That time planning paid off… and changed a family forever
In 2021 I started a relationship with someone I had known for a while.
She had a daughter, we had a past… It probably wasn’t a good idea at all.
What I didn’t expect however, was that working in residential care and this relationship were quickly becoming the same thing.
I had worked with girls who tried to strangle themselves with cords, boys who literally kicked THROUGH the walls, vandals, drug addicts, non verbal, trauma, extremely high needs… all sorts.
Working in schools I had seen children completely disconnected, overloaded, overwhelmed, under loved.
During my time as the head of a local charity, there was a boy who would spend some extra time hanging around. He always seemed to be wandering the streets, alone, with his head down. One almost night, he asked if he could just hang around more. Being basically dinner time I asked him to call his parents. He pulled out his phone, dialled them up… and just dropped his head. Putting the phone on speaker he held it up… His parents thought he was in his room all afternoon, it was well after 6pm when he called them.
The feeling that no one cared for this boy was a lot,
Realising that my future home could be similar I had to make changes.
I didn’t expect for there to be so many similar issues!
I had suffered through staff that wouldn’t do what was expected, finding broken glass all over the house of a child with self harm issues. Watched people ignore children to play on their phones at work. Seen children reaching out for attention and connection to be shut down for something pointless. Read the highlights after staff would lie to children in care, and the house would get destroyed. I almost forgot about the time I was cleaning mustard and tomato sauce of the walls! XD
Point is, I really didn’t expect anything like this in my own family.
But there was so much disconnection…
My partner would sit in her room on her phone, while our daughter had unlimited access to the tv and basically ran the living space.
Changing the way we parent took commitment, less time than we imagined, and a lot of conversations.
If you can handle that, I guarantee these ideas can help your family too!
Listen and Observe
-Pay close attention
Paying close enough attention is the issue in the previous examples.
In residential care the staff were completely careless.
They must have been floating through their days, unaware and unprepared.
Picture frames filled with glass in houses where people cut;
Lying to children with low tolerance, behaviour issues and trust issues;
Not telling anxious children when the rules change;
Managers that roster out of spite, ignoring requests.
I understand, caring for people is exhausting. There is only so much we can give.
I feel my stance is a little more holistic:
“We spend the energy one way or another. We can stress and build up the worst case scenario, or we can plan for the worst and genuinely hope for the best. Treating the behaviours, loving the people. Avoiding our own lies and ultimately laziness, instead explaining the nuance. Hard Now, or Harder Later. “
When we are stressed, most people seem to pick their battles. They will face things that seem easier, and avoid what seems more difficult. I know I used to over think some of these things, coming up with all kinds of ideas. The problem is, what we think might as well be real life!
As well as the articles above, here is another article.
Here’s the issue I have, it seems everything we think effects us then. That fake scenario that miiight happen, when we stress about it before hand the stress is the only thing real. A difficult conversation we need to have, well what if it goes smoothly… but we wasted 3 weeks thinking about what to say and all of the possible arguments…
If it stands that we are living these scenarios out in our minds, then why not just deal with the issues as promptly as possible?!
Why torture ourselves and imagine it when we could just get it over and done with?!
Save the energy, use it to enjoy your time.
PLUS, the more we pay close attention, the more we avoid issues in the future.
We begin to see the future, preparing for the attitudes and decisions we can see coming.
-Ask Hard Questions
Another part of the relationship puzzle that will help us understand our children is asking the hard questions. Whatever they are. As long as we are being rational, have been sitting on the idea for a while and have kept feeling uneasy. Go for it.
They could be lying,
They be struggling,
They could be hurting,
… They could even be hurting themselves…
It’s literally our job as parents
The only danger in asking hard questions is finding out the truth.
– Coax Them Through
Everyone needs some help sometimes, and our children are no different. Sometimes, we even need to protect them from ourselves. Watching a human grow, seeing our child become more and more independent, having things change too quickly for our minds at times… all of this adds together to make us almost too protective. IF we try to shelter our children from everything, they won’t be capable of anything. Instead, our role is to guide and provide. Opportunities, struggle, high emotions, small doses of stress. We can manufacture these situations and support our children through them. This is true discipline. Providing the teaching, the reasoning and the safe space to fail and grow.
Once we have been watching our children for a while by spending time with them we can begin to see into their minds much better. The little things we notice help us understand where they can grow quickly.
So let’s put ourselves in their shoes.
Care and Understanding
With some understanding of the thoughts and fears our children have, we can bridge some gaps in their little lives!
Spending some time imaging what their life must be like. Thinking about all of the things we remember from our childhoods can help us to unlock some of the things that have hurt and taught us. Travelling back in our mental time machines we can look at things we experienced with deeper understanding. For the brave, we can begin to dig in and heal some of our own wounds. Digging in to a lot of our why, deciphering where our coping skills have come from (and if they are healthy).
As children, we didn’t know what our parents knew. We had no idea what living a life even meant, and most of us have no doubt been living from a place of no information. Making decisions based on the thoughts of our 4 or 5 year old minds. Whatever age we were when we experienced these things has been almost imprinted on those memories through the ways we learnt to cope.
As we grow, and learn, and evolve these strategies would be glaringly immature… but only if we see them from our new vantage points…
By thinking this way about our own lives we can quickly grow massive empathy for our children, while also correcting some of the parenting choices that have effected us.
This is about our children now, not us.
We can now give our children the experiences and materials needed, because now we can see it more clearly.
– Give Them What They Need (&sometimes what they want)
Part of caring and understanding is having a deep, close relationship.
After strategically listening and observing we should know more of what our children need and lack.
Now it’s time to build some bridges between where our children are and the lessons we want them to learn.
We need to have a good connection before correction.
One great tool for building deeper relationship is the five love languages (Gary Chapman).
With this relational model we discover how we show love to others, and can take educated guesses at how they hear love!
When it comes to giving back to our children and filling needs this is HUGE!!!
In my family there have been issues between different love languages.
One family member is oddly unaffectionate when it comes to certain people.
The biggest issue is, the people they are giving weak ass affection to are also the people that feel love the most through affection.
You can imagine the drama.
What’s worse, attempts at hugging and condolence are basically unemotional and unaffectionate. Floppy spaghetti arms and half assed back pats.
One person feels odd about hugging, for whatever reason.
The other feels unloved, because of the hugging.
A more materialistic way to do this (and be careful with this one!) is providing materials and experiences desired and advantageous. Not to appease or make up for doing wrong by the other person, but as motivation, encouragement and to enable positive hobbies.
If you have an artist, go for a trip to the art store,
With a musician find access to some instruments,
Train with your sports star,
Find a way to connect and share their passions!
Show you are interested,
Give them space to be open and vulnerable.
– Reflect back your observations (Show You listened!)
Throwing back to the beginning, let’s connect our listening and observing to the deeper conversations we should be having by now.
If we plan well ahead, we could have a list of different interesting quirks and ideas that our children have expressed. By reading over a list like this every once in a while we can bring up things that most people would have completely forgotten, showing that we really listen, really care and that their words really do matter!
Whatever you think you can do to remember and throw back to things your child has said hours, days, weeks, months, even years before will excite and befuddle even the hardest case of teenage “no one cares.”
The only way to grow superpowers like these is by spending time…
In all reality, this is the only way to grow and show understanding and deep care.
We are not going to see things if we are not there.
If we’re not present (because of distractions or being trapped in our minds) then we will miss the opportunities to connect. Times when the conversation begs us to pull out one of our past observations.
Perhaps you are on the couch talking about an art project,
and you remember the other week that your child sketched something in the back of the car and wanted to paint it.
You could just mention it in passing and ask if they did the painting, or where the sketch went.
Maybe your child is changing their musical tastes, so you suggest a few bands that you used to listen to.
Again, any ways that we can prepare to connect will pay off massively when we SPEND our time on our children.
Spending our time on our children means this time becomes THEIR time!
We are SERVING THEM.
Doing WHAT THEY LIKE.
Allowing them to practice LEADING.
We are on the journey and our child is temporarily the captain of the ship.
(don’t let it Concordia, don’t drop standards, but be EXTREMELY flexible!)
– Know Your Worth
It is MUCH easier to be negative in this world. The news bombards us with fear. Everything seems dangerous now. As we grow, so does our knowledge, so suddenly things that were fun look too risky.
Looking at our strengths can be a challenge. I remember at one point sitting in my room complaining to myself that nothing good ever happens… I had travelled to Africa for FREE the year before… How did I forget this? Why couldn’t I pull out even one positive story? When did I get so blind?!
The same stands for our positive character traits. We can drift through our working lives, so busy that we miss all of the ways we have grown stronger. Remaining stuck in ways of thinking that barely made sense all those years ago when we made certain decisions.
With my family it was:
– Follow Through
Near the beginning of the relationship my partner and I went out to dinner with some of her work colleagues. At the time she had been buying FAR too many plants, and even her work friends were TELLING her to stop. This day she was proudly boasting about going to the plant shop and not buying plants!
Well! A few weeks later we were talking about some new pots, that had been sitting there for a while. IT CLICKED… She had told you about not buying plants, but left out that she had bought pots. She got all of our congratulations and adulations, based on a lie.
This might sound silly, but red flags are serious for a reason. They show the true pathology and intentions behind someone’s behaviour. I believe they are our subconscious minds screaming out, trying to warn us.
No relationship, of any kind, can survive with lies of any size.
Each of us are triggered by different odds and ends.
We can never guarantee that our attempt to protect someone (with a white lie) will go well, so doesn’t it just make sense to be up front? To be open?
If we need to risk our reputation to relate why not just spill everything?
Giving other people all of the information shows respect.
In my relationship there were times I tried to protect feelings by not sharing exactly what I was thinking. With a lot of stress flying around, and a lot of emotions, I was trying to save some emotional space and energy for my partner. This blew up in my face. I began to get annoyed about things much faster than I had anticipated, and because I hadn’t been explaining the seriousness of what I was seeing my partner wasn’t taking it seriously.
Causing more stress and more distance between us.
The only way left to turn this around was to say all of the negative and honestly hurtful things as quickly as possible.
As soon as all of the cards were on the table she could see where we were truly at as a couple, as a family, and she could see where we both needed to make changes. The communication opened back up, the things that were being hidden and causing stress slowly disappeared, and we finally felt close and safe again.
That is a good starting standard for any family and any relationship.
Ironically, I wasn’t living this standard very well.
– Model It…
No body likes them,
not many can stand them for long.
While we were sorting out our communication issues is when I was holding back all of the things I thought were harsher, all of the things I thought would cause more pressure and trouble. As soon as everything was out in the open, everything changed.
The best gifts we can give the people in our lives are consistency, stability and security.
– Raise The Standards
With our relationship, much like coaching or raising children, as we got better at things the standard would raise. Once the skill is learnt, implementing it can be mastered. We can begin to understand how and when to use our new tool.
Let’s take just communicating openly.
When someone is having issues opening up and sharing things you could start with listening to them more, and rephrasing what they have said to ensure you truly understood.
Once you have done this for a while you could begin to ask follow up questions, allowing them to open up more slowly over time. Proving that it is safe for them to be open and vulnerable.
From here you can start to ask about more things, more details about their lives. Dive in to how they feel, their emotions. Get curious about what they truly do when you aren’t around. Discover what they want to do, but have been to scared or unable to do.
Now set a standard that you want, teach them some good character traits. Teach them to open up and share intimate things with you. Keep showing that it’s safe, be respectful and careful to not impose your ideas on them. Discuss things and make time to spend just sitting around chatting, with complete attention and intention.
This should break down a lot of the walls we build up through life, and with our children it should begin to chip away at their different little personas (allowing you to piece together who they REALLY are!)
There you have it, in 4 steps we have raised a personal standard, while helping someone open up.
(1)Show them you see them, (2)Dive in to who they truly are, (3)figure out why they believe what they believe, (4)set your expectations and standards, then negotiate.
– Live The Standards, explain your weaknesses.
What happens when we aren’t living up to our own standards?
When people in your life say one thing and do the opposite, how does that make you feel?
Do you ask those people for much?
Is it hard to trust them?
It only follows that we should be living up to (or as good leaders, beyond) the standard that we set for the people around us. Being consistent in this way tests our expectations. We know how they feel, we can determine ways to lighten the load and most important, we know if they are realistic.
Think back to a time work felt overwhelming.
It didn’t feel like there was any time to get things done.
You were always running, never going anywhere.
Drowning and feeling stuck while flailing around unceasingly.
Never truly relaxed.
What would have helped you?
Relieved the pressure?
Taken the load off?
Flipping the question, and taking responsibility for ourselves, how could we have impacted things?
What if we put up a white flag and said we were struggling.
And why not do this (AGE APPROPRIATELY) with our children?
As we live up to the standards we set, and burst out beyond those boundaries ourselves, we can teach our children how to get themselves motivated. How to stay focused. How to be consistent.
So why not share the struggles they can understand?
– ASK FOR HELP!
Especially with teenagers we can share the things we are working on. Everybody has blind spots, and everybody understands situations differently.
In a nice open conversation we can straight up ask our children what they think about some areas we are working on, and how we are doing with them. We could even be super brave, and self controlled with the answer that’s coming… and ask them what our biggest weaknesses are in their eyes. Or how they feel when we do different things.
With all of the stress that came with moving lately, and having a lot of inconsistencies and unmet expectations in our lives, I was getting annoyed extremely quickly. I’m an open and honest person, which is great and terrible at the same time. With all of the care and affection, there is also a lot of passion in the frustration also. We had been having communication problems as a couple, and I had been trying to be ‘nice’ and save her from different bits of potential hurt (especially while she was stressed).
When I woke up to myself and realised that this was escalating and playing out in front of our daughter in a fairly toxic way I decided to ask her about it.
She mentioned that I am slamming doors a bit,
Starting to use names a lot to my partner,
and that I wasn’t around much (though that was partially a tactic in itself)
Giving her the opportunity to express these things made me wake up to myself, but also shows that we are all human and make huge mistakes. Next time she makes a mistake I believe she will come and let us know, she has done it before!
With a culture in the home that allows everyone to speak out, boundaries will inevitably emerge.
We all have expectations.
Some of these are easy to speak,
But at times they can remain unspoken…
It seems to me that when people have an unmet expectation for long enough, they grow tired of ‘waiting’ for it to be met.
Then they usually create a boundary to protect themselves from those negative emotions.
Sometimes this could be negative words and back biting, the passive aggressive route.
Others will overreact in fairly extreme ways, cutting people out of their lives.
I’m suggesting that we be up front, open, honest and raw. Creating boundaries that work for both parties and are actually enforceable.
When it comes to children, this is a liiittle different.
– Don’t Take Shit
Rule number one.
I have written about this before (here, and here )
When it comes to our children I subscribe to the “don’t let your children do anything that annoys you” theory. Here’s the logic:
If we are allowing our children to carry on in behaviours that are continually getting under our skin, it follows that we won’t have very many positive feelings about them.
Think of the people that have bothered you the most throughout your life.
What kinds of habits and quirks did they have?
Maybe you are like me and a little sensitive to chewing noises,
Or maybe certain tones or inflections bother you,
Perhaps just the habit of gossip drive you crazy.
Better yet, look out for annoyances when you are trying to improve an area of your personality.
Each time I try to change something about myself I begin to notice, as if there’s a massive spot light on everyone else, that a lot of people around me behave that way. Personally, when I’m going through changes I can’t stand seeing others behaving that way. It becomes reprehensible.
It’s as though the zero tolerance I want in myself is leaking out through my perceptions of others!
With our children this is disastrous.
It leads to a family that walk on egg shells,
Feelings of uncertainty,
Adult temper tantrums and throwing your weight around like a child.
These are what I like to refer to as soft traumas.
Little bits of laziness in our character as parents that can lead to issues for our children.
100% there is no perfect parent. With a changing world, different little personalities, and others influencing our children more and more as we get busier and things get more expensive it is almost impossible to stay in front of everything.
By removing the things that easily trigger us we can keep more positive feelings, and save the arguments for debates worth having (usually in a much calmer way, as relationship is the foundation of this discipline strategy).
– Be a Hippie, Keep the Peace and Love.
In the same way, when things get heated, practice being a hippie, keep the peace and love!
No idea that we have is worth completely ruining the relationship. Even if an argument is in full swing when we realise, we can snap out of it and disengage.
Controlling ourselves is modelling the exact behaviour we want in our children.
Getting wrapped up in arguments and using our attitudes is the exact behaviour we are trying to stop.
It just doesn’t make sense to fight fire with fire. (Keep the attitude for some strategic back burning 😉 )
We need to confront these negative feelings.
Holding on to them only hurts ourselves.
Imagine drinking poison to kill your enemy…
That’s all that negative feelings are doing to us.
Hate: The purest strain of love.
The tricky part of caring for another is also the cutest.
We want the best for them, to protect them, to see them at their best.
I know it sounds twisted, so bear with me…
Love and Hate are connected.
They are two sides of the same coin.
When we care for someone, we hate the things that detract from them.
We want to remove the thorns and thistles, freeing them of the pain.
But what happens when it IS our loved ones that are destroying themselves?
What should we do?
How can we help?
Should we do anything?
How do we feel?
Can actually we help someone who is actively making choices that are destroying themselves?
Just like back in the day when a village was under attack, action must be taken.
We can aim the frustrations at the behaviour that is damaging our loved ones.
Taking the person out of it.
One night recently I experienced this with my partner.
We were laying on the couch, talking about why she is so down a lot of the time. She began explaining some of the things that she thinks about herself. The words, the lack of confidence, the tearing herself down… I was FURIOUS with her, more mad than I have ever been… while also rubbing her back and crying for the terrible things she was saying about herself.
A very odd moment to experience.
Absolute disdain for someone, who is actively tearing down someone I care for.
It would have been easier to just jump on the negative train, kicking her further and further down with careless words.
True love is unconditional. It cares, it slows down, it speaks clearly, it isn’t selfish.
In that moment I was thinking a great many things, jumping from story to story where she has explained things people have said to her that are now apparently her own self talk.
This was an easy fix, I was stuck in my head vs her in her heart.
I switched languages and communicated directly to where she was, in the pain in her heart.
That’s what I’m saying love is meant to be.
Putting the other person first.
Trusting that your plans for yourself will work, and that you can give your space time and energy to your partner when they need it.
The same goes with our children.
There will be many behaviours,
that test and push us.
But true love looks past that to the hurt person behind the behaviours…
It seem the root causes, not the symptoms.
True love makes space.
True love doesn’t lie.
True love doesn’t control.
True love covers a multitude of selfishness with service.
There it is.
The strategy that changed my family forever.
We don’t get it right all the time, but whenever we get of track this seems to correct the ship quickly.
What is it you’re dealing with at the moment?
Let us know in the comments and we’ll see if we can turn it around for you!