Standing at the sink, I can hear them before I see them. I peek around the door jam, afraid of what I might find. I hear shrieks and screams. I hear insults. I see hands flying and the flood gates opening as tears start pouring. And then I hear it, like metal-on-metal: “MOM!!!!” But I’m already there. Watching. Listening. Wondering.
I’m never quite sure what to make of this moment when the fun shifts to mayhem and my children start propelling insults at each other like sleet on a windshield. I’m more than a decade older than my siblings, so I don’t quite know what to do with this crazy-making, mind-numbing squabbling.
How do my children so often find themselves in this place of digging their heels into the ground? They are fighting for dear life, because in their eyes all life depends on that final, single, all-significant, highly-coveted, yellow two-pronged Lego. Yup. The one the size of your pinky fingernail. Yes, that one. All life is contingent upon that one coveted piece.
When these storms hit, it’s difficult for me to resist swiftly sweeping in with a booming voice and ferocious scowl—silencing my children with my deafening yells and a mighty glare of all glares.
But I’m learning not to do this. I’m learning to step back and assess before blindly jumping into the craziness and becoming another child in the mix of self-righteous clamoring.
So today I just stood there watching, trying to look omnipotent when really I just want to slip back into my kitchen, sit at my counter stool, and fantasize about making cookies, breads, and stews. The truth is, I don’t really know what I’m doing with my approach. I’m just trying something different.
Lately, instead of responding to the shouts with louder shouting, I find myself looking at them imploringly. I open my mouth a little bit. I raise my eyebrows enough to highlight my wisdom-lines across my knowing brow and hold my hands up in a questioning way. “How did you get here?” I ask. To which they respond with more shouts, grander accusations, and ruthless finger pointing.
I breathe. I respond quietly and say, “No. That’s not what I asked. I asked how you came to find yourselves at this place? Does it feel good to be here? How can I help? And what might you do to help yourselves?”
I am continually astounded to see that calm seems to be the golden ticket. They wiggle when I ask these questions. They sink a little bit and their chests—which were puffed up like combatting roosters—deflate. They sort of get wide-eyed and imploring, looking from me to each other and back to me again. Mostly, they’re just confused. And you know what? I get it. I’m confused too.
My inquiries are not trick questions. In fact, they are deep and honest questions. They’re the type of questions we all try to avoid on a daily basis as we run from our own discomfort. They are uncomfortable questions that require some responsibility—and a lot of accountability. My children don’t want to be responsible. And few people like being accountable.
I find myself humming the tune from the Talking Heads, “Once in a Lifetime,” which I find odd because I don’t really know the song. But I hum it nonetheless and ponder: “How did I get here?” And with that, I ask myself the tough questions about accountability.
My thoughtful inquiries have stretched the way we relate to each other as a family and the way I relate to myself. I continually search myself: Is this where I want to be—at this place within myself? Am I my best self?
I’ve learned it comes down to compassion. If I can relate to myself from a place of compassion, integrity, and love, then the rest of the nonsense becomes just that, nonsense. It becomes moot. It doesn’t matter if I have the golden Lego or if you do. It doesn’t matter who loads the dishwasher, who folds the laundry, or who brings home the bacon.
What matters is if I experience myself and the world from a place of compassion. What matters is whether or not I am able to be open to my human-ness. If I can relate to myself from a place of fullness instead of a place of shortcomings and deficits, then I can stand inside the eye of the storm and smile a bit at the sheer loss of control, knowing that all of life is like this—imperfect.
I do not reside within a Norman Rockwell painting. Nope. Norman Rockwell I will never be. I can’t strive for that. And I don’t want to. I simply want to be my best self in each moment of each day. It’s not the external bits and pieces, it’s the heartbeat within myself. The place I am learning to call home—within this storm of life.
QUESTION: What can you do to bring more compassion and accountability to your family?
CHALLENGE: This week, when things get out of control, try focusing on compassion and love. Ask how you all got there. See how it affects the atmosphere of your home.
Edited by Becky Fawcett and Sarah Monson.
Image from Shutterstock with graphics by Julie Finlayson.