By Michael Eatmon
This week, the featured post is authored by Michael Eatmon. Michael’s a career educator. For 30 years, he’s studied and taught language, philosophy, and theology. What feeds his embodied soul, though, are art, music, poetry, yoga, and the warmth of close friends. He and his wife of 30 years live in central Florida, where they’ve raised four children.
She looked up and smiled, but she didn’t say a word. She shuffled her food around her plate, merely picking at her dinner. All were clear signs that something in my younger daughter’s world was amiss.
“Anything you wanna talk about?” I prompted.
“No,” she sighed without pause. “I’m okay.” A few seconds later, and without further prompting, she started to open up. “I just don’t get it. My bosses show other students more respect than they show me.”
“Oh?” I responded, surprised and a little peeved about what might’ve happened. “What makes you think that? Did someone say or do something upsetting?”
“Other students get time off for school work—you know, to study for exams and take them,” she explained. “They also get vacation days. I get neither. I have a big test coming up, and I have to work all day every day leading up to it. And vacation days? I’ve never had any, not in two years.”
“I wouldn’t be happy in a situation like that, either.” I felt frustration flutter up in me as I imagined the spot she was in. “What do your bosses say when you ask for time off?”
“I know what they’ll probably say. Besides, who would fill in for me? One coworker can’t work weekends, and another doesn’t work nights. This other person could fill in for me, but I’m not sure she’d do me the favor.”
“So,” I tiptoe into my next question, “you haven’t even asked for time off?”
“No,” she mumbled, intuiting that the conversation was about to turn heart-to-heart.
“I’m sad to hear you don’t feel respected at work,” I said, pressing pause on my kitchen cleanup. “I’ve been in a place like that many times—at work and in friendships. I invest a lot of myself into a relationship, but the investment doesn’t feel mutual. Many times, I’ve felt hurt because my wants and needs seemed to be ignored.”
“Yeah,” she nodded, “that’s where I am. It sucks, and it hurts.”
I took an intentional breath, leaned onto the counter, and connected with her eyes. My facial expressions resembled hers, likely, but not because I tried to mirror them. Instead, I was rolling atop a gentle wave of my own sadness.
“I’ve felt ignored many times in relationships and by people who mean a lot to me. Some were coworkers; some were friends; some were family members. My wants weren’t being heard, and my needs weren’t being met. Or so the situations often seemed,” I added, musing.
“So they seemed?” she echoed. “What do you mean?”
“My wants weren’t heard, and my needs weren’t met,” I began to share. “That much was true. What was truer yet, though, was that I hadn’t even expressed my wants and needs in the relationship. I kept them to myself for fear of hearing a no or of being rejected. I didn’t voice what was stirring in my head and heart. Still, I blamed others for not seeing and hearing what was going on inside me. I wasn’t feeling respected, but I wasn’t giving others an opportunity to respect me, either.”
By now, my daughter was mirroring my body language and facial expressions. What I was saying resonated with her and not only at the level of work relationships. She experienced what I was describing in other areas of her life, too.
“So, what do you do in situations like that?” she wondered aloud. “I don’t know what to do, but I know I don’t want to go on like this. Some days, I’m mad about it. Other days, I’m just sad.”
“What to do in situations like this—that’s a great question,” I reflected. “You may find that another way works better for you, but here’s what I’ve found. My relationships, personal and professional, tend to go better when I voice my wants and needs. That doesn’t mean that I always get what I want and need from my relationships, of course. It means only that sharing my true thoughts and feelings gives others opportunities to respect what’s going on inside me. Unless I give voice to what’s in my head and heart, how will they know?”
My daughter sat quiet again, this time looking more thoughtful than unhappy. Moments later, she grabbed her phone and thumbed out a text. Almost as soon as she pressed send, she received a response, and the corners of her mouth turned upward.
“What’s up?” I asked, now my turn to wonder aloud.
“I texted my boss,” she began, “to ask her for Monday off. I have a huge exam on Tuesday, and I don’t feel ready for it. I need more time to study. She’s already gotten back to me.”
“Oh?” I responded, surprised and curious.
“She said yes,” came my daughter’s simple, smiling, three-word reply. “I get that things won’t always work out this way, the way I hope. How long did it take you to learn this lesson, though, to ask for what you really want and need?”
“Another great question,” I mused. “How long did it take me to learn it? I don’t know. I’ll let you know once it happens.”
My daughter picked up her fork, cut up a small bite of food, and popped it into her mouth. She smiled. This time, I wasn’t sure what spun the expression up. The new insight into making her wants and needs known? The realization that her dad’s still working on giving voice to his own thoughts and feelings? Or, maybe, the source of her smile was simply the umami deliciousness of her dinner’s cracklin’ chicken?