September 12, 2016
Our children need to know they can rely on us. They can’t do that until we know that we can rely on ourselves.
Over the years nothing knocked me off center more than when my child was in pain. Sometimes the emotional pain is harder to deal with than the broken bones. Watching him hurt and not being able to fix it was gut wrenching at times. Especially when his distress was turned on me. Because of course we’re the first line of defense when they’re losing it, right?
But I was lucky — I had a secret weapon. It didn’t take away the problem. It didn’t even take away the pain. But it kept me grounded so that I still had something of value to offer him, in spite of the fact that I might have been imploding inside.
My secret weapon was, and still is, a visual image of a paddle ball toy. It’s a simple wooden paddle that you hold in your hand and play with by repeatedly trying to hit the rubber ball attached to a rubber string. It sounds easier than it actually is. (Great stocking stuffer!)
No matter how hard or fast or crazily that ball bounces off the paddle, the paddle never changes shape or color or purpose. It is the stable base of the game. When I applied it to myself, I realized that that board could be my reminder to be the one place/person that he could rely on when he needed predictable, nonjudgmental and powerfully grounded juju when he couldn’t find his own.
I didn’t always remember. Sometimes I’d get caught off guard. Those were the times when I devolved into a five-year-old debating with my fourteen-year-old. Many years ago I heard someone say, ‘Don’t ever get into a pissing match with an adolescent because you’ll always lose. They are relentless in their need to be right.’ It strikes me that I just described everyone I know. So note to self: don’t get into pissing matches with anyone!
The best part has been that there are no age limits on using this visual. It doesn’t matter if he’s 5 and somebody just punched him, or she’s 16 or 36 and just lost the love of her life. You can be the place. The calm in the eye of the hurricane. This is where it’s good to be so predictable that you’re boring.
Bonus: most tools that have benefitted my relationship with my son seem to, in one way or another, benefit all my relationships. So whether you have children or not, I’d love to hear if you think this might apply to any of your relationships? Or even better do you have another visual that you can share with us?