Anyone looking for an easy, breezy read today might feel the urge to click elsewhere when I mention September is the month of suicide prevention and awareness. But wait! If you stay with me you will soon see that this is an article about health, hope, and happiness – and how you can accomplish all of these things for yourself and your family.
Earlier this year, I shared my son’s story of suicide and then provided insight into risk factors for self-harm and suicide in children and adolescents and what you as a parent can do to prevent a potentially dangerous mental health situation before an escalation. (Click here to read.) Now I would like to step back a little and offer a guide to caring for a family environment that can help you avoid crisis situations altogether.
To clarify what may seem like a basic term at the outset, I mean “family” in an inclusive sense. Sure, some of you may belong to a traditional two-parent and some biologically related child. For those of you who belong to entities that society considers “mixed up” or “broken” … First, let’s remove these unhelpful labels entirely. Your family is neither a mixed drink nor a broken vacuum cleaner that you have regretted with no guarantee. It’s just a family, no matter how many divorces or remarries there have been; no matter which children are half siblings or step siblings or adoptive siblings; regardless of whether aunts and uncles, grandparents or other legal guardians have taken the place of the parents through a loss or another trauma.
Whatever your unique family structure, it is entirely possible to develop a healthy, supportive, and loving culture in it. So let’s examine exactly what that means.
Set the standard
One of the most important things you will ever do as a parent or guardian is be the example that you want to see both with your children and with your partner or co-parent. This idea applies to everything from your daily practices to your work habits to your communication style.
For example, suppose you usually start your day with your face on your phone, the TV in the background, and your attention divided between packing lunch and scheduling a dental appointment. Or maybe you just come home from the office to keep working until dinner, write a super important report to your coworkers while mindlessly munching on your meatloaf, and then email off while you brush your teeth. And to top it off, you might start into a heated bedtime argument with your spouse, who’s it is their turn to take out the trash.
When you are in the moment, it’s hard to remember that your kids will pick up these behaviors, assume they’re normal, and eventually start imitating them. Yikes Unfortunately, in our twenty-first century, such behavior is normal. But that doesn’t make it advisable or beneficial. You can set a different standard for yourself, creating a different blueprint for your family.
For example, instead of waking up in a hurricane of conflicting activity, choose to meditate for five minutes each morning and then do each of the tasks you need to do separately, rather than doing one thing “while” another. Bonus: you can even get your kids involved in the action and ask them to help you prepare their lunch.
When you return from the office – even if that office is currently at your home – leave your work at your desk. It’ll still be there in the morning, and if you really need to pack something up before you go to bed, you can take fifteen or twenty minutes to do it. In the meantime, you’ve cleared the way to be fully present with loved ones, which can mean cooking dinner together, having fun, meaningful conversations around the table, doing a homework meeting, or all of the above .
If you go about it in this deliberately balanced way, the chances are good that you can still get there, and possibly more successfully than you would have tried all at once. Even better, You will show your children how much you care for yourself and how much you care for them.
Disagree with Grace
When it comes to disputes with your spouse, partner, ex-partner, co-guardian, etc., let’s face it, these things are going to happen and you don’t need to judge or blame if they do. You don’t have to try to hide them or pretend they didn’t happen either. Disagreements are natural in any relationship, and especially personal. With that in mind, the best you can do for your family is to speak up about them openly.
This does not necessarily mean that you are discussing adult-only topics in front of your children. Certain matters may still need to be handled behind closed doors. But they can be civilized without loud verbal brawls, violent language, or heated accusations – all of these must be heard by young, impressionable ears. Modeling positive, productive conflict management is an important part of parenting, and one that is often overlooked in favor of total conflict avoidance (also known as the “sweeping under the carpet” communication style which, as anyone who has ever used it knows, has to backfire).
Lead with love
About everything, The most important ingredient for a healthy home is an atmosphere of play, gratitude, love and joy. Stress, sadness, pain, disappointment – such negative feelings and the situations that trigger them are inevitable. However, we can balance them out by creating an emotionally nurturing environment for our children and inspiring them in a positive way. Put down the electronics and interact. To play board games. Grab the dog and a frisbee and go to the park. Make a gratitude list together every morning and read a book every night before bed. Just be with each other!
No matter what age, your children will soak up these experiences and carry them for a lifetime. From day one, you have the opportunity to be their superhero by simply being the most sincere, compassionate, and connected version of yourself. So grab your cloak my friends. Duty calls.
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