People often take advantage of special occasions to show affection and love like how lovers would celebrate Valentine’s Day. However, people should celebrate and show their affection to their loved ones more often, including families. In fact, exchanging affection with other people, especially family members, should be part of everyone’s everyday life. But, as life happens and people have different degrees of openness with affection, they might not always be in tune with their own and their loved ones’ needs for affection.
People have different love languages and apply that to all kinds of relationships they experience; they show love in different ways and, in turn, feel loved in different ways as well. Similarly, it is also important to learn the love language between spouses, parent and child, and siblings. Individually, being able to speak the love language of each family member will make them feel loved and can also improve their well-being. As a collective, understanding each other’s love languages helps strengthen family relationships and enables everyone to love and communicate better.
Five ways families can express love to one another
You can invite your families to try these ways of expressing love and care towards each other:
- Prepare and share a special meal. There is nothing that brings a family closer better than a shared meal. Creating a special dish for certain occasions with your family is one way to go about it. In fact, a US-based company called The Little Potato had a survey done and revealed that cooking is one of America’s love languages, and more than two-thirds of the respondents choose cooking as their favorite way to spend time with their family. Also, having meals together as a family routine every day serves many benefits, including boosting a child’s language skills, strengthening family bonds, and improving family health.
- Exchange cards. Ask your families to prepare cards to express love for different people in the family on every special occasion and exchange cards after dinner. Cards can also be created for loved ones who are residing elsewhere, like grandparents or other extended family members, and be sent through mail or by utilizing other electronic means. If you have young children, invite them to create and decorate the cards together. This can be a moment to teach them a simple yet meaningful way to express affection as it tells the person that you took your time to make something for them.
- Exchange gifts. Giving each other a gift is also a way you can celebrate love with your family. Similar to exchanging cards, the act of giving meaningful gifts can also let your family know that you love them. Research done by Ed O’Brien and Samantha Kassirer supports this and finds that families can also benefit from this as giving to others brings lasting happiness.
- Show and turn towards physical affection. Even though people have different love languages, it is found that physical affection (e.g., holding hands, hugging) is a consensus among people regarding behaviors that make them feel loved. This suggests that it is important to show love through physical affection towards family members. While some families shy away from having physical contact due to reasons such as embarrassment or fear of rejection, giving a simple hug or kiss on the cheek will let your family know immediately that they are loved.
- Say “I love you”. As simple as it sounds, saying these three words out loud to other family members can be difficult. It could be the feelings of awkwardness, embarrassment, or losing their significance if spoken too often that stop people from expressing their love verbally. Even though actions speak louder than words, it would not hurt to do it and let your families know your feelings.
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The coming of a New Year signals a fresh start and great timing to set goals not only for individuals but also for families. Creating a new year’s resolution may be a common practice for most people, but many are not familiar with doing it as a family.
While surveys on individuals include spending more time with family as one of their new year’s resolutions, none explicitly discuss this as a plan with their family nor have it as a goal to be achieved collectively with their family members.
In fact, having shared goals is a vital ingredient for a healthy relationship, and having them between family members is no exception. Similar to setting family goals, the idea of family resolutions is to get everyone involved in deciding what to improve and how to make a group effort to achieve them.
Some families may not schedule their resolutions, but for others, it is probably the only way amidst the busy life where everyone has different schedules and priorities. Joint resolutions may connect everyone in the family and support each other to stick to their promises for the year.
10 Family Resolution Ideas
Here are some ideas to include in your family’s new year’s resolution:
- Get unplugged. Go on a digital diet with your family by designating screen-free hours or days, such as no phones during dinner or video games during weekdays. Not only does it allow family members to have more time together, but it also promotes better physical and mental health.
- Prepare meals and eat healthier food. Cooking healthier food together can be a fun way to reach your personal diet goal and make the process more manageable. It will also be easier on your wallet because there would be no more monthly expenses wasted on unused ingredients.
- Spend more time in nature. Take your family outdoors and reap the benefits of spending time in a more natural environment for your health and wellbeing. You can do some activities together, such as riding a bike, playing a sport, or walking in a nearby park. This is also helpful to balance your time spent indoors due to the pandemic.
- Practice kindness. A small act of kindness can make someone’s day and can even become a pleasant surprise when it comes from someone we love. This can also serve as a way of expressing affection and caring. For example, taking on your partner’s chore, leaving a note of appreciation and compliment for siblings, or making breakfast for parents can go a long way.
- Start a weekly ritual. Plan out a schedule for a regular activity that you can do with the family, like having a movie or game night every week or planning a date night for the parents. These rituals create a space for things that matter to the family and build an emotional bond among family members.
- Go on family vacations. The experience of exploring new places and de-stressing through vacations can benefit everyone individually and as a family in many ways. Start the new year by planning family trips, so everyone has something to look forward to even after the holiday season.
- Save money together. Saving money is one of the most basic financial aspects that offer an abundance of benefits. Saving money together as a family for weekly activities or family trips also helps children develop healthy financial habits and build their own funds as they become adults.
- Volunteer as a family. Connect with new people and extend your family’s effort in practicing kindness to a bigger community. This can be done through family volunteering, such as preparing and serving meals to the homeless, planting trees with a local organization, and volunteering at a nursing home. It is also an excellent opportunity to help children develop essential traits like empathy and compassion.
- Keep a record of memories. Technology allows us to preserve family memories through photos, videos, or journals. Having a digital album to maintain with family can help preserve memories and allow members to reminisce and reflect on the past.
- Create a family vision board. Finally, all resolutions mentioned above can be recorded on a family vision board. By having a vision board of your family’s resolution for the new year, everyone can see how they are progressing towards their goal as a family. This can also act as a review of how each member is playing their role in the family.
Family relationships are considered lifelong and unbreakable. However, being in a toxic or abusive family relationship can be devastating and estrangement becomes the way out wherein someone physically and emotionally distances themselves to cut family ties. It is often seen as an event or outcome with only two possibilities: estranged or not estranged. However, an alternate view argues that it is an ongoing process reflected in a spectrum with different degrees.
Family estrangement is nearly as common as divorce. According to a 2015 survey, nine out of ten adults were estranged from their mother or father. Similarly, from the parents’ perspective, more than 90% of parents were estranged from a daughter or a son. Meanwhile, the proportion of being estranged from at least one sister or one brother reduces to seven out of ten adults.
Causes of estrangement
It might not be easy to understand what would make someone cut a family member out of their life. The reasons to cut off communication and distance one’s self from certain family members differ from the parents’ and children’s perspectives as well as between siblings. It can be caused by a major event or disagreement and arguments that have been building over time to serve as a trigger.
The 2015 survey revealed emotional abuse as the most cited reason as to why adults become estranged from their parents. Other reasons include mismatched expectations about family roles and relationships, a clash in personality or values, neglect, issues relating to mental health problems, and traumatic family events. The report also cited that the parents’ estrangement from their grown-up children is caused by conflicting expectations in the family, issues relating to in-laws, and the experience of divorce. Aside from these factors, people also blame parental favoritism as the cause of estrangement between siblings.
Other issues that may lead to family tensions and estrangement include physical, emotional, and sexual abuse by other family members, conflicting political or religious views, a family member’s sexual orientation, and choice of spouse. This results in the feelings of being unloved, rejected, and hurt by people who are expected to be the main source of affection, safety, and support. While cutting off family members is a means to separate one’s self from these emotions attributed to them, it also acts as a double-edged sword to the person as they are separated from the ones they love.
Dealing with estrangement
There are a few ways to deal with estrangement:
- Acknowledge and apologize. Meeting in person and apologizing for your share of the problem can be uncomfortable. However, it is necessary to talk through things, listen to each other, and acknowledge the trauma and pain that everyone experienced. Even if reconciliation is not the goal, letting go of guilt, shame, grudge, and other emotional burdens is an essential step to moving forward.
- Give space. You and the person you are estranged from may need time to work through the pain. It is important to respect the other person’s decision by suspending sending texts, calling, or any other contact that may lead to conflict and worsen the situation.
- Reconcile. Reconciliation may be expected after passing through emotional distress. However, every person involved needs to be physically and emotionally ready to reconnect. In a case where the estrangement is caused by conflicts that put someone’s life at risk such as domestic violence, you may reach out to professionals to mediate and to know what to expect from the reformed relationship.
- Maintain distance. In some relationships, permanent distancing may be a healthy solution and empowering for everyone involved. This means either physically distancing while maintaining occasional contact or cutting off communication entirely. Depending on the effects of estrangement, you need to assess your tolerance to connect with your estranged family members.
- Seek support. Whether you are the one cutting off contact or being cut off by a family member, you might need support to cope with the consequences such as feeling ashamed of going against social expectations. You can seek support from friends, other loved ones, and even a professional. For example, people going through family estrangement found therapy and counseling with a professional to be helpful as it makes them feel supported, develop insight and understanding, and move forward.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to family estrangement as it depends on the cause and its effects on your quality of life. Life is never ideal, and so is a family relationship. You might not talk or spend the holidays together with some family members. However, it doesn’t determine your capacity to love, especially if distancing is the only way to give you the comfort and safety you need.