She’s stomping around and glaring. In case we miss how mad she is, her words are laced with contemptuous proof of anger, “I don’t like bananas. I’ve already told you that! Do I need to say it louder so you’ll understand?”
Like a fountain splashing dirty water, her rage dumps onto me. And I react. With anger.
I’m thinking How ungrateful! She’s so rude! Her poor sister! I’m sick of this! while I fume, “That’s enough. If you can’t be kind, go outside and stay there until it’s time for school.” I open the door and throw her backpack outside.
I feel justified. I feel angry. And I’m upset for the rest of the day.
But, this was before I made a HUGE shift in my life. This was before I got clear on my own boundaries.
Ask: Whose Business Is This?
When my daughter experiences strong emotions of any kind: happy, sad, angry, or depressed — I STOP and THINK. I do not knee-jerk react anymore. That’s the first change I made. (Go, me!)
(P.S. If you have to physically cover your mouth with a hand, do it. It helps. Also, telling yourself, shut-up, shut-up, shut-up, also helps.)
Next, I ask myself this question — WHOSE BUSINESS IS THIS?
If I am living in reactionary mode, I’m in my kids’ business and literally feeling their emotional energy. That sucks! I feel angry, awful, . . . whatever my kids are feeling. And it’s totally not mine.
Do I care about hating bananas? Does eating a banana make me mad?
It’s my daughter’s issue — it’s her business.
When I stop to think, I can see this.
I think: (or I say)
I will be loving, kind, and generous but this is your business, not mine.
Meaning, if this isn’t my business, I don’t feel angry when you’re angry. I’m over here keeping my feelings protected with healthy boundaries.
I can now stay calm, in my adult self, and let my kids have their feelings. (Yes!)
My energetic boundaries are in place so I’m not in my kids’ business, feeling their feelings and knee-jerk reacting.
Brené Brown explains in her recent book, Rising Strong, that this is the VERY IMPORTANCE difference between sympathy (feeling others feelings) and empathy (being present to their feelings). Sympathy isn’t healthy. Empathy is.
Saying “It’s Not My Problem” Helps
Alternatively, I ask myself, “Is this mine?” or “Is this my problem?”
“This is not my problem” helps ME to be clear on what is MINE. I’m not being rude. I’m taking care of myself by clarifying my boundaries.
I might not say it out loud — but I am thinking it.
Although talking about my boundaries out loud helps models setting healthy boundaries. Since the phrase “it’s not my problem” is generally considered rude so you can substitute the word business instead.
Boundaries Lead to Better Parenting
And here’s the GOOD NEWS! After working on this for months and months, it’s FINALLY HAPPENING! I notice myself not react and not feeling their emotions. And not only am I happier, I am a much better mother.
I finally can be present and empathetic.
I’m not a parenting expert. I am an in-process human being with children and a desire to be the best parent I can be. But this is my best parenting advice: Be clear on your boundaries with your kids so that you live your life and they live theirs.
I have no interest in being a stereotypical unhappy mother who sacrifices her self all for her children.
So when my other daughter’s constant stomach aches and sadness might have triggered me to self-loathing thoughts such as: I’m not a good enough mother or I can’t fix my child’s health and an unhealthy reactionary feeling of sadness, even stomach pain, I now stop and think of my question. IS THIS MY BUSINESS?
I get clear. This is her journey, her life, her feelings.
My part in her life journey, as her mother, is to be empathetic, to support, and to empower. Yes, I will work to find solutions for her stomach ache. Yes, I will make doctor’s appointments and peppermint tea and whatever else I can do to help. Yes, I will hug her and be present to her suffering. But, no, I will not to feel like a failure nor feel her sadness and her pain.
Because it’s not mine.