Low-stress parenting 4: The initial storm

Posted: July 11, 2013 by J in Pastoral issues

You’re making an effort to be clear about family expectations, set some routines and boundaries. You’re trying to do it calmly. Is that going to lower stress levels?

Not immediately! Family systems theory (FST) talks about an initial reaction in the system when someone self-defines in this way. People are not used to it, they don’t know how to understand what you’re doing, it’s new and they don’t like new. It’s true for your kids. Initially they will react. There may be an increase in conflict.

That’s the bad news. The good news is it won’t last. No system can keep reacting to a stable non-anxious presence. Take a look at this graph:

Screen Shot 2013-07-10 at 8.57.11 PM

FST is very interested in stress levels. It makes the point that they normally go up and down a lot, as conflict moments come and go. But the average stays stable. When someone in the system (say, the parent) articulates clearly their expectations, and becomes a self-defined presence, there is a reaction. Even the average stress level goes up. But not for long. The whole system soon adjusts, and becomes more stable: less ups and downs, less conflict moments. And best of all, the new stable level is lower than the old average. Average stress levels have fallen.

So here’s the challenge. According to FST, if you can find the strength to self-define, articulate expectations, stick to them, and weather the initial storm, you can improve the health of the family.

Interestingly, this is also the story of the gospel of Jesus. God announces that new conditions are in place: he has appointed his Son Jesus as lord of all, heir of the creation. Jesus is being placed in charge. This announcement leads to a crisis reaction, strong opposition from both the demonic and from human rulers. The couple of years of this reaction are recorded in the Gospel accounts. This crisis comes to a head when Jesus has to put up with the pain and shame of crucifixion. But God our Father persists in his purpose. He places Jesus on the throne through resurrection. He has defined the family system of his creation, made his intentions clear. The world is going to have to come to terms with it. And the new system is much better than the old!

So how about you? Feeling ready for some (brief) stormy weather?

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