My friend Amy and I meet every few months at Starbucks and chat, chat, chat. We yack like magpies, nursing our tea and comparing notes on all kinds of stuff. A lot of times, our conversation circles around our kids—because, above all other things, we really don’t want to screw up on the parenting thing.
“My daughter taught me something the other day,” she said. “I think you’ll like it.”
They’d had a huge teen-angst fight. The daughter raged. There had been some sort of slight, some misstep, some wrong thingAmy had done. It was an onslaught of it’s-not-fairand you-never-let-meand you’ll-never-understand.
Amy held it together as long as she could, but finally snapped back, succumbing by doing exactly what she always swears she won’t do—explain, rationalize, rant, and rage right back. Her daughter finally screamed, “Just. Stop. Talking, Mom!”
Amy stopped talking.
Recounting the moment for me, she confessed, “I kept thinking of the opening scene in Lady Bird. Awesome, awesome movie, by the way. The mother and daughter are driving somewhere, and they are fighting, and the daughter ends the argument by opening the door to the speeding car and throwing herself out.” The mother screams in terror and shock. It sets up the movie’s plot— an ongoing, relentless, terribly sad, unwinnable mother-daughter-love-hate battle.
Amy said she stood there in the kitchen with her daughter, both of them in miserable silence, and she kept thinking, Boomerang-style, of that movie, and the car door opening, and the kid tumbling out, and the mother’s terrified scream.
Then her daughter spoke.
Mom. Pause. Just because I’m angry with you doesn’t mean you did anything wrong.
“It was so honest, and so true,” Amy said. “It was the best apology she could offer to me right then. I’ve been thinking about it ever since.”
In my job, it happens all the time. A teacher is mad at me because I’ve made a decision they don’t agree with. That doesn’t mean I’ve done something wrong. A parent writes me a scathing email about a discipline decision. They’re mad at me, but that doesn’t mean I’ve done anything wrong. I offend someone with a word choice someone finds offensive, but it doesn’t mean I’ve done something wrong. It's a regular occurrence at home, too: My children are furious at me, but I’ve not done anything wrong. In fact, sometimes they’re mad because, actually, I have done something right. Something reallyright.
For someone like me, who is uncomfortable being the recipient of another person’s anger, receiving misplaced anger is ongoing learning curve. I don’t know that I’ll ever actually master it. I’ll always prefer that no one be mad at me at all. But it helps to think I can accept the existence another person’s anger without taking responsibility for it. Which means, of course, I don’t have to try to fix it, or apologize for it, or try to make it go away. I can just let the anger sit there and do what it needs to do.
It’s something I’m going to try. Maybe, as with anything else, it will be another step in finding peace in what feels like an increasingly angry world.