Over the years, a number of parents have been concerned about their child’s hesitance to assert themselves. I wrote the tale below in 2014 with that (and a very special girl) in mind. I like to imagine living in a kingdom where our leader models assertive Confrontive I-Messages! Here’s how one such person came to be so wise.
He grinned down. I grinned up. Then, shaking my head in wonder, I went to my journal to record this remarkable conversation.
"Remarkable" because the old Catherine would not have known what to do. I probably would have peppered him with questions, "What's wrong? Well, have you tried approaching him again? Did you ask him why you you got that score? Have you gone over the rubric - maybe you missed something?"
Oh gee. I was in one of those "edge states," defined by Zen abbot and medical anthropologist Joan Halifax as "states where the individual’s identity is challenged."
I learned to be gentle with myself; I had to because I was sick to my stomach for a week. I required time as I licked my wounds and figured out how to make things right the next session, and all subsequent ones (three more to go). I reflected on why I had such a hard time forgiving myself and what my anxiety was, at core, about.
There were the inevitable struggles and recurring fights that most long term partners have. My inner dialogue usually went something like this: He’s taking advantage of me. He doesn’t appreciate me. Give an inch, he’ll take a mile. The icy chill could last hours, even days.
When I walked into my first parenting course five years ago, I was in a crisis with my 11 year old son. Lo and behold, though, my newfound assertiveness, empathy, and conflict resolution skills helped with my husband who, in turn, responded with his own best efforts.
The wonder of acceptance proved itself time and time again.
While my ire was directed at Trump (and, momentarily, his wife), I drew a line at my fellow Americans. I couldn’t in good conscience put down or label almost half of my country, or presume to know what was going on in their minds and hearts.
I still believed Thomas Gordon's assertion that all behavior seeks to meet needs. Their vote was doing something FOR themselves, and not TO me, and I wanted to understand what that something was.
Felicia, a recent graduate of the P.E.T. course, spoke to a new cohort of parents:
You deserve self-compassion. Ask yourself, 'What do you need? Anything?' This is hard work. We were also children and we are trying to make chocolate without knowing what chocolate is!
The look of This woman totally gets me was on every single grinning face in that sunny room.
A few weeks ago, I spent two days at your university, listening to deans, advisors and mental health professionals tell us parents how to support you and your classmates in the upcoming year. I was pretty relaxed; nothing they said was too jarring.
It all made me wonder: What would this moment be like had I not learned P.E.T.?
I feel like Severe Parenting Fatigue should be a thing.
As soon as a mom in my course said it, I jotted down SPF!!!! It's so ubiquitous and, personally, all too familiar. Parental burn-out is especially apparent at the end of the long school year but -- believe you me -- it really knows no seasons.
Yet relationships with our children are potentially the most rewarding of this one life we have. So why would we settle for anything approaching SPF?
That softening and willingness to take in someone else's perspective had the startling effect of her daughter picking up a towel and starting to dry the dishes. "We got over it within a matter of minutes whereas before it would have meant a ruined Sunday afternoon," Therese gushed.
Oh, the gratitude we all saw in her wide, winning smile and bright eyes!