I sat uncomfortably in the doctor’s office. Not because the chair was hard, which it was. Not because I had been sitting there for nearly 30 minutes waiting, which I had. But because sitting uncomfortably was the only way I could sit for the past three months.
My lower back was broken. I was sure of it. It hurt to bend over, it hurt to sit on the floor and lift my legs, it hurt to sit up straight at my desk. Life had not been very enjoyable.
And now, I sat on an uncomfortable chair, working on my thirty-first minute, switching my gaze between two different windows.
One window didn’t give me a very good view. Just the boring office building next to this one. But the other window let me see deep into myself. Through this window lay the answer to the cause of my pain. This window was on the doctor’s computer screen and was showing the x-ray of my lower back.
I was waiting for the orthopedic surgeon to come analyze it and give me my diagnosis. But while I waited, I was trying to analyze it and self diagnose…. ineffectively.
What’s with that group of black circles at the bottom of my spine? Does that bone have a hole in it? That grey thing is supposed to be protruding out between my vertebrae, right? How do doctors even read these things?
The door opened and in walked the doc. He went straight to the computer and started analyzing my x-rays. While he did that, I analyzed him. He seems really focused on that one particular spot. That’s not good, right? Did he just nod slightly, or is he bobbing his head up and down to a song stuck in his head? Was that a good “hmmm” or a bad “hmmm?”
After a few moments of studying the source of my inner pain, he turned to me and said the thing I was most afraid he would say…
“Everything looks good.”
Great. Wonderful. Just perfect. Then why the heck does my back hurt so much!!
“So, what’s going on?” I calmly asked.
“I’m not sure, but you could probably benefit from some core strengthening.”
“Doing sit ups and planks and such. Do you work out much?”
Wow. Uh, psh-, that’s a pretty personal question, Doc. I mean, yeah I work out… usually...
He could have asked me about my last bowel movement and I would have felt more comfortable.
“Um, I guess it’s been awhile,” I stammered.
“Strengthening your core will help your back,” said the doc.
Then I remembered something someone had once told me. To really strengthen one muscle, you need to work out the opposite muscle. It’s compliment. The tricep to the bicep. Pecs with your upper back. Quads and hamstrings.
Not doing this can really cause some damage.
In fitness, this is called the antagonist muscle. I love that word because it makes me think of the villain of the story. The thing you view as the enemy.
In parenting, some opposing characteristics can seem like the “enemy.” Love is the enemy to discipline. Being calm is the enemy of showing how royally ticked you are. Feeling unsure about your decisions is the Achilles’ Heel to feeling confident as a parent.
But, just like your muscles, what if the key improving one characteristic lies in strengthening its opposite?
If you want to be more effective at disciplining your children, increase the way you show your love for them. Redirection is best accepted when a child has a positive relationship with the adult correcting them. Spend time with your children, connect with them in things they enjoy, have meaningful conversations that are fun rather than only talking with them for longer than five minutes when they are in trouble. Plus, when you discipline from a place of love rather than of anger, the discipline chosen is more suitable, effective, and has a more lasting effect.
If you want to show your children how you feel about their choices, control your emotions more effectively. The volume of your voice does not have to match the seriousness of the sin. Let’s bring in a famous Ralph Waldo Emerson quote here: “What you do speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you say.” If you really want your feelings of disappointment, anger, or frustration communicated clearly to your teen, speak calmly with them. Your words will carry more weight if you do.
If you want to feel more confident as a parent, embrace your uncertainty. Confidence is not the assurance that you won’t feel any negative emotion, but the certainty that you can handle any negative emotion that comes your way. If you learn to accept uncertainty in your parenting, know that some things will work out and others won’t, then you can really access the level of confidence needed to owning a full, balanced life.
Oftentimes we double down on an action, feeling, or choice, thinking that if we run harder toward our desired destination we will certainly get there sooner. But when we never arrive, we are frustrated, tired, and confused as to why logic is failing us.
But is it really logical to keep trying it if it has never worked?
When you stop desperately running, you turn around and notice that there is a train station a half mile back. You’ll have to head the opposite direction, but once you get there you can climb aboard a train that will take you right to where you were running.
It might feel counterproductive to work more effectively by taking time everyday for play.
It might seem wrong to teach your child an unforgettable lesson by listening to them talk through the solution.
It might seem weak to be a better leader by letting someone else have more responsibility.
But it’s not.
Just like your antagonist muscle, your antagonist characteristic is connected to the characteristic you want to grow. Don’t neglect it. Strengthen it. Give it six weeks of physical therapy, three times a week.
That’s what the doctor gave me as the solution to my pain.