When Abigail and I went to the store yesterday afternoon, it was really important to her that she smell the laundry detergents. I’d never let her smell detergents before in the laundry aisle, and had no idea it was something she enjoyed. The first time she’d asked, I was trying to figure out a coupon deal for some ‘hippie detergent’ as we call it. The coupon deal didn’t work out, and I gave her my full attention.
“I need to smell ‘dis one.” She pointed to a bottle of detergent.
“Is this important to you?”
“Yes. Is important job for me.” At that moment, I had a choice. This was important to her. I could say no, it’s time to go. Or, I could take a few minutes and support her priorities. We smelled three types of detergent before she informed me she was ready to move on. Her important job was complete.
Acknowledging importance without judgment
I have been practicing that phrase in my head a lot lately, learning to replace self-deprecating or justifying language that insecure people use around their priorities. I’ve been thinking about it for a few weeks. Kea came to me to discuss food options for when she’s at work. She is a medical professional who works 12, 24, or 36-hour shifts. She was struggling because her internal food rules were saying that she needed to eat a hot breakfast, or what she ate ‘didn’t count’ – so most of the food options we’d purchased just weren’t working for her. She’d eat something like a protein bar, then later on she would find herself having more food because her brain had decided that what she’d eaten wasn’t real breakfast.
I asked a few questions, giving her a couple of options, when she said apologetically, “That isn’t real food.”
“Okay explain your breakfast food rules to me. I don’t care what they are, or how ridiculous they seem. I just need to know what they are so I can help you follow them.” She and I both are neurodivergent and struggle with disordered eating. Food things can be tricky for both of us, in different ways. I may not understand all of her brain’s rules around food, but I don’t have to in order to support them.
How I’m living this at my house
I’ve been ruminating on that for weeks. My toddler Abigail is highly neurotic. I don’t say that with any judgment or malice. She just has a particular way things should be done in her mind… and she comes by it honestly. All three of her parents are the same way. Recently she has been struggling a bit with some unbecoming behaviors lately, and I found myself wondering how much better she would feel and act if I treated her neurosis with the same respect that I treated my partner.
Now, obviously, my toddler isn’t going to rule the house and always have her way in everything. It wouldn’t serve her to raise her that way, because even as an adult there are things we have to conform to in order to thrive. But, what if within the boundaries of expecting respect and obedience, I was able to honor her brain’s ‘rules’ a little more, while still providing the guidance and structure that helps her thrive?
And what if I allowed myself that same privilege, without judgment?
What if I could just say “This is important to me.” Full stop. No justifications, no self-deprecating statements like,
- Oh, this is a little thing….
- This is silly but…
- It’s not a big deal…
- This may be dumb…
And maybe they are small things, but there’s no reason why it’s bad or wrong to find pleasure, joy, and satisfaction in little things. In fact, finding joy in small things is one of my stronger positive traits that brings a lot of joy to myself and the people around me. And why shut my kids down by doing it to them and devaluing and undermining what’s important to them?
Not at my house. Not for me, and not for my kids.