Tuesday, May 21, 2013

You can't take it personally

One reason it is good to have friends and mentors who are ahead of you in their parenting journey is that you can reap some of their wisdom. The title of this post is my good friend's favorite tip for surviving parenthood, especially as children get older. It is also great advice for parenting adopted, trauma-injured children. You just can't take what they do personally.

Because 99.9% of the time what your children do or say or how they act really has nothing to do with you and everything to do with what is going on inside their head at any given moment. When we take personal offense at whatever rudeness or misbehavior or upset we are seeing, we have put ourselves in the center of something where we don't belong. Usually the upset child was not even thinking about the parent, but was thinking about something else. The parent comes along and BAM! receives the unpleasantness because they are convenient and safe.

But each of us lives in our own little world inside our own heads and it is terribly difficult to get over ourselves. Everything is about each of us, isn't it? At least it often feels that way. And the minute we do this, we invite misunderstanding and hurt feelings and a lot more drama into our lives. (I truly do not need more drama in my life, I don't know about any of you.) If I have learned one thing from parenting a child from a very difficult place it is to curb my default knee-jerk reacting. It doesn't help anyone, including myself.

Instead of assuming that the child wants to irritate me or is angry at me or want to somehow 'get back' at me, it is far better to stop for a moment and remember a couple of things. First, I am not the center of the universe. (It is somewhat embarrassing to admit how many times a day I do need to remind myself of this fact.) Just because I may be in the same room or even the same house as another person, that doesn't mean that the other person was thinking about me at all. Second, take a deep breath. Or two. Or ten. Really do it. I am not speaking figuratively here. Deep breathing releases serotonin which is the chemical that helps you feel calm and relaxed, plus it gives you some thinking room. If you're doing deep breathing, you can't say anything that you will later regret or that will escalate the situation. Third, now that you are somewhat calmer you can think rationally.

That rational thought needs to be employed as if you were solving a mystery. (Because, really, you are.) What has been going on in your child's life that could have led to this little unpleasantness (or not so little depending)? Children in their teen years need a lot of sleep. A lot. Has the child slept enough? Fatigue can make for unpleasant attitudes. (Trust me on this.) In this case, your only job is to remind the child that fatigue is no excuse for rudeness, point out that they are fatigued (they don't always know), and if you can, send them for a nap. The rudeness didn't have anything to do with you, yet if you respond as if it did, you escalate a problem that wasn't really there. This could be true for any number of scenarios. Did the child have a fight with a friend? Did they get their feelings hurt? Are they worried about something?

Even if it does have to do with you, such as a child who is angry that you have said no to an activity, it is still nothing to take personally. The child is angry and disappointed at not being allowed to go, but this anger says nothing about who you are as a person or a parent except perhaps that you are a responsible one and capable or making hard decisions in the face of disappointment. There is no need to enter the arena of upset and join in. Because it is not personal. And because it is not personal you can offer sympathy that the decision is disappointing, remind the child of your love, and walk away from the situation.

Now, if you are parenting a child injured from trauma, all of this becomes doubly difficult and doubly important, mainly because it really can seem very, very personal. But even if it seems this way, it still is not. This is one reason why therapeutic parenting can be exhausting. It is tiring to constantly remind yourself that what you are seeing really has nothing to do with you and to act (not react) accordingly. It is treating and loving a child the way he or she needs to be treated and loved and not they way their outward behavior would suggest. It is counter-intuitive. Because the child screaming they hate you is really the child who loves you and is so desperately scared by that they don't know what to do. Because the child throwing a(nother) temper tantrum on the floor is really the child who still does not have language to process what is going on and is scared and frustrated. Because the child who steals is really the child who feels so empty they try to fill it with something. Because the child who hoards is afraid of not having enough and running out. Because the child who is difficult to love has lost someone important already and it hurt too much. Nothing, and I repeat nothing about any of this has anything to do with the new adoptive parent. But they are handy and present. The behavior may be ugly or hurtful or painful, but it's root had nothing to do with you. It's hard. Really, really hard to not take it personally, but in order for your child to heal, it has to be done.

Remember, not the center of the universe, breath, think. And sometimes I just need to walk away to get some more coffee (or chocolate) every now and then, too. By the way, this is just really good for dealing with people in general, your spouse, your parents, your friends, your co-workers. Practice not taking offense, and your life will be lighter as a result.


Angie said...

I have tried so hard to do this and I just can't. I don't know how to change that - even if you know it's not personal the words are just too painful to ignore. Thanks for sharing though, it's very true.

thecurryseven said...


I just wrote the world's longest comment to you and discovered that Blogger actually has a word limit on comments. Who knew? I suppose since it is so long (and because it may be of more general interest) I'll use it as a blog post tomorrow.


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