Dammit. A lump formed in my throat. The lightsaber I ordered doesn’t light-up, and Benny’s birthday party is tomorrow. I have an endless list of things to do, and I won’t be able to make it to the store to get a new one….
The kids were downstairs, so I let the tears flow as I intentionally observed and squashed my judgemental thoughts like bugs:
It’s not that big of a deal! Why are you so upset? SQUASH.
So what? It’s nothing to get crazy about! SQUASH.
You’re stressed about this? Seriously? SQUASH.
It had been a horribly exhausting couple days with several unanticipated doctor’s appointments, having to rearrange my work schedule/find childcare because of school delays, cleaning a trashed post-vacation house and catching up on homework, and preparing for our youngest’s upcoming birthday party. With to-do-lists maxed-out and self-care neglected, it’s understandable that a non-functional lightsaber would feel like a punch in the gut.
(That last paragraph was brought to you by the concept of “self-validation.”)
30 minutes later….
My seven year old, my usually-rule-following, authority-pleasing, stereotypical-first-born, was standing in the living room, giving me attitude:
“Mo-om! Why are you making me put away my clean clothes! Come ON! This huge pile will take me TWO trips!” His voice was raised and he was on the verge of desperate tears.
My reactive instinct wanted to tell him:
It’s not that big of a deal. Why are you so upset?
So what? It’s nothing to get crazy about!
You’re stressed about this? Seriously?
But I SQUASHED all that.
I dug-deep and felt my kid’s overwhelm and desperation. I recognized his stance and his voice and his tears as something I knew, and it wasn’t hard to imagine being in his shoes.
(The preceding paragraph was brought to you by the concept of “empathy.”)
What had I needed when, moments before, I was feeling so seemingly ridiculously burdened by a simple inconvenience? Understanding and validation were certainly the major calming ingredients in my mind.
“Two trips upstairs feels like a pretty big deal, huh?” I reflected quietly.
My son’s jaw and shoulders softened, matching my tone. He nodded.
“You haven’t had lot of relaxation and play this week, with indoor recesses, and all of our errands, and homework…”
He finally allowed the tears to well-up and overflow.
“You’ve had an overwhelming week. Maybe you need to play and relax a little, and then do your jobs later.”
(That paragraph was brought to you by labeling the feeling and offering supportive accountability.)
Now he was fully crying and grabbing onto me, burying his face in my shirt. “We don’t even get to play at school ever! We haven’t been outside for recess in forever because it’s too snowy or too cold! All we do is reading and math!”
(That paragraph was brought to you by emotional safety allowing vulnerability.)
“I know.” I squeazed him tight. “I know.”
“So you believe me that school is hard?”
(A question to solidify how important it was to him that his reality was not dismissed, and how my casual comments of “I used to LOVE school when I was your age” had felt invalidating.)
“Yes, of course I believe you! When I was in school we got two recesses and more time for play, so I can’t even compare your school days to mine.”
(The preceding was brought to you by the concept of orienting one’s self to the right comparison group.)
Thirty years from now, when my kid is standing in his office or in his home, flooded with desperation, overwhelm, anger, or fear, he will have a choice. He can judge and stifle himself, and therefore possibly spin himself into depression, addiction, or aggression. OR. He can label and validate his feeling, and offer himself compassionate accountability. And when he is faced with such a challenge, I hope he is able to choose the more intentional route, even with the pressures of being an infallibly stoic “man” in our society….
As usual, just something to think about…
From the therapist who says only good things come from empathy, and also the way you talk to yourself is the way you talk to your kids, which usually becomes the way they will talk to themselves someday….
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