My mother has come to live with us. She is eighty-seven and has Alzheimer’s. That makes every day an adventure.
My mother and my husband both go to bed a bit later than I do because they sleep in. Recently, early in the morning, I used my blow dryer for about a minute and a half. This is not an exaggeration as my hair is short and I do very little to it.
All of a sudden my mother appeared at the bathroom door demanding, “What in the H___ are you doing that in the middle of the night for!” Whoa, that took me back and I replied, “Well mom, it isn’t the middle of the night. It’s six forty-five and I am getting ready for work.” By this point, she was already heading back to her bedroom mumbling about the inconsideration of some people and having her sleep disturbed in the middle of the night.
I have a wonderful pair of scissors. They cost a bit of money and I keep them in a drawer with my sewing supplies and I NEVER use them for anything but cutting material. Recently, I was sewing an item and left the scissors sitting on a pile of material scraps on my kitchen counter.
Later that day I found them outside, on the patio, in front of the door of our new office where my husband had been doing some electrical wiring. I knew that my husband, unable to find the pliers, had used my good scissors to cut his electrical wires! I picked them up and marched into the house, stood in front of my husband and said in a very irritated voice, “Why were my good sewing scissors outside by the office? These are expensive scissors and are only for cutting material!” Needless, to say he was taken back and replied, “I don’t know why they were outside.”
These are two really wonderful examples of how the story we tell ourselves can and does impact how we respond.
OUR RESPONSE MATTERS
When we’re parenting children understanding the connection between what we think is happening or has happened and how we respond really matters.
It matters for two reasons:
- What we think will determine if our response is appropriate or not
- Our response will send a message to our child about how we feel about them and often about who they are regardless of whether this was our intention or not
Frequently, if our story is skewed, our response is harsh and inappropriate and the message it sends is damaging to how our children feel about themselves.
In the case of my mom, her story was that it was the middle of the night and so she felt that I was totally inconsiderate of the rest of the family and that fueled her angry response.
In the case of the scissors, my story was that Don was using them inappropriately and that he was an adult and should have known better and that fueled my accusatory and angry response.
In both cases we were wrong in what we perceived was happening.
My mom and I both sent a message that we didn’t really intend to send. My mom was bugged that her sleep was interrupted but she doesn’t really believe I am an inconsiderate person but if I had been an impressionable child or teen her response could have sent a negative message that could have been internalized as true.
I know my husband isn’t inconsiderate and inappropriate but my message implied that he was both. Often the message that we send to our children when we’re not in control of our response is that there is something wrong with them, not with what they may or may not have done.
Thoughts, perceptions, and beliefs create a story and based on those stories we feel an emotion and then respond. Our response generates a result which can be good or bad, helpful or unhelpful.
Paying attention to our thoughts and the stories they generate is important and is a skill which can be learned and practiced. As we do so our lives get better and happier because we have more positive outcomes for ourselves, our relationships, our children, and our family.
Next week I will share seven tips to help you begin practicing the skill of controlling your response even when you are angry, frustrated, irritated, etc.
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