February is a time many of us pay special attention to our relationships as the piles of heart-shaped candies remind us of our need to be connected. In a 2014 article, "Science Says Lasting Relationships Come Down to 2 Basic Traits", Emily Esfahani Smith at The Atlantic cited two important dynamics in successful relationships. The first is the responsiveness partners show each other when one asks for the attention of another in conversation or in observation of something interesting. Basically, this is the putting down of the iPad, looking up, and engaging in what is termed in the research "bid" for attention. The second is choosing to be kind in the relationship, even during a conflict. Julie Gottman, one of the researchers, speaks of kindness not only as an internal character trait, but also as a muscle which can be built. The more we practice acts of kindness, the more acts of kindness will become a natural response.
Although the research cited are conducted between married couples, these ideas translate to parenting and friendships. Many of us experience the universal phenomenon of a child asking for attention when we are in the middle of cooking dinner. The times when I placate them with half acknowledgements tend to result in greater demands for my attention. The times when I push aside the stress of dinner deadline, turn off the stove, get on her eye level and give her the five minutes she needs, often lead to a better evening. Even now, as the teenager bid for my attention, if I close the laptop and turn around to give her my full attention, she leaves with a little bounce in her steps. (Which incidentally is why this entry has taken three tries to complete!)
The topic of kindness, on the other hand, deserves it's own entry. For now an inspiring quote: "Wherever there is a human being there is an opportunity for a kindness" ~Seneca~