It’s easy to write about the highs of all these personal development concepts and applications I love – how good I feel, how empowered. It’s harder to write about the lows. I wrote recently in the Way of Being (WOB) blog how my view of a person determines the quality of our interaction. If I view them as a real human being with feelings and needs instead of an obstruction, an irrelevancy or a means to an end, then I am more likely to be effective in my interactions with them. After all, who would you rather work or cooperate with? Someone who treats you as a person or someone that treats you as a problem?
I have also mentioned in the Must Be Seen As blog, I’ve always felt it was important to be seen as a good mother. As with so many things I fear, such fears end up being self-fulfilling prophecies if I am not careful. My fear of being a bad mother means that I try too hard to be seen as a good Mom: dedicated, invested, proactive, supportive, and worst of all, right. Needing to be viewed as this super-mom means that my kids must be terrific too. After all, if you are perfect parent, then your kids should be perfect too, right? When they’re not, my Must Be Seen As self rears its ugly head and I go into judgment mode: “The Kid won’t step up/work hard/take responsibility.” A genuinely supportive parent might say, “The Kid is doing his best and I will be as supportive as possible.”
Take, for example, a more neutral comment delivered to a struggling child, “What went wrong?” Such a statement can be said either with accusation and judgment or with sympathy and curiosity. The latter treats the listener as a person whose feelings and needs are important, so the recipient is more likely to respond in a relatively positive, non-defensive manner. The part that has not been evident to me is that one can still feel and convey judgment and criticism while maintaining a calm demeanor and tone of voice. And I’m never fooling anyone despite that calm exterior and quiet tone if my WOB is wrong.
Now I understand why the right action delivered with the wrong WOB results in an unexpectedly disappointing response. In the past, I would be like, “What’s with the attitude?” Now I understand that, even if done calmly, if executed with the wrong WOB, it will not go well. And I would be in the wrong. One of the little jokes I tell is that parenting is an experiment where you don’t get the results until your kids go into therapy when they’re 30 and find out how much you screwed them up. I have always said this only half joking.
My belief that this scenario will actually occur keeps increasing the more my self-awareness increases. My shortcomings as a parent, as a partner, as an employee, as a daughter, as a sister, as a friend, are so glaringly and increasingly evident where previously I have felt like I’d been doing ok.
In the past, this failure would’ve eaten at me, and I would’ve felt like the most miserable human being on the planet (a real first world problem.) Now I know that I’m just a mere, imperfect mortal like everyone else and that it’s more important (and realistic) to learn from our mistakes than to never make them. Now, I also can forgive myself as well as others when mistakes are made.
The rest of the experiment-ending-in-therapy story that I don’t usually relay has to do with me hoping that my kids will forgive me when they finally realize just how lousy of a parent I really am. I have long since forgiven my parents for less than perfect parenting since they try their best, just like me and everyone else. If my kids also realize that I was doing my best, flawed as it was, then perhaps they will forgive me too.