Tag Archive for family intimacy

The Vulnerability to Invite Intimacy in Conflict

We all know words are powerful. They can encourage or discourage, offend or mend, pull together or tear apart. In families especially, we want to use words that encourage, mend, and pull together.  Unfortunately, we often use words that divide, discourage, or offend. We may not say such words with the intent to divide, discourage, or offend. Instead, we often say them mindlessly, with little or no thought to their impact. Or, we might say them impulsively when we are anger or upset. Like a toddler throwing a tantrum in an effort to get his parent to stay close rather than leave him with the babysitter, we might say words that offend, divide, and discourage in response to feeling our relationship threatened or in an ill-conceived effort to “get the other person to listen” and draw near to us. It doesn’t work. In fact, these words are often dishonest; they don’t communicate what we truly believe or feel. They hide, even betray, the love we feel for our family.

To develop the habit of saying words that encourage, mend, and pull family together, we have to pay attention to our words, listen to ourselves and the words we use. As you listen to yourself, pay attention to how others respond. Remain mindful of the impact your words have on the people around you. Then, do two things:

  1. Become honest and vulnerable enough to take ownership of your feelings and communicate them to those around you. Don’t blame them. Be honest enough to state your deeper need.
  2. Offer words that can encourage, mend, and pull together—words that connect. This can prove challenging when you have a genuine disagreement. Realize, though, that the ultimate desire is not to be proven right at the cost of the relationship but to connect in an intimate and meaningful way.   

Let’s consider a few statements I have heard families say and what might be a more honest and vulnerable statement that invites the other into a deeper relationship. I hope these will simply help you think about how to use words that encourage, mend, and pull together. They are not simple rote statements that solve a problem. Use them as a starting point for any specific situations you might encounter in your family.  

  • “You never listen.” This statement reveals a fear of being unheard and thus unvalued by the one we love. Stated as is, defensiveness is sure to follow. “What do you mean never? I always listen to you. I’m listening now, aren’t I?” Instead, you might say, “Sometimes I can’t tell if you take what I’m saying seriously. Maybe I didn’t state it clearly enough to be understood. Can you tell me what you think I said so I know you heard and understood me?” Rather than accusing the other person, this offers a possible explanation that even takes at least partial responsibility for the problem. Also, it offers a solution, a way to enhance communication, a way to pull together.  
  • “You’re such a nag” or “Alright already. Man, what a nag!” Hear the discouragement, offense, and divisiveness of this statement? Make a change in your response. Begin by taking a look inward; then take the honest and vulnerable step of giving voice to your deeper feelings and concerns. “When you keep telling me over and over again, I begin to think you don’t trust me” or “When you continue to tell me to (whatever task it might be) over and over again, I don’t know if you really appreciated what I have done.” Once again, offer a solution with each of these statements by adding, “It would really help me if you let me know when you notice other things I’ve done.”  
  • “You are so selfish. You think the whole world evolves around you.” Consider the fear being communicated in this accusation—the fear that “you” won’t “be there for me,” to “love me” and “care for me.” It feels very vulnerable to communicate that fear, but doing so may bring you closer rather than pull you apart. Try saying, “Sometimes I feel like you’re so caught up in the things that interest you, that you won’t be there for me when I really need you…like I’m not important to you. ” Then, finish the self-disclosure with a request, “Could you tell me how important I am to you? And could you reassure me more often in the future?”

You get the idea, I’m sure. Statements that encourage, mend, and pull together in the midst of disagreements or tensions represent a step of honesty and vulnerability. However, the closeness they invite and the intimacy they nurture are well worth the risk. Will you take that risk today?

The Amazing Parent/Child Gratitude Cycle

Gratitude offers tremendous benefits for those who practice it. When a person practices gratitude they experience increased happiness and life satisfaction, decreased anxiety and depression, a strengthened immune system, better sleep, and more. There is another benefit, however, that we rarely discuss. Specifically, when a person practices gratitude, the benefits overflow to those around them.

For families, this means that when a parent practices gratitude, the benefits overflow to their children. Consider the process of this overflow with me. When a parent practices gratitude, they experience a greater sense of well-being—fewer negative emotions, more empathic emotions, greater life satisfaction, a greater sense of connection, and even a greater sense of meaning in life. With those personal benefits, a parent “feels better” about themselves and their life. Feeling good about themselves, they become more open—more approachable and attentive. Not surprisingly, their children respond to their approachability and attentiveness with more positive behaviors and fewer challenging behaviors. Parent/child conflicts decrease as a grateful parent and child enjoy one another’s company. The increased positivity in the relationship opens the emotional and mental space to develop a greater sense of closeness between parent and child. Isn’t that wonderful? But it won’t stop there. All of this combines to increase a parent’s satisfaction with their role as a parent. Grateful to experience personal satisfaction in their role as a parent and to experience a rewarding closeness with their child, a parent becomes more open—more approachable and attentive…and so, the cycle continues.

There are a couple of things that make this cycle of gratitude especially appealing to me. One, I love the idea of growing closer with my children. Who wouldn’t? Second, it’s not hard to do. And it doesn’t take that much time. Just pay attention and invest the one second it takes to say, “Thank you” every chance you get. If you do it 120 times a day, it still only takes 2 minutes! But the rewards are amazing—it really offers the best bang for your buck. So, look around. Watch for opportunities to show gratitude to those around you. Then take a breath and let it out. “Thank you…” for doing the dishes, washing the clothes, putting gas in the car, passing the salt, helping to clear the table. The opportunities are endless, the benefits amazing…and it starts with you.

The Threat to Our Families of Divided Times

We live in divided times. Division rears its ugly head in so many areas of our communities and our world. These divisions have driven us into more disparate and polarized “tribes.” Sadly, they have also infiltrated our families. Division has reared its ugly head in the family to divide parents from children, spouses from spouses, siblings from siblings. You’ve seen it, perhaps even experienced it, in one of these three ways.

  • Families have become divided in response to busy-ness.  Children rush from activity to activity. Parents work extra hours. Churches and community organizations demand time of individual family members. When at home, each person is so exhausted they hide in their own room, watch their own TV, play their own game, eat their own meal. Each family member ends up living in their own world, caught up in their own activities and agenda, separate from the family…divided.
  • Families have become divided in response to the political and cultural environment. The ugly divisive nature of our world does not allow for differences of opinion or time for growth in understanding. So, families have become divided rather than supportive, polarized rather than curious about one another’s thoughts and ideas. They argue and fight rather than seek out the truth together. They become embittered, leaving no room for agreeing to disagree on matters in which there can be multiple opinions. They have shunned family members who disagree or sat on the other side of the “elephant in the room,” hiding behind unspoken resentment. In other words, divided.  
  • Families have become divided in the pursuit of materialism and extravagance. Materialism and extravagance demand more finances which may demand more hours away from home working to earn the money to “pursue the dream” house, perfect vacation, best car, or…. Unfortunately, family members become distant as they each pursue their own material desires. It reminds me of the scene in RV in which each family member sits in the RV wrapped up in their own music on their own headset, yelling the words to the song they hear to the neglect of everyone else…divided.

This is not the original intent of family…no is it what we want for our families. We want connection. If our children cannot learn to connect within our families, how will we learn to connect within the broader world? Connection brings a sense of security and joy to the lives of our children and our spouse. Connection teaches us to love. Connection gives us the confidence to explore and grow. Connection is perhaps our greatest desire and need. With that in mind, let me suggest six simple ways of combatting the polarizing division of today’s world and bring connection to your family.

What I Learned at Family Camp 2023

We enjoyed another wonderful weekend at Camp Christian’s Family Camp this year. Terry Jones, the dean, organized a great weekend to “Take Back the Family.” Interestingly, children and teens outnumbered adults this weekend. It was beautiful to see so many young people spending time with family and friends, playing, and worshipping. A couple of lessons proved important for me.

  1. We are not called to be “products of our time,” but “products of the Word of God.” We are called to be ambassadors of God’s Kingdom of Love while living in foreign territory. 
  2. In the foreign territory, there is a spiritual battle being fought for the family. The enemy has released toxic weapons to bring the family down, toxins like selfishness, greed, arrogance, disrespect, lack of gratitude, dishonesty, and unforgiveness. These toxins, when left unchecked, will destroy our families and our communities. Fortunately, we have been given the weapons to combat these toxins. We see the weapons that protect the family displayed in Jesus Christ: humility, generosity and contentment, respect, honesty, and truth.
  3. Remember, our families are not just a collection of individuals. We are a team, a body made up of individual parts who function together for the good of the whole. With that in mind, Terry gave us time to develop team logos and mottos. I loved the creativity of those who shared the canvasses displaying their family mottos and logos.
  4. Perhaps the greatest resource we have in taking back the family is prayer. And so, we ended the weekend praying with and for our families.

There was much more I could talk about—the heroes who inspire us and the true Superhero, what marshmallows teach us about family, and “how babies are created” (I’ll let you ponder that one). You’ll just have to come to Family Camp sometime to truly understand the beauty of seeing multiple families enjoying fellowship, fun, and worship with one another. We ended the weekend by singing, “The Lord bless you and keep you; make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you.”  The words of the song are taken from Numbers 6:24-25. However, there is a very similar passage in Psalm 67:1-2 that reads: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and cause His face to shine upon us so that Your way may be known on the earth and Your salvation among all nations.”  We seek God’s blessing in taking back our families not just for our own sake, but so that His way may be known on the earth and His salvation among all nations. God bless you all this year until our next Family Camp.

A Challenge for More Family Time, Less Phone Time

We often talk about the struggles of learning to manage technology in our lives. We know technology has its usefulness, but we also know it can take over our lives and isolate us from our families and friends. We have talked about the importance of setting limits on technology use and, more important, developing the character necessary to manage technology in our lives effectively. All in all, it has become a complex issue in our time. With that in mind, I ran across an interesting video (12 minutes & 24 seconds long) in which one man, Joey Odom, describes how technology impacted him in his role as a father and a solution he created to change that impact.

One of my favorite quotes from the video is: “If we don’t do something, this generation of kids…will die with more of other people’s memories than memories they create on their own.” Let that sink in. A family that interacts with technology through various social media apps more than they interact with one another will have “more of other people’s [family] memories than memories they create on their own.” That is sad…and frightening. The mere thought of that makes me want to find a way to better manage the technology in my life so that it does not rob me of my family relationships and memories. Joey Odom offers a solution (an app named Aro). I’ve not tried it, so I don’t know how effective it is. I do, however, like the idea of creating an environment that makes person-to-person interactions more rewarding than the technology of gaming or social media. Truth be told, most people do find that person-to-person interactions are naturally more rewarding than technology. The goal is to create a home environment in which your family can experience the rewards of loving person-to-person interactions on a daily basis. How you establish that in your family depends on you and your family. Some possibilities include:

  • Making dinner time a “technology-free zone.”
  • Establish other “technology-free” periods of time each day, like after 8pm or before 9am. The times would depend on your family schedule.
  • Taking technology vacations. These technology vacations can last a day, a weekend, a week, or even a month.
  • Don’t automatically pull out your phone when you’re bored. Instead, let your mind wander, strike up a conversation, or engage in some creative task.
  • Don’t use technology to occupy your children and “keep them out of your hair while you get things done.” Instead, involve your children in those tasks with you. Engage them in the process (even though it might take longer to get them done).
  • Enjoy time spent playing simple family games, indoor or outdoor games.
  • Cook together.
  • Develop family past times like biking, hiking, singing, baking…you pick the hobby that fits your family best. As you enjoy the activity, converse and have fun.
  • Remember, as a parent, you model the best way to utilize technology. So model the importance of person-to-person interaction over technology.

How you choose to keep technology from robbing you of precious family interactions and memories is up to you. But the best way to start is with yourself. Don’t expect your family to do what you don’t do. You model how to protect person-to-person interactions from the intrusion of technology. Begin today. Replace the overuse of technology with loving person-to-person interaction…and create beautiful family memories.

Bridging the Gaps in Our Families

Gaps abound in families. We have the gender gap, the parent/teen gap, the older sibling/younger sibling gap.  Statements like, “Things are different now, Dad” or “You don’t understand” or “You’ll get it when you’re older” reveal the gaps between us. Unfortunately, each of these gaps contribute to a communication gap and the communication gap hinders intimacy and understanding.  But curiosity…will bridge those gaps.

It’s true. Curiosity can bridge the communication gap as well as the gender gap, the generational gap, and the age gap. But, for curiosity to truly bridge the gap, you have to first be willing to postpone your own agenda, drop your own story, let go of your interpretation for the moment. When we cling to our agenda and story, curiosity becomes very difficult. Instead of curiosity leading the interaction, we find ourselves led by the search for flaws in “their” story or support for “my” story. In other words, we remain separated from the other person, focused on “my view” versus “your view” with no room for “our view.”

Once you’ve postponed your own agenda for a moment, you can listen with curiosity. You can remain open to the other person’s perspective. In fact, in curiosity you will listen to truly understand “where the other person is coming from.” You will find yourself open to their perspective and experience, maybe even surprised at the wisdom and knowledge they share. You will allow yourself to see the situation from their perspective and, in doing so, gain a better understanding of how they came to the beliefs and ideas they hold.

While you humbly listen with curiosity, pay attention to your body language and tone of voice. Convey an openness with your tone as well as your body language. Make eye contact. Use a calm voice, a voice that conveys respect and care rather than doubt and defensiveness. For the time you listen with curiosity, listen as though the person literally has “the most important thing in the world to tell you” and you want to know it. Yes, gaps abound in the family. But you can bridge each gap when you approach the other person with genuine curiosity and an authentic desire to understand. You might even be surprised at how well the conversation goes and how quickly the conflict resolves.

Is the Golden Rule Obsolete?

The Golden Rule reads as “do unto others as you would have the do to you.”  A recent article noted that only 14% of parents use the Golden Rule phrase in their parenting. More concerning, 28% stated they “are unfamiliar with the meaning of the Golden Rule.”  In an attempt to understand why this may be true, the authors’ first thought was “the Golden Rule is an arcane, ‘old-timey’ term.”  Other possible reasons the author gave included: “We live in a ‘me-first’ society,” “The taproots of ‘community’ are disappearing,” and “The problem is ‘other people’s children.'”  The authors also voiced a concern that all this may reflect “an erosion of the civic bonds that have held our communities together.”

That is disconcerting for our communities and our families. In fact, we need to put the Golden Rule back where it belongs—in our families. The best place to start putting the Golden Rule Back into our families is by practicing it in our daily lives as parents. After all, our children often imitate what they see in us. Begin to practice the Golden Rule by treating your child’s other parent as you would have them treat you.

  • When you talk about your child’s other parent, talk about them the way you’d want them to talk about you. Compliment them. Encourage them. Express appropriate affection for them. Tell others about their strengths and abilities. If you have something negative to say, talk to them in person, not to someone else. Yes, talk about your child’s other parent they way you’d like them to talk about you. 
  • Treat your child’s other parent the way you’d like them to treat you. Offer to help around the house. Show them kindness. Share appropriate shows of affection like a hug or kiss. Help with preparing meals. Show them respect. Serve them. Spend time with them. Listen intently to them. Laugh with them. Treat your child’s other parent the way you want them to treat you.

Second, treat other people you meet and know the way you’d like them to treat you. Our children are watching us interact with the world around us. They will learn from our example. Make it a good example, an example that shows how to “treat others as you want them to treat you.”

  • When you sit in traffic behind that slow driver, talk about them and treat them the way you’d like them to treat you.
  • When you check out at the store, treat the checkout clerk with the same respect you’d like them to give to you.
  • When you talk to your child’s friends, treat them the way you want them to treat you. This will include politeness and respect.
  • When you interact with your children’s teachers, treat them the way you want them to treat you.

Third, treat your children the way you want them to treat you.

  • Give your children the same respect you want them to show you.
  • Listen to your children the way you want your children to listen to you.
  • Enjoy time with your children, just like you want them to enjoy time with you.
  • Be polite with your children, just as you want them to be polite with you.
  • Be curious about your children’s lives, just as you’d like them to be curious about your life.

Finally, speak the words out loud in your home: “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” It may sound like some “old-fashioned” words, but wouldn’t our world be a whole lot better if we actually did it? So say the words out loud. Let them be a guiding principle in your home, one that is spoken often. Your family could become a beacon of the Golden Rule…which, by the way, would make for a family filled with honor, grace, and celebration that may overflow into your community.

The Key to Happiness for You & Your Family

Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz authored a book entitled The Good Life: Lessons From the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness.  One of the authors (Waldinger) is the current director of the ongoing and longest-running study on happiness being conducted at Harvard. The study has been gathering data since the 1930’s. Throughout this study, one thing has continuously shown to “demonstrate its broad and enduring importance” to happiness. What is it? Good relationships. It’s true. Relationships contribute to happiness more than achievement, money, or health. We are a people designed for relationships. Healthy relationships make us happy. So, if you want to be happier, nurture your relationships.

I suggest that you start by nurturing a healthy relationship with your spouse. Invest in your marriage. You can nurture your marriage by:

  • Looking for and telling your spouse things you adore and admire about them.
  • Talking about your day with your spouse.
  • Expressing gratitude to your spouse for all they do for you, your family, and your home.
  • Sharing a hug and a kiss every time you separate and reunite…and sometimes just because you love them.
  • Accepting influence from your spouse. Men, be the leader in accepting influence (AKA-submission) in your family.
  • Going on a date, even if it’s a “stay-at-home date” (sometimes they’re the best).
  • Praying for one another.

Invest in your relationship with your children as well.

  • Make the time to engage your children every day. You might engage them in a conversation or in a game. However you choose to do it, make time for your children every day.
  • Be curious about their interests and dreams. Nurture and support those interests.
  • Learn about the friends in your children’s lives. Also learn about those peers who grieve them somehow.
  • Share appropriate physical affection with your children.
  • Let your children live their dreams. In fact, support and encourage those dreams.
  • Pray for your children.

Invest in your relationship with your parents.

  • Enjoy time with your parents. Visit them. Talk with them on the phone.
  • Share your dreams for the future with your parents.
  • Listen to their stories of the past…and learn from those stories.
  • Give your parents a hug.
  • Pray for your parents.

Your spouse and your family cannot provide all the relationships you need. Invest in your relationships with friends.

  • Make time to get together with friends.
  • Go on double dates.
  • Get your families together.

Relationships are the spice of life…and they begin in the family. Nurture your relationships to nurture your happiness. And, when you start in the home, you’re also nurturing the happiness of your spouse and your children.

Laugh, a Simple & Free Tool for Intimacy

I really like this quote from Natalie Dattilo, an instructor of psychology in Harvard Medical School’s Psychiatric Department: “Health car is expensive. If we can find a tool that is as simple as laughter, that is free for the most part, with no side effects and has no contraindications, that would be really great.”  In fact, we have found the tool of laughter…if we would only utilize it. After the quote, the author described a study from 2011 that showed laughter had a pain-relieving effect. Why not use laughter to help decrease pain? Laughter has also been shown to decrease help regulate anxiety and stress.

Interesting to me, the author referenced a study published in 2004 which revealed that a psychotherapist and patient would laugh about 2 times every five minutes during a 50-minute therapy session. When they laughed, they both showed increases in the part of the nervous system controlling blood pressure and heart rate. Moreover, when they laughed together, it was perceived as validation and brought greater intimacy. 

I know our family relationships are different than a therapy-patient relationship. However, if laughter can bring therapist and patient together in shared validation and intimacy, just think what it might do for our families. By creating times of shared laughter in our families, we can help reduce anxiety, validate one another, and draw closer in relationship to one another. Accomplishing all that in an anxiety-ridden, invalidating, isolating world is “nothing to laugh at.” So, starting today, create the opportunity to laugh as a family.

  • Tell some corny “Dad jokes.” Of course, everyone will moan…but not before they smile, giggle, or laugh.
  • Watch a comedy together. You can watch a sitcom or a movie comedy. Enjoy the laughter.
  • Look for the humorous in the world around you. We tend to see the sad, the traumatic, the dangerous. The news and fundraising campaigns often focus on those aspects of life. But the funny and the humorous are all around us. Watch funny cat videos (my wife loves those) or simply look for the funny images in the world around you. You’ll find them…and you’ll enjoy the laughter.
  • Laugh at yourself. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Enjoy a laugh or two over the silly things you do. I have to admit, sometimes I do the silliest things–like searching for my glasses when they’re in my pocket or looking for my phone while talking to a friend on my phone. Enjoy a laugh about the silly things you do.

Next time you’re feeling disconnected from your family, find a way to laugh with them. Laughter is a simple tool that is free and has no side effects or contraindications. Enjoy laughter with your family and you might just find yourself feeling closer than you ever did before.

Your Child’s Dating Journey AND You

The time arrives in every parent’s journey when our sons and daughters start to date. Deep in our souls a twinge of excitement peaks out from behind the walls of our apprehension and protection. We look forward to the joys and the fun our children will experience as they date…but we also recall the pain of rejection, the heartbreak of the breakup, and the despair of feeling as though “I will never love anyone that much again.” In fact, our children’s dating relationships are part of a journey we navigate with them, a journey through the peaks and valleys of a thousand emotions. There’s no way around it. We have to go through this journey with them. I offer three tips to help you navigate this journey with your children.

  1. Remember, your children’s dating experience will not be the same are your dating experience were. Dating has changed since you were a teen or a young adult. Your children are not you. They may not experience the same ups and downs as you did. Do not thrust the baggage from your dating relationship onto your children’s dating relationships. Separate your emotions and feelings from what your children’s emotions and feelings because your children will likely experience dating differently than you did. Instead, be aware of their emotions, their relationship joys and struggles, their motives and intentions. Meet them in their journey and support them “where they are.”
  2. Build and nurture a strong relationship with your children. Through your words and your actions, teach them that you are trustworthy, reliable, understanding, and willing to listen. In other words, build a relationship in which they know you are a person they can turn to with the joys, struggles, and decisions of life. This requires spending time with your children as well as deeply listening to your children over time. Starting early is best; so start developing this relationship before your children start to date. But remember, it is never too late to show yourself trustworthy and reliable in relationship with your children.
  3. Avoid making evaluations or judgements. Along the same line, avoid teasing them about dating. Even if it’s in fun and jest, it increases the possibility that they will not feel comfortable talking to you if relationship concerns or issues do arise. If (or when) they experience a break up, don’t respond with “I told you she would hurt you.”  Instead, offer a listening ear. Invite them to put their dating experience into words by asking open-ended questions like, “What do you like about him/her the most?” Communicate empathy and understanding when they experience joy in the relationship–“I bet that was exciting” or “Tell me more about that fun date”–or when they experience hurt and sorrow–“That had to hurt” or “I’m sorry he/she hurt you like that.” Inviting them to talk about their relationship will help them learn from their experience and develop their healthy “dating philosophy.” After you have listened deeply (and only after you have listened deeply), you can lovingly share your wisdom and knowledge to the development of that philosophy by encouraging them to think about certain strategies.

In summary, build a trusting relationship with your child and, because their experience will be different than your experience was, listen deeply to understand their unique experience. Really, that basically describes honoring your children’s dating experience and loving your children deeply as you traverse the dating journey together.

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