My daughter is eating something and starts to feel thirsty. She gets up from where she is sitting, makes her way to the fridge, opens it and looks inside before exclaiming exasperatedly “ugh where is my water, why isn’t my water here?”.
She scans the kitchen and sees it sitting on the bench next to the water filter; I had gathered them all there intending to fill them and got distracted by something else so hadn’t yet.
“Muuuuuuum” she calls as I’m starting to make my way over “you haven’t filled my water, you need to fill my water NOW”.
Things inside me start to bristle. I start telling myself… I mean it’s pretty nice that I (generally) keep their water filled for them at all. And half the time I even have to search out the water bottles to do so. And surely she could be a little understanding that I hadn’t got to it yet today considering how many things I have to do. And she definitely knows if she asks for help, I am always willing to help so she doesn’t need to be so RUDE.
Let’s pause this scenario to assess.
The way she has spoken to me has instantly got me on the defensive. I’m feeling hurt, I’m feeling unappreciated, I’m feeling a bit of guilt that I had actually completely forgotten to fill them. And my internal dialogue is feeding off of those feelings, trying to justify them to comfort me from all of those uncomfortable feelings. And the most tempting next action in that moment is? Releasing it; spewing all of that out at her, essentially being rude back.
But let’s circle back to the first realisation: the way she has spoken to me has instantly got me on the defensive. And as I’ve seen by where my brain takes me next, that is not very conducive of finding a resolution — it just continues the cycle of conflict.
In these moments, it is very easy to lose sight of our intention and to begin thinking that ending a conflict comes from one person asserting their “rightness”; from somebody winning. And well, geez, that better be me hey? And your brain starts sending you all the justification, it starts amping you up to win, it’s cheering you on and completely ignoring the existence of other person.
Because when we start down that path, if we have to acknowledge that for this to occur we must condemn our children to be our adversary then that’s going to really put a damper on our hype. Because if we are right, then our children must be wrong. And if we win, then they must lose. Which hopefully doesn’t actually sound all that appealing.
We have such a resistance to forgiveness. Forgiveness isn’t always the act of accepting a physical apology, it is in essence affording somebody grace in their missteps. Which is really what this comes down to; if I react in aggression (passive or active) then I am opposing forgiveness, I am opposing understanding. We see forgiveness as weak, as surrendering; essentially as losing. But how does holding onto your hurt and projecting that back onto somebody else really improve your sense of self, your connection with them, your life?
What if forgiveness, which is an investment in our connection, which is an investment beyond the mistakes to what is happening now, which is an acknowledgement of our shared humanity (we all make mistakes), is actually strength? Surrendering to joy? Everybody “winning”?
So really, perhaps, what we actually want is to get back on the same side so that we can see and hear each other (empathy: we are navigating this together) rather than only ourselves (defence: I need to look out for me).
Sure, objectively, what my daughter said was pretty rude. But subjectively? It’s not that difficult to understand. I’ve been her, we have all been her.
And if somebody wins at the expense of the other person, that is not the cycle ending; that is the end of that battle perhaps but it is an investment in a continual war. For the cycle to actually end, you need to stop fighting. You need to invest in peace.
Let’s go back to that moment, a legitimate moment that happened just yesterday. We have my daughter, indignantly demanding water and me, standing there preparing to respond.
And let’s choose understanding. Kindness. Forgiveness. Empathy. Let’s invest in peace.
“Oh wow you must be thirsty, I completely forgot to fill it, I will do it right away”.
And you know what happened?
My daughter saw me. I had shown myself to her; understanding, kind, forgiving, helpful, ally. Because that’s what our response is; a showing of self. If I had reacted in anger they would not have seen their own choices even if that was the words I was speaking. They would have seen me; anger, spite, adversary and I’m almost certain that they would have reacted in kind.
But my daughter saw me and she moved towards me, figuratively and literally. She reached out and hugged me and she said “thank you, I love you”. And this moment felt more than the water because really, it is always more than the water.
You might wonder is that not just reinforcing rudeness by reacting with kindness? I suppose, if you believe that rudeness is inherently a valuable choice but do people want to be rude?
Where does rudeness actually come from? An unmet need AND a fear that that need will remain unmet; desperation. The thing that counteracts rudeness when we recognise it in this way is security. And the thing that breeds security is connection.
What was her reaction to my kindness? Did rudeness continue? Or did she reciprocate my bid to connect?
A defensive cycle begins when we feel somebody is showing us their interpretation of us and we don’t like what we see; we think “oh that’s me? You think I’m so bad? Well, let me show you, you” as a way of diluting and dismissing the image. Of course, when we see it in this light, it seems clearer that the best way to connect to the intention of us is make choices that align with that reality.
But wait explaining “I fill this everyday” is about us, not our children? But we make words about us and a child hears; “you’re ungrateful of all that I do”. And surely our child demanding water isn’t about us? But we make the words about us and we hear; “you should have already filled this, you’re failing to keep your child hydrated”. Even if that is not the motivation behind the words, other’s assertions feed the security or insecurity already within us.
Every moment in your life is an invitation to show yourself. Defensiveness can feel like “teaching somebody a lesson” but it really is actually an attempt to hide ourselves; to say “oh don’t look at me, look at you” and well, still showing ourselves in the process. If you don’t actively and intentionally show YOU, your ‘you’ will show through the filter of your insecurities and fears and pain. If you don’t actively and intentionally show YOU, how will your children ever feel capable of showing themselves?
You cannot connect to an illusion, you cannot connect to a barrier. And the origin of so much of our hurt is disconnection. How can we be invested in another person; their thoughts and feelings and needs, without connection to them? And how can we be connected to them without connection to ourselves?
In reality, this applies to our relationships with our children but also with everyone; our partners, our relatives, our friends and even strangers! And of course, with ourselves; we are often the hardest person to forgive or to show grace to but the most important because it is the seed of our ability to forgive everybody else.
When somebody is projecting at us (whether that looks like rudeness or something else), they don’t need us to correct their image (“you shouldn’t be rude”) or their image of us (“I do so much for you”), they just need us to be us, unconditionally (considerate, grateful, whatever we are inspired by our ideals to be).
They just need us to be us.