Lots to Be Thankful For

Lots to Be Thankful For 

For our eighth Thanksgiving in Hong Kong, I have my three year old niece, sister-in-law, brother and mother all here to make it extra special!

And I feel grateful for a whole lot more. Here are two biggies . . .  

I'm Relaxed While Harrison Applies to College! 

Last year, a friend described senior year (Year 13 in HK) as "excruciating," joking that she'd be relieved when her son, after dragging his feet for months on his college applications, finally took off. I just nodded nervously: would that be me? 

Not so!

I have been more at ease than I ever imagined possible, able to drop into the moment and enjoy my 17 year old son's presence. (It is not lost on me that, next fall, he will be at one of his aunts' or uncles' homes eating their turkey, not mine.) Despite the fact that he goes about things differently than I might, good feelings flow between us.

What's helped this come to pass are the P.E.T. paradigm for looking at behavior and my practices of Emotional Freedom Technique and meditation.

The Behavior Window

I thought Harrison's personal statement for college should have been finished over the summer. It wasn't and still isn't. But knowing the answer to Who Owns the Problem? helps me keep my wits about me.

Harrison doesn't have a problem since he is pretty relaxed as he sends out the next draft. 

Initially the situation fell under my Line of Acceptance. Whenever that happens, P.E.T. urges parents to distinguish between behavior of our kids that prevents us from meeting our own needs (Parent Owns Problem or Both Own - Conflict of Needs) and that which doesn't (Both Own - Values Collisions). 

Harrison's decisions around schoolwork or applications did not keep me from meeting needs, so we were in a Values Collision which calls for a special set of skills.

When family conflicts occur over issues involving cherished values, beliefs, and personal tastes, parents may have to handle theses differently, because frequently kids are not willing to put these issues on the bargaining table or enter into problem-solving. This does not mean parents need to give up trying to influence their children by teaching them values. But to be effective, they will have to use a different approach.
— Dr. Thomas Gordon, Parent Effectiveness Training: The Proven Program for Raising Responsible Children, pages 294-295

Applying the following, over time, has moved us into the No Problem area on this issue.

  • Confront and Active Listen

I did this in July: "When you don't work on your personal statement, I feel really nervous because I think it will suffer in quality if you have to finish it when you are overloaded with work in the fall." 

When I truly listened, I saw Harrison's point that HE wanted to be in charge and HE felt comfortable with the progress of his essay.

  • Modify Self  

Reflecting on my wont to do things ahead of time (Anticipate the storm! Head off problems!), I realized that I don't necessarily want to pass that on to my son.

 These are questions we consider in the P.E.T. course.

These are questions we consider in the P.E.T. course.

Isn't there something to be said about living in the moment and giving yourself a real break? Not to mention the right to choose when to do your own work? 

I decided my way was less a value than a solution for feeling more secure in the world and that my relationship with Harrison trumped any belief I had on what he should be doing. 

  • Problem-Solve the Behavior

I had to admit that Harrison acting on values of balance and self-determination had no concrete, tangible effect on me, so I didn't have to do this.

  • Consult

I have done my best to relay the importance of multiple drafts, the golden rule of show, don't tell, how sleep helps long-term memory etc.

And then I've been pretty good at taking a step back. If my goal is not to get fired (and have some measure of continuing influence in his life), then my strategy must be to leave the decision up to him.

  • Model

Oh, he sees me working hard, writing and editing these blog entries, tailoring each session with parents, turning in early for a good night's rest.

Dr. Gordon posits that modeling is "the best way, perhaps the only way, for parents to 'teach' children their values" (P.E.T. page 302). Dr. Brene Brown, researcher and author, agrees:

What we are teaches the child more than what we say, so we must be what we want our children to become.
— Brown, quoting Joseph Chilton Pearce, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead, page 217

EFT & Meditation

Each morning, before I get out of bed, I do a quick round of tapping on whatever I am feeling in that moment. If I'm filled with gratitude, I acknowledge and celebrate that. Sometimes, though, I'm anxious looking to the day ahead; other times I'm bothered by something that's already happened. 

Emotional Freedom Technique is a special way of Active Listening myself -- accepting whatever emotions I have in the moment and offering myself empathy. Like we learn in class, this helps us shift our energy to deal more effectively with what life presents. 

I then continue on my meditation chair where I sit anywhere from three to 20 minutes. I practice noticing -- my facial muscles relaxing then tightening back into their customary position; the quality of my breath and how it feels going in and out; and what I am thinking.

I know that each minute I assume this stance of observing myself is worth it. When I am less identified with my thoughts, opinions and judgments, I am freer to decide whether I want to act on them:

 This is up in the office of one of my friends!

This is up in the office of one of my friends!

No less importantly, helping myself enjoy senior year impacts Harrison positively. 

Stress levels are high at his school and others like it. I just read about the suicide clusters at two prestigious high schools in Palo Alto, CA. Gosh, the cited research could have been describing Harrison and me had our relationship not turned around a few years ago:

Children had the sense that their parents monitored their activities and cared deeply about how they were spending their time, but that didn’t translate into feeling close. Many children felt they were being prodded toward very specific goals and behaviors by parental cues, some subtle, some less so. Their parents glowed warmly when they did well in school or sports but seemed let down when they didn’t. Often the kids learned to hide their failures—real or imagined—for fear of disappointing their parents.
— Hanna Rosin, "The Silicon Valley Suicides," The Atlantic, December 2015, http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/12/the-silicon-valley-suicides/413140/

My son and I have written a different ending to our story! 

At the mall last month waiting for our smoothie order, Harrison spontaneously shared:

"To be honest, Mom, my grades last year wouldn't have been much better [if I had eliminated some activities] because I hadn't gotten my study skills down. I'm happy with who I am! I know how to balance. I got off-balance a few weeks ago and studied too hard and I didn't like that. I was like dead for two days afterward. Now I feel really good. I'm doing my best right now and I know it will all work out."

Seriously, it was a soliloquy just like that. Out of the blue, my first child offered me some pure bliss and huge comfort as I anticipate him leaving home next year. It WILL work out Harrison! 

My "Difficult" Child Is No Longer

A couple of weeks ago, Jake (15) was on the couch in front of my P.E.T. class taking questions:

Q: "I worry as a new parent trying this out that I don't come across as genuine with my tone of voice. Did you ever notice that with your mom, did it bother you initially and did it improve?" 

Jake: "Yeah, for sure. At the start, I felt like she was just copying what we said. When I wasn't actually super triggered, I felt like that was kind of useless. It was like two or three times that first year where I felt annoyed. 

"But when I was actually mad, it really was calming and it helped a lot.

"Now, with a lot of practice, she's changed and now it sounds genuine, like she actually is caring and is not just copying what I said. I think that comes with time."

Q: "Do you know when your mother is using Active Listening or Confrontive I-Messages? Or is it more a free-flowing conversation?"

Jake: "It all depends on how high my emotional temperature is, how annoyed I am or how mad I am. I think I'm almost always aware of it. Except, when I'm really mad, it feels better so I just let it happen. It helps calm me down ALOT.

"If I'm not annoyed, I for sure understand she's doing it. At times she can be overdoing it. Like when I'm not really annoyed but I'll say, 'Claudia, can you please stop doing that?' And my mom will say 'Oh, you're really annoyed. Claudia is really annoying you.' I'll say, 'Stop Active Listening me. I'm not really mad!'

"But I think that, at times, it just feels like she is just trying to talk to you. It doesn't really feel like Active Listening or I-Messages, just like a better way of communicating. Because if someone is You-Messaging, then you kind of feel bad. No matter what, you'll feel something. If it's a You-Message, you'll get more angry. If it's an I-Message, you'll feel more calm. The way someone says something will always have a different effect on what you do." 

Q: "Do you think you can take this experience forward to work, other relationships, school?"

Jake: "For sure. I try Active Listening my friends sometimes and it helps when they're sad or depressed or going through hard times. They feel a lot better afterwards.

"And when I get annoyed at them, I try not to You-Message them or attack them because I obviously could, I have a pretty strong voice. I could say, 'You're doing this! Blah, blah, blah!' and just bury them with bad stuff which I used to do. But now I try I-Messaging them and try to get my thoughts across in a better way and they have a better reaction to that.

"I want to be able to bring this later to work. And when I become an adult and I have kids, I don't want to be her before P.E.T." [Pointing at me to hearty laughter.]

Q: "Do you still feel your temper rising and do you find yourself thinking through why and bringing yourself down to a calmer level because of P.E.T.?" 

Jake: "I still feel anger sometimes, it's still inside me I guess. I feel like Active Listening and I-Messages help other people cool ME down but then I just worked a lot on myself I guess.

"There's something called tapping that Mom does - that really helps. I've worked on breathing and there are a lot of other aspects that you can always intertwine in your life that can make you less of a hothead."

Q: "So you find that you're more aware of your emotions and the interventions YOU can apply because your mind's been opened to what's happening."

Jake: "Yeah, for sure."

Q: "Do you wanna say anything about where our family was heading before P.E.T.?"

Jake: "It was bad. I had a really bad temper. I had a lot of conflict with my sister, brother and my mom. P.E.T. helped a lot. I don't know how to really articulate it but it just changed our WHOLE family dynamic. Total 180 and we're heading in a different direction now so it's really good."

This middle child of mine was the reason I learned P.E.T. in the first place!! You can imagine the fullness of my circle as I sat there listening.

So, yeah, on this favorite holiday of mine -- all about family and nourishing each other -- life keeps getting better! You can be sure that, before our big meal, I am going to be doing some serious thanksgiving.

If you read this post wistfully, I encourage you to reach out and make changes in how you relate to your children. They want, more than anything, to be close to you.

I think it can be frightening or daunting for parents to think: How am I ever going to change myself and undo the damage I've done? I used to say that it takes a "leap" of faith to learn and try the P.E.T. skills. Marcy Axness, though, in Parenting for Peace: Raising the Next Generation of Peacemakers says small changes may be the way to go: 

“[M]ake small hops of faith, on an hourly basis . . . we don’t think our way into new ways of living, but instead, we live our way into new ways of thinking.” (page 8)

Here's a short helpful article by the NHS on the benefits of mindfulness.

Credits: Foliage (https://sewawesomeness.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/fall-is-shining.jpg)