Crucial Conversations in the family

I am a fan of the book “Crucial Conversations” by Kerry Patterson and Joseph Grenny. It teaches the art of having hard, but important, conversations at work or at home. Grenny says “At the heart of almost all unresolved problems is a conversation that is not being held or not being held well.”
Our family lives are filled with the need for crucial conversations. But the biting truth is, most of us avoid these conversations or do a poor job with them.
Think about the last conflict you had with a family member. It might have started out small but quickly escalated. Or the problem might have been important, but it was either ignored or turned into a yelling match.
Case in point: early in our marriage my wife and I had a discussion about the “proper” way to put bath towels in the linen closet. I had done laundry, folded the towels, and put them away. I was looking for my gold star. But instead, I received helpful advice that I had put the towels away wrong. Diane said towels need to be put away with the fold of the towel facing out, so that the next person could easily grab it. In my defense I argued, “There’s no ‘right way’ to put towels away. Let’s be happy I did the laundry and put it away!”
Diane smiled knowingly and observed perhaps I did the job wrong because my mom did it wrong. MY MOM!! Out came my boxing gloves! Put up your dukes! Nobody picks on my mom!

You get the picture. It was a small thing, but we let the conversation get out of control. Over the next few weeks we’ll explore how to have a crucial conversation but, for this week, be alert to the three signs that a conversation is becoming “crucial”: (1) opposing viewpoints, (2) strong emotions, and (3) high stakes. Keep an eye out for crucial conversations and, while you’re at it, check your linen closet to insure your towels are folded correctly.

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Adversity deepens or divides

“Love, Africa”, a recent book by New York Times correspondent Jeffrey Gettleman, is the story of Gettleman’s two loves: East Africa and his wife, Courtney. Gettleman does not love either perfectly, but he loves both persistently. Through candid confessions of his stumblings, Gettleman lets us know that East Africa is beautiful and deadly, and being married is fulfilling and challenging.

After they were married, Courtney served as Gettleman’s videographer. They travelled extensively, covering famines, uprisings, wars, and genocide. They were kidnapped and nearly killed on occasion. Through differences of opinion and near death experiences, they stayed together personally and professionally. Perhaps adversity played a role in cementing their commitment.
Danger, disagreements, deployments, disasters, and debt. All can cause rifts in even the strongest marriage. Sometimes adversity causes couples to consider another “d” word: divorce.
Author Lori Lowe wrote, First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage, which tells true stories about couples who overcame adversity and avoided divorce. Lowe suggests two keys to an enduring marriage: (1) Play as a team and (2) Look for Growth Opportunities.
The “play as a team” idea, I get. My wife and I have found we can navigate through tough times with more success and less in fighting if we pledge, in advance, to not second guess each other, and give each other the benefit of the doubt. Teamwork.
As for “growth opportunities” Lowe explains:
The stress we experience as a result of adversity—and how we respond to that stress—tends to predict how much we will benefit from it. The individuals who benefit and grow the most are NOT the ones who are able to avoid stress. Those who grow the most are the ones who may be shaken up, and then grow as a result.

man in black long sleeved shirt and woman in black dress

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Isn’t that always the case? Adversity deepens character and strengthens marriages. But only if we team up and persevere.


man and child walking near bushes during daytime

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Everyone agrees we all make mistakes, but the mistakes that pinch with poignant pain are the mistakes we make in our own families. Especially as grandparents.
Since I have been a grandparent for all of 14 months, I speak as something of an authority. Even well-intentioned grandparents make mistakes, and we tend to make them in three distinct areas, according to an editorial in Grandmagazine entitled “Mistakes Grandparents Make.”

First, we tend to make mistakes within ourselves. We underestimate the transformation that takes place inside of us and in our relationships with others when we become grandparents. According to Grandmagazine, we grandparents need to understand changes in our own personalities and attitudes are necessary to be an effective grandparent. Humility and self-awareness are required.

Second, we make mistakes with our grandchild’s parents, either our own child or their spouse. We often forget to listen (really listen) to the parents and respect their right to make — and learn — from their own mistakes. We sometimes break their rules and don’t respect their boundaries. We salve our conscience by thinking, “Grandparents are supposed to spoil their grandkids!” But, by doing so, we undermine relationships all around. The way we parented might not be the way our children choose to parent. Painful as it might be, we need to recognize and respect that.

Finally, we make mistakes with those charming grandkids. Some grandparents are at one end of the connection spectrum, constantly indulging grandkids with gifts and attention, while others might occupy the other evil extreme, failing to stay in touch or ignoring their milestones and accomplishments. We must strike a healthy medium. Don’t smother grandkids, but stay engaged with them.

If we want to play an important role in the lives of our grandkids, we must avoid these mistakes and remember, always, to enjoy them. I wish someone had told me years ago how much fun grandkids are. If I had known, I would have had them first.

I can’t wait until I have Patience!!


Patience is a virtue.

Possess it if you can.

Seldom found in woman.

Never found in man.

I learned this little poem many years ago before I knew anything about patience really being virtuous.  For years, it seemed to me, patience was a character quality possessed by those willing to sit and wait and do nothing.  One of my favorite sayings was from Abraham Lincoln, “The things that come to those who wait are the things left behind by those who hustle.”  I was an activist.  An impatient activist!  There were so many things to get done.  Goals to accomplish. Wrongs to be righted! Dragons to slay!!

But life, or God, imposes circumstances that both require and teach you patience.  I am in such a season.  I had some due dates in my mind when things were supposed to happen.  Now they’re past.  Stuff didn’t happen.  How do I deal with that?  My typical reaction is to push.  Nudge.  Move the situation forward on something more like my timetable.  But so far my pushing and nudging have come to naught.  Now what?

For starters, I’ve started reading what the Bible has to say about patience and I’m learning there is wisdom in patience.  Arghhh!  I hate to admit that!  The Bible says:

Proverbs 19:11
A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.

Proverbs 25:15
Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone.

Ecclesiastes 7:8
The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.

I’ve re-discovered that patience is a “fruit of the Spirit”:

Galatians 5:22-23
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Reading this I wondered, “Why is PATIENCE a fruit of the Spirit?  I can understand love.  I can understand joy.  They seem like activist words.  Patience seems so—well—passive.  Then I remembered a sermon I heard decades ago by Reuben Welch in which he said “When God tell us something about Himself, we need to listen.”  Here’s what God says to describe Himself:

Exodus 34:6
“And God passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness…”

God is not passive, but He is patient.  Compassionate and gracious.  Slooooooooow to anger.

I’m trying to absorb this all while my impatient activist inner self is waiting impatiently for something to happen when nothing seems to be happening.  That’s another thing I remember from  Reuben’s sermon.  “When nothing is happening, something is happening because God is at work in the waiting.”

That’s how patience gets developed.  Not in one fell swoop.  Not in one dump load.  But by accretion— in the waiting— when nothing seems to be happening but something, unseen, is happening.  As I/we entrust ourselves to a faithful God who is at work in ways we cannot see.

Teaching civic engagement

Awhile back, I had dinner with a couple friends from out of town. Over pasta we discussed Oklahoma political issues. One of my friends declared he had never voted for any tax increase. I turned to my other friend and said “How about you?” to which he replied, “I’ve never voted for a tax increase either—and I haven’t voted against one. I don’t vote. Never have. Never will.”

I was surprised. He is an intelligent guy. Holds an important position. Yet, he never votes? “Why?” I asked, a little incredulous. “It doesn’t make any difference” was his reply.

white and grey voting day sign

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As a lawyer, I argued for 34 years, but I have learned not to argue with people about stuff like this. I’ve found you seldom convince people in political arguments. But it did dismay me to think of an intelligent, thoughtful person choosing never to vote.
I always vote even though I understand, at times, my vote probably does not make much difference. I have a sense of responsibility instilled in me by my parents who, likewise, always voted.

I remember the first time I went with my Dad to our local polling place. I was probably about 5 years old and Dad let me go with him into the “voting booth”. In those days you stepped into a small area surrounded by a curtain. When you moved a large lever, right to left, it closed the curtain and assured your privacy. Once inside you faced a machine with lots of little levers by candidate names. Dad let me help him cast his vote by pointing at which levers I should push down. When we finished Dad moved the large lever left to right, locking in our vote and, with a whoosh, opening the curtain. I did it! I voted in my first election at the age of 5! I don’t know if Dad and I violated any voter laws that day. The polling place official didn’t seem to mind or notice. But that experience cemented in my mind and heart the responsibility to vote.

Years later, when I was 17, there was a presidential election and my Dad announced at supper one night he was not going to vote. He didn’t like either major candidate and said he was not going to participate. I was shocked. My father was neither a quitter nor apathetic. I began to argue with him, “But you HAVE to vote!—even if you don’t like the lesser of the two evils, you have to vote for him. If you don’t, it’s like voting for the other guy you dislike even more!”

Dad seemed to mull this. Finally, he quietly conceded I was right. He said he would hold his nose and vote. Again I was shocked. I had actually persuaded my Dad? This was a first!

I’m not sure I actually persuaded him though. I think I just reminded him what he had taught me back when I was 5 and took me inside that voting booth. He taught me we have a responsibility to vote even when it doesn’t feel like it makes a difference. Because sometimes it does make a difference. That’s what we need to teach our children and that’s what we need to model for them.

That’s what I should have told my friend at dinner that night. Maybe I’ll send him a copy of this blog.

Living and Teaching Integrity

One Friday night not long ago my wife and I exited a restaurant to discover our parked car had been whacked by another car. It wasn’t like the other person tore our bumper off but it wasn’t a little ding either. It was the size of two fists and streaked with an orange paint smear. I immediately looked on the windshield to see if the car smacker left me a note of apology with insurance information. No such luck.

This wasn’t the kind of car whack that the other driver wouldn’t have noticed. They had to have known and they had to have known it was their fault. They had to have known the right thing was to leave a note on my windshield with their insurance information. As they drove off, they had to have known they acted wrongly.

grayscale photo of wrecked car parked outside

Photo by Александр Неплохов on

Or did they know? Maybe they grew up in a home where driving off, without a note, after you whack a car is normal life. Maybe they had parents or guardians who never taught them about right and wrong.

I knew a young man once who confessed he had lied about something. I told him I thought he needed to go back to the person he lied to and make things right by telling the truth. He looked at me incredulously and said “My mom always taught me that’s what I should do if I’m in a jam. Lie.” Maybe the person who whacked my car grew up with a mom like that. Still…..I think they knew what should have been done.

You and I, in our heart of hearts, know the difference between right and wrong. We should be actively living and teaching our family members to always act on the right and reject the wrong. I hope you tell your kids, “In this family, we don’t lie, even about little things. We don’t cheat even when no one is likely to find out. We act with integrity because that’s how this family operates.” I hope, even more, you live that example in front of your children.

Especially when you whack my car in a parking lot.

Talking to children about terrorism

I read an article recently about how to talk with your children about terrorist attacks.  It made me sad to be reminded that we have to talk to our children about such things.  But we definitely need to talk.  Like most topics, from sex to drugs to politics, parents should not adopt the ostrich approach.  Ignoring such topics prevents your children from learning your perspective.  They will get information on these subjects from less reliable sources.  Parents need to think through what they want to say ahead of time and then take the initiative.


My own children were young when the Murrah Building bombing happened in Oklahoma City and I remember my wife and I talked with them about what happened and even took them down to see the bomb scarred building before it was finally torn down.  They went with us to the Red Cross to drop off donations.  We were sad with them, but also tried to be hopeful with them, calling attention to the great generosity of so many people who responded with assistance to our city.


Terrorist incidents were not all that common when my kids were young.  That’s not the case any longer.  So how are parents supposed to talk with their children about terrorist attacks?  Condemn a religion?  Ignore the issue?  Limit news watching?  None of these approaches helps your child cope.  But here are some good suggestions posted after the Paris terrorist attacks last year by reporter Jenny Anderson at 


Validate their feelings.  The worst thing to say to a child who says: “I am scared” is to respond, “there is no reason to be scared.” Acknowledge their fear or sadness while looking for ways to make them feel safe.


Ask open-ended questions.  More information is better than no information, after a certain age. But too much information can be overwhelming. Ask kids “what have you heard about what happened in Paris (or London)?” and then let them talk.  “Leave out details that may create increased fear or compromise your child’s sense of safety,” writes Ritamaria Laird, an expert in pediatric mental health in Chicago. “Remember, your main goal is to convey a sense of security for your child. Listen to your child and provide information based on your child’s questions.”


Teach them the broad lesson they need to learn.  Kids love to divide the world into good guys and bad guys. After an attack, it is important to define the bad guys for what they are: a tiny minority. 


Give thought ahead of time to the main message you want to convey and try to stay on message.  Make your questions and comments age appropriate.  You can have much more in-depth discussions with teens than with younger children.  Listen to, and don’t criticize, your child’s questions or viewpoints about terrorist attacks, even if they are under-informed.  Keep the lines of communication open. 


 Above all, remind them how much you love them.  Every day.  That may be the #1 way to communicate security to your child in an uncertain world.




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