Relationship Stress and the “It’s Just Thunder” Incident
I’m Okay and You’re Okay… as Long as I’m With You–
Dateline: Willie’s Roadhouse, Truck Stop Cafe in Abott, Texas. And, yes, the chicken-fried steaks lap over the edges of the plate.
Note: This entry, along with the next introduce the series: “Las Vegas Mary Grows a Self: Relationship Dependence, A Soap Opera in Four Parts.”
We live in anxious times. Whether the current era is more anxiety-producing than frontier times, I don’t know. What is different is that presently we have much greater access to other people in times of stress.
With magic phones, tablets, computers, most of us can make contact with others instantly. The result?
We don’t learn how to build personal tolerance for anxiety. We don’t learn and we do not model how to simply sit with disappointment, anger, hurt, or even joy. I’m not suggesting a return to dial-up, only noting that in our child-focused times, parents are instantly available both as resources and as supervisors. parents have bought into seeing instant availability as being a good parent and any less as being a neglectful parent.
We don’t rush in taking our childrens’ problems away from them and making them our problems because we want to undercut our children’s resilience. We do it because we love them and want the very best life for them and we are anxious critters.
Real Life Example with Fake Names: Mr. and Mrs. C are in my office to address a serious marital issue. During the session, Mr. C receives a cell phone call. He indicates it’s his childrenm, thus he must answer. He and the caller talk back and forth a few times. Then Mr. C turns to Mrs. C and reports on the fight over the television going on back at home. Mrs. C takes the phone and speaks to each of the three children twice until she senses the battle has been resoved, at least for the moment. Their children, like most, do not live on isolated farms without communication devices, but have strings of numbers to call and neighborhoods loaded with adults glad to help in an emergency. I’m wondering what would have happened had the parents turned off their phones, trusted their children could work out whatever came up, and focused on the issue at hand.
Consider the following dilemma: It is two in the morning when a loud thunderstorm breaks over the city. A frightened child calls for her mother who shows up immediately. The experience is new to the child, we’d expect her to be anxious.
Mother number one hugs the child and says, “It’s a thunderstorm. You are safe because I am here with you.”
Mother number two hugs the child and says, “It’s a thunderstorm. You are safe because when you are inside a house, thunderstorms are not dangerous. Sure, there’s lightening, and that can be dangerous if you are outside, and loud noise, but that’s all there is to thunderstorms. Did you ever think what would happen to all the animals in the forest if it never stormed?”
Next: “The Intoxicated Babysitter and the Third Graders.” More on what happens to us as adults if we have not developed the capacity to tolerate anxiety and find our own solutions. Or even try to find our own solutions.