By the end of last week, I was stressed, and I was tired. My husband and I had been having lots of tense conversations—the ordinary arguments about dishes and laundry and managing our work schedules—but this week was particularly tense because we were considering buying a house.
The contract sat on the kitchen table, and all our conversations revolved around it. Thinking about a house was forcing us to ask so many other questions about our future: Where will we live? What will we do? What can we afford? Our almost-three-year-old son Danny heard us talk about little else as we weighed the pros and the cons and went back and forth on our decision. I wish I could say all our conversations were calm and constructive—but they weren’t, and by the end of the week, Danny was stressed and tired, too.
It was Friday night and it was my husband’s birthday, but instead of celebrating, he and I were arguing. Not yelling exactly, but just discussing the house issue with a kind of stressed out intensity. Danny interrupted by putting his little hands on his little ears and saying loudly, “Stop talking mean! Don’t say that!”
We apologized, calmed ourselves, and went out to Skyline Chili for some much-needed family time.
In the end, we decided not to buy the house. But we did learn something in the process: when we are tired and stressed, our kids notice.
Interestingly, researcher Ellen Galinsky asked over 1,000 children this question: “If you were granted one wish and you only have one wish that could change the way your mothers or your fathers work affects your life, what would that wish be?”
Most parents guessed that their kids would say that they wished their parents spent more time with them. But most kids answered differently. Their wish was for their parents to be less stressed and less tired.
Of course, stressful things are going to happen in life. So the question is, what are some things we can do to minimize the inevitable stress and to respond well?
In his book, The Secrets of Happy Families, Bruce Feiler talks about “agile programming” for the family. He takes best-practices from a variety of fields—everything from software development to the Green Berets—and applies them to family life. He jokes that within a week of testing some of the strategies in his own family, parental arguing was cut in half.
Inspired by one of the tips in his book, our family is going to try weekly family meetings. Once a week we will get our pajamas on, pop some popcorn, snuggle up on the couch or underneath a fort of blankets (don’t forget flashlights!) and ask ourselves these questions:
- What worked well this week?
- What didn’t work well?
- What is one thing we can work on next week?
It sounds simple, but I think that if we do this consistently it just might help us give our kids the kind of happy and healthy parents they want to have. We’ll let you know how it goes.