By Barbara Schmitt
I vividly remember a week I was feeling very irritable. Normally, I’m a fairly patient person, but that week I felt very edgy. I could have blamed the kids, my husband, hormones, work, the guy who cut me off on the highway or a plethora of other things. It seemed the more stress I felt, the less tolerant I was, especially with my family. Why is it we allow our family to upset us the most? Have you ever felt like they know exactly what buttons to push to make us furious? That week the affirmation I adopted was “Control emotions and have patience!”
That Sunday morning I was teaching 9th Grade Confirmation Class. I left the house early with my laptop, lesson tote, snack for the class and the much needed travel cup of coffee. There were three tables set up in the area for my class. As the kids came in and sat at the tables I realized that where I left my lesson plans was very crowded, so I moved to the end of the next table. Just then I saw a blurry image of a cup swish by me and smash into the wall divider. The lid popped off as the cup fell to the floor and black coffee was strewn everywhere. It was not only all over the floor but splattered on my beige canvas tote, laptop bag and coat.
My first thought was “Oh I needed that coffee today!” Yet somehow, I didn’t react. I can’t explain why. Just moments before patience was not an option for the day. The student who spilled my coffee obviously felt horrible and frazzled. She ran frantically to get paper towels yelling “I’m so very sorry!” Other students nervously said they would get paper towels too. For a brief moment I felt as though they were trying to get away from me. I calmly said “spills happen” and thanked them for helping to clean up the mess. When I lifted my beige coffee speckled canvas tote the leaning laptop case fell “splat” into the puddle of coffee. It was almost comical how it happened. What amazed me the most is I did not feel reactive or upset.
I was actually grateful that the coffee missed hitting me! Just five seconds earlier and I wouldn’t have been so fortunate. It was an accident. It wasn’t intentional. My student didn’t target me for this act. She actually felt worse than I did and was very embarrassed. In a very brief reminiscent moment I thought how painfully self-conscious teens can be. I thought, what is the kindest thing I could do in this situation? My answer was be patient. It would take just as much time and effort to clean up the mess if I yelled, got angry and made the young girl feel worse in front of her peers. Actually, it might have taken longer. Had I yelled, they wouldn’t have returned so quickly with the paper towels! No one would have offered to help clean up the mess. As it happened I didn’t need to clean it up at all and it was done quickly.
That class was one of the best that year. I don’t remember the lesson from the book being particularly interesting. However, the kids were attentive, everyone presented a portion of the lesson and there was an unusual sense of peace in that class of teens. Uncanny!
The student who spilled was grateful that I was understanding. She said “My Mom wouldn’t have been so nice. She would have yelled and told me I should have been more careful.” At that moment it occurred to me, and I said to her “I probably wouldn’t have been so kind to my kids, either.” We laughed about that comment and they went home.
Thinking back to what had happened it was not very responsible of me to leave my cup of coffee in front of her. If my teenage son had made such a mess I would not have been as kind and patient as I was to her. That truth broke my heart. Showing understanding and patience turned an ugly situation into a positive life lesson. It made a difference for her. I wasn’t able to make as much of a difference for my children as I did for my student. What caused me to lead by example for them and not for the ones I loved the most? We expect so much from our family. We want them to be the best for themselves and us. We want them to always know what we want and need before we tell them, and are disappointed when they fall short.
Parents everywhere want the same things for their children. We want them to become responsible, confident, and successful members of society. We want their character to show patience under fire, kindness to those who are hurting and honesty in a world that practices lying. We want them to be strong yet humble, and be able to bounce back from any adversity. We want so much from them. They need to be near perfect! How are our actions modeling what we want them to be? The answer is they are not! We fall short. We are human. When we look in the mirror we see someone who is vulnerable and not perfect. Through our frustration and strong emotions we lose patience with ourselves and take it out on our family.
Our family evokes the most emotions within and without. They are the most important people in the world to us. There is a bond that surpasses all other bonds, both physical and emotional. So why do we treat those we love the most . . . the worst? Because of these emotions. I am an empowerment coach and extensively trained to be emotionally detached from my client’s circumstances. I have learned to control my reactions in almost any situation EXCEPT when it involves my family. I was initially hesitant to specialize in family relationship and parent coaching because I knew how emotional I am with my own kids. I talk about them and my eyes well up with tears of happiness, fear, pride, disappointment, frustration, love, joy or a number of other emotions. I thought I would be crying with my clients while I coached them through their parenting concerns. Yet as I attracted more parent clients I realized that I was able to stay professionally detached for them. My family emotions did not correspond to their situations as I thought they would have. One of the best validations came from my nineteen year old son. I was sharing with him my fear about being a family relationship and parenting coach. I told him how I felt inadequate in many parenting situations. I lost my patience, found it difficult to set limits consistently and could be judgmental with what they “should” do. What he said changed me and allowed me the luxury of feeling again. He said “Yes, Mom, you do all those things. But who better could they have as a coach than somebody who has done it and cares?” And of course emotions took over, and I cried!