Monthly Archives: September 2011

29Sep/11

Family Project Update

Well, the chaos of the holidays and the start of school term have taken their toll on me, and I have to admit that I haven’t kept focussed on our Family Project as much as I’d hoped.

However, despite my lack of planning this month’s family activities, the concept of respect has been central in my thoughts, and has caused much relief, hope and despair.

The story goes like this:   For most of my parenting life, I have felt uneasy with the general parenting techniques that our society uses, namely the culture of reward and punishment, blaming and shaming, and the reliance on external motivation to mould children’s behaviour.

However,  I’m also not comfortable with the more permissive, liberal side of parenting either, where we let our children discover their own path, and put their needs first.  I do believe that we should teach our children certain ways of behaving, and for them to learn that there are consequences whenever and however we act. 

Add to that the recent realisation that I am a perfectionist who feels the need to be in control of everything – especially her children – you have a set of contraditions that are not likely to bring about a safe, nurturing, respectful environment for children to grow up in.  Instead you find a mother who is instinctively loving and nurturing but who on a day to day basis uses threats, blaming and shaming with her children (and herself) in the misguided belief that this what you have to do to instill proper values, principles and manners into her children.  But it doesn’t work. And because I’m a perfectionist, I blame myself (when I’m not blaming the children!) which makes the whole situation ten times worse.

So when our Family Project focussed on respect I ordered three new parenting books.  But I didn’t get what I expected.  Instead of learning new techniques to teach my children how to act with more respect, I was told what I already knew deep inside: that it was me who needed to learn to treat my children with respect, not the other way around. 

Cue relief (my instincts were right after all), hope (it will be ok when I’ve practiced this respect thing – it can’t be too hard, especially since it is in tune with my thinking) and then despair (it’s sooooooooooooo hard.  Habits are hard to change, and my children don’t respond in the same way that they do in the books). 

So our Family Project will be concentrating on respect for as long as it takes, and it will involve as much learning, and changing, from me and my husband as it will from our kids.  It’s tough, and will continue to be tough, but it feels right. For once I feel like I am living in line with my values.

20Sep/11

Happy People are Good at Relationships

In her book ‘The How of Happiness’, Sonja Lyubomirsky talks about the importance of relationships to happiness. 

“In order to become happier, we must learn to imitate the habits of very happy people. Happy people are exceptionally good at their friendships, family and intimate relationships. The happier a person is – the more likely he or she is to have a large circle of friends or companions, a romantic partner and ample social support. The happier a person, the more likely she is to be married and to have a fulfilling and long-lasting marriage. The happier the person, the more likely she is to be satisfied with her family life and social activities, to consider her partner her ‘great love’, and to receive emotional and tangible support from friends, supervisors and co-workers.”

So, how much time, effort and energy do you give to the most important relationships in your life?  I’m sure all our answers would be different to that question but I imagine that most of us would probably say we want to spend more time, effort and energy nurturing our relationships, rather than less.

Part of the problem, I think, is that relationships are not concrete, with definite levels of achievement. We might say that our most precious goals are to do with creating strong relationships, but how do we actually define that, how do we measure it, and how do we focus on this ambiguity when there are so many other more measurable and material goals that demand our attention?

When I am completely honest, all of my top three goals in life are to do with creating, nurturing and sustaining relationships. I want to have a long, strong and happy marraige. I want to nurture my children into confident, healthy, kind and happy adults, and I want to have helped many women in their lives and relationships throughout my career.  With the first two goals,  I’ll have to wait many years to see if I’ve ‘done’ it right.   I won’t get paid for it, I won’t have many concrete measurements of whether I’m doing it right along the way, and I won’t have a lot of help or training either.  With the latter,  others will be able to judge how ‘successful’ I am by how much money I make, how many women I help, whether I write a book, if my blog is popular etc.  There is often immediate feedback on how well we are doing in this area. We also have easier steps along the way to focus on, we can make strategic career plans, incorporating intermediate goals and milestones.  How easy is it to create a project plan of nurturing confident children?  It’s not a simple process with a beginning and an end, unlike say, becoming an expert in a certain area and writing a book about it. I’m not saying becoming an expert, or succeeding in your chosen field is easy, but there is usually a recognised process to follow. Parenting and relationships are not like that. It’s more messy and confusing and challenging, and contradictory and personal and I’m not surprised we get distracted by more ‘simple’ and quantifyable goals.

However, the thing with happy people is that they don’t get so easily distracted by other goals (they still have them and are often very busy and successful). Instead they consistently prioritise relationships and prioritise time for their most important relationships. They see spending time with loved ones, friends, family as a goal in itself. They are kind within these relationships, they are grateful of these relationships and they are mindful and patient with these relationships. 

Some of us are naturally good at nurturing and prioritising relationships, while some of us need to work harder at it.  Either way, if  you do something often enough, it becomes a habit, and people who have daily habits that make them happy (like prioritising relationships), are indeed happier than those who sacrifice daily happiness habits on the alter of long term goals.  

I’ll leave you with another quote from Sonja Lyubomirsky:

“The causal relationship between social relationships and happiness is clearly bidirectional. This means that romantic partners and friends make people happy, but it also means that happy people are more likely to acquire lovers and friends.  This conclusion, which my colleagues and I have put forth on the basis of numerous studies, is actually rather optimistic. It implies that if you begin today to improve and cultivate your relationships, you reap the gift of positive emotions. In turn, the enhanced feelings of happiness will help you attract more and higher-quality relationships, which will make you even happier, and so on, in a continuous positive feedback loop. In other words, by applying this happiness-increasing strategy, you will embark on what psychologists call and ‘upward-spiral’.”