We’re super-tight right now. As of writing, it is April 2020. Coronavirus-related social distancing is in full effect and has been for about a month. We’ve been confined to our small spaces with our families for quite a while.
A transformation took place not long ago. My family transformed from being my loved ones to being these people. In the days of yore, we spread out to our various places of employ and I wistfully wondered what busied my loved ones all day. Now we shelter in place together, and I am painfully aware of everything these people do all day long. I used to look forward to hearing about my loved ones’ experiences through the day. Now I long for a break from these people. I need a few minutes of quietude to conduct a Zoom meeting… but these people…
Alright, hyperbole aside, it’s not that bad. But it’s still pretty bad.
My family hasn’t really transformed. They are still my loved ones. But as social distancing plugs on, I find I’m increasingly hyper-critical. All they’re guilty of is being their consistent selves. I’m guilty of focusing on the points of their personalities that act as little splinters in the tender skin of my well being.
Case in point: I made breakfast for another of my loved ones. This person graciously accepted my offering of scrambled eggs. Ate them. Then this person left their dirty dish sitting next to the sink on the counter. It is an empty sink next to an empty dishwasher. No excuse why dirty dish couldn’t end up in the place where dirty dishes go.
Internal monologue of righteous indignation ensues: “The nerve of these people. I’ve gone out of my way to do something nice and they just take it for granted that I’ll clean that right up. Have they no respect? Do they think their time or efforts are so much more important than mine?…” You get the picture.
So how do I combat the feelings of super-negativity and hyper-criticalness I’m feeling towards these people?
I think the key to unlocking feelings of warmth towards my loved ones comes through the
dirty rewarding work cultivating gratitude. Deep down, I’m thankful for these people–even if it takes some deep contemplation in recognizing what exactly I’m thankful for.
Following is a list of a few ways I am cultivating gratitude for my loved ones.
- Make a mental list of what you enjoy or admire about them
I’m the inauthentic one in our family. The rest of the people in this household are pretty much what-you-see-is-what-you-get types. I appreciate that I never really have to do much guessing about how they’re feeling.
When they get turned on to ideas they go for it with passion. That can feel relentless–especially in the case of being sheltered in place, when I can’t find a release valve for their passionate energies. But as a guy who is slightly prone to saying “I’ll get to that some day”, I appreciate this aspect of their personalities.
What qualities can you list in your family’s admirable inventory? It may feel hard to get past the things which annoy you right now. If you’re stuck there, then start there–because sometimes the things which annoy us do so because we find them lacking in ourselves.
- Get nostalgic and remember
Remember the good ol’ days when there were restaurants you could eat in? We once took those establishments for granted. Now we fear many of them will not re-open.
What was a good past experience with your loved ones? I remember doing a historical plantation tour with my family. The tour wasn’t what we expected and we were bored out of our minds. But as we wandered the grounds we felt some contentment in the sunshine, our positive attitudes and our togetherness. It was the last time I remember my wife and son walking together holding hands.
These people… they can be so tender sometimes.
- Set them up to be nice to you
This can be tricky, because we don’t want to do nice things for our loved ones with the expectations they’re going to do nice things in return. This invitation might better be viewed as doing something frivolous together… or doing something nice for them “just because.” Doing so will make you feel more positive about yourself, it will make your loved ones feel more positive about you… and the positivity will flow. Theoretically.
I think in order for this to fully work, it pays to do something unexpected. So sit down and join your child in whatever he or she is doing. Bring your spouse or partner a treat during the day. Do a service for them that you normally don’t do; but do it without expectations.
I’m feeling better already. You? Maybe not yet. But give it a go and see if some positivity doesn’t flow.