When you think about it families are a pretty tough gig – a group of people all at different stages in life, with different personalities all trying make their way and find a place in the world whilst trying to live in harmony under one roof! Add to that today’s instant, selfie filtered, glossy magazine, social media filled world, it’s no wonder us mums feel pressure to have this ‘cardboard cutout perfect’ family life (Spoiler alert: perfect does not exist and if it did it would make things pretty boring!) In trying to keep up with this idea of perfect we often get lost and wrapped up in so many things, it can turn family life into one big colour coded schedule! We spend so much time moving from one thing to the next that taking time out to just chat as a family can get pushed to the back of the queue.
I understand time is precious, especially when it comes to our families, yet we waste so much of it, I know I have spent countless hours scrolling through social media without even noticing! With so much entertainment and technology available at our fingertips, talking has become a lost art form, with many of us choosing to text rather than call. How many times have your children tried to tell you something, whilst you have been busy cooking dinner or looking at your phone and you have only listened with half an ear. I am not saying that to make you feel guilty, we have all been there, I know I have numerous times, again that pressure to do it all fills our head and steals away our time, stopping us from focusing on what matters, each other.
Talking is something we all take for granted after all it is something we all do everyday, a few minutes with my chatterbox daughter is proof of that!! However I think conversation deserves to be more than an afterthought, it plays such a key role in all of our lives, our relationships, friendships, mood, decision making and thought process can all be changed by having a conversation. Yet we still, or at least I know I did, prefer the go it alone approach, with conversations in our heads. To be clear, I am not talking about smalltalk here, I think most of us have that down to a fine art, ask me about the weather and I am well away! I am thinking of conversations where we talk and listen to each other about how we feel, our problems, worries, likes, dislikes and offer advice and support to one another. As different parts of a family we all have something to offer, share and teach each other, let’s start tapping into that resource and learn together.
Talking is pretty amazing and by taking some time out and making the conversations we have as a family more open and focused where no subject is off limits, we can not only bring families closer together but improve mental health, confidence, future relationships and create a sense of self belief in not only each other but ourselves as individuals. The world can be pretty brutal, but it can also be fabulous, let’s give our families the tools to filter out the fake and find their own version of perfect. Families are our own ready made fan clubs where we are already enrolled as lifetime members free of charge, lets start up some regular meetings!!
I realise all of the above sounds ridiculously simple and like I am stating the obvious, so I want to give you a picture of my family life before I had a bit of a lightbulb moment and realised we needed to start communicating in a better way.
My not so cardboard cut out family, is made up of me my husband and two children, Dominic and Erin aged 12 and 9. Like most families our lives are pretty hectic, not just the obligatory work and school but our free time had become filled by distractions too. Kids clubs, homework, scrolling through social media, the latest must see TV Box set or computer game craze were all chipping away at the time we spent actually talking to each other as a family.
Picture the scene, normally my son is upstairs playing online with his friends, my daughter has her headphones on watching her tablet, hubby is scrolling through his phone, whilst I have the TV on!!! My life had become one long shout up the stairs to tell the kids to get off their computers, followed by a response of ‘’I just need to finish this game!!’’ Please don’t judge me, I am not sure how it came to this, when the kids were little we spent lots of time together going out and about but it felt like as the kids were getting older, the less and less we were together and the more time we were spending in the virtual world.
Before you get a picture of me and my family glued to screens and grunting at each other, our lives were not short of conversations, however the conversations we had were pretty superficial, I don’t think I am alone in getting the response of ‘not much’ or ‘I can’t remember’ when you ask your near teenage son how their day was! Sitting down to eat as family was a once or twice a week occurrence, work and after school activities all getting in the way and when we did the kids would gobble down dinner to get back to their game. We really were just existing together, growing further and further apart, which seems ridiculous when you all live in the same house!!
Another thing you should know about me, that will perhaps help you to see where I am coming from with the whole getting your family to talk mission, is that I am a person who has suffered confidence issues all my life, blushing, worrying, overthinking, bottling things up people pleasing, a total lack of faith and belief in myself were all things I had learnt to live with but never thought to do anything about. My son has also always been shy and quiet, something I always felt guilty about as I saw it as something I had passed on. It was a school report from Dom’s last year at primary which basically made me wake up to myself and realise I needed to do something to help Dom from becoming as introverted as I was. Combine that with all the hours we were spending on tv, tablets and mobiles, it was time to do something to bring us back together as a family unit.
Initially, I was not quite sure where to go but I decided we would take some time out a few times a week, sit round the table, have a chat and then maybe play a board game. My kids and husband, literally thought I was nuts when I suggested this, and I was met with some resistance, especially at the turning off of the TV, phones and computers, however I pushed on, I wanted no distractions!! We then just sat and chatted about anything, seeing where the conversation would take us. Sounds pretty easy right? Well, honestly the first few sessions were pretty awkward, lots of silences and I was wracking my brains to keep the conversations going!! However I was determined to carry on and tried to get us talking about anything and everything, not just the standard how was your day? Ultimately I wanted to get us all feeling confident enough to be able to say anything to each other. I added board game into the time also, this was to help combat the moans of ‘‘Do we have to?’’ And ‘’It’s boring’’ I was hearing from the kids everytime we were about to start!! The board game helped make the time more fun and relaxed and ,in my family at least, everyone is so much better at talking if they feel comfortable and not the sole focus of attention!
This probably sounds like we were sitting round a table for hours and hours but it is honestly not the case, we were normally together for about 20 – 30 minutes, maybe longer depending on the game and I tried to ensure we talked like this about 3- 4 times a week, I had no set time, just fitted it in to our schedule as and when I could.
Fast forward 6 months and our time together has become second nature, the conversations have evolved to cover all manor of topics from family memories, funny stories, likes and dislikes, how we are feeling, problems and worries, and jokes to name a few! They have become a time where we can just be a family with no distractions. Just before you think we have turned into The Waltons, we still have all the same struggles that most families have, the kids still argue something chronic, spend too much time on computers and our life is still pretty hectic! The difference now is we always take some time out to be together and be interested in each other.
I can honestly say that since we have started doing this, good things have happened! We are all gaining confidence at being more open and showing ourselves to the world, we are listening, talking through problems, giving advice and our mindset is changing for the better. Dominic has joined a drama group, something he would never have done a year ago, my husband is getting so much better at saying how he feels, he was pretty good at hiding it so this is no mean feat! Erin is working through her ‘I am rubbish’ mindset she had when she couldn’t do something and learning how to approach problems in a more positive way without being so hard on herself and I have had the confidence to write this blog – for someone who could blush on command this is a pretty massive achievement!
Who would have thought I would see so many changes in just a short time by doing something as simple as turning the TV off and sitting down to chat as a family.
I realise that this is probably turning into the longest blog ever and my new found confidence is spilling out onto these pages so I am going to finish on this note – Encouraging open conversations as a family is a great way to give you and your children the emotional skills to tackle today’s crazy 24/7 world and you will have some fun along the way! Why not take some time out for your family – make your family chatter matter and see where the conversation takes you?