Ah, those dear young people living in our homes! There’s nothing like the love we feel for our kids. And there’s also nothing like parenting to stress a relationship. Therefore, we are searching the secrets of a connected family.
When babies arrive, parents simultaneously experience more love (yay!) and more stress (boo!). They also have less time for themselves and less time for their relationship.
Bringing a child home can be bonding. Raising that child, however, can disconnect, especially if parents are at odds with parenting styles. If we are annoyed with how our partner parents, we can end up being annoyed dozens of times a day. That is hard on connection.
You Are Not Alone
Many couples have a default of avoiding conflict-ridden topics to keep the peace (I don’t recommend this). Or they fight (no fun). Parenting is impossible to avoid because our kids do challenging stuff whether it’s a good time for us.
If you get what I’m talking about, you are soooooo not alone. I see it all the time in my practice. I, too, know the ache of having a dream for my kids to have a really fabulous, solid childhood with skilled, loving parents who are best friends. Let’s just say that not all my dreams came true, but my boys ended up turning out to be good enough humans that I’m keeping them. 😉
Here is something I have learned along the way about marriage and families: creating a close, connected family is a 3-legged stool and if any of the legs are out of balance, the whole stool wobbles.
Secrets of a Connected Family
1. Parenting skills
It takes a lot of skill to support children in all the ways they need parenting during their lifetime. I think the healthiest kids have parents who are thinking about how they nurture and raise their children.
2. Self-awareness of the parent
A parent can have all the skills in the world, but if they get triggered by their kids’ behaviors and can’t manage their responses or are under too much stress, those skills can fly out the window. Trust me; I’ve been there and I’m not proud of it.
I remember yelling at my kids as I watched (in my mind’s eye) all the great parenting books and articles I had ever read floating out the kitchen window, inaccessible to me at that moment. I was too stressed to manage a skillful response. An essential skill for a close, connected parent is that we can recognize our emotions, know when we’re triggered, and have the skills to do our emotional work.
3. Healthy partnership
The entire family system works best when the adults are in a healthy, loving state. Everyone’s nervous systems are calmer when adults are close and connected. This applies to marriage, partnership, co-parenting, and single parenting. Adult relationships in a family are contagious, so stress begets stress, warmth begets warmth, and playfulness begets playfulness.
This is not an exhaustive list, but I am pretty certain that the happiest families have some degree of all three elements.
Food for thought:
Which of these three domains is strongest in your family? Which could use bolstering? Have you been putting off the obvious? What are the secrets of a connected family?
Research shows that most couples wait four years after the trouble starts before they begin couples therapy. That would be like noticing a lump and not talking to your doctor about it for four years. At that point, the “fix” is much bigger than going in while the lump is small. If a relationship is strained, getting into good-quality therapy is a gift to everyone in the family.
For parenting skills, I see parents who don’t come in for parent coaching until their kids’ behaviors are scaring them and their kids feel unmanageable. It’s never too late to start, but earlier is better. Parent coaching is about changing patterns that stress the family system. Family therapy can also be amazing at creating a safe place for family members to work through struggles and get to a more peaceful state.
Last but not least, there’s nothing like parenting to make us aware of the wounds of our earlier years. It can simultaneously be true that our parents did their best, and that we didn’t get some of our needs met. It can also be true that we repeat patterns we grew up with. For example, I used to get really annoyed when my boys were angry. When they got mad, I got mad. Guess who was raised in a household that didn’t “do” anger? Yep… yours truly.
So if I wanted to raise emotionally intelligent sons, I had to learn to embrace all of my own emotions. This meant an encounter with my past and a bunch of healing. Doing this work taught me to stay more present during my kids’ challenging emotions and behaviors.
The good news?
There is so much good news! So many smart people have done the research, studied the brain, learned therapy models, and offer services to support parents. They are researching to know the secrets of a connected family and so do we. You can find them online, through friends, on Psychology Today, and from your doctor. At Kerry Stutzman & Associates, there are four (soon to be five) Marriage & Family Therapists who are parents specializing in working with parents.
Married, divorced, little kids, big kids…. we cover it all and are here to help (Colorado residents). Debbie is a school psychologist who really understands executive functioning and the gifted population. Brett is a master with couples. Athena is trained in Parent-Child Interaction Therapy. We all love to provide family therapy to solve troubling dynamics. Denver Family Institute, in Denver, Colorado, offers mental health services on a sliding scale. TheMoms.Group is just about to open its (virtual) doors to the first cohort where moms can feel supported and do some of their inner work in a community with other moms.
Don’t Miss Your Chance to connect with your family
If your family is not on the track you were hoping for, I invite you to take a courageous step to correct the course. You know what needs to change. I’m not saying it’s easy, but I am saying it’s important.
A server at a restaurant chatted with me on Friday. She has two kids and thought she had “so much time” to do all the things she had intended to do during their childhoods. But it “went by so much faster” than she expected, and now one is already off to college. “I missed my chance,” she said. I hope you don’t miss your chance.
My wish for you is the courage to do what it takes to create a close, connected family.