Friday, April 16, 2010

Getting our good side

Have you ever noticed how different people can bring out such distinct aspects of your personality? I was talking with a good friend whose daughter is about the same age as Elena. She was telling me how several people consider her little girl to be clingy and overly-dependent. I know she wasn't making it up, but it still made me shake my head in wonder. We go to bookstores, the aquarium and other places with the kidlets fairly often, and her little one is always cheerful and plays happily with all of us. Our favorite places have a section with long aisles that have very low traffic, and she'll giggle and take off in typical toddler fashion and run around. Sure, she loves her mommy and always comes back before she gets out of sight, but I just don't see the clinginess those others see.

On the other hand, I have noticed that my own darlings respond very differently to some people, too. We go out all the time to the library, grocery shopping, parks, zoo, sometimes restaurants, wherever, and we frequently get compliments on their behavior. They are usually calm, polite, interact well with other kids and follow my instructions easily. However, there are a few relatives that for reasons I cannot fathom, somehow bring out total wildness. It horrifies me. I don't understand it, but as soon as they are in sight, the very worst side of my sweetlings comes out--and suffice it to say, they are the general opposite of calm, polite, interacting well with others, or compliant. It is terribly embarrassing, and there is nothing I can say to the effect that they are not always like that (in fact, rarely like that!) because it happens every. single. time. we are around them. I've talked to the kids to no avail.

As aggravating as it is (and I am still working on it with them), I can think of people that I know that somehow spark similar issues with me. For years, I would get around certain family members and revert back to feeling (and sometimes acting) incredibly childish. Around one friend, I suddenly began to complain and gripe about all kinds of things, even those that didn't really bother me. Conversely, I have been around some people that bring such refreshing to my spirit that I find myself full of peace and more confident just by spending time with them.

It would be tempting to blame my reactions on the individuals who seem to bring it out, but as I thought about common denominators, the people who seemingly provoke good or bad reactions are mostly wonderful people whom I like and respect. It isn't a flaw in their character or anything like that. The closest I could come to any kind of classification was that those who seemed to like and accept me the most seemed to bring out my good side.

My friends are a pretty diverse group. They come from many different cultures and backgrounds, and fall all over the spectrum in terms of religious views, parenting, politics and everything else. Most of them have significant areas where we are polar opposites, but our affection for each other bridges that. Even when we disagree strongly on things, our relationship remains strong as long as we each feel genuinely liked and respected by the other.

There are some people in my life where I get an underlying sense that they disapprove of me or don't like me. Even when there is nothing overt in their actions to indicate that, my perception causes me to bristle up and get nervous or uncomfortable. Then I freeze up or get weird. (Note: if I freeze up or get weird around you, that doesn't necessarily mean anything. It isn't always because of this).

It makes sense to me that in some situations our kids might also react from embarrassment or feeling unsure of themselves or of our approval. Maybe that brings out more childish behavior in them. Perhaps we can help them get on the good side by helping them to feel more accepted and liked by us. It is hard to do in the moment, I admit, especially when the behaviors are very unlikeable. And of course, we still need boundaries. However, boundaries can be firm without causing shame.

One of Joel's favorite sayings is, "I love you and I like you all day and all night (i.e., forever)". We also adapted the line from, "I'll Love You Forever," (which always makes me teary, even though some of the stuff when he is an adult weirds me out a bit) and tell each other, "I'll love you forever and like you for always." I think everyone desperately needs a safe place where they are unconditionally accepted. I think it brings out our good side.

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