Not long ago I took my son to visit a friend for a playdate. He had a great time, and as per usual, was mad at me that I made him leave. Well about 5 minutes in to the 30 minute drive he told me that he didn’t love me anymore. This isn’t the first time he has said this to me and normally I just tell him well that’s too bad cause I am going to love him anyway. Well for whatever reason I took a different approach this time. I told him if he didn’t love me then he would need to live with a different mommy because it was really important to love your mommy. I listed the names of a few of his friend’s mom and he didn’t want to live with them and asked me to give him more choices. I kind of ignored it and kept driving. Well the longer we were in the car the more insistent he became that he didn’t want to live with me anymore. I decided to make him put his money where his mouth was so I stopped at a random house and said he could live there. I took him out of his car seat and helped him cross the road. He looked at me and just kept walking. He got almost to the door and I realized he was going to knock. I quickly told him I thought they had inside dogs so he would come back to me. I hugged him and told him I needed him to stay with me but his mind was made up. He told me he wanted to find a house with a boat and no inside dogs. We made it home and I unloaded groceries and his sister and tried to get him out, but he yelled at me to have someone come pick him up because he didn’t want to live with me anymore. At this point I wasn’t really sure what to do. I tried crying and telling him he was making me feel really sad because I wanted him to live with me but he didn’t want to. It didn’t work. I finally just picked him up and took him into the house. As I carried him in, I could tell he was drained physically and emotionally. He clung to me as I took him to the couch. I explained to him that when we are really sad we can ask Jesus to help us feel better and he will. We said a quick prayer and it helped him calm down a little. I asked him why he was sad and he said because I didn’t want him to live with me anymore. When I had told him that he needed to choose a mommy he loved, he thought (and more importantly FELT) that I no longer wanted him. His reaction was one of self preservation. If I didn’t want him then he was not going to want me. My heart felt really bad once I realized what I had done to this poor three year old. I apologized so many times that at one point he asked what I was sorry about and when I said the same thing he was flippant, “Oh that? Its ok.” He forgave me freely once he knew he was safe and loved. As I have thought of this experience I have found a million different life lessons. Here are just a few:
-Mental warfare is seldom successful in getting the behavior you want. Communication on the other hand is. How many times have you been in a situation and taken the passive aggressive route? How often after an argument have you really thought, “man, the silent treatment really fixed that problem. Now they understand how I feel because I said nothing…..” I’m going to guess next to never. We can’t try to mentally punish the other person in hopes of them coming around to our point of view. However all this succeeds in doing is putting the other person on the defensive and looking to counter attack. When we communicate we are on an even field, when we punish mentally we jump on a teeter totter of emotional reactions.
-Sometimes a flippant comment causes a reaction that you didn’t intend or even understand. If somebody reacts strongly and you don’t understand why, don’t immediately jump to the defensive position. Ask questions to see if you can understand why the person is hurt and see what you can do to help. Never in a million years did I want my 3 year old to think his mommy didn’t love him. But that is how he felt. Take the time to repair damage done, even when it was unintentionally done.
-The value of safety cannot be overstated. Think of all of the times you have felt insecure in your life, whether it was talking to a crush, turning in a big project at work, figuring out parenting, working on a relationship, I could go on and on and on. It is part of the human condition to want the approval of those around us. ESPECIALLY the approval of people whose opinions we regard highly. If you felt like you were going to be made fun of would you ask the crush for a phone number? Absolutely not. You would walk away with your pride in tact and a wish for what might have been. Think about this in relation to the people in your life now. Do you make them feel safe to approach you with their goals, dreams, thoughts, frustrations, and just every day life? The safer they feel the more they are willing to work at communicating with you while working through joy and pain and not resorting to mental warfare to help deal with their misunderstood emotions.
The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding. Leonardo Da Vinci
I’m certain that as you read this story you could see ways I could have done better and didn’t. I’m also certain that you can look at the story and see parallels to things in your life. Look at your relationships and choose to make them filled with love, safety and understanding.