If you know me, you know I love my friends. I live for friendship. It nourishes me and keeps me alive. The hardest thing about COVID for me is the distance I've had to keep from the people I love.
So when I recently learned that a close friend isn't speaking to me, it was really painful. Especially since she won't even talk to me about it. I can't fix it.
I've decided to try a new strategy: To embrace it. To lean into the pain and discover what I can learn about myself.
I have a really hard time with people being mad at me. Or not liking me. And the painful truth is that people have every right to be mad at me, for whatever reason they like. It doesn't have to be a good reason by my standards. They don't need my approval. It's not about me, it's about them!
I'm having a hard time really believing this, but I'm working on it.
Trying to manipulate other people's emotions so that I can feel better is selfish.
Our culture would tell you that "helping" others to feel better is a selfless act of service, but this is a lie. It's only generous if the other person wants to feel better. Imagine if a loved one just died and your supposedly well-intentioned friend tried to "help" by telling you, "Oh, don't feel bad, she lived a really long time. It was her time to go."
You would be furious, right? Because that act of "comfort" is only about the other person's feelings. Not about yours.
My friend has told me she doesn't want to talk to me right now. She gets to have whatever thoughts she likes, and take whatever action she likes.
My job is not to fix that situation, but to work on my thoughts about what that means about me. Intellectually, I know that her thoughts are her responsibility, but it's hard for me to believe. My parents taught me that it is my job to fix other people's feelings. It turns out that this is really hard to unlearn.
But I'm working hard on it. And I encourage my clients to work on it, too.
We never want our children to suffer. We all want our children to be happy. All of the time.
What is hard to admit is that we don't just want that for them. We want that for us, too. Because we assume that when our children are suffering, it means something bad about us. And that is unacceptable. Too painful to accept.
I'm struggling with this, too. As I've previously shared, my five-year-old Amelie had epic tantrums over the spring and summer. The longer she was out of school, the worse they got.
She started at a new Waldorf school in September. One with small, fully-outdoor classes and masking, one where I feel safe and she does too. I am sure she misses the larger community at her old school, but I could see a visible sigh of relief overtake her small body within a week. She's bursting with pride as she insists on setting the table in her own special way -- "No, Mommy, that's not how you get things done! This is how you do it." She carefully slices tomato and pear for the salad. She joyfully taught us a new grace at dinner.
And then her teacher's mother caught a cold. The teacher cancelled class for the rest of the week.
And boisterous Amelie was thrown into chaos once again.
I do my best to provide structure for her but the truth is, I never wanted to be a preschool teacher. What I love is being a sleep coach. And an entrepreneur. I'm learning so much from my clients. I don't want to take a few days off to hang out with Amelie, as much as I love her. I don't want to create things for her to do all day. I try, anyway, but it's not enough.
The tantrums returned.
And the worst thing about them is that I take them personally. When she screams at me, "you never listen to me," I argue. Because of my thoughts about what her accusations and her anger mean about me. That I'm not a good listener. That I'm not doing enough to keep her happy. That I'm not a good enough mother.
That last one gets us all, right? We all think that if we just did enough, just tried enough, our kids would be happy. All of the time.
On the surface, we all know that's laughable. But it's still what we want. Our children to be happy all of the time. Just like we want our friends to love us all of the time. That's not too much to ask, right? :)
I took my friendship conflict to my weekly coaching session to get help with learning about myself. She helped me create an unintentional model to help me see how I am currently thinking, and then an intentional model to help me get the result that I actually want.
Circumstance -- "I think I need a break right now. Thank you for understanding." (The words my friend said to me.)
Thought -- She doesn't have any right to be mad at me. The thought underneath that is, if she does have a right to be mad at me, it means there is something wrong with me.
Feeling -- angry, defensive
Action -- obsessing about the situation.
Result -- I am sitting with a belief that there's something wrong with me because my friend said these words to me. What am I not doing? I'm not sitting in a place of compassion for either one of us. This is not how I want to show up in my life.
I need to give my friend space to have her own model. I want to be in a space of love and compassion. But I'm not there yet. So I am working on an intermediate thought. One to bridge the gap and get me to a place of compassion for each of us. How about, "she's working through something right now." Or, "she's having some big feelings right now." Maybe I'm not ready for compassion right now.
My coach said "she said some words. I'm learning to believe that these words don't mean anything about me. Her words reflect her model. I'm practicing believing this. I'm practicing the belief that she has a model that has nothing to do with me. I'm practicing the belief that I'm not responsible for her happiness or unhappiness.
Circumstance -- "I think I need a break right now. Thank you for understanding."
Thought -- She's working through her own model right now that sounds hard or painful for her. I am not responsible for her model. I can have compassion for the pain she may be experiencing. All of our feelings are based on our thoughts, not on our circumstances. Her feelings don't mean anything about me.
Feeling -- relief
Action -- I stop obsessing and focus on things that I can control, like my own thoughts and actions.
Results -- I am available to people who want my time and energy, like the loving friends and family that called this weekend to wish me a happy birthday.
What if it's not true that other people's feelings are not our responsibility? What if our children get to create their own models, too? What does it mean about us as parents if our children are unhappy?
If your children aren't getting the sleep they need, they can't be their happiest. But you can't force them to get better sleep or to be happier. When you change their circumstances to allow for better sleep, they may be sad or angry at first. We can create space for their big emotions without it meaning about us as parents. This isn't easy work to do. I'm still "practicing" it myself.
I'd love to support you do this work to get your children the sleep they need so that they have the opportunity to be their best selves. Set up a free consult and I'll share with you how we can support your children through a challenging transition on their way to better sleep. In nearly every case, the transition is far easier than parents fear.
Oh, and Amelie is back in school and after a week, the tantrums are gradually fading away again. Thank goodness. But I am ready to practice letting her have her feelings when they return.
Abby Wolfson is a pediatric nurse practitioner, certified child sleep consultant and former NICU nurse. She divides her time between Brooklyn, NY and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.