Do you show up when your family needs you? Do you help them when they ask for your help? Do you spend time together enjoying each others’ company?
One of my friends has looked after her sick husband for several weeks. She leaves the house only to drive him to medical appointments and to do essential errands. She hasn’t been at the gym; she hasn’t been at church; she hasn’t had time for her usual hobbies. When I stopped by to visit her, she told me that looking after her husband is not a burden. In her words, “I bought this ticket long ago, and now I’m glad to honour it. He needs me.”
Her comment made me stop to consider how each of us shows up for family.
Positive relationships with family members are a source of retirement happiness. Good family relationships give you strength.
Good relationships also carry us through times when we must set aside our own needs and attend to others. It takes strength to show up when you must give to others over a long period of time and when your support fills their needs and not your needs.
The Whole is Greater than Each Part
The phrase, ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ is credited to Aristotle.
Anyone who has worked with a well-functioning team or played sports with like-minded performers knows that each person’s contribution to the team effort is important. In families, each person’s contribution matters.
Families that pull together achieve more than individuals can accomplish alone. It’s about working together to get results. Like a well-functioning team, everyone feels valued, appreciated, encouraged and rewarded. Everyone gets support when it’s needed.
Our immediate family is small. We live only 30 minutes away from our son, daughter-in-law and grand-daughter so we can see each other regularly. Staying in contact means that we can look out for each other and care for each other when needs arise. During the past couple of weeks, looking after each other has meant sharing our washing machine while their recently purchased washer gets regular visits from a repairman.
As I look back on my career days, I realize that I was away at work too often when my family needed me. I missed family events because of work commitments or travel.
Thankfully, my husband had more control over his office hours. He picked up most of the driving duties when our son was young. He made dinners. He attended piano lessons and supervised practise time. During the adolescent years, he was the soccer dad.
Since retirement, I’ve changed. I’ve realized that spending time together is a way to strengthen family bonds. I try to set aside time for family.
As in most families, tensions arise from time to time, but a greater energy binds us. Love connects us. Each person contributes to the family unity. We share feelings of belonging. We understand each other uniquely.
Our extended family is larger but disbursed throughout Canada and in other countries. Distance limits contact. We don’t spend enough time together to have the strong bonds that many families enjoy.
Holidays don’t involve crowds of cousins, aunts and uncles. We attempt to continue family traditions but these mainly involve weddings, special birthdays, and, unfortunately, funerals.
Families Strengthen Each Other
Families strengthen each other and provide security through shared activities, shared responsibilities, traditions and celebrations. There is no substitute for time spent together.
Quality time is great but it doesn’t replace quantity time. Simply being together doing little or nothing, provides opportunity to give undivided attention to a child or to an elderly parent. Rituals such as shared family dinners provide a time and place for sharing the events of the day and reconnecting.
When children grow up within the family circle, they feel valued and loved. The crucible of a family nurtures a child and builds confidence.
This is reinforced for me as I’ve watched our grand-daughter’s development. Her attachment to her parents gives her confidence in taking risks and trying new things. I saw this last month as her mother coaxed and encouraged her into taking her first steps — then rewarded her with hugs and lots of praise.
Strong families communicate. They articulate needs and thank each other when needs are met.
Show up in Rough Times
In Western culture, asking for help, even from another family member, is difficult. We strive for independence and self-sufficiency. It wasn’t until a mountain of laundry had built up that we learned of the washing machine troubles at our son’s home.
Family connections can offer help in rough times — times when more than a broken washer is at stake — supporting each other through life’s inevitable changes.
All of us face stresses every day. Our busy lives mean that we don’t have time to reach out to a family member who might need help.
Small personal sacrifices, such as giving extra time to a child struggling with school work, or helping a parent with a computer issue, or making the effort to call someone who is ill, give clear messages of encouragement and support. It may mean helping to care for a partner or spouse, giving a prospective job contact for someone who is unemployed, helping a young parent by child-minding to a needed break, or a providing a listening ear when someone is grieving.
When a family member is going through a rough time, a few simple caring words will let them know that you understand. Sometimes concrete help — even financial assistance — is required.
Be there for them when they need you rather than when you need them.
Need trumps convenience.
The rewards of showing up for your family will reward you in countless ways!