Matt Townsend is a relationship expert, public speaker, author, Studio 5 contributor and host of two radio shows. As a father of six and husband of 22 years, he walks the walk — and we talked the talk with him about everything family.
UV: What are some of the most common family issues you are asked about?
Matt: People are having a hard time connecting. With technology and the multiplicity of offers and opportunities we have, connecting with our children one-on-one is getting harder. Another issue I’ve seen is that parents and children are losing the ability to stay present with one another. It’s hard for families to spend time together without someone pulling up Facebook or texting. I also help parents who have a hard time accepting and loving their children for who they are without wanting to change them.
UV: Utah County families are known for having many children and keeping very busy. How do you know if your family is too busy?
Matt: Families are too busy when stress levels go up and energy levels go down. I like to think about it like the reception bars on your phone. When your phone reception is bad, you can’t hear the person on the other end of the line. When your personal bars of connectivity are low due to being exhausted, your ability to understand, listen and love your children is more difficult.
UV: If your family is too busy, what can you do about it?
Matt: When you see those signs, take a moment to stop and listen to what they are telling you. When you think about it deep enough that it affects your heart, you will be motivated to change. Then it’s time to intend, as a family, to connect more. That goal might require you start saying no to certain things. It might also be a matter of establishing family rituals and traditions. Traditions are powerful because they connect you to a concept bigger than yourself.
UV: Do moms and dads bond differently with their children?
Matt: Absolutely. Statistically, men tend to bond more in activity and women tend to bond in conversation. There is also interesting research that shows when dads roughhouse with their children it can cause them to become overstimulated and frustrated, which is actually a good thing because it presents children with an opportunity to practice regulating emotion. Women are more likely to become close with their children by talking to them, getting to know their friends, and teaching them how to have compassion for others.
UV: Why are family traditions and rituals important for building family unity?
Matt: They reinforce the institution that is your family. I always like to compare it to singing the national anthem before a game. Everyone stands and is unified through the same ritual. Traditions have a way of putting things in a larger context. You are connecting with a theme bigger than yourself. It’s also a statement that even if you don’t agree with everything happening in politics, you are still committed. It’s the same with our families when we participate in family rituals even if things aren’t perfect at the moment.
UV: What is the best way to help a child who is dealing with a big life change such as a move or a death in the family?
Matt: Peace comes from principles. On this earth, peace will never come from power or profit; it comes from living correct principles consistently. When grandma passes away, teach your children how to handle life by teaching them to focus on the principles grandma taught before she died. Those principles are what made her great, and those principles are still alive. We miss her, but she left us with these great lessons. You can turn trauma into peace. Keep pointing out those principles as time goes on.
UV: Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to your 25-year-old self about parenting?
Matt: I would tell myself to approach resolving issues with my children from the positive side. This means that instead of focusing on where my children struggle, I should think about their strengths and how I can leverage those talents to help them grow in other areas. For example, my daughter took debate in school and she can deliver her opinion well. I could look at that and say she is mouthy and stubborn, or I could say she is a confident, strong leader.