I've talked with quite a few families lately who for one reason or another have got distracted from their home-based routines. Common hot-spots for them have been the mornings, when parents are trying to get themselves and kids out the door, or at the other end of the day when it's time for everyone to get fed, do homework, answer emails, hang out together, and then finally get some sleep of half reasonable quality. When those harder parts of the day don't run well, there can then be some unsettling for people in other parts of their day.
Parents of these families, notice that they all function better when they can maintain some kind of routine or structure. Yet, not be rigid with it, either. Because if for some reason, they don't keep a routine going, then things can get pretty chaotic pretty quickly. There's a simple reason for this - even though we frequently push up against routines and structure, and complain about them (like I do...) we need them, and so long as we have all walked the earth together, we have had them. And routines (or structure, which I'm also lumping in with routine here) tell us what to do - which sounds simple and obvious, I know, yet it's so important.
So it's useful to think about it like this - routine makes our lives more manageable, in that we feel more in charge of ourselves and our immediate environments. An example of how this works is when we find ourselves in strange environments - such as a new country. It feels a bit weird to start with, in part because we don't quite know how things work around here - though sure, the cultural difference will be a likely be a factor. But an equally important factor will be that we don't yet know what the routine is. It's kind of similar in the case of major events like floods and earthquakes - those things are pretty scary, but aside from the intensity of the event itself, a lot of the scariness comes from our sudden loss of structure or routine, and therefore not knowing what will happen next. And we always want to know what happens next, because there's comfort and security in knowing that - humans have always needed to know what will happen next.
There's good evidence that kids function better with routine. Recent research has shown that those kids (and they researched this with 8500 of them, so it's a sizeable study) whose lives are based around regular routines, with these including regular bed-times, plus set times for reading, and eating etc, have higher levels of emotional health and are set up better to become contented adults.
But it's not just the kids. Similar research has shown that adults who have quite set routines and structure in their lives, including a set sleeping time, and are attending to other things consistently will be considerably better with time management - which I guess is an obvious outcome. But it also means these people will also have higher levels of contentment with their lives.
Like anything though, it does not help to become a slave to our routine - that's just as much a trap, as having no routine at all. Routine and structure definitely have a place in our lives, by giving us an important map. But being able to occasionally throw it all out the window is also an important indicator of our ability to be spontaneous and adaptable.
Talk soon - I'm off to have another go at getting some routine happening...
Seasons Greetings! - So where did that year go?? I'm not quite ready for December. But I wasn't ready for November or October either...
Thinking about the rapidly declining year got me also thinking about the many couples and families I've worked with this year. And there has been quite a number of them, that's for sure. The good thing is that most of them had some success in therapy (or outside of therapy, which is where the real work happens), one way or another - enough anyway that they could pick things up and get on with their lives. Mostly they did not require a huge number of meetings with me to get some positive changes happening.
Looking back now at the couples I've been priviledged to work, it's important to remember that they clearly had issues and challenges that were unique to them and for some, there were real crises. So that meant working with them to find ways forward that would work especially for their situation. But there were also some things that many of these couples attempted in common. Sure, maybe they were not all useful for all couples - but certainly most people found at least a few of these to be useful.
So what did work? As mentioned, many of them needed to address Bigger Picture stuff regarding aspects of their relationship like connectedness, communication, and the role of conflict, to name three. But in amongst all of that, there was the discovery from many of these couples, that although the following strategies did not resolve their issues as such, they never the less contributed to increased positivity and enhanced feelings of well being between them as partners - important stuff, for sure. And a better 'relationship climate' somehow made those bigger crises and challenges a bit more manageable, and a bit less overwhelming. But before we get to them - apologies if you have read some of these here (and elsewhere) before. Well - actually, there's no apology...the reason that I'm banging on about these strategies yet again, is because they work (people who make a living research couple functioning can verify they work), and it's not just me that is saying this.
So if you are likely to be having some extended time together as a couple over the summer holidays, (or even if you just want to be a bit more focused on your relationship) please feel free to give these a test drive, if you haven't already. You might be surprised: simple yet useful.
1) Checking the 'temperature' of your relationship.... Simply put, this is just checking in with your partner, along the lines of one asking the other "how are we doing today?" It puts the relation under focus - and invites each partner, however briefly, to think about how things are between them. Couples who did this noticed that it often led to a bigger conversation, though this wasn't always a necessity.
2) Watch your delivery. Couples noticed that there was more scope for a useful conversation regarding issues that were bugging them, if they raised these in measured, non-confrontational ways, rather than going in with guns blazing, and their partner then getting defensive and angry in return, and the issue then not being addressed, or turning instead into a bigger conflict.
3) Compliment your partner when they do something that helps the relationship. Couples who got in to the habit of doing this regularly noticed that it helped them feel closer overall. Also it seemed to help the relationship become a bit more resilient, in that the relationship could stand a bit of negativity, if this was balanced with praise and compliments, remembering it's people of all ages that need praise, compliments and encouragement, not just kids.
4) See your couple relationship as a priority. In amongst the busy-ness of lives, and the need to attend to kids/careers/running a home/supporting wider family/studying, those couples who prioritised their couple relationship (which, afterall, is a foundation to so many of those other parts of their lives, in that those parts would probably would not otherwise be there) noticed they felt more connected overall. Couples who were in strife when they first attended therapy, often noticed that their own couple relationship has slipped down the list - sometimes to the point that it was at the bottom. All those other demands are more manageable when the couple relationship is looked after - almost like it was an entity in its own right. Plus it's important role-modeling for kids, when they see their parents giving their own relationship the time and energy that it deserves, as parents are always the biggest teachers in this regard.
There we have it - four simple things that began to turn many relationships around. Sure, there were more specific areas that couples needed to address, and many of them also did well with those - but those who started using all, or even a couple of the above strategies started to notice a difference.
I'm looking forward to the opportunity of working with more couples and families in 2017. Seeing the changes that are possible is always rewarding, both for them and for me - so please try to enjoy the holiday season over the coming weeks, but also feel free to contact me after January 9th if you are needing some assistance.
Talk soon - and feel free to visit me over at Facebook!
REJECTION GETS A LOT OF BAD PRESS. It's like it has nothing good going for it. And when we are right in the grip of it's clutches, it can be devastating. It's one of those things that all humans can relate to, as we all experience it, and no one has ever really been able to avoid it. And it hurts. And depending on what is at stake, and who we have been rejected by, it can hurt badly.
Yet it's also important to think about what rejection means, and when we are not in the mist of the pain it can inflict, what we can actually learn from it. I'm not suggesting that we have to cop all rejection on the chin, because there will be times that else has someone got it wrong, and the rejection is not accurate. But it's always important to weigh it up, and not immediately dismiss the rejector as being cruel/nasty/nutty.
So there are some important point to consider, when talking about rejection. And I'm talking about rejection in broader terms - what it means in our close relationships, but also what it means when it happens in other parts of our lives.
1) Rejection helps us keep our egos in check and remain reasonable human beings. If everything we wanted always went completely our way, and none of us were ever rejected, we would be living on a planet filled with Donald Trumps, with everyone bloated, out for themselves, and completely filled with their own importance. Yikes...
2) Rejection can make us feel stronger. Sure, it can be a punch in the guts sometimes. But when we get through the initial hurt - we can actually see that the rejection is an opportunity to rise up, show what we are made of, and challenge the vision or idea of us that the rejector might have had. Maybe they got it right, maybe they got it wrong. Either way, we can now show them what we are really made of.
3) We often take rejection way too personally. It's easy to get into the trap of thinking rejection surely means we are completely useless, and a failed human being. Yet the majority of time, the rejection relates to one relatively small part of our behaviour eg., not being compatible in some part of a relationship, or not having a specific skill or attribute for some part of a job.
4) Rejection can be a wake-up call. Someone thinks they have the skills for the job or role, and they've applied now for two similar positions with two different companies. But twice now, their application has been turned down, because of perceived weakness in the same area each time... This is probably the time for the person to pay attention, knuckle down and get the skills or attributes they thought they had, or start looking in another direction. Rejection can lead us to areas of self-improvement, or skill development that we would not have otherwise bothered with.
5) Rejection can make us more attuned to others. When we have experienced the knock that comes from being rejected, we are then more likely to have empathy for others who are going through their own rejection. Rejection is one of those weird human experiences that everyone can relate to, and it therefore connects us all.
6) Rejection is very common for people who push themselves and for highly successful people. They have needed rejection to get where they are, and they've often had it time and again. Oprah Winfrey was rejected from her first job as as a tv news-reader, being told she was unsuitable for television. JK Rowling had her first Harry Potter book rejected by 11 publishing companies, before finally being accepted for publication.
7) Rejection by a romantic partner is probably the most hurtful of all types of rejection. So choosing to be in a relationship, always means we are also choosing the risk of possible rejection. It's important too, to keep in mind that rejection from one partner of another, can often simply be a statement about the overall incompatibility of both partners with each other, even though both are not able to see this at the time. It can also mean that one of the partners is able to step up and address a difficult part of a relationship, or finally take charge of a relationship that was going no-where.
The bottom line is, if we don't get rejected, we don't really live. When we try to avoid rejection, we don't put ourselves out there, we don't put ourselves on the line, and we get too scared to take a chance. So get rejected!
I've been talking with quite a few parents lately about how they run things at home - and how confusion can set in for them, when children grow into adolescents, and can sound fairly smart and worldly, and can thereby be reasonably convincing about letting parents know that their guidance is no longer required!
I usually encourage parents to remain in charge - that whilst it's important to respect the young person's growing need for independence and increased freedom, their worlds, and functioning in general, works better when there is structure in place, or to put it simply, when they know what is expected of them. Indeed, knowing what is expected of us in different situations makes all of us function better - regardless of our age.
I hear increasingly of kids having no real bedtime as such, and but more worryingly, having no restrictions over use of digital technology late in to the night. Meanwhile parents often know that although this might not be OK, they are likely to get a verbal barrage, if they try and impose any boundaries around this - and so they don't. This can then mean that teenagers, who through a lack of containment around internet access, are often gaming, or on social media until the wee small hours. There are a lot of flow-on effects from this, in that they struggle to get up in the mornings, and over time they don't function well in school because they are chronically sleep-deprived. Consequently they are increasingly out of sync with their families, and the wider world and are not doing well at all the tasks and challenges of this life-stage. What is also becoming apparent, is that many young people are developing raging internet addictions, and spending up to twelve plus hours a day online no longer seems unusual.
Naturally enough, things can get pretty ugly for parents when they try to intervene in this sort of behaviour - yet to not do so, is to enable them and have things get worse. To let it go, for fear of the young person throwing a major hissy fit, does not do them any favours - there will be a continued decline in the young person's health and general well-being.
Part of parenting an adolescent, is preparing them to do OK in the world - and whilst parents, and maybe schools can turn an occasional blind eye to a person who is frequently tired, irritable and unhealthy looking, future employers are not likely to be so forgiving.
So what can parents of adolescents do:
1) Think about the presence of technology in the house: do people take it for granted? Or can it become a parenting resource, whereby access is not freely given, but is a reward for people who fit in with the rest of the household with regards to appropriate sleep hours, who make time to spend with family members, and pitch in with the running of the household. It's important too, as in all aspects of family life, that parents think about what they are role-modelling for their young people. I hear increasingly from adolescents about parents who they want to talk with about something, to find time and again, that the parents are distracted with Facebook. Parents who initiate 8 hours of the household being unplugged each night - even if they need to take the router with them to bed - notice after a while how everyone functions better.
2) When trying to do some things differently, expect that it might get worse before it gets better... this is especially so, when parents try to take charge of excessive internet usage, or other areas of their kid's life that they might have let slide. In the early stages of trying to change things, parents should expect major meltdowns - especially so, if this has worked for the young person in the past. But if parents can stand their ground, the young person will (eventually!) come on board. And remember too, kids actually function better, when there are boundaries, and when they know what is expected of them.
3) It's really important for parents to model calm, rational behaviour, even if it seems the young person is trying to wind them up. I often hear parents complaining about teenagers who nut out, lose the plot, yell, swear, or kick holes in walls. Yet further discussion discloses that the whole house can be volatile, that parents rant and rave, and even get physical themselves. So they role-model aggressive or volatile behaviour, then seem genuinely puzzled (or even irate) when their young person starts flexing their own muscles in similar ways... Hmmmm.
4) Notice the good stuff that is happening. There is usually some good stuff going on, but parents can often not see this, if they have been distracted by the not OK stuff. But there are two important reasons for looking out (and you actually may have to consciously look out for it) and commenting on the good stuff. One is that if you tell a young person they are doing something well, then there's a good chance they'll do more of it for you (like most of us will). The other reason is that the young person will be more receptive to being pulled up or challenged about something, if this is happening within a more balanced atmosphere of also being praised for things they do well.
5) Keep the communication happening. I often hear how parents stop enquiring about what is going on in the life of their adolescent, because "I only get a grunt back." It's important that parents keep doing it anyway - even if weeks and months go by with little coming back their way. There are actually three reasons for doing this. One is that the adult needs to role-model how healthy communication works. The second reason is that the young person (and some of them are actually quite talkative anyway) will come out of this, and will notice that you hung in there, even if it was largely one way traffic for a while. And the third reason is that by remaining communicative with the young person, you stay connected with them, which increases the chances of them coming to you, when there is a big issue in their life. Kids don't tend to go adults who they see as being remote or uncommunicative.
So - five pointers to make life run more easily with adolescents under your roof... I'll be covering the other 40,000 pointers in the weeks ahead..... Or not! Seriously though, if you are really needing some support or input with stuff I've mentioned here, please feel free to contact me.
"Some occasional thoughts about families, relationships, and other things that distract us...."