If you want something to happen, begin to track and measure it. The awareness that comes from tracking and measuring is part of being both mindful and intentional. This applies to counting the number of steps we take each day, or the number of fairways hit when we golf, or the number of times we get a family member to talk about something that matters to them.
There are a few basic threads to enhancing relationships—being in the same physical space, doing things together, and talking about things that matter. Each of these can be tracked and measured. I realize it might seem a bit odd to apply an idea from project management to relationships, but the bottom line is that it will work.
Be in the same physical space—We don’t always need to be doing something with our kids to enjoy them and build relationship with them. Watching them at gymnastics or dance or soccer creates connection. Sitting at the same table reading while they do their homework creates connection. Children are always checking to see if we are watching. It matters.
Do things together—Make it a practice each week to ask your kids when they want to have some time with you. Ask them when it would work best for them and what they would like to do with your time together. Be willing to do what they want to do. This is not about finding something you both want to do. If it’s video games they want to do with you, then let them teach you how to play. If it’s reading, then read that book for the fortieth time. If they ask to play a board game, say yes.
Talk about things that matter—Ask each family member to talk with you about something that matters to them. Set aside whether or not you are interested in the same thing. You are interested in them—you don’t need to look for something you both love to talk about. When they do talk with you, listen and say just enough to keep them going; don’t take over the conversation with your own thoughts. This conversation is not about you. Listen intently and let them finish. Then—here’s the tough part—wait until they restart. Learn to think of a pause in their speaking as not an end or finishing point. It’s just a pause.
In addition to making time for conversation with each individual in the family, look for opportunities to talk as a family. My grandmother, Esther, had one request each Christmas—that for two hours at some time during the holidays, everyone would be in the same room talking. No games, television or distractions were allowed. Only one person could speak at a time, and the youngest person got to start. And then after that person finished, he or she would pick the next person to speak. Sure, people got excited and jumped in from time to time, but for the most part the conversation flowed as intended. Those were conversations that everyone in the family remembers fondly, even though it took the iron will of my grandmother to make them happen.
Family conversations are a huge part of creating relationships that are vibrant, supportive, and resilient. If family members are able to talk openly, the family unit is strengthened and becomes resilient to the upsets that are going to happen. The place to start is establishing a practice of allowing people to talk and have other members of the family listen intently. While you would like everyone to talk each time, people occasionally need permission to contribute just by listening.
Many families start when their kids are small, but it’s never too late to begin the practice of family conversations. One of my favorite opportunities is around the dinner table, where everyone gets to share by doing a debrief of the day.
• What was the best part of your day?
• What did you learn today?
• What was the hardest part of your day?
• What did you do for someone else today?
• Tell me what you like and appreciate about one of your friends?
There are lots of times when you might start a family conversation. After watching a movie, discuss the movie. After a walk through a park, talk about what you saw.
Set targets and then track and measure
Be intentional about the time and attention you give to each person in your family. Plan for this when you are setting up your schedule for the week.
Set a target for being in the same space with a family member each day.
Set a target for doing something together with some member of the family every other day.
Set a target for listening to each child—fifteen minutes each night for small children and at least three times a week for older children. If they want to talk more often, then set the bar higher.
Set a target for having at least three family conversations during the week. You’ll have more if you set a target.
Then set up your score card and keep track!
Thanks to Brian Andreas at StoryPeople.com for this wonderful drawing and story!