“Your family and your love must be cultivated like a garden. Time, effort, and imagination must be summoned constantly to keep any relationship flourishing and growing.” -Jim Rohn
The wish for a deep sense of connection and commitment to others is universal. Ask people what is most important to them and their first answer is always the same—their family. Families give us a sense of identity and belonging, reminding us of who we are and what is unique about us. They are also the context, the garden soil, out of which our individuality flowers.
The metaphor of a garden is an apt one for many reasons. All over the world, there are gardens of vastly different designs, planted at different times, at different stages of growth and decay, with different types of plants. In spite of the fact that no two are alike, all gardens have some common needs—sunlight and water, planting of seeds and cutting back weeds. In short, for a garden to flourish, it needs tending.
How Does Your Garden Grow?
What gives families a strong sense of connection? The answer is simple, even though often so difficult to do. It’s essential to spend quality time together, or if separated by geography, spend time communicating. Only by making the time to share the details of our daily lives as well as our successes, hardships, dreams and disappointments can we reap the rewards of our intimate bonds.
Twenty-first century families are more isolated than ever. With both parents working more hours, and with the demands of work infiltrating family time via computers and cell phones, most everyone we talk to complains about the same thing. There’s just not enough time!
What Happens When We Neglect Each Other?
The lack of emotional security of our American young people is due, I believe, to their isolation from the larger family unit. No two people—no mere father and mother—as I have often said, are enough to provide emotional security for a child. He needs to feel himself one in a world of kinfolk, persons of variety in age and temperament, and yet allied to himself by an indissoluble bond which he cannot break if he could, for nature has welded him into it before he was born. ~Pearl S. Buck
When we neglect our close family and friends, not only do we feel lonlier and more isolated, but we are far more likely to suffer from depression. Psychotherapists have long known that social support is crucial—not only when a client suffers from depression but with any physical or emotional illness or disability.
When you visit your doctor for your annual check-up, how often are you asked about the quality of your relationships? We now know that this is even more important than we thought. Is it time for you to reach out to those you care about?
A new study by Alan Teo and his team in the Psychiatry Department of the University of Michigan conducted a ten-year follow-up of almost 5000 adults ages twenty-five to seventy-five to determine how much relationship factors played in the risk of developing depression years later. Their conclusion: the magnitude of the impact of social relationship quality on risk for depression is as strong as the effect of biological risk factors (like obesity, smoking, high blood pressure) for cardiovascular disease.
It turns out that what’s relevant is how each of us subjectively feel about the quality of our relationships. The study revealed that of the people who rate their relationships as positive and supportive, only 1 in 15 will develop a diagnosable depression within ten years. In marked contrast, 1 in 7 who describe poor social relationships will get depressed. Now that’s a big difference!
Remember to Tend Your Garden
So remind yourself in the following week to take some time each day—even if only minutes—to connect with family members. Remember to use the precious times you already have to talk and listen rather than remain plugged into phones.
Catch the moments in between—like driving in the car, eating a snack, walking the dog—to share thoughts and feelings with loved ones. These moments don’t have to hold long or intense conversations. Just “checking in” lets your spouse or child know that you’re thinking about them during the day.
Sometimes the fastest way to nourish your garden of love is to stop what you are doing when someone walks into the room and just smile. Call them an affectionate nickname. Even better, offer a hug or a kiss.
Offer to help with a chore. Leave a secret love note. Say please and thank you. If you’re really brave, ask your partner or your children how you can better show your love and appreciation. Even the smallest of efforts can grow miraculously. Who would ever believe that an acorn becomes an oak tree?