Sunday, October 6, 2013

Fighting the Good Fight

“NO, NO, NO! You can’t do that,” the man half my age barked at me from behind the reception desk at the doctor's office.

I felt like I was a little girl being scolded. I think that was his intention. My knee-jerk reaction was to apologize obsequiously. After all, I’m supposed to have a psychic ability to understand what is right and appropriate in all situations, and when this psychic ability fails, it’s my fault.

teaching_conflict_resolution

But I’m not a little girl anymore, and I didn’t do anything wrong.

I’m a mom, who walked into the office with her two year old and looked around for any hazards that might tempt tiny, sticky fingers. When I spied several plastic cups of half-drunk water lying on the table next to us, I picked them up and took them to the water cooler. As I poured one into the drain, the receptionist decided to school me, as if I were a four year old.

I didn’t apologize. Instead, I said to him calmly, “I don’t appreciate the way you are talking to me.”

He had the gall to yell at me, “Well, you should have asked first!”

My next thought was, “Well, if you had done your job and kept the waiting area clean, I wouldn’t have had to.”

But I didn’t want to get into an argument with him about the content of his expression. My beef was with his poor, poor approach. Plus, now, there was a new problem. Now, I was really pissed, and when I’m really pissed, I know to keep my mouth shut or I will say something that I regret. Worse, I might just explode.

So I sat down, while the rest of the people in the waiting room tried to ignore the elephant in the room. I was shaken and embarrassed. I was struggling to calm myself down, something I needed to do, in order to entertain my two year old before seeing the doctor.

Conflict is hard enough without having a two-year-old appendage. If Claire weren’t there, I would have walked out of the office or made a phone call to let off some steam.

But life doesn’t offer that kind of generosity to parents of young children.

So I sat there, trying to read a book to my daughter, while barely able to focus.

Thankfully, Claire’s only two, so she zeroed in on the book, instead of my inability to calm myself after a fight. But I couldn’t help but wonder what she would have taken away from my interaction, if she were older.

Someday, it’s going to happen. Despite our best efforts, conflict simply cannot be avoided in life.

I was glad I stood up for myself, but I questioned whether it would have been easier if I had chosen not to engage with that man and just moved on. I would not have, then, had to deal with the man’s obnoxious comment back to me, which rendered me so mad that I couldn’t see straight.

It's important to me to teach Claire how to deal with conflict and how to soothe herself while it's happening and afterwards. These skills will serve her for a lifetime.

To this end, I focus a lot energy teaching Claire to calmly speak her truth.

In reality, I don’t have a good grasp on how to disagree peacefully, as an adult. Modeling what to do when you are struggling to remain in relationship with another person is not a strength of mine.

And, in this situation, I barely entered the fray. There are times when I'm either the instigator of the bad behavior myself, or I return my fair share of volleys to my worthy opponent. I'm not brave enough (yet) to write about those moments!

I don’t think that society helps the situation either, particularly when it comes to women. The cultural pendulum seems to swing between two opposite, equally corrosive extremes. You are either supposed to be the good girl and suck it up. Or adopt an “I’m mad as hell and I just can’t take it anymore” attitude of movies like Waiting to Exhale. While watching Angela Bassett "exhale" works as a super fun, cinematic conceit, it’s not exactly the exemplar of how to lead a good and moral life.


There has to be a balance between being a complete people-pleasing push-over and resorting to slash and burn tactics. In my experience, both approaches seem to have the uncanny ability of ending up burning you as well -- the former through implosion, the latter through the repercussions of your explosion.

But what do I know? I don’t have any answers. Really, this post is more of a question. What would you have done in my situation? How do we teach our kids to have a “good” fight, every now and then? How do you bounce back for your kids when you’re taken off your center?

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39 comments:

  1. Rachel, I have been in these situations many times, and I, too, wonder what the correct way to handle myself is. What I normally do is try not to think about it so hard after it happens (which is hard, I know!) and if I do think about it, I think about it in a productive way: How do I feel about my response? Did I stand up for myself appropriately or did I let myself get walked all over? Is my response worth the annoyance of having to think about it all day? And based on how I felt about it and what I feel I could have changed in order to make my point known without engaging too much with someone who just wants to start conflice, I'll think about what I'll do in the situation next time. And hopefully I'll put my thought-out responses into action in a calm way that makes the situation more comfortable for me and my children.

    But it sounds like you're already doing all of this. I swear you were in my head when you wrote this post. This is how I always am after confrontation!

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    1. "And hopefully I'll put my thought-out responses into action in a calm way that makes the situation more comfortable for me and my children." That should have had "the next time" on the end of it. :) Also, I meant conflict, not conflice. Is conflice even a word? And if not, could we make it one? Haha

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    2. So thoughtful, Shay. I love your zen approach.

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  2. Rachel, I have been there before myself and even got into an words with one of the crazy dance mothers last year, because apparently when you have a blog you shouldn't post a picture of someone else kids birthday cake (never posted a pic of the kid or any other kids, but my own), but the cake picture annoyed her enough that she had to tell me nastily months later at the girls last dance class. It was odd and awkward and I am not one to argue back, but I was offended and felt completely put on the spot to defend myself. I did, but without trying to make a scene and she called me all sorts of awful names in front of Emma while Lily was in class with her daughter. I was glad that Emma really didn't seem to react there to it, but still I was so uncomfortable for the last half hour that class and like you said others totally had to fight the big, white elephant in the room. And by the way, I chose not to dance with the kids again partially because of this, because I realized I should not have to defend my online writing to anyone, least of all this crazy mother. But yes, I felt and still feel like did I react the right way. So, yes I know what you mean to be treated poorly and almost as if you are a stupid, child who needs to be reprimanded by someone else is not right at all.

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    1. It's just so hard to feel pulled into someone else's madness, isn't it? It's like you're just minding your own business, and "wham"!

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  3. Rachel,
    Those moments suck. At times, I say something that I wonder later about (was I too rude? justified? over the top?) and other times I don't say anything at all (which I also later question...should I have been more outspoken?). When these moments happen in front of our kids, it's so much harder. Because yes, we do need to teach them to stick up for themselves but we also need to teach them self control and manners. It's such a hard call. I'd probably have done the same thing - especially at a doctor's office with other people in the room. Ugh.
    The worst is when I call my husband to vent and he totally doesn't get why I'm so upset afterwards. Which makes me question my own brain and reactions!

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    1. Yes, we usually just want some sort of validation so we don't feel so alone or like we are crazy!

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  4. And thank you so much for featuring Bravery! You rock! :)

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  5. I don't have any clear cut answer but Claire will learn from watching you in all the ways you respond and as children famously do, she will adopt some of it and outright reject other parts so she can be her. Also, that guy was a dick but who knows what his back story was- perhaps he's the one who has to empty the water cooler and it's really SUPER hard.

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    1. Well...then, he needs to put up a sign, so people don't have to read his mind.

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  6. You did exactly what you were supposed to do. You said your peace and let it be. She won't ever know how you felt in that moment, but she will see how to interact appropriately when a situation like this arises.
    Good job momma!
    And yes, our society does have skewed view on women's reactions. "No self control"...pft.

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    1. Thanks, Kimberly. For everything you have said.

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  7. I applaud you. I hate conflict and would probably have apologized not given the fool the calm response you did. I think you showed Claire exactly how a lady should handle herself: with grace and courage.

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    1. Thank you, Kerri. Your encouragement means the world. Really.

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  8. It's good to stand up for yourself, and even better to shake it off. I think you're too hard on yourself: having children see the work it takes to calm down is every bit as important. I didn't have that growing up - I was surrounded by towering rage, all the time, and as a result, as an adult, it's taken me years to learn mindfulness and perspective techniques.

    What's worse is that my friends and spouse often think I'm minimizing their worries when I ask them to rate their issue on a scale of 1-10.

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    1. You have brought up a very, very good point about children seeing the work it takes to calm down. I completely agree with you that that is important. When she is older, I do plan on telling her when I'm struggling to calm down. Excellent response!

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  9. I can SO relate to this post, Rachel, except I would have sadly done what you describe in the second paragraph. I would apologize - because as you say apparently we women think that we're supposed to intuitively know all unwritten protocols - and leave it at that, feeling both hurt for the way I was spoken too and ashamed for how I handled it.

    I think you should be proud of yourself for not accepting that tone as you should be for not continuing the interaction.

    Once again you always choose the exact words I would have wanted to use to describe a situation.

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    1. I've certainly handled many situations with an unnecessary apology! Thank you for your encouragement, Katia.

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  10. I agree with what you did. Though it definitely isn't easy. We live in a world where no one wants to take responsibility for their own actions.When they get angry or frustrated or upset, EVERYONE knows. Then it's dismissed as 'not their fault' because they have 'road rage' or some such excuse. And that's all it is. An excuse to let go and not try to control yourself. Imagine what the world would be like if everyone was taught, as young children, to control their temper. To bite their tongue. That man would have simply smiled, or, even though it wasn't his first impulse, thanked you. What truly amazes me is that, in this day of universal germophobia, glasses of someone else's water would have been left where a child could have touched or - heaven forbid - drunk them. And in a doctor's office!!! Sloppy, dangerous practices!

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    1. Diane, my daughter absolutely would have tried to drink them. I know her. That's why I did what I did!

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  11. I think you handled it wonderfully well!

    I am the epitome of polite, and I remember saying a curse word to a clerk at Blockbuster once (the only time I think I have ever cursed at anyone), when my teen son was with me, oh my gosh. I still wish it had never happened. Thinking about the way that woman was talking to me still irks me. She couldn't find my name in the computer because it was misspelled but was accusing me of not having a membership. SO dumb, and it would have been so easy to handle it nicely, but I didn't. We all screw up sometimes. That's life.

    You didn't this time, I think you were perfectly fine. Admirable even.

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    1. Rosey, you clearly are the most lovely of women. I can only imagine what it must have taken to get you to that point! Shame on that Blockbuster woman!

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  12. Oh my gosh, you KNOW this hit home for me. I have such a bad temper. If I don't explode, I start to cry. It's really pitiful. I'm impressed that you were able to just sit there and say nothing calmly. I need lessons, please.

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  13. Ooooo girl! His response should have been "Oh! I'm sorry! Let me take those for you!" It's good to stand up for yourself in front of your kids and if you get angry well, not being a doormat is never a bad thing... I commend you!

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    1. Doormat, yeah. I don't want Claire to see that!

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  14. i'm either hot or cold. sometimes, the meek asian in me just shuts up and takes it. because...what good would it do for me to say anything. other times, i just give it right back to them! honestly, i've always felt better just speaking my peace and giving it back to them. it seems to have worked in my favor, particularly career-wise.

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    1. I am too. Really, I clam up because I don't want the fiery side to be unleashed. It isn't good for anyone. Least of all, my daughter!

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  15. Rachel, You handled your self perfectly. I would have said nothing and wished I had ALL day. BTW My next child will be considered a geriatric pregnancy and I do not like the terminology either! Jodi from http://thenoiseofboys.com

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    1. Really, the voices in my head are worse than the interaction!

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  16. Congrats on MOAM book- I loved it!
    Jodi @thenoiseofboys.com

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  17. When you started this post and described your shaking feeling I immediately knew what you were feeling. I get those same reactions at times. And I absolutely zeroed in on Angela Basset in Waiting To Exhale. Man our brains are alike girl!! I think you handled yourself perfect. I'm not sure if I would have done the same. I would like to think I might have. Thankfully we just move on and await the next idiot that thinks we are psychics. The nerve ...

    ¤´¨)
    ¸.•*´
    (¸¤ Lanaya | xoxo
    Raising-Reagan.com

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    1. Happy to have a brain like you, Lanaya! ;)

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  18. So pleased you stood up for yourself - there is absolutely nothing worse than walking away and thinking "I should have...."

    Kate x
    Kate at Home

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    1. Kate, you ALWAYS have a way of summing things up in the pithiest of ways!

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  19. I too would have said nothing and just obsessed about it endlessly, because that's what I do...

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    1. Yes, I do it too, Sarah. Sometimes, I think I'm my own worst enemy!

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  20. You write such great posts. You are so right that kids learn from our modelling - well done for keeping your cool. I realise my total hypocrisy sometimes as I scream at Goblin "Don't shout at me" - i must sound like such an idiot.
    I'm featuring your post this week on SPP cos its awesome

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    1. I know. I do the same thing. Sigh. Thank you for your kinds words, though! I'm glad I am not alone, and that this post resonated with you!

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