The recent struggle in Congress over health care has called attention to the role played by women – two women in particular. Bucking all those men who tried to intimidate them, they held firm to their feelings about depriving people in need. One man said, if one of them was a man he would take her on in an Aaron Burr style duel. The women were chastised for their feelings but were not given their point of view the respect they deserved.
Women are often put down for being too emotional – too concerned about feelings. But the gender differences in government have often shown the value of another point of view embodying other values. Those who feel the impact of laws and regulations put in place by those in authority are well served by the empathic approach often contributed by women.
As parents, we think about feelings in connection to our children. Sometimes their feelings – particularly their anger – makes life difficult for us. Hopefully, as adults we have some measure of control over the way we express our emotions. Children, on the other hand, are mercurial. Everything is black or white and the shift from one to the other is fluid – sometimes it seems without warning. The world – including you – is wonderful, until a dark cloud appears, and then it is terrible. Children express these feelings in extreme ways, primarily through their behavior.
Of course, our goal as parents is to help our children express their feelings in words. “Use your words” has almost become a mantra when children act out their emotions. But words are not that readily available to children when they are angry or upset, and even when they have them, words don’t seem adequate to the feelings. We are asking them to be reasonable in the heat of emotion. Most often it is we they think are being unreasonable.
Thinking again about ourselves, if we are angry at someone for something they have done, or we think they have done, and they say in a somewhat unreal way, “I know you are angry”, and then the equivalent of, “Get over it!”, do we now feel better or perhaps even angrier? The point is, we want understanding and acceptance of what we are feeling.
In the same way, our children want to let us know how strongly they feel about a situation and we have to let them know in a convincing way that we do. But we can’t expect that just by recognizing the feeling verbally we will make it go away. Accepting the anger of others is not easy, especially when it is coming from our children who often express emotions in behavior that is difficult to deal with.
Parents, in their frustration may react to children’s emotional behavior with threats of punishment such as the loss of privileges. Most often, they find that approach not helpful in resolving the situation. In much the same way, the women who opposed the male majority were cajoled and then threatened when they held fast to their feelings. The frustration of the male majority was not unlike that of frustrated parents dealing with difficult children.
In that situation, it seemed it was the men, not the women, who were out of control, wanting their way and unable to hear another point of view, much less to act on it. The two women made clear from the start that certain provisions of a proposed bill were unacceptable to them but they weren’t heard. They were treated like recalcitrant children to be bribed or threatened.
Although children are not our peers, perhaps the message is that they need to have their feelings heard and understood, even when we cannot give them what they want,