Bumps

This past month has been tough for our family for many reasons. There’s been a few shocks, uncertainty about the future and the aftermath of emotion related to such things. We’ll be okay; we’ve weathered many storms before and have learned to be resilient. During dips in family life, I notice three main things that happen in family life.

Three things I notice when we go through a dip in Family Life

1. Reactive rather than proactive behaviour

I’m reactive with the kids (rather than proactive), my husband and I are reactive to each other and the kids bicker more. I also find that I can easily focus on the negative in the kids.

2. Unhelpful self-preservation tendencies

My husband and I are (very) different, and this is a good thing because we compliment each other.  It can also be a difficult thing because the way we handle things are at polar ends of the spectrum.

When things are stressful, I tend to micro-manage everything in my life (I talked about how I actively choose not to do this here). Micro-managing is my way of coping when things are tough. It’s not an edifying trait, but it tends to be my default position when I’m trying to get through.  In a rather warped way, I figure: if I can account for everything and everybody in my life, I can anticipate, and then compensate.  That is how it plays out in my head but it never works out that way because it’s not possible to control all the variables in life.

On the other hand, my husband copes with stress in family life by being laid-back and allows the storm to take its course.  Can you see the polars emerging? I fight to win and he perseveres to overcome. Same, but different.

Now, I can write about these things here because my husband and I know each other well; we laugh about our differences, pull each other up, compensate for one another and look out for each other.  Recognising our default positions and talking about it has to be an active thing, and it usually takes us a while to realise we are on a merry-go-round.

3. Family life isn’t fun

Last year when we went on a road trip, we realised how much we loved being together as a family, and how special our family unit is.  After this last month, family life is strained and the fun factor isn’t there.   Life doesn’t usually slow down to compensate for more difficult months, does it? So it can be hard to take the breather we all need.

While circumstances right now are in NO WAY extreme, cracks are forming, and if left untended, can grow into brokenness.

Three things we do when there is a dip in Family Life

1. We communicate

We come back to what we believe as a family, pray, re-group, and this gives us the wisdom for moving forward.  My husband and I talk to each other about what we need, what we are feeling and how we can minimise the polar extremes in our personalities by supporting each other. I talk with people who I trust outside of my little family, and my husband does the same. We also talk with our older kids, acknowledging that things aren’t all rosy right now but how we are working on it.

2. We slow down

Life doesn’t stop for anyone but there are ways to slow things down.  I try and cut out stuff in our life that isn’t immediately important. For example, that is why I haven’t blogged as often recently.  When Life’s road is smooth, we can keep up the pace but right now, by slowing down, we have time to compensate for the follow-on consequences of a few bumps in the path we’re on. I guess it’s a bit like when you’re sick; the best thing is to rest so your body has a chance to get better.  I see the same thing with family life; if we don’t slow down, it takes much longer to get back to where we were.

The other way I slow down is to invest time into enjoying little things as they happen. For example, practicing some of the 100 Ways to Love the Moment, going a little early for the school pick up  to sit under a tree for a quiet moment with a take away coffee and walking by a local lake to look at the swans with my son.

a tree

swans

3. We put positive times in our bank

As I type this, the kids are asleep.  Before bedtime, I lay down on the sofa in our family room with all my kids perched around me while I read The Shark Book by Dr Mark Norman.  After we read about each type of shark, we looked up YouTube for a video about the same shark on the iPad. It was a lovely, engaging time.  In these harder periods, it’s especially nice to put some positive times in our bank.

Reading about the Hammerhead Shark and we then watched a short documentary on YouTube

shark book -- hammerhead shark

My family is precious, and something worth protecting, investing in and nurturing. Sometimes, keeping family life healthy is more challenging, but we keep on keeping on by taking a little extra time and effort to mend the cracks. That’s all.

Family Dynamics: It’s like the Zipper

There’s change in the air. There is always change when it comes to family dynamics now that I think about it. It’s one of the challenges of parenting: just when you think you have it right, something changes. There are new stages, new behaviours to confront, adult issues like work and financial pressures, emotions, relationships and personalities, all thrown into a mix of ever changing variables.

Family dynamics  remind me of the Zipper ride at the EKKA (the annual Brisbane show). This infamous ride consists of individual cages that spin on a wheel that also spins. There’s a lot spinning involved. The Zipper happens to be one of my favourite rides so I know. There is rocking, half spins, single spins and then…there’s the spin-spin: a spin within a spin.

The EKKA - Brisbane Show

I feel our family is coming out of a spin-spin right now.  One of the consequences of this is my kids have been bickering more than usual over this school holidays and driving me nuts. They are a little older and I sense our family dynamics are about to launch into a new phase. There are good things about this but the transition is always challenging.

Below are seven ways our family deals with changes in our family unit.

1. Learning

I learn more about parenting my kids, from my kids, rather than from outward parenting guides. For me, parenting this way means I can do it in a way that is unique to my own family and can account for all the Zipper-like variables. It’s all about finding creative ways to solve challenges.

2. Play

I have three girls, and then a boy. I noticed very early on, differences between the genders but I’m not one to designate particular play in relation to the sex of my children as they are all individuals and play differently anyway (that is: my son will play with dolls and my girls with trucks).  However, I do notice a distinct difference between, not so much what they play with but how they play. My son uses toys in a very different way to my girls so here’s a very common scenario at our place:

“MUM! MUM! Son wrecked my game!” from Miss 6.

“Mum! The girls won’t let me play!” from son (4).

I can see it from both sides. Son does often wreck the girl’s play  (which is annoying for them) but he desperately wants to play with them (and I can understand that he wants to be included). It’s taken me a while to work this one through.  One of the ways I do this is observing my children and taking notice of which types of play work, and why.

The children play together, individually, in pairs, in threes and all together. I think it’s all great!  When it comes to encouraging play between all four of my children aged from 10 to 4 (which I believe is especially wonderful), parallel play is working at the moment, especially for my son.

An example

We’ve enjoyed imaginative play scenes this school holidays.  What usually happens is my 10 year old will contribute her wonderful creative ideas to the set up and we create two play areas next to each other, one for my two other daughters (8 and 6), and one for my son (4). It’s fascinating to watch their play come together.

{I made a smaller version of our Desert Island Play Scene for son}

family dynamics in play

This magical outdoor play space (below) is a perfect example of this. My son created a road with the bricks from our rock garden and the girls played with the fairy home. As I watched them play, it came together beautifully: my son built the road, added cars to the play and then interacted with his sisters in a positive way; the girls responded and the play meshed. It’s so good when it works like this!

family dynamics in play

Play is gold for many reasons but one is that it helps me to see where the kids are at and how we can function better as a family.

3. Expectation

I don’t hope my children will love and care for each other, I expect it because I believe in the power and value of family.  This simple mindset ensures I have a goal when it comes to interactions between the children, and I can capitalise on (but not force) opportunities that arise as we live life. I hope to both teach and encourage the children, plus allow them to work out things for themselves. It’s another example of being anchored by the big picture and living in the moments.

4. Foundation

In my “I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions” post, I listed down some of the big picture values that act as foundations for our family.  This is really important to me: that we continue to build on a strong base because it provides stability, even when life is all over the place.

5. Family Re-Group

We have a many, many family re-group sessions. Many of these happen in the car and at the family dinner table because we are all in the one place. It’s a place to talk about issues, reinforce our family values and an opportunity for the children have input.

6. Good times

When things are rough, or there are a many challenges in family life (like in the aftermath of the Queensland Floods), we find it helps to stop and facilitate an activity we enjoy as a family. It’s a way to fill the store of good times under our family belt.

7. Embrace & Discover

I’ve come to accept that harnessing family dynamics is like anticipating the movements in a Zipper Ride.  For me, it’s all about protecting our foundation (including my marriage), growing and changing to discover how the mechanics work best, then embracing the variables and going along for the ride.

How do you manage the many changes in family dynamics?

Other Relevant Posts

Do Boys and Girls Play Differently?

Parenting Siblings: Is it fair?

Siblings: Friends for Life

Family Life Stages: A Window in Family Life