I had been sensing a tension in the undercurrents of my home. The sweet harmony that usually flowed freely now had a tinge of strain. If there are any benefits to being raised as an only child, I guess one of them is that I am HYPER sensitive to challenges between siblings. And something was definitely brewing.
I felt it in small ways through conversations. Something off about that tone. Something weird about that glance. And it culminated in a dressing room when a snide comment was made by one sister to another…in the car ride home I laid down the law that in no uncertain terms would I allow teasing, hurtful jibes or unbecoming remarks about each other to be tolerated. This crap was gonna stop now. Or else.
That night I barely slept. What was the matter? What was I missing? Had I come this far to now have a strained relationship between my oldest daughters? By breakfast time, I was brimming over. I took the oldest three in my bedroom and said, “Spit it out. What’s the trouble here?” Two sisters pointed at one and said, “She is.” That normally rock hard stalwart young woman had hot tears streaming down her face. Oh Lord. Not that one. Don’t let her cry. She NEVER cries.
To make a long story short, it was my fault. I had not been encouraging her as I should have been. I (wrongly) figured since everyone else encourages her so much, her cup was full. In fact, she gets sooooo much encouragement and words of affirmation from so many around her that I almost felt like I needed to help her keep grounded. So here is everyone else saying how beautiful, smart, articulate, incredible she is (all true, by the way) and I am treading lightly because I am afraid she’ll get a big head.
What an idiot. When I explained myself, she replied, “But none of what THEY say matters to me. I only need to hear it from you.” Aw crud. I suck.
I profusely apologized. I asked for forgiveness. I explained I came by it honestly. My dad never really encouraged me either and I mostly take after his personality. After we all had a good clearing of the air, harmony returned. I began making a conscious effort to encourage her (really all of them) more. But there are a few take-aways here for every parent….
1- Be sensitive to the tone of your home. If something’s not right, do something about it. Confront it. Don’t gloss over things hoping they will just go away. Deal with it, head on. Conflict avoidance never does anyone any good.
2- Listen in a confrontation, don’t just defend yourself…and teach your kids to listen too. In this case, I was in the wrong. Clearly. I explained myself, but it was not a defense. I needed to change. I had missed a great need of my child’s. And now I will change what I was doing.
3- Give your child the freedom to speak up and speak openly. They make some mistakes and it takes time to learn how to do so with respect and self control, but this is an extremely important life skill. This is not whining, yelling, or complaining. This is learning how to state a grief and explain emotions. This skill goes hand in hand with #2, because they will learn NOT to speak up if you just defend yourself instead of listen…and if it is about a challenge with another sibling, you must make sure the child still feels the freedom to speak up and be heard about that sibling. If you do not have this “freedom of speech” in your household, you will have large undercurrents of tension, fear, anger and resentment that build up between family members. It’s a ticking time bomb. And lastly, teach your child the importance of clearing the air quickly when they begin to feel something is off or missing in a relationship. In this case, the pain of not having met my child’s need for encouragement was only made more excruciating because I realized I had been in the wrong for quite some time. Every opportunity I missed to encourage her could have been avoided if she had told me earlier. I explained that in a marriage or friendship, you can’t drop hints and hope the other person catches on. In all likelihood, the noise inside the other person’s brain is too loud to get a clue. She agreed and promised to get better at being forthright about her challenges.
Folks, keep a good pulse on the atmosphere and tone of your home and the relationships right under your roof. Don’t gloss over bad attitudes or slick jibes. Face the interpersonal challenges head on and humbly admit when you’re in the wrong. Listen carefully to your children and don’t just defend yourself. And for heaven’s sake, encourage your children!