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Happy Faces

By Jerry Witkovsky, author of The Grandest Love

Striving to become more connected as a family doesn’t mean that everyone is obliged to see things the same way.  For example, not all of my family members see a deliberate commitment to Teaching-and-Learning as being central to our family’s synergy.  Says my daughter Ellen, herself a social worker, and the vice-president of a large non-profit:

I’m not so conscious of an intentional Teaching-and-Learning model to our interactions the way my dad is, frankly.  As a parent and an aunt, a daughter, a wife and a sister, I try to be present in the lives of my loved ones – to show interest in what they are passionate about, and to share with them what I’m passionate about. 

I think about my talent for quilting, for example, and about the gifts I’ve made for each of them – but I don’t think of that as an act of teaching, really. There’s nothing intentional other than showing love through my creativity.

I have learned to watch the human beings I care about discover themselves and grow, without trying to impose my own dreams or values on them. I think they are all very cool people with a lot to offer, and I enjoy being around them!

And what about my personal prescription of plenty of talk and togetherness, as being key to a healthy extended family (I’ve hosted Three-Generation Family Meetings regularly at holidays since the grandkids were little)?  My son Michael, who is a psychiatrist, sometimes needs to remind me that it is also important to value and respect each individual’s desire for periods of silence, solitude and separateness.  Trees do not grow if they stand too close and are constantly in each other’s shadow.  Neither do people – or families.

As a big fan of frequent communication, I can’t say that an appreciation for silence is tops on my list!  But learning from my family is.  Fashioning a Teaching-and-Learning family dynamic means being open to viewpoints that may not come naturally.  I am grateful for this paradigm because it helps me to not feel insulted or defensive when my ideas or behaviors are challenged.

The Two Generation Family Meeting

A friend’s daughter, Jennifer, found there were some topics that were perfect for the larger extended family, but also felt a need to better connect with her husband and two sons. Between work, business travel, school, and other activities, they often did not even have time to eat dinner together, let along plan together. Jennifer decided to try family meetings with her “intermediate” family (those that live in the house together), which they started doing monthly. Her challenge at home was making sure that the meeting did not devolve into who did or didn’t do their chores—it was not intended to be a trip to the principal’s office.

Having a special treat, time to catch up with each other, tell jokes, stories, stick to an agenda, and maybe occasionally who is not doing their chores, made up the generally hour long meetings.

In the long run, they found that by doing monthly meetings with the smaller group, everyone was more receptive to the periodic big family meetings. They got into the practice of teaching and learning. So then when the big group met it was fun, especially for the boys, to show off their skills.

Thanksgiving and Feeling Nostalgic

Thanksgiving, just around the corner, may be the perfect time, when everyone is together, to create some “planned” time together. Can everyone come ready to share a 2-3 minute story of something that’s happened since the last time you all were together? Who can open with the best joke? What about a group hug?

For the mom in between…Kids are getting older, and so are parents. Now is the time to make every minute count.