Community, Parenting, Emotions

I am rereading Thomas Merton’s No Man is an Island. In it he writes ” One of the moral diseases we communicate to one another in society comes from huddling together in the pale light of an insufficient answer to a questions we are afraid to ask.”  In community, it is easy to do this. In relationship, it is easy to do this. As parents, it is also easy to do this.

Having recently moved to a new city, I have had my habits shaken up. Living before in the midst of routine and habit, comfortable in relationships I had cultivated over time, I realize now, I had become complacent to some of my own habits, to some of the answers I lived in. Starting over here, now, nearly a year ago, I find that I have settled into this life. And with the overwhelm of newness settling, I note that there are many answers that are insufficient in my life.

Said more positively: In this space, I am noting a vast potential for growth. A friend used to often say to me, “the instinct is never wrong. But one can live it out in ways that are helpful or hurtful, supportive or not.”  This wisdom feels appropriate to me within this reflection. I am a very structured person: meeting deadlines, following through with what I promise. Yet, I have noticed that when under stress, exactly this “answer” to the question of how to show up to others and our commitments to them, makes me inflexible, intolerant, and impatient with others who don’t do the same.

In this new community, I have seen this so clearly. I am also reading Parenting from the Inside Out by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., and early childhood expert Mary Hartzell. In it they discuss the importance of acknowledging our children’s emotions. They share a story about a child bringing a jar of bugs into the house after collecting them. The parent can either freak out and say “get the bugs out of here before they get out” or he/she can acknowledge the excitement the child has about his/her collection and then say something like: let’s take them outside where they are happiest.

Though this idea is not new, reading it again last night reminded me of the importance of this in all of our relationships. And this practice of acknowledging one another’s emotional experiences, becomes a practice that holds us accountable to answering questions anew each day. Yesterday my son and another child played together at our house while I chatted with the little girl’s mother. As the time grew longer, my son got somewhat hyper and kept comig to me to nurse. I got frustrated because I couldn’t talk and because he was being very pushy with the other child. Later, I realized that I was not acknowledging his emotions. He felt ignored and perhaps a little unclear about how to relate to this other child who is new in his life.  He was communicating his need to have us all do something together, and possibly his need for support.

In parenting circles, the insufficient answer is sometimes apology for our children; yet, often, we only need to tune in to them and support them as they figure out how to negotiate a new environment. The previous week, when another new child was over, I organized an activity at our kitchen table for the children. They were able to work in their own ways on this project, I was able to communicate with the other parent, and we were also able to connect to what the boys were doing.

These stories are relevant to non-parents: how often do we not tune into the emotions of our partners, friends, family members? And how often does this result in discord?

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