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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Power of Living with Authenticity

The most exhausting thing in life is being insincere.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh

If you are old enough you may remember the expression of being or keeping it real which was extremely popular in years past. More recently the idea of authenticity has caught our attention to express the goal of living a life where inner needs, desires, and values are understood and honored in life choices. Authenticity involves taking ownership for your life (your decisions, actions, behaviors, its quality, and the results) and living with complete congruity with values and principles.

Young children have no trouble being authentic. However, at some critical point children learn that in order to get along in the world adaptations are necessary and the focus shifts to pleasing others …. parents, friends, teachers…..then eventually to bosses and spouses. Children are “socialized” to learn to play by others rules and that sometimes opinions should be withheld, elders should be listened to, and to deny what is seen and heard. While some of this process is important and necessary – children do need to learn to understand the feelings and expectations of others; when the idea of being your own person and living a life with honesty and integrity is neglected and replaced with the singular goal of approval from others, we are less likely to find a sense of inner peace …the kind that accompanies authentic living. Additionally, people-pleasing, dysfunctional relationships where trying to live life based exclusively on what others think or want, rather than based on our own preferences and choices inevitably creates anxiety and unhappiness.

Authenticity involves a sense of self awareness where there is knowledge of and trust in one’s own motives, emotions, preferences, and abilities. Living an inauthentic life is often experienced as vague dissatisfaction or even depression, a sense of emptiness, or self-betrayal.

Ann Ronan Ph.D. offers the following top ten tips for living authentically:

• Know your purpose - your unique life goals
• Know your values – do your goals match up with your values?
• Know your needs – take care of yourself
• Know your passions – honor what makes your heart sing
• Live from the inside out – listen to your inner voice
• Honor our strengths – identify your unique gifts
• Take time to play – recharge by doing what you love
• Be aware of your self-talk- are you supportive, positive with yourself or condemning and negative? Focus on positive affirmations
• Surround yourself with inspiration
• Serve others – when you are true to yourself and living your purpose, you will share your talents with the world around you

Whether using meditation, journaling, or simply a routine quiet time for reflection; it is important to make time on a regular basis for self-awareness to tune in to who you are, what you want, and what is best for you. Living authentically also requires the courage to face personal truths. That truth might be how you really feel about yourself, the fears that are blocking your life, what habits perpetuate the life you have, or what dreams you have suppressed or neglected.

When you create a life where the decisions you make and the actions you take are considered, deliberate, and in harmony with what it important to you, you are living an authentic life – a life that you know in your heart is right for you. When you have this level of peace you are more likely to respond to difficulties with effective coping strategies and are more effective in meeting goals. Additionally, there is a more creative approach to living, rather than reliance on fear, routine and habit.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Extraordinary Importance of Fathers

During this season we celebrate holidays to honor mothers and fathers. While no one should dispute or diminish the importance and contributions of mothers, I want to focus on the often times neglected recognition of the influence of fathers on the lives of children and family.

A child’s relationship with a father impacts the development of specific skills and there is clear evidence showing that emotionally present and supportive fathers contribute meaningfully. The quality of contact with a father is a more significant predictor of a child’s later success or failure with school and friends than the mother-child interactions. Research shows that children with involved fathers are more confident and less anxious in unfamiliar settings, are better able to deal with frustration, better able to respond with flexibility to change and have a better sense of independence. Daughters with involved and emotionally available fathers are less likely to engage in sexually promiscuous behavior and are more likely to have healthy relationships as adults. Additionally children raised by involved fathers, are more likely to mature into compassionate adults and are more likely to have a positive self-esteem.

The role and importance of the dad begins during pregnancy. Husbands who participate in the preparation and birth experience are more likely to hold and comfort an infant. Dad’s who are involved in caring for a baby are also likely to continue involvement into childhood and teen years. It is important that new moms step back and let dad and baby have their time together. This growing relationship is important to the child’s later development.

Families need to create opportunities for fathers to engage meaningfully in their children’s lives. However, it can be a difficult challenge for men to maintain their involvement in the daily life and experiences of their children. Men are often the primary family breadwinners and may work extended hours that leave little time or energy left for family life. Psychologist Ronald Levent writes that a fathers’ impact on family life is “not only about providing for their families’ material needs. It’s about being there on a daily basis providing for the never-ending, ever-changing, day-to-day physical and emotional needs as well.” It is vital to the families’ emotional well-being that father find a healthy balance between work life and home life.

When there is a divorce between parents, it is essential for a father to stay involved in his child’s life. Children of divorce benefit when mothers and fathers continue to view parenting as a shared and collaborative venture. Unfortunately, divorced dads most often have progressively decreased contact with their children. Many factors contribute to this and some are outside the control of the father. No matter the reason, as a father’s contact with his children declines, so does his influence. This “dad” influence is critically important to children. Research supports what we all know - - children benefit from having supportive and loving relationships with both parents. Much of the negative impact of divorce on children can be avoided when parents are cooperative and work together in the raising of their children.

Participatory fatherhood is good for children, families and fathers themselves. There can be enormous joy in parenting and having a deep and intimate connection with children is a wonderful experience. Fathers who commit to this level of relationship with their children are greatly rewarded.

As we celebrate mothers and fathers on their special days, it is important to reflect on the extraordinary and unique contributions of both in the lives of children. When commenting on fathers, David Blankenhorn wrote: “Many people today believe that fathers are unnecessary. I believe the opposite. I pledge to live my life according the principal that every child deserves a father; that part of being a good man means being a good father; and that America needs more good men.”