I love my sister Amy. In our family, she is number 7 of 10 children, while I am the caboose. Since
|Here are our kids with cousins Rachel and Dara,|
during one of Amy's family's recent visits.
For many years, due to distance and our involvement in separate pursuits, our relationship never really got any stronger. I still loved her; I just didn’t really know her that well.
Over the last four years, I feel like we have grown closer and developed a better relationship. We still live more than 200 miles apart and see each other only half a dozen times a year, but I know her better than I ever did before. I’ve learned a few things in the process that I think can be applied to all relationships to make them stronger.
Make an effort
One of the funny things about family relationships is that we spend so much time around each other that we can get on each other’s nerves and see the worst side of each other. We’re on our best behavior in front of friends and coworkers, but don’t hold back around our family. I think we need a place to go and not worry about status or social pretenses, but I also don’t think we need to lash out at our family. We can be good to our family and this may take effort … a herculean effort for some. It’s worth it though.
Think about it this way, sometimes we treat our family badly because we feel they are stuck with us. We feel like we can say anything because they can’t leave us. Our family can leave us, but usually it’s a little bit at a time. If we make an effort to build a relationship of love and respect, we will receive dividends from that relationship for a long time to come. It all starts with commitment. Are you committed to a strong family unit? If so be ready to put in the effort.
Give them time
I don’t know of any lasting relationships that don’t take time. There may be love at first site, but lasting love takes time. I was immediately enamored the first time I saw my wife, but my love grew with each date, conversation and decision that we made together. Now that we have kids and lots of responsibilities, we have to make time for us. When we don’t our relationship gets strained.
When we moved to Kansas City, the three-hour drive to see Amy was long and it didn’t happen very often. But we made good use of opportunities to see her when we could and each visit showed a commitment of time in the relationship, which she has returned by visiting us. It’s hard to know someone you don’t visit or talk to.
A song I like by Josh Groban says, “Time is love. Gotta Run. Love to hang out longer, but I got someone who waits for me, and right now she’s where I need to be. Time is love. Gotta run. Gotta fly, before one more moment gets by.” How we spend our time, is an expression of what’s important to us. Are you giving your family some of your time?
Be interested in what they do
I ran my first half marathon because of my sister Barbara. I ran my first marathon because of my sister Amy. She was training for a marathon and asked if I wanted to run with her. I wasn’t willing to spend $80 on registration and then invest more in shoes and running gear on my own. But when she wanted me to run with her, I thought it would be fun and worthwhile to do something with my sister.
When I try to get the kids to play what I want to play, it’s not as fun as when I follow their lead and play what they want to play. Conversely, it meant a lot to me to have my dad become my basketball coach in second grade, especially because I knew he didn’t have a lot of time. Basketball was my idea (as far as I can recall) and he wanted to support me in it. Do you know what your kids/parents are excited about?
Listen with love
A family therapist I just heard speak at a convention said, “Have a meal with your family at least once a week, and don’t try to lecture or preach to them. Just talk to them about your day, and let them feel safe and comfortable to share about their day. Tell them about the things that you’re excited about and listen to them when they talk.”
Dinner can include meaningful conversations, but don’t stress if your kids don’t want to have deep conversations or have a therapy session at the dinner table. We are trying to teach our kids to take turns and not interrupt. Each gets a turn to share their “guess what’s” and other silly stories … as long as there is some eating going on. I think eating together once a week is not good enough to establish good strong lines of communication and love, but it’s a start. Daily conversation about simple things will make difficult conversations easier. They know you will listen and you will understand them better because you have been listening. Can you listen to a full story without butting in or multitasking?
Next week: What makes a healthy home?