So here you are, at home with your family. Your children are running around wild around your HDB flat; you have shut yourself in the master bedroom to take a work call but your kids are banging on your door and asking for snacks every 10 minutes. For the 10th time today (and it’s not even noon!), you are wondering how you are going to get your work done and care for your kids at the same time.
The technology that allows us to continue with business as usual while we #stayhome forgot one small detail. Kids 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 perhaps you are a stay-at-home mum or dad who normally rely on the quiet times during the day while your kids are in school in order to be present and engaging when they come home. Now, everyone’s routines have changed. You need to go get the groceries because your usual grocery delivery sites have their delivery slots all booked out but you don’t want to drag both small kids to the supermarket. You are annoyed and they are excited they get to stay home so they are in “holiday mode”. Soon, your annoyance spills over and there are tears, raised voices, regret and slamming of doors.
Hit that 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 level 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 we can all learn to extend grace to one another.
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 – often 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 by how strongly I’ve felt a negative emotion toward one of them.
What does it mean to show grace? It means to cut them some slack, to demonstrate compassion and acknowledge that they too have been handed an unexpected plate in life right now and we are in the same boat and the same team.
Here are some ways we can show G-R-A-C-E:
- G – Begin with gratitude. When I’m about 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. 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
Some of you may be thinking, “Have you been to my house lately? Do you know I have a cranky spouse and two (or three, or four) kids running around like a herd of wild animals, or a group of brooding, sulky teens?”
How am I supposed to be gracious to them when I don’t even have a moment to think?
I witnessed this yesterday when I heard my neighbours’ youngest daughter screaming out at the common corridor. I went outside to investigate, figuring she was just having a temper tantrum, normal for kids 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 house. 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.”
Find a “me” space
One of the greatest parenting lessons I’ve ever learned – go to your "me" space. It could be the bathroom, or a nice armchair you have in your bedroom. It could even be the service balcony where you hang out the clothes for drying, I’m not kidding!
When tensions got high, I would go to my space, vent frustration, release my anger and put myself in a more gracious frame of mind.
My kids 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 kids in a confusing, high energy, fast paced culture.
But what I did do was I didn’t try to steamroll my way through parenting. I gave myself small breaks when I needed them and when I returned from these little breathers, I was a better parent, I was a better me.
From frustration to authentic communication
It’s very easy to lose your cool, particularly when you are with your family in a small space. As you feel the tension rising, quietly excuse yourself or tell your kids you need a few minutes away first but you will come back.
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. Truth spoken without raw emotions tend to lead to an environment in which healthy conflict can occur.
Rearrange your expectations
Instagram may make it look like every other mum is baking yummy cookies and churning out impressive home cooked food or that so-and-so's kid is learning coding online or reading books quietly on their own.
Stop, don’t compare. Instead, rearrange your expectations. Don’t have insta-worthy expectations.
Look at everything you have on your plate and let go of what you can let go of – If you need to be calling food delivery, do so. If the house is not going to be as clean as you want it to be, take a deep breath and let that go.
As much as possible, teach your kids to clean up after themselves and be consistent in the implementation. In areas you can delegate, delegate!
But not everything has to be a battle. Choose what you want to upkeep and what’s most important and let go of some stuff that can be done another day.
Celebrate the small wins so you feel a sense of progress every day.
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 better.
How will your family – and yourself – look back upon this time? Will you remember the stress and frustrations? Or would they remember it as a fun time when they get to spend time with Mum and Dad, time they always wanted to get?
Adapted from Showing Grace to Your Family in Close Quarters by Joannie Debrito © 2020 All rights reserved. Used with permission from Focus on the Family.
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