Daddy Talk: Engaging 2018
A topic that my wife and I seem to return to constantly is the idea of establishing a “family culture.” We like to think deliberately about the sort of environment we want our home to be, and, especially as the kids grow up, we want to do all we can to ensure they will look back on a loving and supportive household that helped establish them emotionally, spiritually, and socially. The New Year invariably leads us to re-visit this conversation.
Of course, idealizing your family situation also gives way to despair. You look around and think, “Wait, this is nothing like I planned for it to me.” Why haven’t we bathed the kids for five days? Why is there a homemade science experiment gone awry on the rug we just shampooed? Maybe you have caught yourself raising your voice far too often to your kindergartener…maybe your kindergartener’s rotten attitude has merited you raising your voice far too often. Maybe there’s more yelling and fighting between your kids in the backyard than there is cooperation and playing together.
Whatever the case, my bet is that in many ways, the picture you have of your home does not resemble the photographs you saw on some blogger’s Pinterest page. My suggestion is that we stop looking at Pinterest and decideon just a couple things that we can do, starting today, to nurture our family culture.
Here’s an example that I’ve been dealing with: I’ve been trying to “engage” more. A guy in one of the men’s groups that I’m a part of recently explained that in his house, he feels a little bit incompetent. At work, he’s a whiz—knows how to fix language in reports, knows who to call for help on an issue, gets things done by the deadlines. You know, all the things that good professionals thrive at. But at home, relating to his wife and kids seems a lot trickier. There’s not an obvious plan to solve every issue that comes up. Kids do not respond to problems with the maturity of a logical thinking adult. Sometimes, spouses have difficulty communicating. Plus, a lot more emotion is involved in all of this at home. “But,” said this guy, “as long as I’m trying to engage them, that’s a good thing.”
Wow, I thought. That resonates for me, and probably for most dads and husbands I know. Often, my natural response to conflict in my home, even if the conflict is not necessarily about me, is this: I find something else to get occupied with. You know, something I’m competent at. Folding socks. Mowing the grass. Changing a headlight bulb in one of the vehicles. This reaction is so common in my core that you could probably take a look at my house and assume that if everything is in working order, I’ve probably been disengaged with my wife and kids.
I don’t know the “cure” for this behavior. My guess is that our actions are the results of layers of biological, psychological, and cultural factors that will never be untangled. For the time being, when I sense conflict, or when I feel it just starting to well up, I’ve forced myself to at least stay physically present instead of giving in to my sudden urge to go check the mailbox. I’ve started making some comments, which are only variously accepted as helpful by the rest of my household. But I think my wife and kids appreciate the effort. My recent comments sound something like this: when the kids need to help out with a task, either for fun or as chores— “Hey, everyone, we’ve got a lot of great stuff happening tonight. But first I need you all to help with something.” Or, when Ashley needs some support—“I’ve heard your mom ask three times that you pick up these army toys. We’re going to pick them up right now, and we’re not going to
wait until the third request next time.” Or, when we need to be reminded that we’re a team— “Listen! Isaac got a special award at school today. Let’s all clap for him!”
Again, I’m no expert at engaging family life. And I don’t think that simply making more public comments in your household at key times will automatically result in your having a stable, thriving “family culture.” But, I do know that being aware of my natural times of disengagement as well as taking steps to be more in tune have been valuable for having higher quality of relationships in our home. Even if I don’t get around to weed-eating as frequently.
Tim Krason lives in Clinton with his wife and three kids. He hopes that you notice his house in need of many repairs in the New Year.