Striving For Peace -- On the Street & At Home
Last Monday, historic events in Hong Kong gave me pause about taking my kids to school. I wanted to wait an hour to see what the new day was going to mean for the democracy protests.
At 7:30, I was leaning toward keeping them home. Harrison (16) had only one class which would be over by the time we got to school.
Claudia (11), though, worried aloud about having to take a Mandarin make-up exam on her own. I then caught Jake (14) grinning like a Cheshire cat which prompted me to ask whether any of his friends were staying home. He soberly struggled to name two.
I figured the parents on Hong Kong island knew the situation better than I did out in the New Territories. I announced, "Ok, let's go then" and ran upstairs to get ready.
Jake launched into a blame session. Calling Claudia "retarded" (I know, we're working on it!), he accused her: "It's all because of you that she's making us go to school!"
Claudia argued back vociferously, "I did NOT make Mommy change her mind. You're so annoying! I hate you!"
After some more heated back and forth, Jake came looking for me. I Active Listened just a little; my Line of Acceptance was high thinking about the substantial traffic I might face. Making an on-the-spot decision, I calmly told him that, actually, he could choose to go to school or not; I just didn't want an hour of additional stress inside our vehicle. Fuming, Jake threw his stuff into the trunk and sat down in the front seat.
He didn't know it yet, but he was poised to make huge strides in emotional self-regulation in that car. Permit me to savor each of his successes in turn.
Jake stayed silent!
As we pulled out of the garage, Claudia began mumbling from the back seat how she didn't like to be blamed for stuff that wasn't her fault.
Jake did not say a word.
That's huge! It's often impossible to put a muzzle on it when you're mad!
I Active Listened Claudia, "It just feels awful to be held responsible for something you had no control over."
"Yeah! Jake, you didn't even have to go to school! You could have stayed home!"
Jake held his tongue while I offered her more empathy, "Since Jake was given a choice, it feels even more unfair to be blamed."
Jake lowered his emotional temperature before making his next move!
Claudia calmed and turned her attention elsewhere. Later, when she asked me where to sign in as tardy, Jake somewhat gruffly told her, "Just follow me to the Secondary Office."
Jake made some small talk with me after that. Then he reached out for my hand; I squeezed back.
Jake gave a Confrontive I-Message!
About 20 minutes after leaving home, Jake was composed enough to initiate a classic, three-part Confrontive I-Message (behavior + feeling + effect): "Claudia, I just want you to know that I get super upset and have a really, really, really hard time when you say 'You're so annoying!' and give me that look."
Claudia started to defend herself, but he stopped her in a measured tone of voice, "Wait, just listen to what I have to say first."
He continued. "I'm sorry I blew up at you. I know I'm being a hypocrite in a way because I lost control and called you 'retarded.' I am trying really hard not to call you that, I don't feel good when I do. It's just that I really, really hate it when you say that. It triggers something in me. I know what I said was wrong and I am trying to stop."
Claudia cheerfully said, "Ok" and Jake looked serene.
I let them leave it at that so I could focus on the line of traffic in front of me. Inside I was swelling with pride. This is stuff I just recently learned how to do myself. How awesome is this kid's life going to be?
As it happens, in the afternoon, there was another hiccup. The plan was for them to come home on the MTR subway (it had taken me three hours round trip that morning!). Jake called me once school let out, frantic that he couldn't find his sister. A friend had offered to give them a ride part of the way home and could not wait long!
My Active Listening -- "Wow, she is unreachable and you are so desperate to find her and now it just stinks that you have to give up this ride!" -- apparently defused things. The two of them took their time coming home. I called to check on them and was struck by the lightness in Jake's voice: they had stopped for a guilty pleasure (MacDonald's fries).
When they arrived home, I heard them go out back and shoot some baskets. A little while later, Jake bounded up to my room, shirtless.
"Mom, mom, mom. Claudia just told Daddy, 'Look at Jake! I think he has a sixpack!'"
This highest compliment serves as resounding testimony that P.E.T. is just good for relationships. Darn good!
By evolving my ability to self-soothe and to use P.E.T. skills, I have been acting as an important Model for my children. I have also spent hours Consulting on the value of assertive, rather than aggressive, communication. This I have done through books, exercises, mindfulness activities, audio recordings, storytelling etc.
Our family is not, by any means, conflict-free; that's unattainable, I now realize. But what we are is a family that experiences deeper closeness that results from handling interpersonal challenges the P.E.T. way:
I encourage you to find yourself a P.E.T. course and start moving toward more peace! Here are some handy links. To find out if P.E.T. is offered in your area, contact the folks at GTI: firstname.lastname@example.org. If you yourself are a P.E.T. instructor, please include your location and contact details in the Comments section. Let's spread the word together and make it easier for parents to find the support families deserve!
Australia -- Effectiveness Training Institute of Australia
Beijing -- find your way onto the Yahoo group Beijing Cafe to find postings
Hong Kong -- The Acorn Within (that's me for now, until I can arrange to have more of us trained here!)
Credits: Democracy protest (http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/article2270568.html); Ability to keep your mouth shut (https://www.facebook.com/TheMindUnleashed/photos/pb.432632306793920.-2207520000.1412560060./802140989843048/?type=3&theater).