Post #200: On Passivity, Confrontations and Trying to Learn From Mistakes

“But sometimes, if I don’t push you in the right direction, you end up standing still.”

Leslie Knope, Parks and Recreation

Today I had the tremendous pleasure of meeting the fabulous blogger Luna and her beautiful children. She is so smart, witty and kind. And both of her daughters are gorgeous. They were so well-behaved and just a joy. After reading the surprising, harrowing and exhilarating tale of baby Z (which was more thrilling than most books I read this year), it was so beautiful and moving to see her with her mother and sister.

And then there were my children. I love them dearly (I know I don’t need to tell YOU this) but my children are different than me. Darcy is someone I would describe as a strong personality. He confronts life head-on, tackles problems directly and quickly. Like the literary character I named him after, he’s blunt, forceful and says what he thinks.

I am none of these things. I am supportive, nurturing, complimentary, and passive. I’d run a mile to avoid a confrontation.

My children are strong-willed. I am not. So parenting them is a challenge.

The way I have dealt with life is sometimes passive. I do my best and work hard but don’t chase down the great opportunities. I let pretty good opportunities come to me and so my life is filled with mediocre achievements. I have a blog with mediocre traffic. I haven’t redesigned the site yet, because the designers I reached out to were busy for months in advance. So I…took no further action.

Anyway, this brings me to the tussle I had with Esperanza, and it was pretty close to the fight between Ann Perkins and Leslie Knope on my favorite ever episode of “Parks and Recreation”. In the episode, Leslie, a type A go-getter gets annoyed at Ann for not pursuing an opportunity and says often Ann stands still.

Esperanza’s concern with me is that I wasn’t taking any strong steps forward to developmental specialists who could help me manage the kids better.

Here’s an exact copy of our exchange, in which I admit I was humiliated by the way my children behaved around Luna’s angelic children.

Me: “I had a playdate with Luna today and the kids were awful. I was so embarrassed.”

And then she responded, via text, this:

“I don’t mean to sound harsh, but if I were you I’d be doing something proactive with the kids. Trying a new strategy or having people from Xxxxx help you out. You can learn that stuff and get better at it.”

And then, I burst into tears.

The truth is I have been working with a child development specialist to try to help me better manage the twins. She tells me they should be incredibly successful adults, but as a non-strong-willed adult, it is very difficult for me to maintain the energy needed to provide the structure, the nos, the answers, the feedback they need. I do it, every day, and will continue to do it, but at great cost to me.

Esperanza’s right: I need to continue to take a very proactive stand with my kids.

They say you can change a habit in 30 days. Is it possible to change an innate personality trait, like passivity, and get rid of it? If I could and standing up to them all the time wasn’t so exhausting, maybe parenting would be easier?

Have you ever been able to change an actual part of your personality? If so, how?

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17 Comments

Filed under Parenting After IF, SAHM

17 responses to “Post #200: On Passivity, Confrontations and Trying to Learn From Mistakes

  1. I’m like you. It’s incredibly difficult – my husband gets very frustrated with me – not so much about the kids, because my daughter is more on the passive side like me and my son is very easy-going (and only 18 months). But in fact I’ve realized that every argument we’ve ever had, pretty much, has been the same one in a different form – him getting mad at me for not being more proactive, me getting mad at him for being so demanding. More or less. Anyway. I think we’re also alike in being sensitive to criticism (real or implied). I would have cried buckets too, especially since you are already putting out a monumental effort!

    Thinking about what has helped me, I think for me it’s been less emotionally fraught if I can focus on actions and especially on systems, and less on trying to change an inner quality in myself. Because the gentleness and nurturing side is important too. But if I can set up a system where the situation says “no” instead of me saying “no” that has worked better for me. It’s like I myself need an external structure to lean on, instead of just my own willpower, which really and truly gets exhausted. Sometimes I even fall back on “Daddy said no” even though my feminism cringes.

    I don’t know if that helps at all – but I do feel your pain because I struggle with the same things. It’s hard. It’s very hard.

  2. This is so me. (Minus the kids, I mean.) As for change, I swing between wishing I could change things about myself, being proud of those aspects of my personality, and believing that it’s futile because I couldn’t change anyway. Elizabeth’s comment sounds promising – to focus on actions and processes instead of innate change. Sounds less hard on yourself too 🙂

  3. This is an interesting question. In the past couple of years, I’ve been surprised to find that I actually can change some aspects of my personality. I guess, to be more specific, I’ve found that there were some parts of me I really wanted to change, and I kept falling back on “but I’m just not __________” I realized I was creating an unnecessary hurdle by thinking of them as unchangeable. I’m not 100% sure I’ve really changed that much, but to me it feels major because I saw these things as so fixed. Does that make sense?

  4. Tara

    I’d love to change parts of my personality…but no clue on how to go about that. What struck me more about this post though was the child development specialist. My son is not the most well behaved child…it has never occurred to me to seek outside help. Am I delusional?! What do they do? Is it like supernanny?!

  5. Hope

    I am the opposit of you–strong willed with a hot temper. It’s my DH who is the passive one in our relationship. And that has forced me to try to tone my own reactions down. I also have PTSD issues that make me even more unpredictable, and I’ve been working with an excellent therapist on those. As I’ve worked through the PTSD symptoms, my temper has become more controllable, and I’m actually able to think while I’m angry (sometimes). This was absolutely impossible for me, a year ago. So, I think a person can change, if not their basic personality, at least the habbits and so forth of how they express that personality.

    I can’t give any first hand advice about parenting, but I can say that my mom is more passive than me, and I know that the parenting system that finally worked for her with me was Love and Logic. I’ve talked to her about it, and she says it gave her permission to use her power as a parent.

    I also like what Elizabeth said about setting up situations that say “no”. I used to try to do that when I was a nanny.

  6. I feel fairly overwhelmed by these parenting challenges right along with you. I love what Elizabeth says about creating systems that do some of the “dirty work” for you. I also think that systems provide structure and predictability that kids need. As to what those are? Duh?? I’d love to learn more right along with you. One thing I do suspect, though, is that a system or approach is likely to work better for your family if it works with your personality rather than trying to change it.

  7. Ana

    Ooh I really like Elizabeth’s ideas, though I’d love more specifics on how to actually put such systems into action. I’m the same as you and will go through absurd lengths to avoid conflict. My husband is the same, but we both dislike that trait in each other. We make for a pair of pansies and pushovers. Hmmm. Not sure how this will play out with parenting, as we have a 2 year old and 3 month old—its unclear where their personalities will lie. Though the 2 year old has been challenging since day 1, he is also starting to show shyness and passivity in some situations.
    As to whether you can change your personality, I really don’t know. I am certainly trying to these days—I tend towards fretting, worrying, and being morose and I’m trying to shift to more calm, graceful, and joyful (hence my blog title “Ana begins…to change her mind”). So far, though I can sometimes manage how I present myself to others, the internal feelings are all still there, and worse—as I keep them tamped down they are more likely to explode in big meltdowns. I know people that have fundamentally changed, but it usually happens due to unexpected catastrophic life events OR through outside help if their issues were severe (meds/therapy). Can we change ourselves from within? I wish I knew the answer either way, so I could either make it happen or give up on it!

  8. Hmmm….before I get to your question, let me say first,

    1. I LOVE LUNA! AND YOU! How I wish I could have been there with you. My children would have been angelic, I’m sure.

    2. I have to tell you that from your writing, you do not seem like a passive person. I see you as quite assertive, savvy, smart, and did I say assertive?

    3. If you haven’t already, try reading the books Love & Logic and Stop 1-2-3. You may be able to take it from there.

    And to answer your question (which I had to think about)…yes, I have changed a personality trait, I believe. I used to be much more fearful. Of EVERYTHING. Of strange people and places, of what other people thought. Of scarcity. Blah blah blah. People came into my life who helped me re-examine myself and choose consciously how I wanted to be. I am not yet fearless, but I have been able to do some things fearlessly.

    I know you can become the mom you want to be. I bet you already are in so many ways.

    Also? EVERY DECENT MOM who observes other kids having a meltdown does so with “there-but-for-the-grace-of-god” compassion. Maybe not all moms do, but I would swear that Luna does.

  9. Hugs to you. After an awful month at preschool, I’m beginning to wonder if we need developmental professionals for D or if he is just really shy and well, TWO years old. Between preschool and some comments from a friend, I’m starting to feel self-conscious about taking him anywhere.

    I’m not passive and neither is J, which makes for some interesting arguments although I apparently cede more ground to him at home than I would to anyone at work where I have a reputation for speaking my mind (yikes?).

    I’m not sure if I’ve changed any part of my personality, but in some ways, I feel the assertiveness at work is a change. A few years ago, I might have remained quiet and griped in private, but I’ve become so tired of no one saying what they really think or what really needs to be said that I’ve taken it on. Maybe it’s a sign that I no longer care or that I care too much.

  10. Esperanza

    It’s funny but what I’m about to say here I don’t think I’ve said before, at least not in it’s entirety. Certainly parts of it have been said via text or in person, but not the whole thing together.

    First of all, thank you for writing this. Our whole “fight” (I think I’m going to refer to is as our “watershed moment”) has been very eye opening for me and a great reminder of how powerful my words can be, negatively as well as positively. As I said before, I’m really sorry for any hurt that I caused you.

    As for your question, I think that most people are who they are, and their innate personalities don’t really ever change. But I think they can strengthen their perceived “weak points” (or the things that don’t come naturally to them) and learn to stop relying so much on their strong points. And I think knowing what you are like is a great first step because that can help you choose a strategy that best works for you moving forward.

    The other thing I believe is that no one (or very, very few people) are inherently good at the behavioral management part of parenting. Very, very few people know what to do in each situation, what works best for their kids (or each specific kid’s) personalities. And even the ones who are really good at it are going to make mistakes. No one is perfect with this stuff. That is why there is such a thriving industry of books, DVDs and seminars dedicated to it.

    Having said that, I think people can get better and even in situations like yours, where the personality match up between parent and kids is not exact, there are so many skills we can learn to help us manage.

    I mentioned before that I was a TERRIBLE classroom management teacher. TERRIBLE. I had an incredibly hard time with it and this is at a school with few real behavior problems. I was so fortunate that my principal was willing and able (had the funds) to help me by sending me to trainings and getting me the help I needed. I read so many books, went to four separate trainings (one of them three days long) and was actually coached, one-on-one, in my classroom for an entire year. After a lot of work I was able to piece together the best skills and strategies from everything I learned into a system that works for me. And since I have, I haven’t had a single continuous behavior issue in my class, despite having many difficult students. I’m not saying I’m a perfect classroom manager, that I don’t still get frustrated and just yell for them to be quiet. But I don’t depend on that anymore and I have stuff in place to help create a positive environment. When I first started teaching I thought classroom management would be the death of me. I really thought I would stop teaching because I was so bad at it. I was sure it just “wasn’t who I was” and I never thought I could learn it. But I did and now teaching is so much better.

    I’m so glad I learned that lesson before I was a parent because now I have all the faith in the world that I can find ideas out there that work for me and my kid(s). Right now I think Love and Logic is my best fit (I use it in my classroom a lot) but I also know I’ll need to supplement with other skills and strategies because I don’t always have a good Love and Logic consequence at the ready. But I also know it’s okay because eventually I will figure it out.

    Parenting it hard. And as they grow up it gets different, maybe not harder but always different. We need to keep learning, to keep growing with them or we’ll get totally taken down. The good news is we can do it! We really can. We just need to keep our hearts and minds open and believe in ourselves. I’m sure it sounds corny, and maybe it is, but I KNOW that you can be the mom who walks away from a hard day with her kids feeling confident that she provided the structure they needed to thrive. We all can be that mom, we just have to believe that we can and then seek out the help we need to achieve it.

  11. Esperanza

    Also, happy 200th blog post! That is AWESOME!

  12. I recently read a book “hot to talk so kids will listen and how to listen so kids will talk” (or something like that). It is waaaay too early a read for me, but it has some really great (it seems to me) points. It’s not about changing who you are or who they are – it’s about better lines of communication…

  13. Congratulations on your 200th blog post!! I don’t like confrontation either so I let people walk all over me, especially my mother. About a year ago I don’t remember what happened, but I had had it. I knew I couldn’t change her demanding nature and how she makes me feel guilty all the time, but I could change how I dealt with the things she says. I keep calm, think before I speak and actually stand up for myself now. She is realizing this and our relationship is getting better. I have a feeling I will be working on this for the rest of my life, but it gets to be easier.

  14. We’ve already talked about this for the most part in person, so I just wanted to say happy 200th post! Yay!

  15. oh, how did I miss this? just catching up with my reader and I have so much I want to say (on all your posts, really. but I’ll start with this one for now.)

    first of all, you should know that the minute we got home, J threw a major tantrum herself which resulted in no nap and a challenging afternoon.
    which leads me to my next point. you have nothing to be embarrassed about. toddlers are notoriously difficult and challenging and lovable all the same. clearly they keep you very busy.

    we ALL need coping tools to deal with our kids. the challenge is in finding the right ones that work for all of you. that is an evolution, or a work in progress. just last night the hub and I were discussing how experience is our best teacher. but yeah, sometimes we need external help too. I can’t even fathom managing twins. I’m having a hard time imagining my future 4 and 2yo. yikes.

    and I agree with lori. I think through writing you’ve found your voice. bold, assertive, eloquent. you are both a forceful and compassionate infertility advocate. I just think parenting is HARD sometimes.

    it was SO wonderful to meet you!!!

  16. Just coming back to the conversation – I guess with the “situations and structures” thing, I really took that from Ask Moxie. Like she suggests focusing on the clock which works REALLY well for our daughter. “The clock says 8:00, time for bed,” e.g., or “after the clock goes around one time, you can get up from your nap.” Or if I’m trying to refocus them away from screen time, I make sure to put away the laptop totally out of sight, like TOTALLY, and bring into view the toys I’d rather they be playing with (books, paints, balls, whatever). We have our Shelf of Forbidden Things that have had to be put away for whatever reason. I’ve also had some luck with the “positive parenting” thing – phrasing commands as “do” instead of “don’t” – e.g. “feet stay under the table,” instead of “don’t put your feet on the table.”

    I once remarked to a friend who used to babysit my daughter, that the hardest think about disciplining a toddler (in the sense of providing constant and consistent guidance, not necessarily punishment) was that it meant SELF-discipline. She just looked at me and said “uh – that’s why we’re the adults!” and I felt really stupid…. but it really is the hardest thing for me. I fail to teach them things like washing hands consistently or wiping noses on tissues rather than sleeves because I just don’t have it in me to correct them every single time.

    Thinking of you…

  17. Sorry, one more comment and then I’ll shut up. One thing I heard in your post was this fear that if you fail, your children will not reach the full potential they have to be really successful in life (however that’s defined). I don’t know the magic words to make that fear go away – I feel it, too – just know that it’s not ALL on you. Yes, our mothers had a tremendous impact on who we are today, but not 100% – a lot of it was up to us, our own choices. In the same way, who your children become also depends on THEM, on the larger society they live in, on teachers, on serendipitous influences. We do the best we can and deploy the resources we have at our disposal. That’s all we can do.

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