Responding With Emotion

emotionsBeing a stay at home mom is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I don’t know if it’s just me (there’s no way it can be just me), but something that doesn’t seem like it should be so emotionally, mentally and physically exhausting just is. Big time.

There are parents out there who make it look easy, whose children are always spotless and matching and who have dinner on the table by a set time every night. I am not one of those parents. (Yes, we had dinner at 7 pm tonight and yes, my daughter wore two different flip flops that were also two different sizes to her play date last week, although I must point out that she chose to, and actually is the owner of several pairs of matching, correctly-sized shoes).

What I think makes it so hard (besides the missed naps, tantrums, picky eating, sibling rivalry and potty training, of course) is that what we parents are dealing with everyday is the responsibility of raising little people who have very strong ideas about what they want and do not want, and those ideas don’t necessarily mesh with our own. And in this way, how we parent is a reflection of how we interact with others.

Understanding Relationships

You don’t have to have children to understand the difficulties and dynamics of a relationship. All relationships, between boss and employee, sister and brother, friend or neighbor, deal with different people and their sometimes very different needs and wants.

It is these differences that make human interactions so interesting and fraught with potential, and yet these same differences may create the complications we face in any relationship we have.

How could he do that to me? we think angrily. Why is she acting like that? And I’m the first to admit that while trying to see from another’s point of view is a useful, empathy-generating tool, it is not always easy to do, especially in the heat of an emotionally-intense moment.

If my daughter bites my son, it’s hard for me to think What did he do to make her so angry? Why was she so frustrated? in a rational way. Instead, I’m angry – she’s five, old enough to know how much biting hurts, old enough to know it’s not allowed in our house. Instead of reacting to that anger, what I try to do instead is simply see her emotion for what it is, and address that first.

Addressing Emotions

She’s angry. What helps an angry person calm down? Yelling? Or reacting calmly and allowing them space they need to calm themselves? When a friend is sad, sometimes the best thing I can do for them is to acknowledge their sadness. “I’m so sorry you are feeling this way. It sucks to hurt so much. I’m here.”

That’s not to say that imagining their point of view isn’t a good thing – it helps immensely with both compassion-building and mind-opening – but sometimes the most helpful thing to do is just acknowledging another’s wants and needs, even if we don’t understand.

Because we don’t and won’t always understand, but that doesn’t mean relationships can’t or shouldn’t take place. If you look at a spouse who’s being short with you and see a tired, overworked human, it can make you respond with empathy instead of irritation or anxiety.

If you look at a crying child and their see the sadness for what it is – sadness – you may just want to help make the sadness go away, instead of feeling frustrated or annoyed that they’re crying again.

I find that when I respond to the emotion first, when I allow the other person to simply be a person, riding the same ups and downs of life that we all do, the outcome is much better. When I allow an angry child to calm down, they hear my words. They respond with love. They try to make right what they’ve done wrong.

When I see frustration, and try to find a positive solution to end that frustration, communication is usually much more clear and effective. And of course if doesn’t work all the time. We wouldn’t be human if it did.

But when we allow ourselves and others to feel what they’re feeling, when we validate their emotions by addressing them for what they are, we can help manage those emotions and work towards healthier ways of dealing with them. We can make difficult relationships just a little bit easier.

[Photo Credit: Scott Robinson]

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