Showing Up for my kids…without burning anything down

Every once in a while, I have to walk away from a problem in my family. I have to wash my hands of it because I have passed the point of being useful.


This past week, I decided to set down something that I wasn’t carrying well. It involved one of our kids and I was furious on their behalf. I was holding a grudge and stewing. Some of my solutions included burning down the school and storming the Bastille. All of my ideas involved fire or public shaming. I was acting like a Viking. I might have over-reacted.


My husband was offering other solutions: solutions that were reasonable and annoyingly appropriate. Bryan has played a lot of the board game Risk in his life. In general, he is an excellent strategist. He is patient and prudent. The solution that my husband thought was best was to “not do anything.”


Some days, I wonder how someone contemplating arson and someone whose boldest move is to “hold tight” can be married. While Bryan was still gathering data, I was already plotting revenge. Our marriage is a mystery even to me. So, I told my husband that if he knew so much, he could carry it for a while. (This is a paraphrase. What I said involved more cussing and a lot more hysteria.) Then, I went into the shower and cried. Now, I’m trying to not pick this particular problem back up again.


This is taking great restraint. I know that I don’t have all the answers, but I sometimes want to have the last word anyway. I say that I’m done with something, but then I have one more thing to say. This does not usually end well. This is a fake moving-on. You aren’t really done with something if you are practicing speeches that start with “And another thing…”


I do this with prayer, too. I turn worries and fears over to God. Then, if I don’t see immediate results, I decide to snatch it back. This gives me the street cred of saying that I’ve prayed about something without really letting loose of it. It’s not a great system. God is not fooled.


When I am able to truly walk away from something, some good things usually happen. The first is that my kids learn to do something new for themselves. The second is that I learn to trust my husband more. The final, and perhaps most important outcome, is that I learn to calm the f*** down. This is a very helpful parenting method, commonly referred to as CTFD.


As soon as I heard the term, CTFD, I knew that I needed it in my life. There are no multiple strategies since it really has nothing to do with the children. It’s completely for the parents. It’s telling yourself to chill out. It’s the anecdote to chasing your toddler around the house with flashcards. It’s the opposite of interfering in your child’s social life. It’s pretty much old-school parenting, before we lost our collective minds. It’s a reminder that our children are not walking report cards of our parenting abilities. It’s stepping away from orchestrating your child’s life.


When I am over-reacting about something going on with my child, if I look just below the anger, I find fear. My fear about my kids quickly becomes unbridled. I can easily lose my mind. Just for the record, I am not the kind of person who tells people off or causes scenes. We moved to a new town when I was ten-years-old and I went by “Ann” the whole first summer. Someone misheard my name and people kept introducing me by the wrong name. I was too intimidated to correct them.


I am less afraid to speak up now, especially if my kids are involved. It’s not like I’m suddenly causing scenes, but a scorching heat rises in me if I feel like one of my kids has been treated unfairly or singled out unnecessarily. I probably look calm on the outside. Inside, though, there is a Viking just dying to get out and burn something. There is a girl yearning to fight, yelling, “Hold my earrings.” There is a witch eager to try out some new spells.


This fierceness has come as a surprise to me. It’s been an even bigger surprise to my husband.


When Caroline was born, I was working at a church in Oxford, MS. So many wonderful people from the congregation were eager to see her, but it was January and I was certain that everyone stopping by my house was carrying the plague. I turned into a lioness. It was alarming. I thought this ferocity would pass once she was a little bigger, but it’s only intensified. I keep it pretty locked up, but something primal was born in me when she was born.


Here’s one thing that I’ve learned over the past fifteen years: my kids are pretty tough. They rarely need me to straighten things out for them.They have shown me over and over again that they can handle challenging situations. They know that I love them no matter what and am always on their side. Lately, I’ve realized that being on their side means sometimes getting out of the way and letting them handle their own lives. I am trying to believe them when they say, “Mom, I’ve got this.”


I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the McArthur kids are awfully resilient. I hear their mother is a Viking.

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  • Hi Anna,

    I enjoy reading your blog posts. And while you didn’t ask, I would like to share a parenting tip I learned related to today’s post.

    My children are in their 20s now. But when they were much younger they would tell me about a problem and then I would offer advice on how to fix the problem. This usually ended up with rejection after rejection of each suggestion followed by a lot of yelling, crying and door slamming.

    I finally got it. They didn’t want me to fix their problems. They wanted to do it themselves. Once that lightbulb turned on in my brain, whenever they would tell me about a problem I would ask…Do you want some ideas for solving this or do you just want me to listen? Nearly 100℅ of the time they just wanted me to listen. I wasn’t really listening before (hence the yelling, etc.) and trusting them with their own lives.

    Post epiphany, I got to see them grow as they figured things out for themselves and I was liberated from feeling I had to fix everything.