One of the three pillars that lead from Trust to Togetherness:
One of the keys for family connection that builds a sense of togetherness is TALK, simple on its face, but complex in its execution. Our challenge as parents and grandparents is establishing a culture of communication that builds and encourages open communication and togetherness. We desire to be together but pools of pain within, unsolved issues, and poor communication habits can rob us of what we truly desire.
The kids that helped coin the five “Ts” at our family camp wanted to talk deeply, transparently and on an emotional level with their parents which was something their parents neither believed nor understood coming into the week. Many adults didn’t have open and emotional conversation with their parents, which was the case with this family setting them up to miss having a deeper connection with their own kids.
Their kids wanted to share their feelings, talk about their challenges and mistakes but felt unable to do that. They feared harsh responses, being judged, corrected or told what to do. Because of their upbringing their parents in large part saw this as their role in their kids’ lives, leading to a breakdown in genuine communication within their home. If we are to achieve connected close families that we inherently desire, we must look beyond our upbringing and seek to understand this generation of kids’ desires for connection, community, authenticity and transparency.
Meeting the needs of our children today
What does it look like to meet the needs of this generation of kids? The kids that came to family camp desired that their parents listen to them and ask open-ended questions seeking to understand them, their perspective and their motives. They wanted their parents to serve as sounding boards helping them process the decisions they make for themselves. They did not want their parents to give them answers or to make decisions for them. When this happened, they felt their parents were jumping in without truly listening, hearing or understanding their true desires and motives.
Healthy communication is established when we exhibit the trust discussed in the last blog. Establishing positive communication means that our words must exhibit patience, kindness, wisdom, and encouragement. In fact, positive communication helps trust grow along the way.
Nothing destroys family connectedness like harsh or angry words. Harsh words impact this generation of kids like sword thrusts to the heart. While our kids may appear unaffected or seem to bounce back from these painful interactions, what option do they have? Few feel empowered to bring up issues with their parents or to challenge their parent’s communication with them. These painful interactions develop a growing fear of their talking and being honest with us.
Establishing a culture of healthy communication builds family connection. It means that we need to tackle poor communication habits and address pools of emotional pain that often reside within us. Things our spouses or kids say can trigger pools of pain within us, leading to strong emotions that result in reactions, harshness or anger. These and other responses may mirror examples we grew up with and can become habits over time. Some habits that destroy communication with our kids include interrupting, defensiveness, denying their perspectives and lecturing, all things I was guilty of before I began to listen to kids about their lives, hurts and families.
As parents we are in charge and have responsibility for our kids. In this position it is easy to slip into a mindset of ‘just do what I say.’ Many poor communication tactics that would not work with people outside the home seem appropriate with our kids. If these tactics would get us in trouble or cost us relationships at work or with friends, why do we believe they will work at home? Why do we not see how they damage our relationships with our kids? As parents leveraging the skills we have developed to address issues in the “real world” of work will serve us well if we use them in the “more important real world” of our kids.
Adopting a new paradigm for communication
I have found that listening first and seeking to understand our kids perspective often negates the need for me to correct them at all as they have already come to the right conclusion. In either instance listening and understanding opens our kids to hearing from us and any kind advice, correction or instruction we may have to help them avoid the feeling of failure all kids hate. When issues are handled in this way our kids listen, learn and mature.
Our kids want to be open and share with us. Once we are a safe place for their openness we need to facilitate talking by finding the times and situations where each of our kids tend to talk and open up. For each of our kids that has been different. Heather’s time was at night once the other kids went to bed. Jennifer’s time was right after something positive happened or after she had time to cool down if something went wrong. Eric wants to talk all the time! He is our talker.
The way we talk with our kids will either draw our kid closer or lead to damage. Damaged relationships with our kids result in a loss of our parental influence, their desire to interact and talk with us and their desire to listen, as well.
In such a stressful and negative world it is hard to establish a positive, open, transparent and encouraging culture of communication in our homes. If we desire to be connected and together as families we must look carefully at how we interact and talk with our kids. We must address negative or damaging communication patterns as parents and set a positive example for our kids. This is vital to having the families we all want to have.
Family Talk in God’s Family
While our position in God’s family is a spiritual one it is no less real. In the Old Testament God refers to Himself as Israel’s father only a few times, though his relationship to Israel is constant and clear, but throughout the New Testament He is called Father dozens of times, by Jesus in the Gospels, and with Jesus’s followers throughout the rest of the New Testament. So Jesus, in what we refer to as The Lord’s Prayer, teaches his disciples to begin, “Our Father in heaven,…”. In fact, three times (once by Jesus and twice by Paul) the term Abba is used, akin to our use of the word Daddy. God invites us, as his children by faith in Jesus, to come to him at any time. With a tender and compassionate heart, his ears are always open to what is on our heart. Take full advantage of that invitation.
If you’d like to read the previous Essential T’s of Family Connection you can go here to learn more on how to connect with your family. Keep your eye out next week for the next ‘T’, Transparency.