I was talking to my dad on the phone recently, complaining as I often do about the difficulty of relationships and life’s dissatisfactions, and he — trying to make me feel better — scoffed at my complaints.
“It’s because you don’t have any real problems,” he said.
I reeled slightly, but immediately agreed with him.
It’s true. I don’t have financial worries, I have two beautiful children, a husband who, for some reason, still loves me after 20-odd years, an adorable dog, and a Park Slope duplex.
But after we hung up I started to get angry. The sad truth is, everyone has real problems, at least real to them, the things they have to get up every morning to deal with, the things that make them worried or sad.
In a family, it is crucial to be cognizant of this, the reality of each individual, how every person has in their brain their own personal worries and wishes and ways of coping (or not coping, as the case may be at certain difficult times).
Of course, it is easy to look at other people — be it a celebrity in the tabloid or your own child across the table — and imagine that it must be nice to be them, that they have it so easy and good. But the mind is a very bizarre place, and no matter external circumstances, sometimes things can go very awry. Feeling understood is crucial.
I have to remember this when my preteen and teen whine or complain, and I look at them with faux sad eyes and play a wee violin with my fingers, as if they don’t have real reason to be upset.
I need to be careful in those moments to be more understanding rather than sarcastic. After all, little problems that go ignored can often grow into bigger problems if they’re not nipped in the bud, and I realize now with great clarity how minimizing other people’s problems as not real just serves to shut them down.
It’s funny, the same day I was told I had no “real” problems, my 13-year-old flew into a rage about some cookies he made that I had taken to give to friends. I didn’t see what the big deal was, but I got very angry when the loud cursing rage began, and I started my own rant about the number of cookies I have made for him, and his friends, and the school, and how ungrateful he was, and on and on. Yelling, anger, and tears ensued, as well as the denial of a delicious fried chicken dinner at a new fave spot. Ugh.
It was not productive. Justifiably or not, he felt sad about the cookies he made being gone, and I could have calmly said I understood and was sorry, but that I figured they were communal and I hadn’t wanted them to go stale over the weekend.
Oh, and I guess I was also feeling angry about the “you have no real problems” comment — and was perfectly hyped up to play the martyr.
Still, I have to be so careful. I think it’s easy for kids to ratchet up the “you don’t understand” routine if in fact you don’t look at things from their perspective — or at least try. And then where are we? On opposite sides, that’s where.
In fact, we should be playing for the same team, a team on which grouses and gripes and all of those pathetic-seeming “problems” should be allowed to be aired without fear of being told you’re silly.