Connection is one of the five health pillars I have chosen for this blog, but it’s not as immediately obvious how it relates to health compared to eating real food, movement, sleep, and managing stress.
The thing is, we evolved to live in social groups and we’re wired to need connection with others. Isolation is both painful and psychologically damaging, and social stress and separation can affect cortisol levels and immune system function. Connection to others realty does matter.
I’m very lucky to have my little family. My kids and husband are never in any doubt as to how much I love them, but I’m very focussed and task-driven, and I have a lot on my plate. I work hard, and I can get so busy that I’m not always as present as I’d like to be.
I’ve been thinking recently about how to make the most of time with my family. As whilst I want and need to work and that’s not about to change anytime soon, I also want time with my kids – the mundane, the magic moments, and everything in-between.
And I want to reclaim time with my husband, and time for catch-ups with friends. I want my life to be about more than just Getting Stuff Done.
Over the Christmas holidays I shut down work entirely for over a week, and I knew it would be a chance to reconnect with loved ones. A reset of sorts, and a reminder of what I don’t want to miss out on.
It’s been great not to have my attention split into fragments.
Now that I’m back to reality, I want to find ways to keep this connection with my loved ones strong. This is what I plan to do.
This is my plan for creating a better balance between work and the rest of my life, and for nurturing my connections with my family.
Note: I’m married, a mother of two primary-school aged kids, I’m self-employed, I work from home, and I do the school run (but my working hours are NOT 9am – 3pm and there is juggling involved!)
I realise everyone has different circumstances and I’ve not attempted to cover all bases. That’s why I am writing this as a list of my personal plan, rather than a set of recommendations. Not everything here will apply to you, but hopefully my list will give you some ideas…
1. Make mornings less rushed, and eat breakfast together
My mornings typically involve pressing snooze a few times, rushing around making lunches, shouting at my daughter to get dressed (no, adjusting your Playmobil queen’s crown is NOT getting dressed!) and then shouting at my son to stop playing computer games and put his shoes on.
I’m not sure our mornings will ever be idyllic, but there is lots of room for improvement. I plan to:
- Pack lunches the night before
- Get up when my alarm goes off
- Sit down and eat breakfast with my kids
- Don’t read on my phone until I get back from school drop-off (I’m allowing for a quick check of notifications though)
2. Walk to school
We live a 15-minute walk from my kids’ school, so there is really no excuse not to walk. In addition to the health benefits of exercise and early-morning sunlight, walking to school will give me a relaxed opportunity to chat with them. Swapping the stress of finding a parking space for my daughter walking on walls, and maybe even a bike ride for my son in summer – seems a good swap.
3. Create space to reconnect after school / work
I tend to pick the kids up from school and then jump back on my computer to get my work done before it’s time to make tea. Realistically that’s not going to change, but I would like to take a moment to properly reconnect with my kids after school.
Each day is different, and when they have friends round, my kids are really not interested in chatting with me. But on the days when we don’t have visitors, I’m thinking about a routine where we sit down, have a drink and snack, and my daughter can read her school reading book to me.
Likewise, when my husband arrives home from work, I’m aiming to stop my work timer (it’s a freelancer thing) and say a proper hello. I won’t be putting lipstick on and getting his pipe and slippers… but a proper hello and ‘how has your day been’ chat? I can do that.
4. Have as many hugs as possible!
Hugs are good for your health, lower your stress levels and promote the release of oxytocin. I am on a mission to get more hugs from my loved ones in my day!
5. Sit on the floor with the kids for 10 minutes
This is something I don’t do enough of. I have great times with my kids, we have lovely days out, and snuggles when I put them to bed. But I’m often guilty of saying no to the simple things like playing a board game with them – because I always have so much else to do.
I am going to commit to spending little pockets of time with them, on the floor, doing whatever they want me to – whether that’s a ten-minute game or jigsaw puzzle or watching a film on a weekend.
6. Create a phone curfew and make the most of evenings
So much of my time and energy is taken up with work and the kids that time with my husband can get squeezed out of my day. We can catch up at weekends, but during the week, we seem to be on an endless merry-go-round of chores and cooking and driving kids to places. It doesn’t leave much.
Although there’s not much I can change about that, I can make the most of the last hour or two of the day. I think what I need to do is ringfence and protect that time. So, I am planning to introduce a phone curfew at 8.30pm or 9.00pm to clear some space to sit, relax and chat.
7. Prioritise real-life time with friends and family over online time
When time is at a premium, social media is something we can cut down on to create more time. And it makes sense to replace a fairly empty form of social connection with real-life, face-to-face conversations. Meeting a friend for an hour, or just staying for the cup of tea you’re offered, is so much more valuable than scrolling, liking and commenting.
I’m not going to change all of this stuff overnight. My list is a roadmap, something to come back to, something to aim for. I’m planning to tackle mornings and walking to school, plus time with my husband in the evenings – then I’ll come back to this post and remind myself of other ideas!
Whilst improving the quality of time spent with loved ones is great, I’m mindful that we all need time alone to recharge too. (Perhaps that doesn’t apply to everyone, but it’s certainly true for introverts like me.) So, it’s not about being with other people every second of every day. We always need a balance of social interactions and time on our own.
I don’t intend to approach any of this with a sense of guilt at not being a better mother / wife / daughter / sister / friend. That just isn’t helpful, and I’m doing my best – we all are. Selfish as it may sound, this post is about the health benefits to YOU of having strong connections with loved ones. But a really great side effect is that you will all benefit – it’s a win-win.
So, these were my seven ideas for connection with my family and friends. Are there any of these you could implement, or do they spark any ideas for you? It’s well worth a think about if your life, like mine, can feel like one long to-do list.