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Communication Is the Glue That Keeps Families Strong

Keeping the lines open

In a recent radio interview, the conversation covered the concept of a happy marriage, the importance of communication, and the ways that our communication with our spouse is the training ground for our children's communication skills. Communication is the glue that keeps bonds tight.

Some of the topics we discussed included:

When parents make a mistake, it's OK — and perhaps teachable — to say "sorry."

Talk to your child like the person they are. There is much to be gained by communicating without berating.

Showing and modeling your ability to express yourself provides your child with a sense of agency and confidence that will follow them all their lives.

Learn from your blowups, and use communication to draw boundaries around your emotions when your buttons are pushed.

In my opinion, as well as my reading of extant research, there is no greater skill that a person can have to thrive and succeed than the ability to accurately, precisely express thoughts and emotions. The expression of emotions allows you to release the tension that those emotions create when they are stuck inside. The expression of thoughts and desires gives you a better chance to have those thoughts considered and those desires granted.

In the spirit of full disclosure, it wasn't long ago that my wife sat me down to tell me that my writing was preoccupying me to the point that I wasn't registering key details of my family's daily life. Ironic to be writing about parenting, and have it get in the way of my own parenting! Not to mention my wife. She had just started a new semester teaching. She came home after her first day and was disappointed that when she walked through the door, I said "hi" and then went back to my writing.

I suppose her feelings stuck with her for a while, and then later that night, she put on the voice that I know means that I need to pay attention to what she is about to say. "We need to talk" is a powerful four-word phrase that always sounds the alarms. She got my attention and kindly, but firmly, told me that I needed to pull it back some — draw boundaries around my work.

And I have. Imagine if she hadn't gotten me to make eye contact with her and listen to what she had to say. She'd be walking around, heavy with sadness, perhaps jumping to conclusions that I don't care about her, or who knows what other leaps her brain might make. We all have the tendency to latch onto worst-case scenarios and explanations when feelings go unresolved. Her courage to have that conversation with me was possible, because she feels safe to broach it (a lesson there, to be sure), and expressing feelings is something that all couples should practice with one another.

The same goes for our parenting: If you are disappointed, tell your child, and give them the chance to say sorry (they will, if you have shown them that it's not a sign of weakness to do so). If you are pleased and proud, don't just assume your child knows it — say it and "behave it" with a kiss or hug or gift.

In any relationship, if you like something, or you dislike something, speak your wishes into the space between, and give the other person the chance to reciprocate your love and vulnerability with attention, thought, care, and — perhaps — the granting of your wish.

Happy parenting! Give your son or daughter and your partner a kiss today, and let them know explicitly how you feel about them. It's one of the greatest gifts you can give them — and yourself.