I’m going to assume at some point in your childhood you either took part in or watched a game of dodgeball. For some players their competitive side kicks in and they become laser focused on hitting as many opponents as they can, throwing the ball with all the force and speed they can conjure. For others it’s all about survival-duck and run! The mere thought of the sting that rubber ball may leave behind brings on all kinds of anxiety and fear.
There’s a different kind of playing ball that not everyone has played or remembers but you can easily imagine. The gentle back and forth toss a parent or caregiver plays with a young child that is usually met with squeals of delight or how about a relaxing “catch” with your mom or dad in the backyard. Just the two of you, a couple of well-worn baseball gloves and a ball. With every toss time stands still and in that moment all that matters is sharing how your day went, what you want to do over Summer break or taking bets on who will win the next World Series. Whatever the conversation, it is likely attached to feelings of safety, love, calm and happy memories.
Now take a moment to think about a time your spouse came home from work in a crappy mood and instead of their usual happy greeting you’re met with sarcastic, snappy or critical comments. Perhaps another scenario comes to mind-you’ve got plans with your extended family over the weekend which brings up all kinds of stressful thoughts for you and before you know it you’re taking out these frustrations on your partner when they really don’t deserve it. When your spouse or partner snaps or yells it's like that dodgeball coming at you fast and hard. What’s your first instinct? Do you react by picking up the ball and hurling it right back? Or do you respond by choosing to toss the ball gently back?
To be human is to be perfectly imperfect. I was listening to a podcast recently about the role that self-awareness, particularly being aware of your strengths and weaknesses, plays on your overall well-being. It was directed at individuals but got me thinking about how these concepts apply to awareness of ourselves within our relationships.
Self-awareness allows you to take a look at what is going well in your life and which areas you would like to improve on. For some it can be difficult to look inward and freely focus on the things not going so well. For others, it is where they spend a good amount of their emotional energy-seeing only their faults.
For the person who is more naturally inclined to see only his or her areas of strength, it's not necessarily a bad thing. Embracing that confidence and security can very well get you closer to your life goals but when it gets in the way of truly hearing your partners needs or being able to listen with an open mind to how they are experiencing you, you may be missing out on key opportunities to connect with your spouse and your relationship may eventually suffer as a result of it.
Consequently, for someone who goes through their days with the voice of doubt whispering in their ear that they aren't good enough, they likely struggle to put a name to the things they do well. Not only is it difficult to feel proud of your personal accomplishments, you may find it difficult to acknowledge what is going well in your relationship. Likewise, you may focus on your spouses flaws over their good qualities-simply because your mind has been trained to look for the negative.
When I talk about improving your relationship through self-awareness, I'm not thinking about weighing out your strengths and weaknesses as they are reflected in your marriage or dating life. When we're open to exploring and expressing our emotions with our spouse we're able to better understand some of the areas of emotional vulnerability that we bring with us into our relationships. These areas of vulnerability not only effect how we perceive ourselves but they also serve as a lens for how we view others' behavior toward us.
Parenting is often described as one of the most rewarding and eye opening experiences people go through. Those first moments that make you beam with pride, the wonderfully creative art projects that you place front and center on the fridge or your desk at work, seeing your child reach a goal or learn a new skill, as parents we relish in these winning moments. Then one day you wake up to the reality that you have a teen/preteen in the house and you may find yourself questioning who this person is that you share space with!
Welcome to the teenage years! We were all there once so this should be a breeze right? If you find yourself wondering whether or not you will both make it out of this time period in one piece-take heart in knowing you are not alone. I can’t promise it won’t be a bumpy road but a little bit of insight can go a long way in making the journey a little bit smoother.
There’s no one size fits all approach when it comes to building and maintaining relationships with your kids, particularly teenagers. If you have more than one child then you probably know they each have their own personalities-2 children from the same family can be totally different people in terms of how they embrace and maneuver through the world. As parents our love is unconditional but we may need to express love to each child differently-not more or less-just in a way that speaks more directly to your child’s emotional needs.
Just as I often talk to couples about learning and speaking each other’s Love Language, the same can be said for parenting. Different children receive and interpret love in different ways. The teenage years are generally about transitioning into a state of more independence and self-identity combined with all the biological changes occurring. As frustrating as this time period can be for parents, it can be equally frustrating for your son or daughter. Here’s a quick look at how The 5 Love Languages developed by Dr. Gary Chapman can strengthen your relationship and improve communication between you and your child.
Words of Affirmation-Offer praise, compliments or affection either verbally or written. This can be as simple as saying ‘I love you’. With technology what it is today it’s simple enough to send a text message but hearing it holds just as much value if not more. If it’s exam day, game day or “any” day, a well placed Post-it note with words of encouragement (I’m proud of you!, You got this!, Good luck on your test!) are sure to bring a smile and fill that love tank. Likewise, if you know your son or daughter is working through a difficult situation a quick check in letting them know you are thinking of them can go a long way.
Physical Touch- Keeping in mind that there is a time and a place may be helpful if physical touch is your teens primary love language. By this age the idea of snuggling or PDA (Public Displays of Affection) are likely to be met with eye rolls or outright opposition! High fives, secret handshakes, hugs; a reassuring pat on the back can easily meet this need. And if you’re not sure, ask your child what they are most comfortable with and when.
Quality Time- Let your son or daughter know that they are the focus of your attention and time. Set phones, laptops and other technology aside and offer your undivided attention to listen, talk or enjoy a shared hobby. Quality over quantity applies here too-remember even 20 minutes of concentrating on someone else for the purpose of connecting and bonding is better than an hour of sitting in the same room staring at a television just for the sake of saying you spent time “together”.
Acts of Service-As parents we put hours each day in to doing things for others, there’s no denying that but when looking at it from the perspective of connecting with your son or daughter doing something with no expectation of getting something in return can be a great teaching opportunity. After all, kids have this wonderful way of learning by what they see others doing.
Gifts-Giving gifts as a love language is different than an allowance or gifts given for birthday’s or holidays. Likewise, if you find yourself stopping to buy a gift as a way of making up for not being home as much as you’d like, it may not be so warmly received (this is particularly true if their primary love language is Quality Time). Gifts need not be expensive or elaborate either. Buying their favorite drink, sports memorabilia, make-up or hair products make for quick and easy “thinking of you” tokens.
Creating more positive interactions and communication with your children can be a bit of a balancing act, incorporating pieces from each of the love languages. Like anyone else, when your teen feels loved, heard and understood, having more challenging conversations about setting boundaries, making good choices or dealing with all the emotions that come with this time period in their lives can go far more smoothly.
If your life was firmly rooted in self-acceptance & belonging; if your unique self was nourished & secure, free from a need to earn acceptance, approval or love by looking outward rather than within-what would be different for you?
How can you take life's challenges and hardships and use them to your advantage rather than viewing them as just another thing to endure? Not to suggest that we have to be happy and content with everything that comes our way but choosing to carry the belief that in everything there is opportunity, we just have to look for it.
How might your "limiting beliefs" be holding you back or weighing you down? How much more of your time are you going to give away to maintain those beliefs? "It takes a conscious choice to cut the twine that binds us to our limiting beliefs and holds in a story of powerlessness."-Co-Active Leadership
The golden nugget of unfolding potential is recognizing that "...the circumstances don't need to change in order for our story to change." Wow.
What story do you want to walk with-one of being broken and not able or a story about being whole and capable?
It's taken some time-maybe a whole lot of time-to learn this simple but valuable life lesson. If you go into a situation with realistic expectations you greatly reduce your chances of walking away disappointed.
What I'm really referring to is interactions with people in life. There's a saying that you can't get blood out of a stone and realistically the same may feel true for trying to get your emotional needs met from someone who struggles with the skills to give you what you need. Some people that enter your life are natural givers and providers of empathy, support and guidance, for others it's like trying to understand a foreign language.
John C. Maxwell in Thinking For A Change shares that "reality is the difference between what we wish and what is." He goes on to say that it took him a long time to learn that he couldn't possibly please everyone which is true for all of us but so is the flip side, we can't expect everyone else in our lives to please us all the time. It's time to be realistic and release the burden-if you are aware of those in your life who for whatever reason are not able to meet your emotional needs then you can significantly reduce your chances of being disappointed by them. Release the expectation and reduce your disappointment.
There's no blame or shaming here. We come into this world with an innate desire to empathize with those we care about but sometimes the path to expressing it becomes blocked by different things such as mixed or unclear messages, or even fear of what may happen or has happened to us in the past. The good news is change is possible and once the blocks can be identified, they can be released as well.
"Change alone doesn't bring growth but you cannot have growth without change" -John C. Maxwell. Growth and change within a relationship of any kind is a two way street and requires a willingness on both sides to take a realistic look in the mirror.