Important ideas in stressful times
Family. We all have one whether we want to acknowledge them or not.
In the wake of COVID lock-downs and social distancing, concern about passing on the virus to our older generation relatives kept us from venturing out, or even being allowed, to see them in retirement facilities, assisted living facilities, and nursing homes. We even questioned the safety of visiting our brothers, sisters, and cousins along with their families. And yes, we social distanced from our friends and framily as well.
Within our homes, the lifestyle changes forced upon us created tension within our families. Certain jobs and careers were identified as essential and expected employees to show up for work creating concern about bringing the virus home and sharing it with the family. Many adults had to adjust to working from home where distractions and noise run rampant and create stress. Other adults were laid off when businesses closed their doors creating an entirely different stress. Add to those stress factors the school age children who were placed on remote learning with the parents as the new educational facilitator.
Did you just want to go outside and scream for help? I know I did, especially the week we added some of the grandkids to our household.
Now, as a vaccine begins to allow us to reunite, the tension in our own household may have become strained and our face-to-face social skills might be a bit rusty. Your relationship with your family, however, might just be the most important one to cultivate.
Yes, cultivate. You have to work at building and maintaining a relationship with your family members: both your immediate family members and your extended family members.
But, what can you do to build or maintain relationship?
Practice these five skills to help you build and maintain a good relationship with family members.
1. Practice Active Listening
When I was teaching communication at the high school level, I taught a unit on listening with a lesson on listening actively. Far too often we hear the words someone is saying, but we miss the facial expressions, body language, and vocal tones that accompany those words.
Actor that I am, I loved giving my students a visual scenario of what I meant. It went something like this:
A mother is in the kitchen fixing dinner in the kitchen when her child (me) enters the house (classroom). I slammed the door.
“Is that you, Karna?” (I would instruct someone to play my mother off stage.)
“Yeah,” I said, slamming my books on the desk.
“How was your day?” my mother would ask.
“Fine, Mom. Just fine,” I said as I stomped up the stairs. (With heavy feet, I would stomp to the back of the classroom.)
“That’s nice,” my mother would respond.
Ever had a day like that? One where your words don’t match your facial expressions, your body language, and your vocal tones.
Of course, you have.
Active listening is something we must all work on. It didn’t used to be, but we are now so tuned in and turned on with electronics and the daily expectations of life that we have forgotten/never learned how to actively listen.
Here’s how to practice active listening —
When someone comes home, take time for them. You might need to finish a step in what you are doing; I get it — there are some things we can’t just drop. A brief “give me a minute” is all it takes to finish your task and then give that person time.
Look at the person you are talking to. This is difficult because we feel like we are staring, but it lets the person talking know they have your full attention.
Actively respond to what they say. It may be that you need to include a practice phrase like, “So what I hear you saying is that …” and rephrase what the other person said. This is one way to practice active listening and helps eliminate wrong interpretations about what was actually said. If the “mother” above had said, “So, what I hear you saying is that you had a lousy day,” she would have opened the communication lines for the child to explain why it was terrible. It would have also confirmed to the child that Mom “got him/her.”
Active listening is a two-way street. Children must be taught that their opinions and ideas matter. Parents must allow children to respond with their perception of what was said without out fear of argument or punishment, and parents must get past the “because I said so” response.
2. Use Positive vs Negative Reactions & Comments
I was raised with the philosophy “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”
At first glance, that appears to say we shouldn’t offer anyone any criticism. BUT, that’s not really the case. If we don’t offer criticism, it appears that everything everyone does is great and acceptable.
Think of the American Idol talent search. Remember those individuals who can’t believe the judges have not applauded their efforts because everyone in their lives has told them they could sing? You remember? Of course, you do.
Criticism is only bad when the word choices slap you in the face and there is no offering of any help.
Think about this scenario.
A child brings home his report card and hands it to his mom.
Seeing an “F” in both Math and Social Studies, she gets angry. “You’re grounded until you get these grades up.”
“No buts, you’re lazy and you waste too much time on those video games. Now, get your lazy butt upstairs and study.”
Hopefully that isn’t you.
Or the response, “You’ll never be a … with grades like that.”
RATHER, as parents and even children, we need to ask questions and probe into the real problem. “If you want to become a ___, you need to bring those grades up. Where are you having problems? OR What can I do to help you understand? (Note: I didn’t say do the work for your child.)
Your choice of words can make all the difference. (turn up your volume and check this out)
You see, our choice of words determines the type of outcome we achieve. Try changing the words you use and see if it changes your results.
3. Work to Share the Tasks / Chores
It hit me one day, when my children were in elementary school, that I was doing it all wrong.
I had created a chore chart for my boys with their allowance tied to it. (This was not the problem.)
One of the things I expected out of my boys was that they helped with the dishes after dinner. They usually helped grudgingly. They were old enough to wash, dry, and put the dishes away. I didn’t mind it if they tried to have fun as long as they didn’t break anything. It allowed for the occasional soap bubble beard being placed by one of them onto the other’s face.
One night, however, they objected more than usual. They wanted to watch television. When I told them dishes first, I was not ready for their response.
“How come Dad doesn’t have to do anything?”
As I sit and look back at this, I realize that my mother had worked full time as a teacher and had done most of the household chores, and that my father had disappeared into the basement to do whatever he pleased. He did mow the lawn, maintain the cars, paint the house, and other jobs, but it was my mother who completed the daily chores. I was following what I had learned.
It is important for children to see what the parents contribute to the running of the household. My first husband could not be bothered about helping out around the house, but when I remarried, Hubby helped. He loved cooking, but not doing the dishes so most of the time we functioned under the “If you cook, you don’t clean.” philosophy.
My oldest is now married. He helps with the dishes and helps with the cleaning in addition to mowing the yard and other “manly” chores.
If I had it to do over again, I would create a DAILY RESPONSIBILITIES CHART rather than a CHORE CHART (The negative words don’t make anyone want to get that stuff done.), and I would include my name and my husband’s name on it with our responsibilities.
4. Plan to Spend Quality Time Together
How can you build relationships as a family if you don’t spend time together. Quality time.
We see it in commercials maybe think how sad. The toaster waffle commercial where the family is at the breakfast table texting each other. The couple on date night texting each other as well as other people.
THAT IS NOT SPENDING QUALITY TIME TOGETHER.
I don’t believe that the cell phone or electronic medium have disconnected us from each other. Nor do I believe that it is our busy lives that disconnected us. What I believe started the disconnect from the family dinner was the invention of the frozen TV dinner and the TV tray. Now, everyone could have the dinner of his choice, set on his own dinner table tray, and zone out on the television. No eye contact. No interaction.
Then, when the television became portable, many families, mine included, moved back to the kitchen table and brought a television with them. We were all at one table, but still no eye contact and still no interaction. Unless you were my father who insisted on interacting with the contestants on game shows.
In our busy lives, it is difficult to find one specific time that we can all come together at the dinner table, but when we do find a time, how many times are we disconnected from each other because of our “electronic family?”
If, as a family, we could come together and really spend quality time together, we would be cultivating life-long relationships.
The Family Dinner
Once a week have a family dinner at the dinner table. Have each person surrender their electronic equipment (cell phone, media player, game player) and come to the table by themselves.
Yes, there is a commercial that shows a family ditching all electronics before sitting down at the dinner table.
It may be necessary to sit down together as a family and create a family activity calendar so that you ACTUALLY SCHEDULE a meal together.
My kids were extremely active with school and extra-curricular activities, I worked full time, and so did my first husband. In addition to work, my husband was involved in sports, and I ran extra-curricular theatrical activities at the high school where I worked. I understand busy. It took a calendar and colored pens to get us organized: scouts, swim team, t-ball, soft ball, bowling, choir, just to list a few.
Then, I actually scheduled at least one meal-time when we were all together.
Schedule a meal together without electronics. It doesn’t have to be dinner. Sometimes a weekend breakfast is a better choice.
5. Plan to Do Things Together
Your children might protest doing something together as a family, especially if they are teenagers and you are just deciding to work on your relationship as a family. Schedule family night just like you would any other activity: once a month or even twice a month.
Start with something simple. Something your children couldn’t possibly object to.
Doing things together doesn’t have to be expensive or even cost any money.
Try any one of the following.
There are many methods to obtaining a movie. Rent the movie. (Red box, or even a video rental store. We still have one in our town.) Netflix. Record one from the many movie channels. Record one from one of the main channels (Then, fast forward through the commercials.) As a last resort, purchase one.
Which movie? Ask what movies people would like to see. Don’t just go for what is on at that time. Or, if your kids are young, decide what movie you will see as a family. And try not to use the same one over and over again.
Pop some popcorn before you begin the movie, and have everyone grab a beverage before they sit down for the movie.
Board Game Night
Some libraries now have a variety of board games available for check-out. A great idea if you don’t have a store of them yourself because they can be expensive. OR, pre-think this idea and check out garage sales for board games. Many times you can purchase board games at a garage sale for 50 cents or a dollar.
Again, have a stash of snacks and have fun playing. Don’t make it an “I’m better than you.” experience. Remember, your goal is to have fun as a family, not to see how much property you have to hoard to win the game.
Card Game Night
One of the best times I had when I was teaching freshman literature was when I taught my students to play the game Beggar My Neighbor — the one that Pip and Estella play in Great Expectations.
I remember playing War, Go Fish, Rummy, and double Solitaire with my grandmother on Saturdays when I stayed overnight.
Pick a card game that everyone can play. It might even be Uno or some other specialized deck card game.
Saturday in the Park
If you have young children, one of the best family times can be going to the play park. Play with the kids on the swings, on the slide, and on the other pieces of equipment.
The best play park I took my kids to was the “wooden park.” It was shaped like a big wooden ship with a ship’s wheel, rope bridge, and things to climb on.
As parents, we didn’t sit on the benches on the side of the park. We were in there talking and playing with our children.
No matter what activity you choose, the important thing is to have fun as a family and learn to understand and appreciate each member of that family.
Original article published on Medium.com in Writers’ Blokke as Use These 5 Elements to Cultivate a Good Relationship with Your Family