking his face. If anyone was paying attention, surely they thought I was nuts! Or maybe they envied me getting to play with such a wonderful baby. We bought some supplies for my new office and check ed out.

Then we went to get Jo. I took Michael upstairs to let her show him off. As we started in the front door of the clinic, I said, “Let’s find Nana, OK? Nana?” He perked up and said, “Nana? Nana! Nana!” looking around for her. In the elevator, I sat him down and he walked out, holding my hand. Jo was delighted to see him (of course!)

After we dropped Jo off at college, Michael and I went by the office to get a phone number about tomorrow’s appointment. Michael again captured everyone’s attention. He sat on my lap at my desk … and knocked pictures off the desktop. Leaving there, we went back to my dad’s apartment.

Michael picked up a package of gum Dad had laying on a table. Dad said, “Oh no, Michael, let me have that before you lose it.” Michael grinned and took off with the gum! I said, “Oh you little fart! Gimme that gum!” He fell on the gum and hung on for dear life. I pried his little fingers off the now crushed gum sticks and started chewing on his belly. He just flopped back and grinned at me as if to say, “Go ahead, Papa, get me. That’s why I started the trouble anyway.” So I picked him up and (carefully) tossed him on Dad’s bed, then dove on top of him, pinning him under my chest. He screamed and started kicking. I got up and he charged right at me, hitting me in the chest with his head. I tickled his back and knees as he tried to squirm away.

We left Dad to get Jo from Westark and head home. I laid down for a much needed nap. When I woke up, it was to a happy little boy laying across my chest, hugging me awake. Before he went to sleep that night, in bed with his mama, he leaned up from the covers and patted me on my arm, his way of saying, “Thanks for a good day, Papa. I love you.”

What a great day!

Making Memories

Have you heard of Spotify? I have recently discovered this gem on the web – all the music in the world (they claim) to listen to for free. I’ve created playlists of my favorite 80s hits (ELO, Huey Lewis, Starship), Rocking Country (Sawyer Brown and Kentucky Headhunters), classic gospel (Keith Green and Amy Grant). It makes for great background music. But just today I remembered my very first love … The Archies! I checked and sure enough – there it was, my first album – Everything’s Archie. Wow.

As I started listening to Melody Hill, Kissin’, and, of course, the staples: Sugar, Sugar, and Jingle Jangle, my mind was rocketed back to days when I was a little boy, listening to The Archies on the stereo (think of an antique CD player) while laying on the couch or dancing in Mom’s living room. I could feel the water cooler (an early air conditioner) blowing, smell Mom’s burgers cooking in the kitchen, and I was there.

All the memories came rushing in – sweet Summer days with Mom and Dad at the lake, building G.I.Joe and Tonka cities in the back yard, my first dog, Tippy, and the sense of belonging and peace. The funny thing is, home wasn’t always very peaceful.

Try as she might, Mom had a tough task making a happy home with Dad’s penchant for drink (sure, and we ARE an Irish family!) and Mom’s absolute disdain for drunkenness. There were many long loud nights when I would lie in my bed, fearing the worst as they fought out their bitterness. I was terrified they would hurt each other or Dad would leave again or that he’d stay and they’d never stop fighting.

Memories are a mixed bag for most of us – some beautiful, idyllic scenes of being a relatively carefree kid, mixed with being a scared little kid who had pretty much no control over anything in my world. But one thing seems to be true for all kids I’ve talked to or read of: they love having family and being part of a home. Doesn’t matter if that home has periods of yelling and anger, it’s still Home.

Yes, many families fight a lot. But most kids – after they’ve grown and can look back clearly – admit they loved their parents no matter how they acted toward each other. The excuses I hear for many of the divorces I mediate are that the parents are convinced their own marital dissatisfaction is making their children miserable, too. Study after study show this to be false. Kids want Home.

Back to memories (The Archies are still playing in the background) – why do I automatically leap to the happy memories of my long-past youth? There were plenty of sad/angry/scary memories, too. But we lean toward the happy memories. Most of us do, anyway.

So my question to you is, what kind of memories are you building for your own children? What about your stepchildren? What memories will a song bring back to their minds someday, complete with sounds, smells, and emotions of these days? What are you planting there?

I teach consistently that stepparents are not responsible for their stepkids – that’s the job for the biological mom and dad. And the bio-parents will build most of the good and bad memories of their own children. But you and I have a hand in our stepkids’ present past, too. We have the opportunity to help these tender hearts grow into sensitive, loving, understanding adults. (Yes, even the surly teens have tender hearts!)

Every time we yell at their parent; every time we sulk and withdraw to “punish” them; every time we make demands out of a sense of responsibility that isn’t ours instead of accepting and guiding them, we are making memories that will shape their whole lives. Because, you see, WE are teaching them about love and forgiveness and patience and kindness in ways their own parents cannot. Mom and Dad “have” to love them … it’s their job. But when we overlook the snotty attitudes, the shunning, the rudeness and love them anyway, we have made an impression on that young heart that will never be forgotten.

Well, my album is ending, so I need to get back to the present. But please think about the impression you are making on your stepchildren, who are yours by the grace of God and the permission of their parent you’ve married. You and I really can be heroes if we take the challenge to plant good memories in our stepkids.

God bless your whole family!

STEPcoach Bob Collins

[Here’s my Archies playlist: The Archies – Everthing’s Archie]