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Family Conversation - Issue 269
September 28, 2012
|Hi there! ....
This week has gone well. We’ve had good study times, we’ve had fun family times, and we’ve achieved the things we set out to do (mostly!) Jess turned 18 this week so one day was all about Jess!! Today we celebrate with friends – it is times like this that we feel the distance, and miss our family.
If you are a new Australian reader I would appreciate you reading this special request.
One of the dreams that I have had for my family was that we would talk – that we would talk about meaningful things, things that prompted you to think and shaped your belief. It is a joy to see that dream happening in our family. Even though we have always talked together (it looks different in different seasons of family life) there are times that this doesn’t happen automatically and it becomes something that I have to be intentional about – make it happen.
As I reflected on how talking has become a part of our family identity I thought of these few keys:
Want it: You need to know what you want in order to be intentional. I wanted a family who talked together, who challenged each other, who referred to the Bible in their conversations, who learnt from each other and supported each other’s passions. When you think of your family talking together – what is it you want?
Start young: Though meal times are often seen as a time of being quiet and eating food – this was never my perspective. Meal times were as much family times as anything else, a time to build relationships. Of course, each family will have their boundaries in terms of food, but can I suggest you also think broader – make time for relationship as well.
See your children as people: If you were to compare your family meal table with the times you have friends over would you see any similarities? This question challenged me many years ago – when I have friends over I have stimulating conversation, we laugh together, we don’t worry so much about the dishes. Not so with my children. Now I know the kids need to get into bed etc, but there is a heart attitude here – do I delight in my children as much as I delight in my guests?
Be a listener: Read anything on conversations and you will always be reminded that you need to listen as much as you need to talk. If we are truly interested in our children and their lives, their thoughts and their questions we need to truly listen. There is a difference between listening and hearing – we hear with our ears, it is a physical skill. We listen with our heart – when we truly listen we hear more than the words being said. We can hear insecurities, we can hear passions, we can hear questions.
Ask good questions: a good question triggers further thought, further conversation. Often I will ask a question coming from something that I have heard (as above). This makes our conversations fluid, there is no way I can know the outcome of a conversation – it starts here and ends over there all because of the things that are shared and the questions that are asked.
Be prepared: I often take an idea to talk about to the dinner table. It may be something I’ve read or thought about myself. It may be something I’ve seen in the family that I want to raise. It may be something that we’ve experienced as a family that we need to revisit. Last Sunday morning I took an email to the breakfast table about a snippet of ancient papyrus that seems to say that Jesus was married. I wanted the kids to be able to vocalise what they thought about the news reports – how would they defend their opinions; this lead to a very interesting conversation. Over the dinner table lately we have been reading a short snippet of the Gospel of Mark and that has led us down many discussion topics. Other times I’ve taken a character definition and we’ve talked about what that looks like in our life as an individual or as a family. Sometimes we have a read aloud happening and that triggers much conversation. Sometimes I make a point of each person talking about what they are reading. If I go to the meal table with one idea then everyone’s involvement can take it from there.
It is a family activity: Conversation is a two way thing – or in our house a six way thing. Everyone needs to be able to share at some stage, otherwise it just becomes a lecture from the parents and that is no fun!! Give them the freedom to talk (teach them to finish their mouthful first.) It is easy for the older ones to control the conversation and yet, we need to give our younger children the same opportunities to talk as everyone else – otherwise when they are older they won’t be in the habit of conversation. When I notice that someone hasn’t said anything I try and find a question that I can direct at them, that will bring them into the conversation. That being said, there is also a time to listen to others speak, these are the times we learn from others. So as well as teaching them to speak up, I also teach my children to sit and listen. It isn’t always about them.
Call it a day: Sometimes it just won’t happen – and we need to know when to call it quits and not to flog a dead horse. We need to be okay that every meal time won’t be a conversational high - sometimes it will be fairly mundane and people will be distracted with other things, or sometimes as it happens in our family everyone’s spirits are so high, fun, humour and laughter are the tone for the night. This is all a part of family life together and we need to make sure our intentionality doesn’t squash these other aspects.
I grew up with the saying “The family that prays together, stays together” and in more recent years all sorts of verbs have been inserted: the family that plays, the family that reads, the family that talks…. I think each one of these actions has its place but really none of them happen unless the parents are intentional. After all you don’t just find yourself praying with your kids – you decide to do it and it takes discipline. Likewise you won’t just find yourself talking with your kids either – it takes awareness, planning, and commitment. Family life needs intentional parents.
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