Part One: Happy Family Evenings Start with a Check In
Evening family time can sound so lovely … family dinner, playtime, baths, stories and cuddles.
In many households, however, people don’t quite feel like they’re “livin’ the dream.” Quite the contrary, in fact.
Many couples I work with tend to “read” each other and make guesses about how their mate is feeling. Fact: they often guess wrong. They mistake stress for grumpiness and tiredness for rejection. I don’t care how long you’ve been with someone, it is still always your job to let your darling know how you’re feeling and what you need.
It might sound like this:
“I have nothing left to give after being with these little people all day. I’m not grumpy, I’m just empty. I need to just sit with your arm around me and have a grown up conversation. And I need you to ask me about my day.”
“My brain is full after an intense day at work, but once I slow down a little, I’d love to play with the kids and give you a break.”
“I’m kind of irked right now and need some alone time before I’m ready to be a good parent. How can we make that work so that it feels ok for you?”
Imagine if each evening before you and your loved one showed up at home with young kids needing care and attention, you had a quick phone call to share what kind of mood you’re each in. You wouldn’t have to bother with the frustration that comes with misreading each other’s cues. You might be better able to meet each other’s needs and enjoy each other and your kids.
Single parent? Same holds true, you just have to do it with yourself. Stop and ask yourself how you feel and what you need. If your kids are old enough, you can ask them how they’re feeling and what they need. Maybe every one needs down time. Or food right away. Or family snuggles. Then figure out how everyone can get their needs met at some point during the evening. Maybe dad needs down-time first and then he’ll be able to play some catch. Or maybe the preschooler needs cuddle time right away, but then agrees to play quietly for 20 minutes while mom sits and unwinds. It’s not always easy, but it is possible for everyone to get their needs met eventually; it just takes some strategizing.
Kerry Stutzman, MSW
©2012 Kerry Stutzman, Head & Heart Parents
As author of the easy-to-read “Save Your Sanity” series, Kerry helps parents save their sanity and sense of humor while raising young children with love and laughter.