Friday, 30 October 2015

We all need a darned good listening to!

I have always been concerned about the quality of family life, really since my own childhood. I think it is one of the places where there is a huge amount going on both in terms of hurt and of healing. At one time family life was integrated into a community but in the present culture of the UK the family can seem quite isolated from a safety net of support. Grandparents may not be close by, parents may have separated leaving additional challenges for the whole family. Young people may find themselves on the margins of the lives of their parents as work expands to pay an increasing cost of living.

In that more fragmented situation many parents feel the need to think more carefully about how to manage their time and the quality of their relationships with their children. It is not only the adults that are caught up in a process of fragmented and individualised living, children and young people also struggle to hold a shape to their lives and find meaning in what they are doing. The young family members may not be aware of the "shapelessness" of their lives as they react to one type of stimulation after another and it is the parents who will often recognise that all is not well with the quality of the relationships they have with their children.

But what do you do about it? How can parents hope to support and at times protect their children from the fragmentation that seems to surround us all? How can parents ensure that their family relationships are stronger than the forces that threaten to individualise and breakdown the core sense of belonging we all need to grow up healthily? The Salesian tradition has always been strong on letting young people know that they are loved. That bond,a sense of being loved, is a protection against the disintegration of a young person even if , for a time, they may "go off the rails."

Something of that Salesian intuition has emerged in a new study by the search institute on the way parents might need to talk to their children. The research identifies five areas of concern which may need to be reflected upon by parents.

1. Expressing Care: Show that you like me and want the best for me. 
2. Challenging for Growth: Insist that I try to continuously improve. 
3. Providing Support: Help me complete tasks and achieve goals. 
4. Sharing Power: Hear my voice and let me share in making decisions. 
5. Expanding Possibility: Expand my horizons and connect me to opportunities.

It strikes me that these are helpful reflection categories for all relationships and almost a charter for friendship in general. However, the search institute suggests a series of questions about these categories that root them into family life and it suggest that these questions could be raised in a family sharing session.  ell, perhaps that might work in the USA but here in the UK it is more likely that a wise parent will use these five areas to shape the conversations they might need to have with individuals and together with other family members. The questions are at the bottom of this blog.

I like the questions because they have the potential to open up deeper conversations between parents and children on a regular basis. Such conversations were a monthly event in Don Bosco's communities. Don Bosco made sure that he knew how his community were getting on by giving them a good listening to at least once a month and he asked his community leaders to continue that  process. His list of five areas overlapped very strongly with the list from the search institute with the exception of an additional area of discussion about an individuals prayer and spiritual life.

Parents have a huge amount to do in raising families and make great sacrifices to maintain a good home and lifestyle. Their heroism is often overlooked, even by themselves. Children too carry many additional burdens in sharing care for the family and in containing the effects of media and stimulation in our culture. It is easy for family relationships to become over stretched and infrequent and yet the family a potential for resilience in the face of money and media if they can appreciate one another and let each other know that they are loved. The search institute, in framing these questions have reminded us that genuine love, expressed consistently and courageously at times, will always win through.

Let people know that they are loved (Don Bosco)

Search Institute Questions

Express Care: Different families express care in different ways.
  •  How do your family members see each other expressing care? Use these discussion starters to talk about it together.
  • When are times you've felt close as a family? Where were you? What were you doing? What made that time memorable?
  • What sacrifices have others made for you or your family? How have those sacrifices or investments affected your life?
  • What’s something you really enjoy doing together as a family that you haven’t had a chance to do lately? What do you enjoy about it?

Challenge Growth: Challenging growth focuses on the ways we encourage, inspire, push, or otherwise influence each other to try new things, take risks, or overcome obstacles. These discussion starters focus on how this happens--or doesn’t happen--in your family.
  • How has someone inspired you to take on a new challenge? What was inspiring to you about it? What was hard about it?
  • How does challenging other people to grow either strengthen or hurt your relationship? And how does having a strong relationship make it easier or harder to push people to learn and grow?
  • What are some challenges we’ve faced together in our family? In what ways did we grow in the midst of those challenges?

Provide Support: Everyone needs help from other people sometimes. It can be tricky, though, to find the right balance of having others support us and being responsible on our own. Use these questions to talk about the right balance for you and your family
  • Who is someone you admire who really encourages you to pursue your goals?
  •  What do they do that really matters for you?
  • Think about a recent time you were struggling with a challenge. 
  • What are some ways people in the family did (or didn’t) encourage you or advocate for you? How did their response affect you?
  • When have people tried to help you or support you when you didn’t really want it?
  •  How did you deal with that? What might you do next time?

Share Power: Parents influence kids, kids influence parents, and siblings influence each other. Families are stronger when they are intentional in the ways they share power with each other. Use these discussion prompts to explore these issues.
  • What are the ways each member of your family influences others in your family? 
  • This can include personal preferences (such as fashion or music preferences), how your family spends time and money, and core beliefs and values. 
  • Come up with at least one way each person influences each other family member.
  • What are easy areas for making decisions in your family? 
  • What are areas that are harder? 
  • What makes them easier and harder?

Think of several areas of family life where it’s clear who makes the decision. This could include schedule, money, activities, cooking, chores, etc. Try to imagine how these might be different if a different family member made those decisions. Have fun thinking of the possibilities!
Expand Possibility: It can be exciting and stimulating for family members to help each other explore new possibilities together. Use these questions to talk together about how people have opened up possibilities for you--and other horizons you’d love to explore together as a family
  • What is one thing you really enjoy (such as music, ideas, foods) that someone else in the family introduced you to? Tell the story of how they introduced you to it?
  • What do you find to be enjoyable about spending time with people who are different from your family? What can make it hard?
  • Who are (or were) significant adults outside the immediate family who have or had a big influence on your life? 
  • How did or do they influence you?