At dinner we go around and talk about our day. Everyone is asked what the best part of their day was and what the hardest part of their day was.
On this particular night our son was telling us about the best part of his day which had something to do with earning invincibility powers on his Lego game. We continued around the table and as our 2.5 year old talked, our son started back in with more details about invincibility. In a 60 second span we had to ask him 4 different times to please let our daughter finish.
Kids interrupt, it happens, but with our sons Difficult Mind he just keeps talking until his thought is complete. It doesn’t matter who is listening, where he is or how he might be inconveniencing someone. I’ve had him follow me around the house while I dry, fold and put away entire loads of laundry. He doesn’t even flinch.
Selfishness for personal gain is one thing. When the Difficult Mind is being selfish, they don’t actually know they are being selfish.
This is one of those things I wish I could explain better and that I could be more patient with.
I’ve talked about our son only being able to experience one thing at a time. Because of that if he has a thought, he has to complete it.
I know, put my foot down already, just interrupt him and tell him to stop, I’m the authority figure after all. Yeah, that doesn’t really work. The outcomes of interrupting a thought vary but they usually fall into one of these categories:
- Instant Anger. “You don’t ever listen to me. You don’t care about anything I ever say.”
- Ignoring. He will just talk over you.
- Crying. Sometimes the talking is a cover for anxiety that has built up. If you stop the thought he may take a sharp left turn, start crying and tell you something entirely different. While I want to hear what is really going on, this is not a good way to approach it.
If he keeps talking we have an entirely different set of problems:
- Completing a task. It is quite hard to manage a sibling dispute, take a phone call or help a sibling with homework when someone is following you around talking.
- Feeling left out. If our son is always talking his siblings feel like they are not as important. They can’t ask a question and receive and answer, can’t have a conversation with me and can’t even share at family dinner without their brothers selfishness stepping in. His constant talking automatically makes him the center of attention.
- Annoyance. There are 6 people in our house, if one person feels the need to constantly talk and be the center of attention annoyance sets in pretty quickly. Annoyance leads to impatience and impatience leads to frustration and frustration either comes out as anger or requires immense amounts of self-control.
So how do you live with a constantly selfish person when they don’t understand the concept of selfishness?
As humans, we are all selfish. We all have that tendency to do what we want to do when we want to do it. Assessing each situation and owning up to our own selfishness will help us quit erroneously pointing the fingers at others when we are really the problem.
We try to guide. We’ve adopted a stance of teaching all our children character traits. To combat selfishness with our son we spend a lot of time talking about self-control. Self-control means having a choice. Choosing to listen when I ask him to wait, choosing to be calm instead of reacting harshly. There isn’t a strong connection there yet, but we are trying.
Be a truth teller. Instead of moving straight to frustration we have to take the steps to be detailed truth tellers to our son. We have to say the words “It hurts your sisters feelings when she doesn’t have a chance to share her story, you need to give her a turn” or “I cannot listen to you right now because I am helping your sister with homework, you will have to wait.” Most kids understand taking turns and being respectful at a certain age but our son does not. He has not shown us he understands that his actions affect how people think, feel and react.
Give grace. This goes back to being able to accept that our son is actually struggling. No amount of teaching, telling, guiding or training will change parts of who he is. Being selfish is one of the biggest hurdles he faces. As he faces these hurdles we have to give grace when he trips up and falls. It doesn’t mean we give in and just let him have his way but it does mean there are times we do, and we do so gracefully and willingly.
As a family who values service and compassion, selfishness may be the biggest tension we face.
However, having a selfish by default son won’t stop us from loving him for who he is and helping him find his place and calling in the world.
“Hope and Sorrow in it all there’s rescue and there’s not.”
There’s Rescue: There are moments where our son is easily guided and he chooses self-control over selfishness. I am deeply grateful for each of those moments because they are rare.
There’s Not: Compassion is something that we can show and teach but we cannot make our son adopt that value. My heart breaks when I see him so deep into his own little world that he cannot see the people around him.
Today I am looking my own selfishness in the mirror and making a commitment to love more and demand less.