Recently, I was reading a piece in a magazine by a woman whose husband had left her for another woman. She was coping with the betrayal, in part, by repeating the phrase, “There is nothing personal going on here.” It sounds crazy, but realizing that the problem wasn’t her, it was her husband’s own drama, made it easier to accept and easier to deal with fear and anger.
The piece resonated with me, and the words “it’s not personal” kept popping into my head in the following days.
I’ve long held the belief that when people get angry or frustrated, it’s often for the wrong reasons. That person who cut you off in traffic didn’t do it because he picked you out specifically to annoy; he’s just a rotten or a distracted driver. That coworker who slacked on a project didn’t do it to make you look bad and steal your job; she may have been tired or overworked or maybe just is not a team player. Yes, it’s difficult when there aren’t enough checkers at the grocery store and the lines are long and tempers are flaring and the kids are climbing in the cart and squashing the bananas; but management didn’t cut staff with the express intention of making you mad. It’s my opinion that there are very few things worth getting truly angry over.
But somehow, I have had a hard time applying this theory when it comes to parenting. When your children are misbehaving or being defiant or tantruming or just being difficult, it’s really hard to not take it personally. Sometimes it feels oh so personal.
Last week, my husband was out of town for work, and my kids were dragging out bedtime one night. After my 5 year old got out of bed for what seemed like the hundredth time, I got angry and said, “Why are you guys doing this to me?” And then it hit me. They weren’t doing anything to me. Bedtime battles are incredibly normal. Developmentally speaking, 5 and 3 year olds aren’t supposed to want to stop playing and exploring and go to sleep. I have a problem settling down at night too, that’s why I do yoga.
It was not personal. My children had not huddled together in their room and made a pact to stay up half the night and keep me from cleaning and paying bills, and let’s be honest, blogging and updating my Facebook status.
Once I acknowledged that the bedtime struggles were not a personal vendetta against me and my desire for alone time, it was easier to be rational, easier to put the kids back in bed one more time, easier to not blow a gasket when they wanted water, easier to tell them that they needed their rest to be healthy and that I was done answering questions and fetching water and helping in the bathroom.
It worked. My calmer self led to calmer children who stayed in bed and went to sleep.
The next time I’m struggling as a parent, I’m going to remember this. It’s not personal.
Try it. What do you think?