Teaching Her the Most Important Thing

My daughter came home with a story today.

She said a friend had pushed her aside physically on the way to complete a classroom task.

adolescent-adult-back-view-710743I say friend with a lot of hesitation and air quotes because this particular girl was at one time the best friend, the slumber party friend, the every day lunch companion. This girl was the secret keeper, the note writer, the one my daughter was sure she would miss the most when they go to different middle schools. Then we had a long period of hot and cold, like a confused faucet. Slumber party on the weekend and the icy treatment a few days later with no explanation. I realize I was only getting one side of the story, but honestly I found it hard to keep up with what the status of their relationship was on any given day.

I encouraged my daughter to ask questions. “How can I when she won’t talk to me?”

I suggested that she make a conversation a prerequisite to returning to the relationship when the ice melted. “I will, just not right now.”

We talked about the fact that you teach people how to treat you.

We talked about how lovely forgiveness is but that it doesn’t mean you have to let someone continually hurt your feelings.

I asked if she needed me to intervene in any way. The look on her face told me we are both well past and not anywhere near that stage. “I am too old for that.” I said that was okay with me unless things changed, escalated, became physical or took on aspects of bullying instead of just being a really bad friend. She nodded, not in approval, but more like “Yeah, I knew you’d say that.” My girl talks a lot and yet so many things can go unspoken.

This pattern continued for most of this school year, without any real escalation and certainly no physical contact. And here we are 3 days before the end of school and this girl, who I’ve been trying very hard NOT to say unkind and childish things about all year put her hands on my kid. I know better than to demonize her, and that I’m STILL only getting one side of the story, but my hackles are up. I want to get in touch with this girl’s Mom so bad I can taste the conversation. She is a very reasonable woman, by the way. I don’t know that we could fix anything, but I have no reason not to talk to her other than my daughter’s wishes expressed in the past.

My girl is out playing with friends. And that’s probably best, because it’s giving me a few minutes to stew in my discomfort. And having had the opportunity to stew, I see that I’ve been handling her problem the same way I so often handle mine.

I’ve come at it with a list of practical suggestions and solutions. I’ve instructed her in qualities that I think will help her in the long run. I’ve said the things she knew I would say. I’ve let her know she has choices. Don’t get me wrong. There is really nothing wrong with any of these things, except that in whipping them all out so quickly I’ve glossed over the most important thing, how all of this made her feel.

We’ve had some tears throughout the year and I don’t just tell her to suck it up, but I see now that my desire to get her past the discomfort and into solutions may have given her feelings short-shrift. I’ve been demonstrating to her that the important thing is to figure out a solution rather than making it safe for her to acknowledge and experience how she feels so that a solution can develop or unfold over time.

“How can a solution to someone putting their hands on your kid unfold over time?!” If you’re inclined to scream this at me, rest assured, I’ve got that track already going full volume up in here. And I will honor that message by asking her more questions over dinner, trying to discern what we’re really talking about here. And will see what, if any, next steps are necessary, but there is another discussion I want to have with her.

beautiful-female-girl-35839After her brother has finished wolfing down his food and has run out to play soccer in the front yard, I will sit with her and ask her how she’s feeling. I will ask her what it’s like to have this girl, the former BFF, treat her this way. I will let her know that its safe to feel whatever it is and that I can sit with her if that would help. I want to teach her strength through practicing and learning that she doesn’t need to be afraid of experiencing any feeling. I want to teach her gentleness with herself. I want to teach her that there are always people who will sit with you in your grief, sometimes you just have to figure out who they are. I want to teach her that the most important part of this WHOLE thing is how she feels and who she is in this moment. I want to teach her what it feels like to accept and honor herself and all of her feelings.

And as I do this I remind myself to slow down, to notice when I am skipping the hard parts and moving straight to solutions for my own discomfort, to see when I am applying spreadsheet logic to a wound as though it is any kind of appropriate bandage. I see the pattern for both of us. I’m working on it, slowly and with my heart rather than solutions in mind.

Wish me luck. I’m going in.

Let Them Be Wrong

A lesson for the holidays and everyday…

In my last post I talked about ways to rewrite our family stories. If you missed it, I strongly encourage you to check it out. For many of us taking a look at those old family stories is absolutely critical to emotional adulthood, to clean functionality in the real world, and to having a shot at really creating a life we love. There are all kinds of stories that are dream life and peaceful holiday killers.

TODAY I want to talk about a particular kind of story.

TODAY I want to talk about the kind of story that involves you knowing what someone else thinks of you.

TODAY I will admit that I used to spend a lot of time in this particular kind of story.

I was pretty sure I knew what lots of people thought about me and I spent a LOT of time and energy trying to either repair/change those thoughts or prevent bad ones from emerging. It was totally exhausting AND it was really lonely because about 85% of the time in that scenario I was not being myself. I missed out on genuine connection with folks and friends, I missed myself. There is nothing quite so lonely as missing yourself.

Over the last few years I’ve stumbled into the necessity of examining what I was believing about how others felt about me. It was not pretty. And it was wrong on a lot of fronts. For example:

  1. when people judge youMany of those beliefs were based on old data. One of my old family stories revolved around me being spoiled. I was the youngest, by a bit of a stretch, and as happens with many families my parents’ financial circumstances improved over time. I was dubbed the spoiled one (and yes, it was said, often with good-humored ribbing but on more than one occasion as a character evaluation – here’s what’s wrong with you kind of thing). I’m 48 now. My parents don’t buy my stereo equipment. Old data.
  2. Many of those beliefs were based on the idea that other people’s opinions of me are static. They said it once, they must always believe that to be true. Yeah, because everything I think has stayed completely the same since I was 12…
  3. Many of those beliefs assumed that people spent a whole lot more time paying attention to and judging me than would really be reasonable. Why on earth was I under the impression that they were so interested in what I was up to?
  4. Many of those beliefs were based on the assumption that if other people thought something bad about me, I had to do something about it.

My spoiled story shows all of these things. What’s interesting about this story is not that I took that assessment in, but that I got real clear on the fact that there were family members who saw me that way and I made that their permanent opinion of me. I never worried that I WAS actually spoiled, but I hated it that they thought I was. And I thought that they thought I was spoiled on a continuous and regular basis, as though they were doctors assessing an injury for healing or further damage. I interpreted so many interactions through this lens, and I was determined to do something about it. I thought that I needed to be good, or make it right, or let them see how I really am – surely they would change their minds if they knew me better. They would feel better about me, and I would feel better about myself if I just let them see the right stuff.

when people are meanAnd then one day it dawned on me. I could choose to stop doing anything about this belief. Whether it was true that they were judging me or not became irrelevant if  I could just decide to let them be wrong. That’s it. Because what they think of me doesn’t do me any harm at all if I don’t agree and I don’t get into their business. If I don’t put time, energy, and worry into what’s going on in their hearts and heads, I can just let them be wrong. And let’s just say they ARE judging me… who loses in this scenario? Not me. Because I’m staying out of it. If they want to miss out, so be it. “Who’s opinion of you matters the most?” I ask my daughter whenever some toxic mean girl crap arises at school. “Mine Mommy, my opinion matters most.” That’s right girl. If my opinion of me is okay, then what they think or don’t think doesn’t matter. If my opinion of me is not okay then THAT’s what I should be spending my time on, not trying to figure out how other people feel about me. I can just let them be wrong.

And when I do this, when I let other people be wrong, I am freed from the tyranny of proving myself. I am freed from the push and pull of faking it the right way versus being myself. I am freed from the endless tension that getting in other people’s business inevitably creates. When I do this I am free to relax and just be, and that sounds like a pretty good recipe for a better holiday, or any day.

What would change if you could let people be wrong about you? How much time, energy, and sleep could you reclaim? Maybe it’s time to find out.