Family re-entry: Tips for giving your best to your loved ones
4 simple questions to improve first responder family relationships
A few years ago, I was on my way home from speaking at an EMS conference and was talking on the phone with my sister, Sue Taigman, an international leadership facilitator, coach and mediator. She was telling me about work she was doing with a client in Brussels and casually mentioned something that really caught my attention.
She said, “many people come home from work exhausted and depleted so that their families get their leftovers. At Verus Global [one of the companies for which she consults], we encourage people instead to bring their best selves to the people they care most about.”
I love my wife and son more than anything in the world, and in that moment, I had a disturbing realization: I had not been bringing my best to my family. In pre-COVID-19 times, I’d travel almost every week for work. When I’m working with customers/partners or presenting at a conference, I focus on giving the people I’m with my full attention, my most upbeat energy, and my thoughtful ideas. The logistics of my work life normally include driving 50,000-plus miles each year, airplane flights, hotel beds, meeting room bagels, muffins, pizza and restaurant meals that are not exactly healthy.
While I’m always happy to come home and see my family, I’m often worn out. I’d arrive home, say “hi,” hug my wife and son, and then sit down to process the mail, plug in my battery-drained devices and relax. It was not uncommon for my wife and me to end up in a minor argument about dishes, recycling, childcare or some other trivial subject.
Realizing that my homecoming needed some improvement, I asked my wise sister for more information about how she and her colleagues at Verus Global coach clients on this topic. She shared the Verus Global Homeward Bound Framework, which has four questions that are designed to be asked in sequence:
- What did I learn today that is valuable?
- What did I do well today?
- What are the three greatest blessings in my life?
- How can I be the best [mom, dad, spouse, friend] I’ve ever been tonight?
The first time I tried this, I parked my car in the driveway and pulled out this list of questions. I’d just flown home from the Pinnacle EMS Leadership conference, where I’d worked five 18-hour days, taught in two pre-conference workshops, given three other presentations, facilitated three customer feedback sessions, and had dozens of colleague meetings.
What did I learn today that is valuable? My initial answer was, “Checking luggage when flying into LAX adds 45 minutes to my travel time.” I realized this answer wasn’t helpful, so I dug a little deeper and came up with, “If you’re the last presenter of the day and you tear down the classroom-style rows of seats to make a dialogue circle, people are initially nervous, but it results in a rich deep conversation.”
What did I do well today? “I was fully present and listened deeply to participants in my last session.” That was an uplifting thought.
What are the three greatest blessings in my life? “My wife, my son, working for a company that actually lives the values it espouses, having the opportunity to teach and work with really smart people doing really important work, and my health.” Yes, I know that’s more than three, but hey, I’m blessed. Thinking through the things I’m grateful for always boosts my mood.
How can I be the best dad and husband I’ve ever been tonight, or whenever I walk into my home? “I can leave my luggage in the car, my cell phone in the car, the mail in the mailbox, and focus on really connecting with my wife and son. I can be with them fully present and undistracted. I can make dinner and be curious about their day. Once everyone is asleep, I can check my email, bring in my luggage, put my phone on the charger, and process the mail.”
When my wife was reading through my first draft of the chapter on this subject in our book “Super-Charge Your Stress Management in the Age of COVID-19”, she said, “I didn’t know you were doing this. We have not had one of those daddy’s home fights in over four years.”
Mastering focus is one of the strategies for building resilience and the Homeward Bound Framework moves us in the right direction.
Transform your homecoming process
With COVID-19, my homecoming process has transformed from flying into a local airport and driving home once a week to popping out of my garage-based home office every evening. The Homeward Bound Framework seems to be even more important as for some of us, the demarcation between work and home life is no longer geographic.
COVID-19 has EMS providers trying to explain to their families the extra steps they are taking to keep the virus out of the home. Some of them are isolating in separate rooms of their house or in hotels. The stress of having a loved one working in risky circumstances during a pandemic hits family harder than many people realize.
A big part of our focus in EMS is on saving lives – the Homeward Bound Framework is about saving relationships, and enhancing them.
John was a manager in one of Sue’s collaborative leadership sessions who used this framework to change his leadership strategy at work and at home. His relationship with his son was strained. After using these questions to set himself up for a good reentry when he got home, he was able to connect with his son and ask him questions about his interests and struggles. John was able to listen deeply and understand his son, which transformed their relationship. They enjoyed a close and meaningful relationship for many years before his son was killed in a car accident. John shared with Sue, “As hard as it was to lose my son, it would have been so much harder if I had regrets. Tools like the Homeward Bound Framework supported me to be my best and to have no regrets, so I want to thank you.”
What’s homecoming like for you?
Why is it important for you to bring your best to your friends and family?
What’s the consequence if you don’t?
If you have children, are you interested in the bug that flies like a helicopter that your child found in the garden?
Are you able to listen to stories about school and non-EMS work even though you handled a cardiac arrest, two shootings, and a few complex medical calls during your shift?
Are you saving some of the best of you for the ones you love?
Additional resources for improving EMS family relationships
- Read an excerpt from “Super-Charge Your Stress Management in the Age of COVID-19”
- Find the Homeward Bound Framework questions in a format you can print and refer to from your parked car or office
- Watch, as Craig Ross, the CEO of Verus Global, offers a deeper dive into the framework as it applies to first responders:
About the author
Sue Taigman is an international consultant with a passion for building purpose-driven leaders, cohesive teams, and healthy families. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.