The Discomfort of Your Discomfort
When my older son, Pete, was 8 weeks old, I did an overnight trip with a friend. I wanted to prove that I would be able to maintain myself and my psyche, now that I had become a parent and my heartbeat was inside someone else’s chest. My plan didn’t work. As soon as my friend fell asleep, I cried until the sun came up (what a waste of sleep time in a hotel room!) and then fabricated a story about Pete refusing to eat. I was back in my mom-life 90 minutes later.
As the kids grew and I undertook infrequent but requisite work travel, that “off” feeling accompanied every trip. Don’t get me wrong . . . I have always loved my work, and a silent hotel room with a lock and good linens has saved my psyche from overwhelm more than once. But my homing devices were now small humans, and I could have filled an extra bag with the emptiness that accompanied me when they did not. The ritual of sharing pictures, allowing that dull ache to be subsumed by the act of bringing our truest loves into our mind’s eye -- through photos, stories, the utterance of a precious name -- is something every lonely parent knows.
“I hate those hoodies,” I said, showing a picture of my sons to Michelle, my teaching partner at the leadership institute where we were faculty. “You can’t even see them, thanks to either helmets or those dreadful hoodies.” My sons are athletic, strong, handsome men. I constantly ask them to take off their hats, their hoods, and the other obscuring layers that they favor.
“My son has never worn a hoodie. They are forbidden in my house,” Michelle responds. I was considering her clear superiority as a parent, wondering how I’d lost the hoodie argument, as she continued: “He also knows to keep his hands out of his pockets, completely visible, when we are walking down the street after dinner and pass a cop.”
Wait, but what? We are two moms, who both love our work and our kids, and have to travel sometimes. We are alike in a lot of ways, but different in others, including that she is black and I am not.
I was flabbergasted. My brain was literally glitching out as I searched for an experience that I could relate to hers. Nada. I’ve done the conversations about sex, working hard, conflict, standing up for yourself in a respectful way, removing your hat, and not eating junk. Never once did my role as a mom require me to script out things my sons must, at all costs, forego in order to stay alive. No hoodies. Keep your hands visible. Don’t talk back, no matter what.
"It can be uncomfortable to admit how strongly implicit bias rules our minds and community structures, how automatically our brains sort things..."
It can be uncomfortable to admit how strongly implicit bias rules our minds and community structures, how automatically our brains sort things, including young men wearing hoodies, into categories of “threat” or “safe.” It is understandable if our first reaction is to feel defensive or try to outrun or out-reason the pain. But that just doesn’t work.
Consider this: Your discomfort will not kill you, the way a hoodie or a casual stroll with hands in pockets might mean death for a young black man. You can use that discomfort to rewrite the story in your head, with a new script that supports what you value.
Start by simply noticing your discomfort, leaning into it, accepting it. This is a very good place to start.
With love and care,
Sara and the Becoming Jackson Whole team
Sara Flitner is the founder of Becoming Jackson Whole and former mayor of Jackson, Wy. She is a trained and certified mediator and a strong believer in the practice of mindfulness at home, in the workplace, and around the community. She loves being outside with her family – husband Bill Wotkyns, sons Pete and Silas, who despite being teenagers are really great company. She is currently working on her first book on civility and compassion as building blocks for thriving communities. You can find more information about her work at www.becomingjacksonwhole.org
This blog was originally posted on July 2, 2020 at Becoming Jackson Whole.