Mastering Family Relationships

03.07.2024 |

Episode #3 of the course Mastering your relationships by John Robin


Welcome back to the course!

In the last lesson, we talked about intimate relationships and saw ways to put lesson one’s relationship interaction into practice by developing other-orientation.

Now we’re going to cover the other kind of close relationship: family.


Family Relationships: Take Nothing for Granted

We all have family. It might be children, brothers and sisters, parents, parents-in-law, grandparents, grandparents-in-law, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, cousins. And there’s nothing to say this doesn’t extend to pets!

Some people have big families, others small. One thing that’s true for all of us is that if we don’t make a point of spending time with family, our busy lives can pass by and we’ll find ourselves only catching up at family dinners or reunions.

Unfortunately, family is one aspect of our relationship life that often gets taken for granted. With some exceptions, like toxic family members who have given you good grounds to keep your distance, many family relationships can be rich sources of social connection that deepen a sense of belonging.

How do you harness your part in the relationship interaction with family?

You can practice a technique I call deliberate presence when you are with them.

Deliberate presence just means being wholly mindful when spending time with someone. Here’s an example:

Let’s say it’s evening and your son is in the living room watching TV while you’re passing time on your computer. If you are practicing deliberate presence with your son, you can be aware this is a moment rich with potential. What if instead of killing time on your computer, you put it away and made the effort to engage with him instead?

When you practice deliberate presence, you become sharply aware of an opportunity to be present with another person. Last lesson’s other-orientation can be applied to every type of relationship, and here, since you’re already aware of it and practicing it, you’ll find it goes hand-in-hand with deliberate presence.

Your son is probably content watching TV, and there is nothing wrong with being on your computer while you both “co-exist” in the same room. Deliberate presence is not necessarily about fixing something obviously wrong. It’s about seeing something okay and then realizing you can make it excellent instead.

In this example, let’s say you put your computer away and simply go sit beside your son. What if this becomes a new habit you do more often? Without a doubt, you’ll find yourself open to a wealth of spontaneous opportunities to bond with him further. Both you and your son will form much more valuable bonding experiences well beyond “co-existing” in the same room.

Deliberate presence can take on many forms. It can be a way of improving how you spend time with family members in your household, or it can be a way of considering how you can connect with those you don’t see as often.

For example, let’s say you have an aunt you see once in a while at family gatherings, and each time, she suggests having you over for a weekend get-together at her place, but it never leads to actual plans. If you’re practicing deliberate presence, you might realize that the connection is somewhat one-sided. To rectify this and to show your aunt that you appreciate the connection, you might consider showing her that you, too, are interested and follow this up by sending her an email suggesting a date and time for a get-together with her. In this way, you are conveying that you do value the family connection and value spending time with her.

Going back to lesson one’s relationship interaction, above are two examples of how you always have it within your control to take charge of any relationship, often with the simplest action.


Tip of the Day: Create Family Time Routines

Trying to balance family relationships can be overwhelming, especially when you’re trying to do so in the midst of a busy work life.

One thing that really helps is to create a family time routine. Decide, based on your family members’ schedules, some fixed times when it works best to have family time, and treat this as a commitment.

For example, if you’ve moved on your own and still want to spend time with your parents, why not plan a visit one evening after work on a regular basis? You won’t be seeing them every day, but at least you will have the regularity of a weekly night when you can expect to spend quality time together.

Or, in the example of time with your son above, you might like to take it further. Rather than just randomly spending periods of time with him, what about actually scheduling some time with him?

Perhaps occasionally you can offer to take him out for dinner, or to a movie, or you can do some baking together, or play a board game. Time invested with your children is precious. You are creating memories for them as you show them that you value spending time with them.

The point of deliberate presence is not the amount of time you spend with someone, but the quality of the time.

Whatever way you decide to schedule family time, keep it to yourself! Don’t make your family members feel they’ve been “scheduled.” Go ahead and write down your schedule in your phone, or in a private journal, but meanwhile, let everyone marvel at just how good you are at never forgetting to spend time with them—whatever slice of time that might be.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s lesson, where we’ll move on to how to master friendships.


Recommended book

The Daily Dad: 366 Meditations on Parenting, Love, and Raising Great Kids by Ryan Holiday


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