Our kids can be our greatest teachers and they can be our biggest annoyances. They can fill us with love and deplete our tanks. They can make life meaningful and make us long for time alone. No one can push our buttons more than our kids.

We all have times when our kids get to us and we respond in ways that we regret. We also have times (hopefully) where we feel good about how we responded and pat ourselves on the backs. Ever think about why you snap one day and have more patience another day?

There are the obvious reasons like how stressed you are in the moment, how you slept the night before, etc. But I am more interested in a more direct factor. The gaps between actions and reactions. That is where the magic lies.

It can be the briefest of pauses that creates room for growth and expansion. I would argue that the quality of the pause we take between action (our kid doing something that pushes our buttons) and our response is the primary variable in determining whether we experience our kids as teachers or annoyances.

I was working with a couple the other day. They were sharing stories of how their son had been triggering them. The mom was telling me how he has begun to talk back and how it sometimes causes a strong physiological response in her. We can all relate to that. I encouraged her to see what was happening as a reflection of something that she (the mom) needs to lean into and get curious about instead of simply getting big, puffing up her chest and squashing it.

The pause between the action and response allows us to ask ourselves: What is happening right now? Why I am getting so upset? Just asking those two questions before responding will provide enough time for the adrenaline to subside a bit and to respond from a different place.

Sometimes, your reactions will simply get the better of you. That’s okay. Own it. Apologize if you say or do something you wish you hadn’t. Learn from it. Learn from the interactions. Be mindful of your internal responses prior to responding externally. What are you feeling? What are you thinking? This applies equally to our relationships with our partners and with anyone else for that matter. ​

Viktor Frankl said it best:

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

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David B. Younger, Ph.D. is the creator of Love After Kids, for couples that have grown apart since having children. He is a clinical psychologist and couples therapist with a web-based private practice and lives in Austin, Texas with his wife, 14-year-old son, 4-year-old daughter and 6-year-old toy poodle.

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