It had been a long week. I was tired, my husband was tired, my kids were tired. In fact it had been a long month; each day feeling like a lifetime. When another day ended, and the beauty of sleep gently whispered, “tomorrow will be a fresh start, no mistakes made…” only to wake and repeat the same problems and strife of the day before; it was in this moment that discouragement crept in.
The discouragement of feeling trapped in the well worn path of: parents nagging, kids ignoring. The overwhelming feeling of being cross, saying things out of emotional tiredness, arguments, misunderstandings, frustrations…what you might describe as ‘Parenting on empty’.
I think all families have a default pattern of relating. We succumb to this unintentionally, when the sum total of life’s demands tips us into the ‘Not coping so well’ category. Your default coping mechanism, often depends on your personality; the natural instinct that propels us forward. Unfortunately, once in that pattern, it becomes increasingly difficult to break out of it; making you feel trapped in a vicious cycle that you’re powerless to break from. The emotional energy required to stop, be mindful of what you doing and saying, and being thoughtful about how to bring about change, often feels too hard. So we take the far easier option; one requiring little thought and energy.
However, our automatic responses can have an unhelpful and potentially damaging effect. If unchallenged and unchanged the family culture becomes one of disharmony; the joy of living and loving together is replaced with the drudgery of mere existence. Who wants to live in a family like that?
So what’s the remedy to this? A wise friend once told me, “A small injection of humour and fun.” It may not be a cure all and not always appropriate, but when used wisely, it can be enough to break the cycle. Recently I tried this tact, when embarking on another heated discussion with one of my teens. Just as they were about to launch into an all-to- familiar rant, I injected a little humour. The result…a smile. It faintly appeared at the corner of their lips, then gradually spread; resulting in a face that looked like a sunbeam. What followed…laughter. Shared laughter. A genuine connection between two people who desire to love and respect each other. Yes, we still had to have that hard conversation, yet the anger and frustration had been defused, leading to a more harmonious outcome. Laughter was indeed the best medicine.
The same can be true of intentionally choosing to have random fun; fun that can even be free.
Normally after dinner, I am so desperate to end the day, I don my Sargent Major cap and march them upstairs to bed. However, one evening over dinner, my kids had been telling me about an app they had discovered called Elf Yourself. Being a family rule: No phones at the table, they asked to show me afterwards. To my surprise and their delight, what followed was the most hilarious fun we had had in a long time. Something they talked about for days after. Who knew that taking photos of yourself and pasting them into a dancing elf video could be so funny!
While I cannot claim I get this right all the time, or that frivolous fun is a quick fix to any problem. I think it’s more like a cooling balm to a stinging sore. It doesn’t claim to make the sore disappear, it just brings a little relief from the heat. More importantly, it adds to the family’s bank of happy memories and positive relational moments.
Photo by François Reiniche