Podcast 004 - Relationships
Today we are going to talk about building strong relationships with your loved ones.
This is a huge topic area – one that we will return to many times, so for today we're just going to zero in on one fun way to get a measure on how much you're putting into a relationship and how much you might be accidentally taking away.
This is an important topic for you to be aware of because the absolute best time to build a really strong relationship with your child is when they are young and adore you. Unfortunately, many people get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life, they go on autopilot and often spend more time and energy on being polite to total strangers (i.e. waitresses, gas attendants or grocery clerks) than they do with the people they love more than anyone else in the world.
We also live at a time when there are so many opportunities for our kids and a strong desire to give them ever possibility in life. So you sign them up for programs and then rush around trying to get them fed and off to dance, hockey, music, Beavers – or whatever they've signed up for – and in the process start chipping away at the relationship that is the most important part of the whole experience.
Let me say that again ...
Nothing will be as important 20 years from now than the relationship you have built with your child. Even if you have gotten up at 5 every morning to get them to the rink or dance studio, taken a second mortgage on the house to pay for equipment or sacrificed your plan to go back to University in order to be with them more… if you haven't put the work into building your relationship with them in those younger years, when they become teenagers, then adults, then parents themselves, they will not want to spend time with you… or even to call you unless they need something.
I'm not saying avoid extracurricular activities – not at all – I'm just saying, put your energy first into the relationship, because everything else will pale by comparison when your child is no longer in your charge.
That's exactly what I'm going to talk about today – how you can become aware of what you're doing that is building relationship and what you might be doing that is taking away from it. This knowledge alone can make a huge difference in your life and as you'll see it's not as hard as you might think. Even better... this information doesn't only apply to relationships with kids. It comes into play in any significant relationship – the one you have with your spouse, lover, mother, siblings, friends and close colleagues - so you can re-purpose it everywhere.
Everything we do in a relationship is either giving to it or taking away. Those things that show and build trust give; while those things that break or weaken trust take away. As you take away from a relationship, over time you'll notice things start to feel strained, unless you're putting back a good deal of what you are taking. This can sound really obvious, but the truth is people overlook it all the time.
Let me give you an example ...
Sally is the mom of a seven year old boy, Nolan. When Nolan was a baby Sally stayed home with him for the full year maternity leave, spending lots of time and creating a strong bond between them. She returned to work for a year and then left for a second maternity leave and his little brother Ty came into the picture. Sally was home for another year and even though Nolan now had to share her with his brother, he loved being home with his mom.
Then mom went back to work and everything changed. Nolan had to get up at 6 a.m. and mom was running around trying to get everyone ready to go. When mom got home from work at the end of the day she was tired and busy trying to get supper and her many other chores done…so she didn't have time to play. She still read Nolan a story every night before bed, and found little moments to cuddle, but otherwise Ty took up most of her attention and Nolan spent most of his time with dad.
Fast forward a few years, Nolan and Ty are both in school and Sally has put the boys in Canskate, Beavers and soccer. Thankfully the skating and soccer are at different times of the year so they don't overlap and double up the time commitment, but they do create a hectic schedule with at least 3 days of extra curricular a week.
In a typical day Nolan sees his mom when she wakes him up – Nolan does not wake up easily and his mom often becomes frustrated with him. She starts out cheery and loving, "Come on sleepy head...time to get up." And ends up snapping at him to get dressed and eat or he'll miss the bus. Some days she reminds him if he'd just go to bed when he's told to he wouldn't be so tired and she even threatens to take away his computer game (since that's what is keeping him up at bedtime).
The fact that Sally gets to be there to put her kids on the bus is wonderful, but also means they have to go to an after school program most days so she can work later. By the time she picks them up and gets home, it's after 6 and everyone is hungry and tired. Sally insists Nolan do his homework while she makes supper, which causes a lot of arguments and although she tries to help him she's distracted by Ty and the food she is trying to prepare. By the time supper is finished it's after 7 and it's time for baths, a ½ hour of computer games (which Nolan insists on), and bed.
Sally used to use story time as a way to get Nolan off the computer, "If you want a story you need to come now!" But then he started choosing computer over story which kind of hurt her feelings, so she quite doing that.
What I hope you can see from this story is that Sally's situation isn't very different from many mothers. In this case I hardly brought dad into the picture – and the reason is because he's really not relevant to the story. Even though in reality he is an involved and helpful dad, when you're looking at relationship building it can only occur when you are interacting with that person. So when dad helps with homework or watches Nolan in the bath, Nolan is building relationship with his dad, not Sally.
Let's apply the game of give and take to this scenario...
For the first few years of Nolan's life, Sally gave a lot to the relationship. She played, laughed, cuddled, read stories, regularly expressed how much she loved him, gave him compliments and looked after him. As Sally's life got busier with Ty then work and pressing timelines, Nolan got corrected more, was ordered around and needed a lot more discipline.
These things all take from a relationship. That doesn't mean we don't ever do them - in fact, it's critical that we do some – it just means we need to be conscious of how we are doing them, and how much we are doing them so we can insure we are putting more into the relationship than we are taking out. A suggested (and tested) ratio is 4 gives to 1 take, but I don't want you to get hung up on numbers, as much as to recognize that you need to give a lot more than you take.
For many parents they give, give, give for the first few years, but then as time wears on start taking more and more on a regular basis. This creates a strain on the relationship…their child acts out and the need to take only increases. By the time their kids are teens, they're hardly talking to each other…right at a time when you need communication to be openly flowing.
Things you can do that give and those that take...
I've created a PDF you can have that outlines the Game of Give & Take and put it on my website, so please get your copy (or just open it on your computer) and follow along as I share them with you in the podcast - or read through them yourself.
Once you are aware of these things and notice how often you are doing them, you can get a pretty good handle on what kind of relationship you are building. Reflection at the end of the week will give you a pretty good picture of your habits, which might result in you giving yourself a pat on the back and continuing on as is…or might result in you feeling a bit dismayed at how often you are taking away from the most precious thing in your life.
A couple notes of caution, first...even if you are giving more than taking from the relationship, your child can still make decisions that seem totally ridiculous and even contrary to your plans for them.
Remember, my oldest was suspended from school twice in the same semester. This was not how I had pictured his high school years going and I was not impressed, but I recognized that this was part of the growing process, for him and for me. I didn't use this situation to attack him or even ream him out. I told him how I felt...why I thought his behaviour did not measure up...put consequences in place (i.e. he didn't get to sleep him and play video games just because he was suspended) and then enjoyed his company.
During the days he was home we had some very deep and profound conversations. He knew that while I didn't approve of his actions, I still believed in him and our relationship wasn't strained as a result.
The second note – as your child grows and moves through different stages, you'll need to re-evaluate how your building is going. For example, even though you might be doing great right now while your daughter is in grade 3… as she moves into the tenacious tween stage, you might shift to taking more on a daily basis without really recognizing the shift.
For adult couple relationships the most common challenge I find (especially for those with young kids) is they become too tired to give. Compliments become few and far between; verbal appreciation stops as silent expectations move in; alone time disappears – which means no real sharing or listening; laughter together starts to fade; loving gestures or acts of kindness stop...
These things (or at least most of them) happened easily in the beginning when they were enamored with each other, so they have a bit extra in the give department. As time wears on, however, if they become critical, demanding or condescending, the relationship can't handle it.
Making this real…
Sally and her husband Todd were together 8 years before they had kids. They had done a lot of growing together and built a really strong, positive relationship. They often teased each other especially when they were out with others, but it was all in good fun and they loved it.
When the kids were born things changed (especially once Sally went back to work), but they still had each other's back and made a point of taking time every second weekend for a date night. As their schedule got busier it was harder to find the time or energy for each other. Todd got a promotion at work which decreased financial stress, but also meant he was working long hours.
Sally was getting frustrated at Todd for coming home, doing all the fun stuff with the kids (playing, bath-time, etc) and then crashing on the couch for a bit of T.V. time after the kids were in bed. Meanwhile, she was left doing dishes, making lunches, keeping the laundry going and so on.
Feeling how stressed things were becoming between them, Sally set up a date night and they went out to dinner with some of their friends. During supper Todd made a joke about the kids interfering with his sex life.
If looks could kill – Sally struck him dead!
Todd thought he was just teasing… and in the past when their relationship was strong, this would have been fine. Given the amount of taking they'd been doing lately though, the joke was just one more significant withdrawal on an already strained situation.
This kind of thing happens all the time especially in love relationships, however it can also happen in relationships with colleagues, friends and family (mother, father, siblings)!
So by becoming aware of when and how you are taking and making sure you are putting more than enough back in, you can be building a relationship that is strong no matter how much stress is in your life. It doesn't take a lot of time or energy to give a compliment, say how much you appreciate something someone else did or at least be clear about your expectations.
This game provides a fun visual for kids and a great reminder for adults. It can be used in a classroom setting, although you'll have to get creative about how to keep track.
You'll need something clear to create a picture of your relationship - you might have a jar, fish bowl, picnic glasses… then pick up a bunch of marbles, little stones, candies, beans, bingo chips or something you can use to put in the jar and easily see how it's growing.
Assuming you currently have a good relationship – half fill the cup with your counters – this represents your current relationship. Put a mark on the container at this level so you can clearly see your starting point. For the next week – every time you do something from the take list, remove 4 counters…every time you give to the relationship put in 1. At the end of the week see if your relationship has grown, depleted or stayed the same.
Just by doing this, you will automatically start to give more and take less often – so if you really want to test yourself go for a month.
So there you have it… one simple way to become conscious of what you are doing that is actually building your relationship and what you might be doing that is stealing from it. Life is a game of give and take…so you will continue to do both. The difference is when you do it consciously (or at least with more awareness) you'll know what you need to do when thing are starting to feel strained.
One final note of caution...
This is not about keeping score in a relationship. This is a way for you to become aware of how much you are putting in and how much you are taking away from the significant relationships in your life. A big problem in adult relationships is when couples start keeping score (i.e. look how much I'm giving compared to you!; or I gave twice so now it's your turn to give back; or my gives were worth more than yours) . You could use this game to open the door to a healthy conversation if you notice a definite problem, but using it to score-keep will actually undermine what you are trying to do.
With much respect for you and the journey you are on, I wish you a vibrant and powerful day!
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