My family of five have been seeing each other for 24-7 for two months now. While we have suffered some friction burns from the increased family time together, I have come to truly appreciate the old mantra: Kindness begins at home.
If you think about it, it is amusing but true of how we are polite to strangers but have the tendency to dismiss the people closest to us ‒ our family.
It can also be difficult to practise kindness at home especially when we hold certain preconceived notions of our family members ‒ we know each other so well because we have seen each other at our best and worst.
But does being comfortable with each other give us the right to take courtesy and appreciation for granted? Worse, does it give us the right to lose our temper or ignore their feelings and expect our family members to embrace this ugly side of us unconditionally?
Blood is thicker than water, of course, but it still flows when you get cut.
I have to admit, I don’t wish to be treated that way. So I choose not to treat my family the same.
Imagine how you would feel if you asked a sibling about their day but ended up getting a death stare, a rude grunt or even a door slammed in your face just because they had a bad day and didn’t want to talk?.
Everyone has their moods and fair share of day-to-day challenges to deal with, especially in these uncertain times. But expecting your family members to simply deal with your attitude has its limits.
Bad behaviour would take a toll on any relationship. Even couples who love each other would struggle to keep the relationship alive in the face of constant negativity.
Be generous with gratitude and compliments
During the circuit breaker, my mum continued to work from home while taking care of the family. Yet looking back, I realise that I have been guilty of not thanking her for her efforts.
It’s not that I’m ungrateful but I have found that it takes courage to say “thank you” and to even compliment someone. Ironically, I find it especially harder to do so for people closest to me; it feels weird to be extra sweet to them out of the blue.
“Aiyah.. why so mushy, my parents know I love them. Don’t need to say,” goes my inner voice. But that’s just something I use to justify my silence whenever my guilt creeps up.
We can blame our less expressive “Asian DNA” or our Singaporean reticence to speak up, but what’s wrong with letting our mums know that we treasure them (and their cooking!)?
We should be conscious in expressing gratitude and open to complimenting those close to us, even if it is something as mundane as “hey, that’s a nice outfit!”. Something as simple as that can brighten their day and bring about better relationships.
Be accepting of their character
It is another irony that we are often the least patient with those we are closest to.
After spending longer hours with my family in this stay-home period, I have learned to be more empathetic.
Before, I used to get frustrated over things that did not make sense to me. Now, I have learned to put aside my perspective and to see it from the person’s point of view.
Because every behaviour and action can be explained. People behave or react a certain way because of their circumstances. So by taking a few seconds (just a few deep breaths!) before reacting can save you from starting a war within your family or saying things that you may not mean.
This is not to condone bad behaviour. Love isn’t keeping silent in the face of wrong actions or thinking. Love is speaking up, but not with harsh words or raised voices, but with gentleness, tact and a healthy dose of empathy.
A harmonious family to me, starts with accepting your relatives (cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents!) for who they are and not expecting them to change into your definition of perfection.
Be a role model by living the values at home
As we look to positively influence the world and inspire all to do good, let us start with practising it in our own homes.
When I start my own family, I envision an environment where my husband and children practise what we believe in at home and out. It has to start young to develop empathy and kindness in an individual and from where they belong ‒ at home.
But before all of that, let me start by connecting again with the people closest to me. To my parents and my siblings, thank you for putting up with me. I see you too.