Showing grace to your family in close quartersWritten by Joannie DeBrito
This article is part of our series providing help for families during COVID-19. Find more related articles and resources here.
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 kids at the same time.
The technology that allows us to continue with business as usual while we’re quarantined forgot one small detail. Kids don’t understand that when mom 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 mom or dad who normally relies on the quiet times during the day while your kids 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
The Bible describes grace as an undeserved gift from God. We are to extend this same undeserved kindness to others, including our beloved friends and family members.
Ephesians 2:8-9 says:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
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 God. Yet, he has 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 recognize 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 realize 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 underserved 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 three (or four, five or more) kids 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 neighbours’ 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 kids her age. However, I wanted to make sure that her mom was ok, as little Maddie sounded like her mom might be sprawled out unconscious in the yard. As I approached the house, her mom opened the door and said, “Thanks for checking. I’m fine. We’re just learning to adjust to having Mommy work from home.”
Go to your closet
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 closet. Or garage or basement or other room in the house where you can be alone for a bit. I’m not kidding.
When tensions got high, I would go to my closet to pray, 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 mom or dad gets when raising kids in a confusing, high energy, fast-paced culture.
I just went and worked things out with God and let his peace wash over me before I tried to resolve things with my kids. Honestly, that was after I failed in this area a couple of times, felt guilty, and realized 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 talk to God, yell, hit a pillow or do whatever you need to do 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, recognize 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.
Joannie DeBrito, Ph.D., LCSW, LMFT, is the director of parenting and youth at Focus on the Family in the U.S. She draws from over 30 years of diverse experience as a parent educator, family life educator, school social worker, administrator and registered mental health professional.
© 2020 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Originally published at FocusOnTheFamily.com.
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