Tell me if this sounds familiar...
Some kind of wild morning routine with kids and pets and searching for shoes that ends with everyone at school and work. Now you’re racing around through a busy and stressful workday, followed by picking up the kids, dinner, bath and bedtime, laundry, dishes, etc. etc, and you finally crash into bed with your partner in an exhausted heap only to lie there wondering where the time went and feeling the crushing weight of mom guilt because you had like 15 minutes of quasi-quality time with your kids AND now the holidays are upon us...BREATHE, SIS!!
This was definitely my family and still is some days. When we had our first child, we were both Active Duty Service Members and I was in an extremely stressful role at work. I mean one of those get there an hour early just to have some peace to work, work feverishly and somewhat frantically all day until too late in the afternoon, only to head home and not be able to turn my brain off and be present with my family. What sleep I was getting was riddled with stress dreams and I felt in a constant state of fight or flight - jittery with angst and beat down by what, at that time, was labeled postpartum depression.
Now I have to say, I was not alone in this at work. I worked with some phenomenal people. We were just all in this hurt locker together so to speak. I was also not alone in it at home. My husband and daughter have a beautiful bond. She LOVED for him to pick her up at daycare. She’d go running to him with THE biggest smile on her face, whereas, despite her deep love for me, it was like, “Oh, hey guys, my ride's here. See ya tomorrow. ‘Sup Mama?” So needless to say, my husband loved to pick her up and I really needed that support.
But every night, there we were, talking about how we hated that she was in
daycare all day and our only time together was the mundane evening routine of dinner, bath, and bedtime. This wasn’t what we wanted. This wasn’t the life we had envisioned for our family.
In the military, I was blessed to work with people who became family. We formed those bonds intentionally. After all, the high operational tempo meant that we spent more time together than with our families. We probably even knew each other better than our families knew us at times. That’s GREAT for a positive work environment, but was that what I wanted for my family? For my co-workers to know me better than my own children? For a heaven-sent daycare worker to know my child better than me? NO! ABSOLUTELY NOT, but I didn’t have the tools to change it.
So we laid there and wondered: Is it possible, do you think...for a modern family to be so deeply connected that each member of the family feels wholly seen, heard, and valued? To build lifelong connection?
I think it’s a question with a resounding YES, but we’re constantly growing and figuring out “how” to actually do it. I also think the “how” is different for each and every one of us, because there’s no one-size-fits-all way to live your life.
It won’t happen overnight, but when we shift our mindset to use small moments as opportunities to connect, we can make a huge impact on our family’s lives. Do you have an hour? Great! Do you have 20 minutes? Use it!
We treat the holidays differently because they are generally a time in which love, family, and connection are at the forefront of our minds. We may take time off work, have family dinners, holiday parties, and focus on making memories. I implore you to keep that “holiday spirit” alive all year long with the loved ones in your life. It doesn’t require tons of free time and extensive planning, simply an intention to be present and use the small pockets of time you have to connect.
To help you do that, here are some our favorite ways to create meaningful connection that lasts:
Couple Connect Cards for Couples.
These are card decks found easily online that serve as conversation starters. When we’re super busy and feeling crushed by our routine, we use these cards to shut it all out and focus on each other. You can set a timer for as little as five minutes, draw a card or two, and connect!
So a short confession, my husband loves to tell me about all the things he would love to have and the dream home he wants to build and it used to completely overwhelm me. It felt like a checklist for me. Like, ok how do I become successful enough that we can have all these things? After doing a lot of deep work to move out of that scarcity mindset, it is now something we both love. Research shows that dreaming together builds trust, love, passion, and a visual for your future together which strengthens your bond.
Connecting with your children:
Sunshine, Rain, and Umbrellas.
I hope that this one becomes a daily practice for your family at dinner or during bedtime routine. It is a chance for everyone to share the best part of their day (sunshine), the hardest part of their day (rain), and how they helped someone else that day (umbrella). It is a chance to reinforce a positive growth mindset and kindness towards others.
Favorite Family Activity.
Ask each family member what their favorite thing is that your family does or has done. You may be surprised at the simplicity of the answer. The answers can give you powerful insight as to what is truly important to each member of your family and how they best connect to you. We can place so much unnecessary pressure on ourselves to “do everything” when what our family truly wants and needs is only one question away.
For Extended Family:
Connecting Across the Miles.
I can’t take any credit for this one. I had a close friend who was away from his wife for quite some time due to our military assignment. They would have date nights where they Skyped while cooking the same meal and watching the same movie. This fantastic idea can be applied to long distant family members and with pandemic innovation, almost every streaming app has a watch party function. My friends were truly before their time!
Create Your Own Book Club.
Do you share a common interest with a family member? Plan to read or listen to the same book or watch the same documentary and then plan a call to chat about it.
Connection Cards for Friends.
Yes, the market provides with deep conversation starters for friends. Holding space for a friend to be open and vulnerable is one of the most meaningful gifts we can give or receive. To be wholly seen, heard, and valued is the connection we are all seeking and your willingness to offer it can change a life.
Create a Common Goal.
No matter what the goal is, embarking on the journey together can strengthen your relationship, offer accountability and support, as well as, the benefit of achieving the goal. What could be better than that?
By: Bethany Bagby - Bethany is a wife, mom, veteran, and entrepreneur with a passion for coffee and helping parents create unique experiences for their families amidst their everyday, busy lives. As the Founder of The Family Unity Project she is on a mission to empower families to build lifelong connection by creating consistent and intentional time together where each member of the family feels seen, heard, and valued.