Anger…. There is a lot to be angry about today. I don’t need to list it all for you. You know what arouses the anger of so many people today. Just watch the news and you will see angry people. Scroll through social media and you will find angry people. Have a conversation and you might experience angry people. You might even be angry yourself. I know I am. An article recently published in the American Journal of Health Promotion discusses how news media has become “increasingly negative and polarizing” between 1979 and 2010. (Just imagine how much greater the media polarization has become since 2010.) The article focuses on the impact this has had on public health and offers a solution that calls, in part, for a commitment from those reporting the news to report at least one positive story for every three negative stories and a commitment from viewers to support those news venues that do offer those positive stories. But that is not really what I want to address. My focus is family…and anger is toxic in the family.
The polarization and anger witnessed in our society has crept into many homes. Ironically, it isn’t even that people are angry with their family. They are just angry and that anger bleeds into their home. And, as I said earlier, anger is toxic for families. Anger traps families in their pain. It undermines fun by intruding with constant debate and clarification. It erects walls of guardedness that diminish intimacy as well as opportunities to develop intimacy. It blinds us to the things we admire about our family members as well as their perspectives and simple endearing qualities. We end up arguing and debating, agitated, when all we really want is intimacy and connection with our family members.
Don’t get me wrong. There is a place for anger and a beneficial way to express anger. But when it sneaks into the family, it becomes an undercurrent of toxic emotion, it is not beneficial. It is toxic. So, what can we do? Here are some tips to help us rise above the anger and build love and connection in our families.
Ask yourself a few key questions. Do you love your family? Is it more important that you “convince them” of your point of view or that you show them you love them? How do you want them to remember you? How do you want your family to think of you, as an agitated person or a loving person? A person of self-control or a person prone to angry outbursts? Do you want to be remembered as a person who remained calm and shared love or a person who got lost in emotion and snapped out at even the little things?
Ask other family members questions…AND listen. In these times we really want to understand one another. Take the time to ask question but take more time to listen. Ask them what it is like for them during these times? How are they managing the stress of the day? Ask what you can do to help them. If they want to discuss issues of the day, ask how you might discuss these issues without it becoming an argument and arousing anger. Let them know you love them no matter what.
Give no advice. Simply practice awareness. Too often we give unsolicited advice (I know I do). Giving unsolicited advice sends an implicit message that they aren’t good enough or smart enough to figure things out on their own. Instead of being helpful, our unsolicited advice become rocks thrown at a person’s head. They don’t build relationship. They promote defensiveness. They even hurt. So, rather than give unsolicited advice, practice awareness. Become aware of your family members’ emotions, intent, and perspective. Learn about their priorities and their fears. Become aware of how they express themselves, what irritates them, and what soothes them.
Play. Play relieves stress. Play pulls people together. Play builds intimacy. Play washes away the troubles of the day…at least for the moment. Play helps us gain perspective. Engage your family in play.
Create “issue free” and “positive news only” zones. You and your family will benefit from creating times or spaces in which the “issues” of the day are not discussed. In these times you can talk about other things like things you have enjoyed during the day, future family activities, or positive news you have heard. You can talk about a story you are reading, a song you enjoy, or things for which you are grateful. The possibilities are endless. Just enjoy a time of conversation that can bring joy and connection into your family.
Yes, anger is real. Anger can be legitimate. It can motivate us to create change in positive ways. However, anger can also take over the family. It can be toxic. It can destroy your family. Don’t let anger pull your family apart. Practice these tips and enjoy a loving family.
Emotional contagion describes when one person’s emotions and related behaviors trigger similar emotions in another person. Our emotions can trigger other people’s emotions and vice versa because People mimic the facial expressions and body language of other people during social interactions and “catch” their emotions. You have probably experienced the impact of emotional contagion in your family. Someone (mom, dad, teen) comes home in a bad mood and suddenly everyone’s mood takes a turn for the worse. On the other hand, the same person comes home with a smile on their face and a bounce in their step and everyone feels better.
A smile on their face…that reminds me. Ka-shing Woo and Bobbie Chan conducted a study (2019) focusing on the impact of different types of smiles and nodding on warmth and friendliness between people. They found that a fake smile did NOT pass along good feelings. However, a genuine smile did pass along good feelings. They also found that slow, vertical head nodding communicates supportiveness and indicates the listener is paying attention. When the study participants combined a genuine smile with a slow, vertical head nod, they found a “potent emotional contagion” expressing warmth and friendliness that also served as a catalyst for reciprocal feelings of warmth and friendliness. In other words, genuine smiling and attentive nodding spreads warmth and friendliness, it draws people together in positive emotions, it builds intimacy…it is an emotional contagion of warmth and friendliness.
Interesting, isn’t it? A genuine smile combined with a nod of interest conveys a warmth and friendliness that is “catchy.” Now that is a contagion I would like to spread through my family. That is a contagion I would like to see spread through my family to the community as well. So, let’s start spreading that contagion today. Pass along a genuine smile and a nod of interest every chance you get.
Many families have very active Easter weekend full of social gatherings and celebrations: Good Friday services, preparation for family gatherings, Sunrise services, Easter services, and large extended gatherings with family and friends. For Christians, this is am especially meaningful time of the year, a true “holy-day.” This year, however, is going to feel different. But don’t let those differences ruin your Easter. Don’t let Easter slip away without recalling what makes Easter such a special day for us. Be creative and make this Easter special, even as you “shelter-at-home.” Here are some tips to help us all remember the celebration of Easter.
Celebrate the Holy Week with creative calendars marking the events of each day during the Holy Week. Here’s one idea for doing a creative calendar.
Make resurrection cookies on Saturday night. It is a wonderful way to teach our children about the crucifixion & resurrection while having fun. And, you can enjoy the cookies on Easter Sunday.
Sit down with your family and watch the live streaming of your congregation’s Good Friday service and Easter morning service. If your congregation does not have a live stream, watch the live stream of another congregation’s service.
Read the story of Aslan’s resurrection in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Or, watch the movie (link). Although we have a little bit of Peter, Susan, and Lucy in all of us, talk about how we are all like Edmund as well. Enjoy the realization of what Aslan’s sacrifice meant for Edmund…and what Jesus’ sacrifice means for us.
Watch The Passion of Christ by Mel Gibson. Use caution in watching this movie as a family though. It is very graphic. Consider if your children are ready for such a graphic depiction of the events surrounding the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.
Have a family Easter egg hunt. Easter is still a celebration of new life and the finding of peace and joy in the work of God in Christ.
Enjoy a family Easter meal. Easter allows us to become part of the family of God. Celebrate family with a meal. Make it a feast of celebration.
As you enjoy your day together, play some classic Easter music in the background. Handel’s Messiah and hymns such as Christ the Lord is Risen Today come to mind. To help out, here is one playlist of Easter songs from YouTube you might like. Easter Songs and Hymns Playlist (Resurrection Theme)
I almost forgot….How could I? My daughters would kill me. Watch this video of “It’s Friday But Sunday’s Coming.”
Don’t let the differences of this year take away your Easter joy. Celebrate. Enjoy your Easter.
What are some of the creative ways you are celebrating Easter this year?
Building a stronger, more intimate marriage is as simple as asking the right questions…and then responding to the answers you’re given. Asking the right questions can also build a stronger family. With that in mind, let me share 10 questions you can ask your spouse, children, or parents to strengthen your family and marriage today.
How can I help you today?
What can I do to serve you today?
What can I do to help you right now?
How can I show my spouse (child, parent) love today?
What can I do to bring joy into my spouse’s (child’s, parent’s) life today?
What can I tell my spouse (child, parent) ‘thank you’ for today?
What can I do or say today so my spouse (child, parent) will know how much I adore them?
Is there anything for which I need to apologize to my spouse (child, parent) today?
What can I say to make my spouse (child, parent) feel special today?
The corona virus pandemic has brought major changes to our families. Children are home from school. Some parents are home from work while others have jobs that require them to continue working and take great precautions to not “catch the virus.” Having everyone home 24/7 is a new experience for many families. Family members may have different approaches to risk and anxiety of the corona virus. They may also have different tolerance levels for being “sheltered in place,” the resulting changes in activity level, and mandate of physical distance. With these things in mind, I’d like to suggest 7 survival tips for your family during the corona virus pandemic.
Maintain as many routines as possible and develop new routines as needed. Being “sheltered in place” has disrupted many of our typical routines. You may experience changes in meal routines, morning routines, and routines that involve going out as well as others. Take time to assess your individual and family routines. Which ones can you keep in place? Where do you need to add new routines? This may prove an excellent time to begin a few routines you’ve been wanting to start. (You can even Add Meaning to Life by Building Routine.)
Negotiate differences. Family members may have different needs for togetherness versus alone time. They may worry differently and have different tolerance levels around reduced activity or the mandate of physical distance. Accept your differences. Talk about those differences and determine how you will manage those differences. It may take some compromise so talk about your needs. Anything you can talk about you can resolve…and you can talk about anything.
Enjoy some family time. Yes, some family members may require some alone time. Allow them that freedom. However, we all need family time and family support as well. So, develop some family times. Some great opportunities for family time may include meals, an evening movie, a family game, or reading in the same room. (A great family time involves The Lost Art of Family Meals.)
Intentionally seek ways to serve one another. These are trying times. Workloads change with everyone home. So, notice what needs done and help. Take the opportunity to do something kind for your spouse, your children, your parent, or the whole family. Send some cards to friends. Do an extra chore. Help cook a meal. Let the possibilities grow. Serve one another.
Remain polite. Everyone is a little “edgy” being “stuck in the house” with their routines disrupted and typical activities curtailed. You can take the edge off with simple politeness. “Please.” “Excuse me.” “You’re welcome.” “Would you be able to…?” Simple politeness will go a long way in keeping the family secure through this time.
Laugh a little. Don’t let humor disappear amidst the stress. Tell a joke. Play a game. Be silly. Have fun. Laughter is great medicine.
The corona virus pandemic may change our daily routines and structure for a time. But it will pass. Your family will last well beyond the current situation. Doing these 7 things will help you draw your family closer during this time of crisis.
Life is filled with risk factors and
protective factors. Children, in
particular, are susceptible to these risk factors and protective factors. In
fact, you may have heard talk about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and
how they impact our children even into adulthood. Specifically, ACEs include
abuse (physical, emotional, or sexual), neglect (physical or emotional), and
household dysfunction (mental illness, domestic violence, incarcerated
relative, substance abuse, or abuse). The more ACEs a child experiences, the
greater the risk that child will suffer from depression or poor mental health. In
addition, the more ACEs a child experiences, the more likely they will struggle
in developing social emotional supports as an adult. In other words, these
childhood traumas impact an adult’s level of life satisfaction and functioning.
That’s bad news.
BUT…there is good news. Children can experience protective factors as well. These Positive Childhood Experiences (PCEs) also have an impact on our adult lives. Recent research identified 7 Positive Childhood Experiences and their impact on adult life by surveying over 6,000 men and women over the age of 18. (Read another review here.) The seven PCEs included:
Having the opportunity to talk with
family members about their feelings.
Feeling that their family stood by
them during difficult times.
Enjoying participation in community
traditions and activities.
Feeling a sense of belonging in high
Feeling supported by friends.
Having at least two non-parent
adults who take a genuine interest in them.
Feeling safe and protected by an
adult in their home.
An adult who had experienced 6 or 7
of these as a child had a 72% lower chance of reporting depression or other
mental health concerns than someone who experienced 0 to 2 of these PCEs. If they experienced 3 to 5 PCEs, they had a
50% lower chance of depression or other mental health concerns. In addition,
those experiencing 6 or 7 PCEs reported “always” 3.53 times more often
when asked about receiving social and emotional support as an adult than those
who received only 0 to 2 PCEs. The most amazing discovery: the positive impact
of PCE’s remained true even after accounting for Adverse Childhood Experiences.
What’s the takeaway? Children are
more likely to have better mental health, less depression, and healthier
relationships in adulthood if they experience these 7 positive childhood
experiences. You can build these positive experiences right into the fabric of your
Accept the expression of feelings. Weep with your children when they weep.
Rejoice when they rejoice. Share their anger and celebrate their joys.
Difficult times will arise, anything
from their first broken heart to the loss of a pet to the loss of a friend from
death. Stand by them. Comfort them. Let them feel your presence.
Participate in community traditions.
This may include community fireworks, scouting, sports, or weekly worship. Get
Remain involved in your child’s
education. Visit the school. Volunteer to help with whatever club they join.
Talk to their teachers. Do what you can to help them feel a sense of belonging
in their school.
Encourage your children to invite
friends to your house. Have snacks available. Allow your child to take a friend
on an outing. Get to know the parents of your children’s friends. Ask about
your children’s friends.
Get to know the adults in your
child’s life and encourage their relationship with those you trust. They may
connect with a coach, a family friend, an aunt or uncle, a minister. Encourage these
positive connections. After all, it takes a village to raise a child.
Help your child feel safe and
protected in the home. The first step in this process is developing a secure,
loving relationship with their other parent. Work on your marriage. Keep it
Build these 7 positive childhood experiences
into the fabric of your family. You’ll love the results. And your children will
reap the benefits for their entire life!
It’s like a dream, isn’t it? A
family in which your spouse and your children come to you to talk about their
joys and their sorrows, their accomplishments and their failures, their
courageous moments and their greatest fears. But this doesn’t come easy; it
doesn’t happen in our sleep. It takes work. It begins with our own willingness
to risk the vulnerability of talking to our spouse and children in the same open
way we hope they talk to us. That, in itself, represents a significant
challenge for me. As we learn to take that risk ourselves, there are other
things we can do to promote the emotional safety in our family that will
encourage open communication and emotional closeness.
First, welcome the expression of
emotion. When your child comes to you crying, accept their sorrow. When
your spouse comes to you in anger about a coworker, accept their anger. Don’t
try to minimize their emotion. Don’t tell them to “calm down.” Simply
welcome their emotion. Accept it. Acknowledge it.
Second, join them in their
emotion. “Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who
weep” in your family. If you spouse is angry about the way a coworker was
treated, be angry in the moment with them. When your child is brokenhearted
after breaking up with their boyfriend of 2 months, be brokenhearted with them.
They are likely overwhelmed by those emotions. They need you to share that
emotion with them, to share the burden of the emotion and so make it more
Third, hold their emotion.
This involves empathizing and “sitting” with them in the emotion,
whether it be joy or pain, happiness or sadness. Join them and hold their pain
with them. Let them know that you are strong enough to sit with them and their
emotions. Their emotions do not overwhelm you. Instead, you can feel those
emotions with them, share the pain, and so share the burden of that emotion as you
manage it together.
There is a scene in the movie Shadowlands (watch it here) in which CS Lewis sits with a young boy in front of the wardrobe of the boy’s recently deceased mother and CS Lewis’s wife. Together they talk about their doubts and their overwhelming sorrow. CS Lewis welcomes the young boy’s sorrow and doubt. He joins the young boy in his pain. He shares the burden of that emotion. Then, CS Lewis starts to cry. The young boy also starts to cry. They sit together hugging one another as they cry and grieve their loss together. They hold this emotion together. They share the pain.
It is in sharing emotion that we
overcome. And, it is in sharing emotion that we grow more intimate with one
another. It is in the vulnerability of sharing emotion that we draw nearer to
the dream of a home in which emotional safety allows us to stand before one
another to reveal our deepest selves and know we have found unconditional love
Last Christmas I receive The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well. I love it. It describes one of the things we seek most in life, hygge. “Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things. It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allow ourselves to let our guard down” (page 6). I love hygge. I’d like more of it in my life. I work to bring it into my family. And Christmas is one of the best times to create some hygge. In fact, Christmas is one of the most hygge times of the year. Christmas is the one time a year in which “hygge is the ultimate goal of an entire month” (page 218). To make Christmas truly hyggelig takes intentional planning, thought, and effort. But it’s worth the effort because everybody wants a hyggelig Christmas. So, here are a few ideas to make your Christmas an extra hygge Christmas as well.
Fire and candles. Hygge is always greater with the natural light of flickering candles or a glowing fireplace. The natural warmth and the dancing flame that cast shadows upon all those gathered to share the Christmas season is truly hygge. So, if you have a fireplace, light it up. If not, put some candles around the room and bask in the dancing shadows of their flickering light while sharing conversation with family and friends.
Food and drink. Food is important to hygge and Christmas is a great time for food. Enjoy your Christmas dinner along with Christmas cookies and pies. You might even enjoy some special beverages like eggnog, wassail, hot chocolate, or some other family drink tradition. You can share cookies with friends and neighbors, swapping your favorites with one another. The important thing about Christmas, hygge, and food is to enjoy it all together. Share food, company, and conversation to let the hygge flow.
Comfy clothes. No need to dress up or put on uncomfortable clothes. You’re with friends and family. Put on some comfy clothes for relaxing. Your company is much more important than your dress when it comes to hygge. The interaction and the shared experience are the key ingredients of joy, not the fancy clothes. So, hang up the tie and the put away the high heels. Put on the comfy clothes and enjoy one another’s company.
Music. Music always adds to hygge. Play some music in the background. Share your favorite songs. If you enjoy playing or singing, have a sing-along. Take it on the road and do some caroling. Of course, when you finish caroling, enjoy some hot chocolate, eggnog, or some hot buttered rum as you talk about your caroling adventure in the light of candles.
Company: Friends and Family. You may have noticed how often company, friends, and family were mentioned in the above ingredients. Hygge just isn’t hygge without our loved ones around us. Enjoy your time together. Put away the phones and the I-Pads. Forget the video games and PlayStations. Pull out a board game instead. Enjoy a game of cards or “salad bowl.” Talk. Reminisce. Dream. Laugh. Enjoy one another’s company. You know it doesn’t get any more hygge than this!
Have a very merry Christmas this
year, a Christmas filled with hygge, family, and friends.
Have you noticed how easy it is to
criticize? How fault-finding and blame seems so natural? Praise and approval,
on the other hand, doesn’t seem to come so natural. Just watch the news to
confirm this. When was the last time the headline story talked of kindness,
sharing, or a job well done? These stories are relegated to the final
“30-second-feel-good-story” at best, but never the lead the story.
Unfortunately, this attitude creeps
into our families as well. We easily find fault with the way a job is done. We
criticize our children and spouse for any number of things. We blame one
another when a job is left undone or something goes wrong. We struggle to say a
“thank you,” “great job,” or “I was wrong,
sorry.” Instead, we say things, “Why should I thank her for doing
what she’s supposed to do anyway?”
“Yeah, he helped with the laundry, but he did it wrong. It didn’t
help. I had to work harder.” “I wouldn’t have gotten so upset and call
him a name if he had done his chores in the first place.” There are more statements.
I’m sure you’ve at least heard them.
All this negativity—the fault-finding,
blaming, and the criticism—creates a negative cycle of pain, disconnection, and
self-doubt. It lays a family groove that perpetuates harsh words, anger, and
self-protection that leads to greater isolation. But there is a way to jump out
of this negative groove and find a new and improved family groove, a groove
that will lead to greater contentment, intimacy, and joy. Here’s the way to do
Every day, thank each person in your family for something they have done that day for the family. They may have cooked a meal, washed clothes, gone to work to pay bills, helped clean a room, or simple spoken kind words to a sibling. You may think, “Why should I thank them for doing what they’re supposed to do?” Because you are a polite person promoting kindness in your home. And, you are highlighting the behavior you want to see, encouraging more of it. (Read Why Thank Your Spouse For Doing Chores to learn the power of a simple “thank you.”)
Find an opportunity to do something kind for each family member every day. It could be as simple as passing them a dish at the dinner table or offering to fill their drink when you fill your own. You could complete a chore another person usually does—like loading the dishwasher, emptying the kitty litter, taking out the garbage, running the sweeper. These acts of kindness express love. They move your whole family into a new and improved groove of positivity. (Learn the Mighty Power of Kindness in this short blog.)
Share a positive story from your day. Tell your family about something good that happened to you during the day. If you are on the listening end of the story, listen and share the joy of that happy event. Sharing good stories has a ripple effect that will jump you into a new groove of sharing more joyous moments with one another.
There you have it. Three simple ways to find
your family a new groove. It doesn’t sound that hard, does it? In fact, it
isn’t really that hard; but you’ll be amazed at the power these simple acts
exert on your home and family life. Your connection with each family member
will increase. Stress will decrease. Joy and contentment will grow. You and
your family will experience greater joy coming home to share the good times.
Give it a shot. For the next 14 days, practice the 3 steps above…and enjoy your
new and improved family groove!
We all want to have a home
environment that allows us to trust one another. You know, a home in which
spouses trust one another, siblings trust one another, children trust their
parents, and parents trust their children. A home environment in which we can
trust what someone says. We know they will not lie. They will follow through on
what they have promised. We know they have the best interest of the family in
A trusting environment in our homes requires more than trustworthy individuals. It also requires our capacity to trust others. Interestingly, that’s not as simple as it sounds. For example, emotions impact our capacity to trust others. A recent study suggested that negative emotions like anger or frustration reduce our willingness to trust other people even when these negative emotions were elicited by events that did not even involve the person we struggle to trust. For instance, annoyance created by sitting in a traffic jam may reduce our capacity to trust other people in our lives.
That study aroused my curiosity, so I looked at another group of five studies. These studies revealed that:
Happy emotions increase our trust more than sadness or anger.
Only “experienced emotions” increased or decreased our trust of others. Thinking about an emotion did not impact our trust. But, dwelling on an incident that arouses happiness, sadness, or anger did. And, once again, happiness increased trust while sadness or anger decreased trust.
Gratitude also increased our capacity to trust others while pride, guilt, and anger reduced our capacity to trust others. And, those emotions that involve others (like anger and gratitude) had a greater impact on our levels of trust than emotions that were more personal (like pride or guilt).
If the cause of the negative or positive emotion is made known, it does not impact our capacity to trust the person we are currently with. For instance, if I am talking to a coworker after having experienced the annoyance of sitting in a traffic jam, I may have a reduced capacity to trust him. However, if one of us points out how annoyed I am about sitting in the traffic, the impact on my capacity to trust the other person disappears. I can now trust based solely on the current interaction.
Finally, the more familiar we are with a person, the less our emotions will impact our capacity to trust them. We are more likely to base our trust on past experiences with the person we know rather than any momentary emotion we might experience.
What does this have to do with
families? We can apply several principles from these findings to increase
levels of trust in our family.
Focus on building
relationships with each family member.
When we have a relationship (when we are familiar with a person) our capacity
to trust them is less affected by immediate emotions and based more on our
long-term experience with them. Build a history of trustworthiness with your
family. Follow through on your promises. Tell the truth. Act in accordance with
the best interest of your family. The more our families know us, the less their
immediate emotions will impact their capacity to trust us.
home with positive emotions like
gratitude, joy, and curiosity. Make it a practice to show gratitude daily.
Become curious about each family members interests and likes. Encourage their
interests and hobbies. Play. After all, positive emotions increase our capacity
spouse, child, or parent is upset, tired or angry, postpone any discussion and
simply remain available to them.
Set aside your own agenda and respond to their emotion. Offer support and
encouragement. Doing so will allow them to work through the negative emotions
they are feeling and preserve the trust you have in one another.
When you or
another family member experience a negative emotion, make it explicit. Label the emotion and identify the trigger of that emotion.
By doing so you keep it from interfering with the trust in your immediate
relationship and interaction.
enjoy the trust you have nurtured and built in your family with the help of