I had a kind of epiphany yesterday evening. Maya was up at her friend Greta’s, after having an overnight here at our place. Two nights before that was her overnight at Marcella’s. (cat poop day) When we picked her up from Greta’s on our way to dinner, she looked kind of out of sorts. We got in to the elevator and I said something inane like, “Are you annoyed about anything?” Seriously, don’t you hate it when people ask you that? I always feel like responding, “Not until just now.”
The words left my mouth at the split second my brain said, “No! Come back!” But of course it was too late. Maya gave me her ‘look’ in response, and I said something non-committal and dropped it, all the while thinking to myself, “Why do I feel the need to question her?” Her snarky attitude lingered for a while, probably longer than it would have had I not opened my mouth. I realized that it was probably exhaustion putting her out of sorts, and that the best course of action was to say nothing. Silence. Parents might be well served to do less talking and more listening if they sense their kids are not in the best of moods. And when I say listen I don’t mean insist on knowing what’s the matter and then waiting for their answer. (Or worse, leading the conversation with phrases like, “are you anxious because of…?”) I mean just don’t talk. If they want to tell you what’s going on, they will. Sometimes they just want to be left alone with their snarkiness, and get over it by themselves. I know I certainly do.
Most adults I know would not deal well with someone hounding them to reveal why they seem less than Mickey Mouse Club cheerful at any given moment, but parents do it ALL THE TIME. Take a listen next time you’re out and about in a park or playground or anywhere with a lot of kids and parents. Inevitably there will be one or two kids looking like they’d rather watch water boil than be where they are, and there will be a hovering parent saying things like, “But what’s wrong? Don’t you want to play with the others? Did something happen to upset you? Are you hungry? Are you anxious? ” (the gagging noise is me channeling what I imagine the kid is feeling at that moment.) Jesus, people, just be quiet and let the kid sulk in peace. This includes me – although I would never in a million years ask my kids if they were anxious about something, as I may have mentioned in a past post.
We parents think we have to ‘fix’ everything. Kid is upset? Our mission is to find the source and ‘fix’ it. Of course, the source might be our constant interrogation. Sometimes I feel irritated for no good reason – nothing I could identify in a coherent way to someone who was insisting I tell them. And the best medicine for me is just to be allowed to feel that way until I feel better or figure out why I’m annoyed on my own time. I bet the same goes for most of you. The golden rule applies. Even to your kids.