Monday, May 02, 2011

A Lesson in Rational Self-Interest

This was just a little incident that happened a few days ago, but I've been mulling it over ever since.

Morgan and Sean were having an altercation. Apparently, Sean was upset enraged over the fact that Morgan did not want to wear the fireman peopleguy hat he was insistent ought to be worn by her at that exact moment.

He was just screaming at her. Screaming and screaming with rage. (He's officially hit the Tumultuous Twos/Threes, right on schedule. Probably there's enough fodder there for an entire blog post unto itself. Suffice it to say, things are much louder around here lately, and it's still new enough that it mostly amuses me.)


Well, see, the thing is, she didn't want to.

One thing about our sweetie girl is that she's really naturally very sweet. She hates conflict and loudness and feels sad when other people feel sad. She is one of those people who wants everyone else to be happy and have fun and generally acts as a harmonizing force in groups where there is conflict.

This is a nice quality to have (especially given the temperaments of the other people in the family), and it seems to be a pretty consistent--possibly fundamental--part of her personality. This is one of the myriad ways in which she is exactly like Brendan, who is also one of those easy-going harmonizing types (let's just say that Brendan and I balance each other out nicely, heh). So I don't want her to change it.

However, one of the drawbacks of this quality is that she tends to give in to what others want, sometimes a bit too easily and quickly, in my opinion. I've seen her give in to her older brother over and over and over. I've had to help her stand up to him more times than I can count. Many times, I think she truly doesn't care what happens, and if that's true, then I suppose I don't mind if she gives in. But sometimes I do think she cares and gives in anyway. And not just to Ryan, but to her friends, too.

So a couple of days ago, while Sean was freaking out because Morgan wouldn't wear a fireman peopleguy hat, she kind of sighed and said "Oh all right, Sean. I'll wear the hat." And put it on, looking unhappy. The screaming immediately ceased.

I asked her why she put the hat on and she said "It'll make Sean happy."

"But will it make you happy? Do you actually want to wear the hat?"

"Well, no. Not really." She sounded tired and resigned.

"Well, then don't wear the hat. You need to do what you want. It's okay if you don't put the hat on."

"But he'll be sad!"

"It's okay if he's sad about it. If he is, I'll help him deal with those feelings. He can handle being sad and mad. He'll be okay."

She looked at me a little uncertainly and then removed the hat. And the shrieking resumed! Seriously, it was like a water faucet: Hat On/Screaming Off; Hat Off/Screaming On.

I comforted Sean and told him: "Morgan doesn't want to wear the fireman hat right now." and "It's okay to be mad about it." and "No, she's all done with the hat." and "You feel sad that Morgan doesn't want to wear the hat." All my usual empathizing-with-Big-Toddler-Feelings stuff. I held him (and held him back because he was waving the hat and trying to run at Morgan and put it on her head--dude is persistent!) and hugged him and patted his little back.

Morgan imitated me: "No, Sean, I don't want to wear the hat now, but maybe I will later!" Because she wanted to give him hope I think. Harmonizer Kid.

The new fit blew over fairly quickly (Sean's M.O. at least for now) and we all resumed our activities.

I think this was a self-interest WIN because I think sometimes she errs into altruism for the sake of harmony (or peace and quiet). Like I said, there's nothing wrong with preferring harmony to discord I don't think, but I do want to see her learn how to do what she wants and not always give in to the demands of others.

Because one day, she'll want to buy a car and have an encounter with a high-pressure sales guy. Because one day, she'll need to say to a co-worker or boss or a classmate or a neighbor: "I really can't take on one more project right now." Because one day, she'll want to say to some guy "No, I don't want to have sex with you."

And it was a good experience for Sean, too--he got to see Morgan doing what she wanted and learn that she gets to do what she wants, he found out that Mom and Morgan will empathize with him and be understanding about his Big Feelings, and maybe, just maybe, he understood just a teeny bit more about the fact that no, he really isn't in control of everyone's personal business around here (that's me, of course!).

Learning to say NO and learning to take NO for an answer--sometimes it starts with a fireman hat.


Anonymous said...

Good lesson. I've seen too many adults who have learned to manipulate the people around them by becoming insufferable, expecting people will avoid confrontation and adversity at any cost. The more they learn that doesn't work, the better off everyone will be.

Kate Yoak said...

This was the most insightful line in the post for me: "It's okay if he's sad about it. If he is, I'll help him deal with those feelings. He can handle being sad and mad. He'll be okay."

We are in the same phase right now. Lily is almost three. Alex divides his time between protecting her, being driven insane by her, and helping her learn.

It is often hard for me to find the balance between having them resolve problems on their own and appealing to me. Delineating, "I can help him deal with his feelings" puts me in the proper role of feelings-helper allowing them to be, well, siblings.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

I'm way past having toddlers, but I had to smile. I love the descriptor: Big Feelings. They are so big for such little guys!

And I am really glad to see that you are teaching your daughter how to say "no." As a child I was taught to always abdicate my wishes in favor of others for the sake of peace and harmony because I was the girl, and it took years of pain to learn that my values mattered and that I could say "no" and the world would not come to an end.