Tuesday, May 2, 2017

When Rescuing is Wrong

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We were siting around the little patio at our local pub. Just a group of us moms out for a little fellowship and some time away from our cumulative 20+ children. One of us had gotten the wrong beer or maybe it was just a stinky beer and she wasn't going to drink it. There was some passing around of the glass and the agreement at the table was that the beer was nasty and she should send it back. We all agreed that the friend who ordered it should just send it back and let the server know it was bad. But this friend was really tentative and would rather not have anything to drink if that meant she may make someone else (the server) feel uncomfortable. After some good natured teasing and laughing, she decided that maybe she would try to be assertive (see the hesitation there already?) and give it a try. As the server approached I could see the stress in her face. She hemmed and hawed and hesitated and so I just blurted out - "Can she get a new drink? This one is awful" - at which point the server smiled and acquiesced and the problem was solved.

Except it wasn't.  Another friend (who is a counselor by training and practice) looked at me with a smile and stated "You are a rescuer!"

A what?

I had never heard that term. What ensued was a bit of more drinking and lot of laughing and even more self-reflection on how each of us as the table handle conflict. 

My counselor friend is absolutely right. I am a rescuer.  I don't like conflict, but what I hate more than conflict is to see my loved ones uncomfortable, in pain, or really suffering in any way. Although it is a nice and noble thing to be willing to help alleviate others discomfort, especially when it comes to beer, being a Rescuer can lead to some rather negative parenting situations. 

Our children grow through conflict. As a mother I should be providing them with a safe and loving environment in which they have the opportunity to solve their own conflicts. I can provide guidance, I can give suggestions (when asked), I can model frameworks for conflict management, but stepping in to take away their pain, discomfort and sometimes genuine suffering, only handicaps their ability to grow into mature and capable adults. Rescuing behavior shows a lack of awareness or appreciation of the good that can come from suffering.

Children are going to have conflicts - daily - and if they have sibling it can at times seem like they life a life of constant conflict. Kids can be mean (yes even my kids) and they make poor choices all the time. I blame their poorly developed frontal lobes. But it is through their conflicts that they learn. They learn when to speak out and when to let things go, they learn how much crap they can take from their peers before they snap, they learn at what point they need to stand up for others, they learn that some friends are fun but not good for them, they learn about honesty, and loyalty, and trustworthiness. They come to value people who are virtuous and learn to avoid those who lack decency.  

So what's a Rescuer- Mom to do? It hurts so much to see our little ones hurting, but swooping in and messing with their business isn't often the best way to handle it. What we need to do is Love and Listen.

First, we are called to love. They need to know that what ever they do, however they handle a situation, they are loved by both us and by God. They are going to mess up. They are going to make poor choices. They are going to fail in some way at some time.  And we are called to loved them through that time. They need to know that good behavior is not a condition of our love. Is it easier to show them love when they are acting awesome? Yes. Will behaving well make us love them more? Nope. We may like being with them more when they are awesome, but we love them the same amount when they are awesome and awful. Our heart are designed to love them. When the rest of the world is giving them crap, we will give them love.

Secondly, our kids need to know that we are here for them when they want advice, and all they need to do is ask. We aren't too busy or too stressed or too important to listen to their struggles. We have open doors and open hearts and when they want help we are here for them. But we have the confidence in them to let them make their own choices and reach out to us when they need a little assistance.

Our children don't need us to rescue them, but they do need us to notice them. When our children are having a tough day, we ought to let them know we recognize their struggle. We don't need them to tell us everything that happened (unless they want too), but we should take a minute to let them know we see them, and we notice they don't seem quite right, and that we love them. This opens the door for the conversation and it lets them know we care. Sometimes that is all they need to push through those rough times in childhood. 

So the next time you find your little one is in a sticky situation, hold back. Give them a chance to figure it out. Let them know you are there for them, but you trust in their abilities to problem solve and to identify when the problem is bigger than they can handle on their own.  Be there for them, but let them grow through their struggles and come out more confident and competent young men and women. 

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