Why You Should "Ruin" a Perfectly Good Day -- Inaugural P.G.D. Post
Emotional stuckness. It happens. A lot.
Weeks into the course, some participants still find themselves coming undone when faced with behaviors such as:
-- daughter picks on younger brother
-- son whines and is very "demanding"
-- kids play video games before completing homework
-- son does not respond to "Good morning!"
-- daughter does only the minimum necessary for a passing grade
The million dollar question seems to be:
"What do I do when I DON'T want to help or Active Listen or even talk to my _____ (your preferred colorful label) child?!?!"
There is, in fact, a bright side to this inquiry, because fury could so easily lead to writing off the child, especially an older one: "He's just a brat. That's the way he is. I am done with him."
Instead, these parents acknowledge that, intellectually, they know what they want to do -- that is, to remain receptive to their child's point of view and to Shift Gears between Confronting and Active Listening in order to meet everyone's needs and share values respectfully. Yet, emotionally, they are too unravelled to access these skills.
When it comes up in class, I put aside the agenda for a while and Active Listen. We brainstorm heat-of-the-moment alternatives to doing or saying something we will regret. We recall some of our favorite new thoughts:
We talk about prevention strategies like sleep, exercise and pursuing our own careers and dreams. I also mention that, after the course, I can recommend a slew of resources that were integral to my own transformation.
That's what I get to do in this new series.
Because, as my mentor and master P.E.T. trainer Kathryn Tonges stressed to me, in order to stop jumping from one upsetting incident to the next, parents must, in the No Problem zone, carve out some time to reflect.
What that means, I recently explained to a good friend, is that we wait until there is no high emotion and then reach back to a painful incident and explore it. Many people, I acknowledged, would protest: "Why would I ever ruin a perfectly good day and do something like that?!"
I see their point because, for too long (nine years qualifies as too long, right?), those were my sentiments.
I would have a big fat fight with my middle child Jake, kinda-sorta make up with him, blow off steam at yoga and start the next day "fresh." Or, cranky myself at bedtime, I might loudly rebuke the baby of the house, Claudia, for her messy bedroom; after stomping back in to say sorry, however, I was still somehow annoyed at her for "making" me so upset.
After incidents like these, I just wanted to move on! Life with kids is already go-go-go and some parents also have outside jobs, care for aging parents and just truly lack any semblance of me-time. The prospect of delving into a resolved (however messily) conflict is pretty darn unappealing. Where's the TV remote?
The problem was, the next day I wasn't really lighter or enlightened. My resentment would color my interactions with my little ones. The issue would arise again and I would lose it again. Rather than shake out the problem in the sunlight for inspection, I continued to sweep it under the rug. I was hurting and, importantly, so were my children. But . . . if . . . they . . . would . . . just . . . . change . . .
So many parents start the course as I did: wanting to learn how to get their children to be different. But sometimes the emphasis on the child or child's behavior is misdirected. Tara Brach, in her audio talk Awakening Through Conflict, says that if we are replaying patterns that cause distance, it behooves us to give deep attention to our own inner experience:
We can all feel supported by Dr. Thomas Gordon who, at the end of his book, recognized that participating in a P.E.T. course often inspires further self-development. Some of his participants continued to meet in groups to:
deal mainly with their marriage relationship, their relationship with their own parents, or basic attitudes about themselves as persons. [This work allowed them to] acquire the insight and bring about the changes in attitudes that then permit[ted] them to use P.E.T. methods effectively.
-- page 321, Parent Effectiveness Training: The Proven Program for Raising Responsible Children
So in this "perfectly good day" series, I will share insights, strategies, books and resources. If you are gunning for some P.G.D. activity right now, why not start with Tara's talk (or video)? If you are not ready yet, maybe tuck it away until the next time you catch yourself using the words "should" or "shouldn't" in relation to your child/spouse/significant other (heck, anyone!). I'm talking about statements like:
She should know better! That's just wrong.
I shouldn't even have to ask you!
Shouldn't you be reviewing for your math test?
She should have at least acknowledged I was inconvenienced - how selfish!
He should be able to control himself by now!
You should know I hate it when you do that, so why do you keep doing it, huh?
Tara says these "should" thoughts are a handy way of knowing that we are resenting or feeling like we have lost. When we are in blame-mode, she says, we are unable to address the inner experience that needs healing.
Spend less than an hour and soak in Tara's encouragement and guidance on Active Listening ourselves (she calls this "attend and befriend"). After processing our own emotions we can then access the "compassion network" part of our brain -- the prefrontal cortex -- and become flexible in our responses to our children. Tara's examples sound a great deal like I-Messages.
Yes, it's true -- becoming a P.E.T. parent takes time and a whole lot of work. You might even need a bit (or, like me, a whole lot) of P.G.D. work. Sure, you might mess with that perfectly good day, but you will end up making all the rest of your days so much better.
P.S. Ironically, as I was writing this post, it was a matter of life imitating blog.
Last night, Saturday, Claudia ran into my bedroom, loudly ordering me to change the parental controls on her laptop to add 30 minutes so that she could finish watching her show.
Let me fill you in: As Claudia just joined secondary school (which in Hong Kong starts with 6th grade), the CT department gave an orientation and led parents in setting the controls to 3 hours per day on the weekends, a limit they considered "very generous." She was not that happy, given that her older brothers (ages 16 & 14) have no controls on their MacBooks. We left it with the understanding of "Let's see how it goes. It's a worthwhile experiment." "Ok, Mommy."
All had been fine until that point. I asked whether she had used the boredom busting box of ideas we had made together last weekend? "No." What about reading? "I've read everything in the house and I don't know what any good books are!" Downloading a new novel was out of the question; she was not placatable.
I was getting ready for bed and did not feel well. "Fine, alright!" I succumbed.
Inside, however, I was thinking: She should keep track of her time. She should be satisfied with six hours of laptop time every weekend! She should always have something good to read!
I went back upstairs to ask what she was watching. I'm pretty sure my tone was not one of neutral curiosity. "Japanese anime," came the answer and her foot tried to close the door on me. I lost it; no Active Listening was going to happen at that point. "Really? You are trying to shut the door on my face?"
Clearly, I will need to do some work on this but I was just too beat and tired last night. I'll wait until it's a perfectly good day. Uhhhh. . . I think that's today.
I have been waiting so long to be able to clearly write an entry like this. I know it is a burning issue for many parents. Do you have a P.G.D. resource that has worked for you? Or would you like to share an insight, or hard spot where you still find yourself stuck? Parenting is truly, truly hard -- you are not alone! I have already had one request to write on the issue of guilt and would love to hear other feedback or requests below. Be well! -- Catherine
Credits: Woman in white at http://dailyvenusdiva.com/2013/11/18/limarie-lewis-6-tips-for-developing-a-healthier-mind-body-and-soul/relaxed/; Tara at http://mountainsangha.org/taking-refuge-in-kindness/