I was in the middle of what became a rather serious conversation with my brother last night when the term “first world problem” got thrown in. Immediately visions of The New Yorker magazine, hipsters plucked off the set of Girls and privileged ennui sprung to mind. But it’s unfair really because however quasi-pretentious I find the term, the sentiment of living a life that results in periods of existential paralysis and emotional exhaustion is one I can personally relate to.
Before I had kids I would worry about job security and paying rent. Now I have kids and I worry I’m damaging their trajectory for emotional and intellectual fulfillment (dare I say “success”) if I don’t carefully choose every word coming out of my mouth. I actually start the editing of my words the second they fly out of my mouth and land on my kids. This happens in almost of every interaction I have with my kids – this non-existent “delete” and rewrite function. It’s exhausting. Primarily because unlike in writing I can never take back the wrong word or tweak the crafting of that “right” phrase and subsequently the delivery/timing is always off.
Child psychologists will tell you words are meaningless and kids learn from our actions and tone. Well in that case I’m sorely f*cked. My tone is generally loud and angry (Is screaming a tone?)and my actions are ones of an overly tired, archetypal martyred mother/wife who is doing it all and trying to help everyone at the same time.
I used to be obsessed with reading “how-to-communicate to your child so they can go to Harvard one day” books. Ok, so they weren’t really called this but for the most part followed a canned theme of how to produce little socially conscious warriors who then go on to become champions of acceptable dialogues all at the ripe age of 3. Did I mention the adult enablers in these scenarios always seem so composed and patient?
Gone are the days of strong academic pursuits (or reading by the age of 3). Nowadays preschool is about social acuity, emotional awareness, and being kind to others. I do feel that the latter two are in direct contradiction to one another but I’m at a disadvantage by virtue of the unenlightened period I was born in.
And while I recognize that conflict resolution (formerly “problem solving”) is a critical key to success and starts at communication I feel so far from scratching the surface on how to enable my kids to be good with this. The only thing I can take comfort in is sometimes they really are better at working thru issues without me around interfering. I’m not advocating for a Lord of the Flies approach but every once in a while I think it’s ok that my little one thinks her brother is being kind to her when he trades her 1 of something he has for 3 of things she has.