Monday, January 5, 2009

My salute to object permanence

I had to send my Christopher to his room for the evening tonight. It really sucks. I hate doing it, but I knew it had to be done. He was a bit out of control. We were in Walmart and he was angry that I would not buy him something. We were there to buy a birthday present for a friend. He didn't want to accept that, and was angry with me. He knew that the time had come to silence his protests, but he was still angry. So instead of fighting with me, he chose to take his anger out on his brother Daniel. He picked a fight, then decided to hit Daniel. So I told him that when we got home he was to go directly to his room and he would spend the rest of the night there. We would bring dinner up to him as he was not allowed to be with the family if he could not act appropriately around them.

Does it sound a bit harsh to you? Banishing him for the whole evening for batting his younger brother? Well, let me tell you that I have been trying to work with him on this subject for the last month or so. I have given him the benefit of the doubt several times. I have tried other methods - talking things out, time out, spankings. Nothing has been working. Plus he is resorting to that most annoying behavior, the "Please please." You know what that is, admit it. Here is what it looks like and don't even try to tell me you have not seen it if you are a parent:

"(Insert child's name here), I told you to stop that!"

Response: "Oh, I forgot."

"Do that again and you WILL be punished."

Response: "Oh, okay, I won't do it again."

"There you are, doing _____ again! Didn't I tell you not to do that? You are going straight to your room the minute we walk in the door buster! You are in bed for the night!"

Response: "Please please Mommy (or Daddy), I won't do it again! I promise promise!" They say this last as if you should know that by saying the word promise twice they REALLY mean it this time.

"No. I told you last time that if you did it again you would be punished! You did it again anyway. You are going to bed when we get home!"

At this point the response is nonverbal to begin with...a tantrum, followed by screaming and crying, "No! I am NOT going to my room!"

And it only gets better from there sister.

The hard part about this is that I really do understand. I understand his feelings and sympathize with him. I know it's hard not to just turn around and knock someone's block off when the person you really want to pummel is out of reach for various reasons. Maybe they are older than you and/or bigger. Maybe they sign your paycheck. Maybe there's a court order forbidding you from doing so, or if there isn't and you do this, there will be. Maybe you just know that even though they deserve it, we are instructed to turn the other cheek. Or maybe you just know that you have to continue working with this person in spite of how things turn out and it might be better to not burn that particular bridge.

A friend of mine was telling me recently about someone she has to work with who is a real jerk. She was trying to remain Christian in her dealings with him, but by her account he did not seem to think that it was necessary that he do so. She really wanted to knock his block off. I wanted to encourage her to in all honesty. He really seemed like someone who would be difficult to bear. She kind of seemed like she was looking for advice, so I did my best. Wanna know what I told her?

I told her to let him know in no uncertain terms, that he was acting like a jerk. Speak the truth in love. I told her that I personally believe that this is just as Christian as the "turn the other cheek" way of doing things. Sometimes I think it is moreso. The example I used was of a parent with a child. I asked her if she would tell her children when they were acting like jerks. She said that yes indeed, she would. Why is that? I asked. She said that she felt that it was her job to let them know when they were not acting appropriately in civilized society before someone bigger, with more muscle and less compassion and love does.

So if you should tell your children that they are acting like jerks, my theory goes, why not tell this someone who is not your child? Because it won't change anything for the better she responded. Hmmmm. But who are you telling them for? Them? Or you? While I fully believe in speak the truth in love, sometimes I think you need to do that because it benefits you to get it off your chest. Once you do that, you can often move on and let go of it.

I wonder why that is. Why telling someone that they are being a real jerk can often allow you to move past their jerkiness. Maybe just speaking the truth out loud somehow allows you to put a face to the feelings whorling around inside you, and putting a face on it allows you to categorize it outside of yourself. The problem can be sorted into the "it's you, it's not me," box, which creates a boundary. Boundaries are important. To learn to separate yourself from others. To know which things are yours to own and which things are not.

This is a task that developmentally is really early. One of the first things a baby must learn is that it is separate from its mother. When Mommy goes away, baby cries. When Mommy returns, baby stops crying. Experts tell you the reason that this happens is that baby has not learned that Mommy will come back and that Mommy is a separate person. When this task is learned, the crying stops when Mommy disappears because baby knows that Mommy will return. This is referred to as object permanence.

Are we adults who struggle with telling someone when they are acting like a jerk struggling to relearn this object permanence thing, but in a different way? Are we struggling to understand that when someone is jerky to us, that doesn't mean that we are also a jerk? I think we all sometimes forget that others are not having the same collective thought - that we are jerks. Individuals may think that, sure, but I think sometimes that when someone is rude, unkind or otherwise jerky to us that many of us are reacting as if that is what everyone must think. We put this into the group consciousness and fail to remember that not everyone is the same. There are millions of individuals out there ... they are not the same as you nor are they the same as the joker who is treating you so unfairly.

So when we experience these jerks in our lives, what should we do? My thoughts on this, which you are obviously interested in if you are still reading, are this: We should send this jerk to their figurative room until they can act civilly. We can choose to send them dinner if we do not want to be the same kind of jerk as they are, or we can choose to let them feel the consequences of antisocial behavior...hunger in one form or another.

Just a thought.

My five things that I am grateful for:

1.) I am grateful that I can choose who I hang out with
2. ) I am grateful that my son knows that I love him even when he is a jerk
3.) I am grateful that my son can forgive me when I act like a jerk
4.) I am grateful that there are people in my life who can tolerate my particular brand of jerkiness.
5.) I am grateful that when I am a jerk, there are people who will let me know and will give me another try.

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