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Mindful : April 2014
April 2014 mindful 37 and cuddles, and a sense that my life had a joy and purpose I had never experienced. But the reality is, I feel completely out of control. Every morning I wake up to a series of battles, beginning with something as simple as getting my kids dressed, and finally ending when I collapse into bed after countless power struggles over homework, bath, and bedtime. “I love my children and would do anything for them, but there are days when raising kids is not what I expected. I thought if I loved them enough, they would be cooperative a nd, well, fun! Instead, they bicker consta ntly, resist my requests, and routinely have meltdowns if they don’t like what I’m serving for dinner or don’t feel like doing their chores.” Ca roline told me that from morning to night, she felt a pressure to check things off her list, star ting with getting them up and dressed in the morning, all the way through to the end of the day, as she tried to get them bathed and in bed. “It seems that almost every interaction we have is about me trying to get them to do something they don’t want to do,” says Caroline. I call this phenomenon being lost to the list, a predicament many parents find themselves in. Ca roline’s story is not unique. Every parent will admit to experiencing some degree of dashed expec- tations a nd ongoing struggles. I sure did. But when pa rents engage in power struggles, or threaten and bribe in an attempt to control their kids, they only make matters worse. Here’s an exercise I find helpful: let your right hand represent you, the parent, and the left hand represent your child. When the right hand—the par- ent hand—is above the left hand, you are Captain of the Ship. You exude a quiet authority that lets your kids know that no matter how stormy the seas are, you are able to navigate the ships of their lives. When the two hands are side by side, no one is in cha rge. I call this relationship “The Two Law yers.” Each side debates the merits of its position, and the one most committed—or least exhausted—prevails. When you are in law yer mode, you’re coming at your kids, rather than alongside them. What you generate is resistance, defiance, a nd power struggles. Finally, when the child’s hand is above the pa rent’s ha nd, the child is essentially in charge. This happens when, as a pa rent, you feel desperate and out of control. You resort to bribes and threats to force your kids to do what you wa nt. I call this position “The Tyra nt,” because you’re trying to “rule” your children with bribes or fear. You come across as needy, and you prompt your kids to test the limits because they instinctively know that you—not they—are supposed to be in charge. Nothing creates more a nxiety in children than sensing a pa rent’s desperation. In Caroline’s case, the three hand positions helped her see where she was doing most of her parenting. “If I’m lucky,” she said, “I am the calm captain of the ship about 10% of the time. Most days, I’m either arguing like a law yer or yelling like a tyrant trying to get my kids to do what I want.” She shared a specific experience that caused her to lose her captain status: “I recall one time my daughter had a horrible meltdown, and I immedi- ately lost my cool and began a rguing and bribing. “Gemma had homework she claimed was too hard. I tried convincing her that it wasn’t difficult. I reminded her she had done the same kind of math a few days earlier. I even tried rewards, promising her an extra story at bedtime if she would just do her worksheet without a fuss. Fina lly, I got angry, threatening to call her teacher. It went from bad to worse, with her sobbing that I didn’t love her a nd me feeling like a horrible mother.” There’s another way this scenario could have played out, however. When a child is frustrated, parents are tempted to fix things so they’ll feel better as quickly as possible. When our child is unhappy, we become unhappy as well, and the child becomes the way we will feel better. When Gemma felt frustrated about her homework, Caroline’s anxiety compelled → If you come at your kids rather than alongside them, you generate resistance, defiance, and power struggles.