“I’m sorry. My little introvert hasn’t had time alone today.”
I made this statement to a lady who was at the grocery store picking up last-minute supplies for a birthday party. She saw my daughter’s sparkly bow in her hair and gave her a compliment. My daughter was trying to squish her 6-year-old body between my leg and the shopping cart to avoid any and all eye contact.
“She’s looking at me, Mommy. Tell her to stop looking at me!”
My sweet girl refused to respond to the kind woman’s compliments or the conversation she was trying to initiate. As I stood awkwardly in the checkout line with nowhere to run and a leg that was losing circulation from being clung to so tightly, I took notice of what was making everything so awkward. Many different feelings were floating around in my head: a unique mixture of embarrassment for the way my daughter was acting, longing for the lady to know how amazing my little girl really is when she does choose to engage, and guilt for having any of these thoughts at all.
On the drive home, I thought about this situation and how many times I find myself explaining my four children’s actions to other people in fear of being misunderstood or facing unnecessary judgment.
“He’s just really tired.”
“She gets overwhelmed in big crowds.”
“He has a lot of energy he needs to get out.”
Oh, and my famous line, “We’re working on [fill in the blank with a behavior].”
These are just a few of the many statements made when I feel the looks of burning judgments all around me—or at least convince myself that these looks are, in fact, happening. Being misunderstood is my biggest nemesis. Knowing that people can’t see the full picture of my family’s situation or my children’s unique needs is difficult! I can’t let others into all the details of our lives, but I have this deep need to let them peek inside and learn more than they really probably care to. These little statements I make are ultimately excuses so others will be more accepting. These excuses give me a false sense of power and control in an otherwise out of control situation.
If my kid is melting down and I say he’s tired, then maybe someone will give us more grace for the behaviors. Because, more times than not, he really IS tired! If my joy-filled daughter I am always raving about shows up to a situation and isolates herself, I convince myself that those at the gathering will look down on her and never give her the chance she deserves. When my energy-filled son seems out of control, I want others to know that I actually am teaching him better ways to expel that energy and that his energy is part of what makes him so determined and driven.
But do any of these excuses actually work? And who are they for? I always think they are for the other person or for my kids, but ultimately they are for me. They are for me to save face. They are for me to feel like and project that I have it more together than I actually do.
One day I decided to stop. I needed to stop being my kids’ spokesperson and simply let them be kids—with all their crazy emotions and difficult back stories. I needed to be present to their needs in the hard moments and less focused on other people’s thoughts about them.
The excuses were second nature to me, and I didn’t realize it until I wasn’t allowing them out of my mouth.
Teacher: “We had a difficult time with your son in class today at first, but he turned things around!”
My first thought and what I wanted to say was, “Well, it’s been a chaotic morning and we didn’t get much time to calm him down before I brought him to class!”
What I actually said: “Thanks for letting me know!”
Then I turned around and spoke with my son about what was going on in his head and heart.
Inside, I felt better releasing the control. I cannot make people think about me and my family what I want them to think. Even if I list every excuse in the book. But what I can do is be there for my kids in the hard moments instead of spending my time and energy investing in changing the thoughts of others.
Sure, there are some situations where an explanation is called for, but I am choosing to be more discerning of those times. I’m taking a different approach and allowing my kids’ behaviors to be a work in progress and not a reflection of me. Because it’s not about me!.
Years from now, I wouldn’t want my grown kids around their group of friends explaining every little thing I do:
“Mom just gets this way sometimes when she doesn’t get much sleep.”
“Mom doesn’t really understand this because she grew up in a different time.”
No. This sounds terrible when I turn it around and walk in their shoes. I want the freedom and space to be me. The me who is grumpy in the mornings and a little naive but who is constantly working on bettering myself along the way.
I’m choosing to give my kids this same freedom. We are each a work in progress—no excuses needed.