A few of my Twitter followers asked that I elucidate on “ten lists” I’d turned out recently. Here goes with the seventh installment of my first list: “Things That Make Parenting Easier”, based off my ten-plus years being a devoted and hard-working parent. I hope you find it helpful. That is the only point of this post. To help those who could use it.
Each post will have a picture from my life, my day, when I wrote the post. A picture from this morning: my son, after a bowl of cereal, but before he drank the milk in the bowl. He’s giggling about something, but I’m not sure what. I went out for a run right after I snapped this picture. When I got home he shared a hot bath with me. Lovely times.
For me, it hasn’t been enough to merely refrain from and attempt to unlearn judgment; it is necessary I find out why I’m upset so easily by others. This process has helped me a great deal in that these days I am considerably less disturbed (angry, anxious, depressed, et cetera) than I used to be.
There are usually only two reasons we “fight or flight” when it comes to other people’s choices, their lifestyle. I’ll get to them in a minute.
Although the principles I discuss here can be applied to lots of areas of our life, I am trying to focus on raising a family. So what do I mean by being disturbed or uncomfortable by someone else’s parenting?
Maybe we’re angry when we see a family in a big SUV and we decide they are not environmentally conscious enough (for our standards). When we see a family in McDonalds and hold them responsible for our food anxieties. We see an family of fat parents or kids in Walmart and hate them for a baffling number of reasons. When we see our neighbor’s thirteen year old daughter dressed a certain way and wearing a certain amount or kind of makeup. When we see a child have a loud emotional meltdown in public. When we see a bottlefed baby. Or a breastfed baby. When we see a father berate his child in public. When we see a toddler drinking a pop. When we see boys in their Pee-Wee football league playing with one another and bullying one of their group. When we see a little boy in a pink dress. When we see a little girl in a pink dress. When we hear the neighbor child of age ten call another child a “retard” and a “faggot”. When we see an evangelical Christian family, seven well-behaved boys and girls, daughters and wife dressed in long dresses and hair in a bun.
When I say we feel “hate” – is that too strong a word? What else would you call the feeling in the pit of one’s stomach, the desire to Other that family, the feeling of “pity” those (supposedly less-fortunate) beings evoke. Pity and “feeling sorry for” someone are not loving, kind, or compassionate responses; these are not skillful strategies. These are merely another attempt to distance ourselves from others because we can’t tolerate them and what they evoke within us. To pretend, perhaps, we don’t have their problems because we’re better / smarter / etc. than they. Or even more fallacious: that if everyone would just behave, would just do what we think is right, everything would work out better.
There is a way out of being overrun by these reflexive coping mechanisms. But we can’t make much progress unless we figure out why we feel the way we do. The good news is, we have everything to gain from this process. We stand to gain some degree of equanimity. We stand to gain strength and calm and constructive action and intuitive thought, even in the face of things that previously would have upset us a great deal. We can speak up when we see something abusive or unkind; we can speak our truth. But we no longer have to be Right, or Righteously Angry, or – disturbed.
I live in a better place with this than I used to, but I still have the capacity to be disturbed. A few hours ago I was at a meeting. I witnessed a group of people repeatedly and a bit angrily shushing a five-year old child (for being, merely, a five-year-old child with attendant behaviors and energy). The bit of disturbance I felt is because I despaired, briefly, at the unkindness and intolerance shown this child. I am powerless to control the situation and it is my powerlessness I have not accepted. Yes, I have some options. Maybe I can speak up and say, “That’s not right,” or, “Come on guys, he’s only five!” or as I did today, smile at the little guy and play “peek-a-boo” and lean down and whisper, “I have new shoes too!” and let the other adults know he belongs, as far as I am concerned. But no matter what I say and no matter how perfectly I say it, I do not have the power to MAKE those other adults see things my way, let alone behave the way I think is best – whether I’m correct or mistaken about what “best” is.
Earlier I said there were two basic reasons we get disturbed, that we “fight or flight”, we feel uncomfortable, aversion, or hatred. Either we are reminded of something we have not accepted about ourselves, or we cannot tolerate and accept other people’s suffering. That’s just about it.
Today I grow in seeing myself as the perpetrator, past or present. In having compassion that I too have been short-sighted, short-tempered, lost, confused, consumed or angry. To pretend I am in the right and know what is best for everyone, is no longer an option I willingly exercise. I have found, conversely, surrendering to a more open mind and a more compassionate spirit has left me stronger than I used to be. I speak up more, not less. And I have more success, and fewer fights, and I sleep better, and I am friends with a larger variety of people – not just the ones I previously needed to feel comfortable or to bolster my ego.