The Heart of Family
A successful marriage (partnership) requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.
– Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic’s Notebook, 1966
Marriage (partnership): that I call the will of two to create the one who is more than those who created it.
– Friedrich Nietzsche
Most readily agree that partnerships are the backbone of a family. The strength of the family is dependent upon its leadership and the strength of the union. But in an informal survey of friends, not one couple has a regular date time. And when asked when couples sit down and get to really talk about more than just the logistics of life, most on average say it may happen once per month. Considering that collaborative partnership and decision-making are highly effective only when there is a sense of connectedness and both parties are willing to take the time and effort to work through the issues, that lack of time to connect, reflect and communicate with one another can take a toll on a relationship and a family. But, of course, when and where and how do you find the time to talk and listen?
Work responsibilities often creep into what used to be sacred personal time (whether it’s actual working or the stress and mind consumption that happens with more responsibility), so it’s no wonder we find it difficult to connect.
At the start of working with a school, staff typically tell me all about the kids’ behavior and how they are not doing what they ask them to do. “How can we change these kids? And how can we change these parents?” I am commonly asked. At the same time, there’s little collaboration going on between staff and often, conflicts amongst the adults in the building about how they interact day to day with one another and how they interact with the students. This lack of cohesion among the adults translates to kids testing limits on a regular basis because there’s no consistency and the boundaries and adult standards are unclear. My job is to help the adults come to their own conclusion that they are the ones that must change if they want to change the school. They must focus on themselves and their own transformation if they want to improve at all. This is also true in family life. The adults must continually learn and work to improve themselves and their connection with one another if they want their family life to improve and if they want to help develop their children into reflective, independent, learning and growth-oriented adults.
Take a look at your week. Presumably, you have scheduled soccer, music class, work meetings, volunteer meetings, and maybe a social engagement with friends. Consider setting a time for connection and reflection with your partner on the calendar (in ink!). In our household, if it’s not on the calendar, it likely won’t happen. So find a time and actually send your partner a meeting request, or place the appointment on the family calendar for the sole purpose of really talking. Getting a sitter for this purpose would be ideal but also for many, a luxury that might just be too difficult to make happen. So at the same time, plan a special movie viewing for your children to keep them occupied. If they are old enough to go to a friend’s house, schedule it for that time. If they are too young for friends and movies, schedule your conversation during naptime or quiet time. The point is to make it easy and manageable the first time so that you might decide to try it again.
My husband and I find that we spend half of a date decompressing from the stressors and to-dos of life (sometimes it takes the whole date!) so that it takes a while to really be in the moment with the other person. We tend to spend a lot of time thinking about our worries and stressors so thinking about our “happy thoughts” (as we call it at bedtime with E) can point our minds and intentions in the right direction leading us toward our goals and dreams. With that in mind, I’ve devised some questions to get you started in your conversation to help you dive into the good stuff – really connecting with one another! Be sure and create a conducive environment (but keep it simple) such as drinks or snacks at the ready, a room to yourselves, a candle lit, and quiet. Jason and I have a standing agreement that early Sunday morning is our time to do this with a full pot of coffee in our sunroom while our son is watching cartoons and eating his breakfast. Might it become a weekly ritual for you? Try once and see if you don’t get addicted.
Pick one of the following questions to get started:
What is making you happy these days? If that’s hard to answer, then what might give you joy if you could find the time for it?
What are your current hopes and dreams? How can you work together to achieve them? Is there one small step you could take immediately?
What are each partners’ top three to five values that each wants to be sure are lived out? How are you currently living those values? How might you think about living out those values even more? How are you passing along those values to your children? Are there common values that can be agreed upon for the family and how can you live those out in your weekly plans, actions, interactions and ways of being?
What do you appreciate about your partner day to day? What are some things that your partner does regularly that you know contribute to your family’s health and sense of well being but often goes unsaid? Are there easy ways that you can recognize and appreciate their contributions more often?
What gets your creative juices going? Have you been able to engage in any creative endeavors? If so, what and how can you include more in your life? And if not, what can you do to engage yourself creatively?
How are you connecting with your children? Do you feel you have quality time together? What kind of time do you most enjoy spending with them? What are your hopes and dreams for your relationship with them?
If you heard a teacher describing you simply from the description your child gave to them of you, what would she say? What would you most like her to say? How can you best be that person with your children?
What are your current worries and fears? How can you seek more information or work together to dispel them so that you can focus on living out your hopes and aspirations? Find examples from your history together of how you worked together to overcome obstacles as evidence that you can do it again.
Think about a time when you felt you both were at your best together and individually? What was going on at that time? How did you feel? What was happening that made it so good? How can you harness that energy now? How can you bring some of that spirit into your current life?
Be sure, no matter how short the conversation, you end on either a shared dream or shared connection, even if it’s recounting a happy memory together. You want those connecting thoughts to carry you through until the next time you get the opportunity to talk.