Betty Duffy

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Fighting the Man (pt.2)

My friend Pedge never yells at her children. I’ve been watching for many years, hoping to catch her in a weak moment. So many mothers yell, if for no other reason, to let witnesses know that they care about their child’s misbehavior. Not Pedge. I’ve asked her husband, “So what really happens when we’re not here? Doesn’t she ever just go crazy?” No. Her husband attests, she does not raise her voice.

Irene and I asked her the other day, how she does it. What kind of superhuman power is required to rear five children and never raise your voice?

“I just tell them, you can get dressed, or not get dressed. I’m leaving in ten minutes, and you’ll be in the car in your clothes, or your pajamas. But you will not steal my joy. You want to throw a tantrum about something? That’s fine. I’m going to continue what I’m working on and I’ll get back to you when you’re done. But you’re not going to steal my joy. It’s mine, and you can’t take it.”

Genius. Why should I let the misbehavior of my children blindside me into getting angry? I didn’t ask to be an angry person. I don’t deserve to be an angry person. In my bones, I am not an angry person. If I spend too much of my life being angry, it’s probably because I give away my joy too easily. Well, I’m not going to do it anymore.

Last night, one of my boys attempted to kick me when I took his book away to turn out the light. He knew better. It was uncalled for. My husband’s out of town this week. We’re all tired, and on any other day of my life, I might have unleashed on him a mouthful of spittle words and flying spank hands. But as much as I didn’t deserve to be kicked, I really didn’t deserve to have my day end in anger and regret.

“You may never kick your mother,” I said, firmly, but not yelling. I took him by the shoulder and marched him downstairs. “You’ve got five laps.” They run laps to our fence and back, not a short distance. We discovered several years ago that spanking is not much of a deterrent, while running gives us both time to calm down.

“But it’s cold!” he whined.

“That is why I have purchased for you a hat and coat.”

“But I’m tired!” he whined again. If anything steals my joy, it is unrelenting whining. I can be calm through the first few times, but after awhile I pop.

“That’s six laps. And I’ll give you another lap for every word you say. You can run all night if you want. But….You Are Not Going To Steal My Joy.” He didn’t know what to make of that. I think it was the first time he had heard his behavior framed in such a way, that it had potential to steal something from another person. He went out to run. And then he came in and went to bed. I didn’t hear another word from him all night, except for an apology.

My success caused me to look at some other areas in my life that are robbing me of my joy.

I’ve felt lately, a little man-handled by “Christmas Spirit.” The pressure to spend money, to prove that I have a benevolent heart, that I can help the economy, that I love my children, that I’m game for a gift exchange comes from every corner.

My kids are old enough to be aware that the Santa who comes to their house is not the same Santa who visits their friends. I’m not getting them much this year because they have more than they need, and can comfortably store. And I’m not going to beat myself up about it. My joy will not be less on Christmas morning because there are fewer presents under the tree. Not sure what to do with their disappointment yet, but I know it’s not going to steal my joy.

I’ve noticed a creeping sense of grinchery on my part, as I go to Church and one of the petitions is, “And in this busy month of Advent, let us not forget to pause, and remember the real reason we celebrate the Season.” The school principal offered a similar platitude after the school play Tuesday night. Our kids had just spent two months learning songs about Santa and how they don’t want slippers for Christmas, but simply by “pausing” to offer Jesus a quick thought, everything is put into perspective?

Well, I’m Not Going to Let it Steal my Joy.

This experiment has helped me to realize something about the nature of joy. First of all, it’s a practice. I’m not saying that as soon as I decided I wouldn’t let anyone steal my joy, I never yelled again. Matter of fact, I yelled five minutes ago, while I was writing this. But it caused me to examine, “Where is this impulse coming from? And what can I do to prevent it?”

Where platitudes are concerned, I dislike them because Jesus is not just the reason we celebrate the season, he’s the reason for my entire life. I don’t like the idea that I have to cue up warm fuzzy Advent and Christmas feelings simply because I’ve pressed the pause button on my crazy life. It so rarely works and then I feel disappointed.

My anti-commercialism cannot remain satisfied in its anti-ism. It has to find its purpose in an embrace of finer things. Hence, for my joy to be authentic, for it to work in suppressing my anger, my faith must be something that I am always doing rather than something I am always seeking to feel. I want my children to receive that joy for Christmas, the joy of an active, practicing faith. And I want them to keep it through their entire lives.

I don’t suppose my kids would grow in their love for Christ if my actions are to smack them silly when I’m angry, tell them I thought their play stunk, said that my Church lector wrote the petitions badly, and then followed it all up with: “But Jesus is the reason for everything I do.”

As long as my joy is my Christ, no one can take it from me. But I can squander it, as easily as I stop “doing” my faith. If I am not practicing my faith and my joy every day, then it’s no wonder I feel nothing when I pause to remember the reason I celebrate anything.

A very good post at Light and Momentary


This Heavenly Life said...

I loved EVERY word of this. And then read it to my husband. I want to hang little post-its around my house -- in the places most likely to be inhabited by joy-stealing activities -- of reminders from this post. Thank you.

Peter and Nancy said...

Hi -- I found your blog through Conversion Diary. I love the "stealing my joy" take on dealing with misbehavior! It's a variation of things I've read in the Love & Logic book . . . and a terrific reminder for me!

It is hard to help our children remember what Christmas and the other 364 days are all about -- and it's good to know there are other parents fighting the same good fight. Thanks!

Robert said...

Oh look at that..... your blog is a witness ;)

beautiful post and spoke to my loud, frustrated, mama of four heart. I will be thinking about this post for weeks.

Love and blessings to you and yours! Did you get our Holy DAy card?

Tom said...

I'm disappointed that I don't feel as much in the Christmas spirit in recent years as in the past and there are various & sundry explanations that I ponder as possible reasons.

One is that simply Christmas was, in the beginning, all about getting and now it's all about giving. And since I'm still somewhat a Neanderthal in the giving department it doesn't feel as good as getting. Perhaps I associated all the things of Christmas - the songs, the hymns, the tinsel & tree & lights - with the faux joy of getting all sorts of great prizes on Christmas Eve and so for years I was in a Christmas mood automatically, in a Pavlovian dog sense.

Another explanation is simply that as I became more serious about my faith and didn't compartmentalize God as much, it became a struggle to see how Christmas was so very different than any other day of the week. Did Christmas seem more special when God wasn't a part of my every day life? Is it like you don't look forward to a steak dinner on Saturday if you have it every night? I want to feel the specialness of Christmas by not taking God for granted and by allowing for the 'scandal of particularity' to confer itself in these special 'seasons of grace' Lent & Easter & Christmas).

Francie said...

Thank you for this post. I've got to stop yelling at my children, I know it solves nothing. But I struggle with this daily. I like the "stealing my joy." I needed that reminder.

Kate Wicker @ Momopoly said...

Excellent post. Peace and joy to you and yours...

Kris Livovich said...

This post came just when I needed it. Your writing is beautiful, witty, sarcastic and just plain good. Thank you.

And "spank hands"? Yes!

BettyDuffy said...

Thanks everyone for your comments.

"HEavenly"-What a good idea with the post-its. I might do that.

(Jus) I did get your card. I LOVED IT!--all the yummy Christmas jammies. I think that someone needs to hire you to do ad campaigns.

And I was hoping that no one would notice that I keep breaking my own mandates.

Tom, Weird that you mention the transition from receiving to giving, as that thought's been on my mind a lot lately. I took a group of high school/ college age girls to see Pope Benedict when he was in New York, and I was so excited to be on retreat with them. Thought I was going to be a great witness too since it wasn't that long ago that I was in their shoes. However while they were languishing in nourishing talks and spiritual guidance, I was assigned to making tuna melts in the kitchen for them to eat for lunch. Couldn't help feeling a little old and crusty about it. Another chance to bend my will to God's: serving while on "vacation," serving at Christmas time. It's so much easier to serve in the time I've set aside for it, but to serve when I feel like I deserve a chance to be taken care of--that's when we're closest to God, isn't it?--if we can get over ourselves a little bit. But I think that's the part that's hardest to come to grips with: being close to God is a bittersweet experience. It's not an easy joy because, if you're living in the world, it's so contrary to your senses and reflexes. And even "Joy!"--the ephemeral kind that comes so cheaply at Christmas--is much easier to accomplish when someone else is meeting all of your needs, when no one is testing your patience without mercy, when there are no requirements on your person. Joy is a constant spiritual, mental, and physical effort, especially in the Seasons of Grace.

But I'm sure these are just my issues. You're probably eating sacred-steak every night.

Tom said...

Your issues are mine! Which is why I love reading your blog.

jenX said...

Your sister stopped by my blog. I've been intending to get back to her. I haven't had much time to respond to comments lately. Anyway, now I can't find her comments!!! It's like they disappeared. So, I'm leaving this missive for her!

I hope you and your family have a Merry Christmas! Christ is Lord!

CM said...

Thanks for sharing this! I've had one of those days where everything is just a little "off" and I've been letting it take my joy right and left. I love the idea of joy being something that you practice.

Anne said...

Letting others steal our joy is one thing, but when we steal our own joy, then we've got a problem. When the words we speak to ourselves resound with "you're not good enough and you will never be good enough" then joy will always be hard to come by, regardless of the season of the year, but for some reason those words seem to ring the loudest at Advent and Christmas time. Why is that? It's my struggle anyway, but I know I'm not alone in it.

For me, hearing those words in my own ears combined with exhaustion decrease my tolerance for the joy-sucking habits of my children and also decreases my ability to speak kindly to them when they do suck my joy.

Still, I will go on trying to treat my children and myself with the love and respect that we all deserve. Thanks for this eye-opening post.

BettyDuffy said...

"Letting others steal our joy is one thing, but when we steal our own joy, then we've got a problem."

Anne, this is a very good point. A priest once told me that that "self-talk," those words that comfort us or tear us down in our heads are like our friends. If our friends are advising us to be dissatisfied, or criticizing our loved ones, etc, then we're hanging out with the wrong crowd.

Marsha said...

Oh my, I got this from enanoslavo's blog, linked to you. It is WONdERFUL!! I struggle with letting my joy be stolen , too, and usually by my children, ...

May I please share this on Facebook as a link?

BettyDuffy said...


beachbabies said...

Betty Duffy, I just met you and I love you! (name that movie) I was forwarded your blog a few days ago and I'm now a regular stalker. Your post here really speaks to me and mostly it says "stop yelling already and love your kids better." Thank you for being so normal. Also, I think you must live right near my hometown and if I ever move home, I'm hunting for you so we can be best friends forever.

Merry Christmas

BettyDuffy said...

You're funny Leah. I think I'd like to be you friend too.

Is that "Up?"

beachbabies said...

It is UP! What a sweet film.
You'll be in my prayers this Christmas season - good luck with Cranky Businessman and the Zoning Board. Hey, maybe they'll buy you out...

harmony said...

I wanted to tell you that I have been ruminating on this post since you first wrote it. I can't tell you how I needed that stealing joy phrase to be stuck in my head!