“WE CAN CHANGE THE WEATHER IN OUR FLAT!” My husband does not even flinch when I burst into his office with a grand idea or revelation. I confess that I am an enthusiastic, “Guess what?!” type of person. But on this occasion, the wheels were really turning.
I was reading Zadie Smith’s latest novel, Swing Time. The narrator states that her parents got divorced and “the weather changed in their flat.” I could immediately relate to the image. This is a universal truth beyond divorce or flats. We have the power to change the feeling in our non-flat homes. It is empowering to consider.
My husband and I have discussed this topic for hours upon end. What can we do to improve the attitude and energy in our home? I confess that the people nearest and dearest to my heart, Brent and my two kids, often get the sloppy leftovers of my day. They do not get my best self. They get the tired, cranky, usually hungry, self.
Recently, the kids were talking about roles in the family. “Mom is not the funny one.” I was annoyed. My mature, quick response indicated my mood. “People at work think I’m funny.” There, I showed those punks. But, on the inside, I knew they were right. I am engaging, social and funny at work or at our gym, but by the time I get home, I often breathe a huge sigh of relief and clock out for the day. I am pouring into so many people but coming up empty when it comes to my own family. Basically, people outside of my home all like me more than people inside my inner circle. Talk about missing the forest for the trees!
In one of our many conversations, Brent attempted to explain my influence. He told me that I am usually a +5. I engage people, work the room, and encourage laughter. At that point, I was feeling all, “Awe, thanks, Babe.” Then I braced myself. His compliments always come packaged in criticism. “But when you are off, you swing to a -5 and can bring the whole room down. Maybe you could just try being a zero sometime.” Just to clarify, my husband told me “to try to be a zero.” THIS was his sage advice. I was very quick to remind him that he “DID NOT MARRY A ZERO!” Then, I paused to roll these ideas around in my head.
In truth, I do not always stop to consider how my negativity or mood can significantly impact my family. To use Smith’s metaphor, I am either a perfect, mid-80s, light breeze, zero humidity day, or I am a level 5 hurricane demolishing anything in my path. Brent is suggesting I try a calm, partly cloudy chance of showers type of day. While I might not agree with his analogies, I do agree that calming the storms and negativity can greatly impact our family time. I can make a conscious choice to pay attention to my mood and what energy I bring through the front door.
Along with increased self-awareness, a shift in perspective can start with simple strategies relating to the language we use in our home. We have been discussing the concept of replacing “I have to” with “I get to.” This switch can be easy: “I get to do the dishes,” or “I get to wash our clothes.” But it might not be so easy when it is, “I get to grade 75 papers this weekend,” or “I get to clean up the dog’s vomit.” It takes practice and a reprogramming of the mind.
Pausing more for gratitude is also a step in improving the forecast in our home. We are consciously redirecting more of our time to point out and notice the good rather than narrowing in on what is missing or less than ideal. We go on beauty hunts pausing to point out anything that catches our eye and attention. We remove technology from family time to encourage more meaningful engagement. We converted our dining room into our “spirit room” and filled it with items that bring us joy, including a chalkboard where we take turns writing inspirational or important quotes to discuss. When we unplug and pay attention to what is right in front of us, the clouds suddenly begin to part. We really can shift our thoughts and attitude.
In a recent podcast on happiness, Ben Bergeron, owner of CrossFit New England, discussed the importance of focusing our minds. He asked a room full of people to find as many red things as possible. They found 30-40 things. When he asked the group how many blue things they found, they were startled. They were not looking for blue, so therefore, they did not notice all the blue that was right in front of them. Likewise, if I am tired, cranky, and focusing on the negative, my home will be full of red. My heart and mind will miss out on all the beautiful shades of blue right under my nose. As a parent and example in my home, I want to look for the good and speak of the good. I want to acknowledge that most people would love to have my “problems” or to be tired from a day working jobs that they love. Brent and I want to model the power of positive thinking as a tool for making our lives more happy and fulfilling.
We still have a long way to go. I will always be tempted to give it my all in jobs or special projects that occupy my time, but I do strive to offer more of myself to my husband and kids. I want to bring my heart and spirit to convene with theirs over dinner, without the preoccupation of work or exhaustion robbing my humor. Less is more. I can say “no” and learn to bring more of myself home to them. I can show my kids my gratitude for all the things I am lucky enough to “get” to do. I can also create clear boundaries in order to keep energy and space for my family sacred. I can foster a “flat” filled with laughter, good books, meaningful conversation, and dance parties - a home where we truly practice making each day count.