My husband is overseas this week and, with understanding from my work colleagues, I feel as though I have been coping quite well with the additional busyness that this entails. However, I am a little embarrassed to admit that, whenever he goes away, I always leave the light on in the hallway outside our bedroom when I go to bed. Yes, I am in my rather late forties and I need a light on overnight if my husband isn’t here. The idea of being the only responsible adult in a completely dark house overnight simply does not fill me with joy.
The light in the hallway is a bit of a double-edged sword. Although it allows me to go to sleep, the quality of my sleep is never great because having the light on seems to stop my body from falling into a deep sleep. So, by the time my husband returns, I am usually exhausted. Enter stage left, our youngest daughter with a solution.
On the day that my husband flew out, our youngest daughter declared that she was sleeping in our room for the week. She then paused and said “Mum, would you like me to bring my night light out and plug it into the power point in the hallway? It might give you some light overnight without being as bright as the hallway light”. I tried not to sound too desperate and relieved when I said “That’s a wonderful idea! I would love that, thank you!”
The light has worked an absolute treat. I have told our daughter how grateful I am, and also that I think her idea was pure genius.
Later, I was reflecting on what learning I could take from our daughter’s offer. This seemed important because I had been so chuffed and proud of her, and such special moments always feel a little more preserved if I can find some learning. What occurred to me was that, without even realising she was doing so, our daughter held me as legitimate. She observed that who I am being at the moment means that I like to have a light on of a night time when my husband is away. She didn’t judge me for that. She simply accepted that it was where I was at, and then she set about finding a way to work with how I was being.
The concept of holding someone as legitimate (the legitimate other) is, I think, a beautiful one: the idea of holding someone with such deep respect that, even if we don’t like their opinions or behaviour, we understand that they are acting in whatever way their way of being is allowing them to at that point in time. It is incredibly powerful in coaching and, I think, also incredibly powerful in life.
What fascinated me when our daughter held me as legitimate was that it involved such a simple scenario, and such a simple response. Given the number of times that I have told her that it is ok to feel fear while also saying that I don’t think that there is anything in the house to be frightened of, she could have chosen to laugh at me, or throw my own words back at me, or even question me. Yet, she didn’t seem to think twice about understanding and respecting where I was at, and she did it in such a simple way.
In my assessment, an important part of holding someone as legitimate is learning to combine that with taking care of our own legitimacy. For example, if our daughter was going to be scared without the night light in her room, then offering me the night light may not have been an appropriate way of taking care of her legitimacy. In that situation, perhaps offering to go shopping for a night light with me may have been an appropriate alternative. However, I think she had taken care of her own legitimacy by declaring that she would sleep in my room and therefore would not need the light in her own room.
As I was pondering both the night light and my immense gratitude at our daughter’s offer, I started to think about about the normal everyday situations in which I might not be holding others as legitimate. Where have I missed accepting that someone is just being who they are right now, and instead tried to work with that (while maintaining my own legitimacy)? Are there times when I have judged people for the equivalent of leaving a light on overnight when I could have simply offered them a night light?
As a leadership and life coach, these points are all points that I am able to help people to explore. If you feel that it would be useful to have a conversation with me, please feel free to view my services on the Leading and Being website.