Rituals of Connection
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We walk the good path that leads to intimacy with God and deep, healthy relationships with those whom we love when we listen with curiosity, speak with vulnerability, and act with humility. There is a liturgy to our rituals, a liturgy that is flexible and adaptive to the changing seasons of our family life.
The liturgy that characterized my grandmother’s marriage and her family in the 1930’s is very different than the liturgy necessary for modern marriages and families. Our liturgies need to grow and change as we grow and change and as our families grow and change. In the Baby Boomer generation, frequently the place to be seen, safe, soothed, and secure was around the family table where reliability was built around sharing meals together. That’s a little harder to pull off in today’s family with kids involved in after-school activities and athletics.
But no matter how busy our lives get, we have to remember: every human being (including the human beings who live in our houses) needs reliable trustworthy access to the people who care about them and whom they care about, a safe place to really listen and really talk about things that are important, and warm affection. These needs haven’t changed just because our world has become more complex. These needs remain part of the reality of our relational life. Yet anything that is ritual or routine or reliable can be difficult to maintain in a complex world. But there is no complexity in life that changes God’s love for us. And if we want to model that love, sometimes we need to stop what we’re doing to really listen to our children. Sometimes we need to close the computer and really listen to our spouses.
If you can’t imagine carving out 30 minutes for a stress-reducing conversation (see Wednesday’s Connecting through Conversation and Thursday’s Connecting through Listening), then maybe you could find a way to make hello/goodbye really special for everyone in your family – have a special ritual for walking your toddler into preschool and saying goodbye until later, then putting your phone away when you return to say hello so that you can fully listen to his/her experience while you were apart; make sure everyone in the family gets a hug and a kiss before they leave the house and an attentive ear when they return; be creative and make hello/goodbye something special. To learn more about rituals of connection and why they are so important, check out the Gottman blog http://www.gottmanblog.com/sound-relationship-house/2014/10/28/create-shared-meaning-examining-your-rituals.
And while you’re making these small changes, remember that there is no place in life out of which the good path cannot be chosen.
For really young children who might not be ready for the stress reducing conversation, we can be interested in the things that interest them. Instead of leading them to participate in structured activities all the time, maybe spend some time just watching what they like to do. What gets their attention? While noticing what gets their attention, practice asking really open-ended questions to learn WHO your child is. These are questions like “what is it about the butterfly that makes you want to watch it?” rather than “you like the butterfly because it’s colorful don’t you?”
As your children get older this means exploring their world with curiosity – being open to where they might be taking you rather than assuming you know where they are headed. This means doing a lot of listening and wondering and exploring and being OPEN to what you are hearing.
Dr. Tina Payne Bryson is the co-author (with Dan Siegel) of THE WHOLE-BRAIN CHILD (Random House Delacorte, 2011) and NO-DRAMA DISCIPLINE (Random House Bantam, 2014). In this short YouTube video, Tina reminds us that the activity isn’t really the big thing when it comes to our kids, it’s our presence with them in their world that matters https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQ6SPIW64w4 .
The Stress Reducing Conversation doesn’t have to be limited to the context of marriage. The practice of active listening and empathetically connecting is incredibly valuable to our children who also need a reliable place to be seen, safe, soothed, and secure. We can build this time into our daily routines for the children living in our homes, or our visitation routines for shared parenting situations, or even weekly phone conversations with our adult children living outside of our homes. Regardless of the age of our children, it is important that they have the opportunity to share who they are, what they’re afraid of, what brings them joy, their hopes and their dreams…without being corrected or judged or silenced. John Gottman calls this connection to our inner world, our “love map.” Everyone has one, including our kids.
So how can we connect through listening if our kids only speak to us in 1-word phrases? Would you believe there’s an app for that? The Gottman Your Child’s Love Maps app includes 100 questions for the significant people in a child’s life to test their knowledge of the child’s inner world. And if we’re stumped, we can always ask our child. Most of the 100 questions cannot be answered in 1-word. How do you think you would you do? Can you name two of your child’s heroes and heroines? What about your child’s ideal vacation getaway? Can you name one thing your child would want to change about you? For this, and more apps from the Gottman Institute, check out http://www.gottman.com/iphone-apps-2/.
And if you’d like to read more about why building love maps is such an important part of being married, check this out: http://www.gottmanblog.com/new-construction/2015/3/11/build-love-maps.
As you begin to explore the inner world of the people you love the most, remember to have some fun. This isn’t about being “right” or being “wrong”. This is about getting to know each other in deeply meaningful and affirming ways.
So if I choose what I think is the good path that leads to intimacy with God and deep, healthy relationships with others, how can I be sure that I’m on it?
In Galatians 5, Paul describes the fruit of the good path as: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” In the world of science, researchers refer to the good path as “secure attachment”. Secure attachment is a bit of a dance…”lending support while supporting separation.” It turns out that secure attachment provides what every mammal (we can substitute human) needs: reliable trustworthy access to the people who care about us and whom we care about, a safe place to really listen and really talk about things that are important to us, and warm affection that honors our personal temperament and boundaries. We thrive when we are seen, safe, soothed, and secure in our close relationships. These are markers of the good path.
So if we are looking to walk this good path, what are some things we can do to create places to be seen, safe, soothed, and secure in our close relationships? John Gottman, who has studied marriage for over 40 years, encourages a practice referred to as the Stress Reducing Conversation. The practice and its benefits are described in this entry from the Gottman Blog:
Maybe try it for a week and see what happens. Comment on this post to let us know how the experiment goes.