I was talking with a rather stunning friend of mine today about how quickly we can get derailed by others' opinions. I mean, there I was yesterday, preening about how doggone great I am, and here I am after one horrible phone call, sincerely doubting my ability to do....well.....anything.
Tonight was Xir's holiday concert. He's been practicing for weeks, getting the little hand signals down, adjusting his santa hat in the mirror. He wanted me to help him get ready. So I biked over after work to pick Xir up, as arranged, and was met instead by his father. Long story short, he summarily dismissed me and I had to leave before we caused a scene. I walked for a few blocks to cool off, then called to find out what on earth was going on.
The gist: according to him, I have bad energy. So bad that simply being around my children causes them to be sick and sleepless. So bad that if I wanted Xir to be able to attend his own holiday concert, I would need to BACK OFF (his emphasis) and let Xir rest all afternoon, free of my horrible influence, so that he could recuperate enough to go.
Crazy, right? Here's the sick part: all I have to do is hear this to partially believe it. I'm ready to assume the worst of myself, at any time. Oh, he has a point, one part of me muses, while the other is shouting classy obscenities into the phone (you know, like "weakminded buffoon" and "ludicrously unsubtle manipulator", that sort of thing. Better than "poopyhead" which is what I like to call him when I'm at home.)
Because, the thing is, all of us know our innermost dark secrets. I know, or at least dimly suspect, what evils I am capable of. I know that I have my weaknesses as a mother. I know that the boys sleep more when they are at his house. So I can easily find the grains of truth even in the worst insults. Which makes this kind of heavy-handed ladling-on-of-guilt an excellent tactic: suddenly the burden is on me to defend myself from his allegations and attention is shifted from the matter at hand...and also, from his own deficiencies as a person and parent.
But--bless that rocket scientist boyfriend of mine!--before I take all of that on, I need to look critically at the evidence.
1. What am I being asked to believe? That I am a bad influence on my children and they are healthier without me. That I am doing a bad job as a mother.
2. What evidence is there to support this claim? The kids don't sleep much at my house. I yell at them sometimes. I don't feed them as well as I could. They don't have their own rooms or a car or lots of playdates. I get really worn out when I'm with them and am not at my best.
3. Are there other ways to interpret this evidence? Yeah. Maybe they don't sleep well at my house because they are so happy to be around me and want to stay awake for it! And they sleep at his house because he's boring! And who said a mother has to be at her best all the time? That just proves that I'm tired, not that I have evil energy.
4. What additional evidence would be necessary to rule out the alternative interpretations? Let's see. We could isolate Xir from me for a while and see if he miraculously and spontaneously recovers and never falls ill again. We could make his father magically interesting and fun to be around and see if the kids still slept constantly at his house. Or wait, I know! We could give FULL CUSTODY to ME and see if eventually they began sleeping well because they knew I would always be there!
5. What is the most reasonable conclusion to make at this time? The boys' dad is a poopyhead.
If I could only remember to run through these five steps every time life cuts me down. (What am I being asked to believe? That I'm not pretty enough. What am I being asked to believe? That I need to own certain things to be a viable member of society. What am I being asked to believe? That I'm not doing my job well enough.)
If only I could remember to use it when my friends are hurting, or my children are confused, or I'm too hard on myself. It's so easy to believe the hurtful things. I don't want to do that anymore.