About Me

I am a Christian mother of five, and our highest goal as a family is to serve God in every aspect of our lives. Jesus promised His disciples 'life in all its abundance' (John 10:10) - that has been our story, a rich life, not devoid of challenges, but certainly abundant. Previously writing at www.homeeducationnovice.blogspot.com, we have come to realise that education is just one area where our faith shapes our choices and direction in life. This blog seeks to share our adventure.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Communication: A 'language barrier'

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29

Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,holding fast the word of life... Philippians 2:14-16

Today I want to consider communication. Rather than a theoretical consideration of what is required for good communication skills, I rather wish to discuss a challenge I seem to face with increasing frequency. The Oxford English Dictionary defines communication as 'the imparting or exchanging or information by speaking, writing or using some other medium'. In objective terms, I think my communication skills are reasonable - I have won several prizes for oral presentations and I have been invited to write blog or opinion pieces on contemporary issues facing Christian doctors. Yet in my personal life, I sometimes feel I  am speaking a different language entirely.

Let me illustrate this with a recent example. Two nights ago, I was at work and two colleagues were discussing their young children and the frequency with which they wake through the night. They asked me how often mine woke, and I was quite honest and said that they all woke every two hours until about eight months of age, but that after a breastfeed they would settle immediately. I said this a couple of times, and then both colleagues said, 'You must have got lucky because my baby wakes up crying a couple of times every night'. Did they not hear me when I said my child woke as often or more often than theirs? But I think the difference was that I spoke in an upbeat manner, because to me, waking through the night is a normal part of life with a young child.

I've reflected several times on this blog about the need to look at the positive in every situation. I believe this is not only important, but a biblical instruction for how we should speak. I am also aware of the dangers of speaking negatively about our children, rather than embracing our God-given role. 

I do not think Christians should present a false, trouble-free perspective on life, but neither do I see myself as doing this. I continue to speak quite openly about the pain of having had a child die, and use this as an illustration when talking to others about the need to consider priorities carefully whilst there is opportunity. Whilst discussing the wonderful opportunties presented to our family through our flexible  and international work patterns, I am also frank about the fact that you cannot 'have it all', and that there have been times, particularly over the past few months where my husband and I have both felt quite stretched. When I am amongst Christians, for example at our church mid-week housegroup meeting, I try to be quite honest in describing the current challenges - for example that our family have all been unwell over recent weeks, or that we are heading for another international move later in the year and there are uncertainties involved in this, or even the fact that my husband and I have only been out for dinner alone together three times over the past five years. 

My difficulty is this: People do not seem to hear me. Sometimes I wonder whether if I were to break into tears or start to drop responsibilities, that maybe things would be different. I sometimes feel as though I am asking for support and encouragement as clearly and directly as I am able, yet those words are not heard. What I cannot find an easy answer to, what I am hoping some commenters on  the blog may be able to advise on, is how does one communicate vulnerability and need without moaning, displaying excessive emotion, or showing obvious signs of not coping? 

In the past, it has been clear that our profession can be a problem. I've been told on more occasions than I can recall that 'it must be easier to have a sick or dying child as doctors because you understand medical things'. I don't really understand that. When my daughter's heart stopped, I knew immediately that the outcome would be death or severe neurological disability to the point where at first I didn't even want to start resuscitation. We were able to accept her condition as terminal more readily than others perhaps, but that acceptance didn't mean it was easy! When our son had septic shock, we were only too aware of what that might mean (although praise God! He is now a healthy five year old). Sometimes I want to tell people in simple terms, 'Doctors are human too. We feel pain. We get tired. We get ill. We get lonely'. But again, with friends I do try to communicate simply the situations, challenges and opportunities that we face, in order to be able to mutually support and encourage one another in our various roles. 

Perhaps homeschooling creates a barrier too. There can be a perception that we never get tired or frustrated with our children. And as I know many other home educating parents feel, there is sometimes an unspoken 'you should just put your children in nursery/ school/ childcare' when we do talk about being tired or struggling to do the simple things like attend hospital appointments. Sometimes when you have made a choice to do things differently, others see it as a tacit criticism of their lifestyle (and so become defensive). Or on the other hand, sometimes people see you as being full of perpetual energy, patience and creativity and don't understand that you have vulnerabilities too. I don't know how that could be changed. Certainly meeting up with other like-minded families is a helpful encouragement, but it doesn't always offer practical solutions.

Today, I am simply left with the question of how to communicate clearly and effectively, without complaining or being emotionally manipulative. (To me, to deliberately show emotion in order to get a response would feel manipulative - I am not saying that public displays of emotion are wrong, or that others who display more emotion than I do are using that to manipulate others. I just know that for me, this would be a deliberate thing, and would not seem right!).

Can you relate to this challenge? If so, I am most grateful to hear how you approached things! Last year, a friend challenged me about how our lifestyle lends itself to true community and fellowship. I believe it is possible, but I feel I am facing a language barrier at the moment!


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