Family Bonding Through Bucket Lists – Introducing a New Video Course

CoursePromoImageGail Carson Levine is coming to Naperville,” my middle daughter Katherine said. “Can we go?” She’d read Ella Enchanted and The Princess Tales. I knew she liked Levine’s books, but when I saw the $25 ticket price, I flinched. It was too much, even with two autographed copies of Levine’s newest book and a chance to hear her speak about her writing. Or so I thought at the time.

A year later Levine’s name came up again and Katherine lamented that we’d missed her visit. “She’s my favorite author,” Katherine said. I stared at her in horror, my insides churning. I had no idea. Katherine was such a voracious reader that it had escaped my notice that she had a favorite. Knowing I’d passed up such an amazing opportunity for her hit me hard. It was like a MasterCard commercial – 2 tickets to Gail Carson Levine appearance: $50. Meeting your favorite author: Priceless. Except I’d failed to see it. More importantly, I’d lost a chance to bond with her, to make significant memories. I vowed then to get to know my kids better so that I wouldn’t make the same mistake again. I wanted to know what matters most to my kids. We started talking and writing bucket lists not long after, answering questions that included “who do you most admire? Who do you want to meet more than anyone else?”

Have you ever had something like that happen to you? Or do you fear it will? Maybe it’s not the cost that causes you to miss out on things like this, but a busy schedule. Whatever your situation, writing bucket lists with your family can help you get to know your kids and spouse even better. It helps build stronger bonds – between parent and child, between siblings and as a whole family. I’ve seen it happen not just in my family, but with readers of my books and now I’m providing the tools for many more parents to build those bonds in their families. I’ve pulled together the best information, worksheets & activities for families in my first online video course, Build Stronger Bonds Writing Family Bucket Lists.

The course officially launches today on Udemy. You can learn more about it there, but here’s a video that gives an idea of what it’s like:

Right now I’m offering the course for 50% off. Simply click this link or use the coupon code BUCKETLISTNOW. And if you sign up by midnight this Friday, November 27th, you’ll receive a special BONUS. I’m inviting registered students to a special live video call (that will also be recorded for later viewing) where I will share tips for making the holiday season less stressful & more meaningful (using bucket lists). And I will answer questions about students’ biggest challenges to staying connected as a family during the holidays. You won’t want to miss it!

I hope you’ll check it out. In the meantime while you’re here, tell us in the comments about a time you missed a priceless opportunity with your child (or a time you didn’t miss because you recognize the value of it).

The One Where We Sat on the Roof and Ate Ice Cream

In July I dared readers to step out and conquer a bucket list goal that required them to let go. To be wildly free. Something like dancing in the rain.

For me that expression of whimsical freedom came in the form of sitting out on my roof eating ice cream sandwiches with my kids – a daring bit of fun that always appealed to me, while at the same time sort of freaking me out. I put it on my bucket list long ago in hopes that one day I would get the courage to do it.

In response to the dare, I pledged to take my kids out on our roof for an ice cream treat by the end of July… And I did it (just barely before the end of the month)!

July Life Dare Accomplished2It was a sultry evening, thick with late July heat and humidity, but overcast enough that the roof wasn’t too hot to sit on, with a gentle breeze that stirred the warm air around.

I opened the window screen in my office, placed a stepstool under the window, and hoisted myself into the opening, one leg outside, straddling the ledge. Somehow climbing the rest of the way out became a sort of human origami act, me folding myself in half to duck out the window, while testing different bent configurations of my limbs in an effort to fit through without falling. I tried and got stuck. Tried again. And finally managed to squeeze through and pull my other leg over the ledge.

It seemed like it should have been easier, especially when each of my three girls popped out the window behind me with brisk efficiency. In my defense, having an ice cream sandwich in one hand did add a challenge to the process. That and a fear of heights.

Once outside all four of us lined up along the low roof above our garage, eating, chatting and people watching. I kept waiting for passers-by to spot us, but no one looked up in our direction. Perhaps it didn’t occur to them to expect anyone to be up where we were. But it seemed strange to me to see our neighbors pass by close enough to hear their conversation and yet not have them notice us. I’m used to the vantage from our driveway where we sometimes sit. There we share greetings with most who walk by.

As it was, it was a relatively quiet night. Very few cars, a handful of bikers, and a small number of walkers. The emptiness along our street wasn’t surprising though, since our little city tends to empty out in late July as swim, baseball and softball seasons end, and families finally take their vacations.

After devouring our ice creams we sat there for a bit longer, enjoying the night and the view. One of my girls suggested bringing a game out to play. But that went beyond my comfort zone. I guess I hid my anxiety at being up high a little too well.

I’m glad we did it, though. That simple act – eating ice cream sandwiches on the roof – whimsical as it was, made for a memorable evening. I can see us doing that again next summer and the one after.

Just don’t expect to see me walking around out there. I’ll be the one on the end, back pressed firmly against the house.

Why You Should Face Your Fears

I hate haunted houses. Actually, I’m adverse to anything scary. No horror pics, Stephen King novels, or Fright Fests for me.

For one reason: I scare easily.Face My Fears

When my daughters agreed to play the role of zombies at the big All Hallow’s Eve event at our city’s living history museum, I was asked to help out. My spot? Manning the door of the most popular attraction: the haunted mansion.

Before the gates opened for All Hallow’s, the mansion actors asked those of us working out front to let them rehearse their vignette for us. As in, would we please be the first to go through the haunted mansion? Yeah, right.

It was daylight. And I had seen the costumed actors eating pizza earlier. But still… there was no escaping my fear. Except this has been my year of daring greatly. I have been pushing myself and my family to seek adventure and move outside our comfort zones. Going through a haunted house certainly wouldn’t make my bucket list. But doing so might be more satisfying than many things on the list.

What if I faced this fear?

So I did it. I went through the haunted mansion. Eyes wide open, looking behind me every second and not daring to watch the gory doll maker skit that caused my companions to scream. I hung back and missed the shock of a wall falling open to reveal a frightful person. And the exit door was close when multiple deranged “dolls” began lumbering at us from multiple directions.

I survived. But I hadn’t particularly faced the fear because I didn’t allow myself to get caught up in it. I had distanced myself.

The night wasn’t over though. In fact, it had barely started.

You see, there also happened to be a ghoulish character that creeped me out more than the haunted mansion. He wandered the grounds throughout the night, sneaking up on people waiting in line. Chasing frightened women up and down the walkways.

And finally climbing the steps of the mansion. Right up to the doorway where I was posted. Hovering in front of me with a menacing stare.

By then I had noticed a pattern. Those who laughed at him, he ignored or gave exaggerated looks and posed for pictures. But anyone who shrunk from his ghastly white eyes and bloody forehead became a target. Those were the ones he followed and occasionally chased.

In that moment, as he towered over me, eyes gleaming in the green spotlights on the mansion, I had a choice. I could shrink back and know he would intentionally lurk nearby to taunt me. Or I could stare him down.

And so I stared. He paused for a moment before moving across the porch where he could parade his spookiest looks for the waiting crowd below.

I breathed a sigh and shrunk back against the brick wall of the house. Then I invited the next group of visitors to wait up closer to the door, as a barrier between him and me. But the fear dimmed. And when he again came past me and took hold of the doorknob as I reached to close it, I felt bolder.

“Got it?” I asked him, looking straight into his beady pupils. “Go ahead.”

As he closed the door behind him, another door shut against those years of fear. I had stared it down. I was stronger than I imagined.

Because that is what we gain when we face our fears: a knowledge of our ability to survive and be strong. And that knowledge is worth it.

What fears do you need to face?

 Creepy character photo courtesy of Sharon Rezac


The Secret to Fewer Regrets

The Secret to Fewer RegretsParenting requires so many decisions, it can sometimes become mind-numbing. How to respond to discipline issues, what to do about kids’ friendship struggles, which sports to encourage them toward and what other activities to enroll them in. We have so much information and so many opportunities at our fingertips, it can be hard to sort through it all. And we as parents often put a lot of pressure on ourselves to “get it right.”

We want to parent without regrets.

But the reality is, we’re human. We’re going to make mistakes. And we’re going to miss out on some things (which plays into the biggest fear I often hear from other parents – regret for what they or their kids or their family missed). Yet there is a way to limit the regrets we experience as parents and as a family: priorities.

If you will take the time to spell out what you really don’t want your kids to miss out on and what you don’t want to miss out on together as a family, you can live with fewer regrets.

In other words, your family bucket list (and your individual lists) can serve as a reminder and a decision-making tool to help you live according to your priorities. You won’t be saying as often “I wish I had…”

I can think of at least one regret I carry that would have been avoided by my kids keeping bucket lists sooner. You see, my middle daughter really likes the fairy tale books written by Gail Carson Levine. Books like Ella Enchanted, Ever, and Fairest. While in elementary school she apparently read through every Gail Carson Levine book she could find in the library. And when my cousin bequeathed a set of Levine books to my three girls, the middle one claimed them all. So when she heard that Gail Carson Levine would be coming to our fair city to do a book signing at our local independent bookstore, she asked if we could go.

I told her no. I can’t even remember why I said that now. I don’t know if you had to purchase book signing tickets or if the hardcover book price seemed to out of our budget. But whatever the reason on the surface, underneath I reasoned that it wasn’t worth it.

Had I known at the time that Gail Carson Levine was my daughter’s absolutely favorite author, I would have responded differently. After all, when what you’re buying is the chance of a lifetime to meet the one author you’d like to see more than any other, what price is too high? If it’s a bucket list experience, then you’re paying for more than a book and an author signing.

Sure enough, when she created her bucket list and considered who she most wanted to meet, Carson Levine ranked at the top.

Cue the mommy regret. I don’t want to make that mistake again. Thankfully, now that I know which people each of my girls wants to meet (and places they want to go, things they want to do, etc.) I am better able to prioritize and make decisions. And with our family bucket list I have another matrix by which to decide. As long as I haven’t passed up opportunities that relate to that list, I should experience far fewer regrets in my parenting.

How about you? Do you parent by trying to avoid regret in general? Or do you parent by a set of priorities? How would (or does) having a bucket list make some decisions easier for you?

Why We Need the Courage to Admit When We’re Wrong

It’s hard to admit when we’ve done something wrong and hurt another person in the process. Really hard. In fact, it’s easier to point our finger at another source than to own up to our role in the matter.

It Could Be You by Stuart Richards

Have you ever noticed this tendency in yourself? You know you’ve got to apologize because it’s clear that your actions or words wounded someone. So you look around for some courage and come up instead with something like: “I’m sorry for what I did, but if you’d known what my day was like…” “I’m sorry if my words offended you, if I’d known you would take them that way…” “I’m sorry I messed up, but there was this circumstance that got in my way and…”

Why do we do this? Why do we follow an admission of guilt with an explanation?

It’s shame.  As Brene Brown says in her book, Daring Greatly, “In organizations, schools, and families, blaming and finger-pointing are often symptoms of shame.”

We want to save face, both with the person we wronged and with ourselves. But the problem is, when we offer an “I’m sorry, but…” we give all the power to shame. We let it control the interaction.

We think that shifting the blame will also shift the shame. It doesn’t.

The sad result of pointing the finger at what we can’t control instead of being willing to take an open-eyed look at what we could have controlled is that the guilt (and its shame) is still with us. And the one we wounded still hurts. They’ve been forced to accept that we care more about protecting ourselves than mending the rift – because most likely they’re aware of what we’re doing. And they’ve been robbed of the chance to forgive us for what we did that hurt them.

When we say a simple “I’m sorry. I was wrong when I…” we offer an opportunity for forgiveness to be extended.

Yes, it’s hard. Very hard. But the next time I’m in a position where I have to admit my guilt in hurting someone else, I want to say a simple “I’m sorry” with only an explanation of what I’m sorry for and not an explanation of what I want to blame it on. I want to be known as a person who takes responsibility, for both the good and the bad. And I want to teach my children to be that kind of person too.

When have you had the courage to give an apology straight up, no blame-shifting explanations? How did it turn out?

Photo credit: “It Could Be You” by Stuart Richards on Flickr made available under CC license