In Brene Brown’s, Rising Strong, she struggles in one chapter over whether or not people are doing the best that they can in that moment.
If they answer’s, “yes,” it changes what can be ugly self-righteousness and judgment to compassion. She’s careful to point out that having compassion that originates from the assumption that an individual is doing their best does not replace or preclude having appropriate boundaries. It’s also important to remember that someone’s best “in the moment” does not mean it’s appropriate or there’s not room for improvement.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this as I consider our kids from hard places.
I hear a lot of parents ask questions such as, “What do I do when a child who could pack a lunch all year suddenly won’t? How do I handle it in a connected way that doesn’t make me feel manipulated?”
When a child refuses to do something you know he has the capability of doing, we usually categorize it as a “won’t” instead of a “can’t.”
I often ask moms, “Have you ever come home after a long day and just ordered pizza instead of cooking?” Chances are that you’ve been cooking for years, but circumstances (e.g., exhaustion, sickness, stress) make it some days that you just can’t.
Our kids are the same way, but much more sensitive to circumstances and what is going on in their bodies and minds. Most of the fears and anxieties that cripple our children’s ability to complete the most basic tasks are subconscious, but even if they aren’t, many children lack the skills to keep their logic brain intact long enough to verbalize them before their lizard brain stomps its foot and refuses to pick up a toy, tie a shoe, or pack a lunch.
Most adults cannot relate to having such an overactive limbic system. We apply our logic minds and cannot imagine why or how a child’s behavior and set of practical skills could change so rapidly, so we chalk it up to a paradigm we understand better, manipulation. Or we let our slippery slope minds take over and we think, “I C.A.N.N.O.T. and will not still pack my child’s lunch when she’s 30! She has to learn NOW!”
However, what if we always assumed our children were doing the best that they could in that moment?
How would it change the way we handled a situation? Would we use a tool to address the root cause of what was decreasing their capacity in that moment instead of feeling hopeless and manipulated?
What boundaries would we need to set? Could we calmly explain that we understood he didn’t have it in him to pack lunch, but confess we didn’t either and be on the same side while we compromised a solution?
How would it change our expectations for the present and visions for the future? Would we focus on the present instead of projecting their behavior into the future? Could we give ourselves permission to accept our child right now where she was without being hyper anxious about her future?
What things are keeping you from fully embracing this assumption?
The questions above are not rhetorical. Feel free to share your thoughts with other readers. Please be balanced and respectful.