Friday, August 20, 2010

stress-throwers and stress-absorbers

Are you a stress-thrower or a stress-absorber?

A stress-thrower blames things on others and expresses stress in anger; a stress-absorber blames things on themselves and expresses stress in anxiety (I think I've got that right!). This useful distinction was taught to me by Tom Cannon, a chaplain I used to work with in university ministry. In our family, we have both stress-throwers and stress-absorbers.

One morning last term we were having jacket issues. One of my sons refused to put on his school jacket until threatened with punishment; another forgot his jacket and had to go back inside for it. We were very late for school as a result.

By the time we pulled up at school, accusations were flying fast and furious (many of them maternal, I admit!). As they got out of the car, my two boys fought over who had made them late—but not in the way you might expect.

“It's my fault we're late! It's my fault!”, said one of my sons, at fault of nothing more serious than forgetting his jacket. “Yes, it's not my fault, it's your fault!”, said the other, at fault of disobeying his parents and refusing to wear his jacket. No prizes for guessing who is the stress-thrower and who is the stress-absorber!

I've found that stress-throwers and stress-absorbers require different parenting. To the stress-thrower I say, “Take responsibility for your own actions!”, “Don't blame others!”, and “Acknowledge and ask forgiveness for what you've done wrong!”. To the stress-absorber I say, “Everyone makes mistakes!”, “Mummy's bad mood is not your fault!”, and “I forgive you, and so does God, because Jesus died for you!”.

But in the end, both stress-throwers and stress-absorbers need to hear the same message (a message, oddly enough, also taught to me by my friend Tom Cannon): “Our sin is greater than we will ever know, but God's grace is greater still.” It's a message I repeat often to my children, and even more often to myself.

This post first appeared at Sola Panel today.

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