This morning my 6 year old had a wobbler. She wanted to sit on a particular place on the sofa where my 11 year old was sitting, playing Clash of Clans on my iPhone.
They started name-calling (‘You’re a bum face!’), which soon escalated into a wrestling-style tussle on the sofa.
Feeling irked (‘they always do this to me when I’m on a writing deadline’), I erupted into the room and turned off the telly.
Breathing flames through my nostrils, I managed to explain calmly, but firmly (with laser-strong eye contact) the following: This. Is. Not. Acceptable.
They blamed each other. S/he started it.
I took the remote control away and told them to think about it.
Here’s what happened next:
My 11 year old shrugged and shuffled off with my iPhone.
My daughter started to cry and hang off my arm, trying to pry the remote out of my iron grip, wailing, ‘Give it to me give it to me give it to me.’
Shockingly, this technique has a particular effect on one’s mood.
I found my irritation building further. I felt that familiar oh-for-god’s-sake sensation, which comes with its very own facial expression and posture – mouth, eyelids and shoulders immediately go south. Moxie soon follows on that downward trajectory.
So much stuff in our lives gets pumped up, blown way out of proportion, after a perceived slight.
Here are the 3 perceived realities in this morning’s scene:
My son’s: ‘Hey, I was just sitting here minding my own business.’
My daughter’s: ‘No one ever listens to me. I never get my way.’
And mine: ‘There’s only 1 day of summer holidays left. Can’t we all just get along? I have work to do, people! Can’t you see that?’
It occurred to me how often we, as responders to a situation, blow stuff out of proportion after a perceived slight. We have our own truths, but we don’t often rigorously examine those truths before getting triggered – and reactive! And sometimes radioactive…
Was it really true that no one ever listened to my kid? That she never got her way? No, of course not, but that’s her perceived slight.
Was it really true that my kids always fight when I’m on a deadline? Do they misbehave purely to stop me from working? Purely to push my buttons? Er, no. Of course not.
As some great philosopher once said, shit happens.
Our marvellously complex brains create and attach meanings to thoughts we have about situations that don’t go our way.
I’ve been spending a disturbing amount of time thinking about, reading and writing about better ways to deal with situations that get us in a flap. But I’m human. I still get triggered. Enlightenment is a process.
Watching my daughter wringing my arm, red-faced and wailing, begging for the remote, it occurred to me that I was letting her behaviour mean something about me. And as fast as I realised that, I dropped it.
I held her and helped her to breathe calmly and deeply – which didn’t do me any harm either. We stood like that maybe 3 or 4 minutes, calming down, not talking, just getting re-centered.
We agreed to take a mutual moment to be more rigorous with our thinking.
In words appropriate for a small child, I invited my daughter to inquire whether she was really being slighted, or whether she was just experiencing poor-quality thinking.
‘Max isn’t really a bum face,’ she confessed.
When I asked myself the same question – am I really being slighted here, or is my thinking just sub-optimal right now? – I got a better, more loving answer. We had a cuddle on the sofa and watched My Little Pony.
A stressful morning turned out to be a bonding and learning opportunity for all of us.
As Byron Katie says, ‘When you realise that every stressful moment you experience is a gift that points you to your own freedom, life becomes very kind and abundant beyond all limits.’
Like this? Read the previous blog, 3 Surefire Ways to Whack a Sucky Mood.