Tuesday, January 31, 2006

New Connection with Your Kids and Spouse

If you feel frustrated, anxious, and overwhelmed by the tasks of parenting, you are not alone. Even if your spouse seems blaming or withdraw from the actions, deep down inside you both love your kids and want the best for them. I know because I used to be where you are right now. You see, my husband is an analytical thinking person and I am an intuitive feeler. He came from a small nuclear family in Taiwan and I from a large traditional extended family in Hong Kong. What brought us together was our common major (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science) from U.C. Berkeley.

Parents have many different challenges. Ours were our son’s fight for independence that was most obvious during his terrible two’s, and when he was a teenager. We all want our children to grow up as mature, loving, and responsible adults, but it is so easy to forget that growing up is a process that takes time, love and limits.

Believe it or not, people can best focus their energy on learning and growing when they are emotionally nurtured with unconditional love. When threatened, our survival instincts (fight or flight) kick in and we blame, attack, withdraw or run away instead of spending our time and energy in reasoning and learning. That’s why it is important for parents to be proactive and think about how you would deal with common growing up problems such as when your toddler throws temper tantrums, 8-years-old boy gets into fights, or teenage girl hangs out with the “wrong” crowd.

The atmosphere in our home often shapes our children’s characters and sets the course of their lives. A poem reads, “If a child lives in criticism, he learns to condemn. If a child lives in hostility, he learns to fight … If a child lives in acceptance, he learns to like himself. If a child lives with acceptance and friendship, he learns to find love in the world.” Here are some principles for a healthy family system:

1) Focus on what is important. Do you value relationship or performance? Is it more important for your kids to get straight A’s or to learn how to learn, and to apply what they have learned? Is it better to communicate or to avoid conflicts?

2) Live a life of integrity. Couples need to parent as a team. Share the work and keep your promises. Be who you are in private (e.g. in your room at home) as you are in public (e.g. at school, work, or church).

3) Demonstrate resilience. Face difficulties, setbacks and mistakes with courage, acceptance, repentance and forgiveness.

4) Relate to one another with empathy. Share feelings and emotions instead of hiding behind facts and reasons. Listen attentively and respectfully to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Seek to understand before demanding to be understood.

You may know parents who are disappointed, shameful or feeling guilty because of mistakes in the past. Nevertheless, no matter how bleak the situation may seem, you can still find hope and help if you are willing. Respectfully and honestly share with your kids and spouse your feelings and concerns. Seek help from friends, relatives, clergy, support groups, and even professional counselors if necessary.

While I argued with my husband based on our differences, I eventually found God who gave us our second chance. "Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness" (Lamentations 3:22-24). Our life changed course when I admitted my own wrong doings and believed that Jesus Christ paid for all my sins on the cross. Last Saturday, 1/28/06, was the 17th anniversary of that occasion.

In celebration of the Eve of Chinese New Year, we feasted, watched TV, and played games with other families. In one game, adults took turns to assign a color to a particular person, and explain why. One guy was described with the colors of blue (like deep ocean) and yellow (earth-tone) with these explanations: "I remember the first time we met. The way he talked with our boy made us feel special ... He cares about people ... He is so loving and supportive to his wife and his boys ... He is such an even-temper, gentle, and kind person ... He is peaceful ... He is easy to get along with ... He is accepting and welcoming ... He made us comfortable." Imagine how that guy must have felt understood, accepted and appreciated!

Nobody treated the conversations as scientific and rational type of discussions. We just soaked in the affirmations and encouragements freely given to us by our fellow human beings. Such sharing deepened our awareness and understanding about each other's unique perspectives, feelings, values, beliefs, and meanings of colors, people and life. You could try this game with your family.

BTW, there is a similar game we could play associated with animals. To have some fun, send me an e-mail to guess what animal, bird, or fish I would identify myself with and tell me why. (Some hints are given at the end of this message for what I have in mind.) Whoever comes up with my answer will be the winner who will receive a one-hour, no-charge, confidential consultation at my San Ramon or Fremont office to talk about parenting, couple relationships, or simply life. If there are multiple winning entries, the winner will be drawn. Please reply by 2/12/06.

Copyright © 2006 Winnis Chiang, Parenting ABC