Creating New Patterns

Lessons From The Road Part 3

Step 1 Breaking Patterns

Families are notorious for getting into routines, some of which don’t serve everyone in the family. I can’t tell you how many families I’ve spoken to, including my own family, where we would let our little child, who was 4 at the time, watch iPad shows when she was clearly tired and maybe even hungry. And we would do it over and over again. And after every time we would ask her to get off because she’d been on a little while, she would have a complete meltdown. It would be so hard for her to transition off.

We definitely could have fed her before we let her watch a show. We could have made sure she only watched shows when she was in a good mood or feeling like she had some energy. But that’s not what we chose to do so often, because we were looking for the easy way, which is we wanted a break ourselves. We didn’t want to have to prepare lunch because maybe we had some work to do.

So the pattern would happen over and over again. And it would get pretty volatile and I would see how it would affect all of us. My eldest daughter would be upset, my wife and I would be upset. Everyone would be upset and that would be the energy of our home.

That’s just one pattern that I’ve seen evolve in our home. But if you look at your own family, there are all kinds of patterns that we get into.

We need to keep a watchful eye on the patterns that don’t feel good.

If we look at most routines, when people come home from work, oftentimes there’s routines around homework and dinner and clean up and brushing teeth and bedtime and getting to school in the morning. So many patterns and routines that are filled with people being unkind to each other, people being frustrated with one another. People screaming at one another. People being over the top, almost abusive with each other.

These are all patterns that settle into our homes because we’re moving so quickly, moving from one day to another, without taking stock that these are patterns we’re creating— that we are actually making these patterns.

We can choose to blame the school for giving homework, and we can choose to blame our kids for being slow to get ready in the morning. We can choose to blame our partners for not doing more to help out. Ultimately these patterns need to be addressed.

We need to start by saying, what are the patterns that don’t feel good? What are the things that happen in our home day after day after day that don’t feel good?

Step 2 Creating a New Vision

Once we can do that, then we can talk about how to break those patterns and how to be in a good way with one another. But we have to start looking at those patterns. We have to wake up to the systems in our family that don’t feel good. Then we can make another choice.

Step 3 Break the Isolation

So this leads me to a lesson around breaking the isolation. We are becoming more and more isolated in our culture and while these phones and screens are making us more connected, we’re growing isolated in our connection. People are going into their bedrooms and texting and Snapchatting, Facebook Messaging and Emailing, while everybody else in the family is in their own separate wing of the house.

There was this beautiful moment on the trip when we were in Taos, New Mexico, and we were visiting the Pueblos there. And I was in this woman’s old pueblo, it’s a 500 – 600 year old pueblo. Super small little home. And she was talking about how all of the family lived in this one room. And what I realized looking at this room was that one thing that these kids and these families never felt was isolated to one another. They never felt disconnected. They were always together. Sure they had moments and she was clear to say that yes, people got angry and frustrated and people would run out of the house and go and sit by the river and connect with nature, and be able to get back into a grounded state.

That’s not what’s happening in our lives right now. Right now people are slamming doors and jumping on their phones. People are avoiding one another for days and weeks. There are families who aren’t seeing their kids for more than a couple minutes because the kids are going to their room.

While we gave them their own rooms so that they could have their own space, we also created the perfect conditions for isolation. We’re spending more time apart even when we’re together.

It was really beautiful one evening, I watched my 10-year-old nephew and 9-year-old daughter sitting next to each other reading a book. And it was so beautiful because I imagined that if I’d handed them each an iPad or a screen, they might even end up in different parts of the room or they might be in their own rooms. Or they might not have any need to be together. But there’s something really sweet about them sitting together — so close to each other — that you could sense that they were connected even though they were doing their own thing.

And I think we need more of that in our families. We need to break the isolation from each other. I remember when I worked at a corporate job. I’d go to work. I’d say good-bye in the morning. I’d be gone all day, come home, and we’d be having dinner. Then, I’d want to jump on my phone. Later, when my wife was doing things like bath time or getting kids ready for bed, I was off in my own space isolated again, getting back to doing work. Instead of being with the family — instead of being in a state of connection — I was isolating myself.

I was modeling that for my children too. There would be times when they would be off in their room, and I would be in another room. Even though we hadn’t seen each other that much, we weren’t really even hanging out.

Now I make sure that if we’re in the same house, that we try to be in the same room for more of the day than not. It doesn’t feel good to me if we’re always around each other but never connected — never in the same room. And I think the bigger the house, the bigger the challenge that is.

So as families we need break the isolation internally. But not only from ourselves, within our own home unit. This is a big part of reclaiming our families: spending time together, not being so isolated. But also, we need to break the isolation from our neighbors, from our school communities, and from our extended families. We are going to have to work to be closer to one another, and it’s not going to be easy because of the patterns of our lives.

Reach Out

We may have to break certain patterns in order to be less isolated. And we’re driven by our will and desire for our lives to be different. We want something else. We have a vision or a dream for ourselves that is not in alignment with that isolation.

I have this dream for communities to bring back potlucks and share child care. There used to be a time when parents could say, “Hey, I have to run to an appointment. Can you watch Susie for a little bit? Can you watch Brian?” Parents would help each other with child care. I think we need to get back to that.

If you have that in your life, tell more people about it. Practice it more. Offer more people in your community to drop off their kids if they need a place, a backup. I’m not saying we’re going to get totally away from babysitters. There’s definitely a time and place for the evening babysitter, or the daytime one. But reaching out makes us closer as community, more connected, and finding like-minded people near you and making friends with your neighbors is a win for everybody!

There are parents all over most communities who are looking to change their family and community culture, who want to live in more connection and less isolation. Especially if you live in an apartment building or are in any kind of suburban environment, we need to do a better job of breaking the isolation and supporting each other by watching one another’s kids, getting to know our neighbors, and having more regular connection.

One of the ways that that’s going to feel good is if we’re in community with those people and we talk to each other and we know what we are all comfortable with.

For example, a real problem in community right now is people will drop their kids off for play dates and you don’t know what shows are appropriate. Shows at one house may not be appropriate at your house. So part of breaking the isolation is that we need to talk with the other parents and say, “Hey, just so you know, we don’t watch PG13 movies yet.” And they’ll say, “Oh, okay. We sometimes do but we won’t when your kids come over.” And you’ll say something like, “Thank you. That’s really sweet,” and you’ll feel closer to that person. You’ll feel more connected; you’ll feel less isolated.

One of my best buddies in Marin County and I became friends through our daughters playing soccer together, but I feel like our relationship really changed when he came over one day and brought over his power washer and we power washed my front fence that was just dirty beyond measure. As we’re power washing and he’s showing me how to use it and he’s using it, we’re having fun clearing off all the dirt and the spider webs from this white picket fence, we became closer friends.

Part of breaking down the isolation is restoring what it used to be to be a neighbor or a friend: to help each other, to do things that you need help with, whether it be yard clearing or power washing a fence.

It’s a nostalgic thought, but remember when you needed a cup of sugar? You didn’t just go run to the store. You went and asked a neighbor. You gave people a chance to help you, and in helping you they grew closer to you. And in helping each other, you became a community.