My stuff and theirs
I had an aha moment recently, which came from a variety of sources, and I thought I ought to share it with you in case I’m not the only nutcase going quietly crazy at times over adoption issues. (Cryptic, much? Please forgive me; I’m sitting here in the coffee shop at 6:18 am waiting for my coffee to kick in.)
Anyway, I’ve had various moments with
But in the back of my mind I also know I’m being triggered somehow in a way that I don’t quite understand. I’ve hashed it out with my momma a few times. (She’s my free therapist, and believe me, she’s as good as any paid ones out there.) But all I could come up with is that I cannot tolerate disrespect from kids. So they better get the sass outa their mouths. Or else.
Problem is, they’ve experiences plenty of ‘or else’– usually chores or loss of a favorite activity or early bedtime or early rising to weed flowerbeds, etc– and still they choose sass. And still I fume.
Of course they’re wrong to be disrespecting me. And since not all of our teens have been in our family since babyhood, it makes relationships much more complicated than average. (Folks who say discipline is discipline– do it right and you’ll get good results— well, most likely they don’t have a full grasp of the challenges of adoption issues, especially with kids adopted at older ages. There’s extra challenge, that’s all there is to it.)
Basically, what worked with some of our kids wasn’t working with others. And the resulting relationship discord wasn’t blessing any of us. Since I’m one of those stubborn problem-solver types of people, I wanted to figure out what I’m missing about these difficult interactions, and why rudeness so sets me off.
The first bit of revelation came a few months ago from The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind. It’s an excellent quick-to-read book that does a fabulous job explaining brain function in a really understandable way. I can’t recommend this book highly enough, whether you’re parenting adopted kids or kids born to you or just dealing with humans on a daily basis. It’s good stuff that we’d all do well to understand better.
My main takeaway from this book: we have lower-brain (dumb-brain) and upper-brain (smart-brain) function. When we’re overly stressed and feeling threatened, we all go into that lower-brain (flight-or-flight) functioning, where typically we make lots of illogical choices. In fact, one of the signs of dumb-brain thinking is rigidity and lack of creative problem-solving. The better regulated we are –this has to do with oxytocin flow and the development of our middle brain– the more able we are to calm ourselves and use our upper brain to make wise and thoughtful choices. We all have moments of disregulation, and kids who’ve experienced trauma often struggle extra with self-regulation. But we can help our kids (and ourselves) get better at it.
Basically what was happening in a lot of these conflicts with my teens is that they’d get mad and start thinking with their lower brains, making bad choices illogically, not caring about the consequences I was tossing out. Because their disrespect was making me feel threatened, half the time I also ended up reverting to dumb-brain functioning. Definitely not optimal. But why was rudeness such a trigger for me?
The next little snippet of insight came from this little video series about disrespectful kids by Dr. Bryan Post. He explained that disrespect can actually be a coping tool, something that helps folks blow off steam, regulate their emotions, and gradually come back to a homeostasis. The example he gave was the way a typical person responds to their alarm clock. Usually there’s grumbling and sighing, but a few minutes later we’re up and resigned to getting on with our day. He said that when parents try to shut down what is eventually going to help our kids get regulated, we may actually be pushing them to act out in bigger, less safe ways. A more effective approach may be to hear and validate kids’ gripes instead of shutting them down. (Here, even though I was hearing his point, I was thinking, I still need kids to be respectful even while sharing feelings. Respect is just huge in my mind.)
But then came the real light bulb for me. He asked the parents to think back to their own childhoods to figure out WHY disrespect is such a trigger for them; our parents never would have allowed half the stuff kids do today, right? I know my dad never would have. There would’ve been World War Three right there in the living room. And in fact, the few times I tried it as a kid, there was. Much misery. Much relationship rupture. My dad was a good dad and I still love him to bits. But he lost his cool majorly when we were disrespectful.
And therein lies the reason that my kids’ disrespect triggers me. It sends me back to the most unhappy memories of my childhood. Moments of extreme relational unhappiness. Moments that I wished never happened. And so when my kids disrespect me, all I’m thinking is, ‘This has got to stop-NOW.’
The feeling is irrational in its intensity. Because, looking at it logically, my kid rolling her eyes and muttering sass under her breath isn’t at that moment causing true danger. Yeah, it’s wrong. No, it won’t bless her to do that to a boss when she has a job some day. And I do need to address it and encourage my kid toward right. But AT THAT MOMENT it’s not truly risking anybody’s life.
So when my blood starts boiling at the disrespect, instead of losing it, I can remind myself why this moment is hard for me. I’m being triggered, taken back to a stressful time in my own past. With that logical self-talk from my smart brain, my dumb brain can chill, NOT go into overdrive. I can keep my perspective on the size of the issue, keep on thinking with my smart brain. I can give my kid a calm reminder and a few minutes to turn off her dumb brain and turn ON her smart brain. And then we’re all happier.
Will it extinguish the rudeness eventually? Maybe, maybe not. But me being in control of my junk is a huge step towards helping them eventually control theirs.
For more info on wise self-reflection, I also highly recommend the book Parenting From the Inside Out, also by Daniel Siegel. Good stuff. I’d love to hear from other mommas struggling with frustration. How do you handle those moments when your kids are getting on your last nerve?