“Dad, I think our family talk the other night really helped me.”
I was lying in bed last night next to Aly and was just asking her about her day. I asked her how she was feeling about life in general and she gave this response. She added, “I know that we have family talks a lot, but I really liked that one for some reason.” (for some reason…interesting statement)
“What did you like about it?” I asked.
“Well, I just like getting together as a family and talking about each other and what we’re feeling. It helps me to know what everyone else is going through.”
Sometimes it’s really that simple, isn’t it? To gather your brood together and have a “family talk” seems intimidating to many, I’m sure. But I think we think it’s supposed to be organized and ordered, planned and programmed—that’s why people shy away from gathering the troops and getting the lay of the land, and EKG on each family member. But it’s nothing like that.
All it takes is someone, usually the father or mother, summoning the children into the living room. As they sit down and you crack open a can of questions and commentary, the objective is nothing more than answering this question: “What is going on and why?” It seems simplistic, but if you can inquire of each other’s hearts so that everyone can get a read on each other’s feelings and thoughts, the nucleus is strengthened bit by bit.
A lot of times these times can start off and put everyone on edge. You can make statements like:
1. Things are going to change around here.
2. I’m sick and tired of your crappy attitudes.
3. You’re driving us nuts and it’s gonna end today.
4. Your mom and I have had it with your crap.
…and the like.
But I’ve noticed that when we have family meetings that begin more softly and sensitively, we have a better shot of disarming the defensive spirit in ourselves and our children. It usually starts with thoughts like:
1. We’ve been noticing a few things lately that really concern us.
2. I don’t know what’s been eating at you guys, but it’s clear something is bothering you.
3. These are a few things I’ve observed that break my heart and I think break God’s heart.
4. We know that you guys have good hearts, but the way you’re talking to each other isn’t showing that.
5. There is coming a day when you will grow up and we won’t be together anymore, I just don’t want you to look back on these days with regret, so we want to talk about how to make this season one of good memories.
6. You guys say you love each other and us, but your attitude and actions aren’t demonstrating as of late.
Or it can be tender questions: (Heidi is good at this)
1. Is something bothering you right now that you aren’t telling us?
2. Have we done something that has hurt you or caused you to have angry feelings toward us?
3. How do you feel like you’re being treated that isn’t fair?
4. Is there anything that you’ve been wanting to say to us or your sisters that you’ve bottled up inside?
5. Do you feel pressure or stress that is causing you to be impatient and irritable?
6. Do you feel overlooked or unappreciated in our family?
7. Do you feel like someone else is getting more attention and it’s making you feel less valued and noticed?
Questions like that.
The third layer of thought is a little more nuanced and difficult, but this is where the parents have to speak into each child’s heart according to their particular story. You have to tell them who they are, who they’ve been, and what you believe their unique glory is in life and within your family. Each of them is different and it’s important to point out and affirm those differences or they all feel bad that they aren’t like someone else leading to chronic disappointment and demoralization. The other night it took on the form of statements like:
1. Taylor, I’ve seen you grow so much in your affection lately. Ever since we talked about how you were standoffish, I can see how you’re taking initiative to be affectionate and ask questions to others. Isn’t that so much more enjoyable?
2. Kami, you didn’t used to be withdrawn and isolated…that isn’t who you are. You have always been bold without a care in the world what people thought. It seems you’ve been less confident lately and we want you to know that you have every reason to be bold…that is how God made you.
3. Aly, you are caring and tender…you always have been. Your attitude lately with your sisters is quick, cutting and combative, that’s not you. You are a peacemaker and the more caring and sharing you are, the more joy you’ll experience.
4. Kami, you make statements about how you don’t feel smart because you see your sisters excelling in school, but I don’t think you understand that you are way above average in your intelligence. Your mom and I were no where near as smart as you at your age and I fear that if you keep telling yourself you’re not intelligent, your belief will infect your behavior. You aren’t just smart, you are brilliant. The only thing that will keep you from success is you applying yourself. The main reason your sisters excel is that they practice, take time to learn, and apply themselves. If you misunderstand that and believe they are smart without trying, you will believe a lie. They excel because they work hard. If you work hard, you are just as smart.
5. Aly, it’s important for you to affirm your sisters. It’s not enough to just “not fight”. You need to see areas of their lives that they are doing well and let them know that you see it and encourage them. And that goes for all of you, don’t tear each other down…be each others biggest fans. Tell each other how good of a job you’re doing and what you love about each other. Things like, “You look cute today.” or “Great job in your game.” or “I’m proud of your for how well you did on that project.”
6. There is stuff every day tearing you guys down and breaking down your confidence…you don’t need to be another one of those voices. You need to build Taylor up so that she can overcome fear and feel less self-conscious. You need to let Kami know that she is gifted and encourage her to pursue life with passion and to work hard to accomplish things. You need to let Aly know how much you love her attitude of joy and humor and encourage her to never lose that spirit. ‘Cause that’s what we all need…encouragement!
7. Kami, you have always been an overcomer. You were born with Moebius Syndrome and have never let it stop you from trying things. If either one of your sisters had that setback with their personalities, they would probably have crumbled, but you have a strong spirit and as you’ve never let it stop you from trying things or pursuing your dreams. Don’t let it start now! Your strength in the midst of your obstacles is what draws people to you…it is your platform of power! We know it hasn’t been easy, but it has made your stronger and God gave you the perfect personality to handle what would kill most people. Don’t ever lose that. I can see something slipping on the inside and I don’t want you to forget where you came from and who you’ve always been…it’s what makes you truly beautiful!
8. Taylor, remember when you were younger? You danced and were the freest of all your sisters. Because you have a deep mind, you think about things so much that it causes you to hold back and to be fearful and uptight. But you aren’t a fearful person, that is not how you were when you were younger…do you remember? You need to remember what daddy told you a couple weeks ago before bed. You are valued; You are secure; You are protected; You are loved; & You are cared for. You never have to worry or feel anxiety about those things. We feel those things about you as your sisters and parents, but most importantly, God feels those things about you. So live with freedom!
These were some talking points that just emerged as the night became more informal and open. We talked about leadership, but not “pressured” leadership that comes from us as parents. We talked about what true beauty is without diminishing their desire to be cute. We talked about sisterhood and how quickly life goes by, yet didn’t want them to think about the sudden and foreboding future that is just around the corner. We talked about what we want our family to look like, feel like, and be like. We tried to cast a vision of what it could be “if only”. We shared our observations of what it was becoming and the weeds that were growing up in our beautiful garden, and how we wanted to rid ourselves of those weeds that creep in and crowd out the colorful flowers that each of us possess that showcase God’s glory set within us. We tried to climb out of the fog and clear the air.
And amazingly, when you take an hour or two every so often to just hear from each other’s hearts, things get better. Not perfect, but better. We will never be perfect, but we can get better at life and living, and that doesn’t happen without deliberate effort given to discipline and disciple our children.
Both Kami and Aly said yesterday that they liked our last “family talk”. It amazes me that in the midst of their busy lives, it actually provides more capacity inside of them to order their interior worlds in family community. When we don’t take that time, their minds and hearts are congested with chaotic thoughts and ideas. We must pursue truth together, for the truth is what sets us free.
And that’s what family nights should be about. Not a time to lay down the law, but a time to dig out each other’s hearts.