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It was just recently that I was asked an unexpected question. My dad was having some drinks with his ex-colleagues when I popped by and one of his colleagues suddenly asked me “Hey, is your dad a good dad?”. I replied without hesitation, “Of course he’s a good dad!”

This made me think because on a sub-conscious level, I knew the answer but it’s not something one often says and thinks about. I was actually quite surprised that I had the answer at the tip of my tongue – under normal circumstances, I would have retreated shyly and just smiled at the person asking the question.

Have you ever thought about your relationship with your family? How you have been raised? And if you are going to have your own family – how would you raise them up? What values would you like to impart upon them?

The modern family
Stephen Covey, in his book entitled “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families” says, “Modern life is family unfriendly. We now live in a world that values personal freedom and independence more than responsibility and interdependence…Social life is fractured. Families and individuals are becoming increasingly isolated. Escape from responsibility and accountability is available everywhere.”

I tend to agree with him to a certain extent. In today’s city lifestyle and with the constant advancement of technology, things tend to be different. My observation is that families today tend to spend more time doing things like watching TV and window-shopping. My family is guilty too! These are not exactly the best ways to bring about family closeness.

We don’t spend enough time talking to each other over long Sunday lunches, or daily dinners because everyone has a different schedule and sometimes parents tend to work late and so on and so forth. Even when we spend time at home, do we actually “spend time at home”? Most of the time, we retreat to our private cocoons (our rooms!) and just do our own thing like surfing the Net, watching TV etc. This isn’t actually bonding with our family.

It starts with you
It’s funny how you remember the most insignificant details as a kid. I still remember that when I was 12, my dad took me to my first movie premier (“Empire of the Sun” it was). His company had sponsored some seats at the top theatre in town, and he took me there after work (just the two of us). It was the best movie I had ever seen and until today, I still think about it. But as I grew older, I now know that it wasn’t the movie. He could have brought me to the lousiest movie ever made in the century, and it would have still been a good movie to me. It was the time spent with him that I had cherished and misinterpreted in my kid mind to be the movie.

When I think about it, the list goes on and on, and my most cherished memories are actually things like family holidays, family dinners, family badminton weekends.

From what my parents practiced, I realize that family closeness does not come automatically, and is created by conscious effort, attention and time.

Here’s a list of what I think families can do to encourage closeness:

  • Family meals
    Although everyone has their own schedule, trying to synchronise family meals together can bring about more communication. Members of the family can use those times to update each other on what’s been happening in their life, and pose questions and get feedback from the rest.
  • Put family first
    Just think about it. Is it very likely that your family members are the few people in this world who would put everything else second to you if you had an emergency and needed help. So, always put your family first no matter what. My parents always showed us that we were more important than work. It makes sense because if you had only 1 day left to live, would you still spend that day at work? My sister recently graduated and the whole family took time off work to just be with her at her convocation.
  • One-on-one bonding
    This is what I experienced when my dad took me to that movie premier. There are lots of ways to spend time with family members one-on-one. You can get your dad or mom to take you to your favourite activities such as camping trips, riding your first bike etc. Bonding will naturally take place during those moments.
  • Show unconditional care and love
    Deepak Chopra writes, “In a perfect world, parenting would come down to one sentence: Show only love, be only love.” We all need love, it’s like water to a plant. However, we as Asians are all pretty shy about expressing our love to our family. Well, you can show love to your parents and family by other ways such as helping out at home, getting along with your brothers and sisters, and much more.
  • Create family traditions and rituals
    Although this seems to be the job of the parents, sometimes as children, we also can influence family traditions. I remember that we used to suggest to our parents that each time we travel outstation, we would want to stop at Ipoh in this particular hotel to eat. And this became a ritual to our family, and because everyone was looking forward to this time together, we would always enjoy that meal.
  • Communicate effectively
    A family that talks a lot is a family that weathers every storm. And that’s very true. However, when talking, always remember that it should be based on mutual respect without blame or judgment. Try to understand your family members first, and then try to make yourself understood.
  • Use technology.
    Technology can be a double edged sword, and we can use it properly to gain closeness with our families or it could isolate us further. Remember what I said about us Asians being shy to express our love. Well, my sister recently sent an SMS to all of us in the family which went something like this, “Just wanna let you guys know that I love you and thank God for the wonderful family He’s blessed me with.” After reading that, I sent her back an SMS saying something similar. Now, that would have been extremely difficult to come out of each of our mouths if we were standing in front of each other! So even if we are away from our family studying, using SMS, email, and what other technology that’s available to us, we can still keep our family “connected”.
Whether one likes it or not, your family has been “assigned” to you, and you can’t change that fact. I’ve realized over the years that every family has it’s plus and minuses, and if I was given the chance to change my family today, I wouldn’t. So, make the best of it, and what I’ve learnt is that no matter how you screw up, somehow your family comes to terms with it, and everyone pitches in to get you back on track.

Ronald Khoo Swee Keat
Ron Networks

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