By Joannie Debrito
So here you are, at home with your family in close quarters. Your children are running around wild, and you’re wondering how you’re going to get your work done and care for your children at the same time.
The technology that allows us to continue with business as usual while we’re quarantined forgot one small detail. Children don’t understand that when mum and dad are home on their computers, they really aren’t “there.” Actually, spouses may not understand that either.
Or maybe you are a stay-at-home mum or dad who normally relies on the quiet times during the day while your children are in school in order to be present and engaging when they come home. So when they interrupt, you get annoyed and pretty soon, there are some harsh words or tears or slamming doors.
Hitting the pause button
There has to be a better way. And yes, there is. It starts with finding a way to show grace to your family when living in close quarters.
It’s one of those things that makes sense but may be hard to put into action when stress is high, and the “on-demand” button is being pushed in your direction all day long.
What’s needed is a “pause” button to reflect on the reality and simplicity of the situation. The reality is that our spouses and children are a blessing to be appreciated and treasured, and the simple fact is that we are asked to show grace to one another.
Grace – An undeserved gift
Human beings have an amazing capacity to feel and express deep passion. The degree to which we love other people — and feel deep passion for them — is the same degree to which we may grow angry with them. This explains so-called “crimes of passion.”
While I’ve never committed a crime against a loved one, I’ve sometimes been surprised about how strongly I’ve felt a negative emotion toward one of them. At those moments, I’ve been startled into a reminder of the things I’ve done that have angered or disappointed them. Yet, they have shown grace and forgiven me.
So, whether I feel like it or not, I need to do the same.
Here are some ways I’ve learned to show G-R-A-C-E:
- G – Begin with gratitude. When I’m ready to react in anger, I stop and recognise that I’m grateful and blessed to have a husband, children and other loved ones who love and support me.
- R – Resist the emotions. I make a choice to resist expressing negative emotions.
- A – Adjust my thinking. I realise that whatever my loved one is doing that is annoying me is likely unintentional. Rather, it’s his or her way of communicating a need.
- C – Communicate kindly. Sometimes it helps to start with a question. “What can I do for you?” “How can I help?” Or, offer an honest response. “I know this is hard on all of us.”
- E – Express genuine appreciation. This becomes the undeserved gift. You might be able to make a good argument for dishing out some criticism but when you turn that urge around and offer an encouraging word instead, most often that response calms the other person down.
When real life hits
At this point, I bet some of you are thinking, have you been to my house lately? Do you know I have a cranky spouse and two (or 3, 4 or more) children running around like a herd of wild animals or a group of brooding teens wanting me to entertain them all day?
How am I supposed to show grace when I don’t even have a moment to think?
I witnessed this yesterday when I heard my neighbour’s youngest daughter screaming out on the sidewalk that we share. I went outside to investigate, figuring she was just having a temper tantrum, normal for children her age. However, I wanted to make sure that her mum was ok, as little Maddie sounded like her mum might be sprawled out unconscious in the garden. As I approached the house, her mum opened the door and said, “Thanks for checking. I’m fine. We’re just learning to adjust to having Mummy work from home.”
Go to your room
I remember plenty of winter and summer breaks when my family members and I were stuck inside together due to really cold or really hot weather. The tensions tended to be a little higher at those times.
That’s when I learned one of the greatest parenting lessons I ever learned — go to your room. Or an enclosed space in the house where you can be alone for a bit. I’m not kidding.
When tensions got high, I would go to my room to pray, vent frustration, release my anger and put myself in a more gracious frame of mind.
My children are in their 30s now, and they often remark that I was such a calm mother who never lost her cool. I have been brutally honest with them and explained that I got just as frustrated as any mum or dad gets when raising children in a confusing, high energy, fast-paced culture.
I just went and worked things out before I tried to resolve things with my children. Honestly, that was after I failed in this area a couple of times, felt guilty, and realised I had to find a better way.
From frustration to authentic communication
It’s very easy to lose your cool, particularly when you are with your family in a small house or apartment. As you feel the tension rising, quietly excuse yourself to a private place in your house and then reflect, yell, hit a pillow or do what you need to release your feelings of anger, frustration, disappointment or hurt.
That release will usually lead you to a calmer state of mind, and you’ll be able to think of a kind and reasonable response to your loved ones.
Once you return to talk to your spouse or children, you can voice real frustrations and concerns. Our communication with our loved ones needs to be at the most basic level, authentic. It needs to be kind, honest and sincere.
Being kind is not about saying only nice things that people want to hear. Constructive criticism and appropriate limit setting are important parts of marriage and parenting. Messages of truth spoken without raw emotions tend to lead to an environment in which healthy conflict can occur.
Focus on the opportunity
Finally, recognise that time living with your family in close quarters has the potential for opening up wonderful opportunities — to get to know one another better, create new ways to enjoy one another’s company and learn how to communicate well, given each person’s unique personality.
This is a great time to exercise your “grace muscles” and develop patience and peace for yourself.
© 2020 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Originally published at focusonthefamily.com.