It's so easy to feel aggressive when we impute bad intentions to our kids -- e.g. He's deliberately NOT writing the invites to get a rise out of me. If we pause to contemplate the spins we put on kids' behaviors, we just might choose not to believe them.
Felicia, a recent graduate of the P.E.T. course, spoke to a new cohort of parents:
You deserve self-compassion. Ask yourself, 'What do you need? Anything?' This is hard work. We were also children and we are trying to make chocolate without knowing what chocolate is!
The look of This woman totally gets me was on every single grinning face in that sunny room.
A few weeks ago, I spent two days at your university, listening to deans, advisors and mental health professionals tell us parents how to support you and your classmates in the upcoming year. I was pretty relaxed; nothing they said was too jarring.
It all made me wonder: What would this moment be like had I not learned P.E.T.?
That softening and willingness to take in someone else's perspective had the startling effect of her daughter picking up a towel and starting to dry the dishes. "We got over it within a matter of minutes whereas before it would have meant a ruined Sunday afternoon," Therese gushed.
Oh, the gratitude we all saw in her wide, winning smile and bright eyes!
Something comes into focus as we consider the groupings on the poster we have drawn up:
It is primarily the many factors within ourselves -- TOTALLY INDEPENDENT of the child's behavior -- that affect our receptiveness to it.
This is a huge reckoning for the many of us who have been in the habit of blaming our children for our response to them: "You are making me so mad!"
But it is also most freeing because of what it implies . . .
You may be wondering though: Is it worth it?
Based on my experience with three kids now 17, 15 and 12, here is how learning Dr. Thomas Gordon's paradigm and skills can pay off in spades: mindfulness; support for the parent; quick, if not immediate, results; children who want to be with us; joy and influence.
I initially wanted to say that my values were:
- Punctuality shows respect for others
- Punctuality is a good sign of self-discipline
But there was more to it when I started thinking about where these values came from. My mother (I focus on her because my father passed away when I was two) did not model rigid punctuality.
I realized my strictness comes from the keen discomfort I feel (less and less now but it's still there!) when people are displeased with me.
As parents, it may be hard to shift to this place where we give it our best shot and then it's out of our hands. We feel locked in battle and "losing" is hard to swallow.
But let's zoom out and focus on this comforting fact: by refusing to use power, we are winning a truly important war, a war for a lasting positive relationship with our children.
On New Year's Eve at dinner, I shared that my resolution is to keep investigating what's going on when I feel uncomfortable in my skin as a parent.
Maybe you thought because I'm a Parent Effectiveness Training instructor, I'd be past that stage?
Oh, no, no, no.
"Claudia, come here! Stand right here! You need to go up the trunk first all the way up to the top!" I couldn't keep myself from whining.
"Ok." She slid over and did as told. When she hit resistance on the first bough, though, she gave up,"I don't want to do it anymore. You do it."
And she walked away.
I once randomly pulled off the highway just to make the fighting stop!!! In retrospect, you could say my desperate act in Whereever-the-Heck, Hong Kong was actually a safe move. Children are, after all, recognized to be a major distraction to drivers.
I don't resort to such dramatic lengths anymore. Now, more often than not, my car is a moving No Problem bubble.
When I gently raised the topic of language I realized I was jumping the gun. "Mom, I don't need that right now. I need to be Active Listened. You're supposed to do that stuff later. I'm still very upset."
I didn't mind the correction at all. Not. At. All.
At the beginning of the summer, Claudia set herself to doing 20 minutes of Chinese a day and packed a fiction book and a fresh notebook for this purpose. Over one month in, she had done less than two hours.