Middle school is brutal. My girls frequently come home bearing tales of the latest classroom or bus drama fueled by gossip, hurt feelings, and poor coping skills. Last week was especially rough. The girls arrived home in a tizzy every single day, stumbling over each other and their own words in an effort to tell me the latest melodramatic spectacle. It felt like a circus of negativity came to town the moment they stepped in the door. After a couple days of the grumps hitting me about 30 minutes before they arrived home from school, I realized I needed to take some action to keep our home a refuge from the yuckiness which had begun creeping into the house like muck on the bottom of their shoes.
Finding a balance between encouraging the girls to express their feelings and putting boundaries down to protect our home from consistent negativity is difficult. I stumbled over my own words as I tried to make it clear to them how highly I value their feelings and thoughts about what happens throughout their days while also trying to communicate how their focus on gossip, accusations, and unhelpful words was beginning to affect the atmosphere of what should be the family’s safe place. They were so focused on reliving the unhappiness and negativity of what came before, they weren’t able to enjoy the refuge of home. And their own unkind remarks and bad attitudes were beginning to make that home seem like not such a refuge.
So we talked about joy. We talked about happiness. We talked about unhappy people finding perverse fulfillment in poisoning the happiness of others. We talked about the power we have over our own happiness, the power we have to stop the flow of poison into our own hearts. People may offer unkind words, assumptions of the worst, pessimistic attitudes, and spiteful critique to us, but it is wholly our choice whether or not to accept those offerings. Allowing the words and actions of others to dictate how we feel about ourselves, others, and the world at large is giving up control of our happiness to someone who has no interest in protecting or honoring it. In our home, we take responsibility for our own happiness, joy, and peace, and we protect those treasures by keeping the poison of anger, hatred, malice, and unkindness outside the walls of our home as much as possible.
Much of parenting is leading by example, so it fell to me to practice what I preach. New boundaries were marked out to protect those I love from whatever would steal their joy and inner peace while they are home. Venting after school is allowed for a brief period of time. After all, sometimes we just need to let off steam. But persistent unhelpful, unkind, or negative comments throughout the night are no longer welcome. If there is a problem, we will work together to solve it. If we cannot solve it, we will work together to figure out our response. We will keep our home a refuge, a safe place away from those who would tear us down.
Once upon a time, I did not honor the refuge of my home and invited someone in who sucked much of the peace and happiness out of it, and it took a long time to recover from that mistake. I’m extremely mindful now about what passes the threshold of my home because the need for a sanctuary doesn’t end when we get past middle school. We all need a peaceful place to escape to, a place we are loved and accepted, a place where goodness resides. We all need to know that those who reside with us are on our team. With all the ugliness in the world, home should be the one place we know we will always find beauty. I know that’s not reality for many individuals, but I’ll do my best to ensure it’s reality for myself, my husband, my girls, and any others who venture within these four walls.