Have you ever surprised your child with something and their reaction was NOT what you were expecting? Like they didn’t respond at all in the way you thought they would?
Perhaps you were left feeling baffled, confused, or even angry. Shouldn’t they appreciate the lengths you had gone to to give them something nice?
Well, friend, that was my experience this past week. After conferring, going back and forth, and securing the time off work, we gathered our children around and told them the big news. We would be taking the day off school and going to Universal Studios!! And…. we were met with utter silence. None of my 3 older children said a word.
My husband and I exchanged worried glances. Finally my daughter asked me, “What is Universal Studios?” Okay, I thought, this was simply a case of youthful ignorance. She just doesn’t know, that’s why they’re not excited. Nope, not the case. Even after we explained it was more like their little brains were computing facts. Besides, I knew my older boys were familiar with Universal Studios; it was even a place my oldest had mentioned wanting to go before. What was the deal?
Finally my younger son asked in a worried voice, “But what about my homework? I’m going to have so much work to make up”. Ahhhh, there it was. Their worries about missing school and having to play catch up were keeping them from being able to access all the excitement and joy they would normally feel.
You see, in the moments before I could figure out what was really going on for them, my brain wanted to make up a story. A familiar story that went something like this: “How could you not be happy?” “Why are you being so ungrateful?” “You know, I do everything for you and no one appreciates any of my hard work!”. Ahhh, yes, the old familiar parental victim story. The one where I am the martyr tirelessly slaving away for my children. Perhaps you are familiar with this story. Maybe your father or mother or grandparent told you how hard they worked and how much they sacrificed for you and made you feel bad for simply existing, or not being 100% enthused about having to go to school, or eat your vegetables, or whatever.
The truth is though, I am not a victim. Sometimes crappy things happen in my home and sometimes my children even hurt my feelings, but that is not because they are bad and I am good. It is simply the result of raising little people who are finding their way in the world and navigating their own feelings. And a lot of times it has to do with my own perception of things.
Once I become aware of my tendency to make myself the persecuted heroine in the movie of my life, I can simply let go of this narrative and recognize that my children simply have their own separate thoughts and feelings about things. This is what they are ENTITLED to as human beings (even small ones)! Once I accept that reality, I can release my need to control what their reaction should be and simply accept what is.
So in that moment when my children confided in me that they were anxious, I took what they said seriously. I could acknowledge their feelings because they were not in competition with mine. Their thoughts were valid just as mine were. I comforted them and helped them game-plan for what making up missed work might look like. I promised to confer with them next time to pick a time that worked for all of us. I reminded them that they were totally capable of making up any missed assignments.
And later that week we went Universal Studios and all had a blast.