3 Strategies To Help Families Avoid Bumpy Carpets
Don't you love it when your kids come home for a couple of days or, if you're lucky, maybe a whole week or two? The minute I know my kids are coming I start planning and dreaming. What will we eat? What are we going to do? Games? Movies? Events? Hikes? My mind starts whirling with possibilities.
I’m lucky that our kids live in the same state we do, but we still don’t spend as much time together as my mom heart wishes. The last thing I want during their visit is to have a disagreement and then spend precious time ironing out differences of opinion. Wouldn't it be easier to ignore the unpleasantness, say peace, peace and get on with the fun? You know, just "sweep it under the carpet?"
In the moment that might be easiest. Sweeping a little bit of dust under the carpet might work once, but sweeping it aside time after time results in big piles of dirt.
Over time, everyone will trip over those unresolved piles of dirt that have built up, trying to find a peace that has eluded us.
I have enough trouble navigating life without having the added challenge of avoiding bumps, pitfalls, and landmines. So what strategies will help families avoid building up those piles that sometimes accumulate in our family dynamics?
First of all, what causes tensions and disagreements in the first place? Not just between parents and adult kids, but also between siblings. It's a rare family that enjoys a Hallmark Christmas atmosphere every time they are together.
These are some triggers I thought of:
Differing expectations of "just family" time during the visit.
Differing plans of activities.
Family members who have adopted a new eating plan.
Differing opinions about child-rearing practices.
Sibling rivalries or dynamics played out from childhood.
Physical or mental health illnesses that change family dynamics.
Your family list may include other things. I don't think any of these are unusual and most of them are probably common.
Instead of ignoring the issues at one extreme or spending hours of precious time working things out on the other, what if we made a battle plan to will help keep our carpets nice and smooth? These strategies might sound simple in theory, but if you are anything like me, implementing them will take all the determination you can muster.
1. Pray in detail BEFORE your family gets together.
Every prayer is helpful, but I think it would be smarter if I thoughtfully focused on more details. I wish that this were my go-to first instinct, but if I’m honest, it’s often an after-thought. I’m a sweeping ideas person. The minute there is a small hiccup, inside I hit my head and have one of those V-8 moments. What was I thinking? Why didn’t I think things through and pray about this before-hand? (I also know there is no way I’ll think of every little thing that could go wrong and if I tried, I might invent trouble where it doesn’t exist. With practice I’ll probably find a balance.)
From now I on, my goal is to review our past times together. I’ll take note of both what was wonderful and the small things that could have been better.
With each addition to our family, the dynamics shift a bit and I realize (sometimes too late) that I need to be more sensitive to how each person might be feeling about our plans. Family dynamics are not a matter of right and wrong, but of loving and accepting each person for who God made them to be.
If you’ve let dirt build up over the years, don’t worry. God makes us some big promises about his power. Our families hold a more dear place in God’s heart. He designed family and wants to bless our relationships. The next time something happens in your family that makes you wonder about that, I hope and pray you will keep this verse in mind. “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work in us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)
2. Make a plan ahead of time.
Not a mom and dad decides everything plan, but one where everyone has an equal voice. (I told you this was going to take determination.)
Jordan and Kati happened to be in town over the weekend of her birthday. When I heard the dates, I immediately started planning a party. I figured out the best time, who we should invite, what we would eat, loving the idea that I could once again throw her a big party.
Then I came to my senses and called her husband! (Whew!) Not to tell him my plan, but to ask what he was thinking about celebrating her birthday this year, if a party in my home was something he wanted. I asked him who he thought she would want to attend. I ran my idea for food by him to see if he liked it.
Most of our ideas were similar, but I’m so glad I realized my mistake before taking charge of a big celebration for HIS WIFE. Kati is my daughter, but it’s Jordan’s place now to make those decisions, not mine. Unfortunately, the one thing he told me was really important to Kati slipped my mind. Luckily, he sent me a text to remind me and I ran to the store to buy the huge number balloons she wanted.
I try to take that same approach to our family gatherings. I’ve learned over the years that everyone has a better time when they have a say in the plans.
It helps me, too. Knowing the plan ahead of time gives my mom heart time to surrender. It’s hard when it looks like I won’t get the amount of family time I’m hoping for. In the first few years after they were on their own I had to share precious time with their friends a lot more. I think that’s normal, but it still stung a bit. Knowing the plan ahead of time helps me relax and enjoy the time I did have, instead of stewing about them going out so much.
I’m also learning to take our family temperament into account when we make plans. Some of us are extroverts and some are introverts. Some of us thrive on “together time,” but some of us need space and quiet time alone to refuel so we can be giving when we are together.
This year we will be together for several days at Thanksgiving. Next week I’m going to send everyone a text or email with some questions:
What would you like our time together to look like?
What activities would you like to do?
How much time would you like us all to spend together every day?
Are you ok with…?
I’m thinking of making, doing…what do you think?
Any requests for food? Does anyone else want to cook?
I’m also going to see if the two younger couples would like to go out without Tom and I at some point. I’m happy with whatever they decide.
Once everyone responds we can compromise and put a plan in place. If the plan changes after everyone gets here, that’s ok, too. At least we’ll have a framework to start with.
3. Relax and accept the process.
So what’s a family to do after they pray and plan and “bumps” still come up? Well, first of all, let’s be real. Bumps happen. Conflict is part of good, healthy and normal relationships. It’s not healthy for conflict to define our relationships, but it’s also not healthy or normal to avoid conflict.
I know the Bible tells us “how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live in harmony.” (Psalm 133:1)
On the other hand, God also lets us know that “iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17) and that the wounds from a friend can be trusted. (Proverbs 27:6).
My goal is that our family is a safe place for conflict to play out because we’ve already established the ground rules. We love each other and are not going anywhere. I know some family dynamic are hard. I’ve experienced that side of family, too. Upon reflection, it’s clear that God uses those dynamics to mold me. I want to be more accepting, less judgmental, and more curious about my family.
We won’t agree on everything. We will hurt each other’s feelings. We won’t eat the same, raise our kids the same, have the same marriage, or enjoy the same activities all the time. And the process of figuring all those things out is what will make the fabric of our family grow stronger, yet more flexible. Each of us will stretch and grow if I step back and allow the process to flow. I don’t want to be a mom that says peace, peace when one or more of us needs to talk something out. I would rather have one visit of challenging memories than build a space no one truly enjoys.
It's not always parent and adult child that need to resolve something. Sometimes siblings fall back into old habits and roles and end up hurting each other when they spend time together. A husband of a young woman I know pointed out several ways she and her brother reverted to old childish behaviors that they wouldn't dream of repeating with any other adult in their lives. The woman was thankful because it helped her figure out how to move toward a new phase in the friendship she enjoyed with her brother.
No matter what happens the next time your family has a chance to be together, I hope and pray you find joy and peace in the middle of the mess.
I love to hear from my readers. If you have comments or questions, please send me a note to firstname.lastname@example.org
For your consideration:
“Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”; Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. …Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:25-27, 29 (NIV)
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Colossians 3:12-14 (NIV)
Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans. Proverbs 16:3