On Thursday evening I found myself sitting across my dining room table watching a friend of mine crying over how I’ve vanished from the life of her family.
Now, to rewind, she reached out to me the weekend before asking if we could connect and catch up. Looking through our calendars, Thursday night was the day. She’d bring the pizza, I’d grab some wine. She lives about 30 minutes away and made the drive up to Charlotte to make this night happen!
We spent some time reconnecting, and it was halfway through the evening that she brought up that she was upset that I haven’t seen her family in a long time. I am her son’s godmother. I’ve known her since we were 5 years old. When we both first moved down here, we hung out all the time, but since this whole school thing has transpired, I’ve basically disappeared from her life. Her oldest daughter asks about me. She simply stressed that she just wants them to know me and me to know them. That’s important to her. Tears were streaming down her face, and she kept apologizing for crying, feeling a bit embarrassed for how emotional she was.
I promised to do better. I told her I could do better, and that I would.
A Beautiful Reminder
I was gifted a beautiful reminder by the universe: Love and connection are what human beings need most. This is what we all crave and want from one another, and this is how we can reach one another.
We can stress over everything else, wanting others to behave how we want them to, or care about what we want them to care about, but none of our efforts matter if we aren’t starting from a place of love and connection.
I was reminded also of the dynamic differences between human beings, and that I, like some of the children I work with, tend to become single-mindedly obsessed in whatever it is I’m working on. I’ve always been like this.
I was the child sucked into books (and that still happens with fiction books, so I have to be careful when I decide to read one). When the internet came to my house as a middle-schooler, I spent every afternoon after school on it, either building websites for the boy bands I liked or browsing chat rooms where I could make a smiley face talk to other smiley faces (back then adults weren’t aware of the dangers of chat rooms). I would tinker with projects in my room or in the basement where my dad’s workbench was. Being the baby of 4 children in a very busy household, I had a lot of free time and was either overlooked or trusted to occupy myself. Or everyone realized that I either did two things: got into something and stayed involved with that myself or walked around the house bothering people for attention. I guess when I got into something, it was best to just let me be so I wouldn’t annoy anyone else!
To this day, this tendency remains the same. My friends and family have joked with me my whole life about my “one-track” mind. Just this past October, I had a sick historical fiction Netflix problem – watching the Showtime dramas The Borgias & The Tudors. I would spent 5 hours straight watching episodes on a Friday night, just to turn it back on Saturday morning. I would even put it on my phone with my headphones and watch when I was blowdrying my hair. After about 5 or 6 weeks of this I felt like I needed a change so I’ve stopped watching them. I just got sick of it.
I love the privacy I have in my life. I love that I am able to come home each day and have a place where I do whatever I want without anyone watching me, judging me, or wishing I would do something different. I am stubborn and hard-headed and like doing what I want to do. I like to fully immerse myself into what I doing, and I will ignore the world around me when that happens.
Just because I get like that, it doesn’t mean I’m mean, selfish, or that I don’t care about others. It means that I need support and love from my friends and family to remind me that they love me and want to see me sometimes.
Right now, my big obsession in life is this school, and I love it. My friends and family that are not a part of this community, though, sometimes think I’m nuts or just do not know how to relate to me anymore. I go on long rants about education, an article I just read, something I learned from a child that week, etc. Does this remind you of your child who won’t stop talking about Minecraft, perhaps? How can a friend or family member outside of the school community reach such an obsessed individual?
Well, let’s think about what my friend, who has known me for 26 years did: connect with me and love me. My friend came over to hang out and just re-connect. She didn’t demand that I see her more, and she didn’t berate me or accuse me of being too obsessed with my work. She hung out with me, asked me about my school and life, told me about hers, and eventually she brought up that she missed me.
So, Your Child is Obsessed With ____________________
Minecraft, Pokemon. Familiar obsessions in any of your children’s life?
Let’s think about the life of the typical child: Almost every action and word they make is judged by adults as a good or bad response. The teachers at school need the children to do well on tests so their lives are easier, and parents want their children to be the incredible people they know they are – and become embarrassed by them when they don’t say or do what it is that they know, or hope, they are capable of. Many kids have zero free time between a long day at school, after school sports, dinner, homework, and bedtime. They are being reminded constantly of what they need to/should be doing.
Now, many of the kids in our setting do not have this lifestyle, thankfully. They do have free time at school – lots of it. And I know many of them also have this at home. But they are still around adults constantly. We have all of our own ideas about what makes a high quality life and we want to pass on all of those lessons to the children. They feel our judgments about their choices even if we don’t voice them. Body language, tone, and just overall energy we put out signals this to them.
As a person who obsesses with a project (this school) to the point that I have let friendships fade (more than the one I opened with, I have to admit), I empathize with the kids who are like me in nature. Because I am an adult who has reflected on this, and was given a beautiful reminder last week of what works, I want to speak up in support of these kids.
So, What Works?
Yeah, that’s pretty much it. Like parents, I have no magic powers to “make” a child want to do things that they don’t want to be doing. I can’t “make” them stop wanting to play Minecraft and Pokemon.
I can make them stop doing those things, sure. I could reward or punish them to change their actions. I could manipulate them by judging what they do and making it clear what I want them to be doing. I’ve done these things in the past, and have to check myself daily to make sure I’m not reverting to this very common way of “making” people do what you want them to do. I do struggle when I talk to parents who want their kids to make different choices at school and then get disappointed by lack of results – I have to carefully check myself to not make children do what I think their parents want them to be doing as a way to make myself look better in their eyes as an educator. I try not to do this because the results typically come back like this:
Girls: become people pleasers, obsessed with trying to make others like them by doing what they think others want them to do.
Boys: become disgruntled, angry, moody, defensive
So, back to connection and love. When people feel loved by you, they can hear you better. It’s not about whether you love them or not – I love all the kids at school – but do they feel loved by me? That’s the key to connection. I can say I love them over and over again, but if they cannot receive it, it’s not helping.
When the kids get into their phases, joining them without judging them, seems to be the key. Asking them to share what they love about what they do always helps them open up.
Then I’ll notice little things start to happen. For example, they’ll notice me more. They’ll start talking to me and telling me what they are doing/thinking without me initiating the conversation. And it’s a true connection, not one that is forced through behaviorism or manipulation of any kind.
From that place, perhaps we will discover that what the person is obsessed with is actually amazing. Perhaps we will hear them better, just as they can hear us better. I believe that my time spent working on this school is all extremely worthwhile. I don’t want to hear anyone tell me differently! So telling me to stop just doesn’t work. I only end up resentful and end up feeling like the other person doesn’t understand me.
Or, perhaps, from that connected place, the obsessed individual will see an area where they can work harder, like what I realized when I saw my friend asking me to just try harder to connect with her and her kids.
I believe when we let go of wanting to change others, we open ourselves to much deeper levels of connection. And this is where the awesomeness can start!