Joy Killers

Sunday was the beginning of the third week of Advent. We lit the Joy candle at church. The sermon was about peace – but I think it was applicable to joy. 

The Bible says a lot about joy. In this world, joy can seem impossible. We are human. We have made decisions, mistakes, and ended up in crappy situations. We are living with the sometimes painful results of the choices that we’ve made. We’re poor, hungry, tired, lost, and aching. We’re filled with diseases, pain, failures, and depression. It gets worse this time of year. For many people – joy is impossible. 

Today, I feel resentful of all the crazy. I just want a little peace in life. So, I looked up resentment and step families. You will find a lot of opinions and fact articles on these topics. Try “resentment in families” “Step family resentment” or “Spouse resentment” in your search engine. 

I’ve read some articles and considered all the things I already know. It seems the best course of action is: boundaries + communication + forgiveness + self care. 

If there’s one thing that I know about myself as a recovering person is that I struggle with setting and maintaining boundaries. When people are healthy, we set boundaries in a calm, controlled way. In society we observe boundaries easily and clearly and often. Yet, we struggle with setting and maintaining for a hundred reasons. 

What do boundaries look like? Just about everything. For example – requiring the children to knock and be admitted before coming into the room. Also, requiring that people respect other people’s things and ask before borrowing them. These are simple boundaries. 

When there is chaos we have to observe what’s happening and identify the problem. The we have to observe our feelings and identify our response to the problem. Often, we will have to set a boundary. Especially in situations like our where we are working from home, schooling from home, living at home, and being together more than we normally would. 

Here are some suggested boundaries: 

  1. setting a school and work schedule for each person; 
  2. parents sharing responsibility for assisting with school work on a schedule so that everyone gets meeting time and work time and school work assistance as needed whenever possible;
  3. setting limits on TV and video game time is a good boundary we all binge watch and it’s definitely an escape mechanism for us all;
  4. setting limits on junk food and grazing; we’re all eating like crazy right now because of isolation and feeling bad. As parents we can do this for our kids too;
  5. requiring all family members be polite with how we speak to each other; 
  6. requiring all family members to participate in the care of the house; 
  7. setting times for quiet time, reading time, alone time, etc. 
  8. setting a family dinner time; 
  9. requiring all family members use manners and be polite to each other even if they are not getting along, don’t like, etc;
  10. clearly setting consequences for some behaviors. 

Each family is different. We all have our own cultures. When we get married we are combining those two cultures. We’re also bringing together a whole slew of preconceived habits, ideals, and histories. This makes transitioning difficult, to say the least. I would say it’s especially true for a stepfamily. 

Success requires communication. If there’s a bunch of stuff one member of a team doesn’t know, that member cannot assist effectively. We don’t know what we don’t know until we know that we don’t know it. We didn’t know that there were so many underlying issues running around in our home until we began having constant conflict and chaos. We didn’t know what we were getting into until we got back from our honeymoon, the country shut down, and we had to get through it all. We didn’t know what our lives would look like during this first year. We didn’t know what would be asked of us in marriage and family life. Now we do. 

What we’re doing: we are trying to identify where the main, biggest, craziest source of chaos is coming from. Then we’re talking about it. We talk about how we feel related to it. Do I feel crazy? Left out? Unappreciated? Ignored? Disrespected? Rejected? Overwhelmed? 

An easy and common example is – not picking one’s things up, and the other’s response is anger, annoyance, frustration, possibly yelling. Communicating is how do we avoid the argument, the yelling, the anger, the failure to pick it up. One person thinks it’s huge and the other thinks it’s not a big deal. Each person’s beliefs are based in their personal, social, familial history, i.e. their culture. 

Discussing how we feel without blaming the other person is key. Each person taking responsibility for their actions and inactions and their own feelings will get to the next steps. It may happen over and over – socks on the floor, things on the counter, interrupting every ten minutes, etc. 

What do we do when the person doesn’t change after we’ve had the discussion? This is the hardest part of all. My answer seems trite. But I think I’m on to something. Okay… forgive them. Pick your battles and forgive them. Each of us has the crazy things we do. We do things that get on other people’s nerves. We all make mistakes and we all forget.

Then there’s  forgiveness –  this is the hardest part. Matthew 18:21-22 instructs us to forgive seven times seventy or seventy-seven times, either way. It’s a lot. Jesus then tells the parable of the unforgiving servant. He was forgiven millions and would not forgive thousands. Because he would not forgive others, he was thrown into prison to pay his own debt. Jesus then says “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”

I could write all day about forgiveness. The most important things are: we are all human and we all make mistakes; we all need forgiveness; forgiveness helps us more that it helps others. When we forgive we stop letting the other person control us. We prevent our own suffering as a result of the situation even if they’re not sorry. We can move on and be happy instead of getting stuck and dwelling on what occurred. 

Forgiveness is the hardest when it recurs. When the event recurs we need to address it head on. Can we ignore it, can we prevent it, can we set a boundary around it? See above – children have consequences and adults can have discussions and agreements.

Last is self care. We often fail to care for ourselves when things get crazy. I think we do it less at the holidays when it’s a time to do it more. There are a thousand ways to do it. Just do the thing that makes you sigh with relief when you do it. 

What do you think about the process? Is this week a joyous week for you or are you one of the thousands of people struggling this season? Enter the discussion, type a comment below, I’d love to hear from you.

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