The Importance of Good Family Communication
My Road Goes Ever On
In family communication, no matter the message, a bit of humor and lots of gratitude go a long way toward real understanding.
My dog is staring at me, trying to communicate in her doggy way some message that I can’t quite decipher. Communication has always been an issue. Except when someone—human or otherwise—makes his or her meaning loud and clear.
Yesterday, as I took my evening stroll in the garden, I passed by a birdhouse that has become home to a bluebird family. Nodding politely in my usual fashion, I try never to intrude. Thought I have been tempted to look inside and see how the family is growing. Sure glad I kept my thoughts to myself; I was in trouble soon enough.
Bluebird mama or papa—I couldn’t tell with all the diving going on—let me know that my usual path was definitely out of bounds now. Swooping in like a kamikaze pilot, it flew inches over my head, giving me not only the breeze of a lifetime but the shocking realization that I was under attack. I ducked to avoid being clipped and hurried myself out of the danger zone, chastened and a little annoyed. Hey, I gave you that house. I pay taxes on this land. And I even fill the bird feeder regularly. Harrumph!
I don’t think bluebird could have cared less for my reasoning or my feelings. It was not in a mind to listen; it had a message to convey and did so with startling clarity.
Through the rest of my walk, which also involved swatting mosquitos and flapping my hands helplessly at an exploding fly population, I pondered how hard it is to make my meaning clear in the usual course of things—how many avenues for misunderstandings branch from every social interaction.
This summer, I decided to add hardback versions of my books and, at the same time, update the book lists on the interiors. I work with two book designers, Trese Gloriod, and the husband & wife team at Full Quiver Publishing, Ellen and James Hrkach. Some books were ones that Trese originally designed, so she was able to take care of those matters. Others the Hrkachs worked on, so they knew how to follow up with that set.
But some books had been worked on by both designers. And none of us had done hardcovers before. Yeah, communication issues came up alright, since naturally assumptions are made—the ISBN is the same, right? Nope. You used cream color paper, correct? Nope. Is the book list going in the front or the back? Depends on the book, apparently.
In another communications challenge, central Illinois and Missouri had a lot of rain this week and with my kids traveling to and from work and one living in St. Louis, I grew alarmed when I saw there was some serious flooding going on. From one kid, I received a quick reassuring response to my frantic text, “Are you okay?” From another kid, I had to wait till the end of the day to get “No! My house broke from its foundation, and I am floating toward the Mississippi.” Just a joke, folks. And it was funny—once I put my heart back into my chest.
With certain family and friends, communication has never been easy. My circles include very different people with an amazing variety of points of view. Beyond the fact that we all speak “American English,” I sometimes wonder if we really are speaking the same language since our words do not always translate correctly. Part of our communication trials aren’t actually translation problems, but the fact that we disagree on some pretty fundamental issues. A hard fact of life to accept— I care about people that I can’t agree with, and no communication skills in the world will change that.
My dog gave up and is now asleep on the ottoman, comfortably snoozing away. I had fed her, given her water, took her for a nice ramble in the yard, and offered plenty of morale-boosting pats. Her earnest look earlier may have been nothing more than she was waiting for me to get to work so she could go to sleep.
My books, I am pleased to say, are in the process of being updated and republished better than I dared to hope. It has taken a number of back-and-forth emails, checking lists, double-checking information sources—Is that the same ISBN on Bowker?— and doing lots of revisions. A little humor and generous amounts of gratitude make all the difference between getting issues cleared up or sucked into a swamp of irritation.
All my kids are home safe, and we’re having fried chicken on Sunday—a family favorite. The hardest part of managing a home with adult kids is the fact that I mustn’t intrude on their personal lives, but I still need to be aware of what’s going on. Are you planning on being home for dinner tonight? Did the car get its oil changed? How is that friend whose brother has a brain tumor? Is your rental house really floating toward the Mississippi? Amazingly, it’s humor and generous amounts of gratitude, once again, that grease the wheels of conversation and keep communication flowing.
Bluebird has made its message abundantly clear, and I duly altered my path to steep clear for a while. Sometimes that is the best thing. It’s really not about me and my daily walk. It’s about a small bird in a predatory world that will do whatever is necessary to keep her brood safe long enough to one day fly free.
I smile now as I watch them flutter and dive about the garden. No matter the message, a bit of humor and lots of gratitude goes a long way toward real understanding.
A. K. Frailey is the author of 17 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.
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