That’s my name for today. My son Dylan is 6 years old, and he’s pissed at me, and he’s decided to call me Life Ruiner.
He’s not just saying, “You’re a life ruiner.”
He is literally addressing me as if my name were Life Ruiner.
“I’m going downstairs to watch TV, Life Ruiner.” “Will you make me some lunch, Life Ruiner.”
You’re probably thinking it’s funny. Okay, it’s definitely a little bit funny.
But we’ve been struggling the last few days, and he’s been expressing a lot of anger, and he’s been saying he doesn’t love me and that he doesn’t want to be around me. And so my feelings are hurt. Like, not just “tell him my feelings are hurt so he will understand the effect of his words.” My heart is legitimately heavy, and I feel like shit about the whole thing.
When Dylan does something I don’t like, I have a fork in the road ahead of me. I can go down one road that has a lot of control, discipline, punishment, power struggles, laying down the law, telling him like it is… all that stuff.
I don’t go that way. That way is miserable.
I’m going to take the other path. I’m taking the path that has love, connection, cooperation, resepctfulness, and joy.
Of course, that’s a little harder when I feel like dirt. I feel like crying. I feel like lashing out.
But there’s a great big powerful truth that sits in the middle of my relationship with my child.
It’s completely undeniable.
It’s completely obvious.
It’s that I’m the fucking grownup.
Like, seriously. There are two of us here, and one of us is a child who is newer to the world, has fewer resources, has less experience, and who needs more support. And one of us is a grown adult with a whole world of options available to me.
So I gotta step up. I gotta show up. I gotta be the bigger person.
I’m not saying that’s easy. It’s downright treacherously complicated sometimes.
In this Life Ruiner situation, there’s a whole minefield to walk through to get somewhere better.
- I have to set aside my own feelings and respond in a way that helps HIM and prioritizes HIM.
- I have to stay focused on being the gentle, loving parent my son needs, with a caring tone of voice, open body language, and emotional availability.
- I have to model healthy boundaries, because my response will inform how he reacts in the future if someone calls him names.
- I have to listen deeply, beyond his words, and figure out what my son is saying that is coming out as accusations and name-calling.
That’s a LOT to accomplish when I’m feeling brittle myself!
But I’m up to it. Because I’m the fucking grownup!
So we made it through the moment. I found the feeling he was wanting to express but hadn’t figured out yet. I modeled good boundaries by not answering when he called me the wrong name, but staying available to all other communication. I kept expressing my love AND my confidence that we could solve this problem together.
And we made it!
Some people use the idea of “because I’m the adult” to demand that they be treated a certain way. They want respect. They want deference. They want to be in charge.
I think that’s a really shallow view of adulthood.
I want to use my adulthood to be a shining example. I want to be the bigger person. I want to use my powers for good.
Being the adult doesn’t have to make me stingy. It can make me awesome!
And that makes my parenting awesome, too. It makes my relationship with my kid awesome.
It makes life more awesome all around!
PS: I’m finishing up this post a few days later, and I can report that everything turned around after that day. The days leading up to the Life Ruiner Incident had been full of negativity, but since then it’s faded. My son has not called me a single name or said he doesn’t love me. Some of those moments of stepping up to the grownup plate are tough! But acting like a grownup really pays off!