Being Easy-Going Isn't Always Easy
I’m a mom of boys. I love saying this almost as much as I love being this. My sons are just 18 months apart; however, their little souls couldn’t be more different. I’m an only child, but with nearly 11 years of parenting under my belt, I thought I was approaching veteran parenting status until it skyrocketed into a heaping mess. We had a family meltdown. This moment wouldn’t make it onto my Facebook timeline among the fun posts of smiles and laughter. It was one of our hardest moments because it was a negative introduction to life – the hard-knock side of it.
You could describe our household as the get-along-gang – we live peaceably, laugh a lot and love boundlessly, most of the time. It’s only two chickadees in this nest, and they often remind me that I don’t understand why they bicker one moment and beg and whine to be together when I send them to neutral corners. Their personalities are night and day, but they love each other. They often sacrifice their wants for the good of the other sibling, and if your household is like mine, there’s that one sibling who makes the sacrifice a few times more than the other. When it comes down to them having opposing wants, one usually waves the white flag and says, “It’s okay. He can choose where we eat tonight.” “It’s okay. I don’t mind letting him go first.” I acknowledge those its okays to be sure it’s really okay. But when you have an easy-going child, they tend to shy away from dwelling on the issue and move on. Cue the it’s-about-to-go-down music.
My youngest enjoys trips to any variety dollar store. Splurging is allowing him to get two things from the store instead of one. Even though these thinga-ma-bobs are cheap, my youngest will hound you until you give in from utter exhaustion. If Merriam-Webster ever needs an image to illustrate the term squeaky-wheel, I’m offering up his most recent school photo. My oldest son is the opposite. He prefers quality over quantity, and his taste is usually expensive. He’s happy with science toys that require design and construction or costly art kits. Items that tickle his fancy average in the $50 range. He rarely asks for anything and happily helps the younger kiddo sift through the bargain bin for more trinkets while he comes home empty-handed.
It would take the younger kiddo a couple of months of trinket collection to match one shopping jaunt with big brother. Even though I’m an only child, my parents made sure I understood the importance of treating children equally. They are quick to say, what’s done for one is done for all, whether they are your children or grandchildren. So of course, every trinket trip or purchase is met with the offer for something similar or comparable to the older kiddo. The older kid’s response is usually, “I’m good. It’s okay.” As parents, we can sometimes get used to the easy-going kid being ‘good’ with everything, and we can take their mature, delayed gratification behavior for granted.
I made the mistake of believing it was okay when it really wasn’t. We were fresh off a garden variety dollar store run. I offered a two-item limit to each child. The squeaky wheel was all in, while the easy-going kid waited patiently. Later that evening, the easy-going child walked into my bedroom with his computer opened to an Amazon tab. I’ll admit that I was finishing up some last minute writing edits and I was a bit distracted. All I saw was a $49 sticker price. Before I knew it, the frugal mom came out, and I said, ‘That’s too much. Do some research to see if you can find something less expensive.’ I didn’t think about the last two months of the easy-going one saying, “It’s okay. I don’t need that.” All I saw was the initial price. Had I taken a moment to recount how many times he chose not to partake in the trinket roundup with his younger brother, I would have known it was an even trade. I didn’t remember. He did. Within a minute, we had ourselves a family mayday.
There is nothing worse than seeing disappoint in your child’s eyes and knowing you’re the reason for it. As soon as the words flew out of my mouth, ‘That’s too much,’ I knew the damage was done. I put myself in the easy-going kid’s shoes. I’m an only child, so I can’t draw from the experience of watching that squeaky-wheel sibling get what appears to be a lot of stuff while I forgo the spoils for something I truly want. I’ve seen this all too often in the workplace and among friends. The easy-going, peacemaking people take a backseat to the squeaky wheels in the name of being thoughtful. I’ve been that easy-going coworker, friend and lover – putting others’ needs before my own wants and then dying a little inside when it’s not reciprocated when I need it the most. I would say I understand or it’s okay when deep inside I knew it wasn’t okay. Maybe you’re the easy-going one in your family or relationships, and you can relate to how this feels.
As my easy-going offspring rattled off nearly every account of the squeaky wheel’s purchases over the past three months, I realized all those its okays weren’t completely true. It was okay as long as I remembered his sacrifice when the time came for something he wanted. Even though my easy-going kid didn't want the trinkets, denying himself still left an emptiness and feeling of lack that I didn’t notice until this moment. I scrambled to make this a teaching moment. After all, I know an easy-going kid will grow up to be an easy-going adult who may put up with more than they should ever put up with. I had to nip it in the bud and offer motherly advice on how to avoid letting things get to this point. I was a good and seasoned adult before I learned better, and I wasn't about to let that happen to my sons. I kept in mind that they are young boys and have the attention span of gnat hair, so I kept it to the big three.
1. Speak your mind and be direct about what you want. When you allow others to believe that you’re okay with something when you’re not, you set yourself up for disappointment and resentment.
2. Stop feeling guilty about asking for what you want. In my personal and professional life, I often watched squeaky wheel behavior and was amazed at how bold and brazen some people could be while I would actually feel bad about clearly stating what I needed. Give yourself permission to be a little selfish when it comes to getting what you need or at least being heard.
3. Never assume that people should know better and will have an awakening to recognize when they’ve wronged you. My greatest disappointments happened when I assigned people as my personal mind readers. Just because you realize that something isn’t right doesn’t mean the other person can understand it or has the desire to do anything about it. If you say, “They should know better,” assume that they don’t and respond accordingly but don’t get angry when they fail to acknowledge your feelings.
That’s the backdrop to a tough conversation. It was no longer about the $49 item; it was a welcome-to-life lesson where not everything will be fair, equal or even comparable. Sometimes people hurt us, and sometimes those people share the same bloodline. Life is going to deliver some tough blows. Whenever you can confidently speak up for your own needs or wants, and fight for what you believe in, you can better accept the outcome. It’s when we ignore ourselves in the name of getting along that we deposit resentment. Resentment is emotional cement – once it slowly oozes into your system, it begins to harden your insides. Next thing you know, people refer to you as stone cold, and not in a good way.
I didn’t expect a trip to get cheap thinga-ma-bobs to end in a discussion on life, but here we sat, a mom and two boys discussing how we could all do life a little better. Squeaky wheel even felt convicted enough to gather up a box of his good-condition trinkets to donate. My easy-going kid now understood that its okays can come with conditions that clearly outline your expectations. It wasn’t pretty, but we managed to get to the life skill lesson that came out of left field on what would’ve been an ordinary afternoon. It was an unexpected conversation that rudely awakened me to the fact that my kiddos are quickly leaving childhood and heading into manhood along with all the aches and pains this stage in life can bring. I'll never forget this day of my parenting journey. I stopped assuming that my kids knew they could tell me what's on their hearts and gave them verbal confirmation that I wouldn't have it any other way even if they thought it would hurt my feelings. A house that is filled with love but lacks honesty and trust is on a shaky foundation. Eventually, it will crumble.
From this mom to the world, there’s nothing wrong with being easy-going or raising easy-going kids. It’s okay when it feels right, but as soon as it starts to feel uncomfortable, I hope we feel empowered to speak up and nip it in the bud.