Last week, we as a family had a terrible morning. In retrospect, one might refer to it as comically dysfunctional, but at the time it was devastating.
G was in a bad/sad/mad mood right from the moment he woke up (at least in part due to extended-family stuff that’s out of the scope of this blog). Half asleep, I immediately started alternately almost simultaneously grilling him and trying to make him feel better.
I knew I should just stop talking but I heard myself continue to try to “fix things” from a variety of angles.
Things eventually devolved to where I almost smashed a mug in a parking lot, both G- and R-rated versions of a certain bad word were used by several parties, and a chia smoothie disastrophe occurred all, all, ALL over my son and car.
After finally getting the gang to school (tardy), I rushed back home to my writers’ group meeting.
My fellow writers saw how shaken I was and I quickly explained what had happened. Our dear retired clinical psychiatric social worker, who always has brilliant practical insights, sat me down and told me I need to come to terms with what I already know: It’s time to let go.
“You’ll know you’re getting somewhere if you can go to sleep thinking ‘I was quiet a certain percentage of the time,’” she said. What this means, she added, is that I must actually create quiet space, as a purposeful activity. It’s not an absence of activity or stopping oneself, but actually involves proactively doing something different.
Well yeah, I’m good at doing things. Not doing things…Now that I find very hard. For example, if I try to diet, I immediately start eating everything in the house, especially junk; if I try to eat more whole grains, nuts, beans, fruits, and vegetables, on the other hand, I eat way better!
So in my parenting, rather than telling myself to stop talking, I could attempt to create spaciousness and a feeling of letting go.
Then the other member of our group told me how her son had used a denigrating term—“try-hard”—for some kids in his school. The phrase really got her in the gut, and when she asked him to clarify, he said, simply, “Mom, you’re a try-hard.”
Even asking about it is “try-hard,” right?
Having read the first FAILING SAFELY/DARING GREATLY post, this friend said she’d noticed that only a small proportion of everything I’d said truly seemed to get through to my son. So basically, much of what I was saying was not being heard, never mind processed and integrated on any deep level.
Try-hard that I am, I’m always talking too much…even when I’m trying to give someone space to grow.
While my fellow writers and I all value the try-hard aspects of ourselves that serve our growth and our families and loved ones, we as a group recognized that there are major downsides to being a try-hard. The trick is to identify and address them. You know, without, um, trying too hard.
As explained in my previous post, I’d decided a month or so ago to allow G to experiment with making his own choices about basic stuff, like phone time, food, sleep, and so on.
Yet I’d already been struggling with feeling like I’d simply transitioned from orders to suggestions, rather than really, truly changing the dynamic and allowing G his freedom. Yes, there were definite areas of success. But this wasn’t going to be an overnight process. And I had a ways to go!
I’d seen myself still doing and saying too much—being, in essence, a try-hard—when what G really needed was the space to learn to trust himself.
Self-trust doesn’t just entail G being able to manage the things that are challenging for me (whether G is cleaning his room, changing his clothes, sleeping enough, self-regulating on screen time…; my wanting G to learn responsibility to go with his freedom...).
Self-trust is an overall quality of enormous importance and value, learned through self-reliance and successful autonomy. And my constant “helpful suggestions” were interfering with G being able to develop self-trust.
Flash back to that dreadful morning: a wake-up call as to exactly how much this try-hard needs to let go.
Being a try-hard by nature, it helps to have tools for doing so and positive ways to frame the process (thanks, writers!).
Dear readers, many of you have differences or family members and loved ones with differences, so you know how confusing figuring out the timing on certain developmental steps can be, especially when to let go. But that morning showed me, with painful clarity, that the time has come for this particular step.
When I picked the kids up at the end of the day, I simply asked whether we were all ready to get off the family crazy train.* They smiled. Together, we all let go.
Full Spectrum Mama
* From the song (which we love)--I had no intention of using "crazy" as a perjorative.
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