Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Developing Good Family Relationships

The contents of this article will in no way do the title of it justice. These are just a few observations about keeping peace, love and respect in the home. The subject is so complicated that books can be written about it, but in general, there are some simple things that help keep strife from the family unit.

My first experience of homelife was my own childhood, plus hearing my mother talk about her own childhood. One thing that I appreciated and gained the most from, was my mother's approach to faults in the family. After stern reprimands and discipline, followed by an explanation of what she expected from us, she would never bring it up again.

She wouldn't allow us to bring up past resentments, either. She moved on, and she wanted us to do the same. If we repeated the same errors, she rebuked us, but didn't go on and on with a long list about how we never learned and we always failed and we drove her crazy. That is one thing that I've come to appreciate more and more. She believed that each day was a new beginning, and she didn't wake up mad at us all for the previous day's folly. She had seven children but that each day was brand new, with its own problems looming ahead, and she didn't believe in dragging up the past to burden the new day. If we became melancholy or depressed over quarrels or discipline, she taught us, by her own example of "starting over," how to bounce back.
It was considered very wrong to hold faults over people's heads forever. We were supposed to forgive and give them the benefit of the doubt. If the wrong was repeated, we were to refrain from saying, "There you go again."When I hear people say that today, I know they are keeping score of wrongs, and collecting bitterness; bitterness that will harm the harborer, as well.

Bitterness and resentment were not part of our mother's personality. You knew that you always had a brand new chance with her the next day. You knew that you were brand new, to her, every time she saw you, and that she had faith in your better side. She didn't tell people that you were problem or that she was having problems with you or that you had this fault or that fault, because she knew that it would be hard to erase that image in people's minds, and that it gave others an unfair advantage over us kids. Instead of clinging to a perceived evaluation of any of us, she steered us a different way when we were not doing quite right. For example, if we were picking on someone in the family, she would try to make the other person look better in our eyes, by saying, "He might not be feeling well today. Maybe you should comfort him."
(Eph 4:32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you. )
She and my father had the same kind of relationship. The forgave each other immediately when one of them erred. They overlooked a fault. They didn't nitpick or find fault with one another, and they tried to teach the children the same behavior. To overlook a fault, you can still acknowledge it, but you forgive almost as immediately as you notice it. Overlooking a fault means that you regard the other person as better than yourself (even if he isn't.) Col 3:12 Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;

I've known families that harbor grudges from the past. When these brothers and sisters become adults, they continue to fume, fuss and feud. There is never any peace, and someone is always mad at someone else. They have a long list of offenses which they've kept from the past 10 or 20 years. They wait, ready to jump on the next offense, and add it to the list. Then they may say, "That settles it. You are never going to change. I am finished with you. Stay out of my life." After that, all they do is talk about how they "aren't speaking" to their brother or sister. They didn't wipe the slate clean when they went to bed, and the next day they added more offenses, til by the time they were adults, they had a huge bag of dirt to carry around. Our parents didn't let us go to bed angry, and they didn't go to bed angry, either. Time was spent correcting bad attitudes so that we wouldn't go to sleep with the guilt of these things still on our consciences.
(Eph 4:26 Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath)

I think it is very unfair and unforgiving to remind family members of something they have done, and then make it a stereotype of their personality, labelling them with things like, "liar, gossip, headstrong," etc. It plants the idea more firmly in their minds, and they will find it difficult to get out of that mold. These kinds of labels cause problems clear into adulthood. They should each be given the chance to have a new day and a new beginning." 2Co 2:7 So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. "

Sometimes, grown children are still mad at their parents for some offense that happened in their childhoods. This was the kind of childish behavior my parents forbad when we were growing up. They knew they weren't perfect, but they wouldn't let us run them down. We weren't allowed to keep score of wrongs. We were told to forgive, and if we brought it up, our parents would say, "I thought you forgave her for that, a few days ago. It doesn't exist anymore, then."

If any of us woke up the next day with a resentment from the past, she would remind us that it was in the past, and we couldn't bring it back up again. She wouldn't let us dwell on it, nurse an emotional wound, or harbor a hard feeling. She made us get on with our lives.

We had a proper understanding of forgiveness. We knew it didn't always mean that someone else was right and you were wrong, but in forgiving someone, it meant that you were free of the burden of bitterness. We had to give the other person the responsibility to change themselves, if they wanted to, and not feel that we had to change them. It would have been a terrible mental burden to take on the changing and perfecting of another person. It was much easier just to change yourself!

We developed from her a sense of people's feelings. It was better to automatically forgive, or overlook a fault, than to bring it up and cause hurt feelings. For the sake of peace, we weren't to bring up anything against anyone, but forgive them on the spot.

Learning to look on the good side of each other, was to prepare us for many things in life. One thing that it does it adult life is this: Someone tells you what a rotten, stinking, horrible person you are, and you don't respond in kind, neither do you defend yourself. You may ask them to stop, but it is up to them. You don't hound them down and insist on an apology or make them repent. Instead, you forgive them before it escalates and before you get bitter. What they do, is up to them. During their bitter outbursts, you think, "I understand these accusations. Sometimes I do that, myself. "

If you resist and fight back, the fighting only escalates. If you don't respond with the same degree of heat, and you plant immediate forgiveness, it is better for you. The next day, your own attitude is that it is a new day and the past is forgiven. The other person may not have this same religious view, but it doesn't matter. Eventually they will be won over to your side. I've seen this happen over and over again. Eventually the other person feels safe enough with you to renew communication with you.

Our parents wouldn't permit mutiny of any sort, however, and declared martial law, or all out war, on their part, in order to put the troops back in line. They were the authority and they didn't permit any enroachment on their territory or anything that would tear down the home or the family, including quarrelling, fighting or attacking. That is not to say that we did not do these things: we certainly did. They were always met with consequences.

Anger and bitterness and seething resentment only makes you unapproachable. Your goal has to be one of reconcilation, and if you keep this in mind, you'll be able to respond more peaceably. Besides this, if you were taught from childhood that you have to own up to the things you say and do, you will have had enough experience facing an apology, that you don't want to say things that will eventually require a painful apology.

One thing I noticed that this training produced was truthfulness, even in anger. When some people get angry, they bring up any old exaggerated ridiculous thing, but we were more likely to tell the real truth when we were angry. As adults we could overlook irritations and faults of people around us. Not that it made us neglectful in correcting our own children, or to warn people of danger and put a stop to things in society that weren't right, but that it prevented us from creating constant conflict around us.

One way in which she would distract us from sullenness and resentment, was to introduce something productive that would benefit us all. We did a lot of reading, and learned to write stories. We were encouraged to pursue painting and other arts. Focusing on things that were good and useful and helpful to others did us a great deal of good. Work was also a option, which our parents used liberally, saying, "If you've got time to criticise, you've got time to work." My parents themselves, did not dwell on criticism, argue or start fights.

In teaching us right attitudes toward one another, my parents did not spend hours and hours of time talking to us about it. They stated their facts, and aside from a few reminders, that was that and that is the way it was. They didn't allow us to go around and around in circles arguing with them. Some people may wonder how in the world they did that, but you have to understand that in those days, most parents were like that. It was the way they were raised, and that is how they raised their children. There were deeper reasons behind it, of course, which can be addressed at another time.

Forgiveness is a powerful tool and we learned a lot about it. Living in close quarters, it is sometimes tempting to find fault with another member of the family. Maybe they clear their throat too much, sniff irritably, or have a nervous habit. Maybe someone sings out loud and another one doesn't like the tune. Or maybe they get into your stuff. We were taught that each one of us was a precious gift from God, and when we became tempted to hate, to just imagine how sad we would be if that brother or sister were to become very ill or have a tragic accident and lose their voices or their sight. This is not to say that we didn't hit or pinch one another once in awhile, but it was not allowed to continue, or passed off as "sibling rivalry."

We were taught to feel pitiful towards our siblings, and realize that their faults were an opportunity to forgive. Warned against self-righteousness and feelings of superiority, we were able to check ourselves. We weren't allowed to complain about a brother or sister unless we were perfect, and who is ever perfect? We could not take the splinter from their eye, while having a beam in our own. This belief reduced the tendency to be critical, condemning, and judgemental.

This wasn't a perfectly faultless family. In comparing notes with my brothers and sisters, we discovered that we each had a different viewpoint of how much we were disciplined. The older ones thought they were reprimanded and lectured the most, and the younger ones, very little. This is no doubt due to the fact that once you get the cooperation of the older ones in the family, the younger ones follow more willingly. One of the younger brothers said that he learned to avoid trouble by watching the older ones get into trouble and getting corrected for it.

We did argue and fight and do things we should not have done, but our parents used these things as a springboard to teach us right behavior. I really appreciate the fact that even now, our parents do not dredge up a list of past offenses and use them to demoralize us. It is so important that children, and adults be given forgiveness so that they can get on with their lives, and not be sick with the anxiety of having someone resenting you or keeping score of wrongs.

Please don't get the idea that we had a peaceable family all the time. We were children, and we were immature. It was a training ground. Our parents were diligent and did not just pay attention to our behaviour. There was a lot of "war" because our parents made it very uncomfortable for us when we created problems. With seven children, you can only imagine what would have happened if our mother let us get out of control. Our attitudes had to change, also, so it often caused many a pang, and may have even taken a whole day to learn a lesson, but the next day was a chance to begin again, without the past clinging to us. It wasn't always a peaceful home.

In real life, families do fight, (children should never be given the idea that it should never happen; to do so gives them a warped view of family life, and can harm them in their future homes. They just need to learn to bounce back from serious disagreements and quarrels, not hold bitterness.) but it is the parents that should do the correcting, and the children should not be allowed to attack their parents or fight amongst each other. The parents have to take control and monitor the situation. It won't always be a pleasant, quiet atmosphere, but in the end, it brings "the peaceable fruits of the spirit." (Heb 12:11 Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. )

Not all the lessons were actually learned at the time. It has been many years since I was a child, and some of the lessons I can only now understand. The ultimate goal was to have a peaceful home where members of the family stuck up for one another and stood united during problems.

I love this aspect of beginning each new day fresh, with the past behind us. It gives the family members a clean slate. It gives them hope and the ability to do well with their talents and abilities, unhindered by the burden of all their past sins. They didn't have to go around with a knot in their stomach, knowing that someone was mad at them or not speaking to them.

Pouting was not tolerated, nor holding grudges. I do not think any of us ever developed the habit of pouting or giving someone the silent treatment or being "in a funk" like people do today. I don't think we even knew how to do it. Our parents thought pouting and the silent treatment was not honest. We may have tried it a time or two, but quickly abandoned it rather than endure reprisals.

This is one of the things that I learned in my childhood that I truly appreciate. It makes me smile to know that every day we can wake up looking at each other as brand new people. It gives us a way of looking at people that is good and healthy, rather than with criticism, suspicion, or skepticism. It was good to grow up knowing that people weren't watching us, always waiting for us to trip up, or make a mistake. It gave us the freedom to develop good character. When you know someone is always upset with you, or holding a grudge, it can make you very nervous.

I was able to "live off the fumes" of this family experience (that is an expresson we use here sometimes). I tried to pass this attitude to my own family, because I believed that freedom is one of the most valued things in a person's life. If you give them forgiveness and allow them to start each new day fresh, they will also less critical and able to overlook faults.

We learned through this attitude that many things we thought were faults, weren't really faults. They were often false opinions we had formed, based on our own critical attitudes, and in themselves, not really much to get upset about.

We were a noisy family, and we did argue, fuss and fight. We didn't always cooperate with our parents at first. Sometimes we really put up a fight! Sometimes it looked like we won the battle, but we always lost the war. But because of the constant attention to our attitudes, we left that home knowing what caused trouble and what caused peace. The Bible says that bitterness "causes trouble." (Heb 12:15 Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled)

I'm sure there are other families whose parents gave them something valuable like this. I've heard of others whose parents gave them the ability to endure great hardships, or whose parents passed down to them the opportunity to create work, or even wealth, from very little. You can talk about a trip to famous amusement parks, or great events, but the value of forgiveness or endurance far outshine the temporal value of financial achievement or accumulation of wealth.
Scroll down to comments to read about one of my brothers who ate my strawberry soaps, and me throwing him in the creek. While growing up, we did not allow the family to deteriorate into picking fault with one another, but we developed things to do of a constructive nature. That being said, it was understood that when a brother absolutely refuses to do what is right and if a brother was engaged in something that was a bad influence or a bad example, or if he continued to disturb others, or his nature seemed to always cause trouble, we were encouraged to be silent around him or avoid being in his presence. "Cast out the scoffer" the Proverbs say, "And there will be peace."

Eph 4:31 Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice

This painting by Thomas Kinkade looks a little bit like the homestead where we grew up.


Kelli said...

Lady Lydia,

Your parents sound very wise. It is only recently I’ve learned through personal experience the great harm that comes from harboring bitterness. My bitter feelings toward a family member was so intense it was ‘killing me inside’. I have learned through experience, and the help of a good Christian counselor, that the bitterness I hid in my heart contributed significantly to a serious nervous breakdown early last year, leaving me debilitated for months. Prayer ministry along with freedom from my bitterness and reconciliation have greatly contributed to my recovery, by the grace of God.

Further to the topic of your post, I’ve recently discovered a good Christian resource about family relationships (with a focus on marriage) that addresses in a biblical manner, the issues of bitterness, hurt, pride, moral failure, rebellion and hypocrisy, which all can play a role in undermining family relationships. The resources (DVD/VHS & workbook) are very practical, giving biblical tools to aid with overcoming these problems. I don’t know which church produces the program - personally I don’t agree with some of their doctrinal beliefs – however can heartily recommend it to anyone who is striving to improve their interpersonal relationships by applying Biblical principles. Can post details separately if permissible.

By the way I was happy to hear you have family connections in Australia! I’m from Australia too. I discovered LAF in 2003. The site has had a huge impact on my beliefs about men & women’s social roles and on my lifestyle. It is nice to know someone at LAF has a connection with Australia (it can get pretty lonely down here – not many on the same wavelength, that is). God bless your ministry.


Hikingalong said...

This was my first visit to you blog. What a wonderful post! Thank you for sharing about your family experiences and the lessons of forgiveness. I'll be back often!

Mrs. N. said...

Thank you so much for this post. I knew that it must be possible for this type of response between siblings but have never seen it in practice, neither when I was a child nor now with my own children. It sounds as if the key is to focus on forgiveness. I think it must have been a very gentle upbringing. Lovely. I would enjoy seeing more in this same vein if you are so inclined.

Anonymous said...

Harboring resentment can also prevent that other person from doing their best. They will be stricken with the helpless feeling that you will never forgive them nor ever look to their better side. It isn't fair to a family member to think of them as a certain type of person. We have to give them room for growth, and look to ourselves to our own faults.

Lydia said...

I remember that we had very few really nice things. One day an Avon lady gave me a gift of a bowl of soaps shaped like strawberries. I really enjoyed having them, but never used them. I just liked the scent and the sight of them. They were so colorful. I was gone from the home one day and when I got back, I noticed there were bites taken out of the soaps. One of the younger children thought they really were strawberries and had "tried" them. I was crushed, and held bitter resentment. How could he do such a thing? I was surprised that my mother didn't punish the child. What had happend was that the taste of that soap was so awful, that he had cried and cried and spat it out. My mother thought that was discipline enough. Some things, she said, take care of themselves. I had to realize that he really didn't get away with it, and that no one really gets away with anything. I wasn't allowed to see retribution over the matter, but I remember that I felt a grudge for some time. When I brought it up again, I was told that it was in the past and that the boy was so young at the time that he might not remember it anyway. Just another lesson in forgetfulness.

Lydia said...

Eventually these quarrels and fights become family jokes. At our reunion, one of my brothers who was 35, the one who ate the soaps, said,"Oh yes, I did eat the soaps, but you threw me in the creek."

What happened was this: we were called home by the dinner bell but we were out in the woods near a creek. We thought we could get home sooner if we leaped across a little brook. He was about 4 years old and I was 15. I offerred to throw him across to the other side. I miscalculated his weight and the distance, and threw him in the creek, instead. To this day when we talk on the phone or see each other, the first thing that I bring up is "You are the boy that ate my soaps," and he responds, "You threw me in the creek." Then, tongue in cheek, he tells me that it ruined his life forever and that he's been in therapy for years because of it. So you see when the basic forgiveness is there, these things often become family legends, instead of family bitterness.

Lydia said...

If they aren't taught to forgive and start over fresh, they will carry grudges into their adult life.

Lydia said...

Look here at Kelleigh's page, for a great poem on this subject, called "Tomorrow."

Lydia said...

Good articles on bitterness (do be discerning, though. Pick out what is useful)

Or type in "overcoming bitterness" and see what comes up on your search engine.

Anonymous said...

I just loved this and it has given me much to improve as I raise my children.

I do need advice. What do you do when you have a child that will pout after something doesn't go her way (for example, she's not gotten along with her sister)- going to sit alone in the yard or closet for an hour or so?

Thank you!

Lydia said...

They used to say, "You better stop that pouting, or I will give you something to pout about." We usually were given sufficient time to reflect and repent, but were expected to bounce back. If pouting continued, discipline always followed. It didn't happen often, because the consequences were always the same. The thought of getting a spanking or a stern reprimand from our mother was not worth it.

Lydia said...

Also, pouters were put to work. The hands engage a certain part of the mind, and it helps you recover from depression or bad moods.

Lydia said...

another good illustration.

Lydia said...

Kelleigh, so nice to see you. You have a great blog.Poetry is wonderful!

Lydia said...

Consider the nature of the child, though. Some children don't need much chastisement in order to make them sorrowful. Too much can put them into a state of self loathing and depression for a long time. If the child is really sensitive and does well with only a minimum of correction, it is best to go with that. That way, you will win her heart.

Lydia said...

Yes please do post links to good materials on the subject of bitterness.

Kelli said...

Thank you for visiting my poetry blog! I marvel at the talent for writing poetry (I haven't progressed beyond rhyming 'cat' with 'mat'! lol!) Most of the poetry I’ve found by scouring the web. My only creative input is locating the perfect picture to illustrate the poem.

When we finish unpacking the boxes of books in our garage, I'm hoping to post some of my mother-in-law's beautiful poetry.

Kelli said...

When my younger sister and I would have a disagreement, Mum would gather us together and talk about the situation, then she would coax us to forgive each other and give a sisterly hug and kiss. I remember well a few such occasions. The fruit of my mother's efforts? My sister and I have always been very close, even to this day. Only a month ago, DS came to me to discuss something I'd done that hurt her, she asked me to forgive her for being bitter about it - more tears, hugs and smiles, 20 years on.

Here's the link about the resources I mentioned earlier:

The ‘Biblical Concepts in Counseling Workbook’ goes together with the 12 hour DVD/VHS workshops “Rekindling Marital Intimacy”. These resources were recommended to me not for marriage issues but for a difficult situation with another member of my family. Although the series focuses on marriage, the principles can be applied to any family relationship. My DH and are blessed with a good marriage, these workshops however have taken us to another level of closeness. I can highly recommend them.

Kelli said...

Thanks for the posts on bitterness. Interesting the analogy between physical and emotional/spiritual *illness* given by comparing allergies to bitterness. True - and a good illustration. From experience negative emotions can certainly produce physical symptoms.

Lydia said...

I write poems. For special occasions and family celebrations, I give them each a poem and a painting. My poems rarely make sense, but at least they rhyme.

Anonymous said...

I know another family with a brother and a sister who used to criticise each other because they were such messy house keepers. Their parents had to finally put a stop to them calling each other "Pig." Now that they are grown and have their own families, every birthday, they give each other some kind of pig.They have collections of pillows and porcelin, all pigs! This is just an example of how a family irritation can be turned into a family joke.

Cherish the Home said...

I thought this post was fantastic! So much so that I linked to it from my blog! (o:

Kelli said...

Lady Lydia, I'm sure your poetry is better than you think! You seem to have a knack for creativity - if your articles on LAF and here are any indication!

Country Victorian said...

Bravo again Lydia! Thanks for sharing. I hope to hear more from your wise mother on the subject.

Today when you wrote your name on my blog, it did not link to yours. It would be nice to have a link when you post so others can find you.

I would like to know how you follow Matthew 18 application within family and others. I do believe we have a responsibility to address issues but I personally believe that the "examining" oneself first creates humility and frees us from bitterness. The sun cannot possibly go down on our wrath if we sincerely apply this. Perhaps I am answering the question as I write here. That as we follow this principle we can approach our brother/sister with sincere humility speaking the truth in love.

My husband had to do this last year though difficult as it was.
He is the first to avoid conflicts and is a "Peacemaker". So this was very hard. We spent more time examining ourselves (on the subject we've discussed in past), in prayer and re-thinking how to biblically word things that we were able to speak without bitterness and are leaving the results to God.

Lydia said...

My husband is always good and overlooking other people's bitterness and grudges. He greets them as though nothing was wrong. If they respond with hostility or rudeness, he just tells them he loves them and that he is hoping things will work out.

Lisa I don't know why my name doesn't link to my blog. I thought if you clicked on someones name it took you to their place.

Lydia said...

More answers for the pouting child:

After sufficient amount of time has elapsed, gather her up in your arms and shower her with kisses until she laughs.

Lydia said...

a poem for one of my sons. I used to make him homemade ties, which he always thought were rather funny, and never wore.He went off to college.He had chickens and pheasants and quail that he was raising. He likes the outdoors.

Stevie come back,
I'll give you no flack.
I'll make you no ties
So just dry your eyes.
Oh Stevie Weevie
I'll let you watch tv
And eat in the living room
And use my good broom
To sweep your old truck
Just don't get a duck
I'm tired of fowl
Let the dog growl
That is enough
Don't stay in a huff
Just come back to your pad
And your dear old Dad.
But do bring home a girl
with a curl
And clean out your car like a bandit,
So she can stand it.
Make sure she's nice
And not made of ice
And will like every pet
Because that is all she will get.
she will think she found luck
When she has your dog and your truck.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you share a lot of fun and humour in your home. I've never had a poem written personally for me, I think that would be very special. Your son is very blessed!

Lydia said...

I think my poem would be a good rap song.

Country Victorian said...


That is very good advice but in our situation we had to explain why we declined a marriage offer to our daughter when asked. We couldn't just say we love you and hope it all works out but now that it's behind us, we can definately apply this principle.

Thank you for your prayers and your families wise counsel during that time last year.

Lydia said...

Of course it is always right to be up front with people in situations like that! They may get offended but they will have to get over it.

Wanda said...

This post held so much truth and really left me convicted of changes I need to make in our home. There is nothing that breaks a mother's heart like seeing her own child shrink into himself at one of her comments or hearing him/her repeating something negative about themselves and realizing they are quoting you.
I look at my parents and siblings and see that this is something we all struggle with and this article renewed my devotion to not seeing this cycle continue in my dear children. Thank you for the reminder of what's truly important, Lydia!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Lady Lydia, for this article. I want to apply many principles in this in my own home.

Laura Leigh