The Engaged Family

I often use my blog space to write about employee engagement, but today I want to broaden the topic to include engagement where it hits closer to home. In fact, I want to talk about engagement at home.

What does engagement look like at home? How do you know when someone is engaged in the business of family?

There are three sure signs that you have engaged people living under your roof.

Laughter.

A couple of years ago, I drove my teenage daughter, Alana, to soccer practice on the Saturday before Mother’s Day. She had been quietly typing texts to her friends while sitting next to me in the passenger’s seat. I don’t know what goes on in the head of a teenage girl. When she was little, it was easy. I would tweak her nose, or I’d say out of the blue something like, “Spell ‘pig’ backwards, and then say ‘pretty colors’.” She’d laugh, and life would be good. But when she hit the teen years, I felt a little lost. So while we sat at a stop light, I searched for a way to reconnect or a tangible sign that we were “okay.”

Then I saw a Hooters at the intersection, and I started a little banter.

“Hey, Alana. Don’t blow this surprise for grandma, but for Mother’s Day tomorrow, we’re going to bring her here for brunch,” I said as I pointed to the sign.

Without skipping a beat, she replied, “Good. Remind me to ask for my employee discount.”

Many thoughts popped through my head at that moment, thoughts ranging from, “Just like her mother!” to “Please, don’t even joke about that!” to “Good one!” to “Just promise me you’ll come to me if you ever need money!” But the best, truest thought was this: we’re okay. Where laughter exists, so does engagement.

When you’re disengaged, you are more likely to laugh at others, not with them. And while we laugh with strangers all of the time like when watching a comedy at the theater, we laugh best when we laugh with people we like, love, and enjoy. Laughter at home is a sure sign of engagement.

Are you surprised?

Above and beyond.

I felt a little overwhelmed at home this last week. My wife hit the road for a few days to meet with a new client. That left me alone with the two youngest girls. Let me just state that I believe I am very involved at home; but I was a little concerned about my ability to function as both father and mother for even a few days. Some of the “mother” tasks scared me. Specifically, I worried about picking out clothes for the 5 and 9 year old girls. The last time I had dressed one of my girls had been nearly 14 years ago when I got Alana ready for Sunday School. When I dropped her off at the nursery, the worker eyeballed Alana’s mismatched outfit and her shoes on the wrong feet, and laughed to me, “Uh oh! I see someone dressed herself this morning!” I’m not proud of it, but I let my daughter take the fall.

So this last week, I did my best to make lunches for the girls (something that they would eat), bathe the girls (without scalding them in the tub), and dress the girls (in such a fashion that no one got accused of being color-blind).

Before putting them to bed, I begged them to work with me in the morning so they’d get off to school without a hitch.

When I awoke the next day, I headed into the kitchen to make coffee. As I flipped on the light, both girls stood in the middle of the kitchen fully dressed and ready and yelled, “SURPRISE!”

“We wanted to surprise you by getting ready ourselves!” 5-year old Sierra announced.

“Are you surprised?” 9-year old Sascha asked.

I was surprised, thrilled, and proud. Sascha has gotten herself up and ready before. But she went above and beyond this time by getting her sister up and ready too.

When someone is disengaged at home, that person does just enough to get by, just enough to curtail nagging or chiding. But when someone is engaged at home, that person does a little more…because that person wants to please you.

Pride.

Years ago, I arrived late to an awards ceremony where my two oldest, Jack and Alana, had been nominated for different awards. I walked into the gymnasium where the event was held just in time to see my son and daughter hugging each other and jumping up and down. I ran over to them so I could get in on the excitement and congratulate them both. But when I got there, I found out that my son had won an award…but my daughter had lost. What I thought had been a display of siblings rejoicing over joint successes had been a joint celebration for a singular success. But from the way they hugged and danced, it looked to me like they both won. Why? Family pride. Alana viewed Jack’s victory as equal to her own success.

Recently, I spoke at a conference while my wife sat in the back of the room. During one part of my keynote, I showed a slide of our 5-year old daughter, and I told a story about her. After the meeting, a woman came up to my wife with a question.

“Was that little girl in the presentation your daughter? Because I watched your face light up when Scott was telling a story about her,” the woman shared.

My wife smiled and nodded, “Yes, that’s Sierra.”

If you’re an engaged family member, you take pride in your clan. You can’t hide it. Your pride can’t be contained.

FULL DISCLOSURE

I said earlier that I was taking a departure from writing about employee engagement. But if you look at the three items I listed, couldn’t you change FAMILY for WORK FAMILY and make the exact same case?

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