I'm not really a fan of soapboxes. Especially when it comes to telling people how to raise their very individual children. But I love sharing stories and swapping ideas in ways that remind us we're all out here just doing our best trying to raise good humans.
So in that spirit, here's a story from my dinner table.
Recently things just felt a little out of alignment in the house. Snappy tempers. Big feels from everyone about their own experience of all the things, but liiiiittle understanding of someone else's perspective. Short on gratitude. Stuck in the soundtrack of our own individual stories. We love each other like wild fire always, but were struggling to really see and understand one another.
I thought of something my mom had talked to us about while growing up - invisible burdens.
We all carry them. We all struggle to really see someone else's load. And they get in our way as we try to stay connected and close with our people.
It got my relationship loving wheels turning. I've always had a whisper in my heart, reminding me that our children's "people" skills need just as much (even more sometimes) nurturing as any other area of development.
I mean, we held their little hands in our own as they learned to take those first wobbly steps. We practiced with them - over and over. We put soft squishy covers over the corners of our coffee tables, giving them a safe place if they fell while they learned to steady their footing. We cheered for them when they first stumbled forward independently.
Teaching them to relate and understand and connect with their people is worthy of that same kind of intention.
So I'm always looking for ways to practice. And the angsty vibe we had going on in the house said it was a good time to figure that out.
At dinner I gave each family member a blank piece of paper and an envelope. I explained how every single one of us has invisible burdens. That we're all carrying worries and stresses and pressures and aches and feelings that weigh on us. That are with us always. That are unique to each of us. That whatever we're doing outwardly, they're still weighing on us inwardly. That it's like walking around with an invisible backpack full of all sorts of rocks.
I asked them all to think about their own invisible burdens and write them down on the paper. And believe me when I say that my crew is just as spicy as any other. It took some prompting. This was new for us. I have two thirteen year olds in the bunch who give professional level side eye to things they're not so sure about. I have a 10 year old who finds a way to turn anything into a laugh. And I have a first grader who's always onboard for my ideas, but needs support to keep pace with the older kids. It took work to make this whole thing a go. So I gave them some examples - "Maybe it's feeling self conscious at school," "Maybe it's friend drama," "Maybe it's being worried you won't make the team," and on. They wrote down their "burdens" and put the paper into the envelope so they'd stay hidden. Names were tossed on the envelopes. And then they went into the center of the table.
We took a minute to look the pile and soak in the fact that every single one of us has stuff. Stuff in those envelopes. We take it with us everywhere we go. Stuff the rest of us around this table, no matter how fiercely we love one another, aren't always aware of how big they feel to the individual. Sometimes it gets to us.... and when it does, it so often looks like a very short fuse with the ones we actually love best.
Everyone was invited to read their burdens. Key emphasis on "invited," that felt really important. No one was forced to read them out loud, and privacy was respected. One of my sons looked relieved at that, and said he didn't want to read his... but after everyone else read theirs he picked up his envelope and shared his too.
Then we listened. We listened to what was weighing on each one of us. Sometimes just saying it out loud, led to a deeper conversation and more layers unearthed. The kids heard my husband verbalize the heavy of his work load and the simultaneous weight of his desire to be present with the family. They heard me say how I've been exhausted. That I haven't been able to sleep well and that it feels like this giant bolder I carry around with me while I try to do all the things. And, we heard them. I'll keep their burdens private. But, we heard them. They heard each other.
Of course, nothing was instantly "fixed" that night. We'll each always have our own invisible burdens.
But it made a difference in how we saw one another. How we know one another. How we talk to one another. How we understand one another.
And more than anything... I hope it’s a step toward making a difference in the way they connect to and strive to really know the partners and the families they build themselves someday.
No soapbox. Just a little story of trying to teach my kids to "walk" in their relationships - from my table to yours.