John comes home from work one day to find Sally in tears. “I am a terrible mother,” she cries!
“I don’t know why I ever let you get me pregnant! Any mother could do this better than me.”
Her three year old, Timmy, had tried to see how many revolutions a goldfish will make when you flush it down the toilet. He tried to teach the cat to swim too. Then he unwound a whole roll of toilet paper, wrapped himself it, and stalked around the house droning, “You’re not the mummy! I am the mummy.” Certainly not the kind of potty training she had in mind. All of that before lunch.
The rest of the day was even more daunting. Timmy, the three year old tornado, has reduced a perfectly capable mother– a woman with a masters degree and a nice even temperament– into a defeated mass of regrets. Did I mention that she is expecting their second child, too?
You’ve had days like that haven’t you? No? Oh. You’re one of those perfect parents who have discovered the foolproof secret to tranquil child raising. The rest of us secretly hope that the next time you and your husband or wife make love, the result will be a Timmy. Then we’ll see how tranquil you are. Heh, heh.
Prevent or Repair?
Now, this little article could go in many directions. We could follow Timmy and see what happens to a boy who has innocently unraveled his mom, as well as the toilet roll. Or we could follow his mom, Sally.
But remember John? He’s the daddy, and he just came home from a long hard day at the office and a truly horrible commute. Right now John’s own emotional reserves are on empty. Not only that, but events at work have made him feel fairly worthless. A collision is imminent. An explosion is only a few ticks of the clock away. How can they prevent it? Or do they just let it happen and bandage the wounds later?
Prevention is definitely better. And as any demolition expert will tell you, defusing the bomb is the first step. So how do we do that? For John and Sally, and little Timmy, there is a way.
First words are important. Look back at Sally’s words when John came home. They contained two accusations (that she was a terrible mom, and that it was really John’s fault for getting her pregnant), and a comparison (Any mother could do this better than me!). John could react to any or all of those, tired as he is, and the tensions would escalate. Or he could clam up, withdraw, and leave his wife in her emotional anguish. Neither is a good solution.
What will help? Sally needs some truth and John can help her find it. Because of Timmy’s tornado, Sally’s perspective is skewed. (More on that in a minute.) There’s something else this family needs first. They need to eat. That’s right. Leave all their feelings about failure alone for the moment, and have dinner. Someone said the hour before dinner is one of the most volatile for any family, and I think I believe them. Blood sugar is low, feelings run high. So eat! Then, after dinner, and after getting Timmy to bed, John and Sally can talk about the day’s frustrations.
Well-fed and a little more relaxed, with Timmy tucked in bed for the night, John and Sally can now talk about their no good horrible day. Let’s listen in and learn:
“So, Sally, sounds like you had a pretty rough day with our little boy.” (Great opening. Leaves the door open for Sally to respond and doesn’t make it sound like she’s to blame. Also shows that John is interested and involved.)
“Oh, John. Sometimes I don’t know what to do with him. If I was twins I still couldn’t keep up with him. I’m sorry for shouting and crying when you came back. I was just frustrated.” (Good response. Doesn’t blame John or Timmy, or herself.)
“Sally, my day was pretty terrible too. Missed a deadline, lost an account, and besides that I was stuck in traffic forever. That gave me that much longer to stew about my failures. So, what do we do now. What do we need?”
“I guess I need to know that I am not really a terrible mom, John.”
“Believe me, you’re not! There are some pretty bad mothers out there who have an occasional good day. But you’re a great mom who has an occasional bad day. Besides, what Timmy did wasn’t your fault.” (Lots of truth and affirmation in these statements, and Sally is ready to hear it.)
“I guess you’re right, John. Did you really lose a contract today?
“Yep! That’s me! The loser!”
“John, you are not a loser. You lost that account, but your stats for this quarter are still good.” (Sally is giving John a different perspective for his failure.)
“I’m sure glad I married you. You’re so supportive and encouraging, even when I don’t feel like I deserve it.”
“You do the same for me many times. No matter what happens we’ll always have each other.”
“Yes, and we’ll always have Timmy. But he really is a great kid, isn’t he?”
“He is. Now if we can just make till he moves out.”
(We pause here to give John and Sally some privat moments that require no comment.)
“Good night, dear.”
“Good night, darling.”
“You’re the best!”
“No, you’re the best.”
“Ummm, by the way, have you seen the cat?”