Our first foundation is Brain Health. When you think of brain health what probably first comes to mind is intellectual growth, or maybe stimulation of the nervous system via movement. But brain health also includes emotional and spiritual health. No matter what you consider spirituality to be for you, I think you can easily see how emotional and spiritual health would both require the presence of love. I think one important requirement for love is having a healthy balance of love for yourself and love for others. The health of the family is a great example of this balance. Each member is an individual, with their own needs, interests, and problems. But each member also has an interest and responsibility in those same things as they pertain to their family members. Both are important. Neither should be neglected. I’m going to share with you my wife and my strategy for balancing the two.
Before implementing this strategy we found ourselves together—me, my wife, and our two kids—most of our free time. Yet despite all of that time together, we were frequently disconnected from each other. We were either on our phones or multitasking. My wife and I would find things for the kids to do, we’d get them going, turn them loose, then we’d work on those “important” household things while the kids were distracted. When we would go on fun family outings, we would still take our other worries with us, making it very tough to stay engaged the whole time.
We were together, but we were not growing together or building our family bond. My wife and I had become more and more aware of this and in our discussion about how to make it better we had this realization:
Two changes in our thinking will profoundly affect our ability to love each other the way we were supposed to, despite the craziness of our current world. We can grow our relationships with each other better if we are deliberate in our use of time and allow ourselves to be selfish occasionally.
On being deliberate
Simply resolving to spend more time together doesn’t consistently work. Inevitably, something more pressing will always come up, allowing family time to be pushed back to everyone’s favorite day—tomorrow. There needs to be some amount of rigidity. We have to plan times for certain categories of activity. They don’t have to be “best day ever!” caliber. And they don’t have to be all-day extravaganzas. Being engaged 100% while together is the goal here. For us, we will have certain times when we do chores together, when we do something outside, when we have together quiet time, separate quiet time, daddy/mommy-daughter time, daddy/mommy-son time, individual alone time, etc. What you specifically do remains spontaneous, but the times and categories remain rigid. This helps encourage you to make sure it happens.
How you fit all of this in depends on the schedule of all your other “things”. It may seem like there is no time for all of this, but if you use a planning aid such as a day planner or phone app and mark off the specific times, you’ll be shocked at what you can fit in and how much time you waste staring at your phone or engaging in other procrastination. Something further to think about is that some of these activities—especially the one-on-one parent-child activities—can be opportunities to have a meaningful conversation. For example, one of my Daddy-Daughter activities is walking the dogs. I like to use this time to invite my daughter to ask me about anything that worries, confuses, or interests her. She can ask me anything. It’s great bonding time and a great way to check in on the kids and make sure they are getting the help they need navigating this exciting yet sometimes terrifying world. Also, it’s one of the few times she lets me hold her hand :).
On being selfish
My wife and I both had many individual interests before we had kids. I loved music, camping, whitewater, tennis…she loved hiking, traveling, reading, photography, and many more things. Once kids come, it becomes much more difficult to be immersed in any hobby, and it also became more difficult to maintain our relationship as a couple. You WANT to be with your kids, and it IS a different phase of your life that requires certain sacrifices. But this doesn’t mean that the parents no longer have their own individual identities and interests. If we don‘t recognize this fact, we risk of harboring resentment toward our families for taking that part of us away. We decided that it’s OK to miss our old lives. It’s also possible to make deliberate steps to allow that individual in each us to continue to grow.
With that in mind, we made a pact. Each month, each parent would have a day, and sometimes an entire weekend, to themselves. We could do whatever we wanted—go out of town to visit a friend, stay in an Airbnb alone and decompress, go for a hike, a run, a canoe trip, go shopping, work alone in the garage on a project—whatever we want. We also apply this rule to couples activities at least once a month. The rest of the time is pretty much family time. There are also little pockets of time throughout the week when we have mini breaks for “me-time” that we use for exercise, errands, etc. and that helps too, but the big monthly breaks really help us to get that need for selfishness out of our system for a while and be totally present and committed to the moment when it’s family time.
One final thought is that this only works if you are 100% committed to it. When it’s me time, it’s me time, and you do what you want with no guilt. When it’s family time, it’s family time. No phones, no multitasking. You are completely present. Same with work. Being committed to contributing your very best self to each part of your day or week ensures that you’ll be a more loving parent, a happier individual, and a more successful professional. Do this and you’ll find that no matter how busy you are, you can be fulfilled in all aspects of your life.
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