How to weather the storm of family life
12:45 25 October 2011
Elaine Taylor of Relate Cambridge looks at some of the challenges families face and how to handle them
At times, family life can leave you feeling like you are being buffeted about from pillar to post. At Relate - although the majority of the clients we see are concerned about their couple relationship – we do also work with families and often the issues we deal with are common to both couple and family relationships. So, here are some common problems we encounter, with tips on how to survive them
So many of us have never been taught how to communicate, particularly when it comes to managing sensitive issues or disagreements. However, we don’t always need heavy duty conversations to solve problems – we can learn a lot just from picking up on body language and being a good listener is a huge bonus in family relationships.
Having children can be an amazing experience but is also extremely exhausting. Lack of sleep alone can cause tolerance levels to reach an all time low. Being a parent can be all consuming and it is very easy to lose touch with how you felt when you were young, free and single! Enlist help where you can so you can escape from time to time.
Don’t ignore your own or your partner’s needs, they are equally as important as your children’s
The impact on a family when someone is struggling with a difficult work situation can be huge. Sometimes it takes a while to realise it is work and not family life that is causing the angst. It’s good from time to time to take stock to make sure work is not taking over and there is some energy left to invest in family life.
Try to avoid doing too much venting about work on family members – find people you can talk to or other practical ways to help you relieve stress
Separation and divorce
Going through separation or divorce is a very stressful and traumatic time. There will be lots of different agendas. It can be hard to cope with your own emotions as well as those of the rest of the family. There are lots of different kinds of professional help available – don’t be afraid to ask for it! Treat yourself gently and make lots of allowances – your emotions may feel all over the place until things settle.
How to help children deal with divorce
When parents divorce the children will react differently according to their age. They will be worried about the parent who is not around and may be feeling things are out of control. Regardless of age, children need reassurance they are not to blame for the break up but younger children especially, need physical comfort as well as verbal reassurance – i.e. being told they are loved and that feeling scared or upset is OK but things can be worked out.
Get children involved in decisions where their routines will be affected so they know what is likely to happen next
Giving adolescents the chance to talk about their feelings will often bear fruit eventually – just spending time with them doing things will create a space to talk. As far as possible, try to be honest and consistent with information. Children tend to ask for the information they need when they are ready to hear it, so they may not need to know too much to start with.
Cross cultural differences
It can be enriching for a family to have influences from different cultures, but it may require some extra understanding to embrace these differences.
Acknowledge and accept that different ways and approaches are a good thing for a family. Welcome the challenge of incorporating these and creating your own unique set of rules for your family
These may become the third-party in a relationship, as fear and shame can cause people to become very secretive about issues such as debt. However scary it feels, don’t brush financial worries under the carpet – they won’t go away however hard you ignore them! Try to involve the whole family in discussions about budgeting.
How we deal with a bereavement can often be dependent on our previous experience of loss. There are so many difficult emotions to cope with and it can be hard to recognise when we are stuck and weighed down with our feelings.
Find a healthy balance between letting emotions out and not wallowing. Make an extra effort to look after yourself at this time
We cannot always protect our families from crises and all the ups and downs that life brings. However, with the right approach and strategies, family life can be both rewarding and enhancing.
Elaine Taylor is a trained relationship counsellor with Relate Cambridge. She has 17 years’ experience of dealing with relationship problems. Relate Cambridge offers confidential counselling for individuals, couples and families who are experiencing relationship problems. relatecambridge.org.uk, 01223 357424