Let me paint a picture for you. There is a young man and he is a husband and the father of 2 young children. He works a stressful 9-5 job each day. He is a very dedicated and motivated husband and father and he wants to give his all to his family after he comes home from work. Most evenings are filled with smiles and laughter. He is down on the floor playing with his kids. The family sits around the table for dinner then goes back to playtime. They are having a great time and it seems as though nothing could spoil it. Finally it’s time for the kids to get ready for bed.
Bedtime for his kids was 7:30. The expectation was that they would have jammies on, teeth brushed, prayers said, and lights out by that time. But kids will be kids. Any of you with children (or if you have ever been a child yourself) would know that getting kids to bed on time can be a nearly impossible task. Most kids could teach a master’s level course on stalling tactics, and these kids were no exception. The 7:30 bedtime quickly became 7:45 or 8. The farther past 7:30 they were out of bed, the more frustrated and irritable dad became. He found himself speaking harshly to them, trying to keep them on task and often sent them to bed with a great deal of tension and conflict and oftentimes with some sort of consequence.
He was really unhappy with the pattern and wanted to speak with a counselor to talk through possible solutions. He felt convicted about his attitude toward his children, but he tended to rationalize it by telling himself that kids need to learn to listen and obey and that a prompt bedtime is good for their overall health and wellness. While those things are certainly true, they were not the true reasons he was irritable with his kids. He didn’t seem to have any problem being patient and loving toward his kids all evening. It just seemed to be an issue at bedtime each night.
As we processed this pattern in session, the reason for his irritability finally dawned on him. He compared each day to a marathon, due to the stressful nature of his day job. He would come home nearly exhausted but with a strong desire to give whatever he had left to his wife and kids. Since the kids’ bedtime was 7:30, that was his finish line. If he could make it to 7:30 each night, he would be rewarded with the rest he felt that he needed. But each night, as the kids tended to drag out the bedtime routine, his finish line kept getting pushed back. He hadn’t realized it before, but he had been viewing his kids as an obstacle to his goal of reaching that 7:30 finish line. And whenever he viewed his kids as an obstacle, he found himself being more harsh and less patient with them.
When he realized this, he committed to change his focus. He chose to begin looking at the relationship with his kids as the goal. Once he successfully changed his focus, his patience with his kids returned. His need for rest after an exhausting day was still there, he just found ways to prioritize his relationships, and found other ways to meet his need for rest and rejuvenation.
- Check yourself. What pushes your buttons? What causes you to become irritable with your loved ones? It is likely that you are viewing them as an obstacle between you and the goal you wish to achieve.
- Focus on connection. If our goal is to connect with those around us, we are less likely to see them as obstacles.
- Relationship over Issue. Remember that the relationship with your loved one is always more important than the issue you are trying to address. So much of our conflict comes from focusing on the issue at the expense of the relationship. If we can prioritize the relationship, we can still address the issue in an effective manner, but do so in a way that enhances our connection with others, rather than tear it down.