But there are conflicts, hurt feelings and misunderstandings. I know we are on a journey together to love each other the best we can — to forgive and accept, and to challenge ourselves to feel our feelings without hurting others with our actions or words.
This is a big challenge for me, having grown up with a parental mandate to be happy. If I wasn’t happy, my parents became annoyed or angry. So strong feelings went inside.
I want my children to express their feelings — all of them — and I want us to be a family that shows respect and kindness. So how to manage the moments when the feelings come out and they are hurtful?
“You gave me a broken lollipop!” screams one child at the other. “Well, I didn’t know!” the other yells back, tears welling up in both their eyes.
What do I do as a parent who wants to validate emotions, live in an environment where strong feelings are OK and model communication that is not hurtful?
My instincts from childhood direct me to snap at my children to shut down the yelling. I feel my anger rising in response to theirs. I just want them to be happy! I feel annoyed that they are not.
I have a moment of empathy for my parents. I am chilled, knowing how easy it is to repeat the cycles we grow up with even when we did not thrive in them and do not want to repeat them.
So I stop myself from saying anything in the moment. I pause and breathe.
My children are each sniffling in the back seat, one with her hands over her face and the other staring at a book. We are in the driveway, about to drive away from the house. I turn off the engine, and we just sit for a moment.
This is my chance to change the cycle. This is my chance to do it differently. If I really believe that how I deal with conflict helps them learn to deal with conflict, then this moment is important.
I take another breath and think about myself as a kid and what I would have liked my parents to say and do when I was angry, hurt and frustrated. And the answer? Hugs, empathy, help expressing my feelings, reassurance and a gentle, strong presence that told me it’s all going to be OK.