III. What’s a Grumpy Mom to Do?

Irritation happens. What to do?

In the moment: we feel a flare up of irritation.

Acknowledging and allowing the emotion, we say to ourself “I feel irritated, and that’s okay.”

We take a moment to focus on our breath, saying the words to ourself: “breathing in, breathing out.” This slows us down, calms our nervous system and restores a sense of control. Placing a hand on our heart adds warmth and safety; letting our exhale be an audible sigh releases tension.

Breathing in, we imagine calm and compassion for ourself, our kids and the situation, whatever it may be. Breathing out, we let go of irritation for the burned bacon, parking ticket, or bowl of oatmeal upturned onto the carpet. 

All this may take 20-30 seconds.

Of course, we take care of our child and address whatever needs attention. When we can do so while calm rather than irritated, we are much more kindly, clearheaded and effective.

What if irritation sticks around? Well, irritation, grumpiness, actually all emotions arise out of what’s going on in our brain- our thoughts. So, we can pay attention to what we are thinking. We may be spinning some thoughts over and over: “That kid! It’s a no parking zone! Doesn’t he pay attention? Does he think I’m gonna pay for the ticket?” 

Can you see how thinking those thoughts would cause agitation? And when agitated, how would we likely handle the situation? Probably in an angry and accusative way, without clear thought, without firm grounding.

So, when we notice we are spinning in thoughts, making ourself agitated, fueling actions that aren’t helpful, we can ask ourself: 

 How else can I look at this?

 Is there another way to think about it? 

 What are the basic facts of the situation? 

 Is it helpful to be angry at him? 

 What was it like to get my first ticket?

 How do I want to feel toward him?

 Could this be an opportunity for my son to take responsibility for his actions?

 Can I be firm about that and also compassionate as he deals with his first parking ticket?

In this case, the irritation sticking around was an opportunity to notice and take responsibility for our thoughts. To look inward and redirect our brain. We became mindful of the adult responsibilities he has now that he is driving. We have an opportunity to help him negotiate the system, perhaps discuss how he will earn the money to pay for it, and of course, learn to pay better attention in future.

In this scenario, we redirected our thoughts, and transformed irritation into clarity, resolution and connection. 

In the first scenario, we borrowed wisdom from meditation traditions and neuroscience to turn irritation into kindness and calm.

In each way we find opportunity to learn and grow as parents, and as human beings.

Want a Better Relationship with Your Adult Kid?

Do you wish you had a better relationship with your adult kid? 

What would it take to make it better?

If you answered something like: 

If she would be nicer to me, if he would call more often, if they would make better choices or settle down or work harder or drink less or or or… then I would feel better about them, then we could have a better relationship.

A lot of people will agree with you, and commiserate with you… because you are powerless to do anything, the relationship is out of your hands. You are at the mercy of your kid’s behavior. It is a very painful place to be. 

But is that the way it has to be? 

Here is what I believe is true: 

You, and I, and everyone, cannot make other people behave differently than they do. Even our kids.

People get to be and do what they choose.

When we set rules, expectations, “shoulds” for others, we often end up feeling disappointed, angry or hurt.

How we feel is because of how we are thinking. We think we feel hurt because our son didn’t call, but if it wasn’t for our thought “he should call” we wouldn’t be feeling hurt. 

It seems like a nice thought, a reasonable expectation: my son should call. A kid should call his mother. 

But let’s look at the reality: when we have that thought about our kid, we feel disappointed and hurt, and then how do we behave? Most likely we complain, we pout, we decide to “show him” by not calling him, or maybe we call and chew him out… And what is the result of all that?

Can you see where that reasonable thought turns out to be a kind of poison? 

So what can we do differently? 

We can start trying out different ways of thinking about our kid. So he’s not big on calling- what if we worked on making that okay. Not making it mean he is selfish or doesn’t love us. Or that we are a bad mom or have a bad relationship. But maybe instead, thinking, he is living his life, as we all are. What else? Busy, doing things, taking care of stuff, minding his business, being a grownup, just being himself. I’ve raised an independent man, living his own life.

Can you feel the relief, the easing off? 

Ultimately, our relationships with our kids are based on what we choose to think about them. Our thoughts, the emotions they generate, and the way we behave are what end up creating the relationship. 

So… what kind of relationship will you create?

Can We Talk About Your Brain?

Are you feeling called to do hard things? 

Things that make you feel uncomfortable, or require a lot of effort, but that you are committed to because they are important? Perhaps important to your health, to your business, or to creating the world you want to live in.

First, let me commend you! 

Second, can we talk about your brain for a moment? Understanding a few things about human brain function can make taking on those hard things a little easier. 

Caveat: I am not a scientific expert on the human brain. I don’t even play one on tv. But I do help people learn to do hard things, think new thoughts, perceive the world and themselves in new ways so that they can live more intentional, effective and fulfilling lives. Every day. I’m a life coach.

The most technical and science-y thing I will say is this: your decision to do hard things was made in your prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is also what you will be relying on to actually do the hard things. It’s in charge of executive function, and will require a great deal of conscious intention, focus and effort to establish any new behaviors.

The prefrontal cortex can override the rest of your brain that DOES NOT want you to do hard things. That will provide reasons why hard things, new ideas, anything challenging and that takes effort and creates discomfort is A BAD IDEA. That will suggest instead that you check Facebook, make popcorn, scroll through your phone, look out the window. That wants you to keep silent, not speak up, keep your head down, and definitely not step off the well worn path.

That part -let’s call it the lower brain- is just doing its job, which is to keep you safe and expend as little energy as possible. It automates your repeated behaviors so that you don’t have to think about them so much- things like driving, brushing your teeth, getting dressed. 

So how can you use this knowledge to help you do hard things?

You can ease the effort required of your prefrontal cortex by

  • being very clear WHY the hard thing is important to you,
  • breaking the hard things into smaller, clearly defined actions,
  • mentally rehearsing when, where and how you will do them, 
  • imagining how you will feel when this new behavior is integrated into your life,
  • posting notes to yourself stating what you will do and WHY, and then
  • practice, practice, practice doing the hard thing.

You can anticipate the lower brain’s discouragement campaign to avoid being taken in by it, and you can be your own cheerleader. 

Try my current favorite approach: be on the alert and nod knowingly when your lower brain shows up and starts balking (you feel smart), then say something like “welcome, and thank you for your concern! I hear you! Very bad idea: okay, duly noted! You have done your job and done it well; now you may move along thank you very much.” (You feel politely but firmly in charge.)

Then, you do the hard thing- yes, and feel uncomfortable- but know that you have strengthened the muscle of your prefrontal cortex (pause to admire your badassery), and that the next time it will be even easier (how strategic is that).

And if you do this enough times, eventually – here is the magic part!- that hard thing becomes easier and your lower brain accepts it as the new normal, making room for it alongside flossing your teeth and flipping on your turn signal.

If I Believe My Thought


Photo by Jan Tinneberg on Unsplash

Sometimes I have thoughts that are judgmental, racist, petty or unfair.

If I believe that my thoughts reveal my moral character, I would then believe that I was a judgmental, racist, petty or unfair person.

I might then think that something is wrong with me, that I am a terrible person. I might feel deep shame. I might try to cover up those thoughts, from others and myself.

If I did try to better myself, to think more acceptable and honorable thoughts from a place of self judgment or shame, it would be like building on a shaky, unstable foundation.

If I tried to hide those unwanted thoughts from myself and others, I would always be on guard, fearful of being found out, disconnected from myself and others.

But if I believe 

-that everything I have ever seen, heard or read is imprinted in my brain, in my memory

-that I carry with me a record of my thoughts and experiences, as well as what I have picked up from my family and school and neighborhood and country and world’s thoughts and experiences

And I understand I have the ability to

-become aware of those thoughts

-decide what I think of those thoughts

-choose which ones I want to embrace, identify with and act from 

And I discover that 

-it is possible to be myself and let others be themselves

-it is possible to be with our humanness without fear, without hiding

Then

-I understand the value of awareness, education, acceptance and love

-I understand the power of intentional thought and action

-I choose who I want to be and how I want to live

And I feel hope and love and faith in humanity.

The Perfect Excuse

Cool, rainy morning in May in the Pacific Northwest. I went out to let the chickens out and open up the hoop house in the vegetable garden. My morning visit to check on all the residents, fauna and flora. 

A quick check, as my plan was to go into town for the (somewhat dreaded) weekly grocery and errand trip. 

The warm temperatures of late spring and the soaking rain had conspired to turn our garden beds into little jungles. I had been ignoring the signs but this was getting ridiculous. Stout thistles marched boldly through swiss chard and mustard greens. Horsetail weaved it’s way through rows of radishes, kale and lettuce. 

The trays of plant starts in the hoop house clearly needed to be transplanted into the ground, preferably last week.Yesterday it had been too warm to transplant them. Today would be perfect! I thought. But first, the weeds! Got to get those weeds out. I plunged my garden knife into the moist earth and made piles of weeds. Perfect weeding weather! I thought.

My husband came out to check on me. “Here you are! out in the rain? I thought you were going into town,” he said. “Well, it’s perfect for weeding and planting stuff out, right now,” I said, through the combined drizzle from the sky and the rim of my hat.

I peeled myself away from the weeding and went into the hoop house to see what I could plant. The little basil starts could tuck between each of the tomato plants, cilantro between the tomatillos. Satisfying, looks great! What else? Sunflower, batchelor buttons and chervil starts had been getting ignored in the rush to get vegetables into the ground, so I found places to fit them into the ends of beds, and along the fence to the orchard. 

What else? I checked the little clock I keep in the garden shed. Two hours had gone by! I headed back to the house, peeled off my wet outer layers and wiped some mud off my face. Now in dry clothes, I gathered up face mask and shopping list, keys and purse. I looked around the house, snug and dry, everything outside the windows blurred by rain.  

“Hmmm… what a perfect day to stay inside,” I thought. “I could bake bread, make some soup…”

Real Life Coaching

I have a client I’ll call Lora, who has an adult son I’ll call Chad. (Note: My coaching sessions are always confidential. Express permission has been given by this client to use the following, with some details changed in addition to the names.)

Lora had always worried Chad wasn’t capable of taking care of himself, of being responsible, of making good choices. They had a pattern: Chad would call and tell Lora his problems, Lora would rush in to fix the problems and rescue Chad, and then he would end up being mad at her.

At some point, awhile back, Lora had recognized the futility of this. She decided to stop “helping” Chad in this way, and to instead trust that he knew best how to live his life.

Last weekend Chad called and told Lora he’d just spent the last of his money. Lora knew not to try to rescue Chad, and she knew she didn’t want to criticize or scold him. Bit she felt frustrated and upset, got off the phone quickly, and felt depressed for the next few days. She had a lot of “noise in her head” with thoughts like:

Chad’s not managing his money and his life

Chad’s in trouble, and I want to help him but I can’t

Lora had successfully avoided taking on Chad’s work. Now she was ready to take on her own work, and consciously look at what was going on within herself. Lora had worked through much of her relationship with her son over the past couple of years, so this session was mostly about remembering and realigning with the conscious decisions she had made for herself.

As we talked about her recent conversation with Chad, here is a look at how her thoughts developed:

I know how stuck he feels and how bad that feels

This is his life, it was always supposed to be his life

It’s okay if it’s hard for me, if I feel sad

I understand that it’s hard for Chad

I love him

I want to believe in him

I want to believe he is capable, that he can handle his life

I can hold space for him to be himself

I was struck by how beautifully Lora came around to discover for herself what she now could offer Chad. When she stops viewing him as unable and incapable, there is nothing to fix, no one to rescue.

I want to be clear: it isn’t necessary for Lora to see evidence of Chad’s success at financial planning, for example, in order to believe in him, to believe he is capable, to believe that he can handle his life, on his own terms. 

Like all humans, Chad is learning life by living it. On the job training. He may be struggling with one or more of life’s issues now, and maybe he will his whole life, but it is his life to work with all these things we have to deal with on planet Earth. 

And Lora gets to love him, enjoy him, practice holding space for him, practice believing in him and his amazing unique existence. She gets to support and appreciate and be interested in how he figures it out. She gets to feel the relief of letting go of judgement and frustration, of the need to fix and rescue.

She gets to just love her son.

To Just Decide, Then Make it Right

If you are like me, and often get your undies in a bunch trying to make the “right decision” -about whatever- consider these ideas:

Making a decision, any decision, is better than making no decision.

Choosing a path will move you forward, and give you information, whereas you could stand still wondering which way to go forever and not have learned anything new.

Rather than thinking there are right decisions and wrong decisions, make your decision… and then make it right.

How do you make it right? Line up your energy with it. Don’t waste time doubting yourself, waffling about your decision. Have your own back. In your subsequent thoughts and actions, do what you can to insure the success of the choice you made.

Here is what this looks like currently for me: 

My husband and I were looking forward to driving from Washington to California in April to visit our son and his husband in California. A road trip! Be with the kids! See their new house! Camp and visit friends along the way. So fun! 

But… the Corona Virus. We are both in our sixties. We’d have to drive through Seattle, which is unfortunately hard hit by the virus.

I’d guess that some of you will think the choice is obvious, whether you’re thinking: Of course you should go! or Of course you should cancel.

But I agonized over this for a week or two, before deciding to cancel the road trip. And perhaps this trip is a terrible example to use, because in this case, standing still actually brought us new information every day, thanks to constant news of the fast spreading virus.

However, I’m gonna go with it. I may not have been quick at making the decision, and it may be a questionable example, but I’m going to stick with my decision to use it, and make it work! There you go; that’s me, having my back.

And this is how I am lining up with the decision: I am consciously choosing to feel good about it. I can call and talk to the guys anytime I miss them. I can love the heck out of them from here as well as from there. Maybe this summer will look better for us or for them to travel so we can visit, but maybe it won’t. In the meantime, we are keeping ourselves, and them and anyone we potentially might have met along the way, safer and healthier. 

I heard our governor Jay Inslee being interviewed recently. He said he was proud of the way Washingtonians are consciously making personal decisions to minimize spread of the virus. I am consciously choosing to be proud of us too, myself included. Jay Inslee doesn’t know me from Adam, but I have to admit, I have replayed his statement several times in my mind. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy and proud to be a Washingtonian. I realize this may sound a little goofball- it does to me even- but truth is, it feels good to me and I’ll take that wherever I find it.