When we marry and start a family, we like to think that everything will be smooth and easy. We will be a loving and close unit, the house will be filled with laughter and hugs, and our children will listen to our words of wisdom without ever challenging them. The reality is not that rosy. Human beings are complex creatures, and with that comes differing opinions, moments of tension, arguments and tantrums, and a host of stumbling blocks that need to be navigated wisely in order to resolve issues before they become insurmountable. It is important to remember that problems arise in all families, even in the animal kingdom. Think of them as lessons to learn from—lessons that impart patience, tolerance, good listening skills and even better communication skills. With that in mind, let’s look at some advice for managing family problems so the resolution is the end game, and not an impossible feat.
1. You don’t get along with your in-laws, and they live in your town
This is a difficult family problem to navigate, and one that will take lots of diplomacy and a setting aside of your ego. You don’t want to drive away your in-laws, after all they are your spouse’s parents and the grandparents of your children. At the same time, you want to let them know that some of their actions or words are hurtful to you and you need to establish some boundaries. The solution: Find a healthy, non-threatening way to communicate your needs to your in-laws. Do this when the children are not around; perhaps on neutral territory. How about inviting them out to a weekend brunch? Order some mimosas so the atmosphere is relaxed. And then, using “I” messages, share with them your thoughts. “I am really glad you two live nearby so that the children have a chance to be close to their grandparents. But I think it is important for you to know that I won’t tolerate any criticism of how we are raising the children, especially when it is said through the kids. I’m totally open to hearing what you think we are doing incorrectly, but it would be best to come directly to us and not use the children as messengers.”
2. You and your spouse disagree on how to raise the children
The solution: Each of you should create a list, noting your thoughts regarding of some of the more-important areas of childrearing: discipline (spanking? Time-outs? Rewarding good behavior and ignoring bad behavior?); imparting your own values such as religion and community service (should the children be forced to go to a house of worship, and at what age? Should they participate in social outreach such as working at the soup kitchen?), allowance (should we pay them for household chores?), and education (public or private school?). Using your lists as a basis for discussion, explain why you think your points are important, but be open to compromise. A give and take is always necessary within a couple when raising children, so you will want to reflect on what is negotiable and what is not.
3. The house is always a mess
You are tired of being the only one who cleans. No one seems to do anything about this unless you raise your voice, and then they do it begrudgingly and the mood in the house becomes tense and unhappy. The solution: Gather the entire family together; husband and kids. Make the atmosphere relaxed and fun, with some snacks and soda on the table. Have ready a piece of paper and a pen, because you are going to be creating a Chore Chart. Take the lead in the discussion, telling the family in a pleasant voice that everyone needs to contribute to the family’s well-being. Have everyone list of all the chores that need to be done in order for the household to run smoothly. Then ask who would like to be responsible for what the first week. Everyone’s chores will rotate so that no one person is constantly stuck with the more distasteful ones, like taking out the garbage or changing the birdcage. Create some kind of reward for the end of the week if all chores are done without complaint; maybe a family outing to the pizza parlor or a picnic at the beach. Don’t nitpick if the chores are not completed exactly as you’d like: the point is to share responsibility.
4. Your fights escalate quickly. Voices get loud and nothing gets resolved
The solution: There are many resources to help teach you to fight fairly and use conflict efficiently so you move towards a resolution. You want to avoid accusatory language, use your “I” messages, align yourself with the person you are fighting with so that the discussion becomes targeted towards a mutual solution and not a blamefest, and keep your conversation focused on the problem at hand without dredging up past ills.
5. You are tired, stressed and overworked so you tend to overreact to the problems at home
The solution: First, incorporate some de-stressing techniques into your daily routine. Don’t wait until a problem presents itself; you want to have a stock of techniques in your “toolbox” so you can reach in a grab one when an issue comes up. So practice meditation, or a sport, or listen to one of the many excellent apps now available that can help you build a wellspring of peace, ready to come in handy when challenging moments occur. Remember: You cannot control your spouse’s or children’s actions. You can only control your reactions to them. Practice empathy; when a family member does something that provokes your overreaction, take a breath and try to see why they are doing what they are doing. Get enough hours of sleep each night; this is one of the best things you can do to help you feel calm and capable. Nourish your body with good, whole foods, avoiding junk food and caffeine, two foods that been proven to have a detrimental effect on our moods.