Lately I’ve been struggling to sort out in my head what is Truth and what is a Lie. It’s been a deep, debilitating struggle, actually, in which I feel like I’m going insane.
This is obviously putting stress on my family relationships. After all, if I assume you’re lying to me, then it stands to reason I should crush you with my anger.
I am thankful for a patient husband and friends who come to the rescue with chicken pot pie and conversation at 10:00pm.
This morning I interrupted a death spiral of lies and went for a walk to clear my head in the fresh air and bright sun. As I walked briskly with music in my ears, The Ting Tings shuffled into my mix.
They call me Elle
They call me Stacey
They call me her
They call me Jane
That’s not my name
That’s not my name
That’s not my name
That’s not my…name
I’m known around the office for getting lost in my music and accidentally singing out loud while co-workers are on a conference call, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that as I hiked through the Seattle Center I shouted, “THAT’S NOT MY NAME” over and over again.
It felt good to get it out: to shout THAT’S NOT MY NAME at Satan, or my brain, or my heart, or whatever it is that’s trying to separate me from reality.
My name is Daughter, and I belong to Jesus. Everything else is a lie.
The Heart of Anger was an amazing read for me. And Priolo’s not kidding when he says you should read the book twice – once for yourself and once for your kid. This is not just a book about dealing with an angry kid, it’s also a book about taking responsibility for your angry kid.
I realized quickly that I’ve developed some bad parenting habits that needed to change – habits that were provoking her to anger.
— Issue #1 —
I tend to “answer a fool according to his folly” (Proverbs 26:4). Though, I kinda knew this already. We all know this about me. When my kid sasses me, I tend to respond more like a 14 year old than a grownup, and we end up getting into a YES YOU DID/NO I DIDN’T/YES YOU DID situation.
Priolo describes in great detail how Jesus responds to all the fools in his life, and never once does he 1) justify himself to a fool, or 2) bark orders at a fool. What Jesus does do, is show a fool his own foolishness.
My child acts foolish often, and by responding “according to her folly,” I create a dysfunctional dynamic between us. Basically, I’ve trained her to only take me seriously when I’m yelling. But as soon as I quit answering “according to her folly,” I began to see immediate change in Ruthie.
In fact, the first time Bryan saw me in action he was all, “Whoa. When did you become the Bitch Whisperer?”
— Issue #2 —
I allow myself to get caught up into an emotional tangle of manipulation and guilt. Priolo starts off chapter nine by giving a test “to determine just how manipulative a child might be.”
A score of 90 or better means “you are probably quite adept at preventing manipulation by your child.” A score of 75-90 means you’re probably being manipulated “to a small degree.” A score below 75 means “it’s likely you’re being manipulated to a great extent.”
My total added up to 17.
Perhaps one might freak out by the number 17, but this was actually a great relief to me. In fact, I heaved great big ugly sobs of relief because I’M NOT FUCKING CRAZY.
Somehow the number 17 was like that lazer thing Luke Skywalker fired into the exhaust vent of the Death Star. With great precision, it found a very exacting path to my guilt and blew it to pieces.
A friend asked me if Bryan would have scored the manipulation test differently.
(Do you have a friend who pokes you like this? I have many. They are annoying.)
To be honest, yes. He would have scored it a little differently because he’s less likely to be manipulated. But not all the questions were subjective, so we would have agreed on many answers.
What I loved about the book is that it doesn’t allow me as a parent to walk away blaming my kid for being angry and manipulative. The responsibility is mine to improve my parenting skills, and the responsibility is mine to mentor Ruthie through her anger responses.
Today I got up in a foul mood. I’d been awake since 3am, the kids weren’t getting out of bed in time to eat a decent breakfast, the internet was down, and it was snowing.
This meant that even though I was exhausted by 7am, I couldn’t stay home and work in my pajamas. And not only couldn’t I stay home and work in my pajamas, but it was snowing between me and the closest coffee shop.
Clearly these are irritating circumstances and not end-of-the-world events, yet I use excuses like this every day to justify my bitterness, anger, and foul moods.
So when this went down today, it didn’t take long before I grew tired of my own complaining tweets and thoughts, so I opened my Bible in hopes that it would shut down my attitude.
I read this:
But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:20-24
What caught my attention was the phrase, “be renewed in the spirit of your minds and put on the new self, created in the likeness of God…”
My old self is bitter and angry whenever I don’t get my way. Or maybe I should say my “old self,” because I don’t act very much like it’s old. Unless you consider 5 minutes ago as old. Then heck yeah, that was my old self.
BUT THAT IS NOT THE WAY YOU LEARNED CHRIST!
(If Paul had a blog he’d have used all caps there).
The gospel doesn’t allow for my shitty attitude to be justified by circumstances. This is bad news for people like me who embrace an Eeyore outlook on life, but I’m praying for a more… how shall I say?… overt renewing of my mind.
A few months ago I bought a Groupon for two nights at the Earthbox Motel on San Juan Island. The islands are a favorite summer destination for us so I’m excited to visit in the off season. Earthbox boasts the only indoor pool on the island, which is really what sold me on it since we may get rained out of everything else to do on the island.
(Ruthie just asked me if we could go swimming RIGHT WHEN WE GET THERE, so this pool may be the best $150 I spent in a long time.)
My goal for this weekend is to enjoy playing with my family and to be present in the moment. I’ve noticed that my comfort and contentment tend to hinge mostly on whether my own expectations are met (peace and quiet! solitude! let me read my book!), at the expense of everyone else’s enjoyment (rrraawwwrrrrr!).
If that sounds like the description of a teenager, I accept your rebuke.
This weekend I desire to play and be silly and explore and snuggle and say Yes more than I say No. I don’t do any of that often enough, which is probably why Bryan is such a rock star in this house. He does it all with his eyes closed and standing on one foot.
For inspiration, I looked to a favorite vacation post from February 2007. If you overlook the fact I’m STILL the same control freak I was five years ago (STAY IN MY HAPPY PLACE! DON’T OVERTHINK IT!), you’ll see I had a magical time being free with my kids.
This is my hope for the weekend. Also, I’d love to find my sense of humor again.
Our trip to the San Jose area couldn’t have come at a better time. I’ve spent the last couple months reorganizing and reprioritizing my focus as a mother and household manager, trying to correct the part of my brain that sometimes finds it easier to focus on the latter and see the former as a distraction. I want to be present with my children. I want to enjoy them. My goal in spending ten days apart from the household duties of cleaning, laundry, and other such necessities was to develop good habits in spending time with my children.
I believe I did well in accomplishing what I set out to do. We played hide and seek. The tickle monster attacked. We went to parks and visited attractions. We left the hotel every day. We talked. And we didn’t watch t.v. Even in the midst of being away from the comforts of home, I only used the morning PBS programs to occupy Ruthie while I showered. We kept busy, and I remained focused on them until they were sleeping.
For me the pinnacle came on Monday when we visited Santa Cruz, about an hour from our hotel. We were nearly alone on a wide open beach, running around and digging in the sand with nothing but our fingers and some empty coffee cups. I stretched myself, and offered Ruthie some freedom from my control, and I watched her revel in a world with few boundaries. The beach was so empty, so expansive, and the ocean before us was so never-ending, that my need to control every situation, every moment, every move seemed insignificant. I realized how rigid I had become, how inflexible. But that morning I was able to let my children run, and I practiced trusting them, and I patiently corrected them when they wandered too far, and I became their biggest fan once again.
It was the silence, and the time, and the space provided by this trip that allowed me to grow as a parent in this way – to remember that my job is much more than just keeping them fed and clothed, but to also disciple and teach and model, and to sometimes play with them. I developed a taste for getting out, for exploring, for inspiring my children and giving them opportunities to run and jump and play – not that it couldn’t have happened in the absence of a vacation, amidst the everyday life I live, but it seems a trip to San Jose is how God chose to get through to me.
As we left the beach in Santa Cruz my kids immediately crashed into a coma, and I listened to the Garden State soundtrack. I love it for its mix. Many soundtracks have a schizophrenic feel to it, accommodating for love scenes and fight scenes and war scenes all within the same album. But the Garden State soundtrack has a vibe, and it’s a good vibe for a quiet ride home from the beach. When the song, Let Go, by Frou Frou began playing I immediately knew it was the soundtrack for the day at least, and maybe even for my overall struggle through anger and control.
You’ll know why when you hear it.
So, the video you are about to see is more than just a video scrapbook of a fun day. I had a vision for this project the moment I heard the song. It is a stone for me to carry, like the ones Much Afraid carried. It is a rock cairn to remember the path I have taken to get where I am now. It is an alter built to God, in praise of who he is, like the ones built by my spiritual forefathers in the desert.
Like today, for instance. I gave the kids a list of chores to do, after which they were to get screen time and a trip to the farmer’s market.
Did they do their chores?
Of course not. They screwed around in their room, and somehow their window screen was punched out and is now laying on the deck.
So what did I do?
I started yelling. Because I’m a yeller. And my disgust is best communicated with great volume and adrenaline.
Technically it wasn’t necessary to yell at them. They were on a time limit, so I could have just ignored their antics and let them deal with the consequences of their folly when the timer went off. Maybe they would get their act together, or maybe they would feel the weight of NOT getting their act together.
But no. I had to rob them of either opportunity by yelling.
I made it about me. I was mad they weren’t listening to me. I felt out of control. I took their disobedience as mockery of my authority and identity. I viewed their actions as a big Fuck You to my worth as a mother.
There might have been some of that, but mostly they were just screwing around. You know, the fart on your sister’s head kind of screwing around. There was no conspiracy to make me look bad in front of the dog.
I haven’t talked about my anger issues here in a long time. Mostly because I’ve been busy, but partly because I’ve been talking about my anger issues for about seven years.
While I’m not the same person I used to be, I’m definitely not who I want to be. I would give anything to be able to laugh it off, or roll my eyes, or shrug and say, Whatever, you guys are NUTS.
But no. I take it personally and yell. Still.
Okay okay, so I’m probably being a little mopey. It was a bad day, to be sure. But as usual, I perceive every day is as bad as Today. But thankfully, there’s tomorrow. And hopefully there will be no yelling.
Certainly the faith that has empowered the persecuted church for two millennia isn’t as thin and boring as “Say you’re sorry,” “Be nice,” and “Don’t be like them.” Why would anyone want to deny himself, lay down his life, or suffer for something as inane as that?
I really struggle in sorting out my role vs the Holy Spirit’s role when it comes to my children’s conscience. My parenting style is built on a solid foundation of being a control freak, so I end up requiring some sort of proof that the kids are really truly sorry for what they’ve done.
This has turned them into great actors – Ruthie especially. She gets that striking George Clooney gaze from the top of her eyes thing down really well. And sadly, this often satisfies me. I know it’s highly possible she’s just telling me what I want to hear, but in my lazy moments I’m okay with that.
(If I haven’t mentioned this before, parenting is hard. It requires effort. I don’t always feel like doing it).
It’s only recently that I’ve admitted to myself I’m not actually the Holy Spirit.
I wrote that last sentence before I found this post from THREE YEARS ago, so I guess this is something I’m fairly slow at learning (ya think?!). Here’s an excerpt:
My first instinct when Ruthie gets this stubborn is to make her life as miserable as possible until she cries UNCLE and repents. In my imagination we play a game of chicken to see who lasts longer – me or her. Forcing behavior seems to be what I am most comfortable with, though I know intellectually it’s the worst way to parent.
I had a revelation awhile ago. I realized that Ruthie is a person, not merely an object I own or control. She is a person with a conscience who can feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Or not. I realized there are more consequences to our actions than just the circumstantial ones, that she is growing up not only in body, but also in faith. I realized that I won’t always be able to make her feel sorry, that sometimes she will rebel against repentance and have a hard heart, and that there’s not really anything I can do about it in the moment.
I’m ready to be over the whole control freak thing. It’s what makes me take things so personally and respond with unholy anger. I’d much rather just parent obediently and trust Jesus with the outcome.
The other morning when Bryan brought me coffee in bed –
(yes, I said when, because that man brings me coffee in bed every morning)
– he handed me the cup then reached out and rubbed my forehead with his thumb.
“What are you doing?” I asked, still waking up.
“I’m wiping away your grouchy lines.”
“You look like you’re mad.”
“It’s 5:30 in the morning and there’s a light on in the room – I would call that squinting.”
“Well, you look mad.”
Now I’m paranoid about this ugly face I keep making and catch myself doing it all the time – driving into the sun, walking against the wind, thinking about what to say next, digging a hole to plant my tomatoes.
Even when I’m not thinking about it, my body expresses anger.