Bonus: You can P.E.T. your in-laws!

Bonus: You Can P.E.T. Your In-Laws!

I'm serious! 

This is a huge boon, right? I wish I had had these skills way back.

Over dinner recently with friends, I was reliving how stressful it was when my eldest was diagnosed with moderate to severe asthma and allergies at the age of three. That began a series of arguments between my husband and me.

Over what? My mother in law.

Let’s put it right out there -- she was motivated by LOVE. Harrison was her first grandchild, no less. This was new for her too. 

Yet this was easy to forget after the 5th or 10th phone call (in a day) to give me advice or to ask about Harrison or what his specialist had said. Plus, I was sleep-deprived raising a toddler and an infant. 

Once, she dropped by to give me an article on steroids. I think I was feeding baby Jake when she left.  She called fifteen minutes later to see if I had finished the article. Heck, no!

At times like this, I would grit my teeth and be polite, holding it all in until hubby got home and I could complain. Trouble was he didn’t like that so much. 

So how would P.E.T. have made a difference?

the behavior window is universal

First, I want to point out that the paradigm has been used in other training programs such as Teacher Effectiveness Training and Leadership Effectiveness Training. Just swap out Child for Other

All the same skills apply. Brilliant.

my mother in law just needed some Active Listening 

Asking Who owns the problem? I would have been able to see that my mother in law’s behavior fell into a couple of areas. For sure, her anxious phone calls screamed out that she had a problem. And yet we both did because it took a lot of time and energy to deal with her calls. 

No matter whether I approached it from the Other Owns or the We Own area, however, I would be using Active Listening. How's that? When there's a conflict of needs, the first step requires such listening to ascertain what each person is needing.

And here's a handy definition of Active Listening from my glossary:

Reflecting back the facts and emotions of what someone is communicating through his words, facial expressions, pauses, pace of speech, tone of voice and body language.

So going back 13 years, the Active Listening might have sounded like this:

Me: "Mom, you’re really anxious about Harrison taking this round of steroids."

MIL: "Yes, he’s too small. That should be the last resort, absolute last resort."

Me: "He’s so young that you’re convinced the meds are doing a lot of damage."

MIL: "Yes, and you are not a doctor so you are just going along with what his doctors are saying. But sometimes they don’t know best! You have to question!" (My mother in law is a physician herself.)

Me: "You’re really worried that I don't have the ability to really judge what’s right and I definitely should just not accept their word for it. It’s hard for you to just sit by when I am being passive."

MIL: "Yes, I know doctors! Sometimes we are wrong. And he is so small to be taking steroids!"

Me: "You have no assurances that this is the right path and that makes you extremely nervous for Harrison’s health."

MIL: "Yes." (Emotional release.) "Ok, bye. Sorry to bother you." (Presenting behavior stops.)

I actually think this could have happened if I had just given my mother in law acknowledgment, acceptance and empathy. She already felt bad about calling me so much, probably heard the tightness in my voice. Yet she was flooded emotionally and significantly panicked.

i could have asserted myself directly

I could also then have expressed my side of the story. Since she had been heard, my mother in law would have been in a better position to hear my three-part Confrontive I-Message.

"Mom, I hear your deep concern. I know you love Harrison so much. Yet, when you tell me to stop the course of steroids right now (behavior), I feel really helpless and powerless and afraid (feelings). We waited so long to go to the doctor and tried the bronchodilators and other preventive meds but they didn’t work this time. His breathing is so bad that if we stop he will be in danger (effects) and I don’t feel like I can do that right now. Does that make sense?"

And then, if necessary, because we had both seen each other’s point of view, we could have talked about possible solutions to get us what we needed. I think, for her, that included acknowledgment, respect, understanding, acceptance, love and mattering. For me, it was the same list plus control and peace. 

I, for one, would likely have been more open to devoting more time to researching alternative therapies. As it was, since I wasn’t seeing past her Roadblocks (Ordering, Preaching, Warning), I was more concerned with defending myself and trying to get my husband to side with me. We all lost that way, especially Harrison.

Just last summer, when we were in Banff National Park celebrating my in-laws' 50th wedding anniversary, I overreacted to something my mother in law said. I went back to my seat in the restaurant to mull it over P.E.T. style. 

And then I got it! I knew what to do!

I went back and took her aside. I apologized, Active Listened her, then gave her a calm Confrontive I-Message so she could know what her comment had meant for me. She appreciated that approach - I saw it in her eyes. My mother in law always means well and is so full of love.

Imagine a host of strained relationships and ongoing issues that could benefit from having the P.E.T. roadmap! It has guided me in becoming, not only the parent I want to be, but also the daughter in law, daughter, sister in law, sister, aunt, friend and wife that I always envisioned for myself.

That's some good value right there.

Credit: In-law scene (