Good Luck With That “Normal” Thing

Perhaps you have heard that I have some children. Entirely more than a respectable woman ought to have, in fact. I have even heard tell that there are those who point to my old woman living in a shoe lifestyle as evidence that I may be a bit touched in the head. Sad. But true. Fortunately for me, it turns out that being a bit touched in the head is pretty much a prerequisite for good parenting, so it’s all worked out just fine.

At any rate, two of my children are currently man-boys who are 20 and 16 and completely awesome. Not that I’m biased or anything. You’d think they were completely awesome if you met them. Although you’d probably be glad you weren’t responsible for raising them.

So recently my 20 year old expressed his concern that I was often excessively harsh with his 16 year old brother. And that this might cause the 16 year old to think it was OK to be excessively harsh with the 5 year old. And the 5 year old has made it clear to everyone that she is the reason for the existence of the entire universe, so this constituted a threat to the well being of all that is.

Now, the thing you need to understand about the 16 year old is that he is, at all times, right. He knows it. I know it. Everyone who knows him, knows that he’s always right. Except when he gets stuck in his own head or is being irrational. In which case, you pretty much have to drag him kicking and screaming by his hair out into the light of day to wake him up. When he was a kid, I used to give his teachers very simple, specific instructions for how to successfully correct him. Those who did not listen paid the price.

So, I called Mr. Always Right over and said, “your brother here is concerned that I am excessively harsh with you sometimes.”

He, of course, looked completely confused, laughed, and checked to see if we were just pulling his leg. (Always a distinct possibility in our home.) ‘”Dude, I’m going to need some examples to go on here,” was his response. He was clearly completely befuddled. As was his brother at this point.

Now, as I have indicated, the 20 year old is male. So obviously he can be really dense. But mostly he’s incredibly sensitive to everything and everyone around him. Which means that the older he gets, the more subtle the touch required to move him. Anything more than a persistent firm nudge feels like an armed assault to this one.

“I never talk to you the way I talk to your brother sometimes, right?” I asked the 20 year old, who looked appalled at the very idea. “You would feel terrible if I talked to you like that, but obviously your brother isn’t experiencing me as particularly harsh.”

I could practically see it dawning on the 20 year old how different his brother actually was from him. Which, as well as they know each other, one would think he would already know. But obviously it had never occurred to the 20 year old that something as basic as our emotional responses could be completely different from one person to another. After all, our emotional responses happen pretty automatically. And we all experience the exact same emotions. So it’s very easy to assume that your normal emotional responses to the world are normal for human beings generally rather than for you particularly.

I suspect that many, if not most, if not all of us make the error of assuming that we are normal and therefor all seemingly normal people must be pretty much like us. In fact, I was in my mid-30s when it really sank in that maybe – just maybe – I wasn’t actually normal. Me. The woman who has so many children that they’ve basically created their own subculture together. The woman who is in Mensa and married to a black guy and swears while discussing theology and doesn’t own sweats or a proper pair of athletic shoes. I actually thought I was like baseline normal. (Obviously I have some masculine tendencies.) I’ll wait until you’re done laughing to go on. . . . Continue reading

When Parents Disagree

What I’m about to say flies in the face of nearly everything you’ve ever heard on the subject of how to handle disagreements between parents. But it’s my blog and my life and I can do that when I see fit, right? And on the topic of how parents should handle disagreements between them, I have no problem saying that the standard advice is horrid and wrong.

So, no doubt you have heard many times that while you and your partner may have disagreements when it comes to parenting, it is important that you present a unified front to your kids. Which is, if I may be so bold as to say this, utter bullshit. And if you take it too far, it can be damaging to your kids to boot. Allow I to explain.

No two people will ever agree on everything. And inevitably when dealing with something as challenging and complex as parenting, sharp disagreements will arise. This is reality. And unless reality is so ugly that it would traumatize your children, you are never doing any favors to your kids when you hide reality from them. At some point they are going to have to head out into the world and find their way. So they need to have some idea of what they will be dealing with and some idea of how they can manage.

Pretending that you and your spouse are in total agreement when it comes to parenting is nothing more than hiding reality from your children. And it’s totally unnecessary. Continue reading

What Ever Happened to “Shake the Dust From Your Feet?”

Words of wisdom from Scott Dannemiller, aka The Accidental Missionary on how to deal with those you disapprove of:

Recall what Jesus told his closest buddies the first time he sent them out. He told them to heal, cure, and comfort, proclaiming God’s name along the way. And he added,

“If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.” (Matt 10: 14)

Sounds harsh, right? But he doesn’t add, “And leavest thou a flaming bag of poo on their doorstep, and drape their olive trees in Charmin.”

Jesus is telling us to let it go. Self-righteous outrage is not worth the trouble. If judgment is to come, let Him be the sword. Meanwhile, save your words. They hold little value anyway.

But . . . but . . . even Jesus got angry, right? Sure. And let’s look at what Jesus got angry about:

A “hangry” Jesus got mad at a fig tree when he walked by and noticed it bore no fruit. He overturned tables like Patrick Swayze in Roadhouse, outraged with the money lenders turning a temple into a strip mall. He expressed outrage toward anyone who would harm a child, sounding a bit Tony Soprano-like when he said they would be better off sleeping with the fishes.

Got that? Jesus got angry about hunger not fed, the commercialization of the holy and harm to children. If what you are angry about is one of those things, fine. But if you’re angry about any of the usual hobby horses that drive conflict with and in the church, Jesus says to let it go.

Don’t yell and scream. Don’t appeal your case to the powers that be. Don’t explain your position over and over and over again to people who have already rejected it. Don’t go to war with those who reject you, your message or God himself. Leave it for God to deal with. Even if you think it’s an idiotic way to do things.

When You Can’t Agree

It is one thing to oppose what you think is messed up; it’s a whole other thing to be and live the alternative. ~ Jim Palmer

At some point, you have made your best case and your opponent has made their best case. You still disagree and are certain your opponent fundamentally misunderstands reality. Any further discussion will quickly devolve into “unuh”, “uhhuh” levels of discourse. Repeating the same set of arguments over and over is a good sign that you’ve entered into this stage.
When this happens, resist the urge to have the last word and wrestle your opponent into submission. Instead, devote yourself to living out your vision of the truth.
Trying to explain and argue your vision of God’s truth to someone else too easily becomes a substitute for taking action. Often, before God is able to use you, needs you to give up the arguing.
Stop trying to win the approval of your opponents. Instead, focus your thoughts and energy on creating something which is good, in and of itself, and not just better than the way you have rejected. There’s the off chance that you and your opponent with find your way into unity.
But that’s not why you do it. You do it because God does not reveal his truth to us so we can win arguments. He reveals his truth so we can live out of it. This is how we become great. It’s how we stand tall as the trees, stronger than the storms and with a beauty that all of heaven loves to see.

Learning to avoid conflict

For some people the problem isn’t tolerating conflict; its learning to avoid conflict that’s the challenge!  Conflict is part of life, but its important not to allow unneeded and unproductive conflict to become a regular part of life either.  Even when it’s necessary and productive, it’s not fun!

As a rule, if the conflict is triggered by your emotional state (I’m crabby) or an emotional reaction (you’re pissing me off), it’s unneeded.  If there is an ongoing problem or pattern that is upsetting, there are many much more productive ways to find a solution than letting your emotions lead you into conflict.

Also, if you are walking into a conflict knowing what’s going to be said and with no realistic hope of resolution, do what you can to skip it.  Maybe the time isn’t right or the best solution hasn’t presented itself you.  Or maybe its one of those things which will always be a sore spot that you just have to deal with.  But conflict with no hope of resolution is generally pointless.  Just avoid it.

How to avoid it?  Smiling and nodding is a good go-to method.  (“That’s an interesting approach.  I hadn’t thought of it that way before.“)  As is just admitting your own struggle: (“I’m really irritable right now.” or “This is always a sore spot for me and I’m not up for getting into it.”)  Asking to revisit the issue later can also be helpful.  (“I’m sorry, but I’m just not up for getting into this right now.  Can I come and find you so we can discuss it when I’m feeling better?”)

Sometimes peace isn’t the destination you’re headed towards.  When that’s the case, simply keeping what peace you can salvage is the healthy, feel-good way to go!.

Learning to tolerate conflict

There are many people who believe themselves to be peacemakers because they avoid conflict at all costs.  But peacemakers don’t avoid conflicts, they walk through them in order to find peace – if not an actual resolution.  To be a peacemaker, you must learn to tolerate conflict – even when that means having someone mad at you!  (This doesn’t mean tolerating abuse from someone who is upset.  Leave the room, the building, the area or whatever  you need to do to get away should you find yourself involved in a conflict with someone who is being abusive.  And don‘t apologize for it!)

To start learning to tolerate conflict, first try speaking up for yourself in a situation where you would normally keep quiet.  Sometimes we are so conflict adverse, we hesitate to even mention our preferences or opinions.  Start challenging yourself to just speak up for yourself in little things like food or entertainment preferences.  Make up an opinion if you don’t actually have one!  Just learn to say what you think without being afraid of causing offense or disagreement.

Of course, the reason people hate conflict is because you can’t just say your piece and have everyone jump up and down with praise and agreement.  (My preferred reaction to whatever I say!)  People will push back and this is where we can lose it.  But if you usually back down at this point, just take a deep breath and state your case calmly.  Listen, pause to think, respond.  If you are not used to conflict you will almost certainly find that you are better at dealing with it than you thought you would be.  But you don’t get to peace by backing down.  Be willing to walk through the discomfort of disagreement – it is your chance to learn to make peace from discord!

Looking for the Good – People Edition

Finding and explaining what’s wrong with people is a great past-time.  It’s fun, easy and makes you feel better about your life.  It’s the junk food of human relationships!

Believe it or not, figuring out what’s good about people is a great past-time as well.  It’s challenging, satisfying and makes you feel better about the world.  It’s the gourmet meal of human relationships.

There are always people in our life who cause us to yearn for a delete button to use on them.  It could be our child’s principal or some politician or your own family.  Instead of just letting them drive you nuts over and over, make yourself look for something you could genuinely like about the person.  Turn it into a game if you need to.  Some people need you to think of multiple things to like about them just so you can stand their existence.  Well, guess what?  They aren’t going anywhere, so you might as well learn to like something about them!

Black-White Conversations We’re Afraid To Have

Northwestern University just put out a study which found that white people avoid dealing with black people or discussions of race out of fear of doing something which will cause them to be accused of bigotry. This is probably one of those “We need researchers to tell us this?” things.

As many of my readers know, I am married to an African American man, so we’ve had many of those conversations which most white people avoid like the plague. I’ll just say that it’s been interesting.

Over time, I’ve come to see the relationship between white Americans and black Americans as being like a bad marriage. Neither side trusts the other, each attributes the worst possible motivations to anything the other side does, neither is willing to listen to the other but continually demands that their concerns be taken seriously, etc., etc. The solution to a bad marriage generally requires the two parties to stop being so self defensive, listen to each other, avoid responding negatively at all costs, be willing to do the right things for the relationship irregardless of what the other person may or may not do, etc. I believe that it will take the same sorts of actions between white and black Americans to actually move past the distrust and hostility which we generally deal with each other with.

I think that one of the biggest problems with the black-white relationship is that we fail to understand or appreciate how things look from the other’s perspective and then insist on assigning the worst possible motivations to what the other group does (or does not do). I believe that if we are willing to start making a real effort to understand the other group’s perspective (not necessarily agree with – just understand that POV as sincere and real), it would allow us to stop being so defensive and hostile with each other.

I bring this and this study up because my husband recently shared an idea he has about just the sort of “white persons inadvertently messes up, black people go ballistic” interaction which seems to have made white people so nervous that they avoid race at all costs. Continue reading