A couple weeks ago, we talked about the sobering exercise of trying to observe other people getting upset or losing their temper at their kids. Nothing wakes you up quite like catching a reflection of yourself in other people, especially when it comes to our anger problems. But this exercise of looking in the mirror through people-watching can be used to address other bad habits and parenting flaws as well.
One such area is our anxiety. Everyone knows anxious parents. The mom who is always worried about strangers with candy or drugs in Halloween treats. The dad who turns into a totally different person at the airport, turning the already stressful experience of traveling into a nightmare of conflict and needlessly high stakes. There are the couples who are always fighting about money, even though they are hardly starving, and whose lifestyle and insecurities are in a vicious feedback loop. There are the couples who are stressed—a decade and a half before they need to be—about where their kids will go to college, or the ones whose political views have them convinced the world is about to end and are thus perpetually outraged and worked up.
When these folks catch our attention, we should turn our gaze towards their children. What effect is this having on them? What kind of energy is all this anxiety and stress causing? Is it solving any problems? Is it contributing to anyone’s happiness? Is it the source of a lot of misery?
The point here is not to judge. It’s to see ourselves in someone else. We are all anxious. We all have our own bundles of worry and fear. And these things turn us into a type of person we do not want to be, and someone whom our children do not deserve. Anxiety doesn’t solve problems—it compounds them. It ratchets up the tension. Not just on you, but the impressionable and innocent people who have no choice but to live under your roof. It’s hard to watch other people behave this way, which is why we are usually in denial about behaving that way ourselves.
You have to catch yourself. You have to work on yourself before you become the thing you cannot stand to look at.