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Family Life: On building strong family relationships

Communication is said to be the ‘lifeblood” of any relationship, and most especially family relationships. We tackled one aspect last week of communication – the skill of asking good questions.

We need to learn to use questions that will draw out our loved ones to share their thoughts, feelings, ideas, dreams, hopes, without letting them feel that they are being interrogated, judged, corrected, or negated. Children especially learn these feelings at home from the reactions they receive from their parents when they share their thoughts or ideas. Are they being listened to? Are they being heard? Do they get encouraged to share more, or are they stopped in their tracks by sermons or instructions or the parents’ own ideas?

Home ought to be a training ground on learning to communicate well. There we learn to express ourselves, engage in conversation, talk and listen. Home should also be a safe place where we can bring our ideas or breed new ones, get to test those ideas, hear different sides to it, improve it, and even act on it, before we bring it out into the world of others with more confidence. The same openness should be given when it comes to “issues” family members have or are going through. Some good ground rules for everyone to follow when someone shares an idea or an issue is: (1) ask more questions to clarify, probe deeper, understand more (what do you mean when you say…?”); (2) rephrase what was shared to make sure it was truly understood (“I understand you to be saying this…is that what you mean?” “Then, what do you mean?”); (3) give positive feedback first “These are the things I like about your ideas…”); (4) share your ideas that the person may not have thought of through a question (“Have you considered this…? How about…?”). This process affirms the family members and their ideas, and the persons concerned get to still own their ideas even after everyone else has given their feedback and input. In this way, children develop a sense that they matter, that their thoughtss and ideas matter, and that their family is an ally, not their number one critic. Everyone also learns the skill of active listening, engaging in conversation, giving feedback, helping another person wrestle with his or her ideas and issues.

Another reason to engage our families in this kind of conversation is the time and world we live in. Time was when children were seen and not heard, and parents were considered authority. Children had to listen and learn. However, in today’s highly urbanized, globalized, media-connected and highly technological world, parents no longer have the last word. Children are being bombarded with thoughts and ideas from school, peers and different screen media. They can fast-check things through google. This is all the more reason for parents to listen more and converse and ask questions to know what their children are absorbing, who are they following, what sites they are frequenting, and the impact of these on their children. Everyone else is letting their thoughts and ideas on to the children in powerful ways, but what about the parents? We can waste the day-to-day precious opportunities to connect, pass on good values and habits, and strenghen mutual trust and friendship by not being mindful and intentional. We get too busy, or too preoccupied, or communicate on social media more than with those at home. At home we tend to do the routine work, to become passive and get entertained (TV, movies) instead of taking the time to shape and equip the next generation for the better. If we carry on like this, we are training our children to seek and value others’ opinions more, to prefer their peers to talk with and bounce their ideas on. Different people push their ungodly agenda bringing confusion, distorted ideas, fake news, and many more. We cannot afford to abdicate our power and influence to the many things vying their attention, and then hope for miracles later on.
If what we read in today’s social media news and reactions of people are a reflection of the way people learned communication at home, then we are in a sad and sorry state of affairs. One cannot seem to air one’s opinion or ideas without being bashed, put-down, labelled, name-called, negated, or judged. People seem to have a hard time studying different angles or viewpoints to an issue to ferret out the truth, and give a well-studied response without jumping on popular bandwagons like the rest. In these times, we need to fortify our children to listen, think, look at different angles, be positive, engage, respond in love, and be a refreshing light in their world.

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