by Wendy Keller, mother of a 20 yr old
My daughter moved back in with me this past weekend – for the fifth time in 14 months. I love her more than anyone on the planet, of course, but living together is hard on our relationship.
At dinner last night, I offered to pay the additional tuition for a university course she wanted to take and, long story short, she said I was pushing her to be an “over-achiever just like you and Dad.” From there, things escalated. Trying to stay grounded and conscious that the anger she was expressing had nothing to do with me, I snapped. Not into anger, into sorrow. After 10 minutes of being falsely accused, I literally went in my room, shut the door and burst into tears. I don’t know if married mothers get pushed that far, too, but I expect they do. My frustration with this child’s occasionally ungrateful, surly, sarcastic, even rude communication style sometimes just overwhelms me. Rather than say something I’ll regret, as I’ve done sometimes in the past, I chose to retreat to calm myself down.
In the end, we both apologized and she left to go see friends. I am certain she’s shaken off the incident, but it’s still troubling me. I review: I didn’t get angry. I used healthy communication skills. I did not raise my voice or stoop to discourtesy. I politely withdrew when things became untenable. I started out by trying to help her. The conflict began at the dinner table, while she was eating one of her favorite meals that I’d prepared and kept warm for her. Certainly, without a doubt (in my own mind) I am the Unjustly Attacked Party.
I bet you’ve been in a similar situation with a partner, a boss, a co-worker or maybe your child, too.
Someone is in your face and it’s just not fair.
Here’s what I should have done differently: kept my nose out of her life. My Great Idea of the extra college class is something she wished for aloud less than 48 hours ago, but young people change with the wind. I know that. I am meddlesome when it comes to her completing her education, and I know that too. And I know she hates it but I do it anyway. I press her buttons. I was a very different kind of person at 20, and I sometimes think she should be more like I was. I forget the #1 crucial rule of human interaction: the other person’s worldview is affecting their actions and reactions.
One level down, I realize I don’t have to be right, because it doesn’t matter in the long scheme of things. I just saved $550 by not having to pay for the additional academic course. How this 20 yr old person decides to live her life is her choice. I know I should offer my opinion, assistance and advice only when it’s requested.
Another layer deeper, I know that my motivation in offering her the tuition comes from my belief that my final duty as a parent is to get this child a bachelor’s degree and then I can be relatively free. No one warned me that my child would take more than 5 arduous years to graduate. I’d like her to be toddling toward independence, not moving back in with me every time life doesn’t go her way.
And at the deepest level, the soul level of who I am, I admit I am exhausted by parenting and I am bone tired. If she graduates sooner, I can do something else with my life other than be on call for her every need.
As I keep widening my own perspective, I can see that truly, my allegedly altruistic desire to pay for her course is really at least as much about my desires as it is about helping her.
I’ve found this to be true in other conflicts: when I calm down and peel back layer after layer of my own motivations, I find out I’m less the innocent victim than I thought I was. It’s tough to face my own inadequacies, but oh so helpful in preparing for the next interaction, ones that can increasingly come from a place of loving my daughter for who she is, where she is and the moment I have with her.
+ Other people have their own worldview and act accordingly
+ Seeing myself as a victim means only that I haven’t peeled back the layers to my core motivation
+ Everyone has the right to live their life as they see fit, and I have the choice to respond, avoid or engage
+ When I peel back courageously, I may discover that my motives are not as pure as once was thought
Which brings us back to Sophie and me. Having worked through my own true motivations, I have to admit (even if only to myself and you) that she’s partly right when she accused me of wanting her to be an over-achiever. And drat! Once I take that step, I realize that there were at least two sides to this conflict. I see clearly my own conscious and unconscious participation. This sets my heart free, clear and ready to engage lovingly with my daughter when I see her later. This stuff works for all types of human interactions. If we have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, then taking an accurate amount of responsibility for the interactions in our lives that cause us conflict is the highest form of that pursuit, because only by so doing do we attain freedom.
She woke up this morning happy as a clam, kissed me on the cheek, and left for her job waving and smiling.
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It’s for anyone who feels burdened, stressed out, overwhelmed, sad, depressed, distracted, lonely, off balance or out of harmony during this time of year. When it’s done on Wednesday, 11-21-12, it’ll be $10. But if you PRE-ORDER, I’ll send it to you then for just $5. Can’t beat that deal, can ya?