One of my children tends to take after my husband personality-wise, with a “doom and gloom”/”life is unfair”/”woe is me”/”cup is half empty” mentality. It’s a personality trait that I personally find very frustrating and one that has a tendency to cause discord in our family. I try to help my child by validating feelings, being supportive, being present, and by offering to help come up with suggestions and solutions. However, there is only so much a parent can do, and at some point, I have to acknowledge that my child’s feelings belong to my child and that I do not have the power to change them.
It leaves us at a bit of a stand-off. My child is upset and frustrated and feels at odds in a world where mom isn’t fixing perceived wrongs. I find myself begin to get frustrated because I’m doing my best to try to help someone who claims to want help but really doesn’t. When I’ve done everything I can, I let my child know that and give a simple reminder that only we can choose how we feel. No one can make us feel angry or happy or anything else. We have the power to make that choice for ourselves. My child can choose to focus on the negative or choose to focus on the positive, but I no control over another person’s choice.
And then, before I can blurt out anything I may later regret, I take my own advice and focus on the positive. I choose for myself to be happy, partially to model the reminder I’ve just given and partially because the alternative, focusing on my child’s negativity, isn’t very pleasant. This used to be more difficult for me and I would feel my frustration level creeping up. Then one day I read something and it gave me an idea. I would focus on everything positive around us and share it with my child. That was an exceptional day for me. When my child focused on negative feelings, I did what I could, and then changed my focus. I can’t say for certain whether or not it actually cuts down on the time my child is negative, but it definitely makes that interim easier to live with.
So, for example, last week when when my child was frustrated at not being able to reach the end of the slip n’ slide, I validated those feelings. When asked for solutions, I helped come up with possible ideas. And when those ideas were discounted and my child was angry with me for not fixing things, I acknowledged that it wasn’t my issue to work through. I reminded us both that we each have the power to choose how we will look at life and how we would prefer to feel. Then I started verbally focusing on the positive. I mentioned how lovely the temperature was, the slight breeze that ruffled my hair and felt good against my skin, the beauty of the trees, spending time with my children, the butterflies that flew around us, etc. It wasn’t long before I felt much better and was able to take my own advice: to choose to be happy. Around that same time, my child came and sat with me and we enjoyed time together and reconnected before another, more determined, and noticeably happier, attempt at the slip n’ slide.