While planning to present a sermon in front of a church, a few thoughts drifted into the application of the Word for parents.
We’ve got so many obligations tugging at us that it’s easy to assume that our smart energetic children have their lives handled… on a level ahead of where they’re really at.
Meaning… sometimes, we assume that they’re doing as OK as they appear to be doing… and we rush off to tackle the next part of our to-do list.
The Habit of Engagement
Sadly, by being so to-do-list focused, we often miss cues and hints that our children need additional attention. Those misses add up and create a wedge between them and us.
Not that we’re neglecting our children intentionally, or going out of our way to ignore them, instead, it’s the little slights of focus that chip away, slowly, at our connection to them.
Of course, this blog is not advocating the complete abandonment of adult responsibilities to hover constantly over our children to ensure we never miss a single beat of their lives.
Instead, finding a “balance” that allows us to be more readily available to engage our children is the recommended tone. balance is never a static thing, it’s a very dynamic position that constantly shifts and changes
There are practices we do, as adults, that facilitate our conveniences over the ability to be mindful. The distraction economy is really good at holding our attentions and making us feel productive when we’re not.
The powerful portable computer, called a smart phone, is responsible for keeping too many of us disengaged from our families.
We work hard at work. We commute with our phones glued to our hands. We come home and spend a lot of time on our phones. Then, to help us relax, we watch television while checking our phones… so much so that some programs deliberately create second screen options for us to enjoy as we take in the show.
We think we’re bonding with our spouses in the bedroom while the screen is feeding us the latest social media updates we’ve missed.
All of this distraction simply means that our loved ones are not getting the attention they should. We’re only giving them the minimal amount to feel like we connected, never fully taking time to know if we connected or not.
The end result, our loved ones start to disengage from us and stop sharing a lot of their deeper concerns. They know they’ll be competing with and losing to the phone.
It doesn’t have to be just the phone, it could be a gaming console or any other distracting habit we have
Some people have rescued their family-time by instituting ‘sacred’ moments that are technology/distraction free zones. The family meal, the family devotional prayer, or the family social-couch hour.
Those are the times when we select to be connected and fully tuned in. A lot of bonding happens during those times, however, not necessarily immediately after setting up those times.
Engagement is not a to-do list item
To be mindful and connected takes time. Trust takes time. The members of the family will need to see consistent bonding times to build trust and open up to you. That’s why a good CEO of the home understand long term planning for the household.
Patience and continual investment gives results. If the family was accustomed to being highly disconnected through distraction, it will take time to adjust to giving up the distraction, then getting comfortable connecting, then trusting, then opening up as a family.
We can’t try it for a month and archive it because it didn’t work. Some folks have had to push hard for these changes for months before seeing results. Keep in mind, it took a while to learn not to connect as a family, it may take a while to unlearn that disconnect to make room to learn to connect.
Failing to work on connecting means we slowly drift apart. When we realize we’re not connected, most parties are trying to get out the door instead of staying inside to build the family legacy.
We often become aware of this as the children get ready to leave the home for college and beyond. Their eagerness to get away and not return often is a painful rude awakening. Then, matters get complicated when one of the parents decides, they too want out and leave an estranged relationship.
When the price tag shows up, often, it’s too lat to do much about it without incurring extraordinary costs. For those who opt to pay, the rewards are worth it… a new connection is established.
Staying connected to one’s family is not a to-do list activity you can do half-hearted. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a way of life. It’s a commitment. It’s a privilege.
Recovering from a falling-out
Sometimes, people realize the errors of their ways late. Damages have already been done. What then?
While it’s hard to say just what percentage of relationships recovery from the slow drift that separated them, one thing is certain, if both parties are willing to put in the effort with the right sources of information, restoration is possible.
It is possible to reopen lines of communication with estranged children and spouses. The work will be significant, for sure, and it will take time.
A word of caution. Restoration does not mean everything will be as it once was. People have changed. There is the history of disconnect. A new bond will be built and it will function differently. A new type of connection is set in place.
We can’t force the new connection to feel like the one we lost, but we can nourish it and embrace it for what it is. A second chance at being connected. Please, don’t compare the new connection with the old, as they’re different in their own right.
Some families recover so well that it appears nothing ever went wrong. Other families recover and behave more like friends than family, and that’s OK. As long as the parties are able to meet their respective needs… bond together… feel valued… and respect each other, we’ve got a connection again.
Falling out is highly disruptive and energy intensive. Thankfully, it does not have to define the rest of life.
The first person who recognizes a drift is causing a falling out has the choice to make: do we mention the falling apart or do we go along with it and drift apart. The other party in the drift may be too distracted to notice there is a drift or may not know how to address the drift.
One will never know unless one speaks up in a manner the other can understand. We often speak up in the way we understand, but if the other is unable to understand, have we really communicated?
Example: Person A communicates their displeasure of being neglected by growing cold and quiet. Person B interprets this distance as though Person A is having another one of their bad days. They both don’t talk about it and in time the habit of drifting apart sets in.
Had Person A spoken up in the language that Person B understood, things could have turned out different. “Hey… listen. I want to run something by you. How does it feel when I respond to social media when you’re your trying to talk to me? Just wanted to understand how you felt”
That opens up a dialogue opportunity. Person B may not have realized how it felt and never gave it much thought. Now, presented with a non-threatening scenario, they’ve got time to pause, think, and reflect.
Results often are more sensitive to the needs of the other when addressed with love.
The whole point of being engaged with each other is to understand how the other person feels. With that insight, we can better work together and make optimal decisions.
We aren’t listening to understand how to get the other person to do our will. We listen to show we care and better work with them going forward.
As parents, we listen closely and keep connected with our children so that we can best nurture them and let them feel connected and loved. We listen to each other to understand how we’re doing and adjust so we keep the family goals moving forward.
The biggest mistake we can make is to ignore our loved ones. The second biggest mistake is to listen with an agenda… as in gaining information to better control the outcome we want.
When we share our feelings and open ourselves up, we do so to share and allow the other to understand us better. It’s not about sharing to gain an edge and get something out of the other.
The advice that says “tell them how you feel” has been given with the subtext of “by telling them how you feel, they have to give you what you’re looking for”. That’s not the way sharing works. It sets up the relationship for failure.
You’re telling your partner how you feel so that they’re aware of how you feel. What happens afterward is up to the two of you. They have the right not to act the way you want. They have the right not to agree. The both of you have to find a solution that works for the both of you, even if it’s not the first solution you’re wanting and desiring.
Sometimes, after a good conversation, a third option is the best solution. He/she won’t get exactly what they asked for, but the relationship wins because a third solution that both parties can agree with… is found and implemented.
When everyone in the family is engaged, habitually, the family moves as a unit. The family is able to remain united, grow together, and evolve through time.
It’s a habit that can be cultivated over time. Let’s make it a critical part of the agenda, dear CEOs, to remain engaged together as a whole family.