Sometimes It’s About More Than Taking Out the Trash
Our topic this month is personal responsibility. We need it in all aspects of our lives:family life, work or school life, and social life. It’s defined as our ability to make constructive choices about our own behavior and social interactions with others. It includes the ability to think ahead to what the consequences of our decisions might be and considers what’s best for ourselves and others.
Last night, one of my kiddos gave me an unusual amount of flack when asked to takeout the trash. Granted, he usually grouses a little bit, most teenagers do when doing chores. But this was an unusual level of anger at having to do a task that takes less than 5 minutes to complete. A temper tantrum of toddler proportions was triggered by a two minute task.
What happened next was not a proud parenting moment for me. I immediately hit back with my own out-sized reaction. “Who do you think you are complaining about taking the trash? We ask so little of you. Everyone in the family needs to contribute. It’s not like I asked you to hack off an arm for me!” …aaannnddd… what could have a non-incident turned into our own verbal professional wrestling match that ended with the spectacular parenting move “Don’t you dare walk away from me when I’m talking to you, young man!” followed by a door slam from the teenager for the win.
So here’s the thing. Instantly, as soon as that door slammed, I felt like a jerk. It’s senior year. Our oldest has a lot going on. Taking dual enrollment classes and focusing on keeping his GPA high. All the projects and tests that come with that. Trying to decide which of the universities that he likes is the best one for him. Applying for scholarships to help alleviate the cost burden. Working not one but two part time jobs to save up his cash, etc.
It should have been simple for me to recognize that his out-sized anger was an unusual response and likely meant that something else was behind it. Had I taken just half a breath and consciously thought about that, I could have checked my response—just ignored the anger at the chore—and perhaps, when he had calmed down, taken the opportunity to ask what was on his plate and what he needed to feel back in control.Maybe he would have taken me up on the offer to chat. It would have been a great opportunity for him to see that his parents still have his back even as he’s beginning to forge his path into adulthood.
But if he didn’t, if all that came of it was my refusal to engage in the anger, the situation would have diffused. He could have had two minutes to vent all his stress about senior year difficulties onto the task of emptying the trash without being made to feel guilty about being overwhelmed.
Personal responsibility is as simple and as difficult as paying attention to those around us, taking a breath before we engage, and doing what we can to help the situation.
It’s recognizing the good that others do and acknowledging it.
It’s recognizing that out-sized emotions probably have more significant causes than some minor situation at hand.
It’s trying to respond with compassion in the moment.
And sometimes, personal responsibility is recognizing that we didn’t do our part, that we didn’t help, then making amends and setting on the path of doing better in the future.
But it’s almost never just about taking out the trash.
Julie Ríos, Kindness Matters 365 Ambassador Coordinator, is a reluctant early bird, chocolate enthusiast,and mother of three. To her oldest child, she extends her apologies that he is the parenting rough draft.