How to reset the family dynamic

Sometimes you just get into an unhealthy pattern of relating at home. Maybe it’s been a hard week (/month/year), maybe there’s been some hurt and disappointment, maybe the kids have been behaving like little… delights… and you’ve lost your rag with them one too many times.

Whatever the root cause, you can find yourself in the middle of grouchiness on every side.

We were there this week: meanness, hurtful words, withering eye rolls, thunderous frowns… the whole complement of grumpiness. And then there were the kids.

It reminds me of Paul’s warning against “biting and devouring” one another in Galatians 5:15. Or as The Passion Translation puts it:

But if you continue to criticize and come against each other over minor issues, you’re acting like wild beasts trying to destroy one another!

Wild beasts indeed.

I noticed it the most in the assumptions the kids made about each other’s behaviour. If, say, a sister pushed past you, you would assume it was because she was trying to rough you up–and react accordingly–rather than thinking it was because she’d misjudged her ability to fit through the gap.

The story they were telling themselves was “she’s against me, she’s out to get me”, and everything was interpreted through that lens. That’s how powerful those stories are.

Something had to shift.

But how?

I’d tried just telling them off, which didn’t work (surprise, surprise). I’d tried separating them, which worked until they were back together. And I’d tried just upping my positivity, but I couldn’t sustain that for long.

We prayed… and then a great idea struck me.

I’d been trying to get them to want to be nice to each other, but sometimes you have to make yourself perform an action and then watch as the feelings follow.

So I instituted mandatory acts of kindness. They weren’t that random, because the guidelines were clear: one act of kindness for each sister, and until you’ve done it NO SCREEN TIME.

Yes, there was complaining. But they did it. They picked flowers for each other and made cards. One girl tidied up her sister’s perennially messy bed, and another foraged for the banana passionfruit her sister loves.

And it really helped. There was even spontaneous kindness overflowing once the mandatory acts had been completed.

The day ended with them all playing an imaginary game outside. Very different to how it began.

Parenting win.

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