Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Secret to not Criticizing—Spend no time with Children!

I’ ve just experienced exactly 63 hours of Lenten success, avoiding criticism for that entire time. The secret? I was on a business trip and therefore spent not a single minute with my kids.

Of course, I totally blew it the morning I left, not just descending into criticism but also what could be called cursing and laying the biggest most awful mother guilt trip I’ve ever done. Here’s what happened.

The night before I left, we sat down over dinner and discussed the plan for their lives in the 3 days I’d be gone. I had chopped up our St. Patrick’s day leftovers into corned beef hash for dinner, purposefully saving a bunch so the 2 kids who would be taking the MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System ) exam could fry some up with an egg for their big pre-test breakfast without me.

I’m a slightly nervous flyer, so I like to have all my relationships as reconciled as possible before I travel just to make sure everyone will say nice things and remember me well at my funeral should the plane crash. There’s nothing more upsetting than fighting with a family member before a plane flight.

So of course, the next morning, when Scott and I were supposed to leave for the airport at 6:30 a.m., at approximately 6:15 a.m., one of our kids threw a complete fit that I was not frying up the corned beef hash and egg for her on this morning of her exam. The same child who, as the best cook and baker of the younger set, is perfectly capable of frying up her own pre-made corned beef hash and egg.

But NO, the fact that I refused to cook for her was just proof of how I love my work more than my children and suck as a mother.

Now I know this child struggles with anxiety so always has to fight with me after either of us spends a night away from the other. When we reunite, she’ll pick, pick and pick at me until I finally blow up. Even when I say a calm, “You seem to want to fight with me. I don’t want to fight. Please go to your room until you calm down,” she’ll keep at it until I finally lose it, yell, and bring her to tears. By then I’m so incensed I feel like Donald Duck with the proverbial steam coming out of my ears. Later, she’ll eventually tearfully approach me with loving words and requests for forgiveness.

I don’t know why the fight/reconciliation cycle is so necessary for this child each time we’re apart, but it’s a pattern that’s been going on for years.

That this child started the pattern before I even left her rather than when I came back, plus castigated me over not meeting expectations I had already set the night before, plus was doing this all 15 minutes before I needed to walk out the door, meant I just went ballistic.

I lost it. I cursed her out for her selfishness and character flaws finally ending with “This the last thing you want to have in our relationship if I die in a plane crash? Us fighting and screaming at each other? You’re going to feel so good about ruining our relationship if I die.”

She rolled her eyes, “Mom, now you’re being overdramatic.”

As we reenacted our quintessential mother-daughter drama, Scott cooked her a quick breakfast, pandered to her, and calmed her down so that we got out the door by 6:38 a.m.

I fumed the whole way to the airport with Scott reminding me that as the parent, it’s my responsibility to control my side of the conversation—that she can’t help herself as a kid, and I need to not escalate things. Which of course made me even more mad.

That’s the problem with my criticism fast and frankly sin in the first place—it’s pretty hard to give up besetting sins and character flaws no matter how much you want to. It was a lot easier to give up dessert, which no matter how tempting, is external to me, than it is to give up the judgmental spirit married with quick rage embedded in my soul. Like the apostle Paul said

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. (Romans 7:15 TNIV)

I called my daughter after I got to Chicago, checking in on how the MCAS went. She was happy—it was a long composition test, she’s a great writer, and she had already decided that she was going to try to twist whatever question they asked into writing about water-skiing. The prompt, “Describe a time when you felt proud and why” was perfect for her topic.

We didn’t talk about the morning fight—hard to do over the phone, so I didn’t apologize and neither did she, but we ended with our typical “I love you” sign-off that ends all our phone conversations when I travel.

I got home safely tonight. We’ll see if I can negotiate our first day back tomorrow without caving into this pattern. She’s caught a cold, I got little sleep, so it’s going to be dicey.

And next time I travel, I pray I can make it through the morning in peace so that if I do crash and die, her most recent memory of me at my funeral will be sweet.


Anonymous said...

i totally hear you. in fact for this Lenten season, i have given up complaints. it seems to me (as it does to the rest of my family) that everyone's mood is directly correlated to mine. i doubt the absolute correlation. however, decided if it's up to me, then i'll try. being intense as i am, when i am not complaining i am the annoying optimistic on call!! so, let's see which one bears more positive impact on my family's mood.
the dynamic of complaint-frustration-anger-yell-guilt trip is no fun, however ever present in our family relations. i often think of the same verse in Romans, and wonder why God, why? in need of serious help down here!
this weekend, i am going away with a girlfriend from church sans kids sans husbands. if i utter a single complaint i am doomed :)

Dan said...

Thank you, Kathy. I am finding myself deeply grateful to you for both selecting criticism as the subject of your fast, as well as sharing the results. That you have selected such a thing that a) is internal to you and so not easily defined (was that criticism? or that?), and b) requires all the more that you turn to God for help. I have only ever selected fasts that I know I can do. I am grateful for your courage and vulnerability. Thank you for sharing.