So, I arrive at my clients home, a family of three who I have been working with weekly for almost a year now and I can tell right away there is tension in the air. The mom and dad are arguing and the 12 year old daughter is downstairs sobbing. The dad is yelling at mom saying that she should not have said those things to their daughter. She doesn’t say a lot but is able to say that she is tired of not being heard in this family. Dad is saying that he wanted to make things nice for her for Christmas and he bought her a new tree which was in the living room upstairs. He said he thought he had done something really nice for her. She is saying that she wanted their daughter to help her but she was bored and was easily distracted by other things. Mom said she actually wanted to put up the tree they already had and wanted it downstairs.
Working with families comes with its own challenges. Everyone has a different idea of how they want things to be and their vision for how they want their home to look. Each person can be really struggling with their own issues of disorganization, focus and overwhelm. Family members tend to want to please each other, can be quite protective of each others feelings, and generally want to keep the peace in the family.
But what happens when expectations are not quite met, progress doesn’t happen as quick as one would like and emotions get in the way of wanting to move forward. Tempers can flare up and I am sure the tendency is to want to avoid this from happening and of course avoiding can be easier that dealing with all of this uncomfortable stuff that comes up.
Here are some great strategies for families:
Be a Good Role Model – Keep in mind that you can really only work on yourself. It is never a good idea to expect others to do something that you are not doing yourself. For example, if your bedroom is a war zone how can you expect your child to clean up his or her room. As you work on your own stuff and your own situation others will see what you are doing and that you are serious about wanting to make a change. They might feel more motivated to help or want to follow your example.
Work with your children or other family members – Offer to help by being there for your family member without judgement or advice about what they “should” keep or “should” throw out. Ask your children what they want for their space and respect their wishes. Encourage them to trust their own ideas and intuition about how they want things to be. Be careful about saying things like “but I gave you that last year for Christmas, you don’t want to get rid of that, do you?”
Negotiate and Reward – There is nothing wrong with a little bribery, I mean negotiating, with a child or your partner about keeping a space cleaned up, following through with chores or working on a challenging project on their own or together as a family. An allowance is always a welcome reward as well as a family outing or special dinner together, etc.
So, how did my family do? Well, they came together as they took turns talking about their feelings, expectations and frustrations. This family is very caring towards each other and committed to making their home a loving and peaceful environment for themselves. There were some tears and then hugs and in the end they were able to compromise and get the holiday decorating done and come together as a family once again.