Just a pushover?

Just a Pushover?

Sometimes, as a parent practices the new skills of P.E.T., the spouse looks on and comments, "That's just caving in!"

Even the parent herself can feel shaky -- it does seem like their "spoiled brat" is winning.

By explaining why this might be, I hope to address both sets of doubts and offer some comfort along along the way. No one enjoys feeling like, or being called, a pushover.

The course starts with the needs of the child

Because our children are younger and depend on us for support, we first focus on assisting them with their problems.

It's not until Session 4 that parents start learning what to do when the child's behavior is unacceptable because it either prevents them from meeting their own needs or goes against a deeply held value. 

Initially, then, parents practice helping their children -- mainly through Active Listening -- rather than helping themselves. Sometimes, when queried, "So what do we do about THAT?" they have to respond, "I don't know. We haven't gotten to it yet!" 

It's a stretch to envision a new way of parenting

Most of us start the course knowing only two ways of being in relationship with our children:

Rarely do we find a parent in our classes who does not think of conflict resolution in terms of someone winning and someone losing. This “win-lose” orientation is at the very root of the dilemma of today’s parents — whether to be strict (parent wins) or to be lenient (child wins).
— Dr. Thomas Gordon, Parent Effectiveness Training: The Proven Program for Raising Responsible Children, page 173

When we are used to calling the shots and doling out judgments, punishments and rewards, it's hard to wrap our heads around one of the central tenets of P.E.T.: Children do not "misbehave" but are only always acting to meet a valid need.

Parents are asked to see irksome behaviors in a new light: as calls for help or collaborative problem-solving, rather than cause for a rigid upholding of limits and propriety.

  • Calling her coach "stupid" -- There is plenty of time to Consult with your daughter on word choice; first aid her in managing her upset.
  • Pinching the baby -- Protect the baby, yes! But also realize that big brother is out of control with sadness and jealousy.
  • Wanting to skip tutoring to go to a birthday party -- You owe it to her to at least listen to her reasons before launching into your own.
  • Complaining when you forget to bring his half-finished book for the long plane ride -- Instead of "Hey, that's life. People make mistakes so just accept my apology and move on!" you can show that you really feel his deep disappointment and help him move toward his own resolution of the problem.

Extending our empathy when our child seems NOT to deserve it requires a radical shift in perspective. 

P.E.T. appears to consume more time & energy

A good number of us have long relied on promises and threats to get our way:  

"Give me the iPad RIGHT NOW or that's it for tonight!"  

"If you practice until the timer rings every day this week, I'll take you to Ocean Park with Sam."

Because quick compliance usually follows, our spouse may prefer this approach to P.E.T. "talkfest nonsense!"

Yet when we reflect in class, we come to realize that using power this way may not be efficient after all. Together, we recall many instances of pushback and resentment -- I have been known, pre-P.E.T., to clock two-hour struggles with my middle guy Jake -- not to mention our own energy-sapping guilt. 

Firmly fixing on their long-term goals for their kids, such as self-discipline and emotional control, course participants acknowledge the preferability of strategies like: 

  • Confrontive I-Messages -- "When you play your game past the time we agreed, I feel really irritated because I like to start eating dinner together when the food is hot!" (What happens when the child resists? Shift Gears to Active Listen. This tactic is crucial to getting your needs met: your daughter needs help dissolving her own strong emotions first to be able then to hear your assertions.)
  • Method III Problem-Solving -- "Remember at dinnertime, when I grabbed the iPad from you and you started crying? I am sorry. I lost control there too. I'm tired of reminding you to keep to your 20 minutes and you are probably sick of my nagging too. Let's carve out some time tomorrow to have a Problem-Solve." The six steps foster enduring solutions that meet the needs of both parent and child. 
  • Consulting -- If your daughter wants to forgo saxophone lessons, you may grudgingly acknowledge that that wouldn't prevent you from meeting your needs, but -- and this is a BIG BUT for many -- you still fervently want her to benefit from your wisdom! Prepare ahead of time so that, when she is on board to listen, you have your arguments ready. Like any consultant, however, you will have to swallow the fact that it is ultimately the "client's" decision whether to adopt your value. (Sure, you might force her but then she might effectively "fire" you by withdrawing emotionally and refusing ever to play the instrument once she is out of the house. I know two such adults who are still in this power struggle!)
 In the first session, we build this list as a tool for reflection:  Do   my actions lead to my desired outcome?

In the first session, we build this list as a tool for reflection: Do my actions lead to my desired outcome?

These skills are HARD. We have deeply grooved patterns of behavior we picked up from our parents; those of us with older children have, unfortunately, had years of reinforcement.

Take a leap of faith!! 

These skills WILL build trust and mutuality. You will see that P.E.T. is actually a huge timer-SAVER, not a time-suck.

Insistence on our solutions

P.E.T. is not permissive parenting! It's democratic in recognizing that everyone's needs deserve to, and can, be met

Yet, parents are so often hung up on solutions that we are blind to the fact that we can meet our needs another way.

In a class exercise, parents realize that they do not have to insist that the child visit Grandma all Sunday afternoon as originally planned. If they widen the focus to their own broader needs (understanding, respect and connection) and their child's (control, mattering, acceptance), they can together find other creative solutions.

If a parent continues to feel he has lost, it could be that his needs have not been satisfied -- so what was it about the conversation that prevented the child from deeply hearing his father? 

Or it might be that it's just taking time to sink in that listening and brainstorming do NOT equal being a wimp.

What happens when we really listen to each other?

What also amazes most parents is the experience of seeing their Active Listening bring out feelings of a child which, now understood by the parent, have the effect of making the parent’s original unaccepting feelings vanish or become modified.”
— page 153

If this feels risky, you have to decide whether it's worth it. Kids will certainly appreciate your willingness to step into their shoes for a while and possibly change from the experience.

When you show such consideration and flexibility, you are modeling a new way of leadership in your family. Sure, you relinquish some power, but the payoff of long-lasting influence and unparalleled closeness is a mighty fine one.

Some parents ruefully note that, intellectually, the P.E.T. philosophy and skills all make sense; emotionally, though, they get tripped up and just want to revert back to yelling!

If it's hard for participants, how much more of a strain for the on-looker parents who have not been privy to class discussions or to the text?

So use this blog entry to remind yourself that it will take practice, practice, practice. And don't forget other self-calming strategies, such as a mindfulness routine, journaling and reading for self-awareness. Parenting is a tough job, after all.

After you're done, hand your screen to your partner for a quick read too -- your job will be easier with less naysaying in the background.

And who will really, truly benefit if both parents are on board? I think you know. 

This post was complicated for me to tackle. What other ideas do you have? Am I missing an important point? If you are an instructor, how do you respond to course parents when they bring up this tension with the other parents of their children? Please do share below.



Credits: Pushover on Board (http://thisiswhyitsucks.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/pushover.jpg)