Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Read Between the Tears

Our pediatrician doesn’t know this, but he taught me something that has proven to be critical to my communication with Mrs. O.  He taught me to hear what she is feeling.  We had spoken to him only days after our son was born.  Little E. wasn’t breast-feeding well and Mrs. O. was at the end of her rope.  He examined our son, and gave us his recommendations.  Then, as we were leaving, he looked Mrs. O. in the eye and said, “You’re a wonderful mother.”  She started sobbing.  I could have kissed Dr. V!  I knew that was exactly what she needed to hear.  She was feeling like a failure.  She didn’t need more tips and techniques.  She didn’t need nutritional supplements.  She didn’t need medication.  He gave her what no one, including me, had the insight to give.  

I remember the day I ‘got it.’  It was in the middle of potty-training and we were having some very stressful days.  Since it was our first child, we were having to learn by doing and it didn’t always go smoothly.

I came home after work and Mrs. O. was telling me about the day’s potty-training adventures.  Our son, whom we knew to be capable of performing according to our expectations, just wasn’t feeling it.  He could be a ‘big boy’ when he wanted to be, but today he didn’t.  Mrs. O. was lamenting the magnitude of her stress.  She could sense that it was affecting our son, making him even less inclined to comply with her requests.  That, in turn, added to her stress and the whole thing snowballed from there.  She included descriptions of what she said to him, what he did and said and so on.

So, before I got it, my first inclination was to go over all the things she shouldn’t have said, and begin to come up with alternatives.  Thank God, I didn’t do that!  I had tried that kind of thing before and it just didn’t work.  I decided that she probably didn’t need me to tell her all the things she shouldn’t have said...she already knew that even though she hadn’t said it explicitly.  Mrs. O. was feeling like a failure.

After a brief pause, I started to tell her that I thought she was a great mom.  I told her that she was doing everything right.  If she wanted to talk to little E. about her frustrations to reassure him that would be a great thing and none of this was going to cause any lasting hurt on his part.  She started to tear up, and she started telling me all the things she shouldn’t have said...all that stuff that I was inclined to tell her up front.  She didn’t need me to tell her what she was doing wrong.  She needed me to tell her that she wasn’t a failure.  She didn’t need me to hear the facts of the day, she needed me to hear how she felt about the facts.  

Note to self: keep doing that.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

On leadership

Mrs. O. and I were talking the other day...I was actually talking and she was listening.  She gets really excited when I talk, but that’s another story.  She had commented on my lack of frustration that my laundry was a little behind, so I was explaining my theory: It’s all my job anyway.  I think it boils down to my definition of leadership.

The traditional view of husbandly leadership--at least the one I grew up believing--takes more the role of the tie-breaker.  The man gets 51% of the vote.  When we can’t agree on a particular issue, HE makes the final decision.  That’s what wearing the pants is all about, right?  Well, here began my quandary.  I couldn’t find any biblical example of Christ that supported such a view of leadership.  What I did find was something entirely different: washing feet.

Jesus washed his disciples feet.  The lowliest of tasks.  Now, if anyone had any reason to say, “that’s not my job” it would be Him.  He didn’t say that.  What did he say?  In my own words: I am your Lord and teacher.  I have covered everything from the most kingly of duties down to the most menial.  There is no task that is below you--you are not greater than I am.

It’s simple.  Logical.  Maybe that’s why I like it so much.

I concluded that it is my responsibility.  Basically, everything is ultimately my job if I am the leader.  Laundry, dishes, mowing the lawn, training the kids...everything.  I can’t do it all myself, and I don’t have to.  Mrs. O. is here to help, but it helps to view it as though she is taking jobs off my list.  If I take the ‘it’s not my job’ approach, then I’m either going to blame her or feel guilty for anything left undone.  But, I can throw out the expectation and the guilt goes with it.  

Now, the attitudes shift.  I end up being grateful for the things Mrs. O. does, and she thinks I’m being so gracious if I’m not stressed by the fact that she has ‘fallen behind’ on one of the jobs that she usually does.  

Why would that stress me out?  It was my job in the first place.