Every Sunday for my entire childhood we would go to my grandmother’s house after church. We would pull in the driveway and grab our little brown grocery bags full of “play clothes” and run full-speed into the house to change so that we could get down to the real Sunday business of playing with our cousins in the yard. The smell and sound of pot roast in the pressure cooker was always the first thing that greeted me when I opened my grandmother’s backdoor. One day, as I stood at the stove waiting with stomach growling for the food be be done, I asked my grandmother about the jiggly thing at the top of the pressure cooker. She said, “It keeps the pot from exploding. If it doesn’t let off steam every once in a while, it gets so hot in there that the whole thing could blow up.” Needless to say, I backed away from the stove and was scared of the jiggly thing on that pot for a long time.
Our families can feel like a pressure cooker from time to time. The pressure can become so intense that you feel like the whole thing is about to explode. If we’re not intentional, we might. Many families do.
The reasons you feel this way are understandable…you have…
- Broken up the fifth argument in the last five minutes.
- Heard thousands of lies this week alone.
- Dealt with severe tantrums.
- Lifted your child’s mattress to find a mountain of food wrappers and molded leftovers.
- Wished you had a dollar for every eye roll, because yesterday alone would have made you a millionaire.
- and many other reasons….
When dealing with children from hard places, as a family unit, we sometimes find ourselves at a breaking point. This is really hard work and sometimes it feels very lonely. This is where I’ve found a simple secret to getting our family back on track and moving again. I call them “pressure release moments.” In the same way that a pressure cooker has to release steam to keep from exploding, our families need to do the same.
A pressure release moment is an evening, an hour or a day that we decide to ignore EVERYTHING and simply have fun. You have to hear me again, I said…. ignore EVERYTHING. That means, it doesn’t matter how bad the report card was, you’re going for ice cream. It means it doesn’t matter that you just lied to me yesterday, we’re still going to the park. It means it doesn’t matter that you just fought with your sibling for the hundredth time today, we’re still going to cook our favorite meal, break out our favorite board game and have some fun.
Everyone needs a break. Everyone.
Really, there’s only so much stress that the mind and body can absorb. If we aren’t intentional about relieving it, there’s a build up that will eventually lead to a breakdown of the family. Everyone needs a break to catch their breath. The kids need a break so that they can blow off some steam and just be themselves. The adults need a break from worrying about messes, chores, grades, behaviors, and the seriousness of life. Taking an intentional break gives everyone a chance to see the others in a different light. When you see the kid who lied to your face an hour before laughing with the joy of a child, you’re reminded that they are, in fact, still a child. It can help take the sting out of the behaviors and give you room for understanding and grace. When they see you laughing and joking with them, it helps them to see you as someone they really do enjoy having in their lives and not just the harsh disciplinarian who’s always fussing about something. Breaks are good. Take them.
We bond through shared experiences.
When we share joy, laughter, light-hearted touch and conversation we form deeper bonds. We also create good memories and new patterns of relating to one another. It creates opportunities later to say, “Hey, do you remember that time that you were laughing so hard that water came out of your nose?” or, “Remember that mountain hike we went on? That was so much fun!” Creating fun memories and shared experiences are one of the things that create lasting bonds for families. We should be purposeful about building more positive shared experiences and memories in our families than negative ones.
You’re not rewarding bad behavior, you’re actually preventing it.
This is a real challenge for parents who’ve dealt with a particularly difficult child. Why on earth would I want to reward bad behavior? I know, I used to think that way until I learned about the psychological benefits of play. Many times, especially our children from hard places, get stuck in a rut of negative behaviors. They’ve developed a pattern and are simply comfortable with it. Sharing fun, playful experiences helps to create new pathways of interaction for them. Rather than being a reward, play is an extremely helpful psychological tool for healing and correction of behaviors. Here’s a few articles to help you understand this concept a little further: The Power of Play and What’s Your Play Personality?
Bring along a behavior buddy… for both of you!
Everyone behaves better when there’s someone else around, me included. Include another friend or family on your adventure, it could help keep negative behaviors at bay and give everyone the best opportunity to have fun.
Be intentional about laughter, fun and family downtime. You’ll reap the rewards in happier kids and a happier you. Life is too short not to enjoy it.