Three Words

“Three words,” my husband said suddenly, as he appeared in the doorway of the kitchen.

I looked up from what I was doing and started throwing words at him. “Self-control, kindness, love.”

“All good words but not the three I’m thinking of.”  Although he was serious, he had a cheeky sparkle in his eye that I love so well. Although I was serious in my reply, there was an edge of banter to my words.

About an hour before this conversation, in the aftermath of the dinner-bath-bed routine, my husband and I talked about family life.  You see, at the moment, everything seems chaotic, and we are deciding what to focus on. Manners at the dinner table are shocking; things in the home aren’t organised; the kids can’t seem to sit still during story time; they are bickering and I feel like we are failing at family life right now. I’m sick of the chaos. I’m over mess.  I’m just tired.

As I write this, things are quiet again, I remember some good things too.  After the children were in bed, my eight-year-old daughter came and stood beside me. I felt irritated that she was out of bed but when I turned to face her, the genuine glaze in her brown eyes, dissipated my annoyance.

“Sorry Mum.  I know you said you didn’t want me to read in bed tonight because it’s late but when I was in bed, I forgot and read a few pages without thinking.” Her eyelashes are long and I noticed them as she spoke.

“I just wanted to tell you,” she said.

That’s pretty amazing.

I couldn’t help but smile at her. “Thanks for telling me darling. That’s fine. I can totally understand that. You need to go straight to sleep now though.”

“Yep. Sure mum. Night. Love you.”

That’s a pretty amazing moment right there.

When things are chaotic, I feel like throwing myself on the ground like a 2-year-old and giving up. But all is not lost, see?  And when I take a moment to think about my kids, there is so much awesome. Seriously.  However some things do need to change, and I voiced it to my husband in our conversation after dinner.

“I feel like basically, we are putting the blame on the children’s behaviour, but it’s mostly our fault, isn’t it?”  I said frankly. “What are we going to do?”

We let the conversation hang on that note, and sit in the air while we continued through some of the night time jobs.  It wasn’t uncomfortable, nor was it expectant, it was a there, waiting. 

After a shower, my husband appeared in the kitchen doorway and said, “Three words.”

My failed attempts to guess the words had him smiling.

“Lead. By. Example.”

That is what he said. “We have to be the change we want in our family.”

It’s an obvious answer that is often hidden. The concept isn’t a new one; I’ve heard it many times before, but it hit us both in the eyes right then.

I both loved and hated the three words my husband spoke.  I loved them for their truth.  I hated them in that moment too, because of their implication.  You see, I like action. I’m horribly impatient. I aim to make things happen. Boom! Like that.  I want change immediately and am willing to fight for it. I like to move hard, work fast, and then just be.

These three words go against that.  They are silent. They are enduring. They are persistent. They are gracious. They are patient. They are strength. God help me be the change.

Nothing dramatic has happened since the three-word conversation. Nope. Still chaotic here.  But there is a quietness beneath the noise.  A quietness that waits patiently in confidence…because fruit only happens after the nurturing is done.

It’s good to talk. It’s great to be reminded.  It’s excellent to refocus.  And we DO have a slightly new focus for the now. And it’s less about table manners and more about creating an environment of harmony and gentle leadership.  How we plan to do it is contained in these three words, followed by another three words: lead by example, lead with love.  Until the next time we need to regroup…

lead by example lead with love

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Bumps

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.

My Family Hasn’t Turned Out Like I Thought it Would

Family life: Before my husband and I had  children, we had an idea of what it would look like. To a large extent, our ideals were a combination of many of the positives from our childhood experiences married with our own personal values.

Many of the things I hoped for have come to be but more than that: it’s surprising to see how family life is its own entity, and has grown around me, and in many ways in spite of me and my notorious long term planning addiction.

Let me back track a bit; I need to talk pets for minute. I didn’t want a pet for our family. It’s not that I don’t like pets (I do!) but our family moves a lot so we are limited in what sort of pets we can have.  Plus, I figure: I’m flat out trying to look after 4 kids so don’t need another thing to look after! Right?

Well, my daughter desperately wanted a bird for her 7th birthday. I noticed my daughter’s desire for a bird was matched with a general interest in birds. You know when you can tell when your child is really interested in something, rather than it being a passing phase? (Probably a bit like how astronomy was to my husband when he was a child.) This interest in birds was not something we particularly fostered or encouraged, it just happened.

Still, I felt reluctant to have a pet bird, but after thinking about it, and acknowledging my daughter’s responsible behaviour when it comes to looking after her property, my husband and I decided to give her a cockatiel pet bird. Here he is:

White and Yellow cockatiel pet bird

Do you know what she named it? Aprie Apricot Tizzy-Wing Burstow. We take names very seriously in this house! HA! We call him Tizzy for short. Along with Tizzy, we gave our daughter the Field Guide to the Birds of Australia by Ken Simpson and Nicolas Day to encourage her general interest in birds.

Field Guide to the Birds of Australia by Ken Simpson and Nicolas Day

Tizzy has been in our lives for over a year now and we all LOVE him! Not only do we love having him as part of our family, my daughter’s passion for birds is developing, and rubbing off on the rest of us!

That’s a bit of history, now let me tell you about this weekend.  We went for a spontaneous camping trip to Jimna, in the Sunshine Coast Hinterlands. It’s a gorgeous spot!

Jimna, Queensland, Australia

It’s the first time we have been camping for only a weekend.  It was a bit of work but certainly worthwhile; I feel like we have been gone for much longer than just one night.

Camping at Jimna, Queensland

My daughter, as usual, packed her bird book with her other things. I didn’t remind, or ask her to; she often brings it with her when we are out and about.

I love wildlife in general but I wouldn’t say I’m particularly interested in birds so it’s facinating to see my daughter develop her own interests. It’s also interesting to see our entire family embrace my daughter’s love for birds. Birds are now something we all look for, identify and talk about.

Birdwatching at Jimna -- Field Guide to Australian Birds -- Simpson and Day

Jimna is full of wild life, including many varieties of birds.  Below are two of the varities I captured on film.

On the drive home from our camping trip, I was thinking about birds, and how our famiy have turned into birdwatchers of sorts.  I turned and looked at my husband behind the wheel and said, “It’s amazing how our family has evolved, isn’t it?”

It has done just that: evolved, changed, moved, grown.

I didn’t expect us to be the spontaneous type, but here we are, just home from a weekend camping trip we decided on just a few days ago.

I didn’t expect us to love the outdoors quite so much, but it’s where we all are the most relaxed.

I didn’t expect us to be quite so adventurous as a family but our kids embrace everything we do and our recent road trip confirmed to us how much we love travel and experiences.

I didn’t expect that I would be so confident to do many thing on my own with the kids, but necessity has forced me to be this way.

I certainly did not expect us to be the family who quotes star wars in conversations.

I think it’s important to have goals and values for family life, but I have also seen the value of being open to whatever may be. None of the above was planned, it just happened from parenting in the moments.

Family is its own entity, apart from us as individuals, and it grows and changes as we all contribute parts of ourselves to the mix.  I see this as a working example of being anchored by the big picture but living in the moments.

My family hasn’t turned out like I thought it would, it’s better. It’s better because nothing I could ever have fabricated or planned could be more valuable than watching my kids grow and impart their own ideas into the beautiful thing that is our family. It’s not perfect, but it’s wonderful.

Family: I’ve learned that it’s alive and I have to let it grow at will in the confines of our family values.

Has family life for you turned out a little differently than you expected?

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A Window in Family Life

There are many seasons in family life, and we have just entered a narrow window. We’ve moved from the toddler stage (where I had to make many personal sacrifices) into the a period where the children are old enough to remember all the fun times we are experiencing together, but still young enough to do everything with us.

I remember something my Mum said about this stage of parenting (she died 5 years ago and I cherish memories that pop back into my mind).

She said something like this: “Kelly, every stage of parenting is special but when all the kids are in primary school, there is a small window of opportunity to create amazing memories.  Once you kids went to high school, you began to branch out and have your own life, and then there were boyfriends and friends who joined the family too. This is great, but the family dynamics change. So enjoy the time when you’re kids are in primary school; make the most of it.”

I’m beginning to understand what she meant now. When I was in the first stage of parenting, I found it challenging, and while I cherish the memories of when my children were young, I didn’t find the period to be all that fun.  Now, our family has moved into the second stage of family life and we are making the most of it.

******************

I see the life with my family in pictures, and if I try and put this concept into graphics, it would play out like this: Achored by the Big Picture; Living in the Moment.

Anchored by the Big Picture

I’ve experienced family life through my growing up years, and now, as I create my own family life.  I’m a goal orientated person, so I’ve thought about each stage of family life in broad terms. This helps me focus on and enjoy the precious moments in each stage so I don’t wish it all away.  This diagram shows only my own thoughts/values/experiences.

family life stages diagram

Live the Moments

I look at the above and I see the building blocks: you have to get through stage one before you can successfully move to stage two, so on, so forth.  There’s no point trying to rush stage one because it’s the important part of the process.  When I know what stage I’m in I can accept it and then embrace the moments as they happen.

Right now, I’m embracing the concept of creating memories. With the big picture in the back of my mind as an anchor, I let go and live the moments as they come.  Below are some pictures of our recent inexpensive camping holiday, and  as I look at them, I see the moments, how they are creating memories, and edifying our family.

Family

Being with each other, developing relationships and sharing our time with friends and family.

family life stages

family life stages

family life stages

Fun

Creating fun memories and putting positive times under our belt. (Drawing on postive times helps when our family goes through a rough patch.)

family life stages

family life stages

family life stages

Adventure

Exploring, seeing, and doing as much as possible together.

family life stages

family life stages

family life stages

Nature

Instilling a love and appreciation for the environment as we explore nature, and learn as we live.

family life stages

family life stages

family life stages

Places

Visiting new places and loving familiar ones.

family life stages

family life stages

family life stages

Food

Creating family traditions that are remembered long after the event has taken place.

family life stages

family life stages

family life stages

{All pictures were taken with my iPhone 4 mobile. For tips on getting the most out of your mobile camera, click here.}

Be anchored by the big picture; live in the moment.

What do you value about family life? What stage are you in?