this was originally posted on Hopeful Parents
I don’t know about you but I did not expect to have to become an expert mediator when I became a parent. I suppose I anticipated honing my parenting skills as my children grew, making mistakes and learning from them. If pushed I would have agreed that there would likely be times I would be put in the uncomfortable role of needing to confront an adult in my child’s life over something but I would have guessed it would have been something along the lines of not being played enough on the soccer field, or being wrongly accused of something at school. I didn’t anticipate the sometimes daily onslaught of phone calls and meetings, intense negotiations that even the most skilled and trained mediator would find challenging.
Funny thing (well more ironic than funny “ha ha”) is that I am a very socially anxious person. I have a hard time talking on the phone and could go days without even talking to someone if allowed. The idea of going to a room with as little as 3 people in it for whatever reason is enough to make me shake with nervousness and my mouth go dry. I hate confrontation of any sort and I even have a hard time figuring out how I FEEL about things. Most people who know me are completely flabbergasted when they find this out about me. My own husband of over 15 years used to think I was being flippant when he would ask me “Well how do YOU feel about it?” and I would answer “I don’t know”. I really didn’t. As soon as my emotions were activated in any way that was remotely threatening or overwhelming to me I would “shut down” and I couldn’t think straight at all. I would just feels waves of raw and very intense emotions, weird things would happen with my vision and more often than not I would no longer really be “hearing” anything that was being said. For those old enough to get the reference, think of the teacher on the Peanuts cartoon “wah wah wah”. I didn’t know if I was mad or sad or frustrated or feeling threatened. All I knew was there was a panic bell going off in my head.
But, and this is the important part, even though inside I was in complete distress – my outward appearance did not usually give away what was going on internally. I would SEEM calm, it would SEEM that I was still very much paying attention. Occasionally I would be able to calm my alarm system down enough to pipe in with a comment. I didn’t realize it then but usually that comment would pack a real punch – more so from the raw emotion being injected into it unknowingly. The emotion would register with those in the room as threatening to them in some way, even if the words I actually spoke were fairly innocuous. I would typically leave the room feeling confused and unsure – I would have picked up on some “weird vibes” in the room but would be unsure why people in the room seemed to feel so defensive around me when most times I hadn’t anticipated the meeting becoming adversarial.
I began to really take a look at my reactions and realized that typically I would “overload” during meetings or exchanges with people who I saw as having a great deal of authority and/or power over my son. It was almost a sense of panic and utter terror that would be set off in me if I sensed, for even a moment, that they did not understand my son or that they had formed an opinion that I did not agree with. It has taken a great deal of self reflection and therapy to start deciphering my emotions and to be able to be able to reign them in during highly charged times. I have made this a priority because I realized that no matter how much I cultivated positive one on one relationships with all of the professionals working with our son and family (and there are dozens) that I could undo most of that hard work with a single sentence in a meeting. If I couldn’t get clear about what we wanted for our son, and more and more now – what he wants for himself, and communicate that calmly and rationally even to a room full of skeptics, then we could never move forward. I would not be able to hold others accountable if our goals for our son were not being formulated or worked on because I never really told them clearly what they were.
I’m a work in progress. I’m okay with that. With each passing day and every meeting under my belt I am feeling more and more confident in how I participate in discussions about my son. I am also feeling more confident about myself and my ability to move past my panicked internal emotions and find clarity. I notice that professionals seem less “on edge” when speaking with me and overall I am a calmer person. And that is always a good thing.