What’s the foundation of your family…

a person or values?

A lot of parents tell me about how everything seems to revolve around one person in their family, usually a child (and sometimes an adult). The fact is that there’s always someone who needs more attention – more hand-holding, more limits, more encouragement, and more interventions.

When dealing with the person who ‘sucks all the oxygen out of the room’ (whether it’s a child or an adult), something is often lost — our principles. In the scramble to cope with this person’s needs, the family can lose sight of the principles that are easier to live by when all is calm.

There is often a person who is the center of attention in the family, who’s driving your family to react in unhealthy ways. It could be a challenging child, someone with a ‘diagnosis’, or a parent with poor communication skills. Like a magnet, that person pulls the energy and resources of the family to it. It can be described as the one we’re all dancing around. When that person has a good day, the rest of us are having a good day. When she’s not, watch out.

Can you relate? Do you have a ‘difficult’ child, a volatile spouse, or someone who is emotionally needy? Does this person drive everyone else to distraction and despair?

When these individuals become the center of attention,
* you tiptoe around them, afraid to trigger their bad moods or neediness.
* other family relationships become strained.
* you’re exhausted.
* bad behaviors hang on or get worse.
* you’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop.
* you make decisions based on fear or wanting to keep the peace.

There’s another side to this. At one parent workshop a participant asked, “What if the person at the center is the one who’s holding everything together? How can that be bad?”

In certain instances, this person may be stunting the growth of the rest of the family. A new perspective on what it means to help, especially to help your children, is in order.

If you are the glue, the one who picks up all the pieces, you may be doing for others what they must learn to do for themselves. If you are the glue, take a look at the bullet points above. Do any of them apply to you?

Keep in mind that any family member can find him/herself at the center. For a while I would have said that my older child was at the center, with the rest of us reacting in a panic. The reality was that we all took turns.

My husband reacted to fear by becoming angry and we tiptoed around him. I was sometimes at the center, responding to my fears by trying (unsuccessfully) to control everyone around me. And my younger child eventually took center stage, as the stress of those difficult years finally manifested.

Everyone needs support to address the concerns that put us in the center. Substance abuse requires an intervention, anger management issues will benefit from therapy (and possibly medication), a medical condition requires medical care, and so on.

Once those immediate needs are addressed, then what?

If it’s unhealthy to have a person at the center, what belongs there? Ideally, your principles or values are what you want driving your family. Your values will take your family to its personal excellence, no matter the circumstances.

Your values don’t change. They are, or you want them to be, the foundation of your family, decision-making, and relationships. Your values represent your best self, and the basis for preparing your children to go out into the world and thrive.

Make a list of your most cherished values. (If you need help identifying them, go to mindtools to get started.) Have an informal sit-down with your family and share your ideas. You’ll be surprised at how much agreement there is on what’s important to all of you.

The ‘reset’ questions.
Whether a situation is mildly annoying or downright desperate, ask yourself,

“What do I truly believe?
“Am I acting in integrity with my stated values?”
“How do my thoughts, words and actions contribute to, or work against, my guiding principles?”
“Which value is underlying the decision I’m about to make? How can I use it to make the best decision?”

The challenge comes when any one of you responds to a situation from fear, sadness and other difficult emotions. Those emotions can hijack you from acting on your principles. When you’re not sure what to do and that little voice is nagging at you, default to the reset questions and the values you hold dear.

Originally published at

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