I come from a long line of reactors . . .


I come from a long line of reactors. (No offense, Mom, it's just plain true.) We have a tendency to panic in response to pretty much anything. Or at least have a bit of an extreme reaction. Like if someone says, "Oh, I forgot the camera," we'll say, "OH MY GOOOSH!" (Gasp, shake head, humph)

(My poor husband.)



I've gotten a bit better about this over the years, if I do say so myself. But it's especially hard for me to remain cool and calm under pressure. And since a mother is pretty much always under pressure, this is something I struggle with.

I heard something recently that I immediately wrote in big letters and stuck to the fridge. It goes like this:

DON'T REACT, RESPOND.

Um, yeah Heather. That's kind of obvious isn't it?

Well, for me, NO. I'm someone who needs to mull over what words mean for them to really take a seat in my scattered mind. So I loved thinking over how true this simple statement is. When something happens, big or small, what's the difference between reacting and responding?

Responding is intentional, it's thought through rationally, even in just a moment. Reacting is simply a knee-jerk in which someone almost always gets hurt by my response. Or at the very least they're irritated, annoyed, or frustrated by my irrational reaction.

Right after I heard this, my closest friend called so we could catch up on our weekends. She told me about a BBQ she and her kids had gone to on Saturday. There were a lot of kiddos at the party, and my friend was sitting with the adults while the kids played on the other side of a line of trees. There was an above-ground pool near where the kids were playing, but since it was pretty cold out that evening, it was covered with a tarp that was held down with bungee cords. My friend was talking with a group of people when in the middle of the conversation the thought went through her head, "There's someone in the pool." (Yeah, pretty crazy since she hadn't heard anything that would make her think that.) She walked through the trees to see a two year old boy tangled in the tarp with his head under the water.

Did she scream? No. Did she panic? No. I know this because she talked about being calm, and I also know this because I know her. She responds, she doesn't react. She could have had the whole place in a chaotic uproar, but she simply took care of business, carefully removing the boy and pulling him to safety. She must have gotten there right after he went under because he didn't even sputter. He just wanted her to hold him, he was cold, and I'm sure a bit shocked. So she carried him back to the house and asked the host for a towel. She calmly let his mother know what happened without giving her details. He was fine after all, and her response was one that was thought-through. Why make this nightmare even worse for these parents?

I don't know what I would have done, I probably would have screamed and flailed or something. I'd like to think I've made progress enough to believe I could pull it together, but I don't know.

All I know for now is that I'd like to keep reading those words on my fridge and applying them to our daily lives. Hopefully I won't need them for a life-threatening emergency, but I'd love to respond with actions and words that are life-giving rather than knee-jerk reactions that hurt the hearts of my husband and boys. If I read them enough, maybe when someone spills juice or hits their brother, I'll be able to pause a moment and respond rather than growling without thinking.

Heather writes at The Extraordinary Ordinary

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