Wendy Warner is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in private practice at Trinity Family Counseling Center. In addition to working with couples, children, and individuals, Wendy also enjoys teaching the premarital classes for all couples planning to marry at Immanuel Lutheran Church, Macomb.
For all the challenging changes in our lives due to the Coronavirus, it presents some opportunities as well. How often did we used to say, “If only I had more time, I would...”? If I only had more time I would exercise regularly, connect with my kids more, talk to my spouse more, cook healthier meals, etc. Well, many of us have stopped having to commute to work and are working from home. I acknowledge that parents of school age kids find themselves with more on their plate than less. But for the rest of us, here we are with extra time in our day and more time for those ideal activities. How many of them have you started?
When it comes to connecting with our family members more, it is useful to first examine how we typically communicate with them. Do we listen and let them finish their thought before jumping in with our thoughts or solution? Do we ask questions to clarify their perspective so they know we are invested in truly hearing and understanding them before we begin speaking? People are drawn to relationships where they feel heard. Do you have any relationships where you wish they were seeking you a bit more? Perhaps it is worth evaluating your listening skills to see if there is room for improvement.
Another area that puts the disconnect in family dynamics is criticism. As parents, it is our role to instruct and prepare our children and teens to become independent, functioning members of society. Unfortunately, many parents see that as a license to criticize and correct all day long. Think about your best boss. They probably knew how to encourage your best work rather than criticize you repeatedly to get it. Again, evaluate yourself honestly in your relationships and listen to the words and tone you use. Would you feel encouraged or condemned? Are you sarcastic at their expense? We have the option to focus on critiquing the behavior we don’t want, or cast a positive vision for the behavior we do want. Instead of, “Your room is such a mess. No one will want to live with you when you leave this house.” You could try, “I would like you to put your dirty clothes in the laundry basket each night before bed please.” Instead of, “I’m sick of all your dishes on the counter”, you could say, “everyone is responsible for putting their dishes in the dishwasher”. Then mean it. If dishes aren’t going into the dishwasher, have a family conversation with respect and discuss the dilemma and how to solve it. You’re modeling best boss practices enlisting others to help solve the problem, so they have a desire to participate in the solution.
When you do see your family members doing something positive, mention it to them in words of affirmation or appreciation. “I noticed you took out the trash without being reminded. Way to go.” “I saw you working to finish your homework before playing video games yesterday. Nice job.” It is human instinct to repeat the behavior we are rewarded for. When people feel noticed and affirmed for positive contributions to the household, they want to do it more often. “Thanks for driving Johnny to soccer practice. It really helped me out.”
These are days we might never get back again! What if this time of staying home from public events and hanging out at the home front could be a time of improved communication, closer relationships and even more fun? There are games to be played, walks to be taken, conversations to begin, meals to make together that could all add up to sweeter connections than ever before.