Our Families Were Meant to be Enjoyed, Not Just Endured
Families and friendship go hand in hand, like bare feet belong in the warmth of the sand. A sister or brother can broaden the soul and fill the emptiness of a deepening hole.*
How do you feel about family life?
Family life is like a race
Every race has a beginning and an end. We anxiously watch at the starting line while the participants take their places. We follow their every move as they round the bend and vie for a place in front of their fellow runners. We cheer with triumph when the winner crosses the finish line, and offer condolences to those who did not quite make the cut.
Family life as we know it is no different. It begins when we timidly say "I do" at the alter, surrounded by family and friends. We receive everyone's best advice as we experience the bumps and bruises of bearing and rearing children. We are supported and strengthened as we endure ill health, financial setbacks, and coming of age transitions. In the end our loved ones line up beside us as our bodies are being put into the grave, celebrating our triumphs, and offering condolence at our loss.
In the race of family life, the parenting role is the longest marathon we will ever run! We leave the beginning far behind long before we reach the finish line, and a lot happens in between! Oftentimes, we loose our sense of what it is all about, and why we started the race in the first place. Many drop out in favor of what they believe to be a better situation, only to find out that what they left behind cannot be reclaimed.
In order to keep us on track, we need to find enjoyment and happiness in our current family situations, no matter what they may be. As we do so, we are much less likely to loose our focus, and our footing, before the race is over. It takes more than just "enduring to the end" like those before us may have done, it takes a healthy dose of enjoyment.
Our families were meant to be enjoyed, not just endured. Just what is enjoyment? How does it differ from enduring? Where can we find it? Once we find it, how do we keep it? These and many other questions are answered in the following paragraphs.
Some families pass by like ships in the night, forever wondering where there is a light. They spend their lives on activities and things, hoping to fill up a void the world brings.
What is enjoyment?
Words that are synonymous with enjoyment are happiness, pleasure, satisfaction, liking, delight, gratification, gladness, and joy.(From The Free Dictionary, online at http://www.thefreedictionary.com/enjoyment)
These are all relative terms, and depend upon a person's point of view. A professional musician may find enjoyment in the playing of a musical instrument, whereas a child just learning to play may find the act tedious and boring. Enjoyment may not come until the child attains sufficient proficiency on the instrument to play whatever music is desirable to that person.
Oftentimes, we do not enjoy the experiences we have because we are too preoccupied with other things. A busy parent who comes home may not enjoy a toddler that is hanging on the pant leg for attention. It is necessary to set aside the cares of the world, focus attention on the child by looking directly into the eyes, and allow ourselves to give the love the child is wanting to receive.
The key to enjoyment is allowing ourselves to live in the moment.
In the article "Live in the Light of Today" (see right), we learn how to close the door on the past. What happened before this moment is immaterial to what is happening now. It does not matter what our boss said before we left the office, or what the car in front of us did as we were driving down the freeway. What really matters is that our family is needing love and attention, and we are in a key position to give it at this moment.
We also learn to close the door on the future. Our worries and cares are often future oriented. We are concerned about the plan we need to write before the big meeting next week, or how we are going to pay the mortgage. These types of things keep us from focusing on the present. When we live too much in the future, we do not recognize what is happening around us and miss out on much of the beauty of life. We don't notice the changing colors of the seasons until they are already past and gone.
It may be necessary to give ourselves permission to enjoy life. Many of us grew up in families that taught us to get all of our work done before we could go outside to play. This mentality leaves us feeling guilty about enjoying life if there are tasks yet to finish. Family life is a never ending parade of things to do. We may never have all of our work "done!"
We don't have to wait until all the work is done, all of our debts are paid, or the time is right before we can enjoy life. Happiness is a choice, not an event. As we find the beauty in each moment, our happiness will increase, and we will be more likely to plan enjoyable events with our family in the future.
Some families form enemies and bitterness runs deep. Many a night there's someone who'll weep over hurt and pain from a loved one who's dear, who should have been loving them, holding them near.
How does enjoyment differ from enduring?
Family life is the hardest thing we will ever do. The self-discipline required to keep up family routines, provide for individual needs, and keep our own selves in line is grueling. Long hours and sleepless nights are standard, and there just isn't room for selfishness and misunderstanding.
As children enter the family circle, the relationship of the couple changes to make room for the little one. Additional household responsibilities require additional financial resources. Communication and planning are necessary to resolve differences and keep the home running on an even keel. Harboring grudges and withdrawing from one another leads to conflict and hurt feelings.
Other circumstance also require adjustment in the family; i.e. changing jobs, moving, health issues, extended family crises, and other life events. Couples who work together to resolve issues during the adjustment process are able to remain loving toward one another and stay close in their marriage. They overlook each others' weaknesses and mistakes as they realize that we are all in the learning process.
Each stage of life has its ups and downs. Enduring means staying strong until the end, through the loneliness, heartache, pain, and frustration. Enduring puts the focus on the negative that is happening around us, and tells us, "life is tough, but you can do it."
Enjoyment focuses on the positive. It says, "Hey, there is something good happening, lets take advantage of it and make it last as long as we can." Our choice to savor the beautiful moments and make the most of them keeps our joy full and our happiness unending.
Some are like filling stations with one who attends, meeting everyone's needs as they come round the bend. The food and the clothing, the shelter provide, but fade in the distance when life's at low tide.
Where can we find enjoyment?
In order to find enjoyment, we have to stop thinking of our families as being "incomplete" or somehow "less than" the "ideal family." When we allow ourselves to think this way, we develop a victim mentality. The following thought patterns are evidence of this:
- If only my husband would not have left me, I would be able to stay home with my children.
- If only my wife were not working full time, our children wouldn't have so many problems.
- If I could just get home at a decent hour, I would have more time with my family.
- If we had more money, we could go on a vacation to a nice place, and really enjoy ourselves
- If we didn't have to pay all these medical bills, we could afford a nice car and a better home.
Each of these statements focuses on things we think "should be" different in order for life to be enjoyable. We allow ourselves to excuse our unhappiness based upon our less than ideal circumstances. Doing this leads to feelings of being "robbed" or "trapped." It takes away our choices and puts the responsibility on someone or something else.
In the article "Keeping Marriage Strong Through Life's Critical Moments," we are taught that focusing on "we" rather than "me" helps keep our family priorities in focus. Even though life may have dealt us a hand that doesn't seem to have the right cards, we can choose happiness by creating our own enjoyment.
We may be tired at the end of a busy day, and family responsibilities are weighing heavily upon us, but that doesn't mean we have to make others miserable. We can tell ourselves, "I've had a tough day, but I am home now. I can relax." Rather than picking up a beer or turning on the television, try one of the following:
- Sit down on the floor with a toddler and play together with their toys
- Swoop your spouse or child up in a big dramatic hug or kiss
- Turn on some lively music and dance with your spouse or child
- Smile and say, "What can I do to help?"
- Put on some grubby clothes and play in the grass or dirt with your child
- Go for a drive with your family and listen to the radio
These suggestions have several things in common: 1) they cost nothing, 2) they can be done any day or time, 3) they concentrate on letting yourself "hang loose" and do something you don't normally do, and 4) they are examples of living in the present moment.
What we choose to do during these moments of difficulty and fatigue will make or break our family. The ability to set aside our feelings and help someone else have a good time is a sign of emotional and spiritual maturity. It may simply mean holding a child in our laps and reading a story, or taking the time to visit with our spouse or teenager. Our regrets when we are on our deathbed will be minimal when we take the time now to enjoy those that we love.
Far better the husband or wife that's a friend, a brother or sister who's there till the end, who listens and consoles in time of need, and is willing to help us in planting the seed.
Once we find enjoyment, how do we keep it?
The permanency of family relationships does not mean that having a family is a life sentence, but that these relationships cannot be taken or given away. The roles of mother and father remain as long as there are children in the family circle. We will always be brothers and sisters to our siblings, no matter how old we are.
The thing we need to remember is that family responsibilities change over time. Our children grow up and leave our support and care. Yet they come home, in some way or another, anxious to feel our love and support. We look forward to those days with great anticipation. We love them, and then they leave again, ready to face another leg of the race that they are now running.
Keeping enjoyment in our lives takes the same time and effort as finding enjoyment did in the first place. It is simply a matter of seeing the beauty in the present moment, and expanding on it to make it last. Life has enough trials and difficulties. How much happier we will be if we fill our memories with the moments that are pleasant. Then, when the storms of life come, as they surely will, our family's ship will remain afloat, for we will have filled our reservoir with the positive memories that bind us together, always.
Families and friendship are like gardens of love. It takes sunshine and water, life from above. And yet it takes action from each every day, to make our lives better, a small debt to pay.
Our families were meant to be enjoyed, not just endured!
*Families and Friendship poem by Denise W. Anderson.
© 2013 Denise W Anderson