It can happen so easily, quietly, subtly. We are happily married and enjoying our lives together when the busy-ness of daily life creeps up on us. The rush and pressure of work, children, community activities, and finances encroaches on our lives; and, in the midst of the busy-ness and pressure we take for granted that our spouse loves as and will always be there for us. We forget little niceties, like saying “thank you” or “please.” We fail to greet one another after a day apart and instead remain absorbed in whatever activity—cooking, watching TV, yard work, playing games—has our immediate attention. We become so preoccupied with our own demanding schedule that we neglect to ask about our spouse’s day. All this happens slowly, over time, and without any awareness. But, if left unchecked, each person “suddenly” begins to feel distant, even unloved. Their marriage falls apart as one or both spouses feel unappreciated, unloved, and unimportant to the other.
There is a remedy for this quiet threat. In fact, it is a rather simple fix. It begins with remembering. Remember when love was young and start doing what you did then. Remember when you were dating or even newlyweds? You probably made intentional effort to impress your spouse with your politeness and kindness. You asked them about their day…and listened attentively to their answer. You engaged in even the smallest gestures of affection as often as possible. Remember? Do those things again. Intentionally put in the effort to do the things you did when love was young.
- Each morning, ask your spouse about their plans for the day.
- Each evening, talk about your day with your spouse. And listen to your spouse talk of their day.
- Take 20-minutes each day to talk with one another about your lives as individuals and as a couple and a family. Talk about current events. Talk about your dreams. Talk about your concerns. Talk.
- Each day, as you go your separate ways AND when you reunite, give one another a genuine hug and kiss. Not a peck on the cheek, a kiss.
- Each day, look for opportunities to thank your spouse for what they do for you, your children, and your home. Thank them verbally or in writing every chance you get.
- Each day, verbally acknowledge something you admire or adore about your spouse.
Do each of these simple actions on a daily basis for the next 2 weeks, that’s 14 days. Even in that short time, you’ll begin to see your relationship grow stronger and more intimate. Then, make each of these actions a meaningful, daily ritual of connection with your spouse. Make them a normal part of your everyday life. As you do, you’ll protect your marriage from the quiet threat of busy-ness and nurture a healthy, happy marriage for a lifetime.
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.
We have heard a lot about the negative effects of the COVID lockdown on our children’s mental health; and that is definitely a concern we need to address. However, negative effects were not uniformly reported. Some studies suggested positive effects of the lockdown on our children’s mental health. This lack of consistency aroused the curiosity of Emma Soneson, a PhD student and Gates Scholar at the Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge. She and her colleagues collected data from over 17,000 students (age 8- to 18-years-old) participating in a large, school-based survey called the OxWell Student Survey. For this study, the students completed questionnaires about their experiences around the pandemic, school, home, life, and relationships at the end of the first lockdown. Based on their answers, the students fell into three categories, each continuing about one third of the participating students:
- Those whose well-being improved during the lockdown
- Those who experienced no change in well-being during the lockdown
- Those who experienced a deterioration in well-being during the lockdown
What was different for these three groups? The answer to that question may give us good information about how to promote our children’s well-being in general, pandemic or not. So what’s different?
- Nearly half of those reporting improved well-being also reported feeling less lonely or left out. 41% reported improved relationships with friends (as opposed to 26% in the no change group and 27% in the deterioration group).
- Over half [53%] of those reporting improved well-being cited getting along better with family members, as opposed to 26% in the no change group and 21% in the deterioration group).
- Those who reported greater well-being also noted a decrease in being bullied. In fact, 92% of those reporting improved well-being noted a decrease in being bullied, compared to only 83% in the no change and 81% deterioration group. Interestingly, that’s a lot of people saying bullying decreased in their life during the lockdown.
- Another factor involved sleep. 49% of those who reported improved well-being reported sleeping more (compared to 30% in the no change group and 19% in the deterioration group).
- Those who reported greater well-being were also those who remained in school every day
or nearly every day versus attending once or twice. (In many areas, those with special educational needs or those whose parents feared their child falling behind through cyber school remained in school.) Some factor contributing to this group noting greater well-being may include more flexibility to tailor teaching styles to meet different learning styles, smaller classrooms, more focused attention from teachers, later waking times since the schools often had later start times, and more freedom during the school day.
Overall, this provides important information about ways in which we can promote our children’s overall well-being. Here are some ideas.
- Provide places for your children to engage in healthy peer relationships. This may include various clubs, sports, activities, churches, or even having their friends to your house. Provide an environment that can promote positive peer relationships.
- Spend time with your children. Build a strong relationship with your child. Engage them in fun activities, not just work. Invest in their interests. Share your interests with them. Enjoy your time together.
- Develop healthy sleep hygiene in your home. Model healthy sleep and so model for your child. Put limits on social media and cellphone usage so it does not interfere with sleep. Develop healthy bedtime routines.
- Watch for bullying. If your child is a victim of bullying, address it immediately. Go to the school to talk with the school staff about your child’s experience of bullying. Develop a plan to help decrease bullying. Build your child’s self-image so they can stand against bullying. If it continues, take your child out of the situation in which they are being bullied and find another place, a safe place, for them to learn.
Hopefully we are moving past this pandemic. There are, however, things we can learn and implement even after the pandemic is past. These four practices can improve our children’s sense of well-being even after the pandemic.
You may have read previous blogs I’ve written about the value of family dinner (see The Lost Art of Family Meals, Everything I Need to Know I Learned at Dinner, Have Fun, Eat, & What? for a sampling) …or the good news about the benefit of ice cream for breakfast. But this study suggests that the timing of dinner impacts parent and child interactions. The data was taken from the American Time Use Survey in which about 41,000 U.S. families kept detailed time diaries. The data suggests that parents who ate dinner prior to 6:15 interacted more with their children in the time between dinner and bedtime. Specifically, they read with their children 27% longer, played with their children 18% longer, and spent 11% more quality time with their children in the evening than those who ate dinner after 6:15. This remained true even after controlling for family background, socio-demographic factors, and family characteristics.
Overall, dinnertime seems to mark a transition to more family-oriented activities. So, more time after an earlier dinner and before bedtime results in more family quality time spent together. That includes more time reading together and more playing together. And that’s great since reading with our children has been shown to help them develop greater empathy and kindness (Raising Kinder Children). Reading paper books (vs. digital books) to your children at bedtime may encourage collaboration and less controlling behavior (The Digital Bedtime Story). Engaging our children in play has many benefits including brain development, reduced behavior problems, and greater parent-child intimacy among other things (Who Needs a Prescription for Play?). In general, play will make your child a head taller than himself.
Enjoy an early dinner. Then enjoy the extra time with your children and family. Everyone will benefit and you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.
There are moments that hold great power in your marriage and family. One moment in particular holds amazing power for your family. This moment occurs multiple times throughout your day. It happens when you are preparing your breakfast and your spouse or your child walks into the kitchen. It arises when your child bursts through the door upon returning home from school. It occurs when your spouse returns home from work or grocery shopping or working in the yard and walks into the room where you sit. Have you identified this powerful moment yet? It is a moment of greeting, of reuniting.
The moment of greeting is a powerful moment. A simple greeting starts the process of interaction. When we greet our spouse or children, we have opened the door to creating an experience together. We have created the opportunity for connection. This opportunity for connection grows as we continue the interaction and shapes the whole environment of our home.
Consider this study, published in January 2007 , that looked at emails in two organizations. One organization was struggling with conflict, low morale, and turnover. Their emails were short and simply offered information. They did not even include a simple greeting of “Hi” plus the person’s name. The email sent the implicit message of business is top priority and people are secondary.
The other company had a “very positive culture.” Their emails included greetings, a “widespread use” of “Hello” plus the person’s name. It seemed to communicate that people mattered and staff was valued.
We want to build a family environment that communicates value to each family member. We want our family to know they matter; that we value them. Communicating this important message begins with a greeting.
“Hi, how are you doing?”
“Hey, how’s the yard work going?”
“Look at you. What has you so excited?” “Hello. How was work?”
You pick the question and the greeting. Whatever greeting you choose, that greeting opens the door for connection. And as you both follow the question with a conversation, you create relationship by getting to know one another better.
Would you like to build a deeper connection with your spouse? Maintain a connection with your teen? Enjoy connection with your family? It all begins with that amazing moment of creative power—the moment of greeting.
Have you ever said, “There are not enough hours in the day”? I know I have. I’ve felt the crunch of having too much to do and not enough time to get it done. I hate to admit it, but I even get grumpy and agitated when I feel pressured for time. Sometimes I ignore everyone and rush around trying to get everything done. Have you? If you have, you’re not alone.
Feeling the time crunch, however, has an impact on our emotional health and our families’ health. It interferes with our relational intimacy, and it limits our joy within the family. It makes us feel disconnected and alone, even when surrounded by our loved ones. We might even begin to feel like “they just don’t care.” Fact is, we would be wise to look at the priorities undergirding our time crunches and how we use time. As we do, we might identify what Ashley Whillans calls “time traps” in her book Time Smart. As we identify them, we may want to change them. Let me share a few.
- Believing busyness reflects status. Our society encourages us to think that the busiest people are the most important people, the most powerful people. This is not necessarily true. Even if it were true, do you want your family to see you as important and powerful or happy and kind? I’m going for happy and kind.
- Technology robs us of time. “Taking a moment” to check out a social media app or watch a couple videos can easily fall into half an hour, an hour, or even all afternoon. Playing a video game for “a second” can suck up hours of our time. Technology robs us of time before we even know it.
- “Idleness aversion,” or being uncomfortable with boredom drives us to be constantly busy. In reality, having a period of time in which we have nothing to do is healthy. It’s true. “Those who decide to use leisure as a means of mental development…are the happiest people in the world” (Wm Lyon Phelps). “He enjoys true leisure who has time to improve his soul’s estate” (Henry David Thoreau). Take time to improve your soul’s estate.
- Undervaluing time and its importance in our emotional health. Investing in saving time is an investment in happiness.
- Making future commitments with the false belief that you will have more free time later. You will not have more free time unless you put away these time thieves and start practice some of the time savers below.
So how can you become “time smart” and so promote your family health? Here are some time savers.
- Turn off your cell phone for a day or during certain parts of the day. For instance, turn off the cell phone for dinner. Turn off the cell phone while out with family. Unplug for family fun. Doing so will help you avoid distraction and remain present for the moment. In so doing, you’ll enjoy the time.
- Slow down and savor experiences. Rather than “rush through” a meal, savor the flavor, the conversation, and the company. (Learn how savoring equals a stronger marriage.)
- Look for opportunities to experience awe. Awe increases our patience and our willingness to give of our time to others. It increases our happiness and sense of social connection. Learn to use the power of awe for your family’s health and well-being.
- Be wise in making life decisions. Living a 3,000 square foot house demands more time than a 1,500 square foot house…and the smaller house may still satisfy all your needs. Living an hour from work takes more time from family than living 20 minutes from work. Certain jobs demand more time than others. Extracurricular activities for children and adults demand time that can take up family time. Make time part of the equation when deciding about activities, work, and living space.
How we manage time is an essential component in our personal well-being and in our family health. Learning to be “time smart” can increase your family health, providing more time for intimate interaction and fun together. Take a little time and learn to be time smart…you and your family will be glad you did.
Do you remember the feeling you had when “school’s out for summer.”? It was the moment of freedom and fun. Now that we have children in school, many parents worry that their children will fall behind over the summer months when they don’t have classes or a need to “study for the test.” But good news! A study published in 2019 suggests something more important than extra studies for a child’s academic success—TIME—specifically, time parents spend with their children. This study involved 22,000 children in Israel who lost a parent to death before the age of 18 years, 77,000 children whose parents divorced, and 600,000 children who did not experience parental death or divorce. Not surprisingly, the death of a parent or divorce impacted a child’s academic success. But the specifics were much more interesting than that.
- If a mother passed away, a father’s education became more important to the child’s academic success.
- If a father passes away, a mother’s education became more important to a child’s academic success.
- Overall, the results suggest that parental presence and involvement were more important than income. If income were the key factor, then losing the “bread winner” would have a larger academic impact. But it did not. In fact, the loss of the parent who spent more time with the child (generally the mother in this study) had the bigger impact. Time spent together was more important than income in promoting academic success in this study.
- The negative effect of losing a mother can be partially minimized if the father remarries.
- The research revealed similar results when a child experienced divorce in their family.
So, do you want to keep your child’s academic success moving forward over the summer months? Spend time with them. The time parents spend with their children has a powerful impact on their educational achievement…even more than income. Besides that, it’s fun to spend time with your children. You’ll enjoy the time you spend with your child. Your child will enjoy the time you spend with them. You will also promote their academic success as you develop an intimate relationship that will last…through college and beyond.
I know. It sounds obvious. But children thrive when their parents have a loving relationship. It makes sense. For the couple, research shows sharing life with a long-term loving partner has many benefits, like a longer lifespan, less incidences of heart disease, greater financial well-being, and greater life satisfaction. All of this benefits the children living with happily married parents as well. Even more, children living with happily married parents experience benefits beyond parents that live longer, healthier, and wealthier!
In fact, kids thrive when their parents are in love. A study completed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2009 suggests that the quality of the parents’ marriage contributed as much to their children’s future mental and physical health as the children’s relationship with the either individual parent. Other studies have shown that children who live with parents who love each other stay in school longer and exhibit fewer challenging behaviors. Living with happily married parents simply creates an environment more conducive to happiness than parents who argue, fight, and threaten. Happily married parents provide children with a sense of security. In other words, your healthy marriage is important to your children’s physical and mental health.
So, how do you keep your marriage strong and loving? One way to keep your marriage strong is to spend time together. Time spent together and attention are the currencies of strong relationships, even in marriage. Here are some hints to spend time together.
- Go for a walk together.
- Schedule a time to talk everyday over coffee.
- Try a new activity together.
- Put a movie on, snuggle up on the couch, and watch it together. You can even use the movie as a starting point to talk about your Love Story.
- Eat one meal a day together.
- Practice Gottman’s “Magic Five Hours.”
- Find a babysitter and have a date night. If you can’t afford a babysitter maybe you can make a deal with a family friend. You can watch their children one night and they can watch your children another day.
- Have a picnic in the back yard. Stay out late enough to enjoy the stars.
- Go to the park.
Spending time with your spouse is a gift you give to your spouse, your children, and yourself. It strengthens your marriage and creates a happier home in which your children can thrive. What are your favorite ways to spend time with your spouse?
Schools continue to struggle to determine exactly how to start this school year. Parents and school districts struggle to determine how to balance safety, economic needs, and educational needs during this time. Sports remain an issue of debate. Will school sports’ teams compete or wait until the pandemic is resolved to enjoy competition? While all these decisions remain unresolved, life has become unpredictable for our families and our children. A lack of predictability will create a sense of insecurity in our children; and, insecurity contributes to negative behaviors and even health issues in our children’s lives. So, we need to find ways to help our children feel safe and secure even during the unpredictable nature of our world right now. How can parents do this? Here are 5 things you can do every day to get you started.
- Listen. Give your children the opportunity to be heard. Get curious about their emotions, challenges, grievances, and fears. Strive to understand what lies under their misbehaviors (Read Misbehavior: A Call for Love? to learn more) rather than lecture and reprimand. As we listen and understand, our children will feel more secure. They will become calmer and more able to problem-solve as well.
- Establish daily rituals. Rituals help to build daily predictability that will contribute to our children’s sense of security. They also provide opportunities to talk and build deeper, more intimate relationships (Is Your Family Like a Scene from RV? Try Rituals). Rituals don’t have to be complicated. You can build them into your daily life. For instance, rituals might include eating a meal together, reading together at bedtime, establishing a 20-minute conversation time each day, having a puzzle you work on each day.
- Invest in your relationship with your children’s other parent. A strong, healthy marriage contributes to a child’s sense of security. Let your children bear witness to your love for one another.
- Spend time with your children. Children spell love “T.I.M.E.” Time is the currency of love and security for your children. When they know you will put down your cell phone, postpone a job for a moment to talk, or make time to engage with them, your children learn you value them and care enough to keep them safe. Make time for your children. (How to Spend Quality Time with Your Children.)
- Share healthy physical affection. Give a hug. Put your arm around your children. Wrestle. Healthy physical affection increases our sense of connection and an increased sense of connection makes us feel secure. Give your children a hug! (Six Reasons to Hug Your Family.)
I’m sure there are more ways to help your children feel secure during this time of unpredictability. But, these five will give a great start. What ways would you add?
Parenting is like trying to balance
a multi-dimensional see-saw. On one end of the see-saw sits discipline and
structure. On the other end is warmth and affection. How we balance these two
ingredients contributes to four possible types of parenting:
- Neglectful parenting, which is low
in both discipline and warmth,
- Permissive parenting, which is high
in warmth but low in discipline,
- Authoritarian parenting, which is high
in discipline but low in warmth, and
- Authoritative parenting, which is high
in both discipline and warmth.
The Human Flourishing Program at Harvard University published two studies in early 2019 that explored these parenting styles and their impact on flourishing later in life. Not surprisingly, parenting high in both warmth and discipline (authoritative parenting) proved most beneficial in promoting a flourishing life, even as a person matured into adulthood. Somewhat surprising, permissive parenting—low in discipline but high in warmth—proved the second most beneficial parenting style for promoting a flourishing life. Falling to a distant third was authoritarian (low in warmth but high in discipline). Of course, a neglectful style of parenting was least effective.
With further study, it appears that
warmth (which authoritative and permissive parenting exhibit) is the most important
aspect of parenting when it comes to helping our children flourish later in
life. Specifically, parental warmth and affection was associated with the
following benefits in later life:
- A 46% reduction in depression
- A 39% reduction in anxiety
- A 68% reduction in eating disorders
- Higher levels of emotional
processing and expression
- Lower levels of cigarette and
Providing warmth and affection
to our children tops the list of important ingredients in parenting. When we provide
an environment of warmth and affection to our children, they have a
better chance of flourishing later in life. With that in mind, here are six
simple ways to show your children warmth and affection…and promote their
ability to flourish.