“You know, Joe and I have a great relationship,” started Marilyn in the first counseling session. “We do things together,” she continued, “and our love life is good. We share common interests. The problem is, though, we never talk. You know, just sit down and talk. So that’s why I thought marital counseling might be helpful. You know, just to learn to talk more with each other.”
As their therapist, I let Marilyn continue for a while. Joe sat on his end of the couch, staring at his hands. Occasionally, he sighed, or nodded in agreement with his wife. Once, he started to say something, but Marilyn shushed him and directed him to let her finish.
Finally, I put my hand up in a stop motion to Marilyn and, after she stopped talking, then I turned to Joe. “So, Joe,” I started, “why do you think that you and your wife don’t, just, you know, ever talk much?”
“Well, I,” Joe started to respond, but Marilyn tried to cut him off and answer for him. “He just…” I stopped her again, gently put my index finger to my lips, and took a deep breath. Marilyn hushed and looked expectantly to her husband.
“You see, Doc, I can’t get a word in edgewise,” he said, continuing, “She talks for the both of us, so I just nod in agreement and go about my business.”
A lot of parents also feel shut out of their children’s lives. Especially teens tend to keep their own company, until given time and space to talk. The cure for such family dynamics is for parents to listen in general and to active listen in particular. Listening to hear your child’s feelings will open them up to want to share more with you.
Also, when time and circumstances allow, ask about their day, their schoolwork, their activities, their friends. These things are their world and you can enter it with permission when you ask. Don’t settle for one-word responses from your child. Be playful but persistent in drawing them into a conversation with you. And remember, the conversation is about them, not about you. So, keep in mind that you will get farther doing more listening than talking.
In the Bible, John 10:10, Jesus says, “I have come that you may have life and have it more abundantly.” I see that verse both as an encouragement for our faith, but also as a challenge to live our lives as He would have us live. As parents, does your family simply live together, or are you encouraging the family to live abundantly?
It’s dinnertime. Mom ordered pizza and it will be delivered in 20 minutes. Sally is watching YouTube on her computer in her room, Jake is gaming on his computer. Husband Al is grumbling over the TV news broadcaster’s opinion about today’s news.
The doorbell chimes and mom retrieves the pizza from the delivery person, without leaving a tip. She yells, “Dinner’s here!” Her family pause their electronics, retrieve slices of pizza, and return to their activities to eat alone.
This scenario plays out in families across America every day. These folks are having life. The parents are meeting family needs. Nobody’s fussing. Everybody’s content, if not happy.
According to the Book of John, 10:10, this family is having life, that is, surviving. But Jesus calls us to have life abundantly, that is, thriving. As parents in your family, are you meeting your children’s functional needs only, or are you encouraging an abundant family life?
It’s dinnertime. Mom’s had an equally rough day and asks family members if they would mind having pizza for dinner. The children and husband, Al, each stop their activities long enough to answer mom’s question and to suggest toppings and extras. In 20 minutes the doorbell chimes and the pizza is delivered.
Mom has asked Sally to set the table while mom calls Sally’s brother and dad from their activities. Dad comes right away, but mom needs to playfully pry Jake away from his gaming. With the family gathered at the dinner table, an electronics-free zone in the home, Al blesses the food and the family digs in amidst playful banter and inquiries about the day’s activities.
Most of us do functional very well. The challenge is, however, to live your life and to encourage your family to live life abundantly.
Does it feel sometimes that you are running around like a chicken with your head cut off? Do you wish you were an 8-armed octopus, just so you could keep up with the many and varied demands on your time and help? You know what? Me too,
sometimes. There are, however, ways to keep yourself and your family more organized.
“Mommy,” pleaded 10 year old Allison, “can I please, please, please have Sara spend the night tonight?”
“Yo Mom,” called 16-year old Buck from his bedroom, “is my green shirt washed yet? I’m taking Cloe to dinner tonight.”
“Sweetheart,” called Nick as he left for work, “don’t forget we’re meeting my boss and his wife for dinner tonight.”
Whew! What a whirlwind of activity in the Lawson household. Mom, Mary Lawson, has her hands full, if she lets her brood get away with it. She wouldn’t have all of these demands on her if she were more organized, if she delegated, and if she revised house rules.
First, a good rule for families with young and teen children is that every request for entertainment requires at least 3 days’ notice. Sleepovers, going to the movies, car keys for dates, all fall into the entertainment category. This not only gives you planning time, but also teaches your child responsibility and consideration as to how their requests affect others around them.
Second, as soon as your kids can do for themselves, teach them and let them. Buck’s green shirt? His job. His responsibility, not yours. If he complains and cajoles, active listen his frustration and encourage a plan B that he can undertake (another clean shirt, maybe?)
Third, a habit of weekly family planning meetings and a family calendar placed in the common area of the home, say the kitchen or family room or hallway, covers a multitude of logistical problems. Mary can and should be ready for the work dinner with the boss if it’s been on the family calendar.
Of course there are exceptions to every rule, but being all things to all people at every moment is not an option. There are ways to keep yourself and your family organized.
Even the best of children have their moments. Younger ones will cut their eyes at you while testing your limit. “Will she catch me?” “Does she really mean that ‘no’?” Even the worst of children have their moments when they want to do and be good. What’s your best course of action? Always choose first to catch ‘em being good.
When called to the table, 13 year old Alec groused that he didn’t feel like coming to eat dinner with the family. He shuffled out of his room, earbuds in place, wanting to be anywhere else but eating supper with his family. As he sat down, dad gave him “that look.” Alec huffed and whispered, “This is such B.S.”
At that point, Alec’s folks had a choice to make. They could focus on their son’ attitude. “Enough, young man. Lose the attitude. Eat your dinner.” Such a parental response is very common. Parental authority and family values are being challenged. They would have every right to chastise their son for his disrespect, behavior, and language. If they chose this option, however, they would be trading relationship for power. Do you want your family interaction to be based on your power, or on quality relationship?
Or, Alec’s folks could choose to focus on his compliance, even when everything else screamed rebellion. They would start the meal by holding hands and blessing the food. Alec might offer his pinky finger to another at this point, or nothing at all. Mom and dad would make small talk, engage other children at the table, and draw Alec into the conversation in some small way.
Assuming the meal goes well, considering, then at conclusion, mom or dad could catch Alec being good. “You know, Son, you made a good choice coming to the table and eating with the family even though it was the last thing you wanted to do. I know you are trying to find your way, and family doesn’t seem to mean much to you right now. Family means a lot to us, obviously, and I thank you for joining us for dinner.”
When given options, choose nurturing the relationship over exercising your power. Your child will remember that lots longer. Pay attention to what you want to grow in your child. Catch ‘em being good.