Monday, March 16, 2009

Mood magnet

Went hiking with Rees and Kadin yesterday, which may have been a mistake, as the hike ended up a bit less light-hearted with them along. But, I did come away with a helpful new perspective! One exciting new option around here—that, alas, we didn't take advantage of—is they are fine if we leave them home alone. Well, mostly Kadin is fine with being left alone. He really craves/thrives on his alone time. Rees, not so much.

But, a big breakthrough last Thursday. Greg and the boys were supposed to go to Kung Fu and I had planned to go to a meeting. Then Rees came home after soccer and announced he had a big homework project due the next day, so he couldn't go to Kung Fu. I called a couple of his friends to see if he could hang with them and do his project, but no one else was home. We spelled out the options for him: stay home alone and do it, take it to Kung Fu and do it there, go to Kung Fu and do the homework later in the evening and again in the morning. Rees’s response to these options? None of the above. His ideas included: Greg take Kadin to Kung Fu and then come home and stay with him and then rush back to pick up Kadin, or, I cancel my plans and stay with him. Basically the gist of his ideas: everyone else rearrange their schedule to accommodate me.

He had some historical research he needed to do and then he had to prepare a two-minute speech, type it out, practice it, and time it. He had known about it for two days. He could have planned ahead better, but not too much. So we reluctantly left him home alone—this child who doesn’t like to be alone and has trouble concentrating—to do a multi-part project from start to finish. What were the chances? I figured either way, it would be a learning experience. Miracle of miracles, it was fine! When Greg and Kadin got home, Rees had it all typed out, practiced, and in his backpack. Milestone! He rose to the challenge! Yea!

So back to the hiking. It was a beautiful day and we wanted to go for a short hike. Thought the kids would like to get out in the woods. Rees kind of wanted to go, Kadin really did not. I could tell Kadin wanted to have some alone time, but at home Rees kept pestering him to play soccer, have a nerf-gun war, etc. Rees, in true form, said he would only go hiking if Kadin went as it would be boring without him. Nice that he wants to be with his brother—and they really do get along well—but too bad his brother is an introvert and he is not! If Kadin didn’t go, Rees said he’d stay home too. Thinking a change of scene would do everyone good, we insisted Kadin come along and offered a post-hike lunch at Chipotle as a consolation.

They did okay—Kadin going a bit slow at times, and being incredibly negative and anti- everything as can be his way—but they went along. (And, as is also typical, today, the day after, Kadin recalls it as a fun hike! We have learned not to take his negativity to heart.) At one point, Rees and I were ahead and Rees was complaining that “Kadin’s laziness” had infected him, and it was Kadin’s fault that he couldn’t go faster. Since we had been climbing steadily uphill for quite a while, I thought that was a likely reason Rees felt slow. But he didn’t see it that way at all. “Kadin’s mood has infected me, it’s all his fault!”

I hate it when Rees does this. I find it incredibly annoying and almost pathological that Rees often blames other people for his moods. I wasn’t going to play the blame game, so I just repeated Rees’s statement back to him: “You feel that Kadin’s mood has infected you, and you don’t like it.”

“Yeah, it makes me feel bad.”

“You feel bad. You don’t like this mood.”

And then it hit me. Maybe instead of a pathological blaming of others and lack of healthy responsibility, maybe Rees was right. Maybe Kadin’s mood really HAD “infected” him. I call Rees our resident mood magnet. He is very sensitive and empathetic and quite easily takes on other’s moods. Sometimes this serves him well. It’s what makes him so great at interacting with and engaging people whom others find difficult to engage with. Sometimes, though, it makes a stressful situation doubly or triply stressful. It’s what makes life around here so interesting!

He is very perceptive and can take in a lot of detail, but one of the reasons he often has difficulty concentrating is that he doesn’t know how to filter all this input. He sees it all equally. He attends to it all. It could very well be that he was absorbing Kadin’s mood because he didn’t know how to shield or filter. Seeing it this way made me less angry. He doesn’t yet realize he can choose which moods to pay attention to. I was excited about this new approach so talked with him a while about how, whether he knew it or not, he could choose which moods to absorb. It’s something I myself have only recently been experimenting with. What power! What potential!

Of course, he poo-pooed it all and didn’t share my enthusiasm. And, as we were engrossed in the conversation, we forgot to wait for Greg and Kadin at a critical fork and didn’t realize they didn’t know where to go until much later… But, as with a lot of parenting, it is mostly planting the seed. And then just as his mood was lifting and we were reaching our beautiful, climactic destination, we realized our mistake at the fork. Oh calamity! Confusion! We'd arrived, but we're torn. Should we stay or should we go back? Will we ever find them? This could take hours... As we're debating, who do we see coming up the path? Greg and Kadin! They found it! There’s hope!

1 comment:

Shelly Phillips said...

Love this post. I wonder about the idea of a mood magnet or getting "infected" with other people's moods.

From a Nonviolent Communication (by Marshall Rosenberg) perspective I'd say my needs weren't being met when my husband was grumpy.

But then again, maybe he did "infect" me! I've been so wrapped up in taking full responsibility for my own emotions, I forgot that other people can also take responsibility for their impact in the world.

Thanks for reminding me to expand my perspective!