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!

Comments are closed.

Invalidation or, Guess Who is Less than Perfect?

Invalidation or, Guess Who is Less than Perfect?

Many years ago, Joshua and I were trained by the excellent folks at Northwest Family Services in Portland to offer relationship communication workshops. One of the wonderful bits of information that the workshops offered was called the Four Communication Danger Signs. The four signs of impending communication danger are: escalation, invalidation, negative interpretations, and avoidance/withdrawal.

One of the things we have always appreciated about working with couples is that it provides the opportunity for us to reflect and take a new look at our own relationship. So too with these workshops. As we were learning the material, it was abundantly clear to us which danger signs were particular pitfalls in our own relationship: escalation and avoidance/withdrawal.

Having identified those danger signs all those years ago, we have paid particular attention to them in our communication patterns with one another. We try not to fall victim to them and when we do, we try to name them as soon as possible. The effort to avoid them is so much a part of our marital communication that we have even written about them here more than once. Needless to say we feel aware and cautious of them.

Sadly, just because some of the other signs were not present years ago does not mean that we are immune to them.

Recently, as we prepared to meet with a local couple, I came across the list of the four danger signs again. Truthfully, up until then, I had actually forgotten about the invalidation and negative interpretations dangers. After refreshing my memory with the description of each of them, I quickly realized that while Joshua and I are vigilant about not falling prey to escalation or avoidance/withdrawal, we are actually increasingly bad at invalidation!

Invalidation is when one person subtly or overtly puts down the thoughts, feelings, or character of the other. It could include interrupting, eye rolling, sighing, sarcasm, name-calling, insults, and other such interactions.

Now on some level this makes sense. I think it is a simple product of the length, and therefore complexity, of our relationship with one another. Joshua and I do not get so far as using the most overt or extreme examples of invalidation like name-calling or insults. But the other subtle examples creep into our communication more and more.

So while our old tried and true patterns of communication are still present, we have gotten quite excellent at improvising in new and creative ways. When we are not at our best, this “creativity” quickly morphs into laziness. And in our experience, laziness in marital communication can easily lead to stepping all over each other’s human dignity. In the midst of conflict, we have even gone so far as commenting upon how good one of us (Josh) is getting at eye rolling; or how heavily one of us (Stacey) sighs. Interrupting is just a foregone conclusion (and I am the worst at it).

It’s ugly stuff to be sure.

The other night on our way home from our conversation with the local couple, I mentioned this whole realization to Joshua. I told him that while I think we are getting better at escalation and avoidance/withdrawal, I am increasingly aware of how badly we do with invalidation. At which point he paused and then agreed by saying, “Yes, you are very bad at that.”

Which is hysterical and awesome on a couple levels: first, his response is the opposite of invalidating – it is affirming of my position and I love being affirmed, even if it is pointing out my weaknesses. Second, it was a light-hearted way of responding to a pretty heavy realization which indicates that we are in a good place and able to talk about this without too much guilt.

I immediately responded, “I know!” and we shared a laugh and had a very good exchange about our mutual susceptibility to invalidation.

So here we go again with learning new things about ourselves and the nature of our self-emptying, loving commitment. On the one hand, the personal lesson is consistently the same: somehow, I am not perfect. But the multifarious ways in which we fall short of perfection are always new and abundant. As are the opportunities to grow in holiness through our life with one another.


More For Your Marriage

Throughout www.foryourmarriage.org, links to other websites are provided solely for the user’s convenience.
USCCB assumes no responsibility for these websites, their content, or their sponsoring organizations.

Copyright © 2014, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved.
3211 4th Street, N.E., Washington DC 20017-1194, (202) 541-3000 © USCCB.

Confrontation at the Post Office, available at: ForYourMarriage.org
Permalink: http://www.foryourmarriage.org/confrontation-at-the-post-office/