7 Reasons I'm Thankful I Took P.E.T.
I'd like to start with a major disclaimer: P.E.T. alone is not responsible for my family's transformation. The growth that is fostered during the course is substantial but my development as a parent was not bookended by those eight weeks.
My situation called for a whole lot more learning. After the course, I started to read voraciously about how best to help my children, including The Whole Brain Child, The Explosive Child and Siblings Without Rivalry. I commenced self-work to figure out just why I was triggered by so many of their behaviors. Here, Parenting from the Inside Out and The Dark Side of the Light Chasers were invaluable, as was the Breakthrough course offered occasionally in Hong Kong by Canadian TerryAnn Nikides.
But -- and this is a big BUT -- what helped me immensely was my actual P.E.T. know-how in the many "Aaaggghhh!!!!!" moments that made up life with the kids. Getting home base under control was the crucial first step in our family's progress toward mindful, assertive and empathetic communication.
So, here's what P.E.T. has meant for me, countdown style . . .
7. Smoother sailing with my helper
Like many expats in Hong Kong, we have a full-time live-in helper, a source of much support but also potential friction. Instead of stewing with annoyance, I now am able to be direct using I-Messages. When she is upset or complaining about the kids (or even me!) I know how to Active Listen. If I find myself getting defensive, I AL myself first to see what I am feeling and needing in our exchange; this helps me choose words that connect rather than separate. And guess what? Because I was especially worried about her relationship with my middle child, I asked if she would take the course too, and she agreed. Having her on board with the P.E.T. approach rocks!
6. Marital bliss
This is huge but still only a #6 -- you're intrigued, right?
It's not that my husband and I never have conflict, it's that where we used to have ten fights, now we have one; where they would last up to two days, now they linger for, oh, about 15 minutes! I’ve learned not to knee-jerk connect with my anger, but first to show myself compassion and investigate what I was feeling before the lava erupted. This often lowers my Line of Acceptance and lets me Active Listen my husband; more often than not, I find he has the same needs as I do.
And when our needs diverge, I now follow Thomas Gordon's lead and remind myself: He is just doing something for himself (i.e. meeting a valid need) rather than doing something TO ME. So when he is lying in bed with his screens (yes, plural) arrayed on his chest, he is fulfilling his need for fun and relaxation rather than 1)making me pick up after him 2)making me put the kids to sleep or 3)making me get the kids ready and out the door all by myself. You get how this has saved us hundreds of fights, right? I now give carefully constructed Confrontive I-Messages instead.
5. No teenage cave
I just had this expectation that my boys would slip into a noncommunicative cave for a few years and then emerge, finally wanting to talk to me. I have seen that happen in my extended family. But I’ve gained myself a few years of their companionship because they are 16 and 13 and it hasn’t happened yet! Harrison and Jake both open up to me, though for some things a little slower than I would like (e.g. their latest crush!). They share stories, jokes, music and workout tips, and even seek me out specifically to get some AL love.
4. My personal sense of peace
I totally underestimated the magic of the Behavior Window. (I get why Gordon, a clinical psychologist, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times - this is a brilliant contribution to the field of conflict resolution.) The Behavior Window is a visual tool we use all the time in our course to determine who owns the problem. Once you know that, you know what to do and what to expect in terms of outcomes. (I love a good roadmap.)
For me, one of the biggest benefits of the Behavior Window has been helping me to understand that homework is NOT my problem because it does not impede me from meeting my needs; instead, it's a conflict over values. Now, 99% of the time, I simply do not stress about the kids' academics. I still care deeply about their education but they already know that. I model all the time by working hard on my P.E.T. course, reading a lot, studying my own Mandarin lessons etc. Beyond that, I have oodles and oodles of free time to live my own life instead of harping on them to do more, to do it now, to do it the way I want them to do it. (Of course, there is that 1% of the time when the old anxious Catherine creeps back and wants a say.)
3. My children genuinely like each other
I've always expected that there would be a base amount of love among my children, but knew my heart would break if they didn’t like each other enough to want to hang out by choice.
P.E.T. has helped me facilitate many arguments whether they be one on one or two on one. By supporting each child through Active Listening, I deepen their insight into the problem and grow their empathy for each other. In our home now, we talk openly about feelings and needs and the kids often come to see their common humanity:
“Harrison, it sounds like Claudia is really upset because she needs acknowledgment that it was so hard to wait for you in the car for 30 minutes in the heat. Claudia, what I hear Harrison saying is that he has felt frustrated so many times himself when he's been asked to find you after school and yet you come down so late; he needs acknowledgment and understanding and fairness just like you.”
Next week, my boys will arrive in sunny California to start their summer one day before Claudia and I do. The other day, my brother asked Jake if he wanted to mini-golf that first day before we arrived. Jake told him, “Let’s save that because it’s good bonding time with Claudia." My heart melted on the spot.
2. I helped my son LOVE himself more
How important is it to feel you are loved unconditionally even when you are showing your worst side?
For too many years, my message to Jake was “The way you are speaking to me/acting out/tantrumming/being selfish/bullying your sister is unacceptable." I simply did not have the training, support or knowledge to guide him to use other behaviors when he felt upset or overloaded. Moreover, I was like most parents who, in Gordon’s words, erroneously believe that "the best way to help a child become something better in the future is to tell him what you don't accept about him now."
Jake’s out of control episodes started out in the privacy of our own home but, as he got bigger, they were becoming more public (like smack dab in the middle of the IFC mall) and more physical. Looking back now, it makes sense because it was only the same small, hurting, unaccepted child in a bigger, more hormonal body.
Out of desperation, I struck up a "high intensity partnership" with my son (this is Montessori teacher Diana Bryant Goertz' term for the role she took on with one of her students in her blog post Instead of Punishment). I read up a storm, created binders and index cards and blew up images at Kinko’s and CopyKat to use as I "consulted" with Jake. I signed up for Skype sessions with Kathryn Tonges, the P.E.T. trainer who certified me. She turned her attention and 30+ years of experience onto my parenting problems, ALed me so I could gain clarity and find some solutions myself and then shared her vast expertise to help me use the P.E.T. skills in the hardest of moments. (You may contact her yourself if you think some personal coaching might help you).
In his birthday card to me this year, Jake thanked me for “changing” his life. He is grateful for my resolve to spend whatever time it took to help us both learn better strategies for expressing ourselves. I would say, "We are in this together. We are on our way. We have come so far!" He knows that I asked hard questions of myself rather than continue to blame him for my (over)reactions. Because he hears my new message -- that I truly and deeply accept his wholeness -- he is freer to know self-love.
1. No Regrets
About a month ago when I was tucking him in, Jake was fretting a little over his weight. (He normally does a short abs workout right before bedtime.) I Active Listened him a while. Then I shared that I hoped he could love his body and be kind to himself no matter what his weight fluctuated to, confiding that I had struggled to get to that point myself. He smiled when I remarked that, in his last hours, he likely would not care what he weighed in the spring of 2014. "By the way," I said, "that reminds me. I just read that, on their death beds, what 90% of people DO regret is not having closer relationships with the people they love."
He replied, “That won’t be you, Mom, because you have P.E.T.”
Credits: Thankful image from http://kaohana.windward.hawaii.edu/?p=3380