“You Can’t Use Me To Feel Good About Yourself”

“You Can’t Use Me To Feel Good About Yourself”

As I write today I’m reminded of a post I wrote 8 years ago, What I Did When My Daughter Said, “You’re the Boringest and I Hate You! This time, however, it’s not what she said, but instead what she didn’t say and didn’t do that shined a light on some difficult parenting wisdom. 

 Part I – The Sweater

It all began when I knit my 14 year old daughter a sweater.  She’d accompanied me to the store to choose a soft, washable yarn in a neutral color she’d actually wear. During Covid I’ve picked up knitting again and found a healthy distraction in searching for patterns and scrumptious yarns. Because my grandmother taught me to knit when I was young, knitting sent a gentle signal to my brain, “Everything’s okay.” 

A couple of weeks ago when I completed the sweater, I laid it on her bed so she’d see it when she got home. I imagined she’d try it on and show me how it fit. Over the past month I’d measured the length of her arms, inquired about how cropped she’d like it as that’s the current fashion and worked to tailor it just for her.

Because she never mentioned the sweater, I checked in with her in the afternoon, “Did you see the sweater?  Please try it on — I’d love to see how it fits.”

She answered, “Not right now.”

Later I asked her again and she explained that she’d already changed into her pj’s but that she’d do it the next time she got dressed.  The next day I decided to mention it one last time. My heart felt heavy.  I didn’t want to get entangled in a power struggle with her over the sweater I’d made for her because I adore her.  Needless to say, I never saw it on her.

Part II – The Pile

My daughter had recently cleaned out her room, placing all outgrown and unwanted items into a huge bag in the hall.  Beside the bag was a loose pile of papers with a blue glue gun resting on top. 

After a few days of watching the pile collect dust, I took a closer look and saw under the glue gun a photo storybook I’d created and given to her for her birthday some years ago. 

This project, with a closeup of her soft two year old face on the cover looked to have seen better days. I picked it up and brought it into her room asking, “What’s happened to this?” She confirmed that she’d found it spoiled, likely because last fall she’d placed a little pumpkin from our garden on top of it, in a drawer. The pumpkin decomposed over the course of months.

I felt an anger rise in me and said, ‘You clearly don’t care about it.” 

She answered,I do care.” 

I said, “If you cared you’d have come to me when you found it and asked what we could do.”  I swore, “Just f***ing get rid of it then, but don’t leave it on the floor for me to take care of.” 

Heart pounding, I retreated to my bedroom across the hall where I stood motionless, a little shocked that I’d spoken to her so harshly.  Being the youngest child she was adept at avoiding conflict.

For a split second I thought, I’m going to ignore her, give her the cold shoulder.  A memory flashed from the recesses of my mind of my dad ignoring me for two weeks after his feelings had been hurt because I’d been spending weekends at my friend Sharon’s house. I can remember him scolding me as we stood inside our front door, “You care more about her family than you do your own!”  I was in 5th grade at the time and it was two weeks before he looked at or spoke to me again.

I decided I wasn’t going to ignore her, even though to hurt her back felt like the “natural” response.

Returning to her room, disintegrating storybook in hand I said, “I realize the reason I’m so upset is that my feelings are hurt. It’s becoming clear to me that you don’t care about things I’ve made for you.”

I was of course thinking about the unadorned sweater.

I repeated myself, “It’s becoming clear to me, and I’m speaking to myself now, that I need to focus less on you and more on myself.”

I felt my voice catch and tears well in my eyes.

Unlike 8 years ago, this time she said nothing.  Through the uncared for storybook and forgotten sweater I was getting a message loud and clear, “Mom, get a life. While I need you to be there for me, I don’t need you the same way I used to and I’m not going to act in ways to please you. You haven’t trained me to take care of you and I’m not going to start now. My main concern right now is my friends and all the changes I’m going through. You can’t use me to feel good about yourself.

I felt grounded when I turned to leave her room, closing the door quietly behind me.

I haven’t figured it all out yet.

It felt valuable to write about and share with you because it’s not spit spat all settled in me and tied up with a bow and maybe you’re having your own messy parenting moments.  I’m sitting with a real life collision between my daughter’s age appropriate growth and what I’m gently naming my age appropriate stuckness, a slice of difficult wisdom. 

It’s not only children who grow.  Parents do too.  As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours.  I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun.  All I can do is reach for it, myself. 

— Joyce Maynard

The Hug:  It’s How You Ask that Makes All the Difference

The Hug: It’s How You Ask that Makes All the Difference

Hugs-2Shortly after Eric finished up my 7- week parenting series, he sent me this story which beautifully illustrates the power of asking for a hug.

Last week on my way home from work, my wife Stephanie sent me a text that our daughter Grace (5) was being a handful, was in a horrible mood and that she had had it with her.

When I got home, I walked into the house and went straight to Grace and asked her for a hug. At first she turned her back and crossed her arms, and said no.

I then decided to ask her one more time and after a 5-second pause, she turned and gave me a big hug.

Steph said it was like someone flipped a switch on Grace. She went from being in the worst mood to acting as if she was having the best day ever.

It’s amazing to see the kind of impact and dynamics that something as simple as asking for a hug can have on a 5 year old.

Honestly, before taking your class, I probably would have come home and punished Grace for misbehaving and the entire afternoon would have been ruined for the whole family.

Asking for a hug sounds almost too easy, right? Too simple to be true?

However, while it’s simple… there’s a subtle tweak that’s key to the effectiveness of this parenting strategy.

“I could use a hug” vs. “Can I give YOU a hug?”

The first taps into your child’s deep need for significance and belonging. When you ask for a hug from your child, you acknowledge that they make a difference to you and in fact have a positive influence on your life.

In the later, you are reinforcing what your child hears and perhaps feels frequently: That children need help from grownups to feel better.

The parenting tool of asking for a hug (for YOU) is simple, easy, and effective if done from the perspective of genuine connection, genuine desire for your child to assist you! (Plus, who doesn’t love hugs? I love it!)

Try it out.

Ask a friend to be your parent and say these two phrases to you:

Could you give me a hug?

and  

You look like you could use a hug.

Do you notice a difference in how you feel after each?

This week look for an opportunity to ask your child for a hug.

I’d love to hear how it goes in the comments below!

Winning Genuine Cooperation by Showing Empathy and Validating Feelings

Winning Genuine Cooperation by Showing Empathy and Validating Feelings

You know those times when you’ve just got to get your child to do something important (go to the doctor, to swim class, the dentist…) and she/he refuses to cooperate? Then you think, “Why can’t they just get with the program this one time? Why does everything have to be so hard?”

Well, let me introduce Susan, mother of 9 year-old Alex, and a recent graduate of my 7-week parenting class. In this story, Susan shares the remarkable shift that happens when she uses tools she learned in the series. Without giving too much away, here are the two conversations (with very different outcomes) between Susan and Alex:

BEFORE taking Positive Discipline Class

Susan:  “Hey Alex, Dad and I forgot to tell you – Swim lessons start today, so you need to get ready to go.”

Alex: (Playing with Legos) “What? I don’t want swim lessons! You know I hate lessons!”

Susan:  “Alex, learning how to swim is really important – it’s about safety.”(Susan begins to feel angry and thinks, “What’s so hard about going to swim class? Swimming is great. This should be fun. Why is it so difficult?”)

Alex:  “I don’t want to.”(He starts to crush his elaborate Lego creations). “I’m not going.”(He sits defiantly on the couch.)

Susan: “Swim lessons are a privilege, young man. That’s enough of your whining. Stop it. Now!”

Alex:  “You never ask me what I want – I HATE YOU!”

Susan: (Thinking… “I hate this. I hate how hard it is to motivate my son. Forget it, I give up.”) She stomps off to another room to grab the swim gear.

Susan: “We paid for this class. Now get up and get to the car!”

Susan and Alex are both miserable and swim lesson does not go well.  

Sound familiar?

AFTER taking Positive Discipline Class

Susan:  (Taking some time beforehand to prepare herself.) “Hey Alex, Dad and I forgot to tell you but you’ve got swim lessons today. I’m really sorry that we’re springing this on you, but we gotta go now. I’ve got your swim gear and a snack for the car.”

Susan held up these two cards - Validating Feelings was where she experienced the most growth

“Both of these Positive Discipline Tool Cards were key.  I feel I learned the most about the power of validating feelings!

Alex:  “What? I don’t want swim lessons!  You know I hate lessons!”

Susan: “Honey, you only have to go four times and we found a new place where there are fewer kids so you’ll be able to hear better.” (She shows remorse for not giving him any warning and feels empathy for him, knowing that while he hates lessons, he actually loves to swim.)

Alex:  “I don’t want to!” (He starts to crush his Lego creations.) “I’m not going.” (Alex plops himself defiantly on the couch.)

Susan: “Alex, sweetie, I know this is upsetting, but destroying your Legos is not OK. You can hit a pillow if you’re angry.” (She allows him to express his feelings. She calmly and firmly tells Alex that swim lessons are something he just needs to do. Susan uses only one or to sentences instead of lecturing him.)

(Alex violently hits the pillow. Susan leaves the room. Then she remembers that staying with him might feel encouraging to him. She goes back and keeps him company but doesn’t try to fix or change his feelings.)

Susan: (After some time has passed, speaking gently…) “Honey, it’s time to go.” (Alex gets up and together, they walked to the car. During the drive Susan felt connected to her son through their easy conversation and a palpable sense of calm.  Alex even seemed to enjoy the lesson!)

This story’s a beautiful example of how empathy and encouragement go a long way toward winning genuine cooperation.  Through her use of grounded positive energy and empathy Susan not only accomplished her goal of getting Alex to his swim lesson, she laid the groundwork for a foundation of trust.

Later she she told me,

It was a tiny miracle that I didn’t lose it and Alex was able to get up to walk to the car. It worked mostly because I didn’t flip my lid. Being there while he hit the pillow actually calmed me down too! Now Alex is doing great with his lessons. He still complains, but there is an ease and matter-of-factness about our interactions.

Thank you Susan for sharing your story!

If you’re curious about deepening your parenting practice and learning the art of cooperation through empathy, check out my one-on-one coaching opportunities and it you’re in the Bay Area, my fall Positive Discipline Series.

CONSIDERSHAREACT

What gets in your way of just being with your child while they’re caught up in a feeling? Next time a big emotion hits, try bearing it with an attitude of love and let us know what happens!!