American families have always shown remarkable resiliency, or flexible adjustment to natural, economic, and social challenges. Their strengths resemble the elasticity of a spider web, a gull's skillful flow with the wind, the regenerating power of perennial grasses, the cooperation of an ant colony, and the persistence of a stream carving canyon rocks. These are not the strengths of fixed monuments but living organisms. This resilience is not measured by wealth, muscle, or efficiency but by creativity, unity, and hope. Cultivating these family strengths is critical to a thriving human community.
Ben Silliman, Family Life Specialist with the University of Wyoming's Cooperative Extension Service
DURING TODAY'S SESSION . . .
We talked about the different feelings involved in family life. We also listed some of the changes many families go through and acted out scenarios showing how families could deal with changes successfully and unsuccessfully. We brought home resources for families dealing with stressful times.
EXPLORE THE TOPIC TOGETHER: TALK ABOUT . . .
Is there one person in your family with whom you find it easy to talk about unpleasant emotions? If there is someone like that in your family, think of a special way to thank him/her. You could show your appreciation with a card you create yourself, a hug, or perhaps a specially prepared snack. Let the family member know how much you value his/her listening and non-judgmental ear and hope you can be that type of person for someone else.
EXTEND THE TOPIC TOGETHER: TRY . . .
Develop a signal system. Here is an example: Louisa May Alcott was a moody child. Her family dealt with it by using a pillow signal system. If the orange pillow on the couch was up, it was OK to approach Louisa. If the pillow was down it meant give her some space.
It is important for families to communicate their feelings and needs; sometimes that is hard. Help your family develop a nonverbal system for those moments when you are busy or it is hard to talk. Try a "stoplight" system for each person. You can buy all kinds of blank magnet sheets at any office supply or craft store. Make a stoplight for each person and write each person's name on a small magnet. Place these on the fridge. Red means the person needs to be left alone, green means she/he is approachable, and yellow means ask before you approach. Or perhaps you could develop a more complicated system that includes what you need. You could make a magnetic chart for the fridge that lists a whole bunch of feeling words and some needs like "I need a hug" or "I need space" or "Ask me how my day went."
Some of us are book smart and some of us have a lot of common sense. Some of us can easily memorize things we hear and others find it easy to understand how others feel. Multiple intelligences exist. The ability to understand and express emotions is one kind of intelligence. The better we are able to have "intelligence" about emotions, the more likely we will have happy, healthy relationships. Kate Cannon, a trainer and writer on the subject, lists seven simple ways to increase your emotional intelligence. Share these with your family and friends:
- Take time every day to appreciate what is right in the world and in your life. At dinner, have everyone share one thing that went well for him/her that day.
- Increase your feeling word vocabulary. Start a feeling wall on which to write down all the feeling words you can think of. Add to the wall when you hear a new word.
- Be your own best friend. Think of the advice you give a dear friend in a difficult time—and take that advice yourself!
- Listen with your heart; create connections.
- Talk back to yourself in a positive way.
- Tune in to your body. Notice where and when you feel different feelings.
- Smile more.
A FAMILY RITUAL
Mission statements are used by groups of people to help them work together. They help remind people of what they have in common, how they want to treat each other, and what goals they share. Your church has a mission statement. See if you can find it. It probably says something about why you get together as a community. Families can have mission statements too. Start by asking each family member to answer the questions below. You might consider doing this exercise as part of a family meeting. Younger family members can dictate their answers.
- Describe your family's strengths.
- What is most important to you about your family?
- What are your collective goals? Describe what your family will be like in five years; ten years; fifteen years.
- When do you feel most connected to one another?
- How would you like to be treated?
- What do you value?
When you have completed the questions, use your collective responses to formulate a series of declarations that will become your mission statement.
For instance, if you said your family is smart and someone else said your family is healthy, and those qualities are important to your family, your mission statement could read, The Coca family is smart and we like to stay healthy.
Next, write your mission statement and post it in a location where your entire family can see it often. Revisit your mission statement several times a year and make changes to reflect new values, hopes, and dreams.