Recently, I was able to attend the yearly meeting of our Home Owners’ Association. This is the organization that ensures the neighborhood retains certain standards of appearance and beauty. Some of these standards are a bit over the top, but they do help keep the area looking nice. This particular meeting began with generally boring (to me) business topics. But then, it seemed that there were some people upset with the board and how they handled situations. Unexpectedly, the room erupted with volcanic intensity of anger and loud words. I was floored. Here is what I learned.
1. My tone matters. A lot.
Many of the topics discussed at the HOA meeting had points of truth on both sides of the argument. What was clear to me was that some individuals were able to convey their points in a manner that was self-controlled and even gracious. Other individuals were not. I have seen elementary children handle disputes with less yelling and fewer interruptions.
As mothers, we have to convey unpleasant truths to our children every day. “You left your towel on the floor.” “Yes, you must put away those toys before you can begin a different game.” “You asked me that already and I answered you.” What a different meaning can be conveyed through our tone. An angry face coupled with intimidating, shaming, or loud words causes our children to become fearful or defensive. Calm words spoken with a loving expression allow them to hear the truth that we are speaking without getting distracted by our negative emotion. As the adult, I am responsible to control my flesh and speak truth with love and kindness, not anger and intimidation.
2. Taking on others’ emotions is not helpful to my own well-being.
After the HOA meeting was over, I went home and lay awake in my bed for hours. My adrenaline was pumping, my anger was roused and I was unable to let it go. I think this was because I identified strongly with certain viewpoints and so the anger directed at the person expressing those felt like it was directed at me. But that was not the truth. There was no anger directed at me personally. After praying and intentionally laying my gripes down at God’s feet, I was able to return to a restful state and fall asleep. I was carrying burdens that weren’t mine to carry.
When my children fight, I often carry their emotions long after they have reconciled and moved on. I don’t believe that God calls us to do this. We are to be compassionate for them, freely giving God’s grace and mercy as we have received the same, but their emotions are not our emotions. Our children are not “us.” They are individuals created in the image of God with different personalities, different gifts and different ways of handling their own emotions. I am not sure what it looks like to NOT carry their disagreements and hurt feelings, but I am resolved to be aware of this tendency within myself.
3. Even when you feel alone, you likely aren’t.
So here’s the thing. I didn’t even want to attend this meeting in the first place. I have this long-held desire to have a few chickens and they are expressly forbidden by the HOA. I’m a bit bitter about that and it makes me harbor feelings that aren’t gracious or kind or lovely toward the HOA. But, listen to this! In the middle of the meeting, someone mentioned something about changing the HOA rules and another individual piped up, “For instance: to allow chickens.” And it wasn’t me who said it! I almost jumped out of chair and did a happy dance of excitement when three or four others chimed in with their wishes to have chickens as well. So, with that much interest in a very small representation of our neighborhood, the board took note and promptly created a Chicken Subcommittee! Can I tell you how much joy this brings me? Even if we are not able to get the 75% approval rating that we need to change the rules, the fact that there are likeminded, homestead-ish friends that live nearby makes me extremely happy. I am not alone. And I absolutely thought I was the only one.
When at home full-time, especially with very young children, mothers (and fathers) often feel alone. We think we are the only one with a child who has this issue or that struggle. Or that we are inadequate to the job of parenting or that we are doing it all “wrong.” Or that we are alone in our desire to do something (anything?) that is unrelated to parenting. Guess what? You are not alone. Every parent, especially one at home alone, feels this way at different times and in various seasons. The key to finding the others that are like-minded in a chicken sort of way is to place yourself in situations in which you may find a friend who can encourage you. Read a book and invite one friend to discuss it. Join a bible study or even a local Facebook group. (For all the downsides that social media has, I have met many of my real-life, flesh and blood, coffee-date friends by using Facebook as a tool to seek them out.)
What an enlightening evening. I want to speak to my children with kindness even when conveying unpleasant truths; to lay down the burden of my children’s emotions at God’s feet and to reach out when I feel like the only one. My children will benefit. I will benefit. Thank you, HOA meeting!