Posts

I was walking in the grocery store the other day and I ran into a friend from high school. We started talking and she asked me about my cousin who went to school with us. Our mutual friend asked how she is doing.  I was actually caught off guard because, in reality, I didn’t know how my cousin was doing. She and I have lost touch. I started to think about how disconnected I was feeling from other family members including parents, siblings, and extended family. Then, I considered my children. They don’t have the same memories that I have with my extended family. How can I bridge the gap that has occurred? How can we, as family, stay connected across the miles?

Here are 7 Ways To Stay Connected With Long-Distance Family:

1. Old Fashioned Snail Mail

Mailing correspondence may seem old-fashioned but it is tried and true. Handwriting letters has become a lost art. Letter writing allows you to share in your own words what is happening in your life. It provides a window for your family to see into. Postcards are another tool you can use. If you see a postcard that reminds you of a family member, write a note saying, “I saw this, and I thought of you.” This lets your family know that although miles divide you, they are still on your mind and in your heart. 

2. Create A Family Newsletter

Whether you choose to do this monthly, quarterly, or yearly, it provides updates to your long-distance family. It shares with them: honors, awards, funny moments, celebrations. Let your children help design it and have input into it. Make a family logo and motto to go at the top along with a name like, “Keeping Up With The Joneses” or “Watson Family Gazette.” You could do this online or make it a family production and put it into print. ☆ You could make a “chain letter” that gets added to by a family member and mailed to the next person on the list and keeps circulating around your family, keeping everyone in the loop. 

3. Send Care Packages

Every holiday season, as a child, I would go with my grandmother as she mailed holiday packages to my uncles who lived out of town. In the boxes would be a pound cake, fruit cake, cookies, preserves, and other sweets. You don’t have to choose the same items. You can create your own theme with the box. One theme could be Our Town. Select items representing the town you live in. You could choose My Favorite Things where you select items your sister, aunt, cousin, or dad loves. Or, even a box of Things That Remind Me Of You.

4. Travel Together

It may be fun to select a location midway between you and your siblings and spend some time there together. It may be fun to coordinate time in the summer with the grandparents and cousins and call it “Cousin Camp.” It may be a blast to schedule a multi-family vacation to the beach, mountains, amusement parks, etc.

5. Book Club

For many, storytime is an integral part of their bedtime routine. Create space for grandparents who live out of town to be “guest readers” via phone, Skype, FaceTime, Messenger or video. Another idea is for the adults in the family to choose to read the same book and then have a discussion about it. Even the kids could read the same book and draw pictures about the scenes or main characters.

6. Go Virtual

Technology is an innovative way in which families can stay connected. It may look and even feel different from the past. Nevertheless, it allows family members to maintain connections. Don’t be afraid of trying some “high-tech” ways to stay in touch with your long-distance family members. Here are some examples:

  • Have Virtual Dinner Night: Each family makes the same meal and you sit down ‘together’ at the same time to eat via ZOOM, FaceTime, Google MEET, etc.
  • Create Family Group Texts: Families can create a text message group or utilize a messaging app to share information with each other.
  • Virtual Game Night: Families can choose to play online games (PlayStation, XBOX), board/card games (UNO, Battleship), Minute to Win It, or Charades via ZOOM or Google MEET.
  • Schedule Weekly/Monthly Calls: Families can utilize whatever platform they have available (i.e., Facetime, ZOOM, Skype). On the calls, birthdays, special awards or everyday moments can be shared.
  • Facebook: Create a Family Facebook page where you can post pictures, videos, etc.
  • Family and Friends Movie Night. (Netflix for Chrome) Families can watch the same movie at the same time while being in their own homes. Then use FaceTime or ZOOM to talk about it.

7. Cardboard Cutout 

Select a fun picture of the family member you choose and get a life-sized cardboard cut-out made. It allows your kids to recognize their family members. It’s also a way for that family member to be “present” at events such as a spelling bee, soccer games, or track meets.

If you’re feeling disconnected, that’s when you need to be intentional about communicating and connecting with long-distance family members. Whether you choose to make a phone call spontaneously or you send out a calendar invite for everyone to group chat, making that first step to check-in can change the direction of your connection

Don’t get discouraged if everyone can’t make everything. We have to recognize that we’re all dealing with life in some form or fashion. Also, remember to stay in touch with family and friends who live close to you. In this current time, everyone could benefit from a call or note letting them know someone is thinking about them.

When it comes to family, every member of your tribe brings something unique to the team. Teaching them early and often how important it is to build teamwork will not only benefit your family; it’ll teach your child the value of working with others to accomplish a goal. 

Talk with any human resource officer and they’ll tell you—being able to effectively function as a team member is a valued skill. They look for it when hiring new team members, along with other essential skills like communication, conflict management and problem-solving.

There are lots of fun ways you can build teamwork into your family’s daily living.

Here are a few examples:

  • Share chores. Since you aren’t running a hotel, it takes everybody contributing something to keep everything going. From feeding the dog, picking up clothes and making beds to clearing the table, loading the dishwasher, vacuuming, packing lunches and folding laundry, even the youngest family member plays an important role. Talk about the difference it makes when everybody works together to get it all done.
  • Cook together. Deciding on a menu, buying all the ingredients, prepping ahead of time and preparing the meal allows for lots of teamwork. Then sit down and eat the meal together to celebrate what you accomplished!
  • Play games as a family that require teamwork. Whether it’s going to an escape room and figuring it out together, playing Minute to Win it or Jenga together, or creating an obstacle course in your yard, these games teach the concept of working together to accomplish a goal and it’s fun in the process.
  • Volunteer. Giving back to others as a family teaches your child many lessons, not the least of which is the value of serving and exposing them to worlds they may not realize exist. Helping to build a hiking trail at a park, pick up trash along the river or in your neighborhood, serve food at a community kitchen, or mow and rake an elderly neighbor’s yard instills self-confidence in your child. It also encourages problem solving, teaches them their presence and voice matters and lets them experience the impact you can have working together as a team.
  • Plan a trip or a staycation. As you prepare for your next trip or even a staycation, add some fun to the mix! Instead of planning it all yourself, divide up the responsibilities such as: when and where will you stop to eat, what sights should you plan to see along the way, what’s the best route to take and how much gas will it take to get there, among family members. Oh, and be sure you have someone in charge of fun—as in elements of surprise that only you and the “fun person” know about! Give the ones working on food a budget to work with. And, share any cool sights that you know of as a jumping off point for the sightseeing planners.

It’s worth it!

Getting the whole crew involved might be a bit more time consuming, but the teamwork opportunities and lessons are endless. Not to mention you’re making family memories, especially when unexpected things happen like a flat tire, a detour or foul weather, requiring the team to make a quick pivot. 

While you’re trying to build teamwork, your kids might not be super appreciative. However, over time it’s pretty likely the benefits of working together will pay off. Things like: realizing that as a family, we can do tough things together and get to the other side. Having different personalities, likes and dislikes actually makes us strong together. We’re depending on each other to help carry the load. We can disagree or not do something right and still love each other. There’s more than one way to get a job done. 

Here’s what’s really awesome: your goal is to get your family to work together as a team. In the process of doing that, you’re teaching your children a life skill that will work for them forever. That’s a good and powerful thing.  

Photo by August de Richelieu from Pexels

Feeling some disconnect? Is there underlying family tension? Is the management of household chores lacking? Are big changes coming to the family? How is everyone handling what life is throwing their way? Do we only talk to each other to discuss the next day’s plans?

Or maybe you want to prevent your household from going in 1,000 different directions and losing touch with one another.

You need a family meeting.

The Benefits of a Family Meeting:

  • Pause to connect. There’s a lot that may be going on individually. Work, school, friends, extracurriculars, health, the list goes on. It’s easy to disengage and disconnect with one another even though you live in the same home.
  • Be on the same page. Meetings ensure that everyone understands the direction the family is moving in. They also help to eliminate misunderstandings and miscommunication
  • Not leave anything to chance. Meetings erase the need for assumptions and statements like, “I thought you were going to do…
  • Coordinate schedules. As families move from season to season, coming together to talk about plans and schedules for an upcoming season can prevent being overextended.
  • Children’s Self-Esteem. Meetings make sure that everyone in the family knows they are important. They let every family member know there’s a space for them to be heard.
  • Mental and Emotional Check-In. Meetings are an opportunity to observe and share how family members are doing.
  • Problem-Solving Skills. Family members learn and practice ways to solve problems together as they see what is modeled in family meetings.
  • Sees interconnectedness of family. Meetings allow everyone to see how each person works with and depends on each other.

The Step-By-Step

Pre-meeting Setup

  1. If married, talk with your spouse about the need for a family meeting. Tell them what you’d like to discuss.
  2. Set a time that’s going to work for everyone. Don’t try to squeeze it in 30 minutes before a ballgame. If you have older kids, give a day or two’s notice, but not more. It helps them coordinate with their robust calendar.
  3. Set a place for the meeting. You may have them all in your living room. You may change it up and have it outside by a fire, at a local ice cream shop, or during a family meal.

The Family Meeting

  1. Introduce the reason for the meeting.
  2. Have a Brief Activity such as pulling a question from a question jar. There’s value in getting everyone involved, laughing, and talking at the very beginning. You can find great family questions here and here.
  3. Introduce topic. Be mindful of how you approach the topic. Is this a topic for discussion, disseminating information, and making decisions? Is it about solving problems or hearing everyone’s thoughts? Whatever the topic, try not to lecture.
  4. Leave room for questions and feedback. Be sure to give everyone an opportunity to share their feelings about the matter and its conclusion.
  5. End with something fun. (Game, movie, ice cream, karaoke, etc.)

The Follow-Up

  1. Over the next couple of days, ask family members individually what they thought of the family meeting. (They may have more thoughts they didn’t express during the meeting.)
  2. Proactively address any action items that result from the meeting.

Reasons to Call a Meeting

  • Family Conflict. Siblings aren’t getting along (more than usual).
  • Celebrate. A family or individual milestone, an accomplishment, demonstration of a family value, paying off a loan, etc. (Don’t use family meetings for birthdays or holidays.)
  • Transition. New home, new job, new schools, new person moving in or coming to visit.
  • Changes in family routines and schedules. New season of gymnastics, scouts, soccer, and piano lessons. Discuss meal and night routines when everyone will be getting home later.
  • Check in emotionally and mentally. (Your kids may “show” more than “tell.”)
  • Family values. Introducing values, noticing behavior that isn’t consistent with family values.
  • Family Lifestyle Changes. Moving to healthier eating habits, money-saving practices, altering rules about electronics.
  • New family initiatives. Eating meals together, being more generous as a family, implementing a movie night, game night, etc.
  • Family Rally for Support/Encouragement. Supporting a family member dealing with health issues, job or school stresses, or working to accomplish a difficult task such as running a long distance race, etc.

Rules & Tips

  • Be Purposeful. Have specific topics for family meetings that are important to the entire family. Do not over schedule family meetings. Some things are one-on-one conversations. Others don’t require much conversation.
  • Quiet children may need a prompt to share. If someone isn’t talking at all, ask them, “What are you thinking?” or “What do you think is best?
  • Meeting Length: 20-30 minutes for families with children under 12. Can extend to 45 minutes with teens if they are engaged and are keeping the conversation going.
  • Family meetings often start the conversation. Children may think about it more later and share in the days after. Be open and sensitive to opportunities to listen to their thoughts after the meeting.
  • No electronics during the meeting—phones away!
  • Calm tone by the parent. (Kids take their emotional cues from their parents). Display the emotions that you want your kids to have about given topics.
  • Don’t use this time to single out a child’s negative behavior. (They’ll begin to dread family meetings if you do.)
  • Teach and practice listening without interrupting. If you model it as a parent, you can set the tone to help your children follow the same practice.
  • Don’t let the family meetings get into a rut. (Change location. Keep it fresh. Call a meeting simply to celebrate an accomplishment.)
  • Look for opportunities to allow your child to lead a family meeting, too. (And discuss with them the end goal and then give them freedom to lead responsibly. Teaches them healthy communication, leadership, empathy, and problem-solving skills.)

Your family meetings may initially get resistance from your children and maybe even your spouse. That’s ok.

People often don’t see the value in them until they experience the unity, increased communication, and connectedness that result from them. The meetings can help your family navigate through challenging situations. Additionally, they can provide anticipation for celebrating unique accomplishments. They can become a family staple that provides your children with some predictability in an extremely unpredictable world.

Image from Pexels.com

Family. Have you ever wondered how you can share the same parents, grandparents, or even great-grandparents, a common bloodline, yet see things so differently and have so many different opinions? COVID-19 has highlighted the differences in belief systems, political views, economic status, and so many other issues that can lie within a single-family.

These differences can become polarizing, causing serious divisions and potentially irreparable damage to your family unit. You’re probably reading this because you’re aware that your family is at risk of ripping apart. And of course, you want to do everything you can to keep it together.

How can you keep COVID-19 opinions from tearing your family apart?

Call it Out. You may be the one who has to say, “I’m afraid that we’re going to allow this virus and our opinions on this virus to tear us apart.” You may have to ask, “All of the memories, experiences, love, and connectedness that we’ve shared as a family over the years, are we willing to throw it away because of our opinions about the virus? How do we make sure that doesn’t happen?

The awareness of the virus is infiltrating so many of our thoughts, plans, behaviors, and lifestyles. You may have to be the one who is intentional about shifting the focus to what it means to be a family. Family is the one place that you remain a part of despite the differences. So you learn how to thrive in the midst of difference. Bringing to everyone’s attention the need to be intentional about staying connected as a family in the midst of the virus can be powerful.

The family is bigger than one person. Don’t carry the weight of trying to control how others may or may not prioritize the family. No one person can carry the full weight of keeping the family together. Family means different things to different people even within the same family. Recognize what you can control. Leverage your influence to help your family see the bigger picture. 

Understand your need to be emotionally and mentally healthy. A healthy and secure you will have more influence than an unstable, insecure you. Your family may have helped you develop a sense of self. However, do not depend on your family for your entire sense of self. You can’t depend on your family’s acceptance and agreement to feel validated and complete. If you do, you can run the risk of trying to keep the family together out of fear or a personal need for fulfillment. 

Don’t invest energy trying to change the mind of others. A person convinced against their will is still of the same opinion. Let that sink in. Rarely do I see arguments and debates where someone actually changes their mind. I still haven’t heard of someone changing someone’s mind using social media. Often, the more we try, the more we can slip into trying to control others or lose control of ourselves.

Respect. Leading a conversation about what it means to respect one another can help the family set boundaries and be intentional about respecting one another’s thoughts, ideas, and opinions. Sometimes we can become so passionate about our position that we totally disrespect the position of others without even realizing it. As a family, having a clear understanding of what it means to respect one another’s differences can help family members coexist with the differing opinions.

Model healthy behavior. Be the one to talk less and listen more. Recognize that people are motivated by different things. Some have good motivations, and others not so good. Manage your emotions and be willing to try and understand your family. If you can help people feel heard, valued, and understood, then you’ve helped your family members know that they matter even if their opinions are different.

Acceptance of choices. Some family members are going to be extremely cautious and follow all of the CDC guidelines. Other family members may believe the virus isn’t a big deal and act accordingly. Some may feel like family members don’t care and are putting others at risk. Others may believe some are acting totally out of fear. A family is made up of individuals who have the freedom to think and feel whatever they choose. Give individuals the freedom to be who they are and you do what you need to do.

Make decisions based on what you know about the virus and your family members. This can be difficult because it may mean we don’t get to see certain people. When a person shows you who they are, believe them. There are conversations you may not need to have with family members because it always sparks animosity. Remember, everyone is learning how to live with COVID-19 in our world. Learning to live with differing opinions can take time.

Look for ways to show that you care about one another. Host virtual family game nights and Zoom family calls. Send one another care packages. Send messages of love and support. COVID-19 can have you so focused on what we can’t do that we forget what we can do

Set aside time to be intentional about spending time with one another and talk about other topics. This helps to remind you that the family is stronger and has more history than COVID-19. For example, celebrating birthdays. This has been a wild year! Instead of letting a birthday go by with just a card or phone call, consider celebrating virtually and making it a big deal because this year will be one for the books for sure! 

✭ Beliefs, opinions, and thoughts regarding COVID-19 dominate social media and news outlets. It hasn’t escaped family dinner tables and Zoom calls and it’s affecting everyone’s ability to show love and care to the ones we care the most about—family. This can cause fear, stress, loneliness, and anxiety. People develop their own expectations—some reasonable and some unrealistic. Family members will respond to change in different ways

You CAN’T control what family members say and do. You CAN focus on being your best self while at the same time working to care for and understand your family. As you model respect and value for each person, you can hope that the love and care you have for your family will help others see that the family is bigger than the virus.

Image from Pexels.com

If you have ever watched Everybody Loves Raymond, you know firsthand how overbearing in-laws like Ray’s mom can be. Giving her opinion when nobody asked for it, making off-handed comments about their parenting, criticizing decisions they make, and talking about them to each other was Marie’s style for sure. And, Raymond found it really hard to stand up to his mom, and we all know how that impacted their marriage. [Cue: Laugh Track]

Funny how so many have said they could truly identify with much of what happened on that show because they felt like they lived it every day. While some can kind of laugh it off, plenty of other couples find themselves actually having conversations about divorce because while they still love each other, they cannot figure out how to get one or both sets of parents out of their business. That’s NOT funny. Can you relate?

If you believe it is truly unhealthy for your family to be around your in-laws, your first responsibility is to your spouse. If being around your in-laws creates safety issues or requires you to put your family in an unhealthy situation—setting limits or creating boundaries is completely appropriate. Sometimes it may be necessary to make the decision that it’s in the best interest of your family not to be around your in-laws for a period of time. ★ 

If you feel like your in-laws are all up in your business, but it isn’t unsafe to be around them, the good news is, you’ve got options. You can:

  • Limit the amount of time you spend with them.
  • Plan ahead for how you will handle a visit that goes south.

Great! Got that part! But please tell me strategies for building a protective perimeter around my marriage!

Okay—here you go!

1. Your Marriage Is The Primary Relationship.

You both have to be intentional about making your marital relationship first. Marital distress may occur if one spouse doesn’t want to hurt his/her parents’ feelings and doesn’t see how them “investing” in your marriage is harmful. The two of you are a family and on the same team. Each person is responsible for communicating with their own parents in a way that does not throw your spouse under the bus. So, “We aren’t coming to your house this weekend because he doesn’t want to come.” is not an option on the table. Ever.

2. Stop Anticipating And Start Planning.

When you rehearse conversations in your brain, it actually gets you revved up. Stop playing it through in your mind how you think your in-laws are going to react or respond. Instead, discuss with your spouse how you want to approach or avoid certain topics. In essence, you are creating a strategy to help you both engage them and avoid being triggered by them. Make your plan together with your spouse. It may take a minute to get on the same page about how to move forward. It’s vital at this point however to remember that your spouse comes first, not your parents.

Here’s a side note worth mentioning: Before you and your spouse talk, spend some time thinking about where the angst with your in-laws is the most intense. 

  • Are they interfering with your marriage? 
  • Are they interfering with your parenting? 
  • Do they say things that hurt your feelings or rub you the wrong way? 

This is important to know in order to make a plan to help you move forward constructively.

3. Decide How You Will Respond.

Straight out of the gates, make a commitment to respond versus react. Every time you react to a situation, you are giving over power and control. When you respond, you are calm, think before you speak, take the time to get with your spouse and discuss feelings and opinions and then share your response with your in-laws. Think through the typical scenarios that tend to take place and decide what your response will be.

If something out of the ordinary happens and you aren’t sure what to do, you are probably better off taking a moment to breathe. Maybe even take a walk around the block with your spouse to decide the best plan of action. People often regret flying off the handle, but rarely regret an intentional, constructive response. Before you say a word, ask yourself, “Will my response build-up or further tear down the relationship?

4. Set Appropriate Boundaries.

As a couple, it is important to have clear rules of engagement with extended family. When you are being clear with established boundaries, you are choosing your marriage, not between your spouse and parent. 

Examples of this could include:

  • We will call before we come to visit and we are asking you to do the same.
  • Yes, we have given you a key to the house in the event of an emergency, but we are asking you not to use it unless there is actually an emergency.
  • If we ask for your thoughts about our parenting style, please share your wisdom with us. Otherwise, we are not looking for unsolicited advice.

But what about power struggles? For real!

The best thing you can do is seek to avoid them. That sounds easier said than done, but if you and your spouse are on the same page, there shouldn’t be “power” up for grabs.

⇨ Don’t underestimate the power of a positive attitude. I know it’s hard. Dig deep. ⇦

➤ Remember, they are family. No matter the conflict, they are part of your family. Be aware of the level of tension, tones of voice, and language choice. All of these things can and will impact your children (their grandchildren). Are there behaviors you can choose to ignore? Give the benefit of the doubt? Extend grace? Ask yourselves, “Is this really worth ruining the relationship over?”

➤ Don’t assume they are intentionally trying to be difficult. In many instances, people think they are being helpful. They don’t realize that dropping by unannounced or giving unsolicited marital or parenting advice is not appreciated. Get with your spouse and brainstorm things that your in-laws could do that would be helpful. Then sit down with your in-laws and talk about what you would appreciate them doing. Also, discuss things that you would like them to stop.

➤ Relationships change and evolve. Believe it or not, many couples have been in exactly the same place you are at the moment. Through some advance planning, agreement on changes that need to be made, and strategic conversations, they now have a healthy and respectful relationship with the in-laws. It may take a minute, along with some tears and hard conversations, but don’t give up.

Image from AdobeStock.com

COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR SPOUSE SHOULD BE FULFILLING, NOT FRUSTRATING.

With the right tools, you and your spouse can have the best communication ever!

This easy-to-use virtual 5-day course guides you and your spouse to have the best communication you’ve ever had! This course includes exclusive access to:

  • 5 downloadable relationship-enhancing PDFs
  • Videos full of easy-to-use communication tools
  • Questions to ask each other to spark a deeper connection
  • Fun activities to guide you through each of the concepts discussed

ADD TO CART

This is totally workable. It may not feel this way now, but this situation is a great opportunity—to learn about yourself, to learn about your family, and even possibly grow closer than ever before! The fact that you are asking “why” is a great indication that you want to have a relationship with your family. You haven’t given up or become spiteful and started ignoring them—even though you feel ignored by family. 

It starts with you!

We feel “stuff” all the time that we never stop to question, explore, or investigate. That doesn’t diminish the hurt feelings, but it gives us a place to start. Here are some things to be thinking through:

  • Is it possible they aren’t intentionally ignoring you, but you just feel left out? 
  • Are you taking into consideration three months of COVID-19 quarantine?
  • Is it possible that you’ve said or done something that offended some family members and you haven’t realized it?
  • Have you been trying to communicate with these family members? (Seriously, could they be wondering why you are ignoring them?)
  • Does your family do a lot of their communicating and planning get-togethers on social media and you just are not active in that particular arena?
  • Is it possible that “feeling ignored by your family” is masking the real, deeper issue?

Why you can’t let this go unresolved.

In 2018, a Pew Research Center survey asked, “Where do you find meaning in life?” The clear, number one answer was, “family” at 69%. This was more than double the next highest answer, which was “career.” In other words, family is at the core of where most people find meaning in life, so if there is static in that particular part of your life, there’s a good chance that your whole life feels off-kilter. 

You can’t sit on this. You can’t camp out here. And you can’t wonder. You are going to have to seek out some resolution. 

There is really only one way to resolve this…

If you’ve thought through the above scenarios or possible explanations without any peace of mind or clarity, or if you think there is even a chance that you might have said or done something that offended some family members, there is only one place to go for answers—your family.

With questions like this, a direct approach is probably best. Either there is nothing there and you’re worrying over nothing or there is something there. One word of advice: Use “I” statements like, “I feel like I’m being ignored by family. Did I do something? I really want to make it right,” as opposed to “You” statements like, “Why are you ignoring me? Why won’t you reach out to me? Why are you leaving me out?” The difference is between opening a productive dialogue and making an accusation.

So now that you have a plan—when are you going to ask? You can sit and wonder, or you can take a deeper dive into some relationships in your family. Don’t let it go another day!

Image from Unsplash.com

Have you ever noticed that every time you leave a certain family member’s presence, you feel worse than you did before you saw them?

Have you ever noticed that your aunt gossips all the time? 

Or that your in-laws criticize your every move?

Or that your own parents are more controlling now than ever?

And what about that uncle who doesn’t care what you’re doing—he thinks it’s okay to show up whenever he wants.

Toxic family members make your head hurt. They are poisonous to your health. They can drain you emotionally every time they are around.

How do you recognize toxic family members?

  • When you leave their presence, you often feel worse than you did before. 
  • They want to control your life. They tell you the decisions you should make, how you should spend your money, and the people you should be friends with.
  • You feel that they seem to always criticize you—your parenting, your cooking, your house management, anything and everything.
  • They may be physically, verbally, or emotionally abusive.
  • They always “need” you to come to their rescue.

Totally removing a toxic family member from your life may not be an option. However, you can manage the relationship to minimize its negative effects on you.

  • Overcome any fear you have of hurting your family member’s feelings. Your mental and emotional health comes first. Sometimes we’ve not addressed the situation directly because we don’t want to hurt their feelings. So instead, we end up hurt, frustrated, or angry every time we have to see them.
  • Set clear boundaries. People will often treat you the way you allow them to treat you. Toxic family members will often become accustomed to treating you in a certain kind of way. Until you set boundaries, it may not change. (And even then, there may be resistance because change is hard.) Standing firm on those boundaries says that you will not tolerate not being respected, valued, and treated with the dignity you deserve.
  • Learn to disengage. There are some conversations you may learn not to have with certain family members. Other times, you will learn to limit the amount of time you spend with them. The key is learning how to end interactions with toxic family members when you begin to feel your emotions triggered and when to avoid interactions altogether.
  • Seek help for support. Toxic family members can lead to stress, trauma, and mental health issues that may be best discussed with a counselor. 

It’s important to deal with the toxicity. Your mental and emotional health—and maybe even your physical health—can depend on it. Most importantly though, you’re worth it. Your very being is worth being treated with respect. You’re the one who should have control of your life.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Image from AdobeStock.com

Something shifted overnight for me. At first, I scoffed at how absurd people were being about a silly virus. Then I began to feel a looming sense of dread, realizing that this was not something to take lightly. It was 3 months into my third pregnancy. I started questioning if that meant I was an immunocompromised at-risk person who would be more susceptible to COVID-19. And although I suddenly went from an apathetic state to a concerned and informed citizen, I still had no clue what it all meant. Or how it would actually affect all of our lives in such a drastic way. If I’m being honest, I still didn’t worry too much about being pregnant during a pandemic. That’s because I thought it would blow over in a month, or, at the most, by the time I gave birth. 

But being in the middle of a pandemic rapidly changed the landscape in which I conducted my life and consequently my third pregnancy.

Ya know, they say each pregnancy is different, but now that I’m 6 months pregnant and COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon… I’d say this one is taking the cake. But just because this pregnancy is DIFFERENT, doesn’t mean it has to be DISASTROUS. I am realizing that finding the positives in pregnancy during a pandemic is ALL about shifting my perspective.

My prenatal workout class

…Went from an amazing escape every Monday night, connecting with other pregnant mamas and getting an hour break from all the responsibilities of having two kids and a full-time job to a virtual Zoom session from home. And it’s quite the struggle to find a quiet space to exercise without my kids literally jumping on my back or bumping into me. attempting to do the moves alongside me.

UPSIDE: The kids are kinda cute when they try to do the workout moves. I still get to check in with other mamas, and working up a sweat contributes to a healthy pregnancy! (Also having my girls see me working out models good healthy habits for them!) 

Prenatal doctor appointments… (specifically the 20-week Anatomy Scan)

…changed drastically. It went from a much-anticipated appointment where my husband would attend and we’d find out the gender together to an extremely lonely experience. I wore a mask, sat in an almost empty waiting room, and saw a skeleton crew of healthcare employees. I recorded the ultrasound to show my husband when I got home since spouses were (and currently are) not allowed to attend any appointments.

UPSIDE: I have a video of the ultrasound, which would otherwise not be allowed. And really, I’m thankful for the healthcare workers taking extra precautions to ensure the safety of their patients… even if it means I had to be alone for such a significant moment. 

Big announcements like gender reveals

…changed, too (because yes, gender reveal parties are still a thing)! We went from all our friends and family gathering around a big box filled with balloons that we would let free at just the right moment to yet another virtual Zoom session. Among only our closest friends and family, I let Jackie, my 4-year-old daughter, do the honors of announcing we’d be adding ANOTHER girl to the mix! 

UPSIDE: Having a special intimate announcement that I was able to record was priceless. And I saved a ton of money on balloons, food, and decorations. Just sayin’.  

Documenting my pregnancy

…went from a variety of social events where we would naturally take photos to trying to remember what day of quarantine it was and finding a split-second where the stars aligned (aka the weather was good, makeup and outfit were put on and I had my fancy camera on hand) to get a good picture to document my growing baby bump. 

UPSIDE: The photos that I do get will be that much more precious. And, the captions I write with them will give tremendous insight into this unprecedented time in history for future generations.  

The pregnancy attention

…went from the normal socially appropriate, “You’re glowing!” or “You don’t even look pregnant from behind, it’s all belly!” to crickets. Honestly, some days I think people forget I’m pregnant. They usually only see me from my shoulders up on video calls or FaceTime. If not for my intentional picture-taking that gets posted on social media, I probably would surprise everyone when I resurface from this quarantine to reveal a brand new baby! 

UPSIDE: The socially inappropriate comments have stopped, too! I don’t have strangers trying to touch my belly. I don’t have awkward co-worker conversations about whether I will be breastfeeding, either. And people don’t exclaim, “Are you SURE you’re not having twins?!” (All these things have most definitely happened in previous pregnancies.) 

These are but a handful of ways this pandemic has reshaped this pregnancy. I could choose to dwell on the overarching climate of fear, anxiety, worry, and confusion that only increases my stress. OR, I can focus on finding the upside in every situation. It’s not easy, but it’s necessary for the health of me and my baby girl. So, today, I’m choosing to be thankful. Yes, I recognize the downsides, the difficulties, and the disasters happening around me. However, I’m choosing to be positive, no matter what. 

Summer is here! Normally, everybody would be cheering loudly saying, “Bring it on!” This year, however, plenty of folks feel like summer has been here for the last two months. Now that summer is really here, all of the plans parents thought they had for their kids have likely been thrown out the window because of COVID-19.

With few or no summer camp options, social distancing at pools, many attractions not opening until mid-summer and limited access to child care options, parents definitely have a challenge on their hands if they’re trying to make summer plans. You may be wondering what in the world your family can do in the middle of all that. If so, here are some helpful hints for creating a summer to remember forever for your kids!

Hold a family meeting. Straight out of the gates, hold a family meeting to brainstorm what’s possible within the framework parents have established. Have a little fun with this. No idea is too crazy when you are brainstorming. And who knows? A crazy idea might lead to something that is totally doable.

Come up with a schedule. Sheer exhaustion from shifting to online-everything may tempt you to let summer be a free-for-all with no schedule. However, while having no structure may sound like a blessing to you and your kids, ultimately it can be a real curse. Making a schedule helps keep everybody grounded and in the know about what’s coming next.

Be intentional about creating opportunities for connection. Hanging out in the same house or even the same room isn’t the same as actually doing something to connect with your children. If that sounds like just one more thing to put on your already overwhelming “to-do list,” one easy option is to use First Things First’s 30-Day Family Challenge. Each day has a different fun, quick and easy activity for you and your children to do together.

Get active. Since everybody has probably had their fill of screen time, try going old school! Do some of these things for fun: puzzles, Nerf gun battles, water gun fight, riding bikes, let your kids create a scavenger hunt for the entire family to do, investigate how to make your own Slip ‘N Slide, play board games, Spoons, Charades, make a house of cards, go fishing, learn how to play chess or checkers, camp in the backyard and make s’mores, build a fort or treehouse, play marbles or jacks.

Encourage learning. During your family brainstorm meeting, ask your kids what they would like to learn over the summer. They may want to learn how to cook, change the oil in a car, repair a bike, make a piñata, or find out more about your family history. They may want to take a virtual vacation to an exotic location and learn about the culture, geography and things that are unique to it. Take it a step further and plan your meals, clothing or other activities around that location for the week. Study photography. Read a book together like “Cheaper by the Dozen.” You may even want to invest in some grade-level activity books just to keep your kids sharp.

Plant a garden outside or play around with growing food indoors. There are plenty of free tutorials available if you are new to gardening. Another option is to ask an experienced neighbor for a hand. You can also experiment with different things such as rooting the bottom of a celery stalk and then planting it. You could also cut a pepper in half, then scrape and plant the seeds to see if they will sprout. (Spoiler alert, they should!)

Not all of these activities would require hands-on supervision from parents at all times. In fact, some of them could be child-led or done independently. That would not only give parents a break, but it would help to build self-confidence and independence in your child.

One thing is for sure, one way or the other, this summer will be one for the books. It will either go down in history as the most boring summer on record or the summer our plans got turned upside down so we decided to make lemonade out of the lemons tossed our way. It may not be the easiest summer you’ve ever had, but it could become one of your best summers yet.

Image from Unsplash.com

This summer is going to look a little different than most because of COVID-19. Although some camps and travel may be canceled, the quality time your family looks forward to in the summer doesn’t have to be. Fun and exciting experiences create lasting memories that help you draw closer to your loved ones. 

Let’s make the most of this summertime! Here are 5 ways summertime can help your family bond:

If you were planning a trip that got canceled, explore the areas around you! 

Find a way to recreate the vacation you were planning as a staycation. This will not only teach your kids how to turn a situation around, but you’ll get the creative juices flowing. If you were going to the beach, go to a lake. If you were going to go skiing, try sledding down a hill with a cardboard box.

Take a look at our Parenting Toolkit for the Best Summer Ever with your Family!

Enjoy fun and intentional quality time. Each day has an activity with a moral to the story and an opportunity to talk through the value taught. Not only will you bond over playing together, but while talking about the things that matter most to having a happy, healthy family! Here’s where you can find the Parenting Toolkit.

Routines, rituals, and structure can help your family bond! 

They create an environment that is predictable and provides security. If your kids can depend on and are looking forward to the activities that happen daily and weekly, this will keep you close all summer.

For example, maybe Friday nights become pizza night. If you’re not working from home, your kids might expect a text or call from you at noon to check-in. If you’re working from home, maybe you all plan to eat lunch together. Maybe you can come up with a fun summertime morning tradition.

Give your kids unstructured playtime. (Sometimes go outside and play with them!)

According to the Gottman Institute, “Play is how kids learn all the things and develop all the stuff. This means leaving time each day for straight-up unstructured, kid-controlled, exploration of the world kind of play.” When you set aside time for your kids to take the lead, you’re actively encouraging their curiosity and imagination, demonstrating that you trust them, and helping them build character. 

Other studies show that children who spend time playing outside become more adventurous and open to new experiences. These children develop skills that help them make more friends. Children use their imaginations to recreate their own world and because of this, they’re able to hold their own attention longer. 

Try new things together!

You have an opportunity to step into your kid’s passions, interests, and skills. Do they want to learn to play guitar? Let them put on a performance for you! Does the night sky interest them? Plan a constellation picnic and (tele)scope out some stars together with your favorite snacks. Do they want to work at drawing? Have an in-house art exhibition with fun snacks. Show an interest in what your kids are interested in. This is an awesome way to connect with your kids by having something to ask questions about and cultivate conversations.

Even though a lot of things have been canceled and summer looks different than you may have hoped for, you can be intentional and creative with your time. Enjoy making new memories together and maybe even start some new summer traditions. Have a great summer!

Image from Unsplash.com