“Good night, John Boy!” – What is Family?

Do you remember the television show “The Waltons”? I know it’s a rather old show, which launched in 1972. It was one of the few TV shows I was allowed to watch as a child. I loved the family support the characters extended to each other and it really touched my heart how each episode ended. You saw their house in the dark, the Walton family with their seven kids and two grandparents went to bed, one light after the next was turned off, and they all said “Good night” to each other. “Good night, Mama,” “Good night, Daddy,” Good night, children!” “Good night, John Boy!”

Over the last six weeks, I have been contemplating the question of what “family” really means. What constitutes family and how do families cope with things?

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There is, of course, the ideal of the “picture book perfect family,” like the Waltons. We probably all carry that family archetype around in our mind. But let’s get real. It is 2017, not the 1930’s, and the reality is that there are more and more blended families. We are faced with more complicated family dynamics, other challenges, and different conflicts than the Waltons would have ever dreamed of. In today’s world, family set-ups change constantly. Separations and divorces occur and new unions, for example second or third marriages, are formed. Custody arrangements change, or children get older and move out. With each stage in life, energetic dynamics are transformed. Families even change temporarily, as we have experienced this summer.

For the last six weeks, my 16-year-old daughter has been living and working in Quebec. Meanwhile, we had a 17-year-old exchange student from Quebec staying with us. Just like our daughter in Quebec, he had to adapt to a completely new environment, a different language, his summer job in English, and many new impressions and events each day. They both impressed us tremendously with their openness and courage.

We also had to adapt as a family and understand cultural differences and differences in communication styles. Within the first weekend, our “exchange son” had captured both our hearts with his awareness and sensitivity. A bass guitar major for the last six years, he brought music into our house and many interesting conversations. He wanted to get to know both of us and made the effort to connect right from the start. Very observant and mature in his communication skills—despite the language challenges—we felt from the first moment on that we “lucked out” with this amazing summer guest.

Sounds like the “honeymoon”? It was. Ten days into his stay, the first challenges naturally arose which we had to work through together. Just as in a blended family, there were different values, other rituals and new ways of doing things. From home, he was used to coming and going spontaneously, unaware that over here in his host family, everybody else had adjusted their schedule to his to spend some quality time together. He was not used to communicating when plans that he had made were changing, or accustomed to keeping each other informed by text. The curfew put in place by the exchange program was initially looked upon by him and other French students as a suggestion, and the concept that parents might worry until the young people are back home safely did not occur to the students.

Having grown up in an all-girls household and having only parented girls, I was expecting that familiar communication of sharing your experiences and feelings, and expressing appreciation for each other on a daily basis. I read one syllable answers to questions and his lack of planning as a lack of consideration and lack of appreciation. He read our questions, responses to his behaviour and different rules as overprotection and judgement. The more he felt “not good enough” and “wrong,” the less he wanted to communicate. When we feel blamed, we sometimes just want to run and avoid an unpleasant talk. That is a human response. It took a change in approach—a “tough love” tone—for him to wake up.

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We are so extremely proud of this young man for taking responsibility for his side of the misunderstandings and for being open to hear our explanations and apologies where we had made him feel judged as “wrong”. After this talk, we gained a tremendous understanding for each other. Our communication improved greatly, and we were able to see each other’s dissimilarity as just different instead of wrong or rude. We were able to focus on the similarities and the efforts made by everybody and express more appreciation towards each other.

Now, almost at the end of his stay, we are truly sad to see him go. There is no question in our minds and hearts that we will stay in touch with him, just as my daughter will continue the connection with her loving and truly amazing host family.

This exchange experience had me contemplating the question, “What is family”? What is it that the Waltons have that can be still found—or be missing—today in our modern families?

For me, it boils down to the wisdom that as a family you are stronger. What is good for one member of the family is good for all. You don’t give up on each other, but you talk through challenges and you grow from sharing your feelings and thoughts. You learn about the feelings, experiences and triggers the other family members have. From that place of greater understanding, you take responsibility for your part in a regretful interaction and create compromises together. Or, as a friend of mine said a few weeks ago when we spoke about issues with her step-son, “Shit happens in families, but as a family you work through this shit together!”

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Unfortunately, in her case, the mother of my friend’s teenage step-son is sheltering him from having to take responsibility for a big screw-up. She is depriving the father and his family from having the opportunity to work through things together as a family unit. Instead of trusting her son that he is old enough at 17 to work through a conflict to which he contributed, she is doing him a disservice by letting him hide behind her apron. Wanting to be the more beloved parent can leave us very short-sighted in terms of what beliefs and coping strategies we teach our children.

A family unit can only function if our feelings and needs are not swept under the carpet but rather are processed. Without the willingness to be vulnerable and discover what is going on underneath the feelings of irritation or anger we might be experiencing, we can’t move out of a stuck state. By not working through things as a family, we are making a choice to carry anger, resentment and blame with us. Sometimes it is the parent generation who is not willing to communicate openly and honestly, at other times it’s the young generation feeling unable to express themselves. Often the unsuccessful communication goes both ways. However, only when we take responsibility for our feelings, words and actions, can we grow as individuals as well as families.

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Angelika, Belief Change & Relationship Coach

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

905-286-9466

One way of working on your relationships is the Relationship Energetics Workshop coming up this fall.  For more course information please click here.

Having Our Needs Met in Relationships

She looks at her watch and says in annoyed tone: “You are home late, again! You always come home late! Do you have to go to the Gym after work every day?”

His reply is defensive: “Yes, I do! That’s the only time I have to myself. You don’t ask me for permission to have your hair done or your nails! You like to go into work early at least three or four times a week and I always have to take the kids to school instead of going to the Gym.”

She retorts angrily: “You make it sound as if I only think of myself but I am working full time like you and I am sitting home alone with the kids, every night after I have run them around to their classes. You never help me! Once in a while, you could come home earlier and make dinner for everybody!”

This was the role play my partner and I acted out for one of my talks on non-violent communication just a couple of weeks ago. When I introduce my clients to the four steps of NVC, based on Marshall Rosenberg’s work, they seem so easy and straightforward. Yet, it is so ingrained in most of us to have conversations in which one or both people get defensive and feel attacked due to us using generalized critical statements and blaming each other. When we do not feel safe in a conversation, our fight or flight response sets in. We either attack, or we withdraw and shut down. Despite the anger on the surface, deep down both partners long for nothing more than a safe space to connect and express how they feel underneath the anger.

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Let’s look at how we can change these patterns of defending, withdrawing and attacking, using our example. What are the needs of both parents? She has the need for support; he has the need for alone time. They both have the need for recognition of what they do.

Based on those needs what do they feel? She feels alone and unsupported, he feels controlled. They both feel unappreciated.

Before you read on, put yourself in her shoes and using the four steps of non-violent communication find a more successful way of expressing her feelings, explaining her needs, and finishing with a concrete request made to her husband. Remember to make neutral observations free of judgments in regards to him going to the Gym. Then use “I” statements which reflect that she is taking responsibility for her own feelings. Nobody makes us feel a certain way. Our feelings are a result of the meaning we give our perceptions. Next help her express her needs, values or desires which are at the root of her feelings. End with a request that can be negotiated between the partners.

NVC 4 Steps

Here is one possible way for her to communicate using the four steps of NVC and a calm neutral tone: “I have NOTICED (step 1) that you tend to go to the gym after work and by the time you come home, the kids need to go to bed. I FEEL (step 2) a bit left alone when you come home late almost every night. I WOULD LIKE to (step 3) spend more family time with you and the kids. WOULD YOU BE WILLING (step 4) to come home earlier once or twice a week, so we can spend more time together?

Now, let’s not forget that he also has feelings and needs. How can we help him express his side of the situation?

He could for example say: “I FEEL (step 2) that I only have time after work to exercise. I NEED (step 3) to have some alone time. I also FEEL (step 2) unappreciated and taken for granted when I give my gym time in the morning up to take the kids to school. I really appreciate that you work full-time and run the kids to their after-school activities.” (He has recognized they both feel unappreciated and is giving her the appreciation they both need.) Step 4 is negotiating her request: “I am willing to come home early on Tuesdays and Thursdays if you can commit to taking them to school the next morning? I WOULD also sometimes LIKE to hear that you appreciate what I do.”

Now it is up to her to respond, to acknowledge what he does for the family and to perhaps make a concrete request to cook dinner once a week. If one of the partners is struggling to connect with their feelings and the needs underneath, the other one can help by asking, “I am wondering if you feel…?” or saying “Do you perhaps have a need for…?” and offering, “Let me know how I can help you get what you need.” Implementing a process like NVC takes patience and practice because most of us have never learned that our needs matter, how to connect with our more vulnerable feelings underneath our anger and to express our needs without blame or judgement.

To learn more about expressing our needs you can contact

Angelika for individual sessions or Shadow Energetics Workshops

905-286-9466 or

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

For 2016 workshop dates and locations go to Upcoming Workshops.

If you enjoy my posts, you can follow Greendoor to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to click the “follow” button in the right-hand corner of your screen.

 

Communicating More Successfully

When I coach couples, or parents and children, the main issue is usually communication. One of the big shifts that can be made in their relationship happens by changing their way of interacting and communicating with each other.

When we judge and criticise others, they feel unloved. When we use general statements like “You always…”, we label them and push them into a corner. When we blame them, they shut down. When we want to change another person, he or she feels “not good enough”. When we try to fix them, we are forgetting that everybody–no matter what age–is perfect, whole, complete and resourceful. We all have the answers and the solutions for change inside us.

By communicating from a place of love and acceptance, you can help the other person open up to change. Successful communication uses “I” statements, expresses how YOU feel without judgement or blame and ends with a concrete request from your side, so your family member, friend or colleague knows what you need.

Marshall Rosenberg in his acclaimed book “Nonviolent Communication” explains the NVC Process as follows:

1.      State the concrete actions you have OBSERVED that affect you.

2.      Share how you FEEL in relation to what you have observed.

3.      Explain the NEEDS, values, desires etc. that create your feelings.

4.      Make a concrete REQUEST in order to improve a situation or relationship.

 

One example for non-violent communication is:

“I have NOTICED that you spend a lot of time at the gym. I FEEL a bit left out when you come home late almost every night. I WOULD LIKE to spend more quality time with. WOULD YOU BE WILLING to come home earlier once or twice a week, so we can spend more time together?”

Another example is:

“When you make negative comments about my family I FEEL criticised and embarrassed. I love them as much as I love you. I NEED to feel I can see them whenever I want. WOULD YOU BE WILLING to keep negative comments to yourself, or to focus on the good sides they all have?”

By using those steps, we are showing the willingness to be emotionally responsible and the willingness to talk straight. We are taking responsibility for our own feelings, and acknowledging our needs. Nobody makes us feel a certain way; that is an inside job. By communicating our feelings clearly, we are in integrity in our relationships.

We are also making clear requests, not demands. How do you know when you have made a request, not a demand? If it is a true request the other person has a choice to say “no”.

For Relationship Coaching contact Angelika

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

905-286-9466