Tag Archives: honesty

It Makes Me Sad

I encountered a flustered mom on the sidewalk outside my work building the other day. She was a mom that I knew by sight, not by name. For several months she and her son had been attending the parent-and-me class that takes place in the classroom next-door to mine a few times a week. Recently, she had made the decision to enroll her son in a preschool class that he would attend on his own for a few hours per day.

When I encountered her on the sidewalk, it was after one of her son’s first days in the preschool class. It was nearing lunchtime. Her little boy was refusing to get into the car to go home. Instead, he stood in the middle of the sidewalk, wailing, while the mom cajoled, threatened, and bribed in rapid succession to attempt to hurry him along. She was visibly flustered and frustrated, as nearly anyone would have been in her shoes. It is a unique test of one’s patience to stand in public alongside a wailing child. Even when you seem to be completely alone, you feel the sting and burn of a thousand eyes on you.

The mom glanced my way as I approached and, her patience at its limit, grabbed the little boy by one arm and hissed, “It makes me so sad when you don’t listen to my words!” The boy screamed as she finally lifted him up and put him inside the car.

I passed by and walked into the building to begin my work day, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the scene. I still can’t. And here’s why: this mom is a shining example of someone who is trying to do all the “right” things. She is really trying to use the “right” words with her child in a difficult situation. She once worked in a preschool setting herself, I had learned. I would have guessed at it, had I not been told. Because somewhere in the history of preschool training, parents and teachers began to use the phrase, “It makes me sad when you…” in an attempt to dissuade children from behaving in ways that make the parent or teacher feel a number of emotions that may or may not include genuine sadness. (Does it matter how the child is feeling?)

When the mom on the sidewalk glanced my way, I wanted to communicate somehow with my body language or facial expression or even with words that I was not judging her. I wasn’t. If anything, I felt empathy for her situation. Have you been there? I have. I’ve wrestled a reluctant toddler into a carseat more than once. It’s not fun for anyone involved. (Think how the toddler feels!)

I looked at the mom’s face as she hissed angrily at her little boy. His eyes widened as he looked into hers. Her mouth told him, “so sad,” but her face told an entirely different story, as plain as day. I wish she had told him what she was feeling. Why not? He was doing his very best to express his honest, raw emotions to her. (What was he feeling?)

In that long, uncomfortable moment on the sidewalk, the goal of this mom was most likely (we can presume) to get her child into the car so they could head home for lunch and a much-deserved nap. Thinking long-term, I like to imagine that the goal of this mom, who uses phrases like, “It makes me so sad when you don’t listen to my words,” is to raise an emotionally mature and connected individual. This is a mom, I imagine, who doesn’t want to snap and yell and berate her child. This is a conscious, caring woman who has read something about child development. She is someone like you, perhaps, and someone like me.

We know by now how incredibly valuable empathy is. It’s important to empathize with your child. Empathy is a package of abilities in the brain, shaped by experiences. The way I think about it, each time you meet a child with empathy, you’re helping to wire their brain for future success. Plant this seed in your own mind and you could quadruple your patience in trying times like the one described above.

I don’t believe you can be empathetic or teach empathy to a child without honesty. What does that mean in a real-life situation like this? It means that you don’t tell your child that their actions make you sad when what you’re really feeling is frustrated. You’re feeling angry and embarrassed. You’re feeling tired. (Of course you are!) Even if your child doesn’t have the words for these emotions, they know them. They know them in themselves and they see them in you. When you grab their arm and hiss about feeling sad, they probably don’t even hear your words but you know they see through you.

Being honest doesn’t mean joining them in their tantrum and screaming out your frustration too. It might mean crouching down in front of them, meeting their eyes with your own, and saying, “It sounds like you don’t want to stop playing and get in the car. It sounds like you’re really mad right now. I’m frustrated too. Your choices right now are to climb into your seat or to have me help you. Will you climb in or do I need to pick you up?” If you need to pick them up, you can tell them, “I hear you. I know you don’t want to fasten your buckles right now. You’re feeling really upset that we have to go. I’m upset too, but this is something that we have to do right now.”

Later, when your child has calmed down, you could talk more about leaving preschool and getting into the car. You might have to talk about it often over the next few weeks. Your child might tell you that it makes them upset when they have to stop playing. You might tell your child that it makes you upset when they scream on the sidewalk. It’s okay to tell your child that their actions make you feel whatever it is that they make you feel: angry, scared, frustrated, overwhelmed, even sad. What’s even more important, however, is to show and tell your child that you notice and care about what their actions express about their own feelings in that moment.

You may also be interested in the post Reunion Meltdowns.

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Try Honesty

I have written before about judgment. About moms judging moms, teachers judging teachers, teachers judging moms, moms judging teachers, and on and on to infinity and beyond. I seem to encounter more judgment every day, but it’s possible that it has always been there and I just hadn’t been as sensitive to it, before my radar was primed and pointed. I’m sensitive to it now because I am understanding more about how toxic it can be, for everyone involved. Something that I have been observing lately is how there is an insidious dishonesty that creeps through interpersonal relationships as people try to avoid being judged. Have you observed this as well?

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Fact: We cannot micromanage how others see us. But we try so hard to! We just can’t help ourselves. We exhaust ourselves jumping through hoops to present our very best face to the world. This seems to impact moms more than any other group of humans, apart from perhaps teenagers. Let’s take a moment to talk about teenagers. When I was studying development, I learned about the “imaginary audience” that is often exhibited in young adolescents. This is when teenagers live in a developmentally appropriate egocentric state wherein they truly feel that everyone is looking at them (judging them) all the time. This prompts the kind of self-conscious behavior and response that we consider to be uniquely “teenage” in our culture. Along with what’s known as “personal fable” (that is, believing that one is special and unique and no one else has ever felt or experienced what you have felt or experienced — think of how teenagers experience first love, as an example), the “imaginary audience” is known to be a natural part of the maturation process as individuals come to identify their place in the world. Generally, our worldview shifts as we mature and our “imaginary audience” shrinks to the background. As we grow up, we continuously expand our social understandings as our encounters with others diversify. The goal or standard expectation is that we come to think less of ourselves and more of others, in the natural continuum of being part of a wider culture. Over time, it is thought, we are able to be more ourselves, and attain a kind of acceptance and understanding.

I believe, without any support from developmental research, that our use of so-called “social media” is impacting our human development and perhaps causing us to linger in an “imaginary audience” state, or to return to one, because we have built a global audience for ourselves. We have a hard time turning our backs on it. We have to update our status and upload our photos and, in many cases, upgrade our true experience for one that may look better online. In many cases, we have plugged in with the worthwhile goal of forging meaningful connections with other people — to share our experiences with a network of moms, or caregivers, or like-minded individuals — but because of our heightened sense of “imaginary audience”, we rob ourselves of the opportunity for authentic connections and instead put forth a carefully edited version of reality. This carefully crafted version of ourselves is consumed by our network and contributes to influencing what they then share back.

Here is an example, from my real life: I have a friend who has two young children, a husband, a house, and pets. She does not work outside the home, but does some online work from time to time. She is a responsive, dedicated mom. She has a nanny who helps out a few times a week. Sometimes the nanny helps with both children while the mom does her online work. Sometimes the nanny does household tasks while the children nap. Sometimes the nanny cares for one child while the mom does something with the other (taking the older child to a class or spending special time with the infant while the older child is at the park). I think this is a great help for this mom. It’s wonderful that she is able to have this kind of help and support because all families need it. (Additionally, it’s wonderful for the nanny to be able to earn money in this flexible setting because she is helping to meet the needs of her own family.) My friend doesn’t tell people that she has a nanny. Clearly it’s not a universal secret because I know — and here I am blogging about it! — but when people who do not know her well ask the question, “How do you do it?!” she smiles and says things like, “I never sleep!” or, “I stopped showering!” or, “Moms are superheroes.”

Moms and dads are superheroes. They don’t even have to get out of their pajamas and leave the house to accomplish matters of huge importance. They’re stronger, smarter, more resilient, and more powerful than they will ever know. That said, they don’t have to be everything. They don’t have to be alone. They could do the world a great service simply by being real.

The incredible Rebecca Woolf has written about this subject far more eloquently than I am able to.

“So why has ‘nanny’ become such a loaded word? Why are we, as women, so reluctant to talk about the people we hire to help us so that we can do what we do? What are we afraid of? People thinking we CAN’T do it all?

“Well, duh.

“We fucking can’t.

“So what’s this big secret we’re trying to keep and who do we think we’re fooling?

“And what is it doing to people who read our blogs and books and pin our how-tos and think that all of these projects are being finished while children sit quietly on the sidelines with their hands in their laps.

“What is it doing to you?” – Girl’s Gone Child

We love it when people are real. Forget the “imaginary audience”, our real social media audience of friends and family members and half-strangers appreciate honesty and reality. It makes people feel good. Posting a photo of your bedhead? Your wrinkles? The huge mess in your family room? I’m “liking” it just on principle! Deep down, where it matters, I’m loving it. I’m feeling more connected to you than ever because you’re real, you’re human, you’re imperfect… like me.

I like pretty pictures as much as anyone, just like I enjoy a beautiful event or a flawless performance. But you know what I love? I love when mistakes happen that give you a brief glimpse of humanity, humility, and true grace. I love the behind-the-scenes look at things. I like to know that we’re all trying and failing and laughing and crying and carrying on. I really like honesty and I’m trying to live honestly so that I can do my very best for the other people in my life.

So you don’t tell people you have a nanny because you don’t want them to judge you. You think you know what they’re going to think or say and you want to head it off. You want to present a certain image of yourself because maybe that is who you think you ought to be or it’s who you want to be (I, for example, want to be the person with the house that is always company-ready, but I am actually the person who hates to dust and procrastinates on vacuuming). Meanwhile, your children are soaking in that message. Their “imaginary audience” is already watching their every move and they’re carefully measuring out doses of dishonesty to package the version of themselves they think others want.

What if we consciously decide to send out a message that what we really want is you. We’re not going to agree with everything you do and say, but we’re still going to accept that you’re someone worth knowing.

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