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Embracing the We in Family

Connecting as a family should be simpler than ever, yet somehow our hectic lives and work schedules trip us up. Some of us even go days without a hug. Days! We must make time for more nurturance.

Why We Need a ‘We’

Clinician Michael Ungar discusses the need for our children to feel noticed and loved in order to embrace “we” instead of simply “me” in The We Generation: Raising Socially Responsible Kids (2009).

Ungar explains that parents often attempt to connect through expensive material things, by becoming too permissive, or even by overprotecting. But the key to connection is to offer opportunities for compassion because “Give a child a chance to connect, and she will.” To connect, we need to nurture.

Compassion, Happiness, and Connection

Psychologist Richard Weissbourd, author of The Parents We Mean to Be (2010) warns we frequently miss opportunities to connect and teach valuable moral lessons to our kids.

“Too many of us are raising children first and foremost to be happy and we are failing at that project—rather than instilling in them what the novelist William Faulkner thought we as a species needed to prevail: ‘a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.’”

Happiness is great, but what we think will bring more happiness turns out NOT to. We MEAN to nurture compassionate, morally responsible kids, but our culture points us to make more money, be more educated, and even live in a sunnier climate. In fact, as positive psychology researcher, Martin Seligman reveals in Authentic Happiness (2004), those things don’t matter much at all when it comes to happiness.

Weissbourd believes we are capable of raising “…children who grow to be alert to signs of distress in other people, who feel responsibility for those from other classes or races or backgrounds, who feel propelled to give to the world in some way.”

Ideas for Nuturance

1. Laugh ‘til your cheeks ache.
The latest research supports that laughter can decrease stress hormones and boost the immune system! As Daniel Pink points out in A Whole New Mind (2005) “laughter is a social activity – and the evidence shows people who have regular, satisfying connections to other people are healthier and happier.”

Tell jokes, watch comedy, and most importantly, model a good sense of humor yourself.

2. Play for your health.
Backyard football or Monopoly at the dining room table may register as old fashioned “just in the movies” scenarios reserved for other families. They aren’t. Get outside. Touch each other. Fall in the mud. Laugh out loud.

3. Bring the spiritual home.
Whether you attend religious services or not, be intentional about discussing and modeling the values of your faith. It is too easy to get caught up in the realm of the physical world. It takes conscious effort on your part to provide balance.

4. Provide a stage.
Regularly ask your child what they think they do well and then have them demonstrate. For my son, it has always thrilled him to show off his ability to effortlessly walk on his hands. What is it for your child? Writing cursive? They love showing you new skills and strengths.

5. Leave work behind.
No one at the end of their life wishes they had just taken less vacation with their family.

6. Listen to highs and lows.
Implement this easy best/worst exercise into every meal-time conversation. Ask your child to identify their best and worst daily moments. (Don’t use this time to lecture if their ‘worst’ happens to be failing an exam.) Open your heart and connect with the feelings they express. Share their joy! Cry with them over defeat. If you haven’t tried this, you may be surprised at how much you’ll learn about your kids’ inner lives.

7. Create a “We.”
Rally your children to help with a project. Help an elderly neighbor with gardening, paint the family room, volunteer at church, or organize the garage. Join forces and see the fruits of your labor extend way beyond an afternoon of hard work.

8. Write great love notes.
Words are powerful and sometimes easier expressed on paper. Fill the page with dreamy thoughts, your wishes and hopes, and what makes them awesome. Leave the note on their pillow, and know it will touch them deeply whether they mention it or not.

Michele Ranard has a husband, two children, and a master’s in counseling.

Resources:
Pink, Daniel H. A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. Riverhead, 2005.
Seligman, Martin. Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. Free Press, 2004.
Ungar, Michael. The We Generation: Raising Socially Responsible Kids. De Capo, 2009.
Weissbourd, Richard. The Parents We Mean to Be: How Well Intentioned Adults Undermine Children’s Moral and Emotional Development. Mariner, 2010.