Parenting Pressure: Got My Blinders On!
I admit that, my whole life, I've always cared about what others think. But never, ever have I been so self-conscious as when I became a parent. Seriously, even more than in 7th grade!
Parenting pressure runs the gamut from vocal advice -- "You have to teach them limits, otherwise they'll keep testing, testing, testing!" -- to silent disapproval. It comes from all quarters: other parents (playgroups can be intense, man!); the grandparents; siblings; and greater society out there, including non-parents. Yikes, I remember being a single 20 something tsk-tsk-tsking tantrums I witnessed, convinced that MY children would never behave that way!
In the first P.E.T. session, we discuss what influences the Line of Acceptance dividing behaviors we accept from those we don't. Having an audience plays a role for most, if not all, of us.
One parent shared that she hated when, at the bus stop in the morning, her daughter would pull out her homework to finish. "What are all the other mothers thinking about me? Probably that I care more about my own Mandarin classes than helping my daughter get her homework done!" Putting final touches over breakfast was vastly preferable.
Dr. Thomas Gordon gives this example of the shifting Line of Acceptance:
With onlookers, I felt enormous pressure to prove myself a "good" mother. Some non-desirable behavior that I might nevertheless let slide at home but would HAVE to correct in public included:
not saying "thank you" or "please"
interrupting me when I was speaking
raising his voice in upset
bringing a screen to the dinner table
It seemed like time froze as people watched to see how I would react. If I could not get my child to say "sorry" or lower his voice or repeat what she said with "excuse me, Mommy" I would feel varying degrees of -- really, the only word for it is -- shame.
Recently, I got the chance to reflect on how far I have come.
Last Friday night, I suddenly looked up from my laptop and realized, Shoot! It's 10:15! We had to pick up sixteen year old Harrison from camp the next morning. Jake (13) and Claudia (10) were playing cards with my cousin and her boyfriend.
I went over to them, "Hey, I really think we should all go to bed now. It's after 10 and we have to get up early tomorrow." Both children protested -- "We woke up late this morning! We'll be fine!" -- and asked for another game. "I don't think that's a good idea," I countered.
Jake glared at me, "Well I do, and I don't care what you think! So tough, we're playing!" He turned his back and looked at my cousin expectantly but she only said, "It's up to your mom."
I was in the hot seat.
I used to up the ante right away in cases like this, "You don't talk to me like that Jake, that's unacceptable." I might even have said, "Say sorry right now!" (which is about as satisfying as asking my husband to get me flowers).
That night, I stifled my urge to admonish, teach or otherwise prove my "goodmotherness." I deep breathed and put my blinders on to keep my eyes on the prize: my relationship with Jake.
I changed my thinking from:
"OMG, they must think I am a bad mother if I have such a disrespectful kid. This is embarrassing, especially when they both know I am a P.E.T. instructor! Why did he have to say this?"
"Whoa, I don't like that at all. But he is acting this way because he so desperately wants to have a say over his own schedule tonight. Maybe he will be ok tomorrow, not as cranky as I think. Now is not the time for a lecture. Whatever they think is not important; I know I am a good mother."
I chose to Active Listen and then Shift Gears back to my concerns. "You know, I can see you really want to have one more game and it's annoying I came up here without any notice and just told you to go to sleep. I'm worried, however, that you will not feel your best tomorrow and we have a long day ahead of us."
Jake cooled down, "It's fine, Mom. This game will be really quick and we'll go to bed right away. Besides, I swear, I did sleep a lot last night."
I saved my consulting for a couple of days later. When neither of us were upset about anything -- the No Problem zone in P.E.T.-speak -- I brought up Confrontive I-Messages.
"The other night in front of Elena and Xander, when you said, 'Yeah but I want to play one more game so I don't care what you think,' I felt embarrassed. My first thought was that they must think I am an ineffective mother who is not raising my son to know the value of respect.
But I know that you and I have a deeply respectful relationship and I was able to choose new thoughts and not escalate it.
What could you say instead in a similar situation so that the listener might not get triggered?"
We discussed possibilities:
- Mom, I really want to play and I don't like to be told to stop without warning.
- Mom, I know that you are worried but I don't think 15 minutes will make that much of a difference. Would you be willing to bend a little?
- Mom, I feel annoyed because it seems so arbitrary for you to come up so suddenly with the order to go to sleep.
- Mom, I don't know what to say but I am upset.
- Mom, I don't like that. Can you think about it from my point of view?
Fishbowl moments like this one are getting easier because P.E.T. helps me to focus on my long-term parenting goals and to know what to do in the heat of the moment. I like life so much more with blinders on and skill set at the ready!
P.S. I didn't tell Elena or Xander about how I later discussed effective, assertive confrontation with Jake; it's all about me and my son.
Credits: Horse with blinders at http://slipp.in/to/145944#card=5