Families - who'd have them, eh?
We all know that family relationships are different from one family to another. I mean, families come in all shapes and sizes, right? Gone are the days when we all strived for a 2.4 children kind of scenario and I personally think that's exciting because boxes like that to conform to, are no good for anyone.
But just knowing that families are different, doesn't stop us from feeling ALL of the emotions relationships might throw up. Sometimes relationships can be strained or even dysfunctional and we might have to work hard to improve them - with no particular guidance on how to do it.
No family is perfect. And it can be hard to accept the rough along with the smooth. Inspecting the dynamics is no easy task, but if we want an easier life with more fulfilling connections then we have to be brave and at least give it a try.
I'm no expert on family dynamics, that's for sure - but I do have a multicultural mix under my roof and with that brings some extremely clashing opinions and philosophies. Not to mention if you go further afield from our roof (i.e. South Eastern Turkey where the hubby's family hails) where we have had to find all manner of soul-tearing compromises. So if I really think about how we kinda make things work, how we do our best to improve family relationships and create a stronger network between us all, then I guess I'd say these little tips might be useful . . .
The Magic of Mealtimes
It's an oldie but a goodie: Try to spend more time around the dinner table. For you, it might not be a dinner table: It might be a kitchen breakfast bar, trays on laps on the sofa, crouching round a coffee table or - as it was for us for a while - a rug on the living room floor. It doesn't really matter, as long as you recognise that sitting down with the famalam and catching up on the day’s events is so blinking important. You can talk about work, school events, social life or even just what's coming out on Netflix soon - it doesn't really matter. It's hard to stress how important this time is and the gradual magic it weaves for you as a family.
My hubby used to work extremely long hours and was never home at dinner times and something like this may be the case for you. But I guess it's about recognising the importance of mealtimes and working with what you've got. Even if that's a screaming toddler, four packets of super noodles and a slowly dwindling will to live. Even when I feel like that, and my appetite alludes me, I still sit down next to my boys and give them my presence and my interest. Sometimes, I even get it back.
You might be lucky enough to have a dining table (we got one on Facebook Marketplace for forty quid - win!) and that does often make all the difference. There's obviously a whole host of options out there but if you want to bring a bit of glam to your home, then nothing says luxury like glass dining sets. I'll be well jel if you bag one of those.
Communication is Key
In this day and age of crazy-level digital socials, communication with your loved ones is a challenge. The mealtime stuff described above goes a long way to setting the foundations for this, but we've got to take it even further if we don't want our relationships to suffer.
As a parent, I personally feel that as my kids get older, any communication I get with them is a bit of a gift. And that's not just to do with their teenaged grunts being the usual maximum offer - it's because I spent the foundation years working like mad to coach them (and myself) through god-almighty tantrums. Whereas now I get to actually hold interesting convos and find out about their views on the world. It feels like payback for all the times I had to calm tempers and slow flying fists. It's all coming good now.
Sound communication can help you build that trust and feel more connected to others. And although planning out some time where you can have a good old catch-up is important, you can also relax a bit because a lot of these conversations happen when you least expect them. Maybe while you're peeling the carrots, scrubbing the toilet or - and this is my personal favourite - making your first, bleary-eyed coffee that morning. Whenever it comes, I'd say grab the opportunity and go with it.
Having said that, it's also important to communicate to your family when you're not up for such things. telling them you're tired, teetering on the edges of overwhelm or just needing some time out is so important. It helps reassure them it's nothing personal and you get what you need too. Communication isn't all about cosy catch-ups. Sometimes it's about unflinching honesty. When you figure out how to always do it without anybody getting upset, you must let me know.
Getting 1:1 Time
One of the things I've noticed in the wild years of family-building, is that spending time with each person individually can nurture those connections even further. If you’ve got a household full of kids, then spending time individually with them is going to be a challenge, but be creative and find ways - even if it's just moments - to get some 1:1 time. Having a bit of a co-ordinator role can help too - ensuring that you step outside of the normal routine sometimes, just to give different members of the family the opportunity to connect with their parents or siblings in a way that feels meaningful.
Find activities that are realistic for you and that pick up on family members' hobbies and interests. It can be as simple as time on the sofa chatting about the day, or you can be creative and figure out some stuff that might be fun. Here are some things that work for us sometimes:
Midnight walks along the harbour (we're lucky enough to live next to the sea so this is fun)
Sharing our favourite music videos on You Tube (you can find out ALL SORTS about a person)
Baking or cooking new things (yes, this often involves following questionable TikTok videos)
Cleaning a room together (sounds like a chore but SO much comes up)
Stargazing at night (there's a bench at the end of our street we like to visit)
Helping with homework (I started a two-person book club with my oldest son to help him with his GCSE English)
Date night (an oldie but a goodie to keep the spark alive - and if there's no partner then definite date nights with yourself!)
Days off school (controversial, I know. But what's one day if it means you get 1:1 time with your child?)
Respect works both ways and regardless of age, being respectful of each other is important. Taking low blows or digs at one another when you’re annoyed is oh so tempting but modelling respect is far better in the long run.
I love Brené Brown's idea to say to your loved one: 'The story I'm telling myself is . . .'
So rather than accusing somebody of making you feel a certain way, or loading all the blame onto them (which isn't respectful or conducive to finding a resolution), you are owning your feelings and giving them insight into your inner world. I've tried this a few times with my lot and it has really helped to keep things from getting fiery as well as help me feel better understood.
I guess it's about being considerate in how you talk to your family members and how you treat them in all scenarios. Children, in particular, look to us for how to treat other human beings. I'm not saying you'll get the respect back instantly as it's a long goal, but I have to say that as my kids get older, I'm finally seeing them behave more respectfully. It's a beautiful thing.
Life is no smooth ride and support is always going to be needed, no matter what position you have in the family. Even if you're knackered, overwhelmed, ready to stick your fingers up at life, it's still important to be there to give your loved ones the support they need. It goes back to that idea of modelling. If we can show our loved ones how ready we are to support them, then you can bet they'll have our backs too.
Let's face it, we all need a cheerleader from time to time and if you can be theirs, it will help boost those family relationships further. I know that sometimes my kids need support at exactly the times I already think my energy reserves are drained, but if I just take a deep breath, acknowledge that I need to put everything else to one side to be there for them, then lo and behold the energy springs from somewhere. It's a bit like magic.
I could go on and on about family relationships but I hope this post gives you at least a couple of ideas to take away and either put into practice for the first time, or to nurture and develop further. You've totally got this!
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