The other morning, I promised to take my 3-year-old son Ari for a special breakfast treat -- waffles and strawberries -- before I dropped him off at daycare.
Right before we left our home, I received a work-related text.
"Mommy, mommy, come on, let's go for our special breakfast waffles," Ari called over to me, while I tried to speedily answer the text.
"One second, sweetie," I promised. "I just have to do a quickie text."
Unfortunately, that swift text turned into a detailed text conversation -- which lasted five minutes. (OK, more like 10 minutes!) As soon as I was done, I reached for Ari's hand and said, "It's waffle time."
"No. I want to go directly to school now," he said. "I want to have breakfast at daycare."
I understood immediately what had happened. My son wasn't just choosing daycare food over yummilicious waffles. He was also choosing to avoid expressing his feelings of hurt.
I believe we create a lot of problems in our relationships if we don't feel safe to talk about our feelings at the speed of life. Yep, there's a lot of unnecessary pain we can cause one another when we choose to silence our self-expression and instead act out our hurt by "whammying" one another.
I can describe in three short acts what causes much of the conflict in relationships since the beginning of time on this planet.
ACT 1: You hurt me.
ACT 2: Because you hurt me, I'm now gonna hurt you.
ACT 3: Because you hurt me back, I'm now gonna hurt you back, and so you hurt me back, and so I hurt you back... and downward-spiraling our relationship goes.
Plus, there's another potential path unexpressed hurt can take. We can start a folder called, "My Collected Proof That This Other Person Is Doing Bad Things Which I Don't Like And Thereby I Should (Potentially) Not Like This Person." In other words, when we avoid using our words to say how we feel, we wind up silently (and continuously) collecting proof of "perceived wrong-doings" done-unto-us to put into this folder until we build up a big enough case against feeling close to this other person.
One small fissure (texting for too long rather than leaving immediately for special breakfast waffles) is added to another small fissure. Then another small fissure. Until there's a humongous gap of unexpressed disappointments blocking the once flowing pathway to our heart.
Let me take a moment to express myself incredibly clearly about how much I feel it's essential to raise kids who express themselves incredibly clearly!
Here it goes...
It's incredibly important to raise kids to feel safe to express their feelings -- at the speed of life. Not just to protect our closeness as parents and children, but to ensure our children enjoy the most loving and lasting friendships and relationships throughout their lives.
I'm doing my best to mindfully raise my son to feel safe and encouraged to express himself. I sure as heck didn't want to waffle up this opportunity to get Ari to express his true feelings behind this sudden-waffle-turnaround.
I leaned down, took Ari's hand, looked him directly in his eyes. "Ari, I thought you wanted to get waffles," I said. "What's really going on right now? Why did you change your mind?"
Ari's response? He pulled his hand out of my hand and punched me in my arm.
Yep, as I mentioned... we can act out our disappointments and pain by "whammying" one another.
"Ari, it seems your upset. Please don't hit me. Tell me how you feel by using your words," I encouraged. "Use your words to tell me how you feel."
"I don't like it when you text," he said.
"You don't like when I text?" I repeated. (I wanted my son to feel heard, so I repeated back what I heard.)
"Yes. Don't text," he said. "Don't text again."
"You don't want me to text ever again at all -- ever, ever, ever, ever, ever?"
Ari laughed a little.
"I think maybe you were hurt that I was texting because you wanted to have a special breakfast with me. Maybe you felt I was choosing the texting over our special breakfast and that made you feel sad. Do you think that might be what you were feeling?"
I always prefer to use the word "sad" over "angry" for many reasons -- which I'll write about in a future essay. Suffice to say, I feel beneath anger is sadness. In many ways anger is a misdirected plea for love.
"Yeah, I was feeling... you hurt my feelings," Ari said. "You kept on texting and texting. I don't like when you text."
"I'm sorry," I said. "It was a work thing -- someone needed an answer right away. Sometimes I need to do work. But I want you to know I'm sorry my work interfered with us leaving for waffles. I'm still very much looking forward to sitting next to you and enjoying waffles and strawberries together. Would you still like to have our special breakfast? I know I want to!"
"Yeah," he said. "I want to have our special breakfast."
"OK," I said, "I'm happy you want to, because to be honest, I was sad when you told me you didn't want to. That made me feel sad because I was excited to go with you for our special breakfast."
I purposefully took a moment to share how I was feeling sad, because quite frankly, the very best way to teach the lesson of "it's good to express one's feelings of hurt at the speed of life" is to "role model" this action myself. Plus, I wanted Ari to recognize the power of "cause and affect." I wanted Ari to recognize that "whammying" rather than talking can truly hurt someone.
Ari looked up at me -- with head tilted to the side -- processing this new information. Mommy was sad.
"I'm so glad we talked about this," I told Ari. "Let's always talk to one another whenever we're feeling sad about something... OK?"
"OK!" he said.
"Let's have a commitment to always talk to one another about things which make us feel sad, so if either of us do something in the future to make the other feel sad, we will tell each other." I raised my hand to "slap five" with Ari. (Note: We always "slap five" when we want to have an ongoing commitment. I started this habit of "slapping five" because I feel it helps to drill in the memory of the commitment -- as well as the importance -- when you take that moment of true mindfulness and celebration which "slapping five" brings.)
"Can I have a hug?" I asked.
I purposefully chose to end the conversation with a hug because I wanted Ari to feel literally wrapped in a cocoon of safety. We'd had what I call "a courageous dialogue." We each spoke openly about our emotions of hurt. I wanted to make sure Ari believes that talking about difficult feelings is something he feels safe to continue to do in the future.
After Ari and I hugged one another, we happily left to enjoy a delectable waffle and strawberry treat together. Yum. Yum. Yum.
Karen Salmansohn is a best selling author and award winning designer (with over one million books sold), who is passionate about empowering people to live their happiest, highest potential lives. She's known for creating a new breed of self-help for people who would never be caught dead doing self-help because she merges a range of psychological and philosophical research with humor and stylish graphics. Some popular titles: How to Be Happy Dammit, The Bounce Back Book and Prince Harming Syndrome.