Remaining Relational with Flattened Flapjacks

Last night my family enjoyed our weekly tradition of breakfast for dinner. As my boys were devouring their pancakes, I remembered the item I found under the living room rug last week. Pancakes. Yes, that’s correct. Pancakes.

A few weeks ago my sons thought it would be funny to sneak a few pancakes, and hide them under the large rug in the living room. I discovered this a couple of weeks later after the pancakes were ground into the rug and smashed, then hardened onto the wood floor beneath the rug. As you can imagine, I was not pleased to find this hidden treasure!

I felt anger rise in me. My relational brain began to short circuit. I knew I was too angry to stay relational when I talked with them about this, so I asked them to go play in their rooms. I said, “We will talk about this problem after I calm down.”

To be honest, taking a pause to calm myself before I interact with the kids over a misbehavior is not something that comes naturally to me. I have to be very intentional to remain relational in these moments. This is one of the elements of a RARE leader. For the next 4 weeks I will share something about each element needed to be a RARE leader as described by Dr. Marcus Warner and Dr. Jim Wilder in the book RARE Leadership. It may be strange to think of yourself as a leader, but if you are a parent, you are leading your children and your family. RARE stands for Remain Relational, Act Like Yourself, Return to Joy, and Endure Hardship. This week I want to focus on remaining relational, which includes how to keep relationships bigger than problems.

One big challenge parents face is how to affirm to their children they are more important than the messes they create. In the moment when a child disobeys, hurts a sibling, breaks something, acts disrespectfully, lies or colors on the wall, it is hard to remember that the child is more important than the problem. As parents we have to stay relational and calm ourselves in order to effectively convey that the child is more important than the issue they have created. This is true for all of us, parents or not. This skill can be especially hard when the child’s behavior “pushes our buttons” and triggers our own unprocessed pain. Sometimes the simple act of disobedience makes us feel out of control. We say things like, “They should know better!”

I often catch myself feeling like an “infraction of the rules” is an emergency to be dealt with RIGHT NOW and there is no time to slow down and calm myself. Mind you, this is not my conscious thought. This is what my emotional reaction tells me. Sometimes I also catch myself feeling embarrassed by their behavior. I may notice that I suddenly feel like a failure as a mother and, after years of teaching and guidance, they would still act this way. It is in these low-joy moments when I need to ask Immanuel how He sees me, the situation, and my children so that my actions will line up with my love for them.

In the case of the pancakes smashed beneath the rug, it also meant waiting to give the consequence to my boys until I calmed myself, prayed about it and talked to Chris. Most of the time I may not need all of these steps, but sometimes I do, especially for the big infractions that really push my buttons.

After calming myself and praying about an appropriate response, I talked with Matthew and Andrew. I told them that, unfortunately, what they thought was silly and fun was damaging. I expressed that I understood they were not trying to damage the rug. However, because they were not thinking about the consequences of their actions they created a big problem. I told them they would have to pay me all of their allowance money they had been saving for a Lego toy to pay for a new rug.

My boys were distressed about this consequence and I was glad I had calmed myself so I could synchronize with their big feelings then help them calm down. Once the stormy sea of emotions had settled, I helped them interpret how, in the real world, there are consequences when we destroy property that belongs to other people. Over the next few days I gave the boys opportunities to earn extra money around the house.

Looking back on this ordeal, I am thankful I was able to recognize that I was too upset to interact with the boys about their behavior. I knew I was not going to stay relational because my brain’s relational circuits were off, and I needed a bit of self-care. Everything in relationship goes more smoothly when I can keep my relational circuits on and remain relational. My sons learned a valuable lesson about the consequences of their actions – opposed to simply learning that putting pancakes under the rug will make Mommy mad.

Next time you find yourself upset by your children, a spouse or a coworker, take a deep breath and ask yourself, “Do I feel ready to handle this situation relationally, or do I need to calm myself first?” I hope you will read the wonderful book, RARE Leadership.

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9 comments

  1. Erna says:

    Wondering if you have ever taken your precious boys to a Seder? If so, perhaps they were enacting a spiritual practice…preparing to practice looking for the Afikomen? Actually really having learned well from great parent teachers to create opportunities to connect with Immanuel! 😊

    • Jen Coursey says:

      Good point Erna, we have taken them to a Seder! While it would be nice to think they were enacting a spiritual practice, I think it is much more likely they were just being silly without thinking about the consequences.

  2. Brad Gustin says:

    I love how giving pause is so freeing. It says it’s okay that we aren’t able to fix this problem right now, let’s take a break and come back to it later.

    My 6 year hit his 9 year old brother because of some game he lost and his brother was celebrating. I lost it. This was the third time I had been on the same thing, I was ready to deal out the discipline! But I was furious so I told him I was too angry to deal with him and what he did I would hand out a consequence later. I then told him to get some books because we were going to read together. I laid down and even though I was still upset with what he did we read together.

    Since I was able to keep the problem from getting bigger than our relationship, when I handed out the consequence later, it was emotion free and fair. He accepted the loss of a privilege he enjoyed. Plus I was able to see that the incident was revealing a malfunction that my son didn’t know how to recover from. I begin to see him as a sheep helpless and harassed by upsetting emotions rather than as an out of control malicious and vindictive boy needing to be put in his place.

    • Jen Coursey says:

      Good job holding off on interacting until you were calmer! That is hard to do, and it is even better that you were able to connect in the midst of your upset. Give yourself a high-five 🙂

  3. Gret Machlan says:

    Discipline and discipling (training up a child) is best done in an atmosphere of truth and grace. Such a wonderful description you’ve given us Jen; thank you. I love how you recognize your self-talk about whether it’s an emergency or not…. it is an important key to moving away from a fear-based response. Blessings!

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