Tag: Sadness

When Brotherly Love Heads South

I just walked out of the shower this morning when I heard my son sobbing in his room. I was surprised by this sound so I quickly ran into his room and scooped him in my arms. I asked, “Andrew, tell me what happened!”

Between sobs and slobber, Andrew managed to utter, “Matthew says he hates me!” I pulled my son closer and stroked his hair. I replied, “I am so sorry buddy. Those are mean words, and words can really hurt!”

At this point I noticed my anger starting to build towards Matthew. He broke a cardinal rule in our home. We do not say the word “hate” in our house – not even about our least favorite vegetable, let alone a person!

I felt the need to jump into action and make this situation right. I started contemplating what consequence would be enough to help Matthew avoid using these mean words again. It was this moment when I realized I shifted into “Fix It” mode. I felt like I had to right this wrong immediately and I knew my relational circuits were off. At this point my brain’s problem solver had taken over, focusing on results instead of hearts. I took some deep breaths and reminded myself this is not an emergency. I recognized the most important thing I could do was help Andrew calm down and get back to joy from his big feelings. I continued to hold him and stroke his back while he cried.

After a bit of time Andrew was back to his calm (but sad) self, so I left his room. I walked into Matthew’s bedroom and noticed he was lying on his bed. I asked him if I could talk with him about something important. He said “Yes, Mommy” then I questioned him about the reasons he said he hated Andrew. Matthew responded by telling me Andrew hit him hard in the face “on purpose” and it really hurt, so Matthew told Andrew he hated him. After more interviewing I was able to glean additional details about the interaction. Apparently both boys were having a fun, playful battle with “weapons” and Andrew accidentally hit Matthew in the face with the belt to his bathrobe. I synchronized with Matthew’s sadness about getting hit in the face. I then pointed out that whenever they play fighting games, the odds are very high that one or the other will end up getting injured. I suggested playful fighting is probably not a good idea if Matthew is uncomfortable with the occasional injury.

We continued the conversation by discussing the house rule about saying the “hate” word. I asked Matthew if he realized his speech caused Andrew to spend the last 30 minutes crying in his room. I said, “Matthew, is this the effect you want to have on your brother?” He looked at me with big eyes and nodded “No.” I clarified, “Matthew, hate is not simply a mean word, but it is a very cruel word. For this reason we do not say this word to a person. Using this word with a person can create a deep pain and sadness.” I could see Matthew was attentively listening and learning.

A while ago my husband and I created a useful rule in our house. Any time one of our sons says something unkind, the offender has to share 3 things he appreciates about the other person. While I was helping Andrew calm down, the thought occurred to me that I should use this new rule, but take it a step farther. In this case, I told Matthew that because his words were beyond simply mean, he needed to come up with 10 things he appreciated about Andrew. Yes, I said 10!

Matthew needed to give this some thought until he came up with 10. When he had his list, he could join the rest of us downstairs to share his appreciation with brother.

It took a while, but eventually Matthew joined us at the breakfast table armed with his list. Before Matthew even started sharing his list, the tone in the room was filled with hurt and sadness. Andrew still had not fully recovered from his hurt feelings with big brother. Once Matthew began expressing his appreciation toward Andrew, I noticed a change. Andrew’s face and countenance appeared lighter. The frown slowly melted away. By the end of the 10 appreciations, Andrew and Matthew were smiling and giggling. Joy was restored.

I was feeling thankful myself, particularly because I had insisted Matthew come up with 10 appreciations for Andrew instead of 3. I noticed during the time Matthew was sharing, by number 3, Andrew had not yet fully recovered from the relational rupture. He needed the extra boost from the list.

While sharing appreciation qualities with someone after a relational rupture will not always bring the relationship back to joy, I find that most of the time it does thaw the ice and activate relational circuits. It is here where both sides begin to find some traction and get the relationship back where it needs to be. Go on, share some appreciation with someone today!

Next week I will be starting a four week series on the four elements of RARE Leadership as it applies to parenting. I hope you tune in to check it out!

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My Return To Joy Story

I recently received a request to write an example story demonstrating what it looks and sounds like to return to joy from disappointment. Ideally, I would tell you this story “live” and in person where you could watch me. You would hear my words but you could see my facial expressions, gauge my posture, observe my gestures, spot the timing of my movements and share the intensity of my emotions that you see on my face and hear in my voice. Even though I’m not with you, in person, I decided to share a written version. Here it goes.

This year my family had a lot going on for Mother’s Day. It was busy. In fact, it was so busy that it did not work for us to celebrate Mother’s Day like we usually would – on the day, together as a family. We decided to reschedule my Mother’s Day celebration to another time where we could breathe easier.

After some time passed, the rescheduled Mother’s Day event was approaching. I felt excited to have quality time with my boys. (I’m smiling here!) I noticed an excited tension in my body as I began counting down to the activities that my family planned for me. It sort of felt like Christmas morning all over again! (More smiles here.)

As Chris and I were preparing for bed the night before the official rescheduled Mother’s Day celebration, I heard my husband say, “Honey, I’m not feeling well. I may be getting sick.” Uh-Oh. I noticed a slight knot form in my stomach. My breathing grew shallow. I took a deep breath and decided to take my husband’s temperature. Sure enough. He had a fever. (Sad face.) The knot grew larger in my stomach. My heart sank. My face fell. I noticed tears forming in my eyes.

While I was sad for my sick husband who was a bit miserable, I felt frustrated because I wanted him to be healthy and available. (Frustrated face here.) I felt hopeless as my anticipation of the joyful fun faded away. (Defeated-looking face here.) I felt sad because of the loss. (Downcast expression here.) You see, I was SO looking forward to the fun that was in store. Now, sadly, these plans were ruined. (Exasperated expression here.)

Unfortunately, when I feel disappointed my tendency is to lash out at the person who I perceive caused the disappointment. I may get snappy or a bit sharp in my tone. In this case, I did not want to follow my historically unhelpful pattern. I took a deep breath from my belly, then I told Jesus how sad and mad I was feeling. I asked for Immanuel’s help to calm down. I prayed for extra endurance to respond in a way that best reflected my heart. (Hopeful expression here.)

With a few more deep breaths, I started to feel the knot in my stomach dissolve. My shoulders relaxed. The tension in my face disappeared. A picture came to my mind as I thought about how miserable Chris must be feeling. Knowing my husband’s sensitive heart, and his desire to spoil me, I realized how unhappy he must feel over these circumstances. I now felt compassion towards him. (Compassionate expression here.) Whenever I feel disappointed, it is like my heart to still care about the feelings and needs of other people. At this point I checked on him, and tucked him into bed.

Now that I could breathe easier and I felt more peaceful, I could settle into bed with the assurance there would be more opportunities for special moments with my crew. I had the thought, “Maybe this celebration, when it does happen, will be even more meaningful and special for me.” This thought brought a warm smile.

In my story, I included a description how my body was feeling in the midst of my disappointed feelings. I talked about how I felt as I returned to relational “glad to be togetherness.” I shared emotion words for what I was feeling (sad, angry, hopeless) and this was a story that I was involved in. You knew my thoughts and feelings as I went along. This was a story that I did not need to be guarded in telling so I felt comfortable sharing this with you. My story was not too intense which makes it a good story that is appropriate for training. I kept the story concise to avoid getting lost in too many words. If you watched me tell the story, you would see the authentic emotion on my face and you would hear it in my voice. This is important because it conveys the emotional content to your brain’s emotional control center for maximum impact. In other words, not only do I genuinely feel the emotion when I remember it in my story, but I convey the emotion to you. When I say, “I felt frustrated, hopeless, sad and angry” I would not have a smile on my face with an upbeat tone of voice. Rather, my face would appear distressed and my voice tone would match my face and the relevant emotion.

Stories are an excellent way to train our brain to see a picture of how we might want to act in the midst of upsetting emotion. It is here where we can learn a new way of handling a situation. Many of us can handle at least one of the six negative emotions we are wired to feel. The six are sadness, anger, fear, shame, disgust and hopeless despair. Most of us have certain emotions that are sticking points, where we get stuck. If we share stories about the emotions we handle well, and our friends share stories of the emotions they handle well, we can build a library of examples that will help us learn how to successfully manage all of the emotions. This news brings me hope and much excitement! (Big smile here!)

Go on, tell someone a redemptive return to joy story today and watch what happens. You can learn more about returning to joy in Living From The Heart Jesus Gave You, The Complete Guide To Living With Men, Joy Starts Here and Transforming Fellowship. Find these books here.

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What I Like About You!

Sometimes my sons say hurtful words to each other. As we all know, words can hurt. Because my husband and I have little patience for unkind speech, we are highly motivated to put a stop to this behavior. We have tried a number of methods to instill change. All too often we end up correcting an instigator and calming an injured party. Recently my husband and I tried something new.

Guess what? It works! In fact, our new plan works really well. We are relieved to have something life-giving to utilize and teach our sons. Today, I want to share it with you.

When one child says something mean, the initiator of irritation must share 3 things he appreciates about his brother. For example, when Matthew says something mean to Andrew, Matthew then goes back to Andrew and expresses 3 things he appreciates/likes/enjoys about his brother. This sounds all too easy because it is. Sort of. But it works.

Just the other day Matthew said something mean to Andrew who then started crying. In his upset, Andrew said, “Matthew is ALWAYS mean!” I found Matthew and told him to go quiet himself while I comforted Andrew in his distress. It is normal for Matthew to appear relatively unconcerned when I question him about this behavior. In most cases he will justify his words and responses and show little remorse. This time, after comforting Andrew, I pulled Matthew aside and asked him if his words brought Andrew joy. He said, “No” then I reminded him who he is and who he is not. “Matthew, you are the kind of boy who brings people joy and it’s not like you to be mean. Your behavior does not match the kind of boy I know you to be.” At this point I would usually send him to repair with his brother but in a short amount of time there would be playing then fighting then we are back to square one.

This time I added a crucial step. Instead of simply repairing, I told Matthew he must return to Andrew and share 3 three things he appreciates about his little brother. Matthew went to Andrew and told him “I appreciate that you share with me. I appreciate building with legos with you and I appreciate riding our scooters together. You are fun to play with!” Moments later they decided to start a Lego project together and ran off to play together.

This is the piece that has transformed the tone of my house. Here is why it works.

First, Matthew must think of the things he appreciates about his brother. Usually these are the fun ways he enjoys playing with Andrew. Remembering moments of fun restores the relational part of Matthew’s brain. Remembering the fun moments also helps Matthew reflect on why he actually enjoys his brother and reminds him how much fun it is when he plays with his brother. When Matthew verbalizes his appreciation to Andrew, it transforms Andrew’s face and voice as he goes from grumpy and non-relational to peaceful and engaged. Andrew is reminded of how good it feels when he is getting along with his big brother and it brings the realization that, ok, Matthew is not always mean. Andrew feels appreciation as he hears Matthew’s words and hearing appreciation wakes up the relational circuit in Andrew’s brain as well so at this point both boys are glad to be together and feeling calm and connected.

This exercise has been a remarkable turnaround for the boys. After one of them shares 3 things he appreciates, both boys will decide to do a fun activity together, such as building Legos or playing tag in the yard. The fun can last a good long while without additional ruptures.

I am pleased with the progress I see in the boys as they express what they enjoy about each other whenever there is a fallout. I’m beginning to think this exercise not only helps young children but couples, coworkers, friends and families could also benefit from the effects this exercise brings. I’m pretty sure all of us would be touched and transformed if we regularly expressed the qualities we appreciate in other people. Just imagine what church, school, government and, more importantly, our families would look like! A little joy can go a long way.

Check out the book Transforming Fellowship: 19 Brain Skills that Build Joyful Community to read more about these skills.

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Stories That Train Your Brain

The other night Matthew was feeling disappointed. While he tends to have a hard time with this melting pot of emotions that include some sadness, some hopeless despair and some loss, he has a hard time when he expects something then plans change, and he doesn’t get what he set his mind on. I don’t know about you, but this is hard for me as well!

After a difficult day that included too much physical work, my husband’s back was hurting rather severely so he decided to rest and soak in our hot tub. I informed the boys they could enjoy the hot tub with Daddy after dinner as well, but they chose to play outside for a short time first. After playing for a bit I then asked them to clean up their toys so we could have time together to enjoy the hot tub as well. Instead of cleaning up they continued playing. By the time they put away their toys, it was too late for the hot tub. It was now bedtime. Needless to say, they were not happy.

Matthew especially struggles to accept a change in plans and this time was no exception. He begged and pleaded for the hot tub. I acknowledged how frustrating it was to miss the hot tub fun he was hoping for, then I synchronized with his disappointment. I reiterated that, unfortunately, we missed the chance for today, but we could try again tomorrow. Even this assurance did not relieve his frustration and disappointment. Something more was needed.

Ever since the boys were young Chris has been telling stories to help them process the moments big feelings arise. My husband uses stories to give them a picture of what to do in the midst of their big emotions. In some cases Chris tells stories of his life but most of the time he makes up a story about one of their favorite characters and shares how this character handled a similar situation in order to help the boys process their feelings and have an example of how they could respond when they feel this way in the future. While I am not as proficient at storytelling, I do try to help the boys process their feelings by telling stories, sometimes about actual scenarios I was in a similar situation, and sometimes about a favorite character of theirs. I am careful to include how big feelings were calmed while I (or the character) stayed relational in the midst of the feelings.

At this point it was bedtime, and Matthew asked me to tell him a story about “Eli the Elephant” and how Eli handled big disappointment feelings. I knew this was an important moment and then he added, “Mommy, make sure you tell how Eli wasn’t able to get in the hot tub and how he was sad and mad!” While fictional stories can be helpful to give children a picture showing how they might act in a similar situation, the most effective stories are about real-life situations where we express how we handled ourselves in the midst of the upset.

I told Matthew a story about Eli the Elephant then I followed up with a personal story about a time I did not handle my disappointment very well. I included how I hope to better handle the situation next time. Afterwards Matthew settled in peacefully and went to sleep.

When we tell emotional picture stories (also something we call “Four-plus stories” in our THRIVE Training) these provide listeners with an example demonstrating how to act in the midst of distressing emotions. These example stories also give our brain useful training to learn how to return to joy and peace while staying in relationship. Emotional picture stories include words for the emotions we are feeling as well as how our body feels in the midst of the event. We want to include how we are involved in the story and, to be ideal for training, each story should be one we have told before so they are not too intense. When told well, these personal reflection stories give an example how we are to act in emotions and similar circumstances. The brain, when hearing and watching these stories, will respond as if we actually went through the moment. These stories are internalized and stored in our brain’s identity center that we can rely on in the future when it comes to searching for examples of how to be ourselves when big emotions strike. This interaction gives us a chance to learn a new way of handling our emotions and expressing our values during big emotions. Can you think of a story to share with your family or a friend today?

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When Sparks Fly

This evening ended peacefully with Matthew and Andrew working alongside each other. Andrew enjoyed helping big brother complete the 3-foot tall dinosaur robot that Matthew has been trying to build for several months. You wouldn’t know it by the picture, but the day did not start this peacefully.

Bickering, teasing, whining, fighting and tears mostly defined our household the past few days. Doesn’t that sound fun? Now that school has ended for the summer, the boys have been together for two weeks without much of a break. Usually the brothers enjoy their time together. They tend to be close and cooperative but this weekend they mixed together about as smoothly as oil and water. Both boys were getting on each other’s nerves. It seemed that no amount of refereeing could calm the chaos.

My husband Chris was sick in bed for the last three days which didn’t help. It also didn’t help that I have been feeling “off” both emotionally and hormonally, which deflates my emotional capacity because, well, I simply don’t feel well. We are still in the midst of a major transition trying to move out of state which also pulls on our emotional batteries. It is safe to say our crew has been out of sorts lately.

As much as I hate to admit it, and yes, it drives me crazy every time my dear husband points it out, we the parents set the tone in our house. If I am in a lousy mood, low on my reserve of patience, (my relational circuits are missing in action), I can expect my boys will also feel this and end up having a rougher day than usual. These are the days we see an increase in fighting, whining and bad behavior. Whether I like it or not, there is a direct correlation between the joy levels and overall well-being of parents with the joy levels and well-being of children. This reality motivates Chris and I to pursue a life of joy, peace and healing.

Anyhow, this morning the boys and I piled into the car and drove to the dentist. I apologized to Matthew and Andrew for my short fuse and my sour mood. I pointed out that all of us seemed to be having a rough day, and we could use some quieting and appreciation. At this point we took a few minutes to quiet ourselves in the car. Next, we shared some things we appreciated. Once the appreciation faucet was turned on, the boys didn’t want to stop the fun. I had to cut them off once we arrived at our destination. It was obvious we were all thirsty for some life-giving gratitude and joy.

Thankfully, these exercises uplifted our moods for a good couple of hours before the next blow-up occurred. Later in the day I walked up the basement stairs to hear both boys hysterically crying. They apparently spiraled into some sort of quarrel and verbally hurt each other’s feelings along with some pushes and scratches. Alarmed by this, I decided they needed a break from each other.

I sent the boys to play in their rooms by themselves for a while with the rule they are not to interact. A short while later I heard giggling sounds emanating from their rooms. Curious, I investigated and discovered that, after a short period of calming down, they snuck into each other’s rooms to apologize and share peace offerings of gifts with each other. “Are these my children?” I wondered.

While my sons did break the “No Interacting” instruction, I was delighted to find out they apologized to each other, and wanted to return to joy together. While my first inclination was to be upset they disobeyed, I caught myself. I was able to focus on the fact they wanted to repair with each other and they did not want to leave the other feeling sad because of hurtful words and actions.

As a whole, the day had its ups and downs, however, I was encouraged to see how a change in my tone transformed the overall tone of the day. I was especially excited to see my sons learning from my example in how they were able to self-quiet, then repair after realizing they messed up. If the times I mess up and repair better equip my children to repair when they make a relational mess, I will be one happy mother! This is good news for all of us. Our blunders can be redemptive as we quiet ourselves and work on repairing ruptures and returning to joy where joy is needed.

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My Mad Mommy Moment

The other day Andrew was not doing what I asked him to do. He was repeatedly getting distracted from his task. I felt my frustration intensify with each reminder. By the fourth reminder I yelled, “Andrew – DO IT NOW!” As soon as the words flew out of my mouth I observed his little face crumple. His eyes teared up. I felt horrible.

My heart sank. My irritation took a back seat to sadness and shame as I realized my intense reaction hurt my son. He usually listens well. He regularly follows through when I ask him to do something. Andrew has a sweet and tender spirit. Usually a little correction goes a long way with him. I just overwhelmed and scared him. Ugh; I felt so bad.

Once I noticed his reaction, I sat down on the floor next to him. Looking into his eyes, I invited him onto my lap. He tearfully agreed. I held him and apologized for yelling at him. I validated his big feelings and after a few moments he calmed down. We started smiling together. After returning to joy I pointed out that we both had some things to work on for better interactions in the future. I mentioned how I needed to calm myself before talking to him when I feel angry and upset. I should not yell in my frustration. His job in all of this is to use his listening ears and obey the first time I ask him to do something. We agreed we could both do better with practice.

I look back on this interaction and I can see my relational brain had taken a hiatus during my mounting upset. I did not use Skill 2 to self-quiet or Skill 12 to remain my relational self during upset. As parents, we are not going to do things perfectly. We can’t expect to get it right every time. The good news is we have the opportunity to repair with our children once we realize the areas we could do things better. It is good to acknowledge we were wrong and it is helpful to tell our sons and daughters how we would like to handle things differently next time. This time of connection is both healing and redemptive.

In this instance I caught my mistake right away. Thankfully, I was able to attune with Andrew in his distress – that I had caused. Admittedly, there are times when seeing my child’s response to my over-the-top reaction doesn’t stop me in my tracks. There are times when my son’s reaction increases my anger. Those are the times there is a delay before I recognize the need for repair and we can return to joy together. Thankfully those repairs still count!

There are many days I have parenting fails and wish I was doing a better job. Even though I am working on the 19 skills and using relational skills in my parenting, I still mess up. I am so thankful that the goal is not to be the “perfect parent” since that goal is unattainable. The more manageable goal is to get really good at repairing when things go wrong.

I hope you give yourself grace this week when, not if, you make mistakes. May God guide your focus and energy to repair when things go wrong. I am now convinced we parents should be the best repairers in the entire world because we get so much practice each day.

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