Tag Archive for family intimacy

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.

Avoid the Big AND the Subtle Phub

Smartphones are endemic in our society today…and they impact our marriages and families. For example, we can “phub” our spouse and family with our smartphones, sometimes in very subtle ways. “Phubbing”—that is “snubbing” another person by focusing on our phone when in the midst of interacting with them. One survey found that 46% of the adult respondents reported experiencing phubbing from their spouse. I’m actually surprised it’s that low.

Phubbing can occur in more ways than one. Obviously, when your spouse or family member pulls out their cellphone to respond to a notification during your time together, you’ve been phubbed. Or, vice versa, when you pull out your smartphone to respond to that “important” email, you have just phubbed your family. 

But there are more subtle ways of phubbing as well. For instance, one study had participants share a restaurant meal. Some shared a meal with their phones on the table and others shared a meal with no phone on the table. Those who had their phone on the table enjoyed the restaurant meal LESS. The phones on the table led to greater distraction and less enjoyment with friends or family. In other words, just having your phone visible is a subtle form of phubbing your family.

Another study allowed participants to sit behind a person in a video and put themselves in that person’s shoes. They could see the face of the person interacting with them in this digital format. The person who was interacting with them put their phone on the table. From there, they either ignored their phone, occasionally looked down and swiped, or picked it up and answered. The greater the intensity of phubbing, the more distance the participant reported. They reported they felt like they “didn’t belong,” like they weren’t important enough to attend to. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my spouse or family to feel that way.  (Both studies are briefly described in Smartphones, Phubbing, and Relationship Satisfaction.)

So what do we do to protect our family from phubbing? Here are a couple of ideas.

  • First, and foremost, model a “no-phubbing policy” by applying these ideas to yourself. Our children, in particular, learn more from our example than our teaching.
  • When eating dinner, put the phones in the different room, away from the table. This will likely arouse some discomfort and desire to look at the phone at first, a “fear of missing out” (FOMO) on something important during the mealtime. But everyone will get used to setting the phone aside and enjoying one another’s company. After all, isn’t enjoying our family one of the most important things we don’t want to miss out on?
  • When you go out to dinner, leave the phones in your car, your purse, or your pocket. Do not look at them while you are out. This may mean having conversations or playing simple games while waiting for your food. It may lead to greater intimacy as you gain knowledge about one another’s day, dreams, goals, etc., through conversation.
  • If another family member picks up their phone in mid-conversation, stop talking until they reestablish eye contact. If they say you can continue while they “just answer this text,” politely tell them you’ll be glad to wait until they are finished and can fully attend to your interaction because they are important to you.
  • Enjoy family “tech-free” times—an hour or two or three or even a full day together engaging in an activity with no cellphone interaction.
  • When you feel bored, don’t pull out your phone and play a game. Instead, let your mind wander and daydream.
  • Allow your family member time to respond when you call or text them. Allow for the possibility that they are busy, in the midst of some activity or interaction, and just cannot respond immediately. After all, you and you’re learning to manage your phone’s influence more effectively. This will apply when someone is out with friends as well.

In many ways, these ideas simply represent taking “microvacations” from your phone, but they cause me to reminisce. Remember the days before smartphones. People called and perhaps no one was in the home to answer. The caller simply left a message. We retrieved those messages at a later time. Everyone survived. Everyone enjoyed the day even though we might be “receiving an important message” at any moment. There was no expectation of an immediate response or a need to know immediately. We patiently waited and enjoyed the moment knowing the message would be there when we got to it. Perhaps we can bring some of that mentality (a mentality of patience and a priority that focused on the current face-to-face interaction) back into our families.

Protect Your Teen From Alcohol Abuse

Children who have a family heritage of alcohol abuse are thought to have a genetic propensity to alcohol abuse. However, recent research suggests a way to limit this risk. This study recruited participants between 2004 and 2019 who were 12- to 22-years-old. The researchers interviewed these youth and assessed their brain functioning two times a year. The interviewers asked about substance abuse, mental health, closeness with mother and father between 12-17 years of age. They also collected information about the youths’ binge drinking, impulsiveness, and their parents’ alcohol/substance abuse. Based on their findings, the researchers record two interesting findings that held true regardless of their parent’s alcohol or drug use or their family’s socioeconomic status.

  1. A teen’s close relationship to his/her father was associated with more robust and developed areas of the brain associated with self-regulation and executive functioning, especially for sons.
  2. A teen’s close relationship to his/her mother was associated with less binge drinking, especially for daughters.

In other words, a teen’s close relationship with their parent decreases the likelihood of alcohol abuse by enhancing improved neurocognitive functioning. More specifically, having a warm, close relationship with one’s parent during the teen years helps the teen build a resilience based on improved neural networks for executive functioning and self-regulation. 

With this in mind, two factors stand out as crucial in protecting your child from experiencing alcohol or substance abuse…two actions you can begin today:

  1. Model healthy behavior. Never underestimate the power of your example in your children’s lives. Do not overdrink. Do not “go for the buzz.” Do not drive drunk. Do not use illegal substances. Do not use prescription drugs beyond their prescribed use and amount. Maintain your own sobriety. Our children learn more from our behaviors than our teaching. 
  2. Develop a warm, close relationship with your child. Maintain that relationship through their teen years and into adulthood. Spend time with your children. Learn about their interests. Invest in their lives. This research suggests that a warm, close relationship with your teen will help build a buffer of protection against alcohol and substance abuse.

Know what I like about these two actions that can promote our children’s long-term health? They invite me to live a healthy life in a joyous relationship with my family. Sounds like a good deal to me.

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