Friday, December 23, 2011

No-I'm-not-on-crack parenting advice Part 3: Honey, you'll feel better if you *don't* just let it all out

PMS-ing psycho with a weapon or hot mamma needing to chill? Choose your words carefully.
I'm one of the quiet ones at the autism support group. If you know me, you know I love to talk, but I feel terribly guilty when I interrupt, especially when everyone around me is pouring out their hearts about blow-ups, bullies, blind doctors, deaf resource teachers, foul-mouthed teens, and long-gone daddies. So if there isn't a break in conversation, you won't hear much from my corner of the table.

But if I would get the nerve to jump in, overactive conscience be darned, I might say something like this:

Is this helping?

I can tell you love your children like crazy, but when you nickname them "vixen" and "devil-man," and call your life "hell in a minivan," does it make you feel better about your world?

There is a place for sharing what you're going through now and getting support and advice for the next step on your path, but does retelling the story of how your son destroyed the living room furniture five years ago or how your father blamed you for her behaviours before the diagnosis make you love them all more? Oh, sometimes it's a bonding thing, and sometimes it helps us see the humour in our situations - and almost always it's downright entertaining - but often I think the negative talk just makes a difficult situation that much harder to bear.

I met a friend for coffee last week and she said she'd noticed so many changes in me over the dozen years she's known me. The biggest one is in the way I talk about my family. When she met me, I used every opportunity to shock people with painful stories and try to squeeze out a few more drops of sympathy. My right, my consolation prize, for having a bizarrely painful life package, right? But I decided years ago to choose words that made my husband and children look good in public. Even when I feel like running away from home. Because I found those words didn't only change the way others saw my family; they changed the way I feel about them too.

When I'd say, "My daughter's constant lying and stealing makes me so mad I want to strangle her," I really meant "My daughter has lagging social skills that make it difficult for her to control her impulses and recognize the effect of her actions on the rest of us. She needs patient guidance, and I need supportive friends and plenty of rest, so I have that kind of love to give."

And "My husband is a self-centred sofa-warmer who never shows affection and wishes he were rid of us" has become "My husband is overwhelmed and suffering from migraines again, so he doesn't have the energy to stay calm when the kids are screaming, and he's afraid to spend time with me because I've been so naggy lately. I need to be clear and gentle when I ask for what I need from him." It doesn't sound as interesting, but it sure makes me feel more content, calm, in control. And most of all: hopeful.

I'm guessing some of you think I have too many self-help books shoved up my prissy ass, but that's okay. That's another reason I'm doing this here and not in person: I'm not only leery about interrupting; I'm also sensitive to criticism. Write me off as a goody-goody, but I still think it's worth saying. What's more important: to go home feeling glad others share our personal "hell" with their own batch of "Satan-spawns" and "sperm-donors," or feeling empowered to accept every challenge and blessing our precious handfuls can dole out?

Words have power. They don't just reveal how we feel; they determine it.

So please do cry on my shoulder. I may not talk about it as much, but I've been there too. And I care deeply. Tell me the truth. Be real. But know that the way you say it could alter that reality.
May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be plaid. Happy holidays from Plaiditudes.


Ali said...

So true! I've realized only recently that ranting about something doesn't make me any less frustrated- it only makes me angry all over again. While I know the things that I complain about are fairly insignificant, the more often I remind myself how upset I was, the harder it is to let it go.
It's a hard habit to break, though, and this was a good reminder. Thanks!

Deborah Dykstra said...

Angeline, what you wrote is not only helpful, it is right. I've been struggling with some frustration lately, and over the Christmas break I've taken some time to do some good reading and resting, and have come to the same conclusions as what you expressed here. I'm feeling a lot more at peace with myself and the people around me...thank you for that word of encouragement.

curly said...

Thank you for showing how positive thought can actually change one's perspective and the way to approach the day. We have actually been very thankful for our son's condition. It may sound strange to some, but his very being has taught us to slow down, see the world in greater detail, allow us to love and guide our children in a much clearer way. The bullies will still be there, the ungrateful parents and their children will still impact our relationships, but his condition will guide us to accept people and circumstances in a much better light. We have our trying days but I feel we are better equipped to work them out as they happen. Keep the good thoughts coming, they are appreciated.

Angeline Schellenberg said...

Thanks! When I started the blog in 2006, my goal was to take the hard stuff, and turn it into a humourous, uplifting, entertaining story for others, to create something good out of bad. What I quickly discovered is that framing my life in a positive way not only changed the story, but my life as well.