With what seems like a limited amount of time to be together these days, more and more people are seeking help in learning ways to reconnect with those they love the most. Unfortunately, there are numerous barriers to increasing connection with our family members. Some are technology (TV., computers, cell phones), as well as our busy schedules. So, we must be proactive and present if we are going to create the type of connection we know is vital to sustaining healthy relationships.
The first thing I would encourage parents or partners to do when looking to increase family connection is to look at their calendars to see how they are spending their time. This way, they can separate what they must do (i.e. jobs, household chores, etc.) from tasks they can remove to make room for family time. Some examples would be to limit TV. and cell phone time, to making room for a family board-game night, or a date night, once a week. It is also important to discuss each person’s values and how they want to spend quality time together. For example, some people value being outside while others prefer movie nights or watching sports together. Once parents have established how they would prefer to spend quality time together, they can open it up for the rest of the family to have input.
As earlier stated, a barrier to families connecting is technology. This isn’t to say that technology is bad, there just needs to be boundaries around it. Adults and kids alike often enjoy downtime after work or school or in the evenings to “zone out” and relax. Although it is important for all of us to have time to recharge, I recommend limits be put in place so that everyone knows what is expected. For example, setting a timer for 15-20 minutes to give yourself or your children some unwind time after getting home may be enough time to recharge before joining the family. I also recommend turning cell phones and TVs off during meal time. This sends the message to family members that they are important enough to deserve your full attention.
Another way to connect with loved ones is to plan time away from your normal lives by literally going somewhere else.
Traditions and rituals are often important to establish or maintain in order to foster family connection. These can happen daily, like having dinner together or reading out loud together on a nightly basis. Others may happen weekly, like a big family dinner on Sundays or going hiking on the weekend. Of course, having yearly traditions helps family members look forward to time together, such as running the Turkey Trot Race around Thanksgiving every year, volunteering together, or getting together for the holidays. Having traditions and rituals in your family is an important way you pass down what you value from one generation to another, and as adults, this is often what we remember the most when looking back at our childhoods.
Another way to connect with loved ones is to plan time away from your normal lives by literally going somewhere else. Some families go camping while others take elaborate trips across the country or abroad. The goal is to create memories together and have a shared experience where there are minimal interruptions. Planning trips away from home sends the message that spending time together is valuable, and making time for each other away from normal daily routines and responsibilities is important for reconnecting.
Once you establish designated time together and ways in which you want to connect, it’s important to learn healthy ways to communicate so it is enjoyable. For example, one family came to me for help and the father stated that he needed “down time” after work to recharge, but his “down time” started to increase over the months, which became a barrier to connecting with his wife and kids. He realized that he was missing out on having the relationship he wanted with his kids and wasn’t modeling healthy limits. It also put a strain on his marriage.
“Sometimes it can be so easy to just turn on the T.V. or get on my phone and zone out for hours,” he said, “but I realized that I’m never going to get that time back with my kids and it is up to me to establish the type of relationship I want with them. I also wasn’t being a good partner to my wife.” This family learned not only how to make time for each other but how to make that time enjoyable for everyone by being better listeners, validating each other’s feelings, and making amends when needed.
Supporting everyone’s emotional needs can be difficult but when we make more time for discussions, we learn what each family member prefers in order to feel valued. I recommend family meetings either once a week or once a month to check in with everyone to see how things are going. Is everyone doing their part to help the family function in a healthy way, or is one person doing all the work and therefore feeling exhausted and resentful? Are boundaries being respected in the family such as privacy, respect for personal belongings, and friend time versus family time? Maybe these meetings could also be a time to praise someone’s behavior and thank each other for being considerate and helpful.
If you want to have more time for family connection, it is never too late. It is up to you as an adult to set limits on the way you are spending your time, individually and as a family. Remember, there might be push back from other family members as you try and change what they have become comfortable with, but if you have patience and stay consistent, you too can feel more connected with the ones you love.
Shannon Todd is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Asheville serving couples, adults, families, and teens. You can visit her website at www.deeprootsmft.com for more information.