Mixed Signals

By: Dr. Gregory Popcak

fighting couple

“No matter what I do, it’s never good enough. I just don’t feel like he loves me and I’m completely fed up.”  Colleen and David began marriage counseling as far apart as two people could be.     Often during a first session, I will make time to speak to the husband and wife separately, so that each can feel free to say what they need to without fear of being contradicted. Colleen took the first turn while David headed out for a cigarette.  “I have really tried hard to show him how much I love him.” She said. “I used to pack little notes in his lunch. I try to keep the house looking nice. I try to be romantic. Things have been rough for a while, but a couple of weeks ago, I thought I would try to do something special. I made a nice meal, lit candles, set the table with our good china….” Colleen trailed off, gathered her thoughts and began again.

“He barely said two words the whole meal. We just sat there, eating in silence. I wanted to stab him with my salad fork, I was so angry.” She grabbed for a Kleenex and composed herself. “It’s like that all the time. I try to do things that let him know that I love him, but he never responds. Not only doesn’t he appreciate what I do for him, he never does anything to show me he cares. He says he loves me, but those are just words. Why doesn’t he show me?”


We discussed a few more issues, getting the general overview of her situation, and then it was David’s turn.  “She is just so fussy. Everything has to be perfect all the time. I feel like it completely kills any spontaneity. The other week, she made this dinner. I came home and I was tired. I was really looking forward to an evening of just hanging out on the couch together, being close, just relaxing–maybe over a pizza or something–and I walk into all this pressure. She had the candles lit and the good china out.     All I wanted to do was get out of my jacket and tie, and all of a sudden I felt like I was underdressed in my own house.

“I was irritated, sure, but I figured this was important to her. We hadn’t been getting along all that well for a while, so I thought I would try to play along, maybe it would help soften her up a bit. I was enjoying the meal well enough, but then I saw her get that ‘prissy face’ she gets when she’s mad at me, and all I could think was, ‘Ah, man, what did I do now?’”  He sighed and made a face. “I was too tired to deal with it. I just kept my mouth shut and got out of there as fast as I could.”  David continued. “She’s always doing stuff like that. I’m always trying to do things to let her know I love her. I try to hug her, but she’s always a million miles away. I used to call her from work to see how she was, but she was always too busy with some project to talk. I tell her I love her, but she says, “That’s just words!”     I love to fix things and keep the house in good shape, you know, guy stuff (he smiled conspiratorially) but she doesn’t really need me to do any of that for her because she’s so competent. Meanwhile, I’m killing myself trying to show her that I care, and she isn’t doing anything for me. It’s always about what she wants.     I just got sick of it after a while.”


David and Colleen were struggling with a common but serious marital problem. Specifically, the couple’s individual “lovestyles” were crossed.     To put it another way, each was working hard to communicate love to the other in a way that made sense to him or her self, but was completely irrelevant to the other. Colleen, having a more visual lovestyle liked to concentrate on atmosphere.  She was attentive to details, and showed her love in the way she decorated the house, presented a meal, and set the mood with candles and other visual indicators of affection like her appearance, or notes and cards.  David on the other hand was not as visual as his wife. Employing both kinesthetic (kin-es-TET-ic) and auditory lovestyles, he was more oriented to touch and action-oriented expressions of love as well as verbal affection. He tried to communicate his feelings for Colleen through acts of service, hugs and other physical displays of affection, and calling her to check on her day, in addition to saying, “I love you.” as much as possible. Unfortunately, despite all this love going around, both David and Colleen felt horribly neglected.

Back to School.

To understand the concept of lovestyles better, I need to take you back to grade school for a minute. Teachers spend a great deal of time trying to figure out how their students learn best (their “Learning styles”). Some students are visual learners, and do well with reading assignments, workbook pages, and other visual input. Others are more auditory learners. They need to be talked through tasks. They also do well in lecture classes and discussion groups and other oral/auditory learning activities.     Others still are kinesthetic learners, who learn by doing. These students learn through their hands and do well with projects, acting out assignments, manipulatives, and other physical activities that inspire learning.  Because learning styles are neurologically based, they don’t disappear in adulthood, they generalize out of the classroom and become communication styles–and in marriage– what I call, “lovestyles,” which brings us back to our couple.

Both Colleen and David were working very hard to demonstrate their love for one another, but almost all of their efforts were for naught, because they were communicating love in a manner that the other was not neurologically “wired” to receive. Because of that, Colleen’s visual efforts at romance were dismissed as mere, “fussiness” by the more kinesthetic David, and David’s attempts to communicate love through physical affection and words were experienced by Colleen as being either “groping” or as “empty words” respectively.  When I explained this to the couple, they were initially underwhelmed if not outright pessimistic. David said, “It sounds like you’re saying we’re doomed. That we’re just wired differently and that’s all there is to it.”  Clearly, this is not what I was trying to say. The good news is, to the degree that you have five senses, you can rewire and expand your lovestyle. The difficulty is that it simply never occurs to most people.     A person with a more visual lovestyle tends to believe that everyone should give and receive affection just as they do. It never occurs to them to try anything else.     The same is true of the other lovestyles. So they tend to dismiss, or simply miss, those displays of affection not communicated in the lovestyle they are most comfortable with. And it never occurs to anyone to notice all that they are missing.


The answer to this problem is a combination of generosity and awareness. Catholic marriages are founded on the notion of self-donative love, the idea that it is a spouse’s duty and privilege to use his or her whole self–body, mind, and spirit–to work for the good of the other. By challenging our comfort zones and consciously working to love our spouse the way he or she needs to be loved, instead of just the way we want to love him or her, we expand our capacity to give and receive love, and open our own minds to experiencing a world previously unknown to us.  I suggested that David and Colleen try an experiment.     I asked them to list at least twenty different actions that communicated love or attentiveness to them. These items could be more romantic, like cards and flowers, or they could be more mundane, like taking the garbage to the curb, or giving up the TV remote for the evening. The only requirements were that these activities should be low-expense, not terribly time consuming, and still be meaningful enough to cause the recipient to have a gut-level reaction that says, “Ahh! That made me feel very well taken care of.”

Over the next few sessions, David and Colleen developed their lists and worked to overcome some of the basic objections to each other’s requests. Colleen said, “One of the first reactions to some of the things he wrote down was, “You want me to do WHAT!?     I’m ashamed to admit it now, because it wasn’t as if he was asking for anything immoral or demeaning, he just wanted me to do things that don’t mean a great deal to me, and would require me to challenge my comfort level. Things like holding his hand in public, or sitting on the couch and snuggling together in front of the fire even if there were chores that still needed to be done, or keeping him company when he changes the oil. I would NEVER think of doing those things on my own, and honestly, when he has asked me to do them in the past, I just dismissed them because they didn’t mean anything to me.”

David agreed. “My first reaction to her list was, ‘This is really stupid.’     I think I’m a pretty loving guy, but a lot of the things she wrote down didn’t seem so much loving, as they were fussy. ‘Wear something nicer than old sweats in the evening.’ or, ‘Write me a note that says you love me and why.’ or ‘make sure the bedroom is straightened up and light candles when you want to make love.’ I just don’t care about that kind of stuff on my own. Honestly, it seemed a little silly. I mean, why would I need to write her a note? I tell her I love all the time. I just thought she was being picky.”  But after we spent some time addressing their objections and they had an opportunity to practice the items on each other’s lists, the difference was remarkable. As Colleen put it, “It occurred to me that I had been very selfish.     I was only willing to love him the way I wanted to love him. I didn’t care how he needed to be loved. In a sense, my loving efforts in the past were more focused on helping me feel good than they were showing him affection in any meaningful way.”

David added, “It was hard for me to remember to do the things on her list at first, because they just don’t come naturally to me at all. But I tried to check the list everyday and tell myself that it wasn’t important if this stuff meant anything to me. It was just important that I wanted her to know I loved her, and in order to do that, I needed to learn to speak her language. And the first time she read the little love note I wrote in about ten minutes earlier in the day, she just beamed. I knew I’d scored big.”  But the benefits didn’t end there. David and Colleen both learned important lessons about themselves and opened their eyes to new ways to experience and share love. As David put it, “Colleen told me that she can really see how doing these things is helping her become a more open, loving person who is more relaxed and less ashamed about showing affection. And I’m becoming a whole lot more attentive as a husband. I used to think that as long as I was a better husband than most of the guys at the office, that was good enough. Now I realize that God expects me to be the husband she needs me to be, not just the husband my friends think I ought to be.”

If you are experiencing the tension of loving someone with a different love language, call your PaxCare Tele-Coach today and find the solutions you are looking for. Call us to get the skills you need to succeed.

Manly Men-Reflections on Masculinity

By: PaxCare Staff


In the culture in which we live, there are many stereotypes and misconceptions regarding the roles and identities of men. What makes a man, well…a man? How do we determine manliness? This article will shed some light on the issue.

What’s the Manswer?

Read the following two character sketches and answer this question:   Which man is more masculine?

#1.   Mr. A is a florist by profession.   He enjoys going to the ballet, musical theater and supports the arts in general.  He dresses well and cares for his appearance. He is warm and affectionate to the people he meets.   He is in touch with his emotions and comfortable sharing them.

#2 Mr. B is a contractor by profession.   He enjoys monster truck rallies, loves to watch football, and judges the quality of a movie by the number of explosions in it.   His idea of dressing up is wearing  his nice plaid flannel shirt (the one without the beer stain).   He is friendly enough, but not very affectionate.   Some would describe him as gruff.     He does not enjoy talking about feelings.   He would rather solve problems than talk about them.

So, which is more masculine?   A or B?   Answer:   It is impossible to tell from the information presented.

Why?   Because masculinity has little to do with the jobs we do, the things we like, or the way we look.   Masculinity has much, much more to do with how effectively we live out our humanity through the male body given to us by God. Masculinity is determined by how comfortable a man is with his body and uses that body in the manner it was intended by God to be used; that is, to serve others.   Let’s use two different examples.

The Demands of Loving Service

Same question: Which is more masculine?

#1 Mr. C adores his wife. He is conscientious about fulfilling the promises he makes to her. He is an active father and makes sure to spend time with his children every day. He is concerned about caring for his family’s emotional and spiritual needs and regularly leads prayer in his home and encourages his family to take advantage of the sacraments.     His wife and children know that any time they need something, they can count on Mr. A to help them find the most godly and efficient way to meet their need.

#2 Mr. D says he loves his wife but really couldn’t tell you anything about what her needs are or what it takes to make her happy. When she asks him to do something for her, he will often promise to do it to get her to stop nagging him, but he rarely follows through. He is not very involved with his children. He avoids discussion anything he doesn’t have to with his family. He does not pray with them. He will go to church if his wife insists. Sometimes. By and large, his wife and children do not count on him for much.

So, which is more masculine? Clearly, Mr. C. Why? Because Mr. C presents as a man who knows himself, is comfortable in his own skin and he is using his self and his body in the way God intended it to be used; to serve others. A man might have more in common with either Mr. A or Mr. B above, but it doesn’t matter, because his masculinity is determined not by the job he has or the things he likes or the way he looks. It is determined by the way he uses his self and his body to serve.

Should I Answer the Call to Love? (Or, just let the machine get it?)

By: Gregory Popcak

couple smiling at each other

“Love is…the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.”

-John Paul II

Familiaris Consortio.

I have a confession to make. I’m a screener. I know it’s an obnoxious habit, but there are just some evenings when, after a long day of counseling, I don’t want to talk to anyone on the phone unless they are; a.) Dying. b.) Sending me lots of money. c.) All of the above.  Sometimes, I’m sorry to say, I even try to put God on hold, especially when he’s calling me to love. We all do this from time to time. We know that the Scriptures tell us to love our spouses as Christ loves the Church, but we respond as if we are listening to a disembodied voice on our answering machine, “Thanks for calling, Lord. I’m washing the dog right now. (Ruff! Sit, Cujo. Sit!) If you leave your name and number at the tone….”

Marital Call Waiting.

But God–being so, well, Godly–sees through such pathetic attempts to put him off. Eventually, I am obliged to respond.  Which, to be perfectly honest, is in my best interest anyway. Being a marriage counselor gives me a unique opportunity to see for myself the effects of consistently choosing not to love; effects that range from the silly to the truly frightening. When I take a moment to consider these different situations, two kinds of “marital call-waiting” emerge. That is, there are two major excuses we give for ignoring our call to love; our addiction to comfort, and a game I call, Marital Chicken.

The Obstacles.

The first obstacle, our love of comfort (a.k.a. sloth) stops us from challenging ourselves to live out the love God has placed on our hearts. You could be more present, more romantic, more sexual, more helpful, a better listener, or a more attentive mate, except that you’re tired and just too comfortable in your own little corner of the house. It happens to all of us, men and women. We are called to be Christ to our mate, but too often, “Christ” is sacked out on the sofa, hiding out in a hobby or job, or out saving the rest of the world instead of actively searching for the million or so ways he or she could be loving right at home.  Marital Chicken is the second and more insidious obstacle to being Christ to our spouses. Like the game of “chicken” in the fifties where two teenagers drove toward each other at breakneck speed to see who would veer off the road first, Marital Chicken is the game couples play when they sit around whining to each other, “If you were more (romantic, sexual, helpful, complementary, emotional, rational, etc.), maybe I would be more (romantic, sexual, helpful, complimentary, emotional, rational, etc.) But I know you. You’ll never change!”

Playing this game allows us to avoid confronting our own fears of intimacy while getting to feel self-righteous at the same time. Obviously, the game can be fairly addicting. What the couple playing Marital Chicken forgets is that they are not really responsible to their partner for living out those loving qualities. Rather, they must become more affectionate/ sexual/ helpful/ complimentary/emotional/rational/etc. because that is the person they want to be, because that is the person God is calling them to be. When I die and God asks me if I lived out my vocation to love, I don’t really think the Almighty is going to accept, “Well, Lord, I would have, if only my spouse had been more….”

The Selfish Person’s Guide to Love.

Still, knowing all this doesn’t make responding to the call any easier. Sometimes, when we are choked with our own self-righteousness we may need a more immediate, more “selfish” reason for doing what we know is the right thing. God, in his mercy, gives us not one, but two reasons to take his call.

1) Choosing to love others helps us feel God’s love more.

When I bring a difficult situation in my marriage to the Lord, an odd thing happens. Somewhere in the middle of my prayer (which goes something like, “So help me God, you BETTER do something about this RIGHT NOW because if you think for one minute that I’m going to be loving….”) I hear a quiet voice that stops me in my tracks.

“You know, Greg. Now that you mention it, sometimes you do that to me.”

“What are you talking about, Lord?” I say, irritated at having been interrupted mid-rant.

“That thing you’re complaining about. Sometimes you do that to me.”

It doesn’t matter what it is. Invariably, God uses the circumstances of my anger to teach me about the latest way I have been putting him off, selling him short, or otherwise treating him with unintentional contempt. Moreover, where I might be tempted to whine, complain or argue with my wife to get what I want, God reminds me that he does none of these things when he wants me to change. He just loves me more persistently until I realize, “Hey, this God of mine isn’t so bad after all. Maybe I should trust him with more of my life.”  When I ask God to help me in my marriage, he begins by leading me to see my own resistances to his love. When I confess them, seek his pardon, and ask for his grace, he not only fills my soul with a peace beyond words, he shows me that the answer to my current marital struggle is simple; I must love more, love better, and love now. Opening myself up to his love, Christ gives me the courage to try and become the husband he would be.

2) Choosing to love increases my self-esteem.

There is a second reason I must choose to be loving even when I don’t feel like it. I simply don’t like the person I become when I choose not to love. If, as the Holy Father said, the call to love is innate within us, then to not love is to not be true to myself. When a person does things that are inconsistent with their Nature, it has a horrible effect on their self-esteem. I see examples of this all day long when people tell me that they despise how they’ve let their marital problems turn them into “a witch,” “an abuser,” “a miserable person,” or worse. When I can help these people make more loving choices in their marriages (not because their spouse deserves it but because their own dignity demands it) two remarkable things happen. First, they begin to like themselves again. There is a great deal of satisfaction that comes from being able to say that at the end of each day, no matter how “crazy” your spouse was, you behaved in a way that you can be proud of. Secondly, when the husband and wife respond to their calls to love, acting in a manner that is consistent with their personal dignity, nine times out of ten the marriage problems disappear; sometimes in a matter of weeks, sometimes overnight, but always faster than the couple would have ever dared dream was possible.  If I want to be loving to myself, the only logical choice I have is to be loving whether or not I feel like it. Whether or not I think “they” deserve it. To do otherwise is to become bitter and isolated. I deserve better than that. You do to.

“One, Ringy Dingy….

God rewards our choice to love with deeper submersion in his joy, greater self-satisfaction, and more fulfilling relationships. The call to love is indeed the most invigorating and most important call we could ever answer. It is our beginning, our middle and our end.

"My Kid Won't Listen to Me!" The Art of 'No'

By: Gregory Popcak

yes and no

Michael wasn’t getting along with his 14yo son.  “He’s been really disrespectful lately, and I know I need to find some better ways to handle him.” I asked what was behind his son’s increased negative attitude toward him. Mike answered, “I think I tend to be pretty negative. He’ll ask me for something; if he can go out with a friend, or stay up a little later one night, or do whatever, and I just find myself saying ‘no’–not for any good reason really. It’s just a reflex. Like I’m already stressed out and saying ‘yes’ is going to complicate my life further, so I just don’t.”  St Paul says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger lest they lose heart (Col 3:21).” Although dads have a right, even an obligation, to “Just say ‘No’” sometimes–especially to something that puts our kids well-being or soul at risk–it’s important to resist the urge to give reflexive “no’s” without cause. Nothing provokes any person, child or adult, to anger more than an unjustly frustrated need or request.

To Whom ARE They Listening?

When we make a habit out of reflexively saying “no” to our kids, we fuel the fires of disrespect and disobedience. Dads will often complain to me that, “My kid doesn’t listen to me anymore.” Although it’s tempting to ask “why?”, a more useful question is, “To whom DOES your child listen?” His mother? His friends?  The kid is listening to someone. Why? What are those people saying? More particularly, why does the child believe that these people have answers that you don’t have? The answers to those questions give us us clues how to win back the heart of a child we’ve alienated by our unjust “no’s.”

Inspiring Willing Submission

Although a parent can always try to compel obedience from a child (a hit or miss proposition if there ever was one) research tells us that children only willingly submit to a mom or dad’s authority when they believe that a parent is genuinely committed to helping them meet their needs. When our kids are convinced that we are committed to being their best hope for helping them get everything they need to live and grow into successful adults, they attach themselves to us and offer their obedience to us. We become their mentor as well as their father, or as I put it in Parenting with Grace, “we create the kind of relationship that makes our kids want to look more like us than anyone else.”

The Qualified “Yes”

The best way to create this kind of attached, discipleship relationship with our kids while still protecting them from poor choices and dangerous situations (to their bodies and souls) is to trade “reflexive no’s” for “qualified yes’s.”  This means we need to take Christ’s command in Mt 5:37 seriously and be intentional about our “yes’s” and “no’s.” In particular, it’s best to save a definite “no” for those times when we can easily and clearly explain to our children why we genuinely believe that something is dangerous for them.     Otherwise, it is always better to use a technique I call, the “qualified yes.” A “ qualified yes” is a kind-of, “Yes, but first….”  For instance;

Example 1:

Child: Can I go to my friends house?

Father: Yes, but I need you to clean your room first.

Example 2:

Teen: Dad, Can I get my driver’s license?

Dad: Absolutely, but I need to see you being a little more attentive and responsible around the house before I’d be comfortable putting you in the driver’s seat. Tell you what, take the rest of the month. If you can show me that you can do your chores without being asked and be helpful around the house without us having to point things out to you (i.e., demonstrating signs of responsibility and attentiveness) then at the end of the month, we can start driving practice and work toward your permit.

The technique of the “Qualified Yes” works on several levels. First, it stops you from alienating your child with reflexive “no’s.” Second, it demonstrates that you want to give your child good things, but only if they can demonstrate they can handle the responsibility. Third, it teaches your child the importance of working for things they want. Fourth, it conveys that earning privileges is not so much dependent upon getting your permission as it is demonstrating their maturity. Finally, it gives you a chance to encourage the development of virtues your kids need to exhibit to become loving, whole, and holy grown-ups.

“It’s Good to Be King”? A Serious Look at Headship in Christian Marriage.

By: Gregory Popcak

washing feet

“Defer to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives be submissive to your husbands…. Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the Church.”

~Ephesians 5:21-33

In my counseling practice, I have recently encountered a slew of questions relating to headship in Christian marriage and the abuses that flow from a misunderstanding of this concept.     I have been disheartened to see first hand how this beautiful and key teaching of Christian family life has been twisted in so many ways to cause so much pain. Let me offer some examples so we’re all clear on what I’m talking about.  “My husband doesn’t want me, just my body. He ignores me or is cold to me most of the time, but then he wants to have sex  at least twice a day. I feel like he is using me, but He says that he is the head and I have to submit to him in all things, especially this, or else I’m sinning. I want to be a good wife. I don’t want to offend God, but I am so sad. What can I do?”

~ ~ ~

“My husband said that I couldn’t buy any birthday presents for our two-year old because ‘He has enough already. He needs to learn to be grateful for what he has.’  He won’t even let my family come to celebrate his birthday. My heart is breaking for our son but I don’t want to disobey my husband, what should I do?”

~ ~ ~

“The people in my homeschool group tell me that when my husband says something, even if I disagree with it, I have to say, ‘Yes, dear.’ because in marriage I am supposed to sacrifice my will entirely to the will of my husband. Something about that doesn’t seem right. It sounds extreme but what if he wanted me to kill someone? Where do I draw the line?”

~ ~ ~

There is a great deal of confusion about what it means for the husband to be the head of the family and much harm can come from an improper understanding of this idea. The key to understanding headship lies in the John Paul II’s statement in Evangelium Vitae, that “Man’s lordship is not absolute, it is ministerial.” Let’s unpack that statement.

1. Obedience cannot be commanded, it must be invited.

There is an important distinction to be made between blind obedience and Christian obedience. Blind obedience uses fear to motivate. The person who relies on blind obedience says, “You must obey me because I am the leader, so there!” Christian obedience is a much different animal though. It is a logical response to loving service.  St. Ambrose was contemplating the scripture, “You are my friends if you keep my commands.” but he observed that friends don’t command other friends, if they did, it would no longer be a friendship but a relationship between a superior and inferior person (the commander and the commanded). What could Jesus mean by tying our friendship with Him to obedience to Him?     Ambrose realized that Jesus was talking about a new kind of obedience based on friendship rather than fear, an “obedience” that meant anticipating and fulfilling the needs of another.     Seen in this light, obedience is really another form of intimacy, where one person attentively seeks out the needs of the other and lovingly fulfills them, often without being asked, certainly without being asked twice.     This is the essence of true Christian obedience. What parent would not want this kind of obedience from their child? What spouse would not want this kind of obedience from their mate? What God would not want this kind of obedience from His people?

Understanding obedience in this way presents a challenge to all of us. Obviously Christian obedience is a good and desirable thing, and yet, we cannot demand obedience from another (nor can we nag, whine, threaten, beat, or manipulate it out of someone) if it is to remain true Christian obedience. In fact, there is only one way Christian parents and Christian spouses can “command” obedience; the same way Jesus commanded it, through an example of loving service.  When my wife or children come to me with a need, it is not my job to sit in judgment of that need and say “Yea” or “Nay” to it. It is my job to take that need seriously, and to help them find a godly way to meet that need. If I do this, then over time, my wife and children learn to trust me. They come to see that, “Hey, Greg always does well by us. He always helps us find respectful and efficient ways to meet our needs.” Because of this, they come to seek my counsel and take my advice all on their own without me ever having to “command” them to do anything. In other words, their “obedience” to my counsel is their logical response to my having served them first. In a Christian home, obedience does not result from me beating my chest and saying, “Me Head of Family! You brainless peon!”     (That is oppression, not headship.)     In a Christian home, obedience is not commanded, it is invited, by the husband becoming like Christ and washing the feet of the greatest and the least member of his family.

2.     The needs set the agenda, not the husband.

I recently spoke at a men’s conference where a gentleman cornered me after my talk and said, “It took me 25 years of marriage to realize I wasn’t going to get any credit– from God or my wife–for giving her things she didn’t want.”  I regularly hear from husbands who want to know, “How do I know what’s right for my family?” Many men think that omniscience is a prerequisite to headship. It is not.  How do you know what’s right for your family? You ask them!  As head of household, you must assume that the voice of God is speaking through the needs your wife and children bring to you. Their needs set the agenda, not you.  Husbands would do well to remember that God is the ultimate head of household and God is the author of all of our needs.  Of course, if you have concerns about certain things your family wants, you have a right to express them, even to insist that those concerns be addressed before you move forward with fulfilling that need (incidentally, your wife has this same right when you bring your needs to her. “Defer to one another out of reverence for Christ…) And you should always pray with your family to help them discern whether the need being expressed is truly godly, but assuming the need persists through prayer and discernment, we have little choice but to respond to it. As scripture says, in the end we must, “Follow the ways of your heart, the vision of your eyes.” Assuming we truly love God first and seek his will then, “all things,” presumably even our errors in judgment “will work for the good of those who love Him.” Again, being head of household does not mean being a one man Supreme Court whose family must convince you that their needs are worthy of being fulfilled.     It means that you must be a responsive and generous servant to whatever needs your family brings to you, especially the ones that make you uncomfortable. If you do this, then, and only then, will you be loving your family “as Christ loves the Church.”

3. You all belong to God.

Paul tells us, “None of us lives as his own…. In both life and death we belong to God.”  Because each one of us belongs to God, he speaks to each one of us, and he expects each of us to fulfill the purpose for which we have been created. The only way to do this, is to learn to be attentive to his voice in our hearts and to follow that voice where it leads us.  But I have met many husbands who think that their wife and children are obliged to follow the agenda that they set for the family, regardless of what the rest of the family thinks of that agenda. This is not headship. It is idolatry.  These husbands expect their family to be disobedient to the voice of God speaking in their hearts, and instead, be obedient only to the husband’s desires. How is this any different than the pagan kings of the Old Testament insisting that their subjects pray to them?     Whenever this occurred, the servants of God were praised for their strenuous resistance to this arguably legitimate authority who made himself illegitimate by the nature of his commands. Jesus said, “No man is greater than his master, no messenger than he who sent him” as he stooped to wash the feet of his apostles. If we would love our wives as Christ loved the Church, then we must first put on the apron of humility–and serve. We cannot concern ourselves with making our family obey us. We can only love them, better and better, until they turn their hearts to us. It is then that we will be like Christ, of whom we sing, “O, How I love Jesus, because he first loved me.

If you find yourself struggling with any of the issues mentioned in the above article, call your PaxCare Tele-Coach today and get the solutions you are seeking. Call us to get the skills you need to succeed.

Want Helpful Kids? Study Says, “Invite virtue!”

Every parent wants children who will be helpful around the house.  It turns out, the words parents choose to encourage helping behavior in children may make all the difference in determining how easy it is to raise helpful, self-donative kids.

How do you get a preschooler to help with chores and other household tasks? Adults’ word choice can make a big difference.  A new study has found that parent word choice matters when encouraging preschool-age children to help others. Children were significantly more likely to help an experimenter when he or she referred to help using nouns (‘some children choose to be helpers’) than when he or she referred to help using verbs (‘some children choose to help’). 

“These findings suggest that parents and teachers can encourage young children to be more helpful by using virtue-nouns like ‘helper’ instead of verbs like ‘helping’ when making a request of a child,” says Christopher J. Bryan, assistant professor of psychology at the University of California, San Diego, who worked on the study. Using the virtue-noun ‘helper’ may send a signal that helping implies something positive about one’s identity, which may in turn motivate children to help more.

It’s tempting to write advice like this off.  It’s such a small thing that it can be difficult to imagine the difference it could possibly make, but I think the study points to a deeper reality.  Children have a natural drive to be good and virtuous if we show them how.  They don’t want to just do good things. They want to BE good.  Telling them how they can “be a helper”  “be responsible”  “be generous” and other virtues sends a message that how a child chooses to behave defines the kind of person he or she will become.  I think that message is consistent with the call for families to be “schools of love and virtue” (Familiaris Consortio).  It’s a message that resonates with our children because of the programming God built into every child that calls them to strive to become everything they were created to be.  Using these kinds of words with children invites them to be their best selves and that is an invitation children love to accept.

For more information on how you can invite your children to be their best selves, check out Parenting with Grace:  The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids.

Four Tips For Effective Discipline

By: Dr. Gregory Popcak

father son discipline

Elizabeth called me at the seeking counsel. A homeschooling mother of five, she was having trouble keeping her children on task no matter what the task was. “I can’t get them to listen to me.     I’m embarrassed to say it, but when I ask them to do anything, especially their schoolwork, I have to put up with all kinds of back talking. When I correct them, we get into arguments. I’ve tried everything, even spanking, and nothing works. I really want to keep schooling them at home, and my husband is very supportive, but I’m getting to the point where they’re driving me crazy and I’m starting to think very seriously about sending them to school.”  Even if you have great resources, a supportive spouse, and a vital spirituality, the one thing that could still threaten your homeschooling success is the lack of a consistent and effective program of discipline.  While I go into great detail on how to set up an effective discipline system in my book, Parenting with Grace, I would like to review some of the basics here in the hopes of sparing you some of Erica’s angst.

1. Identify and Review the Rules Regularly.

One of the biggest reasons for noncompliance is that children are not clear on  what the rules are.  Even if you have told them again and again, perhaps you need to do it in a more concise and consistent manner.  Too often, we parents use a shot gun approach to rules, spouting dozens of them at once without taking the time to explain or teach what we want our children to do. “Stop picking on your sister!” “Put that down!” “How many times have I told you…!”  When we find ourselves engaging in this kind of repetitious yelling, chances are we need to reexamine our approach. Identify the biggest behavior problems you are currently facing, limit yourself to two or three problems– you don’t want to overwhelm yourself or your children.  Next, identify what the appropriate alternative to that problem behavior is and the consequence for not exhibiting that alternative. For example; if your children are arguing over toys, the alternative behavior would be “sharing” or “taking turns.” Write this in the form of a rule and post it on your refrigerator. “We will take turns and share.” Across from this, write the logical consequence for not following this rule. “If you do not take turns, you will lose your turn or lose the toy.”  Now, instead of yelling the next time the children are arguing over the toy (or whatever else the behavior is), simply say, “What is the rule?” or, if you have written and posted the rule, simply say, “Please go look at the rules.”  If they cannot work it out for themselves, go to number two below.

2. Let the consequence do the talking.

Resist the urge to argue with your children. Once you have clearly identified the  rules and consequences, and have reminded your child of the rule and consequence once when the need arises, do not yell, do not argue, do not pass “Go”, do not collect $200. Move directly to consequence.  If the rule is “share or lose the toy,” and your children are being less than generous with each other, then remind your squabbling children of the rule once. If they continue to argue, take the toy. Make no speech. Do not announce what you are going to do. Do not threaten. Quietly and calmly, walk in and take the toy.  Period.  Perhaps they can earn the toy back if they can play cooperatively for the next half hour. Or, perhaps they will lose the toy for the day. Your choice. But whatever you do, let the consequence do the talking for you.  Another example. If your child is not allowed to go to karate until his room is clean, then remind him once. If he simply grunts at you, let it go. He has been told. Later, when he shows up in his ghi telling you that it is time to go, ask him if his room is done. If not, then tell him that, unfortunately, you cannot take him until the room is clean. If he starts to argue, simply look at your watch and smile, “Tick, tock, tick, tock.” Chances are he will roll his eyes and stomp off to clean his room, after which, no matter how late it is, you will take him to his lesson (part of the consequence is the humiliation of arriving at class late for having made an irresponsible choice).  Notice, at no time in either of these examples did the parent argue with the child, try to convince the child to see the wisdom of his or her intervention, or encourage the child’s protestations. The rule was explained before the problem situation, a reminder was given in the situation, and then when the problem continued, the consequence did the talking for the parent; quietly and gently, but firmly.

3. Use Logical Consequences.

On the other hand, if you are going to let your consequences do the talking, you better make sure that your consequences are talking sense.  The word consequence means “in order” but many of the consequences parents devise for their children are completely inconsequential (out of order). For example; taking a child’s bicycle away for refusing to do his schoolwork makes no sense (it’s “inconsequential”), because losing the bicycle does nothing to motivate good study habits. On the other hand, telling a child that he must complete X amount of school work before he does anything else (including play, or eat lunch) and then sticking to it, does make sense because the child knows that if he ever expects to get up from that table and do anything else, he better focus.  A logical consequence is not merely a punishment. A logical consequence encourages or enforces the positive behavior you are trying to instill.  If a child speaks disrespectfully, the logical consequence is to insist that the child repeat what he said until he says it in a way that meets with your approval. This consequence encourages respect as opposed to merely punishing the disrespect. If a child isn’t paying attention and makes a mess or breaks a toy, the logical consequence is to clean up the mess, and perhaps pay for the damage in money or work. This consequence encourages responsibility as opposed to merely punishing irresponsibility. These consequences encourage do not merely punish the bad behavior, they encourage the more desirable alternative.

4. Use Time-Outs, but Don’t use Time-Outs as Punishments.

Time outs are effective ways to correct misbehavior, but they should not be used  to address every misbehavior, nor should they be used as a punishment. Time-outs themselves do not correct problems, they are simply a tool to help the child gain control of herself so that she can respond better when the parent does teach her what to do next time. Here is a step-by-step format for using the time-out effectively.

  • If the child is emotionally out of control or defiant and will not be redirected by a gentle reminder, then the child goes to time out: One minute per year of age.
  • The time-out does not officially start until the child stops arguing and is quiet. In other words, an eight year old child may take five minutes to calm down once he gets to time out, but only then does he begin to serve his eight minutes.
  • Time out should not be in the child’s room or other place of entertainment. A stairwell, or child-safe bathroom is best.
  • Once the time is up, the child may come out if he is able to a) explain what he did wrong. b) apologize. c) give some sense of what he needs to do differently the next time, OR, at least respond positively to your suggestions. If the child is unable or unwilling to do these three things, back to time out. One minute per year of age.
  • Once the child has regained his composure and expressed a willingness to change (see previous bullet point) The time out has been effectively completed. However, if the offense is serious enough, you may exercise the option of giving the child additional consequences that will allow them to clean up the literal or figurative mess they made. Don’t overdo it though. The virtue of justice requires that the offender be expected to do just enough to correct the immediate wrong. No more, no less. This will help your child see that you are firm, but fair.

Discipline is an essential part of a successful homeschool and home for that. Hopefully, these few  tips will help yours run more smoothly and productively. For more parenting and effective disciplinary tips, be sure to check  out  Parenting with Grace: Catholic Parent’s Guide to Raising (Almost) Perfect Kids.

Money Madness: Getting to the Bottom of “Dollar Debates”

By: Dr. Gregory Popcak

money matters

About halfway through their first tele-counseling session with me, Mack and Kara brought our conversation around to money. “He is totally controlling about what we spend.” Kara complained. “I really am careful about our budget, but he is constantly on me with his, ‘Do we really need this? Do we need that?’ He drives me crazy.”  Mack interrupted, “That’s not it at all! I just think we need to save.”  “Well, of course we need to save. But he gets crazy about it. It seems like every penny we don’t absolutely have to spend has to be squirreled away. He never wants to take a vacation; he couldn’t care less what our home looks like. It’s all about sockin’ it away.”  Not every couple is as polarized about money as Mack and Kara are, but finances are among the most contentious issues couples face. In fact, 37% of couples report that arguments about money represent a significant source of marital stress. Certainly they are the most common problems couples bring up in counseling, especially when financial times turn tough.  So what’s the secret to resolving these maddening money matters? Here are a few tips to get you over the hurdles.

1. Start by Giving Your Money Back to God.

Do you and your mate pray about your money? You should. No matter who brings home the bacon in your home, God is the provider. If He is giving you the money, then he has a purpose in mind for it. It is your job to discern that purpose by regularly asking God for his guidance. Here are a few suggestions for how to do this. First, every time you get a paycheck, sit down with your mate to thank God for it. Literally, pray over it, and to ask Him to help you know how to be a good steward of this gift. Second, when it comes to paying bills, go to the Lord first. Ask him to calm your nerves, give you wisdom, and to make your dollar go further (remember the loaves and the fishes!) and if you are fortunate enough to have anything left after, thank him for it, and keep point #2 in mind.

2. Remember the Purpose of Money.

As Catholics, we recognize that everything that God gives us is intended to work for the good of people. The accumulation of money cannot be an end in itself. Money is only good to the degree that it serves us and those who depend upon us. Couples must learn to be comfortable living in a healthy tension between saving for the future, making the home a hospitable place for the family, and taking care of those less fortunate. Before you allocate any money remaining after bills, consider the needs of everyone in the family, not just your own plans.

3. Everybody Has to Win.

Most money madness results from fights in which husbands and wives disagree over whose spending/saving vision rules the day. This is entirely wrongheaded. God called you and your spouse together because he knew that by responding generously to the needs he has placed on each of your hearts, you will both grow in ways that are essential to God’s plan for your life; ways in which you would never grow if you were on your own.  In order to do this, you must both be willing to give the other what he or she requires, but you must both also be willing to be flexible about how and when you get it. Do you want to go on a vacation this year? Great, but be sure to plan a vacation that respects your mate’s need to save. Need to save for retirement or college? Great. Just be flexible enough to develop a plan that enables you to meet reasonable savings goals in a timeframe that is respectful of your family’s need to have a hospitable home-life today. Everybody can get what they need as long as husband and wife are willing to be flexible about the method used to get it and the timeframe in which it is gotten.

4. Get Professional Help.

If you can’t figure out how to bring your different financial visions together into one coherent plan, seek the help of a financial planner who has tools and information that can help you solve the practical aspects of your problem.  Remember, though, sometimes money problems aren’t just about money. Often, arguments about money are really just a sign of a serious weakness in a couple’s general problem-solving and communication abilities, or a sign that there is just not as much respect in the relationship as there needs to be. The latter is especially true when one spouse consistently bullies the other to seeing things his or her way.  If resentment over money persists even after you have tried financial planning don’t simmer in silence. Seek the help of a marriage-friendly counselor who can help you get to the bottom of what is really bothering you. If you find that there is still tension between you and your spouse over money matters, call your PaxCare Tele-Coach today and get the solutions you are searching for. Call us and get the skills you need to succeed!

Hey Dad, It's Your Turn

By: Dr. Gregory Popcak

bubba and daddy

Often, new parents ask me, “If mom is nursing and being the primary care-giver to the baby, what’s dad’s job in all this? How does he get to bond with the baby?”  As your child grows and develops, he or she will be drawing closer and closer to Dad as a matter of course. In the meantime, dads have several contributions you need to make in order for your wife, your marriage, your child and your home to actually flourish instead of merely struggle though.

1. Take the Initiative in Baby Care You Can Do.

It is essential for you to begin developing your relationship with your child from the very first moments of birth. The best way to do this is to be available to meet all the needs of your child that your wife is not biologically equipped to handle better (i.e. feeding). In our home, that usually translates into several duties for me. First, since my wife does all the nursing, I get the diapers. Yes, it’s stinky. But it can be fun too. Having the chance to rub my baby’s feet on my beard, watching the baby giggle and wiggle when I “zerbert” (make a “raspberry” sound against the baby’s skin) her bellybutton, making goo goo faces with my baby and meeting her eyes with mine are all experiences that are worth the price I pay by undergoing thirty seconds of “P.U.!”  Bath time can also be lots of fun for dad and baby. Plus, it gives mom a few moments of much needed rest.

Likewise, it is important for me to spend as much time as my baby will allow me to spend cuddling, “wearing” the baby in a sling, and playing with him or her. Some fathers are content to play with the baby as long as he or she is quiet, but as soon as the child begins to fuss he immediately passes him off to mom. Some moms are just as bad, taking the baby away as soon as the child begins fussing–making the father feel like an incompent boob in the process. It is better to let dads struggle with finding their own ways to comfort baby so that both the child and the father can get used to their rhythms and own, unique music. Of course if the child begins wailing, or it is obvious that he is hungry, mom should be given her shot at comforting the child. But take care not to do this at the expense of the father’s feelings of competence surrounding his ability to bond with his child. Dad’s, I’m going to let you in on a secret. Besides nursing, women don’t know any more about comforting babies than you do. There are no secret “girl meetings” about infant care any more than there are secret “boy meetings” about child care. Your wives learn their baby comforting repertoire the same way you do, through trail and error. And they have to learn a new repertoire which each new baby. Take the time you need to learn your baby’s cues, and develop your own unique ways to fulfill the needs those cues represent. In this way, you will be able to provide exceptional care to your wife and your child; giving the former a much needed break and giving the latter a rewarding experience as he begins to venture out of the world of his mother’s arms, and learn about the world in yours.

Beyond this, I consider it my job to help my wife feel put together every day. Moms who do this kind of “attachment” parenting without the proper support from their husbands can get burned out. They can feel guilty getting a shower or going to the bathroom alone because the baby is crying while they do it. Of course, the creative mom can work around some of this (for example, by playing peek-a-boo with the shower curtain while she is bathing) but nothing takes the place of a present father to help mom maintain some sense of herself and her sanity.  When our children are infants, besides diaper duty, I take advantage of this very special time to cuddle and play with the baby while my wife does what she needs to do to make herself feel somewhat “pulled together.”

2. Take Charge of Your Relationship While Protecting the Bond with Baby.

Your child will be a constant reminder to your wife of her motherhood. You must be an equally devoted reminder to your wife of her youthfulness, attractiveness, intelligence and femininity. Some men try to do this by nagging, “When are you going to spend some time with meeeee?” Or by constantly nagging the wife, saying, “Don’t forget about me! Why don’t you leave the baby with a sitter so we can get some time?”  This never works. It only makes the woman feel like she has even more demands to meet. The only way to successfully solve this problem is for you to be as giving to your wife as she is to your child. First, try to keep in mind that your wife might be feeling somewhat guilty that she can’t be there for you the way she would like to be. Let her know that the most important way she can love you is by being a good mom to your child and in the meantime, you are going to take care of her.  This might seem paradoxical to you. After all, you want more time with your wife not less. The only way to get this is not to demand her attention, but to invite it as a loving response to your loving response. In plain English, when you are stressed, to whom are you more likely to show affection, a person who gives you a “things to do” list or a person who cleans your house, cooks you dinner, buys you a rose and gives you a neck massage? You get my point.

Make it your business to be present to your wife as much as possible. Cut back on some of your commitments. You need to be as available to her as she is to your baby. Your wife may be struggling with feelings of “losing herself” to her motherhood. This is a natural concern, and with time and husbandly support, it will evolve into your wife’s ability to integrate her motherhood with her personhood. For the time being, the best way for you to support her in this is to join her as intimately as you can in the parenting role. It will be difficult for your wife to get through this phase without resenting your baby or you if you are out golfing, playing, socializing, traveling, or even working too much instead of being home to support her and your child. Your presence is the best indicator of the value you place on her motherhood and the worth of your children. For a while, you may need to back off some of your hobbies, and other acquaintances in order to take the time you need to nurture your wife and your marriage through this transition.

I believe it is also important for husbands to increase their capacity for non-sexual expressions of romance during this phase. Some men are used to their wives maintaining the relationship in general, and experience resentment when their children prevent their wives from doing their “job” of nurturing the marriage. Guess what, dads? If you’ve been hanging back, its your turn now. God is giving you the opportunity to practice self-donation by developing all those relationship skills you were able to coast through before because your wife’s efforts were letting you off the hook. You can either accept God’s challenge and reap the rewards of the exceptional intimacy in your marriage that results. Or, you may refuse God’s challenge and devolve into that quiet resentment experienced by so many husbands and wives who say, “It just isn’t the same once you have kids.” Your marriage, your choice. Choose well.  For those dads who are up to the challenge, this is your time to shine. Communicate your love for your bride through all of her senses. Tell her how much you love her, one hundred time a day–even if it seems redundant. She needs to know it and you need to tell her. Stimulate her intellectually (by reading aloud together or conversation or some other creative venue). Many people will be treating your wife as if she has contracted maternal brain rot. She needs to know that you do not agree with those people.

Show her that you love her. Make eye contact with her when she speaks. She needs to know that she is still interesting to you. Look at her when she’s nursing your baby and let her know how beautiful it is to you. She needs to know that you like this new role she has. Write her a love note. Buy her the traditional cards and flowers and seek out other, even more creative ways to show your love for her, all the while–and this can be the tricky part–resisting the evil temptation to imply by your attitude that you expect to be “paid” for your efforts with sex.  Touch her. Often you hear that new and nursing mothers feel “all touched out.” Of course, you will have to get your wife’s feedback on this, but many times I find that new and nursing moms don’t mind being touched unless that touch implies that they must perform sexually in some way. The transition from new, physically sore, breastfeeding mom to seductive vixen is a difficult one that often takes more energy than most new moms feel they have. If she tenses up when you touch her, let her know that you expect nothing from her except to lie back and let you give her a neck, shoulder, whatever, rub. Take care of her and follow her lead. Your gentle, patient and mature response will be rewarded with her own loving response when she feels enabled by your caring for her needs. You may soon find yourself in the enviable position of having a better post-partum love life than a pre-partum one. It is possible with some loving attention on your part.  Don’t hide behind that pseudo-macho excuse that “mushy stuff” isn’t for you. If romance and affection don’t come naturally to you, it is time to learn. I recommend the books, For Better…FOREVER!, Isn’t it Romantic, and Creative Dating for starters. Of course, there are many other titles like this in your local bookstore. Make the investment in your marriage by learning how to give more of yourself.

3. Cheerfully Pick Up Any Slack Around the House

The primary job of a new mother is to nurture her baby. You can hire someone to clean your toilets, and dust your furniture, or better yet, a dad can jump in and do those things himself, but you cannot hire someone else to nurture your baby. Admittedly, you may be able to find someone to supervise your child, change his diapers and make sure he doesn’t stick his tongue in a light socket, but no one will nurture a baby like a new mom.  If your wife has been primarily responsible for maintaining the home, it is time for you to do more than “help” around the house. You will need to learn to be a cheerful partner when it comes to identifying and completing household chores…Dad’s play an essential role both in taking care of baby and taking care of the marriage. The dad who embraces his role is an incredible blessing to his wife and family. For any additional help with your transition into parenthood with your partner, give your PaxCare Tele-Coach a call today. We can provide you with the skills you need to succeed.

Discipline or Criticism?

By: Dr. Gregory Popcak

mom yelling at kid

Jenna was crying when her mom found her.  “What’s the matter, honey?”  She looked up through her tears, “Daddy said that I was stupid.”  Ken, Jenna’s dad, walked in the room just then, “No, I did not. She wasn’t paying attention when I was trying to help her with her math homework and when she made the same mistake I just corrected her for, I told her not to be so stupid. She just needs to pay attention, that’s all.”  Every parent gets frustrated from time to time. Children ignore directions, forget rules, become distracted, and outright disobey on a fairly regular basis. But the case of Ken and Jenna raises an interesting question.  What is the difference between discipline and just plain criticism?     Let’s take a look at the following four ways to know whether we are addressing our frustration with our kids, or just taking it out on them.

 1. Discipline teaches. Criticism Tears Down.

Discipline comes from the Latin word for “student.” As such, discipline is always primarily concerned with teaching a child what to do differently, instead of merely lecturing them about what to stop doing. Unlike discipline, which gives a child helpful information he or she can use to improve his or her behavior, criticism is primarily intended to make the child ashamed of himself.  For example, if you ask your son, Joey to get you a can of corn from the pantry, and he brings you a can of yams, clearly he was not paying attention. Here are two responses you could make:

~Criticism:     (Roll your eyes. Look at child as if he is an imbecile)

“What is wrong with you? Don’t you ever listen? I said corn! I wish you’d pay attention for once in your life.”     (Child slinks off.)

~Discipline: (Take Joey’s chin gently in your hand. Make good eye contact.)

“Joey, I asked you for corn. Please say, “’I’m sorry for not listening, Mom. I’ll go get the corn now.’”

(Joey) “I’m sorry for not listening, mom.”

(You) “AND?”

(Joey) “I’ll go get the corn now.”

(You) “Good, now please, hurry up.”

See the difference? Discipline not only sent Joey to get the corn, it also taught him how to respond when he didn’t listen properly (i.e., by apologizing respectfully and offering, verbally and behaviorally, to correct his mistake). Further, the mother in the discipline example didn’t undermine her own dignity by insulting the child or losing her cool. She was firm, focused, and directive.

2. Discipline is behavioral.  Criticism is personal.

Generally speaking, discipline addresses behavior, while criticism dresses down  the person displaying the behavior. For example: Sandra’s room currently meets the criteria to be a federally registered disaster area. Her dad, Tom, wants her to clean it up.

Criticism: “You live like a pig! Don’t you take care of anything? I want this place cleaned up.”

Discipline: “This room is a mess. You have the next 30 minutes to get it in order or no TV tonight. Do you understand, Miss?”

“Yes dad.”

“Good.     See that it’s done.”

Notice that in both cases, dad is frustrated. But in the criticism example, dad is taking that frustration out on Sandy. He may not mean it, but when dad walks away, all she is thinking is, “Dad says I’m a pig. That is SO unfair. I think HE’S a JERK.”     Sandra isn’t thinking about how she needs to change her behavior. She is simply fantasizing about the day she gets to move out of the house and make whatever messes she wants to. In the meantime, she’ll probably stall, taking the rest of the night to “clean her room” (mostly by staring at it poutingly) with the express purpose of annoying her father.

By contrast, the discipline example focuses dad’s frustration on the room, not the child. Tom’s direction is clear and firm.     Sandra still won’t like having to clean her room, but she can’t blame her frustration on dad “calling me names.” She knows dad’s expectation, and she knows the consequence for not meeting it. She’ll still be grumpy, but she’ll too busy for the next half hour trying to salvage her TV privileges to waste any time plotting her passive revenge.

3. Discipline is Focused. Criticism is Broad and General.

While criticism makes sweeping statements about the child, the child’s character,  or his temperament, discipline is concerned with correcting a specific offense in a specific moment in time.     Billy forgot to take out the trash.     Mom is less than happy to find him playing videogames instead.

Criticism: “All you ever do is play those stupid games. I am so sick of your irresponsibility and selfishness.”

Discipline: (Mom places herself between Billy and the TV screen) “Billy.”

“Mom, I can’t see!”

“Billy what did I ask you to do?”

“Uh…. Oh. Take out the trash?”

“Go. Now. No more videogames for the rest of the night.”

“But MOM!”

(Eyebrows raised.) “Excuse me?”

“Yes, mom.”

In the criticism example, Billy may or may not get up to get the trash. More likely, figuring that Mom is already mad at him so what does he have to lose, he will attempt to argue that she should let him finish his game. At this point, she will either hit the roof, in which case she undermines her dignity and further loses her child’s respect, or she throws up her hands in powerless disgust–and loses her child’s respect. Even if he takes out the trash, she still feels like an ineffective parent, and she will probably spend the rest of the night wondering “What kind of kid am I raising?”  On the other hand, the discipline mom doesn’t worry about what kind of kid she’s raising. She knows that she has what it takes to see that he gets the guidance he needs, when he needs it. In her actions, the misbehavior is addressed. The consequence is firm. The disrespect is dismissed, and the offense is corrected. End of story.

4. Discipline builds rapport. Criticism builds estrangement.

The bible tells us, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. But later  on, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace.”  When I say that discipline builds rapport, I do not mean to imply that little Johnny will throw his arms about you and say, “Thank you! Thank you for showing me how to be a responsible, productive citizen! I love you so much, oh wise and wonderful parent!” But when you are able to stay focused on the behavior, give positive directions for correcting problems, and do it in a way that does not demean the child, your son or daughter will come to see you as a fair minded and good person. Your child will respect you, and when your child needs advice, direction, or counsel, he or she will seek it from you.  By contrast, use too much criticism, and your child will become withdrawn and alienated from you. As scripture says, “…do not nag your children, lest they lose heart.”     Criticism is easy. Too easy. And so we all give into it at one point or another. It is one of those offences that just doesn’t seem all that serious at the time. What’s one little word or phrase?

But one little word or phrase, repeated a million times over the course of 18 years of a child’s life makes a deep impression, and ultimately, it leads to a parent who asks, “Why won’t my son/daughter talk to me anymore?”  St. John Bosco addressed this when he wrote, “When the pupil is convinced that his superiors have high hopes for him, he is drawn back again to the practice of virtue. A kind word or a glance does more to encourage a child than a severe reprimand, which only serves to dampen youthful enthusiasm.”  Make discipline your goal, and reap “the harvest of righteousness and peace” in the form of better obedience, a clearer parental conscience, and a closer relationship with your children. For more parenting tips, check out Parenting with Grace: Catholic Parent’s ® Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids (2nd Ed.)