I've never liked the part in the Christmas song It’s Beginning To Look Like Christmas when it says “Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again.” Every time I hear this it makes me sad. Sad that parents wouldn’t enjoy their children and that they would want them to go away, and sad that our society would promote this idea as normal and funny. However, I do know Christmastime can cause some selfishness and some silly behaviors.
Recently our family returned from a long trip. While traveling the children didn’t have to do daily chores and life was pretty easy compared to the work at home. When my children became used to not having as much responsibility they became entitled, which leads to laziness.
Back at home regular chores, work and life began as normal, but the attitude at home was not normal. There was teasing, laziness, and siblings trying to micro-manage each other. This type of behavior is not normal for the Peck family so I assumed it would soon pass as we adjusted to regular life again. My plan was to correct the misbehaviors as they occurred as normal and trust that the selfishness problem would resolve itself.
Days and days went by, and the problem seemed to get worse, not better. I was experiencing what some parents probably experience when everyone is home from school for a couple of weeks and adjusting to a new rhythm of life. I didn’t want to send my family packing, but I was concerned about the situation.
One evening, it was way past bed time and we were working hard on a family project when the Christmas contention hit its climax. The children were tired, the parents were tired, and the selfishness was at an all-time high.
One person gave criticism to another and the criticism wasn’t accepted or disagreed with in a calm way. Before I knew it the whole family was adding their opinion to the situation, but not in the usual, calm way we normally discuss issues the family is facing. Instead, it was emotional. As I think about it now, I feel like we would have been better off had we have gone to bed instead of stayed up working that night.
In no time the loud contention turned into very quiet contention. Quiet contention is actually more loud than words. It is the kind of contention where people put up walls of emotion and process negative things in their minds or plan things they wish they could say. This quiet contention divides relationships.
I talked about the situation with the group and the children responded pretty well to the corrections, but Dad wasn’t in the mood to be corrected or to discuss the situation assertively. So the night ended with a heavy feeling still in the house.
Contention Finally Resolved
The next day was Sunday is "family meeting day" for the Peck family. Our family meetings have a pretty predictable format. We open the meeting by talking about the family schedule and making any important announcements to the family. Then we discuss topics that each person gets the opportunity to bring up. Finally, the meeting is closed with a summary of what has been decided. The meeting is only supposed to take 20 minutes — unless the family votes to extend the meeting time.
On this Sunday, after the regular announcement section, I felt like we needed to insert a new section into the meeting this one time. I called it "the apology section" to the meeting. The apology section went like this:
“Before we start topics today I would like to have an apology time. Yesterday we were working late into the night to finish our family construction project in time for Christmas, and we ended up driving the spirit of love and light from our home. I was part of that and I am sorry. I would like to apologize to Dad for giving him criticism about mismanaging his time. Now we'll go around the group and everyone can explain what they're sorry for. This will help us put our relationships first and strengthen our family bonds.”
One by one each family member expressed their apologies for their behavior to the others the night before. After the apology time there was a tangible feeling of love and unity in the group. Then when we moved on to our topics to be discussed. It was heart warming to see how we were very unified in our discussions and decisions that were made for the family.
Learning how to apologize is a vital adult skill to learn. In fact, I think there are many unhappy adults who have not yet learned it. Parents can lovingly set the example of how to use this skill during family meetings. Family meetings are the time the family checks up on the family relationships.
Be sure to not only discuss behaviors, but also discuss the feeling the family has for each other. This includes the strength of the family bond, the vision the family has for what kind of a family they're becoming, and the need to apologize when things don’t go right. If the family comes to the family meeting with the attitude of apology in their hearts, then correcting the behaviors and instilling more love is much easier.
I still don’t like the part in the song about parents wanting their children to go to school instead of be at home. But, I do see how draining it can feel to be in an environment where the expectations for happiness are high, but the current feelings amongst family members are thwarting true happiness from prevailing. That can be very emotionally draining and drive family members to seek separation in order to feel like the situation is solved. The answer isn’t separating the family, the answer is unifying.
If you want to learn more about how to effectively implement family happiness and unification, then join me for our next TSG Parenting Mastery Retreat here!