Have you got your grumpy pants on?
It was the day before our daughter Gabby’s 21st birthday party. Unfortunately, the timing of the party coincided with a busy time at work, and I was really stressed. For the second time in a few short minutes my husband Chris was the focus of my irritation.
Gabby, who was just passing by, looked at me, put on her child-care voice and asked, ‘Have you got your grumpy pants on?’
In a few words she had summed up the situation, acknowledged my feelings and given me a different way of looking at the situation. Instead of accusing or shaming, she’d pointed out my undesirable behaviour but had not personalised it.
It could have sounded much different.
‘Don’t say that, Mum! You’re always having a go at Dad! He’s done nothing wrong. It’s about time you acknowledged your attitude and took more control over what you say!’
It’s funny how a few words can completely change the atmosphere. They can poison the mood, or sweeten and brighten it.
Gabby’s words absolutely brightened it.
I was able to smile and recognise that Chris was not the cause of my grumps. He was able to smile and forgive me.
And we were able to get on with spending our time more productively and again enjoy each other’s company.
Before we were married Chris and I were given some very practical and useful words of advice:
‘Avoid two phrases: You always … and You never …
That advice has been very helpful and we’ll never know how many times it has saved us from having horrible, blaming arguments.
Fighting words or Friendly words
Since then we’ve learned about ‘fighting words’ and ‘friendly words’.
Friendly words have become more of a habit in our home than they used to be. For years now we’ve been practising how to use encouraging (friendly) words to build each other up rather than discouraging (fighting) words that tear each other down. I’m not saying that we’re perfect, but it’s quite amazing how choosing words (or choosing not to say something) can completely change a home’s atmosphere.
I don’t think we realised what a difference it made until our kids grew into teenagers and began to bring their friends home. It was their friends who pointed out what was different about our house.
‘I wish my parents would speak to me like that. They just nag or yell, or worse, they won’t speak to me’.
Does nagging happen in our house? Sure does!
Are we perfect? Sure aren’t.
But we’ve tried some techniques that others have recommended. And when new things work we’re happy to keep using them.
We’re also happy to recognise that what works in somebody else’s house might not necessarily work in ours.
John and Julie Gottman, through The Gottman Institute, have been studying what they call, ‘The Masters and Disasters of Relationships’ for decades. They have observed thousands of couples over many years and have identified the common important factors that make a relationship successful.
Pretty much it boils down to the way couples speak to each other and the way they fight that determines whether or not a relationship will be successful. Couples can learn to apply these factors to their relationship and improve its quality. Learning different ways of speaking to each other and replacing negative criticism and complaining with positive words and interactions can really change a whole relationship.
Unfortunately, for some of us, we’ve grown up accepting that teasing, criticism and complaining are a part of life. We are so used to nagging or yelling, whining and complaining that we think that is how it must be. I’ve seen many families change (ours’ included) when they’ve been prepared to learn some new language and tactics.
I’ve seen many families take this on board and begin new dialogue and create a different atmosphere in their homes. Focus this week on how many times you say ‘Don’t!’ and you might be surprised, especially if you struggle with kids (or adults) who don’t listen.
Maybe they are good listeners but are waiting for positive instruction.
Turn your words around into positive instructions and let the kids be the problem-solvers as much as possible.
Who knows, your kids might be the ones who turn to their grumpy parent to say,
‘Have you got your grumpy pants on?’
Originally Published in The Lutheran