Keeping your family connected

Every family is totally unique and we all have our own special ways to connect with each other. Whether you have ‘family meetings’ to discuss important matters or have ‘pet names’ for your children that you use to let them know that you love them, one thing that is generally agreed upon is that families are at their happiest when communication is good. It’s all very well to say that we need to communicate well in families, but how do we do this whilst juggling all the other responsibilities that being a parent brings?

Let’s start at the beginning; bringing a new baby into the family. Becoming parents for the first time can be a life-changing and amazing experience, but it’s not without challenges. The combination of having a lot less sleep than normal and the new responsibility you have for looking after your new baby, can mean that the connection you had with your baby’s other parent before becoming parents can get lost. It can be all too easy to just talk about who did the last night feed or nappy change, instead of how you’re feeling about things. It’s not just Mums whose lives change drastically either, Dads can sometimes feel left out or unsure how to be a ‘good Dad’ and might need reassurance about this. Point out to your partner what they are doing well as a new parent, and how proud you are of them.

Bringing up children is not an easy task and there is certainly no one right way to do this, or an instruction book! Regardless of if you and your child’s other parent are in a relationship or not, you have joint responsibility on bringing up your children. It’s very normal for two parents to have different views on parenting, particularly around things such as discipline, showing affection and family rules. Children prefer consistency and they are more likely to get this if both their parents are on the same page on important issues. To try and have some consistency, talk to your child’s other parent about your ideas on relevant aspects of your child’s life. For example, how should you both handle it when your toddler has a tantrum? How will you ensure that your baby understands from both of you equally that night time is for sleeping and not playing?! Try and talk about the situation calmly and without blaming the other person so you can really hear what the other person is saying and suggesting.

Communicating with your children will happen in different ways depending on their age and stage of development. Babies love to be held and chatted to; it doesn’t really matter what you’re chatting to them about, they just love the attention and it goes a long way in helping them feel that their world is a safe place. With older children you will of course be able to ask them how they’re feeling about something. A good tip is to use open questions, those that do not lead to a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer or lead them to say what they think you might want to hear. For example instead of asking ‘Did you have a good day at school?’, you could ask ‘What made you smile today?’ .

There is a difference in listening to someone and that person feeling listened to. Think about a time you were worried about something and you spoke to someone who really listened, and made you feel better about it. What did they do? Chances are that they didn’t judge you, or take sides, but instead gave you some time and space to talk, without interrupting. Even very young children know when we are pretending to be listening but are actually looking at a mobile phone, and if it happens a lot in could end up making them feel that you don’t want to pay attention or play with them. With older children, it is normal that as parents we want to jump in and sort out our children’s problems for them, but when we really listen to their worries or fears, often they can feel better just as a result of sharing, or can actually find a way to sort out the difficulties themselves.

How families show affection to each other varies. Some families tell each other they love each other every day, some hardly ever do but may still feel very loved. With young children, they will tell you with their body language if they like a cuddle or not, by wriggling away or snuggling in. If your children are old enough to understand, ask them how they know they are loved? As children get older they are often embarrassed by public displays of affection, but a smile or a wink can still mean a lot. Equally important is how you and your child’s other parent show affection; we all have a preferred ‘love language’ – the way in which we prefer to be shown that we are loved. It is often really interesting to ask your partner about theirs! For more information go here.

Importantly, remember that no-one’s family is perfect! Social media would have us believe that other families spend their weekends baking and jumping in puddles, but this is not true. Just as every family has its ups and downs, every family also has their own special ways of showing they love and care for each other. Enjoy yours.

For more information or further advice you can use the links below:

  • Relate: a charity that provides relationship support for couples, families, individuals and children in England and Wales. The website has a wealth of information, advice and self-help tools, and access to counselling services.
  • If you are worried about your child, parents can contact their local council’s Children’s Services team for some ‘early help’ support – this is not the same as having a social worker.
  • One Plus One offer online relationship support for a range of issues.