Family Visits — Do You React or Respond?

I traveled “home” last week to visit my parents, sister and extended family. My grandmother turned 96. I have good genes – three of my four grandparents lived healthy lives into their mid-90s! Trips home always gives me some great opportunities to look within and see what cobwebs may still need cleaning out!

We all have “issues” with our family of origin – something from our past challenges us, something else gives us great joy. Either way, those challenges and joys unwittingly manifest in our own parenting and partnership. The question is not whether this happens – it DOES – the question is are you aware of your “issues” from your family of origin and how they impact you as a parent and partner (or former partner)? The reason you want to be aware is because then you have choice about how to respond and interact in life rather than simply react (while fooling yourself that you are actually choosing a response).

When we are children we often think we only have two choices – rebel or submit. And often as a child, that is true. However, there is a THIRD WAY. We can choose exactly how we want to respond in a particular situation rather than simply react. It may mean we are doing what the other person is asking of us, it may mean we are not doing what they are asking, it may mean we do something entirely different, but whatever choice we make, it is a conscious choice that serves life rather than one that is in response to the other person. This is a place of power.

To be able to do this, we need to replace our old habits with new ones. Have you ever tried to simply tell yourself, ‘Hey, stop reacting like that. You know better than that?’ Notice how that does not work? That is because telling yourself to stop doing something without having something to replace it with simply does not work. You need to build a new muscle that is stronger than your old one.

So, how do you do that? You become aware.

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1. Learn to become aware of your body reactions. When you notice your body almost reacting faster than your words that is a clue that you are about to react.

2. Pause and do nothing other than observe your internal experience.

3. Pause again and continue to observe your internal experience! When I get really upset about an interaction, I return to my practice – sitting on my meditation cushion until the energy and emotions have settled and moved through my body so that I am no longer in a reactive place.

4. Journal about your experience. Explore how this feels familiar to you. Ask yourself what you are feeling and what your genuine need is (and by the way, in case you were wondering, being right is not a need!). What is it that you really want in this situation? Do not respond or do anything until you have clarity about that.

5. Practice the above 4 steps again and again until the habit of pausing and reflecting replaces the habit of reacting.

In service and support of you and your children’s well-being ~

Cat J. Zavis
is an Attorney, Mediator, Child Advocate and Coach for Parents co-parenting their children after divorce. As a divorced mother of 2, she deeply understands the challenges, trauma and opportunities divorce provides. She has been practicing Nonviolent CommunicationSM, Mediation and Collaborative Law for 7 years. She conducts workshops and trainings in Nonviolent CommunicationSM for parents, lawyers, teachers, students, spiritual centers and professionals. In 2009, she was awarded a Peace Builder Award for her business. Her combination of personal experience and professional expertise give Cat a unique perspective and ability to help co parents learn to communicate effectively and powerfully to transform their relationships and interactions with their former after divorce so they and their children can thrive.

She can be reached at


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