Less than complementary comments on things a person can't change at the moment should be avoided.
However, they occur, and all too often from those close to us. This comment is about how we react, and comes with a suggestion that we should not let another's words subvert our own intentions.
When I was teaching, I used to ask my students to choose my class. This is an incredibly grown up concept. I gave them this example:
You wake up one morning and you look about you and decide that your room is a mess. Not only that, today is the day you are going to do something about it.
So you spend the whole day thinking about how you are going to reorganize your room, what you are going to keep, what can go to your younger siblings, what boxes you are going to put stuff in, how you are going to make the space in your closet, where you are finally going to hang up that poster you just had to have.
You start wonderinig about all the stuff you have under the bed, what you seem to have lost that you might find again. Maybe you even figure on cleaning the window. While you are at it, you think about how much you'd really like to paint your room, but first things first.
School ends and the plan is in place. You're already thinking how nice it will be to get to your bed without tripping over stuff. Maybe you'll even figure out where that trail of ants is leading or that funny smell is coming from. The thought "Won't my mother be surprised" even crosses your mind.
You get home, grab a snack from the kitchen and run into your mother.
"How was your day?" she asks.
"Fine." (You're a teenager after all.)
"None to speak of."
"You seem happy with yourself today. What's up?"
"Not too much really. How was your day?"
"Well, I'll tell you how my day was. I needed a phone. The portable that was supposed to end up on the charger last night was dead on the coffee table in front of the TV. So I paged the other one, and after searching for I don't know how long, I finally heard a faint beeping when I opened the door to your room. I almost killed myself trying to get to your bed."
You: "It's funny you should mention that, I was going to . . . "
"Going to what? There was one bar left on the phone. Do you have any idea how important that call was? Do you know that there is a trail of ants in your rooom eating who knows what from I don't know what rotting food that must be."
"But mom, I was just telling you . . . "
"What? No, I'll tell you. Give me your phone. I don't want to see you again until your room is spic and span, and no more of this shoving stuff under your bed. No TV, no dinner, I don't want to see you. Do you know how much junk you have in there?
So what? What was it you wanted to tell me? You've wasted enough of my time. Out with it. WHAT?!!!"
"Come on, out with it already."
"It's nothing really."
"Yeah, that's what I figured."
Here is this kid who wanted to make his own world, and even his mother's, a better place, and who's now sitting in his room thinking "How f@$%ing unfair." So he gets on the computer to tell his friends, only to find he's been locked out. "What a b$%^&."
He clears a path, and half way through stuffing all the stuff from under his bed into his closet, he gives up. The prospect of the satisfaction he anticipated from having his room as he wanted has evaporated. While before he had anticipated surprising his mother, now he can't give her the f-ing satisfaction.
With my students, I ended this with a request to choose my class in spite of all the idiots telling them they had better be there, and creating all sorts of coercive mechanisms to try to force them to learn. How much different a class could be if all of the students chose to be there instead of making rational decisions about how much they needed to do to get the result that would serve their purposes.
So, I told a friend (we're well into our forties now) to stop making her father wrong and let him love her. Our parents know how to push our buttons. They put most of them there, but we can choose how to react.
"My, you've gotten fat" came up as an example. There is no knowing all that is behind a comment like this, but boy are we good at coming up with evil motives. My friend's context is a conversation called "My father treats me (and my sisters) as lesser human beings." Perhaps the comment is taken as evidence of his objectification of women, or of him judging them on a basis other than intrinsic values. Perhaps he is simply and irredeemably stuck in the dark ages. He is a little bit more conservative than they.
But I wonder if we can be a little more honest with our reactions. What's his sin? He said out loud that which she might have said to herself in front of the mirror that morning. Her response - likely unverbalized - was probably something like: "Oh shit, why do you always do that. Why can't you just accept me as I am?" and her reactions from there on out might have come from "Well, if that's all you can think to say, I'll show you!"
What if her sister, best friend, husband, or even I - a distant friend from many years past - had said such a thing? The response might have been, "Dammit I know. My weight's been creeping up and I really don't know what I've been doing differently. Got any ideas?"
I can't imagine anyone who could be more committed to her than her father. That said, I am a guy, and I know we can do and say some pretty stupid things. Some of us missed the training on tact and sensitivity. We say things like "My, you've gotten fat" when we mean "Where is that bubbly happy girl I used to know? I hope she's not depressed," and somewhere under that is "I don't know what the f- to say. I wish she'd friggin' talk to me. If she'd only tell me what I did so I can apologize," or "Doesn't she get I only want the best for her? I wish I could find the words," or "I give up, she won't let me in anyway."
So first, I am here to apologize on behalf of my sex. I am sorry, we should know better and be more sensitive. We should get that our comments can hurt and distance. We should admit our own pain in realizing the distance that has come between us, acknowledge that and take responsibility for it. We are slowly becoming aware of this, and ask your forgiveness and patience as we work through this.
In the meantime, know that we love you with all our hearts and only want the best for you. Sometimes our ideas and yours of what is best differ. Our ideas come from our experiences. We get that they differ from yours. We ask again your forbearance, but also that you take on that there might be some wisdom there. We have learned things too, and are still learning, we are a little slower than we used to be.
Second, please get that the people who raised us are just as screwed up as we are. They are still someone else's hurt little child who never heard the stuff we wish they'd say to us, and just don't know how to say it. And now here are we - presumably as adults - and demand that they grow up so that we can complete our childhood. Perhaps instead we should grow up so our parents can complete theirs.
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