Wow. It’s not even 8am today and I’ve done it all wrong already. While my preference is to get everyone off to school before letting Jesus hit the reset button, this morning may make me take a second look at that predawn, groggy eyed, fuzzy minded quiet time. Everything was running smoothly; it is Fun Friday after all! The kids jumped out of bed with lots of chatter about weekend activities. They talk about the small town Mississippi/ BIG deal high school football game tonight. I casually remind Graham that his buddy, and only friend in our new town, will not be attending the game.
Graham: (Very irritated) “Then I’m NOT going!”
Mom: “Yes, you are going to the game.”
Graham: “No, I’m not. Papa will watch me.”
Mom: “Papa has out-of-town company this weekend. Maybe you’ll see some kids from school. You can have fun without your friend there. You are coming to the game. End of story.”
Graham: (Growl. Grunt. Whine.) “Then bring a blanket ‘cause I’m putting my head under it the whole game.”
In the past, it wouldn’t have crossed my mind to categorize this as any sort of parenting failure at all. The old me would have chalked it up to “Life isn’t fair. You’ll be fine. I’m the one with REAL issues. Try some grown up problems on for size.” But I am in a very different place now. 3 ½ years of therapy, recovery, support groups, and learning to process feelings has made a big, soft, touchy-feely, mushy mess of me. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was actually a Minor Parenting Fail.
Off we go, with just enough time to get the boy to school and then make the 10 minute trip across town to the girl’s school. Yes, it only takes 10 minutes from East to West city limits in small town MS. Except when THERE’S A TRAIN STOPPED ON THE TRACKS!!! Ugh! Just as I realize we have earned ourselves the first tardy of the year, the girl blurts out,
Elizabeth: “It was SO much better where we used to live. I have no friends. I hate living here.”
Mom: (Frustrated, irritated, no Jesus time yet) “What are you talking about? You have friends at school! You play with our two neighbor children every day. And I tried to get you to invite the little girl who lives behind us over for a play date, but you said no. Whose fault is that?”
Elizabeth: “I only have one real friend here. My real friends all live in South Carolina. I hate it here.”
Enter Major Parenting Fail.
Mom: (Completely unsympathetic and irritated) “How do you think I feel? I only have one friend here too. I left friends I’ve had for 25 years. This is where we are going to be for at least 2 years, we all need to just make the best of it.“
As soon as the words come out of my mouth, I realize what I’ve done. I have thrown everything I’ve learned about emotional health out the window. Things like: being a good listener, asking open-ended questions, affirming feelings and acknowledging pain, empathizing, modeling, and walking alongside. Crap. Instead of supporting and understanding, I minimized, compared, dismissed, shut down and tried to fix. In a minor way with my son and a major way with my daughter. I suddenly remember that my children, too, have left everything and everyone they’ve ever known when we moved from South Carolina to Mississippi for my husband to go to school. We’ve been here exactly 6 weeks and we are all just beginning the grieving/adjustment/this is our new life thing. And it’s not like I am unaware of it; I think about it constantly, in fact. But on a frustrating morning when we’re running late, the caffeine hasn’t kicked in, and I haven’t spent time setting my heart on things above, I forget.
Years ago, I would never have been able to wrap my mind around why my dismissive responses are such a big deal. Kids need to learn resilience and letting go and moving forward. They need to learn to make the best of where they are and be thankful for what they’ve got. And all of that is true. But today, I tried to make them jump all the way from the disappointment and sadness straight to acceptance. I tried to bypass the whole acknowledging uncomfortable feelings, actually feeling them and processing through the hard stuff to the comfortable place of loving the life they’ve got. That was my m.o. for 36 years, hard-wired and unchanged. Bad feelings are bad to feel. Move on however you can.
The truth is that I’ve had a hard time processing the change and feelings of loss myself. “We all just need to make the best of it?” My therapist would be appalled. (Not really… she would say something all life-giving and gracious that makes me cry.) But if I was my therapist, I would be appalled by my reaction. Because I know better now, and I am getting better slowly but surely at processing my own uncomfortable feelings, communicating these thoughts with my children, and walking alongside them as they do the same.
So I am exceedingly thankful that the day is not over at 8am. When I pick up my precious little munchkins at 3pm, I get to do some “clean up.” I get to tell them I’m sorry for not being a good listener. I’m sorry for minimizing their feelings and dismissing their pain. I get to model humility and processing difficult emotions and a willingness to change. And that, will be a Major Parenting Success.
Held by Him,