Reflecting, the day after.
It’s 6 pm. I am feeling pretty good about the day. I taught my classes, engaged with people in a way that felt meaningful, and then hosted a play date for my girls with fun snacks and activities. Not only, now a healthy dinner cooking on the stove. I could feel the pat on my back, because not all days are like this. Though I should have known something more was awaiting.
Just as we are about to sit for dinner, my girls begin to fight more noticeably. Fighting turns to complaining, toward each other and toward me. A few minutes go by as I observe. However, as they try to engage me with their aggravations more, I feel aggravation rising in me. My attention turns inward, not in a mindful way, but in a more egoic way.
Really, they are complaining? Did they already forget the play date, the fun snacks, the swinging on the hammock with friends? Do they not realize that “I” put in so much effort and worked so hard to make their day fun and nourishing?
Yes, this is now not about them. This is all about me. Over the course of several minutes, my aggravation turned to righteousness . The only saving grace – I was aware that I was becoming aggravatingly righteous.
Complaints and irritations were quickly snowballing, and, equally fast, I was putting up barriers; huge, tall walls to shut them out. In other words, I began to act out. I end up saying to the girls and my entire family, “I am done. I cannot do this anymore. After everything I did this afternoon, this is what you are focusing on.” I walk off on my own.
It is the next morning. What transpired the day before is now food for thought. What exactly happened? On the surface it seems obvious, but we all know that there is always more.
What is interesting is that even though boundaries can be quite skillful at times, how those boundaries emerge is what is important. Do they arise from compassion, perhaps the need to resource oneself or to feel safe? Or do they arise out of anger that turned to righteousness and pride or instead shame or guilt? And anger itself, does it stem from expectations that are no longer being met, yet we continue to hold to? The possibilities are endless, and the exploration meaningful.
Yesterday, my expectations were for my girls to be grateful and satisfied after a fun afternoon. With every minute that the fighting and complaining continued, my expectations were being driven further from the reality of the moment. Not willing to surrender my expectations, I instead became aggravated, angry and eventually righteous. This enabled me unskillfully to shift focus back to the girls in the way of blame and criticism for not meeting my expectations. Barriers up. Communication down.
It is also now more clear that yesterday I could have remembered that kids are kids. When they are emotional and charged, they literally lose connection to the parts of their brain that help them to maintain perspective. Talking does not always work at this point. Among many methods, space and breathing are a few things that can break the cycle. Perhaps if I had felt resourced enough, I could have seen that some of the fighting was arising because one of my girls felt unacknowledged by the other. As an adult, I know how that feels. Not fun. If I had been able to see that, I could have engaged a bit more skillfully and compassionately, even if boundaries were needed. Rather than focusing on how the situation was making me feel, I could have acknowledged the conflict and difficulty, and offered that we all take some healthy space from each other, myself very much included. That did not happen and it’s ok.
Thankfully, I did not reflect on this in a self-critical way this morning. Instead it felt more clear and kind. Clarity and kindness today will plant the seeds for tomorrow. Every day is an opportunity to start fresh.