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Southwest Life Health And the West is History Community Travel

Making requests to each other as a way to build connections

“So, does this mean we’re not exchanging presents?” Rose, age 14, asked, eyebrows narrowing into an adolescent cross-examination. Col, my 16-year-old, was unreadable behind ever-affixed earbuds pumping hiphop into his skull cavity.

I had just presented my Hanukkah redux proposal to the family. It could be the antidote to every previous and tense holiday moment spent squinting at a cheery store display trying to determine if any particular item would confer the dual rush of surprise and delight my children were conditioned to covet.

“So, we each make a request, asking someone to do something that would make our lives more wonderful,” I told assembled family members, feeling a bit like I was peddling a new improved multivitamin to a crowd who’d ordered a pizza. I had been inspired by a quote from Marshall Rosenberg, who developed the communication tools he called Nonviolent Communication. He said, “instead of playing the game 'Making Life Wonderful' we often play the game 'Who’s Right?' Do you know that game? It’s a game where everybody loses. What makes life more wonderful is contributing to the well-being of other people.”

I waited for the teenage mutiny. The skepticism. The calling out of dubious parental agendas of connection and meaning replacing highly-regarded consumerism and its empty caloric punch: short-term excitement. Strangely, everyone agreed.

Hanukkah 2021 was a huge success. There were surprisingly practical requests. My husband, Dan, to me: “When you use the stove, can you please stay in the kitchen until you turn the burner off?” Fair enough. I get distracted; pans get charred.

And, there were vulnerable requests. Me to Col: “When I’m doing something you don’t like, can you tell me clearly why it bothers you?” My hope was to translate the eye rolls, heavy sighs and terse, “Mom, just stop.”

I was worried sibling requests would involve snark and sabotage. So, when Col asked Rose if before doing laundry she’d check if he had any items to add, a small balloon of family collaboration inflated in my chest. Hint: A request is ideally both big enough to contribute to you and small enough that it will be easy for someone to say yes.

There were sweet, connecting requests. Col to his dad: “When you’re carving those wooden spoons in your shop, can you invite me to carve one with you?” Interestingly, two days later, Dan’s request to Col was exactly the same, in reverse.

It warmed my heart when Dan asked me, “Can you continue to ask about my feelings so I can expand my capacity to express a range of emotions?”

Making a request is a simple, powerful way to deepen relationships. It’s a bit like magic, really – the way a request will recruit all the cells of our willingness, while a demand acts as an affront to our autonomy. And yet, it’s vulnerable to ask for what we truly want, to make our needs known. So, we often tamp down this vulnerability to appear less full of desires, to seem “easy going.”

This Hanukkah tells a different story. As the “yeses” to our requests stacked up, and our teenagers lingered in the living room with us, I saw that this practice connected us, informing us that we were important enough to effect each other’s well-being.

I love receiving clear, doable requests. Contributing to others’ happiness actually boosts our happiness because we’re wired for interdependence; interdependence runs on mutual generosity.

And, two weeks post-Hanukkah, we’re still committed to making life more wonderful for each other. Arriving home late recently, I asked Rose about her day. She replied, “Well, I’ve already told Daddy all about it, so you can ask him.” Dan’s request to his teenage daughter was to hear more stories about what high school is like.

And, in addition to more connection in the house, the smoke alarm has been awfully quiet lately.

Durango resident Rachel Turiel is a former columnist for The Durango Herald. She writes a blog about growing food and family at 6512andgrowing.com.