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What’s Your (Parenting) Line Anyway?

Some of the best parenting advice I got in the past few weeks came from my friend who is an accomplished professional, successful entrepreneur, and awesome aunt. The best part about it is that we weren’t even talking about parenting, but nonetheless her sage advice applied across many areas in life, and it prompted me to ask my husband, “What is your line?”

MIKE: At first I wasn’t sure what Kori was talking about. I have not used pick up lines in a long time, maybe even ever. I mean Kori and I met in high school. I have known her long enough to know this question was going somewhere, just not sure where.

My friend said we all need to have “our line” when we get caught off guard in a conversation and our fight our flight response kicks in; you know those times when someone says something that is either so shocking or offensive that you don’t’ know what to do or say.

The fight or flight stress response is a real scientific thing. The trigger event - a tragic incident, a comment, or event - activates the nervous system and the adrenal-cortical system. The physical response is intended to help a person survive by running away or fighting for your life.

Examples can range from extreme - fire in the house or a physical/mental attack - to way more subtle events, like when a “friend” says, “oh, I wouldn’t have done it that way.” In the latter, the physical reaction can be similar to an attack in that the brain triggers the stress and the flight or fight response. My friend says in some cases and situations, people can be so predictable in their judgments or statements that “having a line” allows you to be heard and gets you through the moment in a more productive, less stressful way.

Here is an example of a subtle trigger. Countless times in my twenty-plus years working in corporate, I have been in meetings where a man has said, “She is a really good girl (or gal),” speaking in reference to a female professional who is in her late 30’s or 40’s. I am not alone in this. My friend said in those cases, her go-to line was, “is she 11 or 12?” It is a subtle way of getting a point across that we are talking about a professional woman, calling out a behavior, yet doing it in a way that the other person will get the point. You are heard, and they may feel sheepish, but not demeaned in the process.

MIKE: Interesting, now I get it. All those times I met people who asked what I did for a living and didn’t know how to respond when I said I stay home with four kids, I should have had a line, like “I am a domestic manager for four young talents and a rockstar!” Or the time when a dad told me that staying home must not be very gratifying, I should have said, “I know right, raising four kids who might be your caregiver some day is really not that big of a deal.”

For the most part, I don’t think people say intentionally disrespectful things. These comments come from a place of unconscious incompetence, from their own lack of insecurity or knowledge; however, they still can be hurtful. (By the way, I am sure I have done this too.)

When I did a lot of business travel for my job outside the home, a fellow mom said to me, “I don’t know how you leave your kids as often as you do. I would hate as a mom missing out on so much of the important stuff.” I will give her the benefit of the doubt. I don’t think she knew that it was like a dagger to the heart for me, or that it played right into my mom-guilt moments.

My line could have been, “You are so right. My husband as an at-home parent is there for all of those moments, but he doesn’t count as a parent.” All right that one had a bit more sarcasm than the others, and was not as good as my friend’s line. Perhaps my line could have been, “I find the instant replay moment - either via a video tape or a verbal retelling of the moment - to be so much better; then I can question everyone involved.” Okay, that one was not so good either, and sports analogies are so overused.

Maybe I just should have said, “Isn’t it a joy being a parent! Some moments we get to experience live and others we get to live through the eyes of the child telling the story a second time.”

MIKE: With all of her business travel, many a time I had the video camera in hand to capture school performances, athletic events and more. We had to describe it on the phone when she called later and relive it again when she returned home. It was less of an instant replay and more of a do over-over.

Parenting can have some tough moments and people will say things, intentionally or unintentionally, that catch you off guard. So, what is your line anyway?

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