This past week, returning from a lovely vacation our family van broke down on the highway in Italy. The inconvenience of a non functioning vehicle aside, the sheer fact that we were now stranded on the side of a busy road at 8PM with a baby and two small boys, 280 kilometers from home was well, scary.
The emotional intensity of a family crisis has a way of bringing families together or tearing them apart. In our case we rallied together and somehow ended up full of good memories despite the stress, anger and fear that we all went through. In reflecting our experience there are the five steps we took to get through:
Assess the Situation: Knowing what needs to be done to handle your crisis goes a long way. Granted crises are unexpected, even in the moment, taking the time to assess what needs to be done can only help. As my husband announced that the engine had stopped, I immediately looked at the highway signs. I wanted to know where we were, the highway marker, the nearest exit and town. My husband set up the emergency triangle and I made sure everyone stayed in their safety seats and buckled.
Get Help: Depending on the nature of the crisis, reach out for help. In our case, I called the highway patrol while my husband called the roadside assistance company.Maybe you need a lawyer or a counselor, whatever it may be don't be afraid to reach for help.
Avoid blame: Regardless of the crisis, looking for cause and fault often can lead to arguments and unnecessary stress. As the tow truck driver was asking questions, he wondered if our diesel tank had been filled with the wrong fuel. I could sense some defensiveness from my husband (he had just filled our tank ten minutes prior) and immediately assured my husband that nobody was blaming him and that the tow truck driver was just trying to eliminate possible causes for the breakdown. (For the record, it was not the wrong fuel!) Instead of figuring out why something has happened, focus on finding solutions.
Communicate: Clearly communicating with the whole family during the duration of a crisis can reduce a lot of stress. As we were broken down waiting for the tow truck, our boys started asking what had happened. I told the boys our car was broken and we were waiting for “Mr. Fixit” to arrive. My three year old smiled and said, “I’m not worried, you always find solutions mama.” His words were so fantastic and trusting! I did end up crying a bit and then told the boys I was a bit scared but that it was really ok to be scared even if a solution was around the corner. Each step of the way we told the children what to expect and to the best of our knowledge how long things would take. We even made things into games, calling our ride on the tow truck “a rocket ship to the moon" for example. The boys were eager to help and more than cooperative in all of the twenty hours it took for us to return home.
Connect: Maintaining harmony in a crisis can be difficult, but as a family leaning on each others strengths and remembering to stay connected can truly make a difference. Since our car wasn’t going to get fixed at 9 PM, the tow driver found us room at a local bed and breakfast. We kept our bedtime routine although it was already 11pm and then spent the night co-sleeping something akin to “musical chairs” with the children coming and going from whatever parent they wanted to be close to for reassurance. We took the time to eat breakfast together and even played with the resident parrot before heading back to the mechanic who had somehow managed to fix our car. As we drove back my husband and I often held hands in the car, we were going to get home safe, we knew we would, and we did.
In the moment, being broken down was very scary, however upon reflection I can see as a family we really have learned to rally together and support each other, and that is really priceless.
Have you had to handle a crisis lately? What got you through it?
Peace & Be Well,
About the authormudpiemama has three children and two dogs. She practices peaceful, playful, responsive parenting and is passionate about all things parenting and chocolate. She believes parents and children should try to have fun everyday and love life.