Living Together

3eb4b43f_oWe are a family of nine. My husband, my daughter and son-in-law, their five children (!) and a sweet Boston Terrier. We live in regulation Army housing, comfortable but certainly not luxurious. I have a small bedroom and bathroom (that I share with my husband) and a small closet that I call my own. Not the typical American arrangement.

Most of my daughter’s friends are stunned that we live together. They regularly make comments like, “I could live with my father, but NEVER with my mother.” Or “My husband could only take my mother in small doses. We could NOT live together. It would never work.” My daughter has told me she is the only one she knows who likes, truly likes her mother (I’m flattered).

The basic assumption is we all like each other all the time and it’s loads of fun every day. Just not true. Does anyone like anyone all the time? Each of us finds ways to make the arrangement work. My closet is totally off limits to every one. I have made threats.  :-) We don’t spend all our time together. A field trip to Mt. Vernon is for my daughter and her family. Lunch out after church doesn’t always includes Grandma.

And, there are problems. Some days everyone doesn’t do the work (laundry, dishes, bathroom cleanup) they said they would. Other times the level of noise and chaos of five healthy children seems unnecessary and in fact disrespectful or rude. Other days the asked-for-advice/in-put is just plain too much. Sometimes harsh, hurtful words are said.

Through our problems we make concessions, show kindness, ask for forgiveness. We serve one another and do what needs to be done. We find that place where we make the solitude we need and we respect each other’s need for time away.

We are family,

Deb

 

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Building Trust

photo (17)This is a helpful article from MOPS International. The author, Alexandra Kuykendall, addresses the issue of building trust with your in-laws. There are some good insights and a great clip from Meet The Parents.

http://www.mops.org/building-trust-with-the-in-laws

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A Gift Gone Wrong

I opened my bedroom door and there she stood, filled with pride. My sweet dog began to jump up and down around the prize that lay at her feet. She was full of anticipation as she awaited the praise and applause she was certain she’d receive. The huntress had accomplished her goal. On the carpet lay the body of my daughter’s lifeless pet hamster.  As you can imagine, I was horrified at the sight and let out a shriek.  My dog stared up at me with a puzzled look on her face. What happened to the great celebration she was sure her “gift” would elicit? She sincerely wanted to please us. What went wrong?

photo (16)Actually, I can kind of relate to my dog. Even though I’ve never hunted down anyone’s pet, I’ve said and done things with the best of intentions and received an entirely different response than I had anticipated.  Most of us have had that experience at one time or another. We inadvertently hurt someone in the process of trying to help. Our intentions may have been to encourage someone who is struggling, but instead we’ve come across as insensitive or cliché. Such unfortunate comments or actions are seldom calculated to cause pain, but nonetheless, they do. We’ve also been the recipients of painful, ignorant words and actions ourselves. When such hurts come our way, we have to dig deep to get past them. Not easy.

A couple of years ago I interviewed a man who specialized in the healing of broken relationships. He said this, “One of the greatest barriers to good relationships is this: we tend to judge others by their actions but we judge ourselves by our intentions.”

My little dog had the best of intentions. However, her good intentions didn’t take the pain away. But knowing the heart behind her actions did impact how I treated her. She really believed from her DNA up  that she was giving us a wonderful gift. I understood that and could love her despite her actions.

Reflection: I’ve had to remind myself of this man’s insightful observation, especially when I’m dealing with family relationships.

Observation: When I’m willing to consider the possibility that the intentions behind hurtful words and actions of others may not be malicious, I open my heart up for grace to do its work.

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Don’t Judge Me!

“You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.”  Eleanor Roosevelt

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This quote is dripping with truth. There are times when we get upset by what we “believe” others are thinking about us or how others are judging us. But the truth is, most people are far too self-consumed to spend their precious time thinking about us.

I’ll never forget when a friend gave me a reality check on this subject. I was about 22 years old. I was going on and on about feeling judged and criticized by people. The truth was, the people I was upset about had not actually said those judgmental things to me. It was merely conjecture on my part based on how I interpreted their actions and words. I don’t remember all the details. But I do remember what my friend said to me, “You probably think when you walk into a room that everyone looks at you and critiques you in their minds.” She went on to say, “I don’t think that way at all. I know that people are far more worried about their own appearance and the impression they are making than they are about me.”

And even if they are thinking spiteful judgmental things about me, so what!
Such thoughts are usually fleeting and are only hurtful if I infuse them with power. I’d rather play the odds and just assume that they, like I, are too self-consumed to focus on me. Saves on anxiety too.

Observation: My friend was right when she called me on that “walking into the room” thing.  Her comment stuck with me all these years.

Reflection: I want to remember Eleanor’s words and give myself a break.

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What We Have to Give

photo (51)As the speaker began, he told this story:

Tyler was only 5 years old. As he approached his parent’s bedroom door he heard their angry voices. His dad shouted in frustration, “We just can’t afford it. I didn’t get the bonus I’d hoped for. We don’t have the money to move right now.” Tyler could hear his mom’s voice. She was upset too. She’d been so excited about the move.  But everyone was sad now. He hated the awful feeling that was growing in his stomach. Tyler ran into his bedroom, grabbed something and ran back to his parent’s bedroom. He opened the door and said, “I can help you! We can still move into the new house!” He unlocked his fingers and dropped a handful of coins on the bedside table. He declared, “Now you have money. We can buy the house. Everything will be OK.”

What would you do if you were Tyler’s parents? Hopefully most of us would put our arms around him and thank him for his kindness. We’d tell him how much we loved him and how we appreciated his efforts on our behalf.

But what if instead we said, “Tyler, what you did is ridiculous and really doesn’t help at all. What’s wrong with you? If you understood what was really going on, you wouldn’t have done such a stupid thing. You should’ve known better.”

Whether it’s a mother-in-law, daughter-in-law, husband, wife, sibling or even a friend, when a person falls short in their efforts to help us, we can be pretty tough on them. But in reality, each of us has only so much to offer. We may have lots of insights in certain areas, but few insights in others. Because of our own family dysfunctions, personal experience, cultural differences, losses, or a number of other circumstances, each of us is limited in various ways. It would be great if knew what to say and do in every circumstance, but we don’t. We stumble and fall and say useless and insensitive things that hurt others at times.

When I heard the speaker make his summation, it almost seemed too simplistic. But as I considered his words, the impact was profound. He said,  “We cannot give to someone what we do not have. We can only give to others what we have to give.

We are all like Tyler in some areas of our lives. We have gaps. We have deficits. We are ignorant. Sometimes people offer what they have and those offerings seem meager. But when we realize that what they gave is all they had, it gives us an opportunity to be less judgmental and far more gracious.

I realize this is not the case in every situation. Sometimes people are intentionally unkind and spiteful. But when it comes to those around us who love us and want to have a relationship with us, what they offer may simply be all they have to give.

Observation: The older I get the more I recognize my own deficits. There are some gaps in my life that I hope I can fill as time goes on. But I also know that I  still have my own deficiencies, areas where I can’t give what I was never given.

Reflection: Although people may be more aware of my gaps than I am, I might also be more aware of theirs.  I’d like to remember when I’m disappointed with someone close to me that they may be giving me all they have.

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She’s Not My Mother

photo (42)Were you suprised by how difficult it was to connect with your new mother-in-law? One woman was. Here’s her story:

I’m not sure what I expected. My mother always spoke so favorably of her mother-in-law, my grandma Marguerite. My high school friend Peggy had nothing but praise for her pretty, cultured, French mother-in-law. So when I was driven crazy by my mine, I was confused.

What was wrong here? She gave me gifts I didn’t like, but couldn’t return–family rules; it would hurt her feelings. She stopped by my house EVERY day. When she spoke of relatives there was always a critical comment or two about the “new” family member. I wondered what she said when she spoke about me.

One day I was complaining about my mother-in-law to a friend. I said, “My mother would never do that.” Peggy quietly yet profoundly replied, “But she’s not your mother.” That one comment changed my thinking. My mother-in-law was a person. She was not my mother. She was a person who would probably not be a good friend of mine if I had the choice. So what was my choice?

Knowing that she would continue to be a part of my life, I chose to focus on her good qualities.  She had several. For example, she was a miracle worker when it came to cleaning, mending and the general care of clothing. I learned a lot from her about the removal of stains. She also had some more meaningful qualities too. She was a master storyteller. The way she told stories to my children was nothing short of fabulous. My grown children now repeat some of the stories they heard years ago from their grandma to their own children. She passed on a treasured heritage of love and values to future generations through the art of story.

If I had continued to focus on my mother-in-law’s shortcomings instead of emphasizing her strengths, I would have been the loser. My children have a loving, sweet, relationship with their grandma that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

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That Really Hurt!

They’d been staying with her in-laws for a week. It was Jeanie’s first year of marriage to their son, Greg. That morning as Jeanie sat talking with her father-in-law he turned to her and said resolutely, “You know Jeanie, one of the reasons I married my wife is because she doesn’t talk.” Jeanie instantly felt the sting and pain of his words. She knew what he was getting at.  Jeanie’s father-in-law valued a peaceful and quiet atmosphere in his home.  Jeanie on the other hand is the kind of person who walks into a room and the party begins.  She is outgoing, optimistic, cheerful, and engaging. She laughs and speaks with great enthusiasm.  She is neither quiet nor low key. After she got over the initial shock she said to him, “Well Dad, one of the reasons your son married me is because I DO talk.”

Although Jeanie had a great respect for her father-in-law, she was still wounded by his words. She saw his comment as a fumbled attempt at trying to explain his own need for rest and peace. But it came across as a very personal criticism and devaluation of who she was. She told Greg what had happened. He reassured her, “You’re right. I do love that you talk and I really do like who you are.” Greg never said anything to his dad. Jeanie’s glad he didn’t. She did feel awkward being around him at first, not being sure when and if she should talk. For a while it even made her wonder if being herself around him was acceptable. But after she had some time to heal she began to think things through. She made some decisions that helped in the healing. Looking back she said, “I don’t think he realized that his words came across as a personal attack because he’s just not an unkind person.”

  • She chose to believe that her father-in-law genuinely loved her.
  • She chose to believe he had no cruel intent in his heart when he spoke, regardless of the hurt she felt.
  • She also concluded that she would continue to be herself but that she also needed to respect who he was. She needed to tone it down at times in his presence. She could do that.
  • And she chose to forgive him.

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What You Can Do When Someone Hurts You

Excerpts from article by Ed and Deb Shapiro

1. Recognize no one harms another unless they are in pain themselves. Ever notice how when you’re in a good mood, it’s hard for you to harm or hurt anything.

2. No one can hurt you unless you let them.  When someone hurts us, we are inadvertently letting them have an emotional hold over us.

3. Respect yourself enough that you want to feel good. If you make the decision not to respond negativity to the person who hurt you, you can turn it around and wish him/her well.

4. Consider how you may have contributed to the situation. It’s all too easy to point fingers and blame the perpetrator but no difficulty is entirely one-sided. So contemplate your piece in the dialogue or what you may have done to add fuel to the fire.

5. Extend kindness. That doesn’t mean you’re like a doormat that lets others trample all over you while you just lie there and take it. But it does mean letting go of negativity sooner than you might have done before, so that you can replace it with compassion

6. Meditate. Meditation takes the heat out of things and helps you cool off, so you don’t over react. Focus on a person you may be having difficulty with. Hold them in your heart and say: May you be well! May you be happy! May all things go well for you!

Check out this 30 second Youtube by Lewis Smedes:

 

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The People Pleasing Illusion

photo (33)“I feel like I’m just a balloon.”  My counselor had a quizzical look on his face, “A balloon?” I looked back at him with resignation and explained, “I walk into a room and I adjust myself to everyone around me. You know, like a balloon. If you push on a balloon it adjusts its shape.” I was wounded and fragile at that time in my life, thus, the counselor.  I felt as though my best efforts were judged and condemned by those around me. I concluded it might be easier to figure out what I thought people expected of me and try to adjust to that. A friend of mine said it this way, “I become a chameleon. I change my colors to suit those around me. I try to guess who they want me to be. Then I try to blend in.” However you describe it, it’s a form of people pleasing. People pleasers live under the illusion that they can gain approval and love and avoid conflict by assessing what others want from them and then acting in a way that pleases them. Somewhere along the way we’ve begun to believe that what we have to offer or who we are is not good enough.

When my counselor heard my metaphor, he offered a different one, “Liz you need to be a bowling ball. You get to decide who you are. You can choose every morning the kind of person you want to be. Don’t be a balloon. You won’t get what you’re hoping for.” What did that mean? Who did I want to be? I wanted to be a person who spoke with honesty, authenticity and kindness. I wanted to able to share my ideas and opinions in a thoughtful manner without worrying about others judging me. I wanted to live in the freedom of knowing that I was being me. And if people accepted or rejected me, at least it was the “real me” they were rejecting or accepting. The bowling ball metaphor isn’t about being self-centered and demanding, but about being confident and honest. I just wanted to know that being me, with all of my faults, was enough. I wanted to live in a way that reflected my belief that I am “fearfully and wonderfully made.” That is enough. I am enough. You are enough too.

Brenee Brown, author and researcher, discovered that many of us are trying to “fit in.” But what we really want is to believe that we are worthy of love and that we belong:

“Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted. Belonging on the other hand doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.” The Gift of Imperfection

 Observation: When you begin to feel like you are adjusting and readjusting yourself to please those around you, ask yourself,  “Am I living in a way that represents who I am? Or am I living in a way that represents what I think others expect of me?” Chose to be yourself even if it means others, your family and in-laws, might not understand.

Refection: I catch myself falling back into the people pleasing mode at times. I’m getting better though. Still on that journey.

Check out this Youtube on vulerability and being enough by Brenee Brown

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A Perspective on In-Laws and a Happy Marriage

photo (34)I am pleased to join Fawn Weaver founder of Happy Wives Club (www.happywivesclub.com) and 1,000 bloggers as we celebrate Happy Marriages around the world.HWClub_BlogButnA_400x100

One significant contribution to the happiness of our marriage over the last 36 years has been that we’ve learned to appreciate each other’s families. If you’ve read much about me you’ll know I was not a secure, affectionate and grateful new wife. I was awkward, insecure and protective. I was much more aware of the differences between our families than I was our similarities. I came with my own set of baggage and plenty of blind spots.

But there are some decisions we made along the way that have contributed to the happiness in our marriage. These decisions had to do with how we treated each other and our respective families. We didn’t come to these conclusions overnight but rather through trial and error. Here’s what we’ve learned:

  • Instead of judging the differences between our families we’ve chosen to value and embrace some of his family traditions and some of my family traditions. We’ve made them our own.
  • We’ve chosen to speak highly of each other’s families and to ask forgiveness if we fail to do so.
  • We’ve also chosen to speak well of each other to our own families
  • And most important of all, we’ve chosen to keep each other as the number one priority in our lives even above our own families.

 Observation: If I say something out of frustration about my spouse to my family members, I usually forget about it later. But they don’t.

Reflection: I hope my in-laws knew how much I admired their son. Looking back, I wish I had told them more often.

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A “New” New Year’s Resolution

photo (28)New Year’s is a great time to make resolutions. I realize that’s not a new thought. But I’m not talking about typical decisions like: I’m going to work out everyday. I’m going to eat right. I’m going to take supplements. And I’m going to lose weight and fit into that swimsuit I’ve had for the last four years hoping that I’ll shrink…or that it will stretch.  That’s not what I am talking about. (Although these were my actual thoughts this morning.)

This year I want to make a decision that will impact my personal growth. My New Year’s resolution is all about rethinking how I view expectations.

“Expectations are premeditated resentments.” The first time I heard that phrase I made the connection. I realize that I have a list of unspoken expectations. I may not always be aware of this list, but it’s there. The resentments I feel are the evidence. Resentments reveal that someone has fallen short of our expectations.  We have expectations about how people should act, how they should feel or how they should respond to us. When someone treats us in a way that falls short of our expectations, resentment grows. My resolution is to become a better manager of the expectations I place on others. What will that mean? It might mean choosing to give to others just for the joy of giving instead of giving and expecting appreciation in return. It might mean choosing to act in ways that reflect my values and principles without expecting people to agree and support me. Or perhaps when I speak words of encouragement I’ll set aside the expectation that my words will be received in the way I had hoped. But the most powerful choice I want to live by is the choice to forgive without the expectation that I’ll be forgiven in return. If I forgive, I can break the power of resentment. I’ll get to experience emotional freedom regardless of the response of the intended receiver.  It’ll give me a chance to pay it forward, the forgiveness I’ve experienced in my own faith journey.

I like Steven Arterburn’s quote on resentment from his book, Walking Into Walls: “Resentment is Toxic. It can eat out your soul like acid. Resentment also causes you to give up your life to the person you resent. We don’t realize that when we resent someone for what he has done to us we do the very opposite of what we want. We allow that person to control us. He becomes a wall that stops us short casting a dark shadow on our present and blocking off the future.”

Observation: Expectations and resentments can really flourish during the Holidays. Are you carrying any around with you?

Reflection: This whole expectations thing might sound a bit unrealistic and simplistic. It’s not. It’s work. But it’s worth it.

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