Friday, July 22, 2011

Peace of mind on demand

Oh, when all I worried about was making sure my children had nice friends, good grades, great health, solid self-esteem and regular dental appointments.

Done, done, done, done and done.

It strikes me that as parents of (young) adult children, our worry doesn’t cease, but only takes new forms between 1:50 and 3:05 a.m.

What if this one or that one doesn’t get the job he/she really wants? What if that one over there doesn’t get into the college he’s fallen in love with? What if the one with everything going her way gets mugged walking to the T? What if, what if, what if. Worry is worse than a bad song that lodges itself in your head, like “You’re the Inspiration” by Chicago.

So I call Jane about some of these. I call Christine about others. I talk to my mother about most of them. In few cases do I talk to my children directly. And why? Because for so long we absorbed their worries like giant parent-sponges and reassured them that fear is a feeling, not information. Now that they are their own sponges, it would be wrong to ask them to absorb ours. But sometimes the advice we get – about our children, or other things – doesn’t quite hit the target.

Then we must become our own counsel. Here’s how. Sit yourself in an imaginary chair across from yourself (don’t do this at work or in the kitchen when everyone’s around). Listen to yourself tell the story of your worry. It is important to take the time you need to hear yourself out and not leave the self-counsel unfinished (unless of course, your brother sends you a hilarious text or FedEx arrives with a box that says Pottery Barn in the upper left corner).

When you’ve heard the whole thing, you will be surprised at the simple truths that emerge from the snarl of circular thinking. When you get to the point of wanting to offer advice, you’re on the way to a better night’s sleep.

It works. If you’re basically happy and optimistic, it is like wearing shoes on the wrong feet to be at odds with life. A little imagination, and you can produce a new view of your tangled thoughts and bring yourself closer to your own counsel. And because you can carry your new therapist around with you day and night, it’s peace of mind on demand!

If it doesn’t work, you can always go to, where they now have free shipping on all pillows.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Peacekeepers and face-punchers

I am going to say a thing or two about confrontation. Not only because I love and consider communication an art form, but because I will finally be able to use the word “heretofore.” Watch for it.

Hello. My name is Susan and I am a confrontationalist.
Hello, Susan. 

Here is my story. I never wanted to be a confrontationalist, in fact I wasn’t particularly good at it. I just wanted like hell to never be passive-aggressive like that man down there by the door, a couple of paragraphs from now.

But – this just in from the file of things my children learned twenty or thirty years before I did: Confrontation and communication are not the same thing, like Lancome day and night moisturizer (which yes they are, save your money). They are as similar as birds and plants.

If confrontation leads to communication – a mutual understanding of one another – it’s only a nice accident because confrontation says “you’re a jackass and here’s why.” Communication says “we’re both jackasses – let’s get past it” and ends with – a mutual understanding of one another. One who wishes only to confront should just write an email and not wait for a response. I’ve done that. It solves nothing, and can leave wrinkles in a relationship too deep for even Lancome to fix. Better to take your gripe into the shower where the acoustics are good, you can say what you want, and it won't make you wince five or six years later.

For good reason, there is someone with whom I have clashed and with whom I should probably communicate soon. I’m frustrated, not angry – angry happens when there is a threat to my person or to my family’s collective person. And though I am less frustrated-not angry than I was, if I were not frustrated-not angry, I would communicate with my confrontee now. If I were not frustrated-not angry, I would remember that this is a person I basically like and just let it blow over. (In my thirties and sometimes in my forties I would have confronted my confrontee while I was angry-not frustrated and be apologizing by now).

Instead, I’ve decided to let time take the wheel.

While I’ve been thinking things over, I’ve noticed that I rather like this pre-communication state in which I can envision an outcome because I haven’t sabotaged it yet. And we all know it’s better than the post-communication state when one has decided not to communicate at all, because one “hates confrontation,” and so resolves to peck the whole world to death. You know this guy?
Unfortunately, the person with whom I wish to communicate is usually, to some degree, angry-not frustrated, which is part of the reason we need to talk. When the time comes, I, a peacekeeper, will be interested in – a mutual understanding of one another - while my confrontee, a face-puncher, will be interested in unfurling a scroll of heretofore unexpressed complaints. Somewhere on my confrontee’s person is probably a notebook with a page that says "Susan" at the top.

In the meantime, I’ve been considering the way my children communicate; how they are able to accept their own part in a conflict without accepting all the blame for it. That’s a fine line, but they know where it is and how to walk it. It’s a line worth seeking, even if you have to travel a bit to find it.

So a little more time will pass, and then if frustration-not-anger, hasn’t given way to acceptance-not-avoidance, I will invite my confrontee to clear the air. I will have it on record in my mind that I was more interested in reaching agreement than hearing the sound of my own words, which heretofore have already softened with time.

Update 9/30/11:  Found the line, had the talk, gained and became a better friend, and kept my face.