Planting Seeds with Honey

I’ve noticed a trend recently that if I haven’t done anything interesting, or if I’m not struggling with something, I don’t bother to post.

How often does someone want to read from me, “I did the dishes today, got caught up on laundry, played a video game, and we all managed to not kill each other.” Although I realize that in context of the majority of us having Bipolar, these are really big wins.

I do not know why, but I worry that stuff like that is boring to read about and thus “doesn’t count” towards “doing something.” I mean after all, how often have I spoken aloud that normal is boring? And yet, here I am living as normal of a life as I can since… I’m not sure when.

To be clear, “normal” here means baseline.

I also acknowledge that for those that experience depression more often, normal is a profound blessing. It’s just when you compare normal to mania… it often pales in comparison. None of us become non-compliant with treatment in the hopes of landing in depression. And I’m sure I’m not the only one that finds the allure of mania tempting too often.

Thus, I apologize in advance if my semblance of a normal life is boring to you. But sharing and celebrating the normal times in Bipolar is important. We’re never going to hope and aim for any kind of normal if we shun it.

Since my last post about the school calling to have me come in due to Little Bear’s behavior, I think they’ve called once. He threw a fit in their office the last time I came to pick him up about hating school and wanting to go back to the hospital. Thus, he proved for me my argument that he was intentionally trying to get kicked out of school. It was satisfying to have their behavioral specialist agree with me that they need firmer boundaries with him. They need to put their foot down before the ball starts rolling. I haven’t received any more calls since then.

My father continues to complain on occasion that Scholar Owl lacks motivation. But, I still stand by my observation that this opinion only seems to come up when you’re not doing whatever he wants.

I can’t help but wonder why this doesn’t apply to Tuxedo Cat, when his activity isn’t much different. Perhaps it’s because Tuxedo Cat taught himself the basics of playing the piano before I found out and signed him up for lessons?

He also complains that Little Bear fluctuates on whether he wants to spend time with him or not. My dad blames this on my ex… Really? Far as I know he has never said anything negative about my dad to the boys. I pointed this out this morning and the response I got was, “I don’t think he has to.”

He then tries to connect my son’s behavior to my ex’s phone calls. This is when I remind him how Little Bear doesn’t like the way my dad “jokes around” with him. The reality here is, my dad doesn’t know when to quit and then when you do get mad about it he’ll say something along the lines of, “Don’t get ugly with me, I was just joking.”

The unspoken message here is you’re not allowed to be angry with the way you’ve been treated. This is the way it’s been since I was a child and the way it has remained.

So I suggested as carefully as I could that maybe Little Bear steers clear of him when he’s had enough of the joking around. Quite frankly, I see a strong connection between the two sets of behaviors. My dad on the other hand, simply stated that he doesn’t think that’s the reason.

At least he didn’t explode on me for saying what I said, and just maybe it planted a seed of thought that will grow on him. If I plant enough of these seeds, it just may germinate into voluntary change.

And like with my dad, I have to take a similar tactic with my sons. Thoughts (or ideas) are the roots of all action. It’s incredibly difficult to force someone to change – especially when they have no desire or interest in doing so. So you can lock horns with them day in and day out with actions, or you can spend the time planting and cultivating ideas. Allow them to choose change and allow them to decide how/when to change.

After all, you can’t force crops to grow faster than they are biologically able to. People are the same way.

I’ve been tone policed enough in my life to be aware that this is what it sounds like.

True tone policing by definition of rhetorical thought is a false argument stating, either implicitly or explicitly, “Your stance is invalid due to the tone in which it was presented.” The sole purpose of the false argument is to shut down the other side without actually addressing the points raised.

That isn’t what I’m trying to say here. Change and growth is vital in human development. Sometimes it’s critical for a person’s overall well-being. And as parents, it’s our job to guide the growth of our children. In this context, I’m leaning more towards the line from Mary Poppins, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”

First reason being I don’t want to be abusive to others. I will never tolerate being called stupid (or any other type of name calling) for any reason no matter how it was delivered (with or without expletives). You dish that out and I’ll shut down at best. Why on earth would I ever expect someone else to tolerate it from me?

On the other hand, I am seldom offended/hurt by the response, “What the fuck?” or “This is fucking bullshit!” or any other expletive laden statement that essentially means “This is beyond my level of tolerance, understanding, or belief.” despite swearing involved. In my book, the act of swearing alone does not automatically translate into abuse.

The second reason being is when we speak the language of the listener, or rather when we speak at their level or we speak to where they’re coming from, we increase our chances of being heard and understood. This part can be tricky as hell and requires a solid understanding of the nuances that makes a person tick.

Take my father for example, over the years I’ve learned he doesn’t enjoy feeling that he’s stupid, wrong, or challenged. His response to that is as reflexive and automatic as my response is to things being near my face. Very often in both cases the response isn’t pretty. This is why when talking about Little Bear, I didn’t say it was his fault that my son behaves that way. I only suggested that there was a connection between him teasing and my son’s attitude towards him. And not surprisingly, I saw the disconnect in his response. He frequently doesn’t make the connection between his behavior and whatever the results that come from it.

But seriously, there is a stronger and more direct correlation between your behavior and their attitude towards you than there is between that attitude and anything else in life.

Unfortunately, Little Bear in particular shares this same disconnect. I could say it’s because he’s my youngest but then I look at my dad and amend that assessment. I don’t know why this disconnect exists in either of them. It just does. And to make things more complicated, they don’t speak the same language. Not even close.

It took me years to figure out how to speak to my dad without it instantly turn into a verbal dog fight. The biggest hurdle has always been convincing him to actually hear whatever it is I have to say. I’ve found that stripping emotion and blame from the equation and approaching it from a logical standpoint gains the most traction with him. And this is why I tend to brood over things for a long time before speaking up about something.

This isn’t how my youngest works. At all. Is it because of his diagnosis of DMDD and Conduct Disorder? I know age and maturity play a big role in this. But in the spirit of “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar,” I find myself relying quite a bit on being emotionally supportive (aka: laying out the honey). More often than not, I find that where he needs the emotional support isn’t obviously related to the challenging behaviors he exhibits.

For example, lately he’s been plagued with the ever present thought of me growing old and dying. In his mind, this means he will be left all alone. At first I thought the recent acting out at home was due to Christmas vacation, and thus a blip in sleep patterns, until he volunteered this information. There was no way for me to know this until he had.

So I tried to console him. I tried to tell him it would be a long way off before I’m old, and hopefully a long way off before I die. But no matter what I said, he wouldn’t shake the idea that when I die he will be left all alone. It was frustrating.

Finally I mentioned making friends so he won’t end up all alone and for the first time (this isn’t new knowledge for me, just new for him to express it) he told me it was hard for him to make and keep friends. The only response I had was that if he wanted to make and keep friends, then he needed to be a better friend by being nicer to people. No one likes being called names or being hit just because you’re angry and throwing a fit.

This is just one more reason why I say that having a disorder does NOT give you the right to be an asshole. Ever.

And now I can’t help but wonder if this conversation is connected to the improved behavioral reports from school. What I can say is that the challenging behaviors at home have settled down quite a bit. Again. For now.

All I did was plant a seed, the idea that being a better friend leads to making and keeping friends, and he decided to make a change on his own. The school has been reporting fewer instances of swearing (which in his case often involves name calling). I didn’t force that to happen. Yet, here I am looking at less frowny faces and more smiley faces on those behavior reports of his.

Have I mastered the language of my youngest son? Not yet. His language is still developing. But I know he seems to respond best when I aim to show him how certain behaviors get him in the direction he wants to go rather than trying to block the current undesired behavior. The trick right now is in figuring out where he wants to go.

This aligns with my belief that as parents we are guides, not handlers. We need to teach them right from wrong by taking advantage of teachable moments when they present themselves.

This isn’t to say that I won’t revoke gaming privileges from him when warranted. That’s a language I know he understands, but it always feels like a last ditch effort on my part. Like walking out of the room on my dad when a conversation goes dark. In either instance it feels like a power play, not true communication. I realize that sometimes it has to happen to hold a boundary, but it doesn’t mean I have to like the fact it reached that point.

And yeah… that’s what my normal looks like right now.

Oh!

And I did get some dishes done, got caught up on all my laundry, and binged on a video game in the last three days. Added bonus: no one has tried to kill anyone (figuratively or literally).

At some point soon I need to successfully convince my boys it’s in their best interest to clean their personal space before either of my parents decide to intervene.

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