This scene is from one of my favorite movies, Raising Arizona. The woman doing most of the talking is Dot, played by Frances McDormand. As a parent, each of us has had a conversation like this with a “well-meaning” friend. Our blood pressure skyrockets. Our stomach rolls. We feel like we’ve missed the instruction booklet that came with everybody else’s child. We panic. Or we feel generally inadequate as a parent. Is it just me? Can y’all relate? The struggle’s real, right?
Tom received a call recently from a parent who panicked when a friend told them they’d already missed the application deadline for their top-choice school. Tom reassured them that they’d NOT missed a deadline at all, and shared some factual, well-researched information to put their mind at ease. Sometimes what panics us isn’t even accurate. How’s that for a waste of time?
Another friend of mine relayed her recent panic when she shared with another parent that her senior student is feverishly working on college applications. “You mean he hasn’t turned them in yet?!” she was asked. Not helpful.
Detecting A Dot
How do you know if you’re dealing with a “Dot”? Dot’s comments often start with things like, “Aren’t you worried that…?”, “I’m surprised that you haven’t…”, “Didn’t you know that….?”, “What are you going to do if…?”, “Have you thought about the fact that…?” And, “Well that would never work in our house, because we never/always…”
Friends, why do we do this to one another? College planning (and parenting teens in general) brings ample opportunities for us to feel panic-stricken and less-than without “help” from anyone else. It’s a time full of uncertainty and overwhelming options. Sometimes it feels like one step to the right or left side of the tightrope could send us tumbling into the abyss.
So, Dot, I don’t need you reinforcing my own negative self-talk and anxious tendencies with judgment or superiority masquerading as “helpfulness”. I need someone to say, “No matter what, it’s all going to be okay in the end. And if it’s not okay yet, it’s not the end yet.” Or someone who’ll say, “Oh man, me, too.” Or someone who’ll tell me I’m doing a good job at this Mom thing, because some days I feel like I’m screwing up royally.
I’m about 4000% better at avoiding parental panic attacks now than I used to be. Practice helps. Being on child two versus child one helps. Having messed up and then realizing that we not only survived, but thrived anyway helps. Remembering that many children in the world today worry about what to eat, how to avoid abuse or where they’ll sleep tonight puts things in perspective real quick. Professional counseling helps. The unconditional love and company of real, authentic, hot-mess, imperfect, beautifully weird friends helps.
Dealing With Dots
People are going to say insensitive things, even when they’re trying to “help”. You cannot control other people, their actions or words. You can only control you, your actions and reactions.
Remember the THINK tool that someone came up with for thinking before you speak? It’s also helpful for processing what others say to us.
I can’t make others use the THINK tool. But I can filter what I say. And I can also consider the Truth, Helpfulness, Inspirational nature, Necessity and Kindness of what’s said to me. Then I can choose whether to absorb what’s said, or to let that comment sit right where it was dropped and move on, unencumbered. I don’t have to pick up everything you put down. I’m in control of my own reactions and responses.
Practicing this is easier when I remember to stay in own my lane, walk the path that my family has decided is best for us, ignore what’s happening to the right and left of me and remember that it’s all going to be okay in the end, not only despite the pitfalls and detours, but often because of them. This is our story. It wouldn’t be all that interesting if there weren’t a few plot twists and surprises, even if they’re unpleasant or downright painful at the time.
Ditching The Dots
Sometimes you can avoid Dots altogether or limit your encounters with them. Remember when you told your kids to, “Just go play with someone else”? Sometimes the advice we give our kids is advice we should follow ourselves.
I’ve gotten more in tune with how I feel after spending time with people who fill my bucket, and I make a mental note to spend more time in their company. At the same time, I’ve gotten better at limiting or eliminating the time I spend with people who kick my bucket over and then shoot it full of holes, so it can’t be filled again. Life’s too short, friends.
I’ve found a glorious tribe of weirdos who accept me as their own. They’re not perfect, thank goodness. They screw up all the time, God love ’em. They fail to read the same emails and notes that I fail to read. Their desk is as overflowing as mine with unsigned permission slips, overdue library fine notices and to-do lists full of unchecked boxes. We each have our own assigned seat at the principal’s office. They fall down and then they get back up again, and they keep running. They stay in their lane, and they cheer me on in running my own race. They don’t know it all, and they don’t pretend to. And when I walk away from time spent with them, my bucket is full and I think perhaps, just maybe, I might not be so abnormal or deficient after all. And even if I am, so what? I am loved. And I am okay.
So THINK before you speak. THINK before you respond or react. And don’t be a Dot.