Exercise #8: Rethinking AssumptionsI'm a little embarrassed to share my experience with this, but here we go anyway.... Probably the people's actions I most frequently misinterpret are my own children's. Now, you have to understand that I grew up mostly as an only child. With the exception of the three years that I lived with my step-family (including Anne), it was just me and my mom as far back as I remember. My mom never talked to me like a baby or even a kid, always as an equal, and I didn't have a lot of experience with children, especially children younger than me. I just didn't have a frame of reference for kid behavior.
The next time you catch yourself feeling badly about the way you've been treated, take a minute to check your assumptions. Maybe you've misinterpreted someone's actions or intentions. What would be different if you assumed instead that the person adored you and would be horrified to think he or she had upset you? Bonus exercise: Next time you're ready to give up on something because it's just too hard, rethink your assumptions. You may not be failing at all, just slowing in your forward progress for a bit. Keep trying!
Because of this almost daily I encounter someone saying or doing something to me or someone I love that I, with my limited experience, could interpret as really awful, like hitting, pinching, biting, teasing, complaining, arguing, etc. I just haven't had a frame of reference for what really is normal behavior in a family. I remember telling someone several months ago that I really was tired of my children criticizing me all the time. She asked how they were "criticizing" me, and I used how they would complain about what I was making for dinner as an example ("I hate it when you make that for dinner!"). Trying not to laugh, she asked me if I really thought that was their way of trying to take a shot at my self esteem. Or if, maybe, it was more about them expressing an opinion about something they felt they had little control over. It was silly that I had never thought about it that way, I had only seen it from my selfish perspective. Of course it had more to do with them than what they thought about me personally!
With that in mind, I've been making an effort to not take my children's fighting so personally (it was amazing to me to learn that they could all-out brawl, screaming at each other one minute, and the next return to being the best of friends), to not react in self-defense to being head-butted by my silly little Max who's just trying to get a laugh, and to not take their childishly-worded comments as anything more than what they are. It means being the adult in the situation, but occasionally I manage.
As for the bonus exercise, well, I have felt like giving up on a lot of things lately. So it was hard to pick a specific thing. But I did decide that I just need to continue to try to be positive, and give myself a break because having a fussy, sensitive little baby and a needy whirlwind of a toddler (as well as two other busy children) is pretty hard. And I'm not failing as a mother as much as I think I am. That was pretty vague, but basically I'm giving myself permission to let the sewing machine collect dust, to not go back to the store when I forget the ground beef/syrup/potatoes/etc., to let the laundry sit in the basket for another day when I really want to go to bed.
Here are Anne's thoughts:
The thing that comes to mind first is not something that happened this week, but off and on through my married life. Jer will say or do something that could be interpreted positively or negatively, and I invariably take it in the worst way possible. When I call him on it, he says, "Why would I mean it that way? I love you more than anything... Of course I wasn't trying to hurt you." And I know that. It just seems instinctive to get defensive. Fortunately this doesn't happen as often as it used to--mostly because Jer is more careful how he phrases things... but hopefully also because I don't jump the gun and assume he's purposely being hurtful.Preview for next week...Part one of "Motherguilt": Letting Go
One more example: Dad and I went out to brunch on Friday, and it was a pretty crummy experience. The food was lousy, but even worse, they didn't offer a high chair for Porter or give him one of their kid's menus or ask if he wanted a drink or anything. I know he still looks like a baby, but he did walk into the restaurant... The kid does eat. Guess I don't like having my child ignored. Then the waiter kept coming over to check on us (as we were the only customers there) and after awhile I felt like he was doing it to patronize me. No, the food wasn't good. No, we don't need anything else. We don't want any pie today. No, REALLY, NO PIE! Just leave us alone!! I didn't say those things; I replied with the typical niceties. Because I knew he was just doing his job, and I was probably being overly sensitive. He still got tip. (But I'm not going back to M. Callendar's for a looooong time.)
Bonus Exercise. Every week I tell Jer I'm going to march into the Bishop's office after church to tell him I quit. You'd think Primary Chorister was my dream calling, but it is such a struggle week after week to figure out new and exciting ways to teach songs, review songs, and make 20 minutes of Singing Time fun... twice (to two very different groups of kids). I used to hate Saturdays because I'd spend the whole day stressing over the next day's music/activity (or the lack thereof). But almost every week, I realize that I enjoyed it, that the kids were engaged, and that I love Primary music. It's harder than I ever imagined that calling would be (and Jer tells me I make it harder than it needs to be), but I keep doing it because I love my Heavenly Father, I love being in there with Jer and Porter, and I love the children I'm serving. And that's a lot of love.