Monday 23 April 2018

Happy families

When it comes to togetherness, children don't rate materialism, psychologist Dr Coleman Noctor tells Claire O'Mahony

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Not everybody wants to be rich or successful or good looking but it's rare to meet the person who doesn't want to be happy, and nigh-on impossible to encounter someone who doesn't desire their own family's happiness. Achieving this state of contentment and well-being can often feel like a struggle when presented with the stresses of modern living.

The recent Family Together Index for Ireland issued by Center Parcs Ireland, in collaboration with child psychologist Dr Coleman Noctor, found a direct link between a family unit's happiness and the level of family togetherness that they experience. The nationally representative study, which was carried out with 632 parents and children, discovered Ireland's Index score to be 65.3 out of a possible 100.

The research also revealed that 67pc of families are physically active and that this is key for family quality time, and that very active families enjoy 48pc stronger family togetherness.

"I think when you see that first you think 'are these those typical hill walking families who run 10ks?'" says Dr Noctor. "But it wasn't that at all - it was walking the dog, swimming, going to the beach together - these kind of interactional activities that I think probably camouflage the fact that you're doing a family outing together, and probably facilitates more open conversation. If you're walking side by side and you're having a chat, there aren't distractions and things going on at the same time. It's a non-threatening environment where you can have space to get to know each other."

Another study finding that the psychologist found noteworthy were the specific examples the younger participants gave when it came to quality time.

"When children described what resonated with them from the point of view of family togetherness, everything was cheap," Dr Noctor says.

"Nobody said anything about bouncy castles or big parties or marquees in the garden for Communions. It was building forts with the cushions on the couch and baking together and playing Lego. They also said 'I don't really like going to posh restaurants where we have to be quiet. We like eating at home and sitting on the couch with our dinners watching Ireland's Got Talent'."

With working parents reporting a similar share of quality time with children in comparison to stay at home parents, mums spend 29pc more time with their offspring but interestingly, dads rate the time they spend with their children as being 25pc higher in terms of quality.

Dr Noctor says: "Without gender stereotyping, maybe there's the notion that mum is making the lunch for the next day, maybe mum is putting on the wash, maybe mum is doing those things in the evening time when dad is playing on the floor with the lads. There may also be a different subjective notion as to what quality time is. If mum has 20 conversations in the week, she may feel that only eight of those were quality. Whereas if dad only had four conversations in the week, he may feel that all of them were quality."

It's clear that demanding work and life schedules are taking their toll, with 40pc of parents surveyed stating that they are less than satisfied with their family's work/life balance. Some 51pc say that they are less than satisfied with the amount of quality time they have with their children during the week, with one in five professing to be dissatisfied.

"This was not surprising because it is the biggest challenge for people, to try and find the time," says Dr Noctor. "It's the M50 parents where you see children for half an hour in the morning and half an hour in the evening. You're all exhausted and narky and cranky and at the weekend you indulge your child by getting them things so the trip to Smyths Toys becomes an all too frequent event. But children aren't talking about things that they get, they aren't talking about materialistic things that create togetherness."

In order to facilitate greater togetherness he advises, for example, that when your child comes off the camogie pitch, rather than asking them if they won or lost, to instead ask them how they enjoyed it and how they are getting on. "It's to open those kinds of conversations because when we think about intimacy, which is what togetherness is, it's that mutual disclosure of meaningful things," he says.

"For me, working in the field that I do, you're also saying that the approachable open relationship you have with your child is key. When they have adversity or when they're being bullied or when they're going through something, you need to be approachable and they need to be able to come to you. But that only comes from having a close relationship and the close relationship isn't developed in the crisis, it's developed in all those simple activities you would have done in the years previous to it."

Center Parcs Ireland will open in Longford Forest in summer 2019, offering a new, luxury destination for families. See centerparcs.ie.

Irish Independent

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