I learned something about myself over the weekend.
I thought I was pretty good about my kids being upset and not feeling the need to immediately “fix” things for them.
Like if they forget and instrument or their homework and they want me to bring it to school for them and I don’t, I know they will be angry. But it doesn’t bother me. I’m fine with them being pissed for a while. I can handle that. Plus I know experiencing that feeling will help them to make a change so they aren’t so forgetful in the future.
But when they are disappointed or sad, that’s another thing. Not all the time, but many times, I still feel the need to intervene.
I find myself trying to talk my kids out of feeling one way and into feeling another way. To convince them things aren’t so bad. To cheer them up. Trying to make jokes. Trying to snap them out of it.
But in reality, what I’m doing is stopping them from feeling their feelings altogether.
And while nobody likes to see their kids sad or disappointed, these are emotions we will all have to deal with hundreds and thousands of times over the course of a lifetime.
But our moms won’t always be there for all of those sad and disappointed instances.
Plus, while uncomfortable, being able to process shitty feelings and get through them on our own is a crucial life skill. When you don’t learn how to do that, when you aren’t given opportunities to feel the stuff that doesn’t feel good and work through it on your own, that’s when you start to turn to the unhealthy behaviors.
You do anything to numb or block the bad feelings so you don’t have to deal with them.
I got pretty good at that in my twenties and thirties.
I’ve used lots of really unhealthy ways to deal with feeling upset.
And I still struggle with this.
In the last six months, I have eaten my way through all of my sadness and disappointment.
I don’t know how much weight I’ve gained, but I do know that all of my pants are either too tight or completely unwearable at this point. So I clearly still have work to do in the dealing-with-the-shitty-feelings department.
I think this may be my biggest challenge as a parent. Allowing my children to work through those feelings of sadness or disappointment. Resisting the urge to immediately fix things or at least distract them.
I know from personal experience that not working through feelings myself only leads to those feelings becoming more and more intense until they are dealt with.
They don’t ever just disappear.
So this weekend when one of the kids was struggling and particularly upset after a really disappointing swim at a big swim meet, instead of talking and talking (and talking) and doing whatever I could to distract/change/fix the situation, instead of attempting to force my kid to talk about it, I simply said, “I love you, and if or when you get to the point where you want to talk about it, I’m ready to listen.”
And that was it.
Then, I just allowed the upset to happen.
Holy cow was that hard!
It was hard because I was projecting how the rest of my kid’s day and weekend (and life) was going to unfold. This would ruin everything!
There was a fork in the road, and if my kid didn’t snap the heck out of it, he’d go down the wrong path.
I had to make him see this. I had to shake some sense into him. I had to make things better. I had to snap him out of it, otherwise he’d blow it! Then he’d really be upset, and I couldn’t let that happen!
Yeah. That’s where my head sometimes goes in these moments.
So I told myself to calm the heck down and I told the desperate voices in my head shut the hell up!
And thirty minutes later, when we arrived at our destination, when we got to the pool and my upset guy saw his friends, a big smile spread across his face.
Just like that, he was fine. He was over it. Ready to move on.
I hadn’t interfered. I hadn’t overtalked. I hadn’t pissed him off by not allowing him to have space.
And you know what happened a couple hours later?
He had the swim of his life.
He blew his competition out of the water, and he completely blew me away!
None of those projections I had in my head were anywhere near reality.
My kid had a pretty big victory in the pool this weekend.
But he had an even bigger one in his head.
He reminded me that kids are resilient.
They get over stuff! They move on pretty quickly!
It’s us adults who so often don’t.
There are lots of lessons being learned this weekend.
My son learned he’s capable of more than he thought he was. He learned a little better how to handle disappointment. He learned how to adjust his attitude on his own.
Well, this weekend the biggest thing I learned is that as far as parenting is concerned, I still have a whole lot to learn.