As the children get older and begin to participate in hobbies and interests of their own it can feel as if the family is being pulled in too many directions. As parents we can find ourselves little more than a taxi service ferrying them from one activity to another. It can be easy to allow this busyness to take over our lives. As a result we can find it difficult to connect together as a family. Once the family begins to drift apart like this it can be a difficult situation to reverse. Developing positive communication is the key.
Of course some of these things are inevitable. We want our children to develop independence and we encourage them to pursue different interests. What we need to do at this time is to teach the children that the family is still important and that some things take priority over others.
Parents can take steps to develop a connected family by practicing a couple of important strategies.
Communication improver #1: Be fully present
This means giving family members our full attention. It sends the message that they are the most important thing in our lives right at this moment. I freely admit that for me this is a work in progress. It’s very easy to become distracted by something on my phone. I can allow work concerns to overshadow family time. There is always something that needs to be done around the house. Any of these things can call me away from giving my family the attention they deserve.
Of course we don’t always have to be at our children’s beck and call. It’s when we are doing something together that it is important to fully concentrate on that one thing. If it is watching our child play netball, then we should actively watch. If it is listening to our partner tell us about their day, then we should actively listen. We can even apply this strategy to ourselves. If we are taking time out on our own to exercise, we should actively focus on that.
There is really no solution to the problem of distraction other than making a personal commitment. We need to decide what the most important thing is in the moment and then commit to doing that one thing to the best of our ability.
There are a couple of strategies I use to assist me.
Firstly, I have removed work emails from my phone. This means I am no longer tempted to check them at inappropriate times. I now have to make a concerted effort to log in to do so. This has allowed me to better quarantine my personal time. It is soon enough to find out about any problems or extra tasks when I am physically on site. This is, after all, when I have the time and resources to resolve them.
Secondly, I try to make a specific time to check social media rather than allow it to hijack me throughout the day. At the moment this time is first thing in the morning. I try to avoid just mindlessly looking at Facebook or Pinterest and have turned off alerts. I used to find that looking at social media was the last thing on my mind and then an alert would pop up. As a result I would find myself sunk down the rabbit hole and end up wasting a large amount of time.
These two simple strategies have helped me to avoid electronic distractions and I have used that time to do something with my family.
Communication improver #2: Do what you say you are going to do
This is really important and I try to follow it whether I am at work or at home. There is nothing worse than having someone promise they will do something and then discover that they have not done it. If I promise my children I will do something for them or we will do something together, then I try hard to keep that promise. I know myself how disappointing it is when someone makes a promise and then either forgets or changes their mind.
We want our children to be able to confide in us when something is bothering them and to believe that they can talk to us. This begins with showing them that we can be relied upon in other situations. If we promise our children we are going to pick them up at a certain time, then we make sure we are there. If we say they can go over to a friend’s house then we need to have a very good reason to change our minds. We want them to be able to rely upon us when they need us. We don’t want to ruin our relationship through being unreliable and untrustworthy.
What can we do about it?
It is important that we ensure we have the desire and ability to follow through before we make a commitment. It’s not a good thing to teach the children that its OK to back out on a promise. Remember that they are more likely to follow our actions than our words so be careful what you demonstrate to them.
Alongside this, I have learned to be clear on the things I will not do. It doesn’t do your integrity any good if you say yes to something but don’t actually want to do it. You then either need to find a way to get out of it or have to do it under sufferance. Avoiding the situation does not make it go away and will give you a reputation as someone who does not follow through. For some ideas on how to say no gracefully, check out this free cheat sheet.
I used to be a people pleaser. I would say yes to any request and then wonder how on Earth I was going to be able to do what was asked of me. I am now much more careful about my boundaries. A good response to practice if you find yourself in this situation is to say “Let me check the calendar and get back to you.” This gives you time to consider the request and determine if you really are able to commit to do it.
Sometimes we commit to something and then a better offer comes in. At these times it’s extremely important to consider what is at stake if we decide not to do the first thing. Perhaps we just need to follow through and use the experience as learning opportunity for the next time something similar occurs.
Communication improver #3: Find a hobby to do together
One of the great ways to encourage a strong family bond is to participate in a hobby together. There are any number of things a family can do. A friend of mine is really interested in orienteering and the family spend time doing this together most weekends. Another friend loves fishing and they spend a lot of time on their little boat, puttering around on the river. We enjoy camping. It’s a lovely opportunity to get away from the everyday stresses and strains and focus on having fun together.
Whatever it is, getting involved in something together as a family does a number of things. Firstly, it creates a common interest to talk about. If everyone participates, then everyone is able to take part in the conversations around it because the family spend quality time together doing something that everyone enjoys. It’s not a case of Mum and Dad sitting and watching something that the children are doing. The parents are indulging their interests as well. This is focused time together where true relationships can develop.
But what if we don’t have the same interests?
Yes, it may be difficult to find something that interests everyone, particularly as the children get older and begin to state their own minds. It’s OK if there is not one particular thing the family does regularly. Often there needs to be some form of compromise where the family members take turns participating in each other’s interests.
Perhaps this weekend we all go indoor rock climbing because that’s what our teenage boy wants to do. Maybe next week we go ice skating because our younger daughter enjoys that. I enjoy bushwalking so we may find somewhere to go for a hike together. Dad likes fishing so we hang out on the jetty with a line in the water. This way each person gets to do something they enjoy.
Throughout this process the children learn that it is sometimes important to do things that make others happy. They need to learn that life is not always about keeping them entertained and that we need to do things for each other in the family. If they don’t particularly enjoy it then they only have to spend a relatively short time doing it.
If your family is struggling to keep the lines of communication open then I suggest trying at least one of these ideas. Try to remove distractions and be fully present. Be someone who is reliable and can be trusted to follow through on their promises. Try and find an activity the family can do together, even if it is just for a short amount of time. You will be glad you put in the effort.
If this sounds difficult because time is an issue for you then you might like to try my Timewranging Technique. Download the workbook and make time for family activities this week.