How to Untangle Family Life

“It’ll get better if you get closer.”

John’s mom laughs as she untangles five-year-old John and Malakai, two boys practicing for a three-legged-race at a community gathering.

But our Malakai’s close to tears as I unknot him from a snarl of arms and legs and feet.

“Really, if you’ll get closer, put your arms around each other, you’ll find it gets easier.” John’s mom takes an arm and wraps it around a shoulder and I find one too and direct it around a neck, and the boys shyly giggle and step out again.

“One-two! One-two! One-two!” John’s mom chants, and I cheer, and the boys stride off in rhythm, arms flung over shoulders. And the boys turn faces to each other, happy eyes shining, and belly-laugh. Us mamas can’t help but laugh too. They’re maneuvering life’s tangle!

For isn’t family life a bit of a three-legged race? Days tie us together, and schedules trip us up, and everything snarls. We stumble and fall and it hurts. Tears brim.

“It’ll get better if we get closer.” Because relationship— love—is the most transformative force in the universe. It’s what God wants with us: intimate relationship. Get closer. And it will get better.

Too often, I buy the lie, the one the serpent hisses. Speak harsher and it will get better. (More tasks will get accomplished.) Push harder and it will get better. (More places can get crammed into the hours.) Bluster longer and it will get better. (More life squeezed into life.)

But don’t I know it? “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city…” (Proverbs 18:19). The harshness, the blustering, the pushing, offends and we trip. Knees and elbows smash and we  bruise. It gets harder to get up.

A flurry of accomplishments will not get us happily across life’s finish line. Tasks aren’t the purpose nor the priority. If to-do lists are what compels us, inevitably, we’ll stumble. Because that’s not the essence of family life.

The essence of family life is the care of souls.

When we tenderly draw near, collect hearts, wrap each other in arms and love, we hit our stride.  The three-legged race (or five legged or seven legged or ten legged race) becomes a happy delight. We get closer. And it gets better.

What I’m learning as we step (sometimes fumble) through the three-legged race of family life, these ways of getting closer genuinely make it better:

  • Reach out and gently touch when you talk; make it a practice to always connect before your direct.
  • Fully listen to conversations with your ears, eyes, whole body language. Smile into eyes.
  • Make time for walks, a mug of hot chocolate, a chapter of a book read aloud together. There’s no better way to spend time than making time.
  • Let your words fill with the affection you feel. Children don’t assume they’re loved when our words aren’t loving.
  • Tuck in with long talks in the dark, a foot rub, prayers. It’s the happiest way to finish a day.
  • Slow down: the priority is hearts not household tasks. Take a deep breath and preach to yourself often: “I want to be more than I want to do.” Relationship is not just the priority. It’s all there is. Our family relationship are hallowed. Aren’t they forever? (Clean floors and schedules aren’t.)

The three-legged boys practice intently and when the race begins, I’m at the other end, arms wide open, ready for Malakai and John as they step, tumble, laugh across the finish line. And when they fall into me and I wrap them up, this happiness feels good.

We’re closer and it couldn’t be better.

©2008, Ann Voskamp

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