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 Resilience: Rebuilding After a Family Crisis

Dream about the Queensland Floods 2011

I had a dream.  I was in a car. My Dad was driving the white Toyota Landcruiser with two doors that opened at the rear. I was in the back with my children.  We were trying to get away from the water. The brown water began to swirl around the car. There was a strange shift in movement. No longer forward. But sideways. Sideways. The car moved sideways towards the gap in the road side rail. Falling. Falling.  We were going to go under. I knew it. My mind was racing.  I opened the two doors at the rear of the car in preparation to exit with my children. I opened the doors. An encircling force sucked me out of the car and for a moment, I didn’t know where I was.  Then, with indescribable horror, I watched the car, with my Dad and kids inside, plummet into the angry water abyss. Where were my babies? I dived desperately. But they were gone. My children were gone, under the water. Gone. Then I woke up.

I woke up.  And I was relieved to find it was only a dream and my children were  asleep in their beds. Processing the last month and the affects of many changes on my family has been a slow but steady process. Just last weekend, I was back in Toowoomba staying with my sister and my daughter (5) begged to go home. “I want to go back to our new house Mum. Or it will be flooded. Flooded.” Poor sweetie.  This will pass. Yes.Yes it will.

The fact is, our family is quite fragile at the moment.  The kids have been bickering, it seems, at every moment.  I cry, most days. And throw in the fact that my husband is away and you have one dysfunctional family.

It’s been an extreme month, true. However, to varying degrees,  most families go through dips like this at some point. Maybe the kids have been sick for a period or there have been many changes in the family unit. Perhaps a loved one has died or the family is struggling financially.  There are times when families need to regroup and rebuild. I believe, if this isn’t done, cracks can start to form in a once strong foundation. So, our family has been settling, regrouping and repairing.  And it’s working.  Here are some of the steps we’ve taken to get to this point.

Have a family meeting

We often have family meetings in the car. Why? Because we are all in one place and the kids can’t move (hooray for seat belts). Here are some of the issues we talked about:

1. Emotions: We asked how the children felt about the flooding and all the changes in our family. For example, starting a new school and making friends.

2. Reality: We talked many changes and challenges we faced and how this has caused strain on our family unit.  My husband and I used the example of my Dad’s shed to talk about this topic.

I think it’s important, in this sort of situation, to  focus on the external factors that led to the stresses placed on our family rather than focusing on the children’s individual behaviours.  Our family has been through many changes in a short period of time and, like the water through the shed, this has left a mark on our family. That’s the reality. But the good news is our foundations are strong, built on faith, and we all love each other.  Everything else can be repaired and I’m glad to say the rebuilding is coming along nicely.

family in crisis
3. Future: We discussed where we’d like to be as a family and how we were going to get there.

4. Recovery: We established the trust between the children and us, as parents. My husband and I made this distinction so the hard work of recovery could be led by us, knowing it wasn’t going to be an easy process.

I am Mum

Our family is very much a team and I love the children to have  input into how we do things. That’s all well and good when things are steady but right now, I am running this recovery effort and I’m calling the shots.  My husband has been away for 3 weeks (coming home for just 1 weekend) so I’m it.  I’m confident I know what is best for my family and for this short time we’re rebuilding,  I am Mum so don’t mess with me. {Glad I got that off my chest}.

Establish a routine

I’ve learned from experience, the value of routine when things are unstable (read the post: When’s Daddy coming home?).  This includes daily chores for the children, regular daily exercise and familiar places.  There’s a sense of security in knowing what comes next, especially when things are stressful at home. If you know me, and my blog, you’ll know I love things to be relaxed, fun and spontaneous; however when the family unit is a bit wobbly, routine becomes the backbone of finding stability.

Decide what matters

It’s very much been survival for the last month and I’ve been far from consistent and clear in my parenting during this time. Now I’m feeling a little better, I’ve had a careful think about what behaviours I expect from the children and am sure to follow through.  I found this post  helpful: 5 Ways to Regain Lost Ground with a Young Child.

Put some good times under your belt

In the week I wrote this struggling post, there was very little positive interaction between myself and the children. Like maybe none. It was awful. On the weekend, when my husband flew home from Canberra, we decided to do something our family enjoyed: swimming at the beach.  It wasn’t all hunky-dory but we did manage to have a nice time. After a month of unrest, it was nice to put some “good times” under our belt. And we continue to do so in small, manageable doses.

Building a Strong Family Unit

I’m exhausted but I see the fruit of my labour (thank you God for wisdom).  The children are once again, able to play happily together  and I’m able to enjoy the little moments like seeing my son laugh.

Queensland Floods Series

Why Is There So Much Rain In Brisbane

Queensland Floods: One Family’s Story

Struggling

External Links

After Crisis Comes Growth: Family Resilience and Rebuilding Trust

Dealing with tragedy and trauma