One of the best things about being parents of young children is the time you get to spend playing with them and having fun. There’s nothing like that first trip to the park to try out the bike with the training wheels, unless it’s when you go back a while later to take the training wheels off and see your little guy or girl racing the wind.
They say having young kids keeps us young and playing with your kids is one of life’s great joys. At the same time, having little ones can be exhausting. You have all the responsibility of providing for a family along with everything you were doing before becoming parents. It’s not unusual to feel stress, even during fun times—like those (supposedly) relaxing family vacations!
When you feel tired, exhausted or overwhelmed, whatever emotions you have been carrying around can boil over with your spouse and kids. Emotional drama can sweep through a family faster than the sniffles kids bring home from school.
When tempers flare, there’s usually more going on than the words or behaviors that seem to trigger the disagreement. More often than not, there are unresolved feelings from previous difficult or hurtful experiences lurking beneath the surface—what I call trapped emotions.
People frequently sense that they are burdened by emotions from their past, but they don’t know how to get over them. Trapped emotions can damage family relationships and lead to anxiety, depression and a host of physical, emotional and psychological problems.
Something that commonly occurs in family relationships is feeling triggered: when you become overly upset, emotional or defensive in certain situations. When this happens, usually there are underlying feelings contributing to the emotions you are feeling. Emotional baggage from past traumas (and perhaps inherited from earlier generations) can make us more likely to feel certain negative emotions such as anxiety, anger, disappointment, frustration and sadness.
Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to help you better handle daily stress and disagreements, become more accepting and forgiving and bring more joy and harmony to your family life. Here are a few:
Discover what’s behind your own triggers.
When you find yourself feeling upset, overly emotional or defensive about something a family member says or does, you are most likely feeling the effect of old trapped emotions as well as the ones that come up in the moment.
If you have a family member who leaves you feeling drained and upset, the best way to protect yourself is to create boundaries. You can decide in advance what you will and will not tolerate. Whatever boundaries you create, you need to stick with them and respect yourself, even if the other person doesn’t.
Feeling beat up? Disengage.
It takes two people to have an argument. You can always just turn around and leave. One of the things you can say in this situation is “I love you, but I need to honor myself by leaving.”
Make strategies for better family interactions.
Consider your past interactions with difficult people and how they normally act. Do they have frequent outbursts? Do they complain a lot? Are they unpredictable? Then come up with a plan. Decide in advance how you are going to act and react when that person misbehaves.
Practice acceptance and love.
Look for the good in people. This is especially important with children, who tend to live up to our expectations of them. If you are looking for positive things, you are more likely to find them. You’ll be less likely to blow up—and blow things out of proportion—when something rubs you the wrong way.
In any disagreement, forgiveness begins with letting go. If you have trouble forgiving, seek for the divine and ask for help in prayer. Look for ways to see the person who offended you in a positive light. You might focus on something you love about them. Forgiveness brings freedom and peace for you and for your family.
Our families are a place where we can learn and practice healthy ways of recognizing, acknowledging and expressing emotions. No one is perfect. But by being more intentional about choosing how we act and react in emotional situations, we can give our kids skills that will help them grow into emotionally healthy adults.