Confrontation at the Post Office, available at: ForYourMarriage.org


Happily Even After

Confrontation at the Post Office


June 28, 2010

Before I begin sharing a little story, first let me say that I highly respect the Postal Service and am most grateful for the very hard work they do…

I had a time-sensitive package to mail, so I ended up having to take Simon (4) and Lucy (2) to the post office with me.  We ended up stopping at the post office closest to Simon’s Montessori school (a Franciscan Montessori school, how cool is that?).  This particular office is VERY big.  They have lots of post office boxes, mail supplies, a passport station, greeting cards and something like six separate service stations.  Unfortunately, at the very busy noon hour, only two of the stations were servicing the line (even though there were more workers at the other stations NOT servicing the line) and the line was about 10-12 people long when we got in.

I imagine many parents have gone through the same feelings I had when I initially walked in: Thinking, “Hmmm, is this going to be too much with the children?” and then either cutting and running or pushing on through.  Simon and Lu seemed to be in a good place and I had to get this package in the mail, so I pushed on through. 

At first the two of them were staying pretty close to me, asking questions and looking around.  Then Simon asked if he could go look at some of the packing materials.  Lucy followed him over and they gradually moved on to the greeting cards, looking at pictures and chatting in little child talk back and forth.  At this point I am still eight people back in line and the children are probably about three yards away from me.  They would come check in from time to time and then go back to looking.  Then Simon realized Lucy was following him and he didn’t like that, but we managed to turn it into a game where I would hold Lu, he would hide and she would go find him.  Well, when she found him they began chasing each other in a circle around one of the displays. 

Now, I acknowledge whole-heartedly, that I get irked when a parent pays no attention to their children’s behavior in public and their children act like little hellions.  However, Lu and Simon were away from ALL the other patrons and counters, the display was solid and not something that could tip and they were being very quiet even as they chased round and round it.

Then the confrontation:

Postal worker (leaning over the counter, past the patron he is helping): “You are going to have to stop them from doing that. This isn’t a playground.”

Me (embarrassed but also slightly annoyed because the children had held it together admirably for over 15 minutes and deserved props for that):  “With all due respect, if the line wasn’t so long, they wouldn’t need to do that.”

Postal worker (not making eye contact but not backing down):  “Well, that’s just the way it is.”

Me (not really capable of backing down where my children are concerned): “Well, they’re children and that’s just the way it is.”

Leaving the post office (after holding the children right next to me and being taken care of by a different postal worker) there was so much going through my head.  Of course I called Joshua immediately and recounted the incident for him.  Happily, he laughed heartily at the exchange…then, he noted that I don’t take guff from anyone. And that got me thinking.

I do take a little bit of pride in being able to stand up for myself, and that is part of what was going on there.

I also recognized soon after becoming a mother that I really stand my ground where my children are concerned (hyper-mother bear instinct), and that was also part of what was going on there. 

The main thing I got to thinking about though, was “What is this like when it’s aimed at  Joshua?  What does Joshua have to put up with or wade through when I feel like I am just standing up for myself?”  When we get into conversations or discussions and I have a ready retort or can’t simply receive his input with some reflective silence?  I’ll have to try to be more conscious of this in those moments with him.  He’s a saint to bear with me…but he clearly gets a kick out of when someone else is on the receiving end!

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What is a Parent’s Role in Lent?

What is a Parent’s Role in Lent?

On the second Sunday of Lent, as we were driving to Mass, we decided to check in as a family on how each of us was doing with the personal disciplines we had chosen for the season. 14-year-old Oscar was working hard at his and was doing well. 7-year-old Lucy was not working hard at all on hers—because it depended more on our not having sweets in the house than on her own effort—but was doing very well. When it was 9-year-old Simon’s turn, he burst into tears and spoke pretty heatedly about how he did not like what he had chosen and wanted to stop it.

Many parts of this situation were troubling.

First, we were almost to the church and he was a mess. Next, he had chosen a really good discipline: giving up one of his precious weekend days of screen time each week. Our children get 30 minutes individual screen time on each day of the weekend and Simon had voluntarily chosen to fast from one of them for Lent. It was a great idea. It was also—unlike Lucy and the candy that was not even in the house—extremely challenging when his sister and brother still got their 30 minutes on a given day, and he got nothing. Finally, what was most troubling to me was this question: “What is our role as his parents in the face of his wanting to give up his Lenten discipline?”

In the moment, we just tried to settle him down and said we can talk more about it later, hoping that after an hour at Mass he would let go of the whole thing. He calmed down as much as he could. But when I would peek at him during Mass and see his still teary eyes, it was obvious he was still thinking about it.

So at roughly homily time I thought, “Okay, what are the possible ways we could handle this situation?” I came up with three:

First, we could listen to how troubled he was and let him drop his Lenten discipline. This would effectively mean he would fail at following through with it. He might experience some guilt about that. We would not lord it over him, of course, but he is sensitive enough that it might bother him. The possible positive side would be that next Lent he would be more discerning in his choices and spend more time examining options and possible implications of those options.

Second, we could talk with him about how important it is to personally observe Lent and allow him some space to think of and then propose an alternative discipline that he would take up for the remainder of Lent. The downside here would be a certain lack of follow through in the face of challenge. What is a “discipline” after all if we don’t stick with it when it is challenging? The upside would be empowering him to take responsibility and think things through.

Third, we could hold him to the discipline and not allow him to drop it or change it. The primary reason for this approach in my mind would be helping him to understand and experience what it takes to have personal discipline. The negatives would be that his experience of his personal observance would be one of heaviness and weight without any of the freedom and generosity that come from personal choice.

Perhaps for folks reading this there is a pretty clear best approach. In truth, I was really pretty conflicted about what the right approach was in our role as parents in this situation.

In the end, when I talked it over with Joshua, it came down to remembering that we show our children the face of God in the way we parent them. So we asked ourselves, what face of God do we want to convey to Simon?

After Mass I walked into Simon’s room and I sat on his bed and talked with him. I told him I felt a bit stuck because it is hard to know how to help him be the best version of himself in this situation. I told him the three options I had come up with. He said he would like to consider changing his Lenten observance and would like to take the day to think of a substitute. “But,” he said, “I won’t do my screen time today until I think of something else that you say is ok.”

In the end, and through his own initiative, Simon decided he would like to give up complaining for the remainder of Lent, which to me was yet another reminder of our God’s abundant sense of humor.


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