Recently I have been talking with my kids about the need to show each other more love, not less, when one of us is tired, or grumpy or ‘misbehaving’. I know this is counter-intuitive because our main instinct is to punish or cold-shoulder someone who is being rude or mean. But, as we say in our family, when someone is behaving badly, there is a large chance that this is because ‘their heart is feeling bad’.
When our ‘hearts are feeling good’ – i.e. we are happy with ourselves, proud of our actions, feeling loved and a have a powerful sense of belonging and purpose – we find it easy to be kind, loving, happy and competent. So therefore, even though we might not think that someone ‘deserves’ to be loved when they are acting badly, this is really when they need our love the most. They need their heart to be repaired, or recharged, or just soothed, so they can recover their equilibrium and be themselves again.
While this all makes perfect sense to me, it is something that I find really difficult to practice. I am, I have realised, somewhat grudgingly, someone who finds it hard to hide their emotions. I wear my heart on my sleeve, as they say, especially within the safe confines of my family. Therefore, my family knows exactly what mood I am in, at any particular time of the day, and often the reason behind it. This is better than hiding everything, but I would prefer to reach the middle ground of being able to control some of my negative emotions when it would help those around me if I did.
This personality trait of mine makes it quite difficult for me to control my irritation, anger, frustration and resentment at other family members’ rudeness, anger and tantrums. (I know this is a double standard, but I’m working on it!) Nearly 11 years of parenting has shown me that shaming, punishment and anger in response to a child’s ‘misbehaviour’ is ineffective not just in the long-term but the short-term too. It just doesn’t work, not to mention the harm that it can cause. So I have to use this experience and evidence to remind myself to go the other way. Sometimes (when my heart is feeling good) I can offer real love at those moments when my children need it, even though they often don’t accept it. At other times (when I’m low on energy and resilience, AKA ‘my heart is feeling bad’) I have to force myself to offer words of forgiveness and love through gritted teeth. I have been known to cuddle an angry child who is trying to calm down while simultaneously making angry faces that they can’t see just because I can’t control my own anger. I know! It’s really immature of me, but at least I’m going in the right direction.
So when I was Christmas shopping last week in Horsham and saw this (above), I had to buy it as an early present for my family. It is now up in our kitchen to remind us all that this is what we are aiming for. We won’t ever be able to do this all the time, but by having it as one of the guiding principles of our family life, I am hoping we will learn to tolerate and help each other when we need it the most.