So, we were at a football game and it was intense: the score was very close (one field-goal kick would win the game for either team) and the entire stadium was buzzing. Lots of mistakes were happening on the field and the players of both teams were clearly shaken. Time was running out and they reset to try to get another play in…a Hail Mary…when one of our players moved and was off-sides! The referee blows a whistle and begins screaming at the offending player about the rules of football and why being off-sides is wrong…about how he has let his entire team down…and the player has no choice but to stand there and listen to the referee’s rant as he watches the time run out and our team’s only chance at redemption is gone.
Ridiculous isn’t it? That’s because the story above never happened…I made it up based on a parenting article I read about 8 years ago. At the time, I had a rambunctious two-year-old who could pick locks and a newborn that I lovingly referred to as the gourmet because he savored his meals…for over an hour…for every feeding…which added up to over 8 solid hours of breast-feeding every day. I was searching online for help. I had become this sleep-deprived, hormonally-imbalanced, not-able-to-see-outside-of-my-current-circumstances-mother-of-two who would lose her cool and yell…and cry…and hide because that was the only way that I could manage 60 seconds of quiet time to myself where nobody would touch me…I just wanted for nobody to touch me! (You can imagine what that did to my sex life at the time. I’ve said it before: Stan is a saint!)
The article changed my life and I have, unfortunately, not been able to re-locate it since then. So, my fictitious story above is meant to throw a life raft, to anyone else that might find themselves overwhelmed right now, like that article did for me. See, in the article, the author stated that “Our role as parents, is to be our children’s referee. When a player gets off-sides, a referee doesn’t get red-faced and yell about how the virtues of the game have been violated. He simply throws the flag and steps off the penalty.” (These may not be the author’s exact words…I’m trying to recall an article from 8 years ago that used a sports analogy…why are they always sports analogies? I digress.)
There are several points to be made here: One idea is that game time is not the time to learn how the game is played…that is done before the player steps onto the field. Game time is when the rules are enforced and a score is earned. Certainly, lessons can be learned during a game by the player but the player isn’t learning from a screaming referee…he learns from experiences he is having as he interacts with his surroundings. Another point that I learned from that article is that expending endless energy about someone else’s behavior is not healthy or balanced…nor is it productive. (Warning: Science Geek-Out Alert!) When we are experiencing fight or flight, (think temper tantrums, anger, crying, fear, insecurity, etc.) we CAN NOT learn new things. (Literally! This has been shown repeatedly in scientific studies.) So, why do we think that raising our voices or physically intimidating others will help them to see our point? It’s irrational! Think about the story at the beginning…if that really happened, it would go viral on the internet in under 24 hours. People would be upset with the referee and demand his job…not to mention how much he would be mocked for being unstable and dumb. The final point is one that the article didn’t make, but I think it is important: It’s not the referee’s job to determine what position the player plays…that is something that the player determines. If the referee took a kicker and made him play the position of a lineman, that isn’t going to work out well for anyone…especially the player who will believe that he is terrible at football because he isn’t playing the role he was designed to play.
So, why am I telling you this and why do I think it could be a life raft? Well, I think that these points apply to many relationships (not just parenting) and the holidays are rapidly approaching. Many of us will spend next week with people who are intimately familiar with our buttons and how to push them (whether that be our children, spouses, parents, siblings, extended family, or anyone else.) I think now (before game time) is the time to get our heads and hearts right so that we don’t morph into the screaming referee. It’s ok to draw healthy boundaries…let’s figure them out before the explosion occurs so that we can be the people who pursue peace by simply throwing the flag and stepping off the penalty…followed by a re-set.
So how are you doing with this? Is there someone in your life that just makes you lose your cool? How can you change things so that you can create some healthy boundaries? What boundaries might you need to draw? Is it possible, that you are the person with whom others need to draw boundaries? How can you allow, or even encourage, that to happen so that relationships can be salvaged? Are you being required to play a role that you aren’t equipped to play? Are you requiring that of someone else? How can this be approached in a gentle and loving way so that everyone has the freedom to be who God designed them to be?
I’m praying for a healthy head-space and heart-space for us all as we navigate important and sometimes difficult relationships over the holidays. I’m praying that God would give us wisdom and grace. And if you are a parent of littles, I’m praying that you would find rest and peace in the middle of the muddle. Much love friends,