Let me start off by saying that I am not always approachable.
If I was truly candid, which I am about to be, I would tell you that my most important relationships seem to suffer the most when I am not approachable: My wife and my kids.
I am sure if they were most honest, which they usually are, they would say, “dad is loving but sometimes being near him is like walking on eggshells.”
“Walking on eggshells…” I am wondering how many of you can relate to that feeling or phrase.
RABBIT TRAIL: Did you know the phrase, “walking on eggshells,” first started out as “walking on eggs.” Considering how trauma is passed down from generation to generation…I suppose eggshells are all that’s left.
This idea or phrase of “walking on eggshells” implies “to be very careful not to offend or upset someone” according to the Cambridge Dictionary. Patterns like these can leave lasting damage in our homes, although mood swings are a natural part of life, it is important for all of us to deal with and manage appropriately.
We see this in foster care, especially when working with vulnerable children and families. Did you know that witnessing abuse (physical, emotional, verbal, neglect) between parents/adults in the home carries the same risk of harm to children’s mental health as being abused directly?
How we emotionally regulate in our homes is critical to the health of our children. If only 4 out of 10 kids are currently flourishing (pre-pandemic) how much of this comes back to our homes and the closeness and connection occurring in our relationships? Oftentimes it’s our dysregulation that leads to fractured relationships. In his book, What Happened To You, Dr. Bruce Perry writes, “Regulation is the KEY to creating safe connection. And being connected is the most efficient and effective way to get information to the cortex (page 144),” meaning, “getting to the place where you can communicate rationally with someone (page 143).” He goes on to write, “If we don’t feel safe, we become dysregulated (page 148).”
Here is a great article on this, “Walking on Eggshells” by Dr. Steven Stosny. He shares, “Everyone in a walking-on-eggshells family loses some degree of dignity and autonomy. Half suffer from clinical anxiety and/or depression. (“Clinical” doesn’t mean feeling down or blue or worried, it means that the symptoms interfere with normal functioning. You can’t sleep, can’t concentrate, can’t work as efficiently, and can’t enjoy yourself without drinking.) Most of the adults lack genuine self-esteem (based on realistic self-appraisals), and the children rarely feel as good as other kids.”
Side note: I was reading an article recently that tries to tackle the mental health crisis in our schools…but I feel they miss the point entirely…which is to hire more mental health workers for schools. Make our schools safer by addressing grief and trauma. Although necessary this is tertiary intervention at best. We need to make our schools and communities healthier by seeing emotionally healthier parents leading and loving their children. We need to address the root of this grief and trauma which is happening in the homes…and not to be cliché…but we need to address fatherlessness.
A Fatherhood Class
During the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, I had the pleasure of facilitating a fatherhood class at Lincoln Berean Church here in Lincoln, NE. We had dads and some single men from all walks of life and different experiences participate in the class. It was full of amazing conversations and interactions. We spent a great deal looking at data from different studies about dads, looking at some Scripture and unpacking its application in our lives.
One key truth we unpacked came from the book, “Families and Faith Findings: How Religion is Passed Down Across Generations” by Vern Bengston (which I have also mentioned before in multiple posts). The study found this to be true – “Parental warmth is the key to successful [religious] transmission” (p.186).
As I reflect on this idea of parental warmth, I think of relational or emotional safety. I think of closeness. I think of connection. I think of trust.
I love what Dr. Henry Cloud says of trust, “Trust fuels investment…trust is built when it is reciprocated (gives/receives).” Trust or relational warmth helps grow and fuel any relationship and its not optional. We are giving or receiving this emotional “currency” in every interaction.
Is it any wonder that our faith grows in proportion to our trust? Think about all the areas in your life where you do not trust. What lives there? Fear. Anxiety. Control. How much of that fear then carries over into the areas of my life and into the relationships most important to me?
Am I trustworthy? “Am I approachable?” If not, then why am I not? What inhibits my ability to be that trustworthy person to God, to myself and to those I have a direct impact on?
“Fire can warm or consume, water can quench or drown, wind can caress or cut. And so it is with human relationships: we can both create and destroy, nurture and terrorize, traumatize and heal each other.”Dr. Bruce Perry (“The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog…”)
I know I have been processing a lot about how I can be more approachable to my family. Why should everyone else get my best? They shouldn’t. I have to become so much more self-aware of my own emotional fuel tank and make sure I am not just physically present at home. I have to be emotionally invested. I have to be aware of my emotional triggers.
Side note: As a follower of Christ, I have to take some ownership of my own walk but what I cannot do is think I have the ability to change myself…or clean myself up. I need Jesus to do the work in me that I often try to do myself. I must offer myself as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2)
I shared a critical perspective of this in my post, “Sincere Faith Cannot Be Outsourced” and the important role the Gospel and my sincerity plays in this work of trust and emotional warmth.
Below is an exercise I recently did through a small group my wife and I are a part of with some other couples. The 9-month experience is a program through Trueface Ministries called Trueface Journey. The “Trust” exercise provides a prayer as well as an assessment that I found to be quite challenging and convicting. It exposed some areas where I am not trusting the Lord… I hope you find this helpful. It’s a great self-reflection tool… and an exercise you could discuss with someone you trust to be loving and honest with you.
I wonder if the areas in my life where I am not trusting God are the very areas that cause others to “Walk on eggshells” around me? Scripture speaks of this. “Husbands, in the same way, be considerate as you live with your wives and treat them with respect…so that nothing will hinder your prayers” (1 Peter 3:7) and “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4). Does my lack of trusting Christ lead to my stress and anger? Yes it does. Truly trusting His work replaces the eggshells I offer with the fruit of His Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)
My prayer is that those we love most would feel the warmth of His love through the sincerity in which we live our daily lives and taste of the fruit His Spirit.