I’m sure you’ve been there before. One minute you’re having fun with your family and then before you know it you’ve reached a stalemate… Here is one such tale.
I am sitting at the kitchen island finishing eating dinner with my family. My boys are laughing hysterically. I turn both my hands into the “closed” position (a fist) and knock them into each other. My two fists battle it out until they explode. Bam! More laughter erupts from the kids and this time my husband Matt and I laugh too.
I am acting out being “open” and “closed” with the new hand motions I just made up and for some reason everyone finds it amusing. But if you turned the clock back a few minutes, it was like we were in a different place. Frustration was palpable, no one was having fun. Adam had a pile of vegetables on his plate and was trying to escape the island to go play. Matt was trying to wrangle him into finishing eating and not get up until he was done. The stakes were rising as they both dug deeper into their positions.
Suddenly a thought floated into my mind about a podcast Matt had shared with me recently about being open vs. being closed. And for whatever reason my theater instincts from childhood took over, and before I knew it I was performing an almost puppet show full of hand motion characters to visually represent the different ways of being.
My hand went straight into the air to represent being open. When you’re open, you can turn, you can look around, you can pivot. You are clear.
Then I quickly clench my hand into a tight fist. I am closed. I don’t look around. I am drawn inward and mad. I can’t see the bigger picture and just want to rage, rebel and hide.
The boys are drawn in to my story and I am fueled by my interested audience, so I go on, all off the cuff. I open one hand and then close the other and describe how when one person is open they can surround the closed one in a “hug”. They can be patient, take their time and share their openness or love until they both turn into a heart.
And then I perform the two closed fists battling and exploding over and over as that is clearly their favorite part. Tonight, it was Matt and Adam battling over dinner.
It all sounds totally cheesy, and it is. But I will tell you it has been super useful in our family and we reference it anytime one of us starts to be closed. I think the visual representation of being open or closed really resonates with the kids. It’s nice to be able to show them without having to remind them or feel like nagging them. It is a nice hint.
For example, this past weekend we were getting in the car to go to the gym when Adam decided he did not want to go there and play at the kid’s club. He was mad! So, I turned back from the passenger seat and pulled out my closed fist with a silly look on my face. He got it. And even though he still didn’t really want to go, he got that he was being closed and we were able to have a conversation about it rather than having him stay stuck in his madness. He also coined a new additional hand motion for medium halfway between fist and straight, when you are not quite open but not closed.
Sometimes even just moving from closed to medium is a great place to start a conversation. No one is perfect. As adults we get upset about things. We get defensive or mad, both closed ways of being. If we can even just get to medium we can start assessing the situation from a calmer vantage and see more clearly how best to move forward. Even just admitting or realizing that you are in closed is helpful as it delineates your way of thinking and approaching the situation.
Life isn’t perfect. There will be upsets for kids, for parents, for everyone. The more you resist something the more it persists. Sometimes we need to take a step back, realize what is actually happening and work our way toward being open about it or even just being medium about it.
Anyway, I share these silly stories with you as I know how valuable it has been for our family. I have always been the peacekeeper of our family, but mostly because I try my best to stay open. I also look for where I am responsible in the situation. Like if I keep my kids up late at a fun party, the next day I need to be prepared to be extra patient with my kids if they are overtired and a bit whiney. I want to help my kids and myself be the best versions of ourselves and a lot of that starts with healthy choices which I will talk about in the next post.
In the meantime, let me know if you try out the hand motions with your kids and how it goes!