“She said she hated me and I was the worst mother in the world,” my friend told me after recounting her daughter’s response to a “so not fair” grounding that resulted from some seriously bad choices. It’s funny, because I had just left another mom experiencing the same push back and harsh word choices.
“You’re not the worst mother,” I told her. “You’re a good mother – who loves her kid enough to set boundaries. … And you know, she doesn’t mean it. She loves you. And, her words, though seemingly aimed at you, might not be about you at all.”
We both thought about that for a second – and I wondered if what I was saying was true. I had lived through a similar barrage days earlier. In the moment of my child’s huffing, I stuffed a strange combination of laughter and disdain. A few hours later, I sat staring at what might have been the rest of my kid’s story. Something that has led me to consider that many times, there’s more to those words than meets the eye.
But first, I feel like I need to apologize for my short blogging break. Which some of you might have been thinking… Huh? I didn’t notice. Others might have been relieved ... She really does talk a lot – I needed a break, too. Still others …Where have you been? Please tell me what non-nonsensical things your children have been spewing at you so I don’t feel so alone!
Well, you’re not alone. But, I needed a couple weeks to get some things completed and off my plate. I wish I was referring to the Christmas cards still piled in the corner of my office. But no. I have been working on a new book that needed to get to the Publisher. And then I was so sick of words, I just couldn’t look at a blog or Facebook or Twitter or email (sorry to every email message that not only got backburnered but is now lost in a sea of “not read”) for a little while.
My new book hits on a topic I hope you guys will find interesting. It is the elephant in the room pretty much anywhere Cleaning House or my car has taken me. Whether I’m talking with a 20-year-old producer, a tween-age kid, mother of young children, a dad, a young adult or a 75-year-old grandmother – it’s an issue that steals contentment from almost any stage of life. Chronic comparison.
In our obsessed with competition and live-out-loud world, comparison finds more and more avenues to steal contentment from our lives and leave us wondering. And interestingly enough, I think it was comparison stuff that led my kid to hurl “bad parenting” assessments at me. It started simply enough:
“You need to sign me up for the SAT,” he said.
“Sign me up for the SAT.”
“I’m so not signing you up for the SAT,” I reply, wondering whose car he thinks he’s in.
“What?! I can’t believe you,” he shoots back. “Every other mother signs their kid up. I don’t know why you have to be like this. Just please sign me up today.”
“Let me think about that … Ummm…. NO.” I’m never sure why – but I tend to become a teenager when talking to a teenager.
Frustrated we banter back and forth – his sticking to me signing him up, my emphatic “NO”s. He then shoots me a very frustrated, “Oh my gosh!! “I don’t know what you’re thinking and why you make ME do everything. But in this case – I just need you to know that this is bad parenting.”
“What?!” I ask, stuffing laughter.
“Oh, no .. I’m not bad parenting. This is GOOD parenting,” I reply.
“So not,” he mumbled.
“You can do this. On your own. I know you can. You fill in a few blanks and pay with a credit card.”
“See?!!” he retorts incredulously. “Right there. I don’t have a credit card. More proof that this is your job, not mine.”
“What?… You’ve never found it hard to use my credit card at Starbucks.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about. You just don’t know. And again – every other mother does this for their kid.” We arrive at his school where he gets out still mumbling “bad parenting.” Then he ignores my bright chirps of encouragement, “I don’t do these things so you might understand that you can. You can do so much more than you know. You capable and wonderful.” I don’t blame him that he ignored me.
When I laughed about it with a friend later, she didn’t laugh with me; but encouraged me to go on-line and see what he had to fill out. She also told me that the road ahead of this kid might need more of me than I realize.
She’s right. I logged into his SAT account to see for myself. I could tell that he had tried and stopped. And I don’t blame him. I spent an hour going through the maze of boxes that required checks in order to move on to the next page. The exercise started out easy enough with Name, Birthdate, School, etc. Then it moved into a life history of sorts. What classes did you take? What grades did you get? Honors? AP? Activities? Aptitudes? All the hard work over a high school career was whittled down to a check, or lack thereof. A lot of the latter for mine.
And for a kid who might not be so sure of himself and whose best qualities don’t fit in a box, it was an exercise that ushered him off a country road and onto a super-highway of self doubt. Especially with all the implied comparison accompanying each and every one of those boxes. No wonder he needed help.
And maybe that’s where we all need to exit the heat of the moment and search for the rest of the story. Whether its “I hate you,” “You’re so mean” or a laughter-inducing, “I just need you to know, this is bad parenting,” I must remind myself, it is highly likely that there’s more to the story behind knee-jerk words.
So here’s to all the mean moms and dads out there – stick to your guns, kids are worth the boundaries. And, I guess for me, I hope I remember to check beyond the words and take a few extra moments to unearth the hurt or insecurity or fear that often compels a kid to strike back with phrases they really don’t mean. Because even though those words often spew from a rude kid who needs more reminders about respecting authority, they just might indicate some hidden issues and a glimpse into the rest of the story.
As always, I’m glad to be walking the road with you.