By Stacy Jagger, MMFT, owner of Sunnybrook Counseling, www.sunnybrookcounseling.com
If you are anything like me, it is so easy to overdo it on a vacation. I am known among my friends for squeezing all I can out of a day, and sometimes it’s just too much. On the last Disney trip we took, when I thought my daughter would remember all of the rides, the shows and the interviews with fantasy characters, her favorite memory was sitting on her daddy’s shoulders watching the fireworks in the rain. Yes, the pouring rain. I could have done that in my backyard.
Nevertheless, we will return to Disney this year with Grandpa. I’ve determined to remember that there isn’t a perfect day, not even at Disney. Each day holds beautiful moments and frustrating moments, moments of glory and moments of defeat. It is realizing that we live in this blend that keeps me in check, keeps me in reality, even at the Magic Kingdom. I have found that keeping the balance and digging for gratitude in each beautiful or frustrating moment makes all the difference. That, and a few key phrases like the following:
1. “I’m feeling _____ when _____ because _____.”
This phrase utilizes the power of “I” statements. Instead of saying, “You need to go in that bathroom and get your pajamas on right now,” after having asked your son three times, you can say, “I’m feeling frustrated and ignored right now, son, when I see that you are not ready for bed because I have asked you three times to get your pajamas on, and you have not done so.” Stating your observation and feelings without judgement or blame allows you to express yourself while taking responsibility for your feelings. This allows the other person to hear your message and decreases the risk that he will feel guilty, blamed, resentful or rebellious.
2. “Would you be willing?”
This is a magic phrase I teach many of my clients who have parent-child conflicts. When “you should” or “you need to” turns into “Would you be willing?” a special thing happens.
“Would you be willing to turn down the radio?”
“Would you be willing to carry this suitcase?”
“Would you be willing to try again and speak kindly to you sister?”
This allows for a level of respect and space, which we all need, to come into the conversation. It sets the tone, gives a child numerous opportunities to experience the power of choice, and the choice for more positive answers than negative ones will hopefully surface. It creates many teachable moments and opportunities to try again. When parents model this healthy, respectful behavior and speech in the midst of stressful events, they may one day suddenly hear their child, out of the blue, saying, “Would you be willing … ?”
3. “Right now I need … ”
Many of us do not know what we need. We live in such a fast-paced world that it is a challenge to slow down and ask ourselves this simple question. I have found that when a parent or child is hungry, angry, lonely or tired, that is the time to stop and think, “What do I need, and what does my child need, in this present moment?” It is in that moment we can say, “Right now I need … ” (Fill in the blank.)
“Right now I am super tired and need to go to bed.”
“Right now I need a few minutes of quiet time”
“Right now I need to stop and eat a bite because I can’t drive much longer this hungry.”
This gives our loved ones an opportunity to hear us and respond. There are no mandates given, just a gentle phrase that states, “This is where I am. I’m being vulnerable enough to share with you what I need in this present moment.” This creates an atmosphere for connection. It models for children an opportunity to explore what they need and to ask for their needs to be met instead of a parent or caregiver needing to read their mind.
And while we’re at it, what if we communicated in these ways with our spouses, our friends and our neighbors? We are all works in progress, and I have found these to be wonderful ways to create true moments and memories of togetherness and teamwork. It is when we meet each other in the moment that true connection happens.
We are all on the journey of finding balance and peace in the home together, even when we take that “home” on the road. So here’s to your summer vacation. Whether it be sunny or raining, lovely or rocky, beautiful or frustrating, may you experience it all, connected to your child and to those you love most.