How Fast Families Can Move from Chaos to Closeness
- 2006 20 Jan
Most of us don't need a list of impressive research statistics to tell us that today's families feel rushed. Chances are, you're already living this reality. The modern family moves from one activity and obligation to the next, while mom, dad, and kids can barely find time to breathe, much less connect in any meaningful way. But, perhaps you are the exception to the rule. Perhaps your family thrives off a full schedule, yet lately you've noticed one of your loved ones seems disconnected and irritable.
Whether you love a fast pace or are desperate to get off the treadmill, parents know that connecting with our kids is key to giving them a healthy childhood. Author and Coach Timothy Smith's recent book Connecting with Your Kids: How Fast Families Can Move from Chaos to Closeness (Bethany House) offers solutions that can be tailored to a family's unique situation. Read on as Tim discusses ways families can discern their natural paces, while helping them -- even the fast ones -- connect in meaningful ways.
Q: Why did you write a book on connecting with your kids? Is that possible with today’s busy families?
A: Yes, I believe it’s possible to live full, meaningful lives and still make time to connect with each other. I’ve studied fast-paced families who have discovered a way to connect, even with their full schedules. I like what John Trent says in the Foreword, "This book gives us extra-busy types great, on-target insights that don’t make a person feel worthless for living a busy life."
Q: You say that 7 out of 10 parents are feeling hurried and hectic. What was the source of your information?
A: As a Gallup Research Fellow, I was able to design questions to poll Americans across the country about their pace of life and its impact on their family and relationships. We found that most parents with school-aged kids were feeling too rushed to connect with their kids, let alone their mate, friends, and neighbors. Most parents feel like life is a blur.
Q: Why are we in such a rush?
A: In the research, we discovered that there are seven reasons why we rush (1.) Our culture cherishes a fast tempo. (2.) Commerce compensates quickness. (3.) Media and technology promote speed. (4.) Our families fuel it. (5.) Our selfishness demands it. (6.) Debt drives it. And the seventh may be the most influential, we are running from something – avoidance promotes purposeless pursuits.
Q: You talk about "over-scheduled and under-connected" kids. What is the impact on them?
A: Recent medical and psychological studies report that over-scheduling can damage our health and our marriages and compel our children into depression and risky behaviors involving drugs, alcohol and sex. Other related indicators of stress include compulsive behavior, sleep disturbance, a drop in grades, withdrawal, tantrums, hostility, and acts of violence. Some kids have been scheduled so much that they don’t know how to entertain themselves and play and relax on their own. I call it the death of free play.
Q: You’ve coined the term, "Heartprints." What do you mean by that and how does that help a parent connect with her child?
A: The wise proverb cautions us to "guard the heart, for it is the wellspring of life." Each of us has a pace that we are comfortable with. For example, I like to walk fast; my wife likes to walk slowly. I don’t fully understand this, but we seldom marry someone who likes to walk or live at the same pace. Maybe opposites attract?
We each have a heartbeat -- a pace that you prefer for life. Cardiologists tell me that your heartbeat is distinct. With the right equipment we can hear different sounds from the heart that make your heart unlike anyone else’s -- it’s as distinctive as your thumbprint. So I coined a term "heartprint," the unique cadence by which you like to live your life. I found that there are four primary heartprints: Cruisers, Walkers, Runners, and Biathletes. If a parent can understand her heartprint and discover her child’s, she will be able to make accommodations and have the understanding to connect with her child.
Q: You aren’t saying that everybody needs to slow down. You build a case for connecting with each other even though you are a fast family. How does that happen?
A: Let’s say you are a Runner parent who likes to fill his day with activities -- just cram them in. But you have a Cruiser child who likes to take her time and not be rushed, but do things right. You will learn to keep things predictable, establish a routine, and allow your Cruiser child to build to last because she is wired that way. You won’t rush her or over-schedule her. Understanding your child’s heartprint helps you connect with your child in a way that is meaningful to her.
Q: We have so many options, for parents and kids. When is enough, enough?
A: Most of us well-intentioned parents have been deceived. We thought that a little enrichment for our kids is good, so a little bit more would be great. But it’s too much. We found out that kids really don’t want, or need, as many things or activities as they have -- what they really want is you! When asked, what makes a happy family, kids report: "fun times together." In the book, I offer an EIR -- a checklist to review before you sign up. It helps you assess the full impact of another activity. Sometimes you can do more for your child by doing less.
Q: How does a parent who is one heartprint (pace) relate to and connect with his child who is a completely different heartprint?
A: Probably, the most helpful chart in the book is the "If/Then Heartprints" chart. If you are this kind of heartprint and your child is that kind -- what should you do and what should you avoid? For instance, If you are a Biathlete parent who likes to go very fast -- like those cross-country skiers in the Olympics, who go faster than runners then stop and shoot at a target -- then you need to be alert to how you relate to your Walker child. Make sure you affirm him, be consistent with him, and reinforce steadiness and predictability in his life, in spite of all of your starts and stops and variety of things going on that you like. A biathlete parent should try to avoid pushing his or her Walker child into scary experiences. Basically, we’re saying to acknowledge and affirm that your child has a different heartprint than you and that’s okay. Don’t try to make your child into a revised edition of yourself.
Q: Tell us about a family that applied your concepts. What happened?
A: A family of Runners maybe the busiest family I know, but they had a twelve-year-old son who was a Cruiser. One day his karate class and soccer were both canceled. His mom, thinking he’d be disappointed, was shocked when Ryan heard the news and shouted, "Yeah, a free day!" as he went skipping out the door to play basketball in the driveway. "What should I do? I thought all kids liked to keep busy."
"Not all kids -- some kids, like your son, might like to do less. For instance, this weekend when you go wakeboarding, after everyone has gone, slowly cruise around the lake for fifteen minutes, and see Ryan’s response." She called me when they got back, "It was amazing, just doing that little fifteen minute cruise forced us all to slow down and enjoy the scenery. Ryan loved it. We were all in the boat together."
Timothy Smith is a family coach, speaker, president of Life Skills for American Families, and the author of several books, including Letters to Nicole and The Seven Cries of Today's Teens. He is a research fellow with George H. Gallup International Institute and a radio commentator. Tim and his wife have two young adult daughters and live in Southern California. To find out more about Timothy's books and speaking, or to contact him, visit www.parentscoach.org.