Change Yourself, Change Your Family


The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 133 · Duration: 00:13:10

Change Yourself, Change Your Family

What do you do when you have a goal for the new year that you want your family to demonstrate an attitude of kindness, and you’re trying your best, but can’t change the others?

Change Yourself, Change Your FamilyThis week, Amber writes:

I really want things to be different in my family this year and I like the idea of an attitude of kindness from last week’s message. There is way too much strife in our home.

I have a 14 year old son and 12 year old fraternal twin daughters. Life has always been hectic but as a family we muddle through. My husband tends to be on the autocratic rigid side, very involved and hard working, but when things don’t go right, he can be critical and demanding. I tend to smooth things over for everyone and that annoys my husband who thinks I’m not strict enough. Overall, the kids are doing fine. Our son is a good athlete and avoids run ins with his father and comes to me for permission to do things his father would say “no” to, I think unreasonably.

One of the girls puts energy into pleasing her father and the other one resents his expectations and tone. When alone, they do fine but when I’m around, they both complain about each other and complain that I’m more generous with the other one. For instance, when we go out to eat, which one gets to choose the kind of food, etc.

The stress and complaining in the home isn’t healthy for anyone, but now I want to do something about it but I’m not sure what. My New Year’s Resolution of an attitude of kindness.

Thanks for your question Amber and I’ll bet you have lots of folks nodding as you describe your situation, so let’s see what we can do.

Setting Goals

I love your goal, but a goal without a strategy isn’t really a goal, it’s more of a wish or a fantasy. Now if you have a goal and a strategy, even if there are failures along the way to accomplishing your goal, those failures are part of the learning process and will help you reach your goal.

A goal without a strategy isn’t really a goal, it’s more of a wish or a fantasy.Click To Tweet

I don’t mean to diminish the need for goals, they are enormously important. Goals give us hope and inspiration. Goals lift our spirits, improve mental health and are motivating. And you can’t have a strategy unless it is towards an end and that’s a goal.

As I understand it, you want to see and experience more kindness and less strife in your family. Excellent, let’s build a strategy for that.

Building A Strategy For Your Goals

Now, of course, you can change your behavior, you can’t change other people’s. But given that you’re the Mom in this family, I’m confident that if you can make some changes, you’ll see those changes manifest in your family.

Let’s start with understanding a couple of things about your family.

  • You have a strong tendency towards accommodation, pleasing others, making others happy.
  • Your husband has a strong tendency towards structure and control.

Since your family is doing reasonably well, as you put it, neither of you are off the charts with your tendencies, but, there is an ongoing struggle in your family between you and your husband. That’s creating a family culture of stress and competition.

Amber, related to all this, you have some level of Parental Burnout and that’s what happens when you work too hard with too little reward. You keep trying to make things better for everyone but you are part of the family culture and it isn’t working and it isn’t going to work.

Strategy #1 is back off a bit from trying to change anything other than self-care for you. I’m not sure what that will look like, but do something or some things for yourself on a regular basis that you aren’t currently doing that you like. For instance, take a yoga class, make time with friends, play your musical instrument, even take a weekend away for yourself. Maybe a weekend with your husband, if that would be rewarding. It may not be in your emotional DNA to take care of yourself, so it may be more difficult than it sounds.

Strategy #2 is to take an empowered role in your family. What do I mean by that? Let me explain my thinking. Your husband is a good person with a tendency toward criticism and control, but it isn’t out of malice, it’s the only way or the most accessible way he knows how to keep the kids safe and doing the right things. You see his tone as hurtful and want to protect the kids from it. I’m betting that he is more strict and his tone is more severe because he sees himself as needing to be the parent who upholds high standards and that you are too much of a pushover and if he doesn’t help the line, everything will go to hell in a hand-basket. So do not run interference for him. If when the kids complain to you, first validate their feelings and then advise them that their father has their best interests in mind and if they want to talk with him about his tone or being more flexible, talk with him.

Strategy #3 is to invite your twins to talk more kindly with each other and with you. You’re happy to hear about their needs, wants, preferences, but it wrecks a good time if when we end up with a decision, someone is always unhappy. As 12 year olds, they are completely capable of working together and having a good time. If having nice things or doing nice things like going out to get something to eat is a competition rather than a fun time, there is no sense doing it.

Facing Challenges

The biggest challenge for you, Amber, is going to be remembering you don’t need to make others happy, they can do that for themselves. You are responsible for your happiness and they theirs. So this is going to take a while for you to be able to operate from that position comfortably.

You don’t need to make others happy, they can do that for themselves. You are responsible for your happiness and they theirs.Click To Tweet

In other words, you’re going to fail a lot. Keep your goal in mind, but focus on your strategy, your plan. Review it every morning, and take notes on what you did well and what still needs work with your efforts every day. If you stay with it, your successes will start to out number the times when you used your old behavior and kindness will grow in your family and your vulnerability to parental burnout will diminish greatly.

Parents and folks who work with parents, when you want to see family change, you’re talking about systemic change and systems that come to mental health providers have in common that they resist change.

If a parent stays focused on the change they have to make, that’s the leverage that will invite, if not mandate change from everyone else.

If you are a therapist who works in a behavioral health treatment program and would like to talk with me about improving outcomes in your program, come on over to my website and shoot me an email or give me a call. I’ll be happy to talk with you.

Please, take care of yourselves; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it. Bye for now.

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Posted in The Healthy Family Connections Podcast.