Q After some therapy, my husband and I ironed out some of our relationship issues. We now have two children-ten and fourteen years old. We love our kids very much, but we notice that we may not be as connected as we should be as a family. This is disappointing to me. Our teenage girl is already very independent, into her friends, school activities and often on the internet. Our son is quieter and likes to spend time in his room reading, playing games and watching television. Both, my husband and I, work and we have our individual interests. I don’t know how to bring us all together on a regular basis. I sometimes wonder if we need some family therapy to help us deal with any issues that we are avoiding.
A The estranged-family phenomenon that you are describing is unfortunately becoming more common as technology increases and individual schedules and pursuits dominate our lives.
It’s valuable and exciting to have the freedom to pursue interests and enjoy the people you like and have things in common with. However, people are starting to live more in their own bubbles, thinking that happiness can be found by having the power to choose exactly what you want and getting it quickly. This leads to self-absorption, orienting every decision to what you want and actually believing that getting it is where happiness and fulfillment lie.
Seeking personal desires is only part of the path towards a rich, happy and meaningful life. The other parts include thinking about others, being an integral member of a family and community and letting go of your desires and even needs at times. These qualities help humans recognize how we need and belong to each other and that giving is just as fulfilling as getting. Doing without doesn’t mean deprivation, and can lead to finding contentment with yourself, what you have and empathy towards others who have much less.
In your family, begin by creating activities such as meals, outings, home projects and homework time that bring everyone together. Every family needs to have structured time when the focus is being a family. The foundation of a nuclear family are the parents. Sounds like you are both busy with your individual lives. What is going on there between the two of you? Do you have a relaxed and connected time together? If you do, then you can invite your kids into this experience as well. If there is a lot of resistance from your family in coming together regularly, you’ll need to ask directly what they don’t like about connecting. Don’t accept “we’re too busy and it’s boring” as an answer. That’s an avoidance of the estrangement in the family and perhaps, some unspoken and uncomfortable feelings.
Family therapy is useful to get at the underlying issues that are not addressed directly at home. It is also a focused and safe space, where every family member is present with a skilled therapist to open up about his or her feelings toward each other and anything they need to share, ask and want help with. You would be surprised at the feelings and concerns that arise.
Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist of Indian descent in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com