One of the delights of children is that they say it like it is. As an adult, before kids, I thought I had a good handle on my life and a fairly accurate understanding of human functioning. What I had was a story of how I believed things should be. There were right ways to behave and think and these had been filed away in that part of me that thought that there was no need for further examination. It served a purpose. To constantly question everything you believe can drive you crazy. So, apart from the obvious, I think that one of the reasons we have children is to re-question the unquestioned. And to point out our inconsistencies. And to make us practice what we preach.
I had (rather piously) brought my kids up to be true to themselves. What I actually meant was to be true unless it conflicts with what I think you should be doing. One of my sons doesn’t spend his life worrying about how he comes across to people, like I do. For many years this was a problem for me. One day, once again, I was telling him that he should have behaved differently to someone who in fact had treated him critically and judgmentally. I found myself saying “two wrongs don’t….” I don’t remember his exact words but they went something like this. “Mom, I’m not going to do something just because you want me to. I am being who I am and truthfully, I’m OK with it. I know some people will not like me but I can live with that.” His words that day had a huge impact on me. I realized that being true to one’s self doesn’t always make friends but if my son had the guts to live his life like this then good luck to him. I felt, acutely, my own limitations from being a well-established people pleaser and just a tad envious.
There have been many times over the years that my children have unintentionally questioned my integrity. One called me out once because I was being mean about someone. He said that it was to make me feel better about my life because it wasn’t serving any other purpose. Another, because of the unbelievable way that he accepts his anxiety disorder, has made it so much easier to accept my own.
A couple of weeks ago, I arrived to pick up my daughter from school about 30 seconds late. She suffers from anxiety and in particular, in this instance, a fear of being forgotten at school (not that it’s ever happened). I always make an effort to be waiting for her at the door so that she can see me as she’s packing her backpack. I was not without some anxiety because I was a tad late and broke into a run as I tried to make up lost time. Unfortunately, as I rounded the last turn before I reached her door, she had walked out and was looking around, visibly anxious. “Gabs!” I called.
She ran to me. “Why are you late?” she asked. “I was freaking out!”
I had spent some years telling my daughter to acknowledge and accept her feelings. I also understood anxiety and how overwhelming and irrational it can feel, so of course I replied, in a less than kind voice: “But Gabs, you saw me one second after you walked out the door!”
“Mom, it only takes me a second to freak out.” she said.
Yet another life lesson.