II. Some Good Things To Know

Attention, Moms! Whether your kids are babes in arms, are almost old enough to join the Army or maybe even have their own army of kids, sometimes you get grumpy with them. Irritated, frustrated, impatient, angry, resentful.

You will probably think the reason you are grumpy is something like: your little one dumped her oatmeal on the carpet, your son got a parking ticket or the bacon burned.

But your grumpiness isn’t caused by the oatmeal, ticket, bacon or anything your kids do or say. You are grumpy because of what you are thinking about, for example, your daughter dumping the oatmeal. Perhaps that she shouldn’t have done that, or now you’ll be late for work, or she did that out of spite, or clumsiness, or whatever. 

How do I know this? Because no matter what happens, you get to choose how you respond to it. What you make it mean. You can choose what to think about the oatmeal or anything else. How you feel will depend on what you think.

That said, let’s say you are irritated about the oatmeal. You might feel like slamming a door and yelling at your little one. 

If you are able to stop yourself from acting out of irritation, from speaking unkind words, is that the end of it? What then happens with your negative feelings, with your negative thoughts?

Irritation or anger that is turned inward will eventually make its way out, perhaps as a slow drip, perhaps in a outburst. The thought that caused the irritation also still remains, unexamined and unprocessed. How we behave with our kids is important, but so too is how we feel and what we think. 

I have read that our brains produce 60 thousand thoughts a day, and 80% of those thoughts tend to be negative. This is because our brain is constantly looking for problems, alerting us, protecting us from danger.

So, when negative thoughts pop up, we can remind ourselves that nothing has gone wrong, that our brain is just doing its job. 

We can remind ourselves that no matter what happens with oatmeal, bacon, tickets or our kids, we can choose what we want to think about it. 

We can learn healthy ways to deal with negative emotions.

Next week we’ll get into specifics. See you back here for III. What’s a Mom to Actually Do?

I. Confessions of a Harried Mom

When I had my first kid, in my twenties, I didn’t have much of a filter. I said what came to mind and mopped up any messes later.

When I had my second kid I was in my thirties, and I had learned my lesson. Or had I? I didn’t want to be a mean mom. I had learned enough to (usually) hold my tongue when I was angry or frustrated. But I hadn’t learned what to do with those unlaunched, unkind thoughts. 

Those thoughts like:

You should know this by now.

Why do you make it so hard?

Can’t you see I’m doing something right now? 

I was surprised when this second son said to me, years later: You do this passive aggressive thing, Mom.

But it makes sense to me now, looking back. There must have been tons of times when I didn’t actually say unkind words out loud to him, but the irritation behind the words would find their way out through my tone of voice or the look on my face. 

So what is the solution? Moms are human. Even the loviest moms get irritated and impatient sometimes. What can we do with those grumpy thoughts that rise up unbidden? 

Turns out, there is a lot you can do. 

So this is gonna be a three-parter. Check back to this space for upcoming parts II and III:

II. Some Really Good Things To Know

III. What’s a Mom to Actually Do?

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?

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.

When Your Brain Enters the Scene

It’s not what happens TO us, it’s what happens IN OUR BRAIN that determines how we feel, what we do and all the results we ultimately end up with in our life.

How does this work? Let’s say you get this text from your son in college: he has quit school. 

Now, I want to make a point here: that message from your son is a circumstance. Whether he quit school is a circumstance. All circumstances are neutral. Neither good nor bad. They just are.

But you read the text, and your brain enters the scene. You have a thought.

Here’s the second point I want to make: we have a choice about what we think. There are unlimited thoughts to think in any circumstance. We may not realize we have a choice, probably nobody ever taught us that, but we always do.

Let’s look at some thoughts you might be thinking (and the emotion that thought probably would generate in you):

No @%!#ing way! He can’t just up and decide that! (in denial)

What the @%!#? After all we’ve done to get him in, all the money we’ve spent…I’m gonna wring his neck! (furious)

Whoa! I wonder what’s going on with him, what’s happened. (concerned)

Okay, third point: our emotions fuel our actions. So, in each of the examples above- feeling in denial or furious or concerned- what do you think you would do? Would you call your son? Your spouse? The college? What would the first words out of your mouth be? Would there likely be a showdown, a conversation, an edict given? How about your relationship with your son? 

Imagine all you would do and say in each case, and what might result from that. 

Here is a way to diagram the elements and relationships we have been discussing here:

A CIRCUMSTANCE is outside you, is always neutral, until you have a…

THOUGHT (or opinion, belief) which is always a choice whether conscious or not, where you give meaning to the circumstance, which generates a… 

FEELING or emotional/bodily reaction, that fuels…

ACTION all that you do, don’t do, say, don’t say, and that brings a…

RESULT in your life, initiated by your thought above.

Simply called “The Model,” this is a tool developed by Brooke Castillo, founder of The Life Coach School. We use a blank form- the five elements of the Model with blanks to fill in- to separate out and fill in all the parts of a situation in order to understand it better. 

Curiosity and self compassion need always be our guides in this work. As a coach, I ask both myself and my clients: By thinking this thought, what result am I creating in my life? Are there other thoughts I can think about this circumstance instead? To feel better about my job, my relationships, my life, what kinds of thoughts would I need to think?

Paying attention to our lives and making conscious choices are not new ideas. Socrates famously said: the unexamined life is not worth living. The Serenity Prayer says: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; And wisdom to know the difference. We find this echoed in all the great spiritual teachings and inspired works, across every tradition and culture.

We have so much more power in our lives than most of us ever take up. Power to choose our thoughts, to feel good about our lives, to act in ways that create the life we aspire to.

What Strange New Creature?

Remember returning home from college, so full of all your new ideas and experiences? 

In one of my holiday memories from that time, apparently fresh from a full body dive into feminist theory, I remember lecturing my mom and her best friend Peedie on how they threw away the best years of their lives on marriage and raising kids. Still makes me cringe. 

Are you wondering what strange new creature will arrive on your doorstep soon, after months away at university? And how you’re supposed to know how to parent this newly semi-adult, semi-independent kid of yours?

You actually don’t have to know; s/he will probably come home knowing enough for several people. I am joking… kind of. Seriously, just be open and curious. Not creepy and interrogational; just show interest. Conversationally ask questions. And not (just) about grades, class sizes, whether they liked a class or not. Avoid yes/no questions, as they can be showstoppers. 

Think of open ended, leading questions to get them talking. What are they finding most interesting about their classes? surprising about being in college? What were some of their favorite assignments, and why? If you hit on something that gets them to open up, keep it going: “oh yeah? hmmm… how so?”

This is how the strange creature will become less strange (or at least less unknown.)

And if s/he starts lecturing you on some particular socio-economic-cultural-gender privilege, or spouting esoteric theory… be gentle. To be passionate about new ideas is a wonderful thing. Even if you don’t love the idea, love the passion, appreciate the intellectual exercise. 

Try to stay calm and unruffled. Don’t take it personally. And try not to judge. As you calmly say, “oh yeah? mmm… how so?” visualize reminding them of this conversation in forty years. 

You chuckling, s/he cringing… so worth it!

Thanksgiving Planning (hold the Martha Stewart)

Do you have a college student coming home for Thanksgiving?

Are you making big plans for the holiday?

Are you thinking everything should be extra perfect for this special homecoming?

It might seem really important to plan the perfect homecoming Thanksgiving celebration to welcome your child home… but can I throw out a few things to consider?

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that Thanksgiving weekend is one of the most highly traveled times of the year, and that the weather can be unpredictable and changeable in late November. Whether flying, driving, or coming home by bus or train, there can be delays, cancellations, missed connections, heavy traffic, and difficult road conditions.

Emotions may be running high: kids homesick, parents missing kids. You may not have seen each other in a couple of months. Many first year college students are also keen to see their high school friends who will also be home for the holiday. 

Family traditions for Thanksgiving often include elaborate and lengthy cooking plans, large family gatherings, extra leaves in the dining table, tablecloths and candles.

All this happens in a very short time window, potentially made shorter by travel glitches.

You might look for ways to simplify this year: the menu, the guest list, the preparations.

But more importantly, you might consider all the above factors I mentioned in this way:

Here is what is NOT within your control:

Things. Other people. What they do and say and think. How they feel. Weather. Traffic. Sometimes: how the turkey turns out, or the pumpkin pie.

Here is what IS within your control:

How you respond. What you think, and how you therefore feel. What you value. How you act. How flexible or open you are or aren’t. How much humor you can find in life. How much of life you welcome and embrace. How much you allow everybody to be who they are. How much love and compassion you created for yourself and others.

Your Thanksgiving planning? See it as a perfect opportunity, like every other moment in your life, to practice how you want to live your life. 

Why Your Kids Don’t Text You Back

Here’s a question I hear a lot, from moms with kids away at college:

Why can’t s/he just text me back? 

Sometimes followed by: I sent her three texts today and she hasn’t replied to any of them! 

Or: he knows how I worry when I don’t hear back.

I can’t answer the question exactly, but I’ll take a stab at it:

She’s in class and has her phone off.

He’s late to meet friends for lunch and is running across campus.

She’s in the library, reading a novel for her American Lit class.

He is doing research for a history paper.

She’s sleeping in as she was up all night with a friend who’s having a hard time.

She is worried about her midterms next week and doesn’t feel like talking.

He is typing up his Geography notes.

She’s trying to figure out her schedule for next semester.

He’s in his Sociology professor office, discussing today’s class.

He’s struggling with a math problem.

She’s working on ideas for her business marketing class project.

S/he forgot to charge her phone.

He’s going for a run.

She is getting dressed to go out with her roommates. 

She’s looking for the R.A. because she locked her keys in her room.

In other words, they’re busy. Even if it’s busy hanging out with friends having a beer. They will get back to you when they have time, when they feel moved to, when they have something to say. 

Moms, I know you love them and are thinking about them and want to stay connected. Your kids know that too. And by not replying to every text, they are saying, as gently as they can: okay, Mom, that’s too much. I love you, but I need to be me, outside of who I am to you right now.

Your kids are creating their lives, independent of their family. Making new connections. It’s hard, it’s exciting, it takes focus… and it’s important. It’s healthy and appropriate.

What’s healthy and appropriate for you is to take care of yourself. Your thoughts, your feelings, your worries, your needs. 

And for you to live your own life. This is a perfect time for you to be redirecting all that wonderful loving mama-attention toward yourself. 

If you need ideas or support, I’ve got you. Click here to schedule a free, introductory, 30 minute call with me.