The past few weeks, I was knee-deep in preparations for Halloween.
These plans took center stage in our household for the month of October as my children waited in great anticipation for the big day.
And, this had me thinking about the roles we play in life. This had me pondering who decides the truth of who and what we are. This had me considering the source of what we bring to the world.
I purchased and put together costumes for all three of my children and believed that we were ready for the big event. We were all set.
Check, check, check.
But the night before Halloween, my ten-year-old daughter came to me and said, “I don’t want to be a pink lady from 1950’s. I changed my mind. I think that I want to be a waitress.” Which in the world of being a parent is not what you want to hear the night before Halloween.
I must say that I wasn’t terribly surprised because my daughter is at the age when children begin to define who they are relative to their peers and the rest of the world.
My daughter asks herself silent questions about her inherent worth and from where that is derived. I watch her contemplate the importance of what she looks like and wears.
And I consider it my job to continue to guide her back to her inner world. I lovingly remind her that who she is and the gifts that she has to offer all come from inside of her. They are all the intangibles.
I often remind my daughter that she is the unending love in her heart, the maturity she exhibits which is beyond her years, the desire she holds to advocate for the underdog and live aligned with integrity no matter the cost. I remind her that she is the deep insight she naturally provides to children and even sometimes adults (often I am at the receiving end of this wisdom), the drive she has to move beyond limitations, and the inherent focus she has to give generously to others. This is the real value of my daughter. These are the qualities that with focused intent will continue to create joy in her life and change the world for the better.
So, with this as the background, I picked up my children for lunch and to change into their costumes. And, although I am intending for it all to go smoothly, my daughter jumps into the car with emotions whirling with the centrifugal force of a tornado, and asks, “Did you find a new costume for me to be a waitress?”
So, I quickly realize that this situation was not going to miraculously go away. And, although I could clearly exercise my authority as a parent to draw the boundary of “I am sorry that you changed your mind, but you are wearing the costume we originally picked out and that’s that”, I believed that there was an important learning experience that needed to occur beyond “well that’s just life, so you’ll just have to deal with it”.
So, I decided to let it play out and see where it would take us.
I knew that my daughter hadn’t changed her mind because she was being self-centered or difficult. I knew that she was wrestling with finding the source of her identity and power.
When we arrived back home, the conversation went quickly downhill.
“Mom, you are ruining my life because you didn’t come up with a new costume for me”, my daughter spit out in desperation and when she realized that I hadn’t magically manifested a waitress outfit for her to wear.
I could tell that she knew that she was being completely unreasonable. I could see that she wanted nothing more than to put on the original costume. But, I also knew that she needed to work through this herself.
So, I pulled out everything that I could find for an alternative costume, and said, “These are your options. I am going downstairs to make lunch.”
There are three main principles I now rely on to get me through these mini-dramas and they revolve around the acronym ABC, Always Be Calm.
Always Stay Centered:
If someone is caught up in drama, and I immerse myself in their fear and anger, the chaos escalates and the problem takes longer to solve. However, if I remain calm and centered, and hold space for them to work through their frustration, the situation resolves itself much more easily and quickly.
Be the Example:
If someone is struggling with their emotions, it is my job to be the living example of how to move through challenge. In the moment, I can model a different perspective of how to deal with emotions of fear or anger. And being the example is a very effective teaching tool.
Pause and Wait for an Opportunity to Offer Insight:
Don’t attempt to rationalize with someone who is caught up in negative emotions. It won’t work. Wait for them to calm down.
So, about fifteen minutes later, my daughter emerged with her brother’s baseball jersey on and asked if I knew where the “eye black” was for under her eyes. She had decided to be a baseball player.
We were close to heading out the door, and my daughter looked at me with questioning eyes and asked, “Mom, do you think that people will know that I am a baseball player. What if they don’t think I look like one?”
And now here was my moment. Usher in the truth.
“What have I always told you? Who defines who you are? Who decides this?”, hoping that my question would lead her to the answer.
And my daughter responds triumphantly, “I do!”
“Exactly, you decide who you are and so it doesn’t really matter what anyone else believes”, I affirm.
I then seize the moment to share a bit more wisdom, “And what have I said is the most important part of you, the inside or the outside?”
And like music to my ears, my daughter replies with a grin from ear to ear, “The inside!”
“Yes! The outside is just a distraction. Focus on being the best possible you on the inside and everything else will fall into place. Well done!”, I exclaim.
And in that moment, I knew why this particular challenge, although minor in the whole scheme of life, needed to take its course.
When you don’t seek or need approval, you are at your most powerful. Carolyn Myss