Your phone is ringing. The baby is crying. Your toddler just spilled his juice all over the floor. The clothes dryer is buzzing and you haven’t even put up the clean clothes from last night. Is your head exploding yet? Mine is.
Feeling overwhelmed can be a normal, common state for well-intentioned parents. My parents were never there for me, so I’m gonna put my all into being the best…parent…ever. My mom and dad sacrificed everything for us kids. That’s just what parents do. The Bible teaches me to be submissive to my husband and a servant to my kids, so that’s what I’m doing.
Wow! I’ve actually heard parents say these kinds of things to me. Again, well-intentioned, but a set-up for feeling perpetually overwhelmed. So, mom and dad, how can you get back on steady course for the right reasons?
First, recognize and use the pyramid of family relations. You are at the top of your relational pyramid. Above your pyramid is God. If you are not right with God, your relations with your spouse and family will be full of issues. Some parents build a prayer closet, literally, for time with the Lord. Others set aside 15 minutes per day for personal devotions. Jesus said, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.” Take Him at His word.
Second, as you take time for yourself, you make time for your spouse. Jesus also said, “Love one another as you love yourself.” Self-care makes quality other-care possible. Healthy diet, sufficient sleep, exercise all facilitate healthy interaction with your spouse. Setting aside couple devotional time as well sets the tone. Further down the pyramid are your children, extended family, and friends.
The keys to multi-tasking and balancing self-care with other-care are prioritizing, delegating and setting healthy boundaries. In assessing the tasks, hand your toddler paper towels to clean up his mess, as you go to the baby to soothe her tears. These are the immediate priorities. You don’t have to answer your phone until you have the time. Your phone stores the call and it will be there when you are not so frantic. If the buzzer on your dryer loops to recur intermittently, take a moment to shut it off after you settle the baby. Help your toddler clean up his mess, telling him what a big boy he is to get started without you.
With immediate crises averted, sit and take a breath. Life will go on. Got is good, and so are you. Later, with your spouse, in a family meeting, you can set healthy boundaries by compiling lists of house rules and individual chores. Delegate chores to children consistent with their ages, but everybody pitches in. Build “me” time into your schedule. If you wait for a good time to take care of yourself, it will never happen.
Early in our marriage, my wife received a unique, stocking stuffer, Christmas gift. It was a circular pot holder. On it was this message. “This is a Round Tuit. Did you ever think about something you had to do, but failed to get around to it? Well, now you have one, so, stop making excuses and do it.”
Often parents think about doing things differently with their children, but seem to be stuck in the same ol’ behavior patterns. If what you are doing isn’t working, then change it. The standard definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Now in middle school, 12 year old Anthony continued to get up late, miss breakfast, and run out the door, often missing his school bus. He rang up the tardys at school and was getting extra assignments because of them. He wanted to change his morning habits, but he didn’t seem to ever get around to it.
With yet another tardy slip in hand, he slumped in the chair at the kitchen table. His mom sat down next to him and heard his tale of woe. She used her best active listening, without judging, without her own solutions. Seeing that he was more settled, she added, “I have some thoughts about your frustrations. Do you want to hear them?”
Mom went to the family events calendar on the corkboard and retrieved the family “round tuit” potholder. “Here,” she gave the potholder to her son, “I think you need to hold onto this for a while.” Both laughed, as the round tuit potholder had been passed from one family member to another over many years.
Mom and Anthony then talked over a plan that involved collecting his stuff and setting his clothes out at night, an earlier bedtime, two alarm clocks set a distance from his bed, post-it prompts around his room and the kitchen, and cash incentive for daily and weekly compliance to his new morning routine and reaching his goal of being on-time for school each day. The round tuit potholder stayed in his room as a reminder, until his new routine was set in stone.
Do you need to get a round tuit? This cute little reminder will help you move from planning helpful changes to actually doing them.
As parents, we are charged by God to “raise our children up in the ways of the Lord so that, when they grow old, He will not depart from them.” (Proverbs 22:6). That’s the signature verse for my book, Teachable Moments: Building Blocks of Christian Parenting. That verse challenges us to love, honor, respect, guide, teach, and be there for our children in all circumstances. It also challenges us to set healthy boundaries, confront, restrict, and, yes, even say “no” at times to our children’s requests. Saying “no” is a vital part of healthy, Christian parenting.
“But Mommy, why not? Huh? Why not? You said ‘yes’ the last time. Mommy, pleeeease!” Eight year old Amy was not going to give up her request that her mom accept being her 3rd grade classroom mom. Denise had hesitated in answering her daughter just long enough for Amy to hope her no could be turned into a yes. Reminding her mom that she was her 2nd grade classroom mom last year was Amy’s effort to play the guilt card.
“Sweetheart, it’s time for another mom to step up. I’ve got too many things to do as it is. I can’t add something else to that list.” Amy stuck her lower lip out and pouted, adding, “You don’t love me anymore.”
Denise could have given in or fussed at her daughter for accusing her of not loving her. Instead, she saw Amy’s emotional fever rise and active listened her hurting daughter. “Aw, baby. I know you’re disappointed.” She gathered Amy into her arms for a big hug. Amy pushed her mama away and stomped her feet. Denise began to feel manipulated and that angered her. “Young lady, enough. What part of “no” do you not understand?”
Had Amy persisted, a brief time-out would have been in order. In Chapter 3 of my book, I challenge that children will always test the limits. Saying “no” strategically eases your child’s anxious and fearful feelings. They need for you to be in charge. They just will never tell you that. You have needs and feelings too, and you balance yours with theirs. Saying “no” builds character and resilience, and can be another path to teachable moments.
Do you have enough stress in your life? When a person finds The One and they marry, each doubles their stress load. Add children and the stress load continues to multiply. Like intersecting circles, each person requires time and attention as relationships form. For yourself, even in your growing family, it is critical for all to remember to…just breathe.
Joanie is a new mom, again. She has newborn Jamie now, along with his three preschooler siblings. Tom works long hours just to keep current with all of their expenses. He helps when he is home, but with his work that’s not much. How is new mom Joanie ever going to meet the needs for time and attention from hubby and her brood?
Philosopher Mitch Thrower notes that “one of the best things you can do when the world is storming around you is to pause.” Pause. That doesn’t take a lot of time. About the time it takes to take a deep breath. But that deep breath is critical to the health and well-being of you and your family.
A deep breath is a calming technique used for stress management. There are lots of affirmations tied to that deep breath. I can do this. I’m important too. I can relax for a moment even in all of this turmoil. I will restore my perspective and my soul.
In my book, Teachable Moments, I offer directions for “Chillin’ Out.” This is a way to help you focus on the moment, turn worry into curiosity, and fully relax by noticing the happy place you visit in your mind where all of your five senses come alive.
Joanie paused as she diapered Jamie at the changing table, and she took a deep breath. She transported herself to the beach last summer, feeling the warmth of the sun on her face, and hearing the gulls in the air and the waves tumbling on the sand. She smiled softly, finished changing her newborn, and then directed the other children to pick up all the toys off the floor around her and return them to the toy box. Her deep breath helped her energize, prioritize, and realize the joy of family.
A favorite book of mine “back in the day” was titled, The Hurried Child. The notion was that our children have so much stress because they are always on the go. And I’m not just talking about hyperactive kids. With internet technology, all kinds of communication tools, plus encouraged activities such as recreational sports, scouting, church, and clubs, when can they take a breath? And, when can we catch up with them? Because of all the options on and pressure for their time and attention, we will want to grab every teachable moment we can with our kids, making the most of opportunities with them.
Dad was taking son Joey to his Little League baseball practice one late Spring afternoon. Joey was eating his snack dinner in the car as they traveled there. “So, my man, excited about your game tomorrow night against the Pirates?” Between mouthfuls, Joey shrugged his shoulder and offered, “Whatever, yeah, I guess.” Noticing his son’s mood, Dad joked, “Well, now, don’t be so enthusiastic, big guy.” Again Joey shrugged, “It’s just that, I mean, Robbie’s pitching and I haven’t hit him yet all season.” In his best active listening form, Dad looked for a feeling. “So, you’re afraid he’ll get the best of you again?” “What do you think?” Joey conceded, with dejection in his voice.
“I’ll tell you what I think, son, can I tell you?” “Whatever, yeah,” Joey mumbled from a full mouth. “I think that, what you pay attention to grows.” “Huh?” Joey questioned. “You know, focus on the positive and it will grow. Focus on the negative and it will grow.” “Well, I’m positive Robbie’s gonna get the best of me again.” “But you don’t know that, because it hasn’t happened yet, son. You can turn this around. Get your licks in with batting practice tonight and face Robbie in the batter’s box tomorrow night, just daring him to try and throw one by you. Focus on the positive and it will grow.” After taking his dad’s wise counsel in, Joey conceded, “Yeah. I’ll try it. We’ll see what happens.”
Your teachable moments with your children do not have to be weekend camping trips, although don’t rule them out. Use a 5-minute car ride to connect. Make the most of all the available opportunities.
When you see or hear your child having an issue, and you conclude that his emotional fever is spiking, your efforts to give him active listening are coming from your heart. The beauty of active listening is that you are right when you are right, and you are right when you are wrong. Whaaat?
You are helping Bobby with his homework one night. He erases his answer to the same math problem for the third time. He screams, breaks his pencil in half, and flings the pieces across the room.
Most parents would be inclined to firmly respond, “Now Bobby, calm down. Throwing a fit isn’t going to get you the answer to this math problem.” You are being a concerned parent in correcting Bobby’s behavior, but have you missed a teachable moment? With that response, Bobby may just turn on you, or stomp out of the room.
“Wow, Son. You’re really angry right now.” “No I’m not. I’m frustrated. How can I be so stupid? I can’t get this answer right,” might be Bobby’s response just before he dissolves into tears.
So, you were active listening, but you missed the mark. You suggested anger, when Bobby was feeling frustration. You were wrong, but you were right, because you’re focusing on his feelings leading Bobby to think what he was feeling and then tagging it for you. Now you can fold him into your arms and let him cry it out for a while, reassuring him that he is smart and encouraging him to try again, with your help if he wants it.
Active listening promotes bonding and encourages your child to think through and work on solving their own issues or problems. If you judge, criticize, or solve their problem for them, you run the risk of distancing from her and diminishing her confidence and worth. Active listening when you see your child’s emotional fever spike is coming from your heart and brings you closer together, and even when you are wrong, you can be right.
I’ve shared with you how active listening is your go-to response when your child has an emotional fever. This is the proverbial “You feel…” comment, where you give your child what you think she is feeling at the moment. However, to engage your daughter, dare to be different. That is, be creative in how you empathize. Also, to help her know how important her feelings are to you, expand your responses.
Allison comes running in from outside, where she was talking to her friend, Jennifer. Allison slams the door and stomps into the kitchen, where you are cleaning up. “Jennifer says I’m dumb and she won’t play with me.” You gather her up in your arms and she sobs into your shoulder.
An active listening response might be, “You feel hurt.” Daring to be different, you could expand that with, “Aw, baby, it hurts when Jennifer says mean things to you.” Allison will then hug you closer.
Another tool in your response toolbox is called passive listening. Yep, you guessed it. This is simply being quiet and letting Allison just be or just talk. A verbal prompt that could help her share her feelings is called a noncommittal response. Us shrinks call this the therapeutic grunt, such as, “uh huh, hmmm, I see” This tells Allison that you are listening and encouraging her to share more.
A third tool for you is parroting. This is when you say back as a question exactly what she just said. “Jennifer says you’re dumb and that she won’t play with you?” Here, you are making sure that you heard right and again prompting her to continue. The fourth tool is paraphrasing. Here you give her content, but not necessarily feelings. “So she’s not playing with you because she thinks your dumb?”
Active listening is the gold standard for helping your child through tough times, but you can also expand your responses with parroting, noncommittal responses, paraphrasing, and just being quietly there with her, that is, passive listening. All of these options keep you engaged with your child in her hurt and let her know how important she is to you, helping her find her way out of her hurt. Expanding your responses helps you stay connected.