June 1, 2016 Leave a comment
One of the hardest, most humbling things about being a parent is those moments when your child communicates with you using strategies that you’ve used with him or that he’s seen you use with someone else–and you shouldn’t have. We all have times when we do something to try to get another person to do what we want her to do, without giving enough thought to whether or not it’s a healthy strategy that we’d like our children to learn or that we’d like anybody to use on us. My first child (now eleven years old) is an especially egalitarian-minded type: He doesn’t accept that adults have a natural authority over him by being adults, so he assumes that anything we can do to him is something he can do to us. You can see this, rather humorously, in my story of why Counting to Three stopped working. Since then, we’ve had many interactions in which Nick’s attempts to treat us the way he perceives us as treating him have been painfully enlightening!
Although these issues have been magnified by parenting, the same problems can come up between adults, especially adults who live together and/or have known each other for a long time.
What communication strategies am I talking about? Here are some examples:
- I want you to do something right now, so I just keep ordering you to do it in an increasingly angry voice. No matter what you say about why you can’t do it this minute or why it might not be the right thing to do, I won’t listen or acknowledge hearing you.
- You ask me for something, and I attack your desire to have the thing, bringing up a bunch of barely-related things that you asked for when you should’ve known better or that I gave you but you didn’t appreciate enough.
- I want you to do something, and when you resist, I start complaining about all the other things I wish you would do that you haven’t done.
- You ask me for something, and I list a lot of other things that I have done for you, making it sound like you ask too much of me.
- Instead of asking for what I need, I work myself to exhaustion doing things that benefit both of us or just you. When you don’t seem to notice, I feel resentful. I keep working, refusing to pause to take care of myself, until I suddenly blow up at you and act like you are stupid for not knowing what’s wrong.
- I complain about how I’m tired and having a bad day and overwhelmed by the things I need to do. Then, without asking about how you’re doing, I tell you that you have to do something nice for me.
We saw a counselor a couple years ago who didn’t work out so well overall but had one really good point that has stuck with me: “The key to family harmony is emotional self-regulation.” It is easy to say to yourself, “His nasty behavior put me in a bad mood! I shouldn’t have to be nice when everyone’s being so awful to me!” but then you are putting other people in charge of your feelings and actions. This is particularly problematic when the other people are children and you’re supposed to be their role model. You have to snap out of the “person who has been treated badly gets to treat others badly” cycle and set a more positive tone. It is hard, but in my experience it pays off. Feeling like my family members are constantly ruining my day and I’m powerless to stop them is hard, too, and really wears me down in the long run. Read more of this post