Happy families: what’s the secret?
April 1, 2008 3 comments
How many parents really understand what their children want and what they need?
Perhaps it was my reaction to the McCartney divorce that prompted me to take some time out for a week’s vacation with my son. At the request of a journalist, I had been considering what Beatrice McCartney’s feelings may be if, when she reaches an age to understand, a kind “friend” shows her a copy of Mr. Justice Bennett’s gruesome judgment of her mother. At the very least, it could cause her a lot of pain. And how will her psychological development be affected by such turbulence within her family?
People talk a lot about the impact of divorce on children. Even so, when I listen to some of them, I have the feeling it is only lip service. How many parents really listen to their children, to try and understand what they want and what they need?
I am not divorced myself, but I do have a child. On an impulse, I decided to whisk my son away to the heat of the desert in Eilat, Israel for a week. I hoped to find out how he was faring in his student world. He has certainly been working very hard. As it turned out, he wasn’t the only one with plenty on his mind.
It certainly appears that university life is as stress-filled as I remember it. Thousands of students, my son included, are currently waking up to the inescapable fact that exams are only a few weeks away. Like my boy, they are fending for themselves in rundown student houses that could do with some deep cleaning. They have to do their own shopping, washing, cooking and ironing, manage their own budgets and pass their exams. They also have to manage their relationships with others. Like many at university, my son has a girlfriend – whom he adores.
For much of the week my son and I lived in different time zones, even though we were staying in adjoining rooms! Every day I got up very early, so that I could go for a run before the heat made it impossible. I loved the desert, the mountains and the sea. I loved the wind, blowing in off the sea. I got to wave to people running along, trying to cope with temperatures in excess of 30°C. I enjoyed fantastic Israeli dairy and fruit-filled breakfasts, and went to cycling classes run by a muscular Russian woman, whose favourite phrase was “Sprint!” I walked all over the place in the afternoons and felt wonderfully, physically fit.
My son’s girlfriend was in the USA, and he talked to her on his computer long into the night. So he never got up before noon, and spent most of his afternoons studying in his room. In the evenings we met up for dinner, and chatted over some wine and good food.
As I discovered, he had a lot of questions. What makes a successful relationship, he wanted to know? How do you know that a relationship is going to work out? If a relationship feels good, how do you know it will feel good always? What’s the secret?
I don’t know if there is one, “catch all” reply, but I gave his questions a lot of thought. As I was running along one morning, grateful that the wind had dropped and that the sun had only just begun to show over the horizon in adjoining Aqaba Jordan, the answer came to me out of the blue. I wonder if my thinking is right?
I think that a relationship works when both partners want and do more for one another, than they want and do for themselves. By this I mean that a relationship will work if both parties are able to put the good of one another before their own good.
It doesn’t mean that their relationship will be perfect. Sometimes, through sheer boredom and becoming accustomed to one another, it may just be about going through the sameness of the motions of giving – and often is. But giving something positive to one another, and continuing to put giving first and one another first, means that a relationship can last.
If this stops being consensual, if a couple stops doing this for each other – or even if just one of them stops – the relationship will falter and grind to a halt.
I decided to apply this test to people I know, some of them married for many years and others who are clients, either getting divorced or thinking about it. And it seems to work.
Am I right? I’d love to know what you think.
Now we have returned to England. I have returned to my partner, and my son has returned to his. What is more, he has given me something to think hard about and to advise my clients. Despite our different time zones, we had a great week!