Get Hired, Not Fired -- C.U.E. #5

Get Hired, Not Fired -- C.U.E. #5

Seven dedicated parents and I ended our course this week with the usual, highly anticipated discussion on how to share values with our children. 

It's a little painful waiting until the last session to finally learn skills for handling issues like:

  • Homework ("Done already?!")
  • Music & Mandarin ("Yes, your lesson is today.")
  • Hygiene & appearance ("Your hair! Your teeth!")
  • Nutrition ("You weren't going to eat that, were you?")

We are motivated by love. We fervently want our offspring to adopt our closely held values to improve, not our lives, but THEIRS.

But how best to pass them on? Most parents have never had a chance to think about or practice this. 

That's where P.E.T. can help, but it's hard stuff. Even though I have developed and finessed my own approach to Values Collisions, just last week, I tripped over myself trying to get my 14 year old to change.

In this C.U.E. post, I detail this "Consciously Unskilled Episode," how I made good with my kid and what learnings the experience offers me (and, hopefully, you).

The Missteps

When Jake was playing FIFA soccer sprawled in front of the TV at 5:30pm last Wednesday, I felt annoyed and judgmental. (It was the old Catherine who believes fun must be earned.)

I exhibited SOME self-control by controlling my tone of voice as I checked in with him on his homework status. He said it was all done but I wasn't satisfied, "Doesn't homework include some reading and some Chinese?"

That right there was a very subtle mash-up of several Roadblocks:

  • Moralizing
  • Blaming
  • Judging
  • Arguing
  • Probing
  • (If there's one I've missed, please add it to the comments!)

Jake picked up on this and flew off the handle. "Mom, can you stop with the judging?! I've been working all day and just want a break!"

I started to walk away, then something compelled me to open my mouth again. "It's just that . . . well, you know your score last time on the Chinese test. Language needs a little bit every day, even five minutes."

"I'm done, I'm not listening! Go away!" 

Ohhhhh, that felt REALLY bad. Jake sounded a lot like he was firing me! 

To make matters worse, I was aware that our helper could hear his harsh tone so I asked him to keep his voice down, motioning toward the kitchen.

"No!" he was even more incensed.

I was oozing unacceptance of the way he was in that moment. I was also, if I am totally honest, blaming him for my feeling embarrassed and ashamed. 

The Repair

The first step in recovery was doing what I should have done right away -- walk away to quiet my nerves. 

I'm happy to report my insides weren't churning as wildly as they used to in situations like this. My inner work (with help from wise others -- see my next post on giving thanks) helps me now observe and accept -- rather than ignore or fight -- the emotions coursing through me. 

Once acknowledged, these negative feelings eventually pass and I am able to act with more clarity of mind, and to extend the compassion I've just shown myself to others.  

My self-talk went something like this: 

Catherine, you feel so ashamed. It's really hard when he talks like this, especially when you have an audience! You worry that she will think it's okay to talk to you the way he is talking to you. You are just doing your best. You care for this boy so much . . . (I started tapping to even more effectively release these negative emotions.)

Once I Active Listened myself, I was able to access my reasoning abilities: Ok, where does this fall in the Behavior Window and what should I have done? (see below)

Jake came up to apologize (he almost always does, and his ability to do so is getting getting quicker and quicker). Then he calmly explained, "Mom, I was in the middle of a game and, besides, this week you've been on my back with the 'To Kill a Mockingbird' tape in the car!"

I responded in kind, "Jake, I'm really sorry too. I was triggered and let my reaction take over. I wasn't a very good consultant. I just tapped and I feel calm now about your tone; I don't like it but I know you know that already and that you are just trying your best too." 

Jake and I continue to work together when we are both calm in the No Problem zone. We practice Confrontive I-Messages instead of yelling. We have used the tools found in The Whole Brain Child. He has let me read to him from Mindsight. And, even though he's "not really looking forward to it, you know," Jake has agreed to attend an all-day mindfulness workshop with me soon. 

This is a boy who, like all our children, wants to do well if he can. He doesn't enjoy screaming at me either. 

The Take-Away

Catherine, remember what you teach: homework is a Values Collision!

Once we are clear on that, then we know what skills will be most effective. P.E.T. outlines five: Confronting & Listening, Modifying Self, Problem-Solving the behavior, Modeling and Consulting.

I needed the most help around that last one.

The three steps to being an effective consultant can be found on page 107 of the P.E.T. Workbook:

1. Get Hired 

Uhhh, this probably means not interrupting a shot on a goal, but instead waiting until I actually have Jake's ear.

Next time, I can start off with, "Hey, Jake, there's something really important I want to talk about with you. When is a good time today or tomorrow?"

Then I have to be ready to Active Listen because a "good consultant talks a little and listens a lot."

And note to self: Make sure it's just the two of us, with NO ONE else in earshot. Why set either of us up for more potential shame and blame? 

2. Be prepared

When I get a chance like this again, I can first research or reflect on the points I want to make, e.g. the positive impact of reading on writing and vocabulary, the effect of foreign language attainment on the brain etc.

These Declarative and Confrontive I-Messages will definitely sound more reasonable than my on-the-fly attack on his laziness.

3. Leave the Responsibility for Change with the Child

Groan . . . this is where my work REALLY lies. Truth be told, on the topic of schoolwork, Jake's already heard many of my good arguments.

I need to remind myself of what the workbook says:

Do your best and then don't nag or continue to push the subject on your child. This can be extremely difficult to do (yes, thank you for acknowledging this!) . . . Consulting does not always produce immediate, noticeable results; often your "good teaching" doesn't show up until years later.

Since this is a value I've already spoken to Jake about, I did a little soul searching to find out what my needs were, "Wow, Catherine, you really want to push your solution onto your child. If he studies more, what does that do for you?"

I know that, in the past when homework was a daily hell, these needs have included:

  • Self-esteem (I'm a good parent only if he does well in school!)
  • Ease (I can't rest until I know he has studied!)
  • Control (Just do what I say, I beg of you.)
  • Acknowledgment (I know what's best!)

Hmph! I guess the fact that I was still triggered on that particular day means these thoughts still haven't fully retired.

Loosening up on my preferred solution and instead focusing on my needs is crucial and very P.E.T. That frees me to find alternative ways to meet those needs, ways that don't jeopardize my relationship with my child.

After all, if I try to enforce my desired number of minutes spent on reading literature or preparing for dictations (and maybe even pull out the threats, punishments and rewards), I might end up really losing. 

It is paradoxical but true that parents lose influence by using power and will have more influence on their children by giving up their power or refusing to use it.
— Dr. Thomas Gordon, Parent Effectiveness Training: The Proven Program for Raising Responsible Children, page 216

Sign me up to be where that arrow is, where I have long-lasting influence in Jake's life. It's not easy but know I can! It's all a matter of being kind to myself when I mess up, making amends, and more artfully using P.E.T. tools to make my aspiration a reality. 

If you take comfort in learning alongside me when I fumble, please check out the other C.U.E. posts:

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