Let’s get it out there right upfront. Family life really isn’t what you thought it was going to be. And it certainly isn’t what you dreamed of when you were desperate to settle down, get married and have kids (remember that?! Ha!).
Instead, it’s a grind. And utterly depressing.
The kids fight constantly. They won’t do anything you ask without a battle. You end up yelling all the time. Then you feel awful and promise yourself you’ll never yell again. Then you yell again. You snap at your partner, who snaps back. You’re just so tired and on edge.
You’ve tried everything: new discipline regimes, new routines, new organisation. But nothing seems to change the family dynamic enough to make a fundamental difference.
It all makes you want to scream and cry and give up. In fact, you do scream and cry.
Giving up isn’t an option. But something has to give.
The good news is it doesn’t need to be your sanity, or your marriage.
Because there is a change you can make that will quickly start to change your family dynamic.
The change you can make today
The starting point in changing your family dynamic is understanding something that is both exceptionally simple and hugely challenging.
And that is that it’s not your kids’ and partner’s behaviour that are making you want to scream and cry.
In actual fact it’s your efforts to control things you cannot control that are causing you so much pain and distress. It’s the struggle, the daily battle to get control of the uncontrollable, that is so exhausting and frustrating.
At once absolutely simple and entirely difficult.
Simple because, if it’s not what other people do but what you do yourself that is creating the pain, then it’s in your gift to change that, removing the pain and turmoil and in a stroke improving your family dynamic.
And difficult because, not only does that sounds a lot like ‘it’s your fault’ and that’s going to be hard to accept, but because it also sounds like it’s a lot easier said than done.
Trying to control the uncontrollable
Let’s spend a little time on this idea that it’s your attempt to control the uncontrollable that’s causing the problem. If you’re new to this idea then it can be hard to accept.
You might be thinking that it’s definitely your kids refusing to get dressed when you have to be out the door in ten minutes that’s the problem. And maybe that your husband has equal responsibility for the family dynamic, so you’re not going to accept that it’s just you that’s causing the stress. And perhaps that giving up trying to bring some order would just be giving up full stop, and would result in chaos.
All perfectly rational thoughts. And all with an element of truth to them. But all missing the point.
It’s true that your kids not getting dressed when you need to leave is a pain and can make you late. It’s true that how everyone behaves in a family impacts on everyone else. And it’s true that, without boundaries families function less well.
But what’s equally true is that what is happening within your family at any given moment does not need to dictate how you feel. None of the above needs to make you feel at your wit’s end or like you’re going to scream. Your kids can act up, the toast can burn to a crisp, your partner can be grumpy, and it need not make you angry or miserable.
Still unconvinced? Then look around for some evidence. Because somewhere out there there will be a parent that you know who doesn’t seem to get stressed and angry when her kids misbehave. Who somehow manages to seem zen all the time.
You’ve often wondered how she did it. You’re almost certainly a bit jealous. And you might even secretly think sometimes that there’s something wrong with her, she seems so unflappably untriggered.
The difference between you and her is in all likelihood that she has accepted she can’t control everything and made peace with that, whilst you’re still trying to fight the unfightable, making yourself miserable doing it.
Whose business are you in?
The simple truth is that there are three things you can try to control in this life. You, other people and the world.
You is you – and what you think, feel and do. Other people is what the people in your life – your kids, your partner, your mother-in-law, your friends, your boss, the Prime Minister, traffic wardens – think, feel or do. The world is all the other stuff – whether it rains, whether we get ill or die, how many hours there are in the day etc.
And only one of them can you actually control. You.
No matter how hard you try, you’re not going to be able to control what your kids think – they’ll either like broccoli or not, they’ll either enjoy drama classes or not, they’ll either love the thought of going to school on any given day or not. Sure you can give them information, context or suggestions to try to give them other perspectives. But you can’t change what they think or feel.
And even what they do is pretty impossible to control. Eat your vegetables. Go to sleep. Pee in the toilet not in your freshly washed pants.
You can beg, bribe and bully, but ultimately they’re going to decide. And the harder you try to achieve otherwise, the harder your life is going to be.
Same for your husband. Same for the weather.
The hard – and yet beautiful – reality is that it’s not your circumstances that are making your life feel so tough. Instead it’s your efforts to try to control the things that cannot be controlled, and the huge intellectual and emotional struggle that that involves.
You might even hear yourself verbalising this sometimes. Why won’t you just do as I ask? Why do you have to behave like that? Why don’t you consider me more? Why do you never think about other people? Why is it so hard for you to understand this?
Frustration, anger and desperation that someone is not thinking, feeling or doing what you want them to.
And if you think about your most recent family run-ins, you’ll probably be able to see that the source of your tension was that you were in someone else’s business. Your daughter’s, your partner’s, your mum’s. Trying to
control what they think, feel or do. Rather than focusing purely on what you can control – yourself.
How you think, what you feel and what you do as a result of what’s going on around you.
Here’s the good bit
Now, even if you can begin to accept all of that, there’s almost certainly a nagging voice saying, but I do need my kids to do as I ask, otherwise they’ll never get to school/go to bed/stay safe.
And that is true. You do, as a parent, need your children to work with you to get through the day.
But the beauty of letting go of the need to control other people’s business is that it sets them free to work with you rather than against you.
Because every parent knows from bitter experience that there is nothing more guaranteed to make kids dig their heels in than trying to force them to do something they don’t want to.
And anyone who has ever been in any kind of relationship knows that trying to change someone just makes them more determined to be just as they are.
But when you accept that there are things that you cannot change, and relax into that, then you often fundamentally change that dynamic from one of conflict to one of cooperation.
Shoulda, woulda, coulda
Now to make that work you need to get clear on one other thing. And that’s what you are trying to control.
Because it’s easy to get this wrong.
On the face of it we’re trying to control the bedtime routine, or how your kids speak to each other, or any number of things that you’re battling with.
So it can be easy to think that letting go of control will just end up in chaos. Unbrushed teeth, midnight bedtimes, feral children.
But dig a little deeper beyond the situation and there’s always a thought sat behind the difficulties that is actually causing you the struggle.
That thought might be:
She should obey me
They shouldn’t fight
I shouldn’t have to ask this
He should know better
She shouldn’t speak to me like that
They should be able to do this by now
And that thought is the key to what you’re really trying to control. You’re wanting others and the world to be in a different place to where they actually are.
You expect them to want to brush their teeth, put their pyjamas on and skip happily into bed.
You need them to feel respect for you in recognition of your status as a parent and all that you do for them
You want them to understand that whacking their brother round the head is only going to result in pain and punishment and upset all round.
But you cannot make them, despite all of your efforts. And the inability to control that is infuriating. The energy you spend wishing that that was different is exhausting. And your frustration that despite your best efforts they have their owns minds that aren’t the same as yours is huge.
But the truth is that despite your best efforts to educate, inform and instil values in your kids, they’re ultimately going to make up their own minds about that information and believe what they choose to believe.
So why are you working so hard to try to control other people’s business or the world’s business?
Because the only business you can ever truly, effectively control is your own.
What you think, feel and do. That’s what you can control. Nothing else.
And the sooner you accept that, the easier your life is going to be.
Living this truth
Understanding that this unwinnable battle for control sits behind much of your family struggle is just the first step to an easier family life, but it is a powerful one.
Because it can help you step back from that fight and relax into a calmer way of being, in the midst of everything. And that can start a virtuous circle of calmer you, calmer kids.
In practical terms, there’s three things to do to really make this understanding work for you.
First, start to notice in moments of family tension whose business you are in. Kids misbehave, you start to tense up. Ask yourself – whose business am I in? Remember this is about whose thinking, feeling or doing you are getting stressed about in that moment. Notice whether it’s your kids’ or your own.
Second, when you realise you’re in someone else’s business try to uncover the thought that’s behind the control you’re feeling in that moment. They should be working with me here. They’re going to make us late. They’re doing it again. This might be easier after the particular flashpoint has passed and you’re able to more calmly reflect.
Third, ask yourself whether you know that thought to be true and how you know it to be true if so. For example, ‘They should be working with me here’. Is this true or is that just my expectation of what they should do? Is it a reasonable expectation for them given they might be nervous about going to school and not seeing me all day? Is what I want right now what they want right now?
At this stage don’t actively try to change these thoughts. Just get conscious of them and curious about them. Where do they come from? What are they telling you about what you unconsciously believe? Do they serve you? Sit with them for a while – change will come in time.
These three steps can take a little thought and effort the first few times you go through them, but you’ll quickly find that you’re able to run them pretty fast once you’ve got the hang of them.
Practice them consistently and before you know it these steps will start to change how you think, feel and act within your family, fundamentally changing your experience of it, even if nothing else changes at all. But even better, once you start to let go of the need to control the things you can’t control, you may find that the impact on your family dynamic is so great that you all start chilling out a bit. And that’s a virtuous circle any parent would love to be a part of.
To sum up….
- It’s not what’s going on in your family that is making it so tough on you but your struggling to control things you cannot ever control.
- You can be in your business, someone else’s business or the world’s business – but you can only ever control your own.
- There are powerful thoughts about how things should be that are sat behind the things that you are trying to control.
- Getting clear on these thoughts will enable you to understand whether they are actually true and to focus on your own business.
- With practice this letting go of control can change your family dynamic.
Achieve this by:
- Starting to notice whose business you are in during moments of family tension
- Recognising the thoughts you’re having about how things should be in these moments
- Asking yourself whether these thoughts are true, and getting curious about whether they’re serving you.
Your Best Life coaches can help you work towards a happier family life. To book your first free session.