By Ann Brown, Parenting Consultant
Poor, Poor, Pitiful You
Every once in a while I kinda wish we could all just sit down and discuss these parenting articles. Sitting together, maybe a little wine, talking face to face, instead of me sitting here all alone (with a little wine; it’s the weekend; don’t judge), so far away.
If you know me personally, you are rolling your eyes right now. It is no secret that I eschew most human contact outside of my job. I hide behind sofas and hit the lights when I see someone coming up my driveway. I look at my ringing phone and go through all the Kubler-Ross stages of grief. I am a wee bit protective of my solitude.
Still, this is one topic that warrants discussion because it can easily be misunderstood. Although as I sit here, it does occur to me that the clarity of my writing might be a factor in the misunderstandings. Hunh. Maybe I should have lain off that third glass of wine…
I want to write about rejection.
I am going to be stereotypical here by referring to the parent who is typically (oh wait. STEREOtypically) home with the kids. Please don’t give me any crap over this. I am not politically incorrect or misogynistic or chauvinistic or reactionary; I am merely lazy and it’s easier to just write “mom” instead of “mom or dad” or “mom or dad or grandma” or “adult caregiver who spends most of the day with the child” or even “ACWSMOTDWTC”.
First, a quiz:
1. When your child yells, “GO AWAY!” at you, do you feel:
C. Happy and FREE because the last thing you wanted was to have to deal with that obnoxious kid.
2. When your child prefers your spouse to you for bath time, bedtime, playtime, eating and everything else, do you feel:
C. Happy and FREE
3. When you walk in the door after being gone all day at work and your child looks up for a nanosecond, barely gives you a nod hello and returns to his/her activity, do you feel:
C. Happy and FREE
Are you beginning to get the picture? I want to talk first to those of you who answered either “Sad” or “Mad” to the three questions. The rest of you, those who checked off “Happy and FREE”, may be excused. You are not miserable so we don’t need to look at your happy and free faces right now. Shoo. Begone.
Okay. Let’s look around the room. You. The parent who is gone most of the day, the parent who only gets to spend quality time with your kids at night when they are exhausted or on the weekends, when you are exhausted. You. Les Miserables.
It can go like this: You finally get home from the cold, cruel world and you walk into your warm safe haven, brimming with love for your family, and you say to your four-year old, “I’m home! Give me a big hug and a kiss!” and your kid says, “GO AWAY!”
Or you make a huge Saturday morning breakfast for your child because you haven’t been able to spend much time with him/her and you make all his/her favorite foods, you even draw a picture with blueberries on the pancakes – a picture of Leonardo, your kid’s absolutely favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle – and you present it to your child with a flourish. And s/he says, “YUCK. I HATE pancakes. I like the breakfasts Mommy makes!” (Which, by the looks of the wrappers in the car is pretty much turkey jerky and Capri Sun) And then your kid adds, “Also? Leonardo is NOT my favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, anyway! Go away!”
Yeah. Rejection blows.
But here’s the thing: it’s not exactly the same rejection as an adult’s rejection. I know that it feels the same, but it’s not. In fact, I wish there were a different word for it because the word “rejection” brings into it a whole lotta adult stuff that isn’t applicable.
Young children live close to their emotions. And they don’t have well- developed filters yet. They live pretty much in the world of archetypes – you are good if you give them a cookie; you are evil if you don’t – and not so much in the world of nuance and tact.
Plus, they are exercising their right to have some say in their lives.
This is so often where issues and hurt feelings happen, when imagine does NOT meet reality, and we get upset. In our minds, all the drive home, we are imagining a scene out of LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, you know, Pa comes in from the fields and all the kids gather around him and shower him with affection.
Uh-huh. And they don’t want to stop what they were doing to get up and give you a hug. And you feel rejected. And pissed off because, let’s face it, what the heck did that kid do all day that was so hard that s/he can’t even get up off the sofa and hug you? Who appreciates you?
I hear you. I feel your pain. I – as my husband likes to say, – I am picking up what you are laying down. But I have some bad news for you: the kind of appreciation you are craving, the LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE kind? Yeah, it generally doesn’t look like that right now when the kids are young.
Please don’t get me wrong – I am not condoning alienation of affection. I am not suggesting we allow our children to ignore us or be rude or blow us off. I am, however, suggesting that we help our kids find a less disrespectful way to tell us what they want.
Saturday morning. You declined an invitation to do something fabulous for yourself because you want (need, feel obligated) to spend the day with your child. You walk into your child’s room and give him/her a big hug and you say, “Guess what? We are going to the zoo today! Just you and me! YAY!”
And your kid says, “Gross. Your breath smells yucky.”
And you bury the rejection and say, “Okay, get dressed for the ZOO! Yay!”
And your kid says, “Go away! I am playing with this piece of used dental floss and a wine cork and I am having fun. I don’t want to go to the zoo.”
And you think to yourself, “Do you know how much I wanted a day to myself? And that I gave it up to be with you? Why are you so ungrateful? Did your mother make you this way? Because I am gonna level with you, she doesn’t appreciate me, either.”
And you wind up carrying yor screaming kid into the car and forcing a happy Daddy day at the zoo on him.
Now, let’s rewind and reconstruct. We’ll go back to the statement about your morning breath being gross. Because, let’s just be honest, it probably is. Your kid isn’t lying. She might be lacking a certain, I don’t know, finesse in letting you know. But she might have a point.
You can say, “Is it gross? Sorry. I will not put my face so close to yours until after I brush my teeth.” And THEN you can say, “Also, can you think of a way to tell me that my breath is bad in a way that is nicer and not so rude?” This way, you are acknowledging her right to not have to smell your funky morning breath but you are also defining the parameters of HOW she says it to you.
Okay. Next. S/he doesn’t want to go to the zoo.
Now I know that you have been planning this. I know what you gave up to do it. But is it possible, just possible, that maybe you are putting a little bit too much on the fact that you planned the zoo trip? That you are letting yourself feel a bit too much rejection over it? I mean, if your wife surprised you by saying she had planned an entire day for you, might you want to have been given the option of being part of the decision?
So, you reach deep into yourself to find the higher road, and you say to your child, “Oh. I thought you’d want to do that. Well, since I don’t have to work today, I want to spend time with you. What would you like to do?”
And then you have a conversation about it. And you share your ideas. And you come up with options and alternatives and compromises and finally, common ground. And you don’t take it personally that your child had initially said s/he didn’t want to go to the zoo with you. Because it really wasn’t a personal rejection. It was how a young child was learning to express his/her opinions.
Well, that brings us to a close. If you have questions or comments, please use the comment section below. You can try to come over or call me, but I will be hiding behind the couch.