We’ve all been there. Your husband is spilling his heart out to you and the only thing you want to do is yell, “Freakin’ suck it up and deal with it!” Ok, maybe it’s just me. Sometimes I’m too tired to offer a sympathetic ear. Sometimes I’ve heard the same thing over and over, and I just don’t want to hear it again. But mostly I want to tell him this because I don’t think what he is complaining about is all that bad.
When Brandon complains about having a hard day, I have to bite my tongue from saying, “Hard day? When your client poops all over your last clean t-shirt and knocks over a canned food display in the grocery store then I will believe you’ve had a rough day.” I feel like I have it harder than him so I don’t feel like his complaining is justified. More likely than not what actually comes out of my mouth is, “Pick yourself up by your bootstraps and keep forging ahead.”
Talk about breaking the first rule you learn in Marriage 101. Listening and being compassionate are pretty high on the list of necessary communication skills. So while I knew I lacked these qualities in conversations with my husband, I didn’t quite understand his plight until recently.
As I made clear in my June 8 post, I haven’t been teaching the girls about Mexican culture. What I failed to mention is that I haven’t even been teaching them Spanish. It’s just so hard. It is difficult enough keeping our family fed, house clean, and everyone wearing matching socks much less remembering to call an apple a manzana.
I have been stewing in guilt about this but of course some people find it necessary to stir the pot even more. Every time I talk to La Lupe she reminds me that my kids better be speaking Spanish when we go visit. One acquaintance that I see often always has to rub it in by asking if I am teaching the girls Spanish and then, after I respond no, picks them up and will only talk to them in Spanish to highlight my failure.
This does not inspire me and if anything, makes me more resolute that it is too hard for me to do. Telling me to stop whining because it’s not that hard and that I should be able to figure it out makes me want to do the opposite of figure it out.
Then, a couple months ago, I went to a baby shower. I met another mom there. I heard her kids speaking Polish, and I told her how wonderful it was that they knew another language. I confided in her how much I wish I could pass on Spanish to my children. She simply responded, “Yes, it is really hard. My husband really had to work to train himself to only talk to the kids in Polish.”
That is all that I needed — validation from somebody in the same boat. She has four kids. She understands the crazy that goes on at home. She affirmed that it is hard and it does take a lot of work to talk to your kids in another language. The very next day I started chatting with the girls in Spanish and have made a concerted effort to do it ever since.
That’s all it took, someone to say, yes, what you are feeling makes sense and I understand. Compassion and understanding made me change — not threats or veiled insults. I think that this is probably true for most people. Nobody wants to hear, “Hey, whiney baby, stop complaining and do something about it.” I’ve come to realize that telling someone to pick themselves up by their bootstraps very rarely works. Of course sometimes there is a place for tough love. Sometimes there is a need for someone to get a kick in the butt to get out of a rut or to stop dangerous behavior. But most likely, we just need someone to validate what we are feeling so that we can let it go and move on.
I wonder if it is just an American notion that if we all work hard enough and try hard enough we can accomplish everything and succeed by sheer force of will. I don’t think this is true. We need others. I don’t care how much pressure I was putting on myself or how guilty I was making myself feel, I would have never started speaking to the girls in Spanish if not for that random conversation. We need other people to affirm us. Maybe what we are having a problem with really is silly and not worth the time we are expending on it. We’re human. We just need someone to give us a little credit. For most people it is hard enough to show some kind of weakness or flaw in front of another person; we definitely don’t need those rare vulnerable moments to be met with consternation or correction. We need to be free to be imperfect in front of those around us without getting it thrown back in our face. We need others to accept our whole self including the imperfect parts. That is how we feel loved. Loved for being ourselves completely. We can’t move on if we do not feel supported or loved by another.
Maybe that is why people complain about the same things over and over. Because they don’t feel like anyone gets why they are complaining. Maybe they don’t feel like someone understands what they are saying in the first place. Maybe we hold on to things we shouldn’t because we are just waiting for some understanding soul to help us let it go.
Hard is so relative. It is not comforting to anyone to tell them that other people have it harder. It doesn’t help anyone to tell them that what they are going through is not actually hard if they just work at it. This doesn’t make it less hard for the person. This doesn’t help them figure it out. So the next time my husband complains about how tough his job is I should agree with him because it really is a hard job that puts a lot of pressure on him. I could be compassionate and not judgmental. I could be understanding and not a jerk. If only it weren’t so hard…