How we deal with family stress can make or break the family.
We all pretended not to see what was happening. A teenage daughter lashed out at her father in front of several guests. “Why are you so mean and weak? Why can’t you be like my friend’s parents and support the family? You are such a failure? You make mom struggle with everything. I’m so tired of living this way!” One by one all the guests said their goodbyes and left, with looks of horror, embarrassment and shame. Though I did not know the real reason for the outburst, I knew dad had just recently been laid off work, and I can imagine that there was considerable financial stress. Several guests thought mom’s behavior had a lot to do with this outburst. How we react to stress individually and as a family can either bring the family together or tear it apart.
1. Take a deep breath
I find that in every crises one faces, it’s very helpful to stop, take a deep breath and pray. I must confess, I’m a work in progress when it comes to this. My initial reaction during stress was always to get upset and cry or lash out at the nearest living object. After going through some real difficulties I’ve found it very helpful to stop and pray. Praying calms me down. It always helps me realize the situation is not really as bad as I originally thought it to be. The best part of is, after praying I think of ideas I otherwise would not have thought off in my emotional state. This practice works really well when dealing with stress but it also teaches our teens good coping skills when they face stress in their life. Trust me, praying together as a family is one sure way a family can stay together and grow stronger during difficult times.
2. Teach teens to be empathetic and supportive
During times of stress, do we react like the teen in the story or do we rally around, empathize and support each other? A job loss is a common stress families face and our response to such an event can greatly impact the family. It starts with a supportive and reassuring spouse. It’s best to be truthful to your teens. Teens are very astute and sense when there is something wrong. You will also be amazed at the ideas and support that can come from them once they get over their initial shock. One mom recounted how her older teens stepped up and picked up jobs to support themselves when dad lost his job. Mom herself picked up a second job and today, this family has grown so much closer because they know they can count on each other when times are tough. On the other hand there are teens who get upset, like the teen above, because their parents can’t keep them in the luxurious lifestyle they are used to. Perhaps it’s in how we’ve trained our teens to view material needs. Once tempers cool, it’s good to sit with your teens and talk honestly about life, and its challenges. Parents should make use of stressful times to teach teens strength of character and the ability to be joyful and grateful even when life deals us a difficult hand.
3. Is being right that important?
One of the lessons my kids taught me really early was not to say “I told you so.” Believe me, our teens know when they’ve disobeyed us and made a mistake. Is being right really that important? Is it worth your relationship with your child to let them know you told them so? Your teen comes home with a rejection letter from her dream college. You knew this was going to happen. You warned her several times to focus and to stop hanging out with the wrong crowd. You can turn on her and berate her and let her know how disappointed you are, or you can hug her and let her know that you know how badly she feels about the situation. Reassure her you are there to support her through this very difficult and trying time. Same situation, but different responses and this will really make a difference in your relationship with her, going forward. Am I not saying we should condone it when our teens make mistakes? Absolutely not. You can let them know you are disappointed in how things turned out but you still love and support them. The mistakes they made do not change who they are. We can help them learn from their mistakes and teach them how to deal with the stress, or we can tell them off and lose the relationship. It really is not worth it. Would you prefer it if your teen was so afraid of your response in the face of crises, they would rather do anything but come to you? Your response when crises strikes should draw you closer and not destroy your relationship.
4. This too shall pass
Another very important lesson is to teach our teens: “No situation is permanent. This too shall pass.” They should learn good lessons from the mistakes they make and leave regret and shame behind. We can’t correct things backwards. We can only move forward armed with the knowledge we’ve acquired, and determine to do better. There is always something good to be learned in every crises and we emerge stronger and better people.
As our teens go through life, they have to realize that some stress along the way is inevitable. In fact dealing with stress, often makes them stronger and wiser. Resist the urge to nag at them. Instead, teach them by example to be gracious and empathetic when a crises strikes. Nurture your relationship by being supportive. Teach them the value of prayer as they go through crises, realizing, no situation is permanent and that it will all work out in the end.
“All things work together for good for those who love God.” Romans 8:28