One thing is for certain, the current time we live in calls for big adjustments to what was once ordinary. Most people’s lives have now been compressed from vast social systems into what exists within the walls of a home. What a perfect time to strengthen and fortify relationships for the better. I’m not going to lie, work is a big part of my identity. Not because I love working but because I am good at what I do. Or, possibly like you, I was good at what I did. It feels strange as I type it. Being good at something and expanding upon it requires a lot of focus. In 2019 I took a vast skill set and understanding of the trades and started my own business. Needless to say in 2020, ouch. Reflecting on it now, I know that being dedicated to working resulted in more than a few occasions of me floating through my household like a ghost. Eating a meal or two, shouting a command at my unruly children, maybe watching a show and going to sleep. Anywhere from 9-16 hours of my day was dedicated to my work or figuring out how to escape my work into something more fulfilling. It turns out that the block of “work” time is being repurposed. That routine or loop, by nature of our experience, had become a large portion of our identity. It is important to understand this point. Your work was who you were. Many are having an identity crisis at this moment. Shedding their former skin has them restless and uncertain. There is a lot of discomfort in uncertainty and where that feeling exists we need to be wary. There is a trap set up in the default process in which we deal with an uncomfortable situation. Unless you have trained yourself to overcome or have a particular tolerance for pain, this trap can be extremely alluring. The brain is programmed for the path of least resistance. Meaning that when discomfort is palpable, we will seek indulgence over working through a problem. Overeating, binge-watching tv, scrolling through newsfeeds and frustration with the people in your immediate surroundings are the easy outs. To be honest, a little indulgence can help us understand our mental and physical health more deeply. I took two weeks to do nothing as if I had received an extended vacation. Well deserved after 70 days of no days off from work. That's how I justified that extended staycation. Avoiding a cycle into bad habits is extremely difficult at any stretch much longer than two weeks, however. So I am going to suggest the hard route from here on out. I want to narrow the focus to the relationships with those that remain closest. Or in the scenario that you are enduring these times mostly alone, the relationship with yourself. There will never be a better time to build something of value that can be enjoyed for a lifetime. Let's take advantage!
The main step in deepening and strengthening your relationships involves becoming aware. This isn't a baby step, it can be taxing because it takes repetition and frequent self-reminder. Awareness also has to be tuned and adapted for each person you interact with because the issues in those relationships are unique. For example, with my significant other, I have to be more aware that she will spark up a detailed conversation regardless of if I am in the middle of some self-indulgent entertainment or not. She likes to speak when the moment inspires her. If I'm writing a blog post, reading an article or watching some dialogue on the tv, it is necessary to remind myself to pause. I can always come back to what I was doing but I can not recapture the moment, her moment. Each one of my children requires a different level of awareness because the issues in my relationships with them are all complex in their own right and require a different point of focus. So I make subtle adjustments to my awareness to accommodate each of them and the specific interaction I find myself in. Boy number 1, the oldest, requires extended periods of awareness to remind him to pay attention or not become distracted. If I give him a task and leave the room, I can anticipate that task to take 3x as long. Patience over longer periods is required because for the most part, he is old enough to manage his emotions and input into our household. Tasks like chores still require a parent's help or oversight but fortunately, there is plenty of extra time to dedicate. Number 2 requires a different approach. His attention span is scattered and each new moment is like an entirely new day, you have to treat it differently. His reaction to anything that he doesn’t expect he should have to do is usually an extreme overreaction. He’s 9 and pretty self-absorbed. Managing his emotional spectrum is the hurdle we constantly deal with in his case. Each situation is different for him and though there are consequences for his reactions we have to continually manage our parental expectations to make sure we aren't compounding frustrations on him due to earlier misbehaviors. It's a minute to minute struggle with glimmers of hope each day. Number 3 takes after his brothers via the example they set with their behaviors. He's learned over time that the way they react and treat a situation is how it should be. You can tell that his defiance and attitude are practiced. His attention span isn’t a problem because he spends long blocks of time in voluntary focused work building legos or drawing. What we work on with him is his emotional depth. He gets upset easily and that tends to cause problems. So we work on how to manage his feelings when he is upset so that he doesn’t channel it into negative overreactions. Number 4 is three years old. What can you really do with that age? He's the instigator of wrestling matches, full of attitude and a true ruckus of personality. Our guiding light is that he loves to help. He specifically enjoys gardening and planting time with daddy so I make sure to include him in every aspect of that routine. Being aware is only one portion of relationship building. There has to be a follow-through on understanding an issue and how to manage it properly. That portion can take experimenting because everyone is different. Building a strong foundation in your relationships will take vulnerability. There needs to be openness and empathetic capacity. Because in these times we have to realize that it is not about self-interest. Unless it is...
Let's be honest, I could spout off issues all day on how to parent but that leaves out an important piece of the puzzle, you. Even if you are cooped up with your family, you have to spend time on self-care. And if you don't have others surrounding you at this particular point in time, there are things you can do to build up a better and more complete foundation. Awareness is a good start here as well but to be honest I wouldn't say its the most important aspect. Taking time to experiment with something you've always wanted to pursue is of highest value. Here we have to implement some strategy. There may be a handful of things you want to include into your daily routine but taking them all on at once can lead to burn out. New things are exciting but they are also hard because the moment you reach any difficulty in progression, the first instinct is to find something else that's easier to do. Most people get stuck in the beginning phases of learning for that reason. Being successful at taking on action that redefines your purpose will involve making it a practice for everyday life. If you want to be a better cook, focus on making the best dinners ever. If you want to incorporate a workout or meditation routine, find a time where you can make it work consistently every day. If you want to learn an instrument, set an alarm that provides you with a quiet block of focus at the same time every day. Sometimes its the really small things that make all the difference in building a better you. Maybe just taking the extra time to really enjoy that morning cup of coffee. Don't K-cup it. Don't brew it in a coffee machine. Get yourself a French Press or Chemex, set up a chair in the middle of your garden and soak up each new day as it blossoms around you.