I Can Spend the Time Teaching You, Or I Can Spend the Time Making Powerless Demands

You’re having a hard time because I haven’t taught you this yet, or you haven’t had enough practice at it to remember. Or someone else taught you about it in a way that closed you down and now you have all this resistance that needs to be soothed before your ears are open to listening.

“Teaching” doesn’t mean simply reciting a rule until it’s followed. It means that the other person has internalized an understanding of the rule and that they can apply it. Otherwise we’d have a generation of mathematical geniuses that could simply recite “A squared plus B squared equals C squared”. There is a difference in repeating a rule, and understanding it to the point of being able to use it as a tool. There is a difference between reciting numbers from one to ten and counting. There is a difference between singing the alphabet and reading. And there is a difference between reciting the rules of the house verbatim, and understanding them deeply.

You are struggling with this rule because you don’t understand it as a tool. You understand it as the words that have been spoken to you. There is a difference between remembering a rule word for word because you’ve memorized the words, and remembering a rule word for word because you understand the meaning of the words and how they apply to every area of your life.

As an adult that was “bad at math” in school, I should understand this. Math was taught to me as a collection of rules that seemed arbitrary and difficult to remember. It was not taught to me as a fascinating thing that intertwined throughout my life as a basis for understanding the things that happen around me.

I understand that you are an awesome kid. You’re so smart it’s scary. You have a good heart and love to do things that make people happy. You LIKE to be good.

So why are you not being good?

I see how uncomfortable you are right now. I see the anger and resistance and sadness exploding in your little body.

I see how simple the thing is that I’m trying to teach you how to do, or the thing that I think you should already know how to do, since I’ve taught it to you a dozen times.

I’m the adult, you’re the child. You’re supposed to LISTEN! RESPECT! DO WHAT I SAID RIGHT NOW! NO ARGUMENTS! I know this because it is what I was taught as a child through the example of the adults in my life.

I remember that some things I was able to figure out, and other things I was not. I remember the times that I stopped trying because all I understood was that SOME ADULT WANTED ME TO AND WAS VERY ANGRY.. But I didn’t understand how. I didn’t understand why. And so I became immune to that anger instead of learning.

I see that you are NOT having a good time right now. You’re locked down in stubborn resistance. That is not a happy place for you to be. I see that you are upset. I see that you are not at ease. You are not taking great joy in being defiant, even if you smile a nervous smile. You try to dismiss the strong things that you feel with a roll of your eyes. This is your seeking of balance. This is not your dismissal of me.

What if.. What if I responded to the hard time that you are having, and I gave you sympathy? What if I offered to try and help you find a solution. What if I acknowledged that the mess you made must make you very sad because it’s sad when you destroy things and it comes from a sad and angry place. What if I offered to help you clean up the mess, and talked with you as you found the order in the chaos.

What if.. I responded quietly and with concern instead of loudly and angrily accusing you of DOING THIS ON PURPOSE?

Would you maybe learn that your actions are things that are a sadness to be avoided rather than the willful power of defiance? A sadness to work on, rather than an angry character defect that you should lock up inside as a part of your self definition? ”

Oh but how will you learn respect and proper behavior if I don’t stomp my feet and use a loud angry voice to demand it of you? How will you learn to respect my feelings if I don’t disregard yours and insist that you consider mine?

Perhaps by speaking gently. Perhaps by showing you that no matter how upsetting another person is being, you can keep your own calm.

I respect you because you are a human being.

I respect what you are feeling even if I don’t respect your actions.

I understand that what you are feeling right now is NOT a happy feeling for you, even if it feels happy for a moment or two. Because I know that it’s not a happy thing to hurt someone else or to be unable to listen.

I understand that I cannot teach you something with anger.

I understand that this will take time.

And I understand that the time will pass either way. I can spend it teaching you in a way that you will slowly learn. Or I can spend it demanding things from you in a way that will only shut you down.

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