Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Meet in the Middle

We've just returned from the annual church conference and festival. It's three days of hanging out with other Orthodox Christians, listening to talks on the theme for the conference, and allowing the children a bit more freedom than they get in the city, thanks to the expansive green space and rooms which are basically made for children lounging around without their parents present (meaning, there is a ping pong table and a television, as well as various places to set snacks). I like going because it's nice to hear talks that are meant for adults and because I don't have to cook any meals or do any dishes.

This year was our third year, and this basically means that we've been attending for long enough to be asked to do tasks related to the running of the conference. I think this is good and right, and we want to contribute. I was asked to help with the children's program, which is what I am nearly always asked to do at any gathering that has a children's program, as it is assumed that because I am a home educator with a background in child development, this will be exactly the thing I will enjoy doing. Except, it's not. This is exactly what I do not want to do on a weekend away. It's just more of the same, you know?

But I said yes, because I wanted to do my bit, and also because there was some savings in the cost of the conference if I agreed to do it. I was taking one for the team, basically, making this affordable for my family by doing something I'd prefer not to do. For two teams, if we count the team of people who attend the conference with children and like having something for their children to do. So I did it, and I did a decent job outwardly, but the honest truth is that I struggled with not resenting being charged with this task. It made the weekend a working weekend for me, and I did not get to hear many of the talks. Add to that my struggle with not judging other parents who sat by while I kept their children from creating utter chaos with the craft supplies, and well...it probably wasn't the best fit for me.

And yet I am considering helping again next year - I am fairly certain I will be asked. As the weekend was wrapping up, and I got to hear one brief talk, I thought about what worked and what didn't work for me. Overall, I felt a little tapped out and ready to be done, but that wasn't the only feeling I had. As tempting as it would be to just write the whole thing off as a disaster for me inwardly and personally, and vow never to do it again, there were some things that I liked about it that I would be willing to do again. There are some things I am good at that I know are not the forte of the others who are doing the planning, and it is truly easy and enjoyable for me to do those things. Planning a craft related to a theme and gathering supplies for that craft? So easy and fun. I also really don't mind sitting in with the children for the first session of the weekend, when there's no chaos yet and everyone wants to sit quietly and watch a movie. So I will offer to do those things.

For me, this is a key realization. It doesn't have to be all or nothing in these situations. I can set a boundary that isn't a full on no, but that isn't a full yes either. I'm not sure why, but this is something that I haven't learned before. Forty-two years on this planet, and it's a new concept. But I don't think I'm the only one this hasn't occurred to. It seems like a lot of us are so used to having limited options - usually YES or NO - that we don't explore the continuum in between those two. I think that is to everyone's detriment in this sort of situation. In some ways, of course it is easier for organizers to have someone who will do as requested without complaint. But if that person spends most of the time they're doing the job being resentful that they have to do it, or if they get burned out because it's too much of whatever is normally going on in their lives, then that doesn't work out very well. And of course it doesn't work out well for the person doing the work and resenting it.

The funny thing about this to me is that in our life as parents, we actively seek compromise with our children. And yet, it didn't occur to me to apply this in other areas of my life. Power sharing in this way allows everyone to feel as if they have some choice, and it promotes a closer relationship because one person doesn't feel dominated by the other. As a parent, I do have the final say, and this is something I can note for other interactions for which I might want to compromise. In offering an alternative plan to what I've been asked to do, I've got to respect what the organizers would like to accomplish, and they do have final say. But in offering something different, I don't have to say a full NO. I think that's a win for everyone.

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