Managing stress in family life

How often do our emotions fluctuate from utter joy to complete pull my hair out anger when dealing with members of our close knit family? If you’re  like me, it probably happens more often than you want it to. One minute we’re all, “you’re such a snuggy buggy cute macaroni” and 15 minutes later
we just want to swallow that little macaroni-and all for the wrong reasons. And 5 minutes after we’ve gone through the various scenarios of how we’ll chew out this little piece of…macaroni, gobble it up, and spit it out for the dog to do it’s do-das on it we’re riddled with pangs of guilt that scar us for the oh, rest of our lives. What can we do about this? How do we prevent our minds from getting to this point? Is there really a way to manage family stress without Aspirin, Vicodin, Motrin, and all the other drug choices that promise us to take us away from reality and into la-la-land of painless, guiltless, utterly random oblivion?

My very good friend, Mark Power who is also a chaplain, recently wrote a blog post about family life as a spiritual path. My wife and I have known Mark and his wonderful, wonderful family for over 15 years. His children are now young adults and are one of the most balanced 20 year olds that you’ll come across these days. My wife and I have been using his methods for a while in our own lives  to manage stress in our family life. I thought I’d share these with you today.

Mark is a practicing Buddhist and has been for a very long time, so his post does mention Buddhism as the root of his training and the methods he outlines are a direct reflection of that. However, I believe these techniques he advocates can be applied to anyone with a capacity to be aware of his or her own thoughts.

Here is how how we manage stress in our family life.

The key to this practice is being aware of our thoughts and respecting what we observe. Mark calls this practice The Practice Of Mindful Gap, I call it-

The Practice Of Keeping My Hair Intact

1) Distancing: When we sense/feel an intense emotion boiling inside us we immediately pause. Acknowledge that something weird is going on inside us and it’s not going to look pretty if it has a chance to come out of our mouths. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about. It’s difficult to do this, but this is the most critical step in the practice: Pause. Distance yourself from the sensation/emotion/feeling and simply observe what goes on in our internal bowl of spaghetti (brain), and label it. Just label it, “anger”, “hate”, “the one who’s name cannot be said aloud”. It’s amazing how well this labeling thing works. As soon as you put a name to your emotion, you can feel it going a couple of notches down. Just remember, just label it and not name call it. It’s your emotion, so don’t ridicule and embarrass it. It does that by itself (you know, the guilt phase after wanting to spit out the little piece of…macaroni for the dog).

2) Patience: This is what we do when the impulse to react arises. When we feel the temptation to open our big mouths, we go back to labeling the emotion (remember, no name calling yourself here). Have patience with yourself. Stay with the Pause (no pun intended!).

3) Ahhh: Mark calls this step “Right View”, but for simplicity’s sake I’ll call it “Ahhh”. When you engage in having Patience with yourself, you are definitely going to reach a state, for a brief moment at least, of “Ahhh”. This is because it feels good to have a handle on our emotion and choose NOT to react. You will feel a sense of relief, of letting go-that’s why “Ahhh”. Not “Ahhhh, I’m about to pull out the last strand of hair left on my noodlecase!”

As parents it’s so tempting to jump in and fix everything for our kids. It almost feels like a primal need. You know, like hunting and gathering, and sheltering and other caveman ings. But it’s really not necessary to do that, in fact, it’s recommended not to do that-just ask your teen child or even your ten year old. They just want you to listen to them and not go being Bob The Builder on them.

Go ahead tell us some stories of hair pulling incidents in your family life in the comments below.

And, here’s Mark’s wonderful post.

Happy listening!