Last night, while my daughter was setting the table I started to lose it. It’s her job to set the table this month, but that didn’t stop her from sighing as she did it. Every time she put something out or down, she sighed. Setting the whole, entire table was just too burdensome, apparently-- I would have laughed if it weren’t so irritating (and disturbingly familiar). A few weeks ago, I visited with an old guy friend (I’ll call him John). We had some serious conversations, including extensive discussion of his family life, parents, and, particularly, his mother. I know his family well, and I was somewhat surprised to learn how unhappy he was with his mother (I don’t think all his siblings feel that way). But John clearly feels abandoned by his mom in some critical sense, and in explaining his deep resentment, he told me that whenever he calls his mom to ask her for or about something, she always lets him know how inconvenient, burdensome, or difficult she finds the task or request he’s put to her. She does what he asks (I guess, anyway!) but she lets him know she doesn’t want to. I felt bad for both John and his mother, because I imagine she really does love him but doesn’t realize how she hurts him by doing this. She’s a good woman who doesn’t realize what she’s doing to him.
My friend’s comments on his mom have really made me think about the way I treat my kids. When John told me how mother acts, I felt a little….accused. I know John’s mother loves him; I know I love my children. But kids are also a lot of work. So they ask me to do things when I’m doing something else or when I’m trying to be attentive to something or someone else who needs me. And it’s easy—at least for me—to let them know that their requests are a drag. But ever since that conversation with John I’ve tried to be careful; a little more attentive to how and what I say. So if I can go outside and play for 5 minutes and then come back to finish dinner, I go outside first, when they ask me. If I can’t do something they want (which happens with extreme frequency), I am trying to just tell them that, rather than sighing and explaining how I can’t possibly do what they ask because it’s far too difficult blah blah blah. I’ll give them a reason (I’m helping your sister with her homework, for example), but I’m trying to avoid unnecessary commentary (adult whining you might call it). Hopefully my kids will see the difference.
You might say I’m trying to (just) say yes when I mean yes, and (just) say no when I mean no. Harder than it sounds!