Many moons ago, when I was just a young boy, an incident occurred involving my mother which has stayed with me vividly until this day. I was about 7 years old and was at home alone with my mother. I think it must have been because I was ill, because I have 3 siblings who would also have been there if it had been holiday time. In those days, virtually everyone had their milk delivered daily to their front doorstep in glass bottles by the milkman.
That morning, my mother was busy with something (as a mother of four children almost always is) and asked me if I could fetch the milk from the doorstep and take it into the kitchen. It was a cold morning, and the four glass bottles were wet with droplets of condensation. I picked them up, as I had often seen other members of my family doing, with the necks of the bottles between my fingers, two in each hand. Unfortunately, their slippery wetness meant that I only got as far as the hallway before one of the bottles slipped from between my fingers and smashed on the floor, covering the hall carpet in milk and broken glass.
My mother heard the noise and came to see what had happened. Then came a tirade of anger which I have never forgotten. She shouted at me with vehement fury, cursing my stupidity and impatiently telling me to get out of the way. Shocked by the level of anger, I began to cry.
"Oh, be quiet," my mother said with withering disdain. "There's no use crying over spilt milk."
But of course I was not crying over the milk. I was crying over the completely inappropriate anger and the sense of injustice. I was crying over the fact that my mother apparently cared more about a pint of milk and a couple of square feet of hall carpet than she cared about me. Even at that young age I understood the hypocrisy of what she had just said. For it was of course she and not I who was 'crying over spilt milk', or in this case raging over it.
I am not recounting this story because I want to lay blame at the feet of my mother or publicly chastise her. Although I did carry the sense of injustice with me for a long time, I have now been a parent myself for several years and I know the sense of frustration and overwhelm that can sometimes overcome you, causing you to react in ways that you later regret. I only have 2 children and she had four, as well as a full time teaching job and little domestic help from my father, so I can now greatly sympathise with her situation.
I know that my mother loves me and all her children with a burning intensity, and because I know that, I understand that it wasn't really her that was shouting at me that day. For a short time she had been completely taken over. The voice of anger and frustration was controlling her. I don't know what else had led her to reach this boiling point and I never will. This happens to all of us at times and it is extremely important to understand that it does for a number of reasons.
Firstly, if we understand that sometimes people are taken over by anger, fear, jealousy, overwhelm etc. then we can learn not to take personally things that are said and done during those times. I took that incident very personally for a very long time and doing so greatly affected my self-esteem. This does not mean that we should condone such behaviour. We should still point out when things said and done are unacceptable to us, but we can also minimise the effect it has on our own feelings by understanding that our loved one or friend (or even a stranger) had been temporarily taken over by a negative voice. We do not have to take it personally. We do not have to condemn the person for not always being perfect. How many of us have been carrying a grudge around because of something said in the heat of such a moment? Who does carrying a grudge affect? It affects ourselves, our own self-esteem and our own well-being.
Secondly, if we can admit to ourselves that we too are sometimes completely taken over by a negative voice or reaction pattern, then we can begin to recognise when it is happening and with a bit of practice break the pattern and ensure that incidents such as the one I have described above happen less often when we interact with those who are important to us. It is often difficult to admit that we are not always right, that maybe sometimes we are out of control. That kind of understanding and humility can help us to catch ourselves in such moments, or to unreservedly apologise afterwards if we did not catch ourselves in time. We also do not need to condemn ourselves or berate ourselves if this sometimes happens. All we need to do is to take steps to apologise where necessary and to commit to watching out for such behaviour in ourselves in the future.
It took me quite a long time to understand this important lesson and I now understand that the milk incident staying in my mind all these years was instumental in my gaining this understanding.
Thank you mum, I love you.
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