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Owning Reactions


Sitting on a bench at a local amusement park waiting for my girls to get off the Beast rollercoaster the other day, I overheard a mom yelling at her kids. I couldn’t make out what she was saying, but I heard her end the rant with the question, “Why do you always make me yell at you?”

Her words seemed to hang in the air for a bit because I’ve been there (especially at Kings Island!) Pushed to the max, unheard, not considered, disappointed, frustrated and ultimately reactive to what my girls were making me feel in the moment…..

I immediately felt sad that sometimes we, as parents, hand responsibilities over to our kids that are not theirs to handle. My girls no more make me yell at them than they put socks on my feet in the morning. I control my voice, it is inside my body and what I do or don’t do with it is mine to determine and not theirs to control. For that matter, this is true in every situation.

Sometimes Addy will say to me, “Mom, are you sure?  I don’t want to make you mad.” To which I try and promptly remind her, “Addy it is not your responsibility to manage my emotions. It’s mine. It is your responsibility to be a kid.” Part of Addy asking is her temperament. She is always aware of how others are feeling and often assumes the position of managing other people’s emotional responses. It’s called ‘people pleasing’ and it will not set her up to live a life of grace and truth. As a recovering people pleaser myself, I would like to see her break free from this before she hits her thirties. 

No one can make everyone happy or manipulate every situation so it appears peaceful. But everyone can be honest with their emotions.  I’ve learned a more healthy response would be, “You are making me want to yell, which tells me I am beyond frustrated and feeling unheard. I’m going to step out for a minute so I can gather my emotions, would you please think about how we can do a better job connecting in our conversation?” Simply getting louder doesn’t get you heard. 

This truth is not just for parents, it is people I work with, people I live with, people I go to church with who are continually pulling a reaction out of me that I don’t like. They don’t have to change (though don’t get me wrong–it would be great if they did) for me to move into a positive space. I don’t have to live reactive of them. When my circumstances control my emotions, I start to live life tossed back and forth by the winds and waves because life around me is unpredictable at best.

In that moment, I also felt challenged. As an adult, I have a daily invitation to drive my emotions in a healthy direction and, for such a brief period of time, my kids ride in the car with me. They are listening, observing, watching and ultimately they are mimicking.

We, as parents, are disciplining a generation. How we talk to them and how we talk about others in front of them, will be reflected in what comes out of their mouths one day. Jesus was a living example and the process of discipleship calls us to be the same. Not perfect examples, but present examples. Examples who do their best to drive well and also examples who quickly own up to reactive responses when the car takes a detour down an unnecessary road.

FOR FURTHER THOUGHT  Emotions are such a beautiful thing. They are teachers and feelers and they are a necessary and needed part of life. Don’t just shut them down. They bring life and enhance love and point us to the truth, but only if we guide them because they can also be childish, self-centered and unaware. They can lie, betray us and distort the truth of any given situation and they will, not because they are bad but because they are young. Our emotions have to grow up just like the rest of us.  I am thankful to be on the journey of growing up my emotions and no longer living controlled by every shifting circumstance. I’m far from perfect and there are days I hand over my keys, but those days are fewer and farther between at this point in my life.

What about you? When you think about your emotions, your reactions or your feelings, where do you fall? Have you handed someone else the key to your car? Are they driving your feelings in a direction you don’t necessarily want to go? How do you take your keys back? What’s one thing you can do today to own up to where you are?

PRAYER  Lord, may I be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, (James 1:19) May I hold the keys to my emotions and walk responsibly with my responses. May I not give away what is mine to own and wait for others to do what You’ve told me to do. When I go off center, may I be quick to recognize, repent and realign myself with who You are and who You empower us to be. I cannot do this without you.  Amen.

        Kristan Dooley

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