When Your Family Erupts
Well, it finally happened.
We had a thermonuclear battle in the house, with everyone going after everybody about everything. It’s unclear, really, what precipitated the decision of parents and children to start a circle of yelling, but yell we did! It ended with a lot of storming out. Afterwards, with time to reflect, everyone sheepishly apologized to one another. We all did a bit of inward inspection of our own motives and willingness to “go there.” By that I mean take a small, negligible battle over something totally trivial and make it the basis to declare war.
By the weekend — two days removed from our family Kurukshetra — my wife and daughters had gone to Disney Pixar’s new movie Inside Out, a humorous meditation on how our emotions work together (and sometimes in conflict) to guide us through our life events. My wife reported back that the movie was actually quite good and confessed a particular affection for the character Anger and his fire-hydrant fury that boiled over in an instant and pushed reason out the window. It felt very real and authentic. Much has been said of late how the movie successfully reflects emotional balance as a daily push-and-pull between many emotions.
The biggest insight I learned from our week of sumo wrestling is that I, as a parent, tend to operate on a “three-strike rule.” I try to relate my position calmly about three times before I lose my temper and let go with a, “Because I say so!” After that, watch out! Because trouble has arrived. As I reflect on it, the loss of temper usually comes when I feel compelled to offer a rationale for the obvious:
You need to wear shoes to school, any shoes. Why? You just do!
You have to eat actual food because that’s what human beings do on a daily basis.
Bedtime is a thing because if you children don’t sleep at least eight hours you are little monsters the next day.
As I reflect on my rather embarrassing behavior, I am not proud at all for yelling at my children. However, I’m trying to seek a silver lining for this dark cloud. And it is this: It gave me a chance to let go of the bottled up feelings and petty grievances; I could just start over. Since this incident, I’ve actually become calmer, more patient. Of course, I readily accept the idea that, rather than a Buddha-like figure attaining enlightenment beneath the bodhisattva tree, I am probably more like a volcano whose magma chamber has emptied itself of all combustible material. But it’s a positive outcome, nonetheless.
It’s funny how we all want to be our best selves for our children, the super-parents shaping them into something wonderful through picture-perfect life experiences. But then comes That Day, when the clothes are flying across the room, everyone is late, and the day is a lead balloon before 9 am. Somehow, in these moments, we end up being our worst selves. We want to show charity and patience, but we may end being petty and filled with distemper. Yet, even these regrettable events give us a chance to be real people, not the cutout shapes Facebook and Instagram makes us into. We acknowledge and express real emotions and reactions; then we make our way to becoming better parents.
And hey, is being a volcano all that bad? After all, even the trees grow again and the plants eventually shoot up from the rich, volcanic soil.