When you were a child you parents had a certain ‘manner’ with which they raised you. This parenting style was handed down, generationally, from their parents. I’m sure, as a parent, you will have had those moments whereby you stop – in the middle of the bedlam of getting them to school before a certain time – and had a moment of self-reflection; and said to yourself, “Crikey. My Mum / Dad used to say / do exactly that to me. And now I’m doing it!”
“We shut down our minds to learning through the shame of revealing perceived imperfections”
Don’t beat yourself up about this. It’s just natural. Why the hell would you be any different? You are the parent: You are the boss: Your word is final. And the kids need to step in line. Otherwise you’ll get angry. That’s how it is. That’s life. You had it from your parents, now they’re having it from you: “Deal with it.”
…Is this you?
Digging into this example. The ‘get them ready for school on time’ conundrum. It’s probably likely that you are far more concerned about the time, than they are. They’ll be gradually accumulating your chronological neurosis, no doubt; but they’re not quite that advanced in their clock insecurity just yet. So you have to ‘go ballistic’ for them, until they’re up to speed.
‘FOR GOD’S SAKE! YOU’RE GOING TO BE LATE! IT’S 8.30AM AND YOU HAVEN’T PUT YOUR BLOODY MERIT STICKERS IN YOUR HOMEWORK DIARY YET! SHIT ALIVE! DO I HAVE TO DO EVERYTHING FOR YOU!?’
“Well yes Dad,” they might bravely interject. “Because you are so stressed by the morning routine we need not be. You provide enough energy of alertness – dare we say stress – for the whole school. Therefore we, your children, are employing strategies to just get through this insanity with as little emotional wounding as possible.”
‘Emotional wounding’! That’s a bit melodramatic isn’t it? They’re used to it. They know it’s just me getting stressed. They know not to pay attention to it.
Really? They know not to pay attention to it? And by ‘it’ you mean your creation of a hostile atmosphere as the ‘go to’ solution for getting things done?
Well yes. If I didn’t get angry they wouldn’t get up / have breakfast / get dressed / get to school / etc / etc.
But they know not to pay too much attention to it? And yet they must pay attention to it – and do as you bellow – otherwise life’s wheels will come off (bear in mind that children arriving 5-10 mins late are often machine-gunned in the playground by their form tutor.)
So, internally, how is it working, for youngsters, learning the ropes of emotional literacy. Well, they will likely get a sensation in their abdomen that there is a negative energyic resonance present. This will be uncomfortable and probably more obvious and pronounced than for an adult who has learned techniques to ‘escape’ from emotional discomfort.
Perhaps a daughter (peculiarly girl’s have a greater range of emotional outlets than boys) attempts to jolt the atmosphere towards a more personal, nurturing, tone; by eliciting empathy or sympathy from the parent by stating a problem in her life: “Mum, I’m really worried about my test today.”
Sadly, boys are required to grow into a falsehood that they have no vulnerabilities with which to plead empathic humanity. They feel obliged to ‘man up’ which is code for pretend that nothing affects you emotionally, because you’re a tough guy.
Either way, the kids will be receiving an emotional warning message that there is an energetic problem, a clear and present ‘issue’. So what? You might be thinking. That’s normal. They are heightened and alert because we’re in a rush, and I need them to be on their toes and reacting to my instructions. Good. A little cortisol squirt here and there is ok!
But how are they reacting to your problems? Are they more focused on managing the stress / trauma? What is their priority? Your insecurity about time? Or the increasing vibration of fear in anxiety in their torso?
And whether they’re numb to it, like a zombie – and learn strategies with which to ignore their internal dashboard: “Fuck it. Mum / Dad will sort that out. They’ll get stressed before me. They’ll get it done through fear of consequences. Usually shame.”
Or their response might be to fizz with reciprocal emotional mania, or neurosis, to complement your insecurities and task strategies. There’s usually a parent / child gender correlation here, by the way, with regards to such role-modelling.
Leadership breeds attitude.
So here’s an alternative strategy with which to upload responsibility into your children without blowing your lid at them – which as we’ve established has the opposite to the desired effect anyway. It’s plagiarised directly from Stephen Covery’s excellent book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” He states the valid point that to motivate people – any people, as a leader (his book is not necessarily designed for parents, but it fits) – one must access their values.
Values are the deepest motivators of people. If you can bullseye a mutual value in someone, you have an ally. A team-mate. Even a subordinate; and depending on your own moral compass, a respectful one too (but not necessarily, because unscrupulous value-miners can work your fears, insecurities and shame triggers similarly.)
But I’ll assume that as you’ve got this far in this article that you’re someone who values respectful parenting as a priority …perhaps even more so than the school bell? So I’ll also assume that you are not the sort of person who wants to push shame onto your children as a means of motivating them. Or fear. Surely you’re not the sort of person that would place fear or shame onto a child’s young shoulders?
“FOR CHRIST’S SAKE IF YOU ARE NOT OUT OF THE DOOR IN TEN SECONDS I’M GOING TO TELL MRS BLENNERHASSET THAT YOU IGNORED ME FOR HALF AN HOUR AND STAYED IN YOUR ROOM PLAYING ON THE BLOODY COMPUTER!”
In the book Stephen Covey offers an alternative management style. Business, parenting, whatever. There’s no such thing as a ‘grown up’.
Agree on mutual values. Find areas of mutual appreciation as to how to go about this life. Then write them down, as a collective (household, classroom, office, company, platoon, town, jurisdiction, species, whatever, etc). And pin them up. Like a constitution. Like a constellation!
Of course there can be amendments, and everyone’s entitled to contribute to revisions – which is nice.
Let’s go with ‘time’, as an example ‘value’. You and the kids, while sitting down in the evening, after having had your dinner, before Doctor Who, after getting pyjamas on. You, as the parent, get the pen and paper (unless someone else would like to be the scribe – it never hurts to offer) and get ready to list the family values.
“So, ‘time’. What do we think?” …Is the opening question to ‘the floor’. “Is it important to be on time? If so why? And what about being late – what do we think about that?”
‘Well’, might come a voice keen to impress. (We indoctrinate kids to impress us, and be impressive generally, so be aware of that deception. And, if you’re very cool, compliment the kids who do not feel obliged to ‘be good’. They’ve probably got a hoody on, by the way.) “I think it IS very important to be on time. People are waiting, and the time was agreed, so we should all get there to be polite and considerate.” [Arms fold abruptly / Smug brief nod / pony tail cascades]
“Ok,” replies the adult scribe. “And are we all agreed that being on time is a family value?”
“No.” Comes a deeper voice, with a hint of rebellion. “I don’t think being on time is very important. And who says I have to be somewhere at some time? What if I don’t want to be there at that time.”
“Ok. Good question,” replies the David Dimbleby adult chairperson. “What does happen if you ignore time obligations? Let’s talk about school. What would happen if you arrived late every day?”
“I’d end up in detention, again.” May come the dejected reply.
“Which I remember you saying that you didn’t like either?”
“So it’s a choice you have to make – on time, or detention.” The psychologists amongst you will be ‘clocking’ how the onus of responsibility is now shifting away from the parent towards the individual child. This is progress.
Basically the crux of it is to gradually get yourself out of the firing line. Make them be responsible for their values, and when they ‘transgress’ which might happen from time to time; reference the ‘Values’ (…printed in pride of place. Perhaps even with a nice Ikea frame?)
Therefore values discussions can be pitched as an equal. As a question. As someone curious as to why a person who had spent time deciding on values to present publicly, would decide to go against them.
This might take some will power. It may well be that the response is a shrug and a ‘whatever.’ This might be disheartening to a committed parent, with their own shame resilience issues and power tripping penchant.
But hang in there!
When you worked through the values, there were naturally occurring sanctions, like detention from school, that abscond you from the tyrannical oppressive label. Let these consequences happen naturally.
Simply be that support when the shit hits the fan.
Be present, empathetic and caring when their life goes tits up. And avoid, at all costs, any temptation to say ‘There. I told you. You should have listened to me.’ Because you are wrong. The child shouldn’t have listened to you. Ok maybe they would have avoided whatever problem occurred, but they would have denied themselves a valuable learning opportunity.
When kids make mistakes, with support, all on their own, this is a very good thing. They learn to become responsible for their own lives. They begin to release themselves from the bonds of codependence. They can then advance towards inter-dependence. This is the psychological holy grail (just passed independence – which is a bit lonely and self-interested). Where they appreciate community. Appreciate their roles. Appreciate why. Appreciate responsibility – theirs and others’. And appreciate – more than anything – themselves.
Stop living their life for them: you may think you’re helping, but it’s on a superficial – shame orientated – philosophy. You main priority, as a parent, is to become irrelevant to them. This is regularly the opposite of most parents’ (deep, sub-conscious) ‘possession based’ headspace.
Buck the trend and free the child.