Many families go through stormy times, whether it’s divorce, serious illnesses, or financial issues. Sometimes we have huge challenges in life that we simply can’t fix. Divorce affects everyone in the family, both in everyday practical matters and in emotional ways. A tragedy such as the death of a spouse or child is not within our control. Job losses can lead to long lasting challenges and far reaching consequences.
The biggest problems we face usually don’t have simple solutions, but we must live through those times as best we can while trying to keep everything going along with as much stability as we can muster. We can increase the stability of our families, even when they feel broken, by keeping things as normal as possible through continuing routines and reinforcing our family structures.
First, it helps to acknowledge some of the impact that our family’s crisis is having on us and our kids. When we have stress, our kids have stress. Common signs of stress in children are: anger, sleep problems such as nightmares, bedwetting, trouble at school, eating problems, withdrawal from friends and family members and over reacting to small problems. Don’t these sound familiar? They are similar (except the bed wetting) to how adults react to stress. Sometimes that helps us empathize, but if both we and our child are overreacting to small problems, then those small problems quickly escalate into big ones.
To lessen the impact of stress, we can set aside the big issue we can’t control and instead spend some time dealing with smaller day to day challenges which we can improve. Two practical needs that we can impact are keeping lines of communication open and keeping the household running as well as we can. Here are suggestions to help us get started.
- Give your kids a chance to express routine things that bother them and then find solutions together by holding regular family meetings. Family meetings provide a structured format for kids to share what they think in a way that doesn’t compromise the parent’s authority or otherwise lead to more arguments. It’s key to plan for a positive family meeting by following these guidelines: http://www.familylifeministry.atlanta.goarch.org/promoting-positive-communication-through-structured-family-meetings/
- Foster a sense of “we’re all working together” by establishing family chores. This will also help keep the household running smoothly. No matter how dark the day, the dishes still need to be done and the floor still needs to be swept. Need tips on how to organize family chores? Here they are: http://www.familylifeministry.atlanta.goarch.org/chores/
Keep routines in place and establish or continue positive habits. Good habits protect us when our emotions overwhelm us. It’s tough to face the things we must face, but it does help a little if the bathrooms are clean and there’s something good cooking in the kitchen. Accomplishing a routine task not only gets something done, but keeps a feeling of normalcy in the environment; this lessens stress because it helps us feel a little less like everything is falling apart.
Having a routine way to help by completing chores and a voice to express underlying issues through family meetings will help cement the structure of your family and promote some emotional healing within each person.
There are also spiritual things we can do to help us open our hearts and our children’s hearts to the loving grace of God who is near us in our trials.
- Pray at meals, pray with your children at bedtime, pray silently with a prayer rope, pray quick heartfelt prayers with your kids during troubling moments so they feel that God is with us at all times… pray.
- Keep going to church on Sunday and other services. Listen to the Psalms at Matins and feel how merciful God is to those who hurt.
- Create a home altar so there’s a special place for you and your children to pray. Have icons in your children’s bedrooms too. They may want an icon of their saint, a guardian angel, and of your church’s saint along with Christ and the Theotokos. Icons from church bulletins can be recycled into beautiful icons for a child’s wall with a little creativity. Seeing icons reminds children that God and the saints love them and can help decrease nighttime fears.
- Choose one Bible verse a week to memorize. For inspiration, look here: http://www.stnicholas.info/orthodoxy/where_to_find_specific_bible_verses.php
Families go through stormy times and in the worst of it we sometimes feel like our family’s ship is sinking, but it isn’t if Christ is at the helm.
We may feel that we’re facing problems that can’t be fixed in this life, and even though that realization is devastating, we know that the problems of this world will end, and that our new glorious life has already begun. In the meantime, we are not crushed by the crisis; in faith we believe that there is joy, now and in heaven, for those who trust in the Lord. While we wait for the clouds to break a bit, keep things running and listen to our kids, so as to help our family walk through the dark times together, following Christ each step of the way.