Tag Archive for family relationships

Our Longest Relationship & Our Happiness, Part 2

In Our Longest Relationship and Our Happiness, we discussed our longest relationship, the relationship with our siblings. Our siblings know us as children, adolescents, single adults, married adults, and possibly widowed adults. They have known us, and we have known them, for a lifetime. Even more, sibling relationships, beginning in childhood, form a training ground for all kinds of other relationships in our lives. As adults, our siblings can provide guidance and insight as well as fun times and companionship in our lives. To keep those relationships strong in spite of the passage of time and physical distance, practice these tips.

  • Reach out. Take the initiative to reach out to your sibling. Reaching out to your sibling is an expression of love. It communicates how much you value them and their relationship.
  • Share your life with your sibling. Talk about the “happenings” in your life. Share stories about activities, relationships, and interests. Take a deep breath and courageously talk about some of the struggles in your life as well. Share your disappointments and sorrows. People grow closer by sharing themselves with one another.
  • If you do something that hurts your sibling, either knowingly or unknowingly, apologize. See the hurt from their perspective. Apologize and determine not to do it again.
  • When your sibling talks about their struggles and disappointment, don’t try to “fix” it. Simply be available and listen. If they need a professional counselor, they will get one. They need us to be their sibling, a person who will be available, listen, and understand. After you have listened, they may ask for advice. Then you can share ideas and talk about possibilities.
  • If you and your sibling have grown apart over the years but are now reuniting, start slow. Start off with small talk. Avoid touchy subjects. Enjoy memories. Enjoy your different perspectives. It’s alright to have differences. Allow those differences and celebrate them. They may contribute to growth in both you and your sibling.

I do offer one caveat. Sometimes we need to maintain distance and strong boundaries with siblings for our own mental health. There could be a number of reasons for this. It is unfortunate, but the truth for many people. If this is the case in your sibling relationships, I encourage you to maintain those boundaries and continue to grow as an individual. Find good friends who can become your “adopted siblings” and offer you the support you need. Even with your newly formed “friend siblings” you can use the practices above to deepen your relationships for a lifetime.

Our Longest Relationship & Our Happiness

Think for a moment. With whom will you have the longest relationship during your life? No, not our parents—they pass away before becoming the ones to know us the longest. Not even your spouse—we didn’t meet them until we became adults. It’s our siblings. Our siblings know us as children, adolescents, single adults, married adults, and possibly even widowed adults. They know us, and we have known them, for a lifetime. Even more, sibling relationships, beginning in childhood, form a training ground of sorts for learning about all kinds of other relationships in our lives. Is it any wonder, then, that our sibling relationships can make us happier or sadder?

With that in mind, we want to promote positive relationships among siblings when they are children. We want to help our children establish sibling relationships as children that will provide a lifetime of support, encouragement, and guidance. As parents, how can we do that?

  1. Keep your marriage strong. A strong, healthy marriage creates a secure, loving home. When children see their parents in a healthy relationship, they feel safer. They feel greater love and less fear of loss. They can also model their relationship with their siblings after the healthy relationships they see between their parents. Keep your marriage strong.
  2. Avoid favoritism. Each child has unique strengths and interests as well as unique needs and personalities. Love each one. Spend time with each child. Discover their strengths and nurture them. Encourage and support each child in their endeavors. Of course, many children believe “my little brother/sister gets away with everything” and “my older brother/sister gets to do more than me.” I haven’t discovered a way to avoid that perception. In spite of that misperception, you can love your children equally.
  3. Promote family activities. Create opportunities for your family to have fun together. Share ideas, stories, and dreams as you share family meals together. Enjoy family vacations. Schedule fun family outings. Family activities are a wonderful time to develop sibling relationships and to let the whole family express love for one another.
  4. Encourage your children to support one another but also allow them to have their individual lives. This is a bit of a balancing act. It is important for each person to have the opportunity to pursue their individual interests and strengths, their own lives. And it is important for each person to encourage one another in their pursuit of their personal interests. Model doing both in your marriage and in your relationship with your children.
  5. Give your children time to resolve their own disagreements. Sibling disagreements and arguments teach our children important skills. Before stepping in, give them time to work things out on their own.

These four practices will lay the groundwork for sibling relationships that focus on encouraging and supporting one another for a lifetime. They will help your children develop sibling relationships that can bring joy, comfort, and happiness to one another for a lifetime.

But what if you are an adult…how can you continue to nurture a positive relationship with your sibling? And what if you do not have a positive relationship with your sibling? How can you develop a closer relationship with your sibling? Stay tuned for our next blog to get some answers to these questions and more.

Christmas is Messy

Christmas is messy. I don’t mean the wrapping paper littering the floor around the room or the Christmas dinner scraps lying under the table. Those are definitely messy, but Christmas is messy on a much deeper level also. It’s messy on a relational and emotional level. It’s not really surprising that Christmas is messy because families celebrate Christmas and families are messy. I’ve met all kinds of wonderful people who live in very messy families. I’m sure you have too. The fact of the matter is, we all live in messy families of some sort. As a result, Christmas can be very messy. 

The first Christmas was messy too. Think about it. A young girl claims to be a virgin while clearly pregnant. Her betrothed, who had the legal right to divorce her, accepts her and her pregnancy while claiming the child is not his. The family of both probably struggled to understand. A government demands that each family of a conquered nation return to the place of their family of origin for a census. A city so crowded and inhospitable that no spare room could be found for a woman on the verge of giving birth to a child. A pregnant woman giving birth to her firstborn Son in a place set aside for the sheltering of animals…and then swaddling the newborn Child before laying Him in a feeding trough. There they rested, a Child and his parents, in the midst of the smell and chatter of animals, the constant hum of an overcrowded city just outside the door, and the heavy hearts of being misunderstood and cast out. It was a messy time. 

And yet, out of this first messy Christmas came celebration. An angel choir sang an anthem of “peace on earth good will to men” to an audience of shepherds. After hearing the message of the angelic choir, the shepherds came to worship and adore the newborn Child. When they left the Child, they made proclamations of excitement and hope to all they met.

This first messy Christmas also left obedient people misunderstood and alienated by the assumptions of those around them. But it also opened the door for those who had eyes to see to catch a glimpse of the Truth. An old man and an old woman in the temple saw the greeted the Child 8 days after His birth and saw the truth of hope, redemption, and salvation. They joyfully announced the truth they saw in the Child, the heavenly purpose of His life.

We know today that this first messy Christmas was only the beginning of a new life for you and me, a new life in an eternal family in which all the messiness will be done away and we will experience only love and trust and peace.

Sometimes I mourn as I reflect on the messiness of family life. I lament over the pain we experience amidst the messiness of families battered by misunderstandings, suffering the consequences of poor choices, and living in the pain of lost love. But, on Christmas day, as I look at the mess left around the Christmas tree and reflect on the fallout of the broken relationships I see in many families, I see a spark of Hope rise up. As I contemplate the messy vision of a newborn Child lying in a manger between two poor, exhausted parents in the midst of noisy animals permeated by the aroma of a barnyard, I trust in the birth of Hope. I smile, knowing that the birth of Jesus is just the beginning of a Life that will lead to the end of all the messiness of sin. The birth we celebrate on Christmas Day is the start of a beautiful, eternal family of intimate celebration with the Father of All. Merry Christmas.

Available to Family Today, Healthy Tomorrow

An important aspect of feeling secure in a family is wrapped up in the answer to this question: “Are you available to me?” Most of the time, this question is not explicitly spoken, and the answer is given without saying a word. Instead, the answer is seen in our actions. A study published in the November 2021 edition of the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity involved 1,054 healthy adults and showed the critical importance of how we answer this question. Specifically, the study explored whether giving social support played an important role in health. The researchers utilized measures of interleukin-6 (IL-6, which is a marker of systemic inflammation in the body and associated with increased risk of diseases like cardiovascular disease and cancer) to assess the relationship between giving social support and personal health.

At the start of this two-year study, participants completed a questionnaire measuring their social integration and how much they believed they could rely on family and friends when needed. Two years later, participants returned to the lab for blood tests measuring for IL-6. Careful reviews and assessments of the questionnaires and the completed blood work revealed that being available to give support was associated with lower levels of IL-6. In fact, the researchers only found this association in those who believed they could give support in their relationships. Did you catch that? It wasn’t the receiving of support that proved beneficial to health. Health was associated with being available to provide social support to family and friends, not just receive social support. It seems that our health is bound up in our willingness to be available to give social support to family and friends. This was especially true for women.

Back to our question: “Are you available to me?” According to this study, an individual’s answer to this question effects their health. When I am available to support my family and friends today, I experience greater health tomorrow. Now imagine if each family member made themselves available to support other family members. Each person’s relationships would become more rewarding and stress-relieving. The healing power of mutually supportive relationships would enhance the whole family’s health and well-being. In other words, being available to your family today means having a healthier family tomorrow. So put your family on the schedule. Set the example for your family by making yourself available to support them. Here are some great ways to make sure you are available to your family.

  • Schedule family meals several times a week. You can meet as a whole family or with individual members of your family.
  • Schedule a family fun night.
  • When you have an errand to run, invite a family member along. When your family member has an errand to run, ask to go along.
  • Do chores together and enjoy other mundane opportunities for quality time together.
  • Go for a walk.
  • Have a date. Whether it be a family outing date, a date with your spouse, or a parent-child outing, enjoy time together.
  • When a family member celebrates, celebrate with them. When they look down, ask them what’s going on. When they need comfort, comfort them. Take time from your schedule to be available to the profoundly important things in your life—like your family.
  • When a family member asks you for help, make the time to help them. Sure, there may be times you cannot help. But you can often set aside some less important activities (watching a TV show, reading a book, playing a game on your phone, etc.) for a short time in order to be available to help your family. Do your best to remain available to support and help your family.

You, Your Family, & the World’s Analysis of Worth

It is easy to get caught up in the world’s analysis. The world bases its analytic scrutiny of personal worth and value on comparisons. And it teaches us and our children to do the same. Unfortunately, this never works out well. On one hand, we may compare ourselves with those who have more than we do—more wealth, more opportunity, more personal strengths in particular area, more resources. As a result, we feel bad, not good enough, inadequate, and unworthy.

On the other hand, we might compare ourselves to those who made different choices than we did and then beat ourselves up with the stones of “if only I had….” Of course, we might compare ourselves with those who “have it worse than us.” As so many say, “there are always those who have it worse than us.” But that comparison runs the risk of making us arrogant and even entitled.

The analysis of comparison just isn’t the best way to go. But what is the alternative? Gratitude. Specifically, self-gratitude. How can you practice self-gratitude?

Start by viewing yourself with eyes of kindness, understanding, and support. Instead of beating yourself up for choices you wish you hadn’t made, give thanks for what you have learned and how you have grown. Recognize any good that came to you through the choice you made…and give thanks.

Continue to view yourself through eyes of kindness and humble understanding and identify your strengths and abilities. Recognize your talents, your skills, your abilities… and give thanks.

Think about your resilience and your dedication. The times you have overcome obstacles and carried on in spite of difficulties. Reflect on your determination, your spark…and give thanks.

Take time to acknowledge your kindness to others, your acts of compassion toward others… and give thanks.

Take one more moment to consider areas of your life in which you experience contentment. Maybe you want a new car, but you are content, for the moment, with the car you have. Perhaps you want to become a more skilled musician but, for the moment, you are content to practice and enjoy what you know. Contentment does not hinder progress and improvement. It merely sets the stage for enjoying your current ability or status; and that enjoyment opens the door for even better improvement and growth. Consider those areas of contentment in our life…and give thanks.

Set aside comparisons and take up the practice of gratitude instead:

  • Gratitude for areas of personal growth.
  • Gratitude for strengths, character, and abilities
  • Gratitude for areas of contentment.

And teach your family to do the same.

The Lesson of Generations–Family Camp, 2022

“In Our Home We Will Laugh and Love.” It’s true. That’s what we all want…a home filled with love and laughter. The lessons learned at this year’s Family Camp will empower every family that attended to fill their home with more laughter and love. Several lessons stood out for me, but I’ll only share a few. Each one comes to us through various components of humor found in the Bible.

  • Things strike us as funny when they suddenly present an unusual and surprising contrast. With that in mind, the contrast between the apostles’ character before they knew Christ and their character after they came to know Christ is sacred humor. For instance, James and John, the “Sons of Thunder” who suggested raining down fire upon unsuspecting souls, became the apostles known for self-sacrifice and love. I have to smile when I think about how drastically they changed after they knew, really knew, Jesus. The change found in knowing Christ leads people to greater love, more passionate service, and deeper self-sacrifice. Aren’t those beautiful traits for any happy family?
  • Irony is also an important component of humor…and what could prove more ironic than recognizing who Jesus uses to accomplish His amazing work. He doesn’t only use the powerful, the rich, or the influential by worldly standards. In fact, more often than not, He specializes in using the humble, the seemingly weak, the outcasts—like me! Each one in our family is important and has a crucial role to fill in the family and the world around them, from the youngest to the oldest.
  • Sometimes God even seems to enjoy some “dark humor,” just look at the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. The lesson for our family is not in the dark humor itself though. The lesson is that God can empower each of us to do His work…and He never leaves us alone in that work. As a family, we can celebrate that we are His hands, His feet, and His mouth in loving and watching over one another.

That is only three of the many lessons we learned at Family Camp this year. One other lesson stood out for me, one not related to anything spoken. I’ve been around long enough now that those who were children when my wife and I first took our children to Family Camp are now playing games with their own children at Family Camp. People who once attended as children are now leading us in various activities at camp. It is wonderful. Families have grown and continue to enjoy their time with one another and other families. Family Camp is filled with generations of families that built “homes in which we laugh and love.”

We have experienced several difficult years between a pandemic, political strife, and ongoing conflicts. But through it all, families remain. Children grow up and have their own children. Parents come to enjoy their grandchildren. Each generation lovingly offers their gifts to the other generations—children offer the gift of new life and energy for growth, young adults the gift of hope and zeal, parents the gift of guidance and support, and grandparents the gift of wisdom and encouragement to name a few.  Generations of families that build “homes in which we laugh and love” continue to love and grow, no matter the circumstances in the world. This is perhaps the greatest lesson I take from Family Camp this year, a lesson that communicates God’s providence and love.

Thank you Terri and Jim for organizing a wonderful week, Tim Hartman for the funny and insightful messages, Liz and Andy for the music time, Nadine for fabulous meals…and all those who helped make such a memorable weekend for so many families.

Inoculate Your Family Against the Epidemic of Loneliness

Loneliness has become an epidemic. One report suggests that 36% of all Americans felt “serious loneliness.” Worse, 61% of young adults feel “serious loneliness” (See Loneliness in America). That is bad news for a person’s physical and emotional health. Loneliness is worse for a person than obesity. Chronic loneliness is as bad for your health s smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It increases the risk of high blood pressure. It contributes to depression. (For more on the health risks of loneliness, see The Facts on Loneliness.) Fortunately, though, you can inoculate your family against chronic loneliness in at least 3 ways.

First, involve your family in social activities. Social activities provide opportunities to develop relationships and nurture social supports. Get involved with groups that give each family member a sense that people care for them. You might find supportive relationships and groups through involvement in community sports, clubs, a reading group or a “coffee klatch.” Church groups and youth groups provide another excellent avenue for developing relationships with caring people along with the opportunity to participate in meaningful activities that can reduce loneliness.

Second, teach your family to nurture relationships. Teaching the skills needed to nurture relationships begins in the home. You begin to teach the skill of nurturing relationships by practicing it within the family. Ask one another for assistance. Share emotions with one another. Allow yourself the vulnerability to ask for help and comfort. Take the risk of asking one another to do things together. Extend these skills toward trusted others outside the family. Develop family friends. Enjoy multi-family activities. Build your village.

Third, follow the advice of a recent Penn State study. Engage in meaningful and challenging activities, “flow” activities. These activities require skill and concentration. They are challenging and demand our full attention, but they are not impossible. When a “flow” activity come to an end, we are often surprised by how much time has passed. A recent Penn State study revealed that engaging in meaningful, enjoyable activities that require concentration and skill (AKA— “flow” activities) reduced loneliness. In fact, these “flow” activities were even more important to reducing loneliness than high levels of social support. You can help your children discover their flow activities through questions, trying various activities and interests “on for size,” observing, and listening. Some may find their “flow” in music. Others in writing, athletics, storytelling, cooking, or other skilled activities. One hint when seeking a “flow” activity though, watching television lacks the challenge and skill needed to create a “flow” experience, as does scrolling through social media. So just knock them off the list of potential “flow” experiences to help reduce loneliness and go right to the more challenging, skill-oriented experiences noted above.

Don’t let the epidemic of loneliness infect and grow in your family. Inoculate your children and your family against loneliness with a village, a model, and “flow” to protect them against chronic loneliness.

2-Week Family Challenge: Only Honor

An interesting study published in 2002 revealed that ruminating or venting about an offense increased feelings of anger and aggression. Distraction, on the other hand, led to decreased anger and aggression. In terms of family, rumination and venting about family frustrations will interfere with a healthy, happy family life. With this in mind, I want to suggest a 2-week family challenge that can improve your family relationships by decreasing rumination and venting. Put simply, this is a 2-week family challenge involves only honor.

First, honor your spouse, your children, and your parents in your thoughts, words, and actions. Only honor them. Say nothing negative or derogatory about any of them, either to them or about them to someone else. Instead, focus only on honoring them with words of encouragement, gratitude, and compliment. Honor them with acts of service. Honor them with thoughts of love.

Of course, differences will arise. You may feel frustration or annoyance at your family member. When you do, honor them by intentionally thinking about positive interactions you have had with them in the past. Rather than vent or ruminate on the negative, honor them by recalling how they support you, your family, and your home. Honor them by expressing admiration for the character traits you see in them and appreciate about them. Honor them with gratitude and encouragement. Honor them with an act of service. In other words, rather than focus on the frustration, focus only on honor.

If a situation arises in which you need to address a legitimate concern or a problem behavior (which will occur), find a way to address that concern with honor. This will require you to address their behavior rather than their character. It will mean honoring them enough to hold the assumption that the problem behavior is not reflective of their better character and was not engaged in maliciously. It will mean honoring them enough to listen if they offer an explanation. Addressing the problem behavior with honor means believing they will attempt to grow and change for the better. Honor them enough to address the problem behavior with the motivation of improving or restoring the relationship rather than blaming or accusing.

I call this a challenge because in our world we tend to move right to venting our anger or ruminating about the other person’s wrong. This 2-week challenge encourages you to move away from the patterns of blame and self-promotion to focus on honoring those in your family and the relationship you have with them.

If 2-weeks sounds too easy, make it a 30-day challenge. In fact, 30-days would prove even more effective. You might like the results so much that you want to extend it and make it a lifestyle, not just a temporary challenge. And, in all reality, the rewards of making this challenge a lifestyle are amazing.

What A “Pittsburgher” Learned About Family in Cleveland

My wife and I enjoyed a trip to Cleveland. We had a great time and met some wonderful people. (Yes, I am from Pittsburgh AND I found Cleveland fun & enjoyable…go figure.) After breakfast one morning we strolled through the Arcade 5 and saw this sign outside the Johnnysville Woods store. It lists “The 5 Commandments for Being Happy.” I thought I’d share it with you and how the same “commandments” can help our families.

  1. Free your heart from hatred. Hatred destroys. It takes root in the heart and fills a person with resentment, bitterness, and mistrust. Hatred destroys relationships, even within the family. The antidote to hatred is apology and forgiveness. Both apology and forgiveness are crucial to a healthy, happy family life because families are made up of people who make mistakes—who say the wrong thing, forget the important thing, offend unknowingly, and blame wrongly. Each will demand apology and forgiveness to restore the relationship. Humble yourself to apology. Become vulnerable enough to forgive. Often.
  2. Free your mind from worry. Worry can kill a family too. Worry flows out of fear, usually irrational fears and fears about things over which we have no control. Excessive worry creates unnecessary limits. It hinders our exploration and our growth. It hinders our risk taking, our willingness to “put ourselves out there,” and our ability to nurture our relationships. Don’t let worry and fear drive your family life. We can begin to let go of worry by nurturing gratitude and trust toward our spouse, our children, and our parents.
  3. Give more. Give more love. Give more gratitude. Give more service. Give more consideration. Give more encouragement. Give more benefit of the doubt. Give more…and give more generously. Give so much that your family will remember you as a generous person who enjoyed giving to others. When you do, your family will grow healthier and happier.
  4. Expect less. While you give more, expect less. In fact, “consider one another as more important than yourself. Don’t look out only for your own interests but for the interests of others.” Rather than expect your spouse and children to serve you, serve them…generously. Look more to what you can give than to what you want to receive. After all, “it’s better to give than to receive.” (For more on expectations in marriage, read Do Expectations Help or Hinder Your Marriage.)
  5. Love simply. Yes. Love simply…but realize that loving is not always easy. Even when it is hard to do, love simply. When a family member says something that hurts your feelings, love anyway. When your spouse forgets to finish the “honey-do-list,” love anyway. When your child does not listen, love anyway. When your parent doesn’t understand, love anyway. Simply love.

These “5 Commandments for Being Happy” will not only bring greater happiness to you as an individual, they will also fill your family with happiness. Practice them for a month and see if you don’t agree.

New Year’s Resolutions to Strengthen Your Family

The time has arrived to reflect on the year gone by and our hopes for the coming year. If you’re like me, you might decide upon some goals for the coming year. This year, I would like to suggest 12 goals that, though challenging, will strengthen your family and fill your life with greater joy. You can pick one or pick them all. The most important aspect of choosing is to enjoy the reward of a more intimate family.

  • Resolve to listen intently and deeply to your spouse and children.
  • Resolve to go on a date night with your spouse at least one time a month. (You don’t even have to leave the house for these date nights.)
  • Resolve to set aside 20 minutes a day to talk with your spouse about your lives and the life of your family—not the controversial things of politics or the drudgery of daily “to-do’s” and planning, but of your hopes and dreams, things you’d like to do together, or fun things that happened during the day.
  • Resolve to tell your spouse and each child “thank you” at least one time a day.
  • Resolve to play, laugh, and smile every day with your family.
  • Resolve to write each child and your spouse a letter of gratitude and appreciation this year.
  • Resolve to read a marriage or parenting book with your spouse and put the ideas into practice.
  • Resolve to attend a marriage workshop.
  • Resolve to learn the stats for your children and your spouse.
  • Resolve to learn about a topic or activity that interests your spouse or one of your children so you can discover ways to support them in their passions.
  • Resolve to look for daily opportunities to serve your spouse and children. This could be as simple as getting them a glass of water when they’re thirsty or something as complex as completing a chore they normally do.
  • Resolve to say “no” more often to things of lesser importance (surfing the web, video games, a TV show) so you can prioritize spending time conversing with your family or engaging in activities with your family.
  • Pick a hobby or activity that your child enjoys and engage in that activity with your child at least one time a week.

That’s actually a “baker’s dozen” resolutions from which you can choose. Each one will strengthen your marriage and/or your family. Pick one. Pick two. Pick them all. Whichever you choose, resolve to strengthen your family this year.

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