Tag: family relationships

You Need to Unplug

You Need to Unplug

Our family went away on vacation earlier this summer. We were unplugged from our electronic devices, and it was absolutely wonderful. Before you dismiss this idea and say you could never unplug, please know that you can. 

And you need to.

Unplugging while on vacation required some work on our part before we went. Neither Ryan nor I could just leave town without prepping some things ahead of time. We had work projects to complete, articles to write and schedule in advance, autoresponders to turn on, and social media posts to create and schedule. Once all that was in place, our work ran smoothly in our absence.

It was important to us to be fully present with our family while on this vacation, so we did the necessary work ahead of time. We wanted to be in the moment. We wanted to look into our kids' eyes rather than into a screen. We needed to be rid of that gut knot that sometimes develops due to emails from unhappy customers, "urgent" text messages, or comparing ourselves to friends and family on social media.

Because we were unplugged, we relaxed. We shut off the notifications and endless buzzing and dinging. We talked to each other. We talked to our kids. We experienced the moments without distraction. We grew closer to each other by taking a break from business, work, and obligations.

Obviously, we can't do that all the time. Responsibilities don't disappear. I get that. But it sure was heavenly to take a break from all of that for awhile. We came home mentally rejuvenated and relaxed. The prep work beforehand was well worth it.

When was the last time you unplugged?

Handling a Family Crisis

Handling a Family Crisis

Your family will face a crisis. It may not be today. It may not be tomorrow. But at some point, a crisis will strike.

How will you handle it?

A crisis can occur in many forms: cancer, a sick child, bankruptcy, adultery, divorce, infertility, bullying, miscarriage, job loss, harmful gossip, financial strain, death of a loved one, car accident, house fire... Need I go on?

It's not a question of whether a crisis will strike; it is only a question of when and what kind of crisis your family will experience.

Ryan and I have experienced several crises during our marriage. We've experienced job loss and financial strain. We've had three miscarriages, and our son, Maverick, almost died at birth and fought for his life in the hospital for a few weeks. Ryan almost died when his femoral artery burst during a hockey game in college, and I had a cancer scare a couple years ago. Just because we've experienced these crises does not make us exempt from another one. So, when the next family crisis strikes, how should we handle it?

1. Keep talking. Unfortunately, many people facing a crisis either stop talking altogether or they start fighting. Tensions run high, and it's difficult to control our responses during a crisis. However, if we want our relationships to remain strong we must be able to discuss our fears and feelings with each other. Instead of clamming up, we need to talk it out. Some crises require decisions to be made, and talking through every option is essential. Other times, we just need to express ourselves or pray and cry together.

2. Mind your mouth. Try to remain as level-headed as possible, and keep control of your tongue as best you can. Easier said than done, I know, but words cannot be taken back. It's crucial in a crisis to be careful what you say so you don't cause additional problems for your family. Biting someone's head off won't solve anything in the long-term. Everyone's emotions are understandably raw during a crisis, so be very careful what you say. Don't stop talking, but choose your words intentionally. It's fine to express yourself and share your fears and feelings. It's never helpful to attack others, call people names, or bring up past wrongs. 

3. Keep listening. Our loved ones are experiencing the same crisis, but they are feeling different things. We need to talk about our own feelings, but we also need to listen to our loved ones. They need to be heard, and they need a safe environment to express themselves and be understood. Try hard to listen well and be attentive. Active listening during a crisis helps avoid additional issues and problems, and it can help us understand what everyone in the crisis is experiencing. Try not to judge each other's responses and feelings; everyone is different, and that is okay.

4. Pull together. This one seems obvious, but many people withdraw from loved ones during a crisis. Instead, pull together. Lean on each other, and become a team to overcome the crisis. It is helpful to know that your other family members and loved ones are there for you, and you can be there for them. A crisis may actually help your family to grow closer than ever before. I would never purposely choose to have our son, Maverick, almost die, but that experience forged a bond between Ryan and me that became stronger than I could have ever imagined.

Every family will face a crisis at some point. Our responses determine how our relationships move forward after the crisis. Choose your responses well so that your family can come through the crisis stronger than ever.

Helping Kids Resolve Conflict

Helping Kids Resolve Conflict

Conflict happens. That is a guarantee. Resolving it is a skill we all need to hone. Unfortunately, most people don't have this skill and don't make an effort to acquire it. Resolving conflict isn't always pleasant, so many times even adults shy away from it.

If adults don't resolve conflict well, how can we expect our kids to do so?

First of all, we need to stop doing it for them. Rather, we need to show them how to face it head-on.

One of our children recently reached champion tattletale status. Seriously. It got to the point that we knew we needed to purposefully teach conflict resolution skills. Tattling is a huge pet peeve of mine, and I refuse to solve my children's problems for them, so we set out to instill better conflict resolution skills in our child.

To begin, we banished tattling (with the obvious exception of telling us about dangerous situations). We taught that when you have an issue with someone, you deal directly with that person only. Bringing an outsider into the situation should only be done as a last resort (and even then the outsider should be an unbiased facilitator, who helps the parties resolve the issue without taking sides). Tattling just shirks responsibility for finding a resolution to the parents, and I don't want to be my kids' judge and jury. I want to equip them to resolve issues themselves.

Here are the steps we worked through:

1. Don't react emotionally. No one ever responds to conflict well when they are emotionally charged. It's imperative to control anger and other emotions in order to resolve conflict. Don't react or respond unless you are calm. 

2. Seek to understand. Many conflicts are created because we jump to conclusions. Ask the other person directly to explain their side of the situation. Many conflicts can be avoided or resolved simply by asking for clarity. Speak nicely, and don't make accusations.

3. Listen actively. Active listening means that we need to keep our mouths shut and ears open. Don't interrupt when the other person is talking. Don't sit there the whole time the other person is talking trying to formulate your response. Don't try to be right; just try to understand the other person's point of view.

4. Take responsibility. Even if you're right, take responsibility for your role in the conflict. Apologize that you hurt the other person's feelings. Saying "I'm sorry" goes a long way toward resolving conflict, even if the other person does not return the favor. Offer to make the situation right wherever you can.

5. Show grace. Give the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. Try to understand that everyone has bad days sometimes, and maybe something like that is at the root of the conflict. Mend fences whenever possible. Be kind. Be humble. Move on without holding a grudge.

After we walked through those steps, we did a little role playing. We talked through a few scenarios and possible ways to resolve them. We asked our child to describe what would be the best thing to do in each situation. We did our best to get this child thinking about good ways to resolve conflict. This is a journey and will take some practice.

We also needed to do a self-check on how we, as adults, are resolving conflict. We want to make sure we are modeling proper ways to resolve conflict in our own relationships. We want our kids to see how we do it, and not just hear the words we speak. Conflict resolution is a necessary life skill, and we hope we give our kids sufficient resources for the future. As a family, we can work on it together. 

Helping Kids Resolve Conflict
Setting Limits on Screen Time

Setting Limits on Screen Time

It's no surprise that many parents struggle to control the amount of time their children spend behind screens each day. Kids have access to phones, tablets, computers, and televisions both at school and at home. Setting limits on screen time can be a challenge, but it must be done if we want to promote healthy family relationships.

We all know that online relationships are not the same as face-to-face ones. Social media makes it easy to stay connected with our friends and family, but online connections can never take the place of in-person interactions. When we're face-to-face with someone we can have more meaningful conversations, utilize body language and other nonverbal cues, and experience connection on a deeper level. There is a time and place for online connections, but the importance of face-to-face interactions cannot be overlooked.

In order to have face-to-face interactions, we must teach our kids to put their phones down.

Easier said than done, I know.

If you're struggling to get your kids to put their phones down, it's imperative that you establish family guidelines, or "House Rules," regarding screen-time in your home. The following tips may help you:

1. Set a good example. This means you'll have to put your phone down, too. Your kids need to see you model the behavior you expect of them, so set aside times each day that you will stay off your phone, laptop, and tablet. Completely unplug for a few hours each day. You will probably find that you're less stressed, and you'll show your family that they are your priority.

2. Establish "House Rules" for device usage. Some families have a basket on the table by the door so everyone can deposit their devices in it each evening. Other families have designated times when devices are not allowed. For example, many families don't allow devices during meals. Others don't allow devices to be used after 7pm. Gather your family together and work as a team to set guidelines that are appropriate for your family. 

3. Use the device-free time to strengthen your relationships. Don't just sit there in awkward silence. Use your device-free time to discuss important issues, play board games, tell stories, and laugh together. This may take some practice, and that's okay. It doesn't always come naturally, but don't give up. Keep working on it.

Getting kids off their phones may not be easy, but it is important. We all need to get out from behind our screens so we can have real-life conversations with the people we care about. Over time, those face-to-face interactions will make our relationships stronger.

Diffusing Disagreements in Marriage: Fill the Tank

Diffusing Disagreements in Marriage: Fill the Tank

We loaded our five children into our minivan for a family trip. After everyone was buckled, we backed out of our driveway and noticed that our gas tank indicator showed "140 miles to empty."

Our destination was 141 miles away.

I suggested to my husband, Ryan, that we stop to fill up at the closest gas station on our way, which is 12 miles from our house. Ryan disagreed and thought we should wait to fill up until closer to our final destination.

I prefer to have a full gas tank before starting a trip. I don't like to watch the miles tick down and wonder if we'll be able to find a gas station when our tank is close to empty. Ryan would rather wait until later to fill up because we might find a lower gas price at a gas station closer to our destination.

Who is right?

I'd like to say that we calmly came to a quick solution to our disagreement. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

Instead, we spent the entire 12 miles to the closest station arguing about it, all with the kids witnessing our every word.

That 12 miles felt like it took days. 

Eventually, Ryan relented. He pulled into the gas station and got out to pump the gas. I think he even slammed his door as he got out (but that might just be my interpretation). He was only outside for a couple seconds, and then he got back in the car and started it. He muttered under his breath, "I forgot my wallet, and we have to go back home to get it."

Silence ensued until our oldest son, Maguire, piped up and stated, "Wow, Dad, it's a good thing we didn't drive all the way and then get gas like you wanted to."

I'd like to say that I did not revel in the feeling of "being right" for a little while, but that would be a lie. 

Thankfully Ryan laughed, apologized for being stubborn, and agreed with Maguire that he was happier to find out this close to home that he didn't have his wallet with him. I apologized, too. We talked, and everyone laughed the whole way back to our house to retrieve the wallet. 

It turned out comical, but we could have done better.

Husbands and wives are generally very different people. Physical differences aside, husbands and wives often have very different personalities. They look at the world from different perspectives. They solve problems in different ways. These differences can make for amazing teamwork, but they can also lead to serious disagreements.

Ryan is very detail-oriented and likes to map out a plan before doing anything. In hindsight, he says that getting gas at our nearby station was not in his original plan, so he became inflexible. He struggles when his plans are disrupted. On that day, my idea to get gas closer to home was the disruption of his plan.

I like to have gas in the tank before a trip so I don't have to think about any of the details during the trip. I hate details and plans, so I get them out of the way before I can have fun. In hindsight, I realize his plan was equally valid (minus the wallet situation), and might have even saved us money.

Neither of us was right, and neither of us was wrong. We just had a difference of opinion. We disagreed. We argued about it because we are both stubborn and wanted to get our own way. Instead of arguing, we both should have shown some humility and grace. Then we could have discussed our options and made a decision we could both live with. We both need to be more flexible. We both need to compromise more. We are real people who often get this right, but at times we obviously don't.

Disagreements will always occur. Diffusing them takes love, understanding of different personalities, and a willingness to compromise. Love demands that we fight our individual need to be right, and work together as a team instead. We need to build each other up in order to truly fill the tank. 


Diffusing Disagreements in Marriage: Fill the Tank
How to Stay Sane During the Holidays

How to Stay Sane During the Holidays

The holiday season is upon us. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, or something else, this time of year can be overwhelming and filled with stress. The shopping mall is something like a nightmare, there are family dynamics to deal with, and our children get overtired and fussy. Holidays should be a time when we strengthen our relationships, but often it is the opposite.

How can we maintain some sanity in the midst of all the chaos?

1. Take a deep breath. Literally. Preferably while soaking in a hot bubble bath. We all need a few minutes to ourselves. A hot bath is relaxing, and we can enjoy the silence or even a few softly played Christmas songs on Pandora. Whether it's a hot bath, reading a good book, or some other activity you enjoy, be sure to take a little time each day to unwind. Now exhale.

2. Avoid the stores during peak times. The craziest time to shop each day is during the rush-hours right after work. Generally this means avoiding the stores between 4pm and 6pm. A great time to pick up your necessities is late at night after your kids go to bed. The stores will be less busy, and you won't be dragging toddlers through a crowd. Your spouse can stay home with the kids (they'll be sleeping anyway).

3. Make a gameplan for your family's holiday schedule well in advance. Having this in place will allow you to focus on the events that are the most important to your family. You can say no to the rest. That way you won't get overbooked and exhausted trying to keep up with it all. You don't have to agree to go caroling with friends on five different nights. Choose things that will work for you (and that you actually want to do!), write them on the calendar, and stick to the plan!

4. Give away your possessions. I don't mean give away everything you own. Rather, empty out some closets. Have the kids purge their toybox. Drop off a few boxes of stuff at Goodwill. Make room in your house for the new things you will inevitably get during this holiday season. It's a win-win because you will make space for new things, and someone else will get to enjoy and appreciate the things you no longer need.

5. Keep the main thing the main thing. There is a reason for the season. Stay focused on that. In the end, it's not about the parties, gifts, and never-ending delicious goodies. Focus on doing good things for others. Drop off a gift basket to a family in need. Send an anonymous gift card to someone. Shovel your neighbor's sidewalk, or do some volunteer work. It is extremely difficult to focus on our own selfish issues at the same time we are focused on helping someone else. Focusing outward helps us not to be focused inward. Don't forget what this season is really about.

If you are successful at those five steps, you will have a better chance of staying sane this holiday season. Nothing will ever be perfect, but you can enjoy this time rather than dread it.