The Art of Digging Deep:: How to Gracefully Confront Negativity

Things are not business as usual right now.  Nothing in life is normal – daily schedules and regular habits have been vacated and replaced by whatever it takes to make it through the day, week or month.  This is going to be one of our can we talk? moments because as a mom, this pandemic and social distress has thrown a curve ball into my interactions with my children, specifically my junior high and high school daughters.  If you, too, have kids around this age then you know that they are curious and passionate about life. You also know that they can quickly alternate between being confident young adults and insecure children.  They are slowly discovering new things about themselves and, unfortunately, they are currently doing so in the midst of some tough times. 

One of the most daunting things about being a mother {at least to me} is the reality that my kids are looking to me as their example of full grown womanhood.  The benchmark of being an adult. I find that heavy because increasingly, I don’t want to be the adult in the room. I don’t want to have patience, or thoughtful measured responses.  I don’t want to be reasonable or restrained. It’s easy to get caught up in this toxic environment, but again, there are your kids looking for your leadership. Digging deep is hard.

Social Media Trap

Social media is truly the bane of our existence.  On one hand, it allows us to stay connected to others while we remain socially distanced. On the other hand, anonymity allows complete strangers {and unfortunately, sometimes people we think we know in real life} to feel comfortable unleashing a verbal assault just because they don’t like or agree with a post or a comment on our page.  It is at once intriguing and frustrating.  Even worse, we are tempted to respond in kind because, WHY NOT?!  After all, the interaction isn’t really personal since it takes place behind the computer screen, is it?  Yes, it is personal, particularly where our kids are concerned because so much of their world exists on line.  They actually create and maintain internet friendships and they can feel validated, hurt or threatened by people they have never physically met.  Social media’s influence is both powerful and at times frightening.  

I wish I could say that I have always made the right choice when responding in tense situations both online and in person.  However, I will admit to getting caught up in emotion and not thinking through my words before they came spewing from my mouth.  I’m human, but generally speaking, there are a couple of things I like to keep in mind before engaging in difficult conversations.   

Take a Step Back

Recently, I received a private message on my Instagram account from a complete stranger regarding an interaction between our daughters. It would be accurate to say that she was irate over a difference of opinion expressed between our girls. To be clear, this woman was completely out of line sliding into my DMs spewing a very racially charged and insensitive message. Initially, I thought I was being trolled by a fake account, because it was inconceivable to me that a complete stranger would approach me {or anyone} in this manner. Then, I realized that she used my daughter’s name which indicates that at the very least, she’s aware that my daughter actually exists. So, my girl and I talked and she filled me in on the back story. Then I was livid. I was the kind of angry that paces from room to room, while using grown folk language. As I began to calm down, I took a step back.

This is how things usually go for most of us – first we explode then, hopefully, we give ourselves time to gain some perspective before we actually engage with the other party. We need time to figure out where the other party is coming from, their motivation. Is it fear? Ignorance? Anger?  The answer should determine how we will respond.  Do you need to soothe, educate or diffuse?  In my case, it was none of the above.  I simply needed to respectfully – yet, pointedly – let her know that I heard her and that she was out of line.  The end.  Why did I need to do this? Because dealing with conflict is hard for anyone, let alone kids and my daughter {who was completely unbothered by her original interaction with the other girl} was watching me.  This was a teaching moment between me and my daughter on digging deep, on how to treat people, shut down negativity and how to avoid being pulled into someone’s mud slinging. Also, if I had found that my daughter had done or said anything that I felt was offensive, it would have been her opportunity to apologize and make things right. However, that was not the case. 

When at All Possible, Mind Your Manners

I know, this is not what you want to hear, but there’s really no reason to be intentionally mean to someone, even when they have been mean to you. Let me be clear:: take no mess and cover all the ground you walk on, but do it with grace. My message to my children is to never be afraid to respectfully state their opinion and to treat the opinion of others with the same care and respect.  They don’t have to agree, they just have to listen {unless it’s degrading or abusive in any manner}. If I am their example of how to treat others, I have to put my money where my mouth is, so to speak.  Yes, that woman was completely out of pocket for showing up the way she did, but in her mind she had a valid complaint and I took the time to acknowledge her.  I also used the opportunity to point out that it’s normal for kids to learn how to disagree appropriately and her message was completely inappropriate. Then I blocked her. I believe in being civil, but I’m not a pushover and I don’t want my children to be either.  

We have to find a way in this stressful new world of ours to be decent human beings.  We need to practice the art of digging deep to extend grace even when none is given to us. To be infinitely better than our very worst inclinations. There will be times when we fail, but we at least have to try.  As a parent, one of the hardest things to face is when my kids call me out on my own contradictory behavior, which they have done more than once. They hold me accountable, as they should, because accountability is reciprocal in our house.  So, the next time you are ready to fire off that terse Facebook comment or tell someone to kiss both sides of your…er, umm, derriere, take a step back, mind your manners and let them wallow in the mud by themselves.  

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