Space For When the Mess Hits the Fan

Yet again, my family finds ourselves in the midst of a huge transition. We leave to return to Nepal in just under a month. As I type this, I can hear my 4-year-old refusing to go potty and my 1-year-old wailing loudly for some reason unbeknownst to us. Bless my husband. I am taking a breather in my room before facing the dumpster fire that is life right now. There are a million and three things that need to get done as our time in the US dwindles down but if there’s one thing we’ve learned with all our MANY transitions it is this: farewells are never on your own terms. 


And this is why we need margins (space) for when the mess hits the fan. Because it always does in transition. Ulrika Ernvik tells us in her brilliantly written book, Third Culture Kids: A Gift to Care For, that people in the middle of transition are only operating at about 60% of their normal capacity. When we are experiencing something new, the part of our brain called the “amygdala” is working on overdrive. It starts up our body’s fear and protection response because our brain senses that we do not know what to expect and that we are not in control. 

These findings are in a book about international transition, but it got me thinking about ALL of us right now. We are in a worldwide situation where none of us knows what to expect and all of us feel like we are not in control. We’ve never been through a pandemic before. We’ve never faced a brand new vaccine on a worldwide level before. We’re all new to this. And so, I really do believe that some of the activities suggested in this book for people crazy enough to move around the world are actually pertinent to many of us for such a time as this. 

The activities Ulrika presents us with are meant to help us connect as a family and process through our feelings, whether we realize them or not. You may not be a family in transition in the physical sense, but the stress of the current reality of our world may be weighing on your family (as well as mine) in ways that are harder to see. Ulrika states that many tantrums and outbursts in children (and adults!) can be due to stress energy rising in the body in response to our fight or flight instinct being triggered. 

So what do we do? 

The number one thing we can do as parents, and as humans all going through this unfamiliar territory, is to be vulnerable with each other. Let each other share. Listen to each other’s pain. Find creative ways to help our kids share when they don’t quite know how to verbalize what they are feeling. Be present. 

The Four Feelings Activity

This is a super simple activity to do with your family to help everyone feel heard and cared for. 

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 piece of paper for each family member
  • Crayons, colored pencils, or markers. Basically, some type of tool for drawing on your paper

What You’ll Do: 

  • Fold your paper twice in half so that you have 4 rectangles. 
  • Inside each rectangle, take one minute to draw something in response to the following prompts. 
  • Draw something that makes you feel happy
  • Draw something that makes you feel sad
  • Draw something that makes you feel angry
  • Draw something that makes you feel scared
  • Now, on the back of your paper, take the whole page to draw something you are hoping for. Something you hope will change. 
  • Share what you’ve drawn with your family members. Be intentional in listening as a way of supporting each other. 

So simple, right? You might be surprised at what comes up from some of your family members. I know I was. For younger kids, you might get some really profound answers as well as some “interesting” answers that seem to come directly from their mind palace of imagination. And that is ok. The main thing is to be listening and being present with each other. 

Our family did this activity just the other day and our son had some pretty crazy answers to some of the prompts, but the simple act of being together and making space for each other’s thoughts and feelings was huge. We’re not doing this transition thing perfectly. In fact, we are such a wreck most of the time. The mess is hitting the fan all over the place. But you know what? We’re committed to being present with each other through all that mess. And I really do believe in my heart of hearts that this is what matters. 

This month, you can also sign up for The Culture Canvas newsletter to receive a free set of Feelings Cards, which can be used to help our kids verbalize the big feelings below the surface. We’re also chatting on the newsletter about a great Belonging Book recommendation that goes along perfectly with this conversation. Join The Culture Canvas family below! You belong!


* indicates required

Leave a Reply