Sharing your life with a happy family is for many of us, one of our important goals. But when you listen to people talk about their childhood or present family life, this often sounds elusive. Why is that? Most of us went to school for many years to study math, science, reading and so on.
But when it came to making our life and relationships work the way we wanted, we were left to work it out for ourselves, as if no one had ever done this before. But just like math, science and reading people have done this before. There’s always something more we can pick up, something effective we can do. In addition to online counselling for family issues, I’d like to suggest five things that you can do, which will make a real difference in nurturing a happy family.
- Actively do something to make family members feel loved and special, often enough to make a difference. Relationships are a bit like gardening. When you’re not actively doing something about them, the weeds are taking over. Most of us do things, which we believe express our caring, but ask yourself what gesture would mean love and caring to them. Do you devote more attention to what you appreciate or to what you want from your family? One of the simplest and most important ways to show someone they matter to you is by the way you listen to them. Are you creating an open, interested, accepting space for them to share themselves, or is your agenda getting in the way?
- Let loved ones have their own feelings without taking it personally. It’s only natural to want to help when a loved one is sad, angry, distant and so on. The most helpful thing we can do is to show them that we love and accept them, as they are, which includes accepting their feelings, some of which are going to be painful and difficult. Trying to “fix” their feelings doesn’t feel like acceptance. It can sound like, to be acceptable, you have to feel something that you don’t feel. Sure, they may want you to cheer them up, but don’t assume that. Start by listening to how they feel now. It’s not possible to really accept someone without accepting that sometimes, they’re not going to be happy, reasonable or appreciate.
- Take care of yourself like you would any member of the family. When we take care of others but not ourselves, then we are likely to see it as their role to care for us, and to become resentful when that caring doesn’t show up in the form we expect. Caring is something we do out of love. Things get muddled when we unconsciously fall into treating it like an exchange or barter. Trust that you’re deserving, and trust loved ones to care about your needs, enough for you to ask for help openly. At the same time, see that your needs are met without holding someone else responsibile for this.
- Often when conflict comes up, we attribute this to some character trait of the other person. Try instead to see their actions as an attempt to reach some goal, to solve a legitimate problem. Respond to their real need or concern, rather than to this symptom. What goal or concern would make this behavior understandable? Explore together what useful purpose is being served by doing things this way. Grant them that what they are doing makes sense to them.
- Take the initiative (power) in making your relationships the way you want them to be, rather than leaving this up to the other person. We’re all good at seeing what someone else could do differently, but that leaves all the power someplace else. We often feel that since we are in the right (which means they are wrong), it’s only fair for them to make the first move, and we decide what that move must be. Would you rather be right than happy? If so, then just wait for someone else to take the initiative. If not, the secret door out of this maze is to give up being right, even when you are right. Think of it as up to you.
Having a happy family is always a creative experiment. Even so, the scoreboard is always up there on the wall to see. Either you are making your time together satisfying and nurturing or you’re not. When it’s “not” the first question to ask is, “What am I doing when I get this result?” Then stop doing it. Trying anything else is better than continuing what you’ve already seen isn’t working. Also notice carefully what’s different on those occasions when things are working as you’d like. Try more of that. Many times it’s more useful, just to expand on what’s already working than to “solve problems”.