Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Controlling and Parenting and Telling the Difference

A friend asked me a great question the other day. How do you tell the difference between being controlling and parenting?  In setting a limit with a child or responding “no” to a request, how do you know when you’ve crossed the line?  Are you parenting or attempting to control?  When your child asks for a cell phone, is your “no” discipline or controlling behavior?

Why is this Important?
How does understanding where you might be controlling make a difference?  When your goal is controlling, you not only influence the other person you are attempting to control but you limit yourself as well.  You are not as flexible, creative or serene.  You act controlling, the other person reacts to your behavior and your relationship takes a hit.  Your children may feel that you don’t trust them or your spouse may feel that you think he is incompetent.  You also spend a tremendous amount of energy engaged in a behavior that doesn’t offer much satisfaction when you could be feeling much more joy.     

Examine Where You Felt Controlled
One of the best places to begin the search for clarity is in examining where you felt controlled as a child.  I realized that when I felt controlled as a child, it was more about not feeling heard than about what my parents had actually said.  There was no dialogue or expression of feelings.  There was no listening ear on the other side, and it did feel like sides had been drawn.  When the polarities of your way and my way exist, there is most likely some controlling behavior happening.  That is the time to take a breath and look for the third alternative, a resolution that you both are happy with.     

Measure the Joy
In her recent post on Tiny Buddha entitled Control Less, Trust More, Susanne van Borcke said about her family, “I tried to control every aspect of their lives. Whether it was the lunches that needed to be made with a specific type of bread, or the homework having to be done at this time of the day, or the decision of which movie to watch, I told them how to do it and had a hard time letting them make their own choices.  I was hardly ever wrong—at least I didn’t think so. I thought control equals security equals happiness, up until the day when I took a close look at my life and found that nobody around me was smiling anymore.  They were miserable. They lit up when their Dad came home because he did things with them that were fun and, best of all they never knew what would happen with him. With me they could foresee everything, and the routines were never fun or joyful.”

Measure the joy, yours as well as the joy of others in your family.  Are the smiles gone, including yours? 

Consider the Feedback from Others
What is the feedback you receive from your family members about being controlling?  When my daughter said to me, “Can’t you even let me get out of bed before you start giving me things to do?” I became conscious of how I had been pressuring her.  I thought, “Is this what I want her to think life is about?  Is this what I think life is about?  We have time to get everything done.  Let’s begin the day with the joy of being together.”  I began controlling less and trusting more!

Susanne van Borcke gave her son a signal to use.  She said, “We’ve agreed on a code word that’s the last name of a famous soccer player. The deal is that he will only say this word when he feels I am being overly controlling. This will prompt me to think about my intentions, and then back off if I realize it’s not in his best interest.” 

Listen without Judging
When you truly listen and are present, your response is said from a place of power rather than of force.  You are not attached to the outcome. You listen with empathy and drop judgments.  If you are fearful about agreeing with your child or if in agreeing, you envision a future that you do not desire, you are attached to the outcome.  As Dr. David R. Hawkins said in Power vs. Force, “[when you are not attached then] not getting one’s way is no longer experienced as defeating, frightening, or frustrating.”  There is no power struggle, no force, and no sides drawn up.  You don’t feel compelled to say “no” to win. 

Our family moved from St. Louis back to Florida when my brother was in college.  He wanted to remain at Washington University in St. Louis where he was settled, had friends and was in a fraternity.  My parents nixed that idea.  Their view was that he was not interested in academics and just wanted to have a good time, an expensive good time.  His view was that he felt a sense of belonging and wanted to continue.  My parents felt scared, and they did not put their apprehension about his lack of responsibility on the table, so their fears became the driving influence in their decision.  My brother did not feel heard, and he felt judged.  He could feel the lack of trust even though it was not discussed. 

With twenty-twenty hindsight, my parents could have acknowledged both my brother’s feelings and their own.  Their response could have begun something like, “Moving is not what you would like to do.  It is painful to leave your friends, and you feel at home here.”  The conversation could have then taken several different approaches, such as:
  • “Paying out-of-state tuition is not in our budget.  We are willing to pay the in-state rate.  One option is for you to get a job to earn the money to pay the difference.  Are you willing to do that to stay in school at Washington University?”
  • “We are willing for you stay in school in St. Louis as long as you maintain at least a 3.0 average.  Are you willing to commit to maintaining a 3.0 with the agreement that you will move to Florida if your average drops below a 3.0 for more than one semester?”
  • “We feel uncomfortable with our family living so far apart in different states.  We don’t feel ready to move without you.  We would support you in going to school at one of the state universities that you choose in Florida.  We are also willing to discuss a trip to St. Louis so that you can visit your friends.”   
What is Your Intention in the Limit?
As a parent, you provide limits.  You keep your child safe when she is young.  You set boundaries with your older children that expand as they become more responsible.  Check out your intention in the limit that you are setting.  Is it in your child’s best interest?  What will he learn if you agreed with him?  If your goal is to make your child do something or make him stop doing something, there is probably a controlling aspect to what is happening. 

If your child asks “why” in response to your limit and you cannot give a thoughtful answer, take some time to explore beyond “because I said so.”  If you are envisioning a future that you do not desire – such as thinking that the result of giving your daughter a cell phone is that she will hook up with “the wrong people” – consider the future that you DO desire and the chances for learning your child will have.  Having a cell phone will allow her to hook up with her friends, “the right people”.  She will have wider social experiences.  She will become more technologically savvy.  She will contact YOU more.  She will feel trusted by you.  You will still be there along the way to continue the dialogue, monitor her learning and revise your approach so that she becomes even more responsible.   

Be Allowing over Controlling 
Dr. Hawkins suggested that allowing is much more powerful than controlling.  Allowing doesn’t mean being a permissive parent.  It means what Susanne suggested, trusting more and controlling less. 

Susanne’s plan is to create a list of things that she enjoys doing and do them.  She said, “One of those things will be sitting still – not doing things, and for sure not multitasking. It involves listening and just being with my feelings of sadness, boredom, and all the others I have bottled up and hid behind activity.”

In The Quest Retreat, an annual course through Your Infinite Life Training andCoaching Company, I learned a practice that has been very helpful.  Take a purposeful walk or spend some quiet time in which you notice your thoughts.  Whenever a controlling thought surfaces, simply say “cancel” in your mind.  Do not judge the thought.  Do not analyze the thought.  Simply notice and say “cancel.”  This practice can make a tremendous difference.

You will notice that in being allowing you will feel more serene and you will also have a soothing influence on those around you.  By allowing, you welcome the joy.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Got Lotsa Love?

Many thanks to Parkland Life Magazine to their kind permission to reprint this article from my monthly Child and Parenting Column. 

Last year for Valentine’s Day, this column was entitled Got Love?  In that article were five suggestions for expanding the love in your family and in your life:  Know what your child desires and assist him in attaining it; take time for yourself and teach your child to do the same; listen more and judge less; take a course that can guide you in moving beyond limiting beliefs; and develop your capacity for empathy.

Of those five suggestions, the most fundamental is to develop your capacity for empathy.  With empathy, you will most likely listen more and judge or criticize less.  You will enthusiastically get behind your daughter’s desire to play the violin or dance or write a novel.  You will sensitively take time for yourself, guide your children to do the same and maintain more balance in all aspects of your life.  With deeper empathy, you will probably feel safe enough and curious enough to take a glimpse inside at the beliefs that are very powerful influences both in your daily decision-making and in the course of your life.

With empathy, we are able to understand how our child feels in response to us.  If your child tells you he doesn’t like it when you yell at him, you are able to say, “When I yell at you, like I did this morning, I must make you feel hurt.”  With empathy, you feel the depth of his hurt.  As we expand our capacity for empathy, we become more loving.  President of Your Infinite Life Training and Coaching Company, Pamela Dunn, says “Love is the only thing that can transform, and fear is simply a product of not acknowledging our innate magnificence in any given moment.”   How do we drop the fear, expand our hearts and gain more empathy?

One way is to look at your relationship with your children from the inside out.  Pam suggests that rather than looking at a relationship from a place of need, meaning looking at what we want someone to give us or how we want the other person to be, that we look at what we bring to the relationship. 

With your children, instead of looking at what you want your children to give you – obedience, respect – or what you want them to be – smart, creative, honest – begin looking at what you bring to the table as a parent.  What can your children count on you for?  Let them know that they can count on you to be clear in your requests, willing to listen, willing to spend time with them, dependable, truthful or whatever qualities are important to you.  Then consciously practice what you have chosen in your daily life.  Practice being clear in making requests, practice listening, and spend more time with your child.

Check out what you are finding most challenging with your child right now.  It could be that you wish your child were more focused, more responsible, more sensitive or more trustworthy.  Pick the biggest challenge and then YOU bring that quality to the relationship.  If your biggest complaint about your son is that he is not reliable, then consciously bring reliability to your relationship.  If you wish your daughter honored limits, begin honoring more limits.  If you wish your child were more cooperative, find ways to cooperate more with others. You will find yourself modeling what you desire for your child as well as becoming more empathetic.  And if you are desiring obedience from your child, is that really something you would like to take on?  I think not!  You can let that one go!   

As Pam says, “Love is the only thing that transforms.”  By looking at your relationship with your child from a place of empathy – from the inside out – the transformation will begin!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Handling "Everyone Else Has One!"

Many thanks to Parkland Life Magazine for their kind permission to include this article from my column in our blog.

Whether it is requesting a cell phone, being on FaceBook or going to the mall with friends, parents may hear “everyone else has one” or “everyone else gets to do it” when their child’s request is denied.  Parents may feel guilty because they don’t want their children to feel left out.  Parents may get exasperated with the ceaseless demands.  Parents may be afraid of the early and pervasive impact of technology on their child.  This is the first generation of parents to handle social networking and high-level involvement with electronic devices.  Still, the underlying concept remains the same – how to live according to your values and set boundaries with your children. 

To counter “everyone else has one” with adult logic [not everyone has one] is non-productive.  Your child feels as if everyone else does have one, and arguing the point will simply make him wrong and end the discussion.  Here are a few ways to address the issue directly and set a boundary:
Avoid “you are not old enough,” “when you are older” or “you are too young [little] for that.”  Those phrases are not the truth because age is probably not the real issue.  The issues are safety, your child’s level of responsibility and his decision-making.  Most helpful are conversations about the real issues, opportunities for your child to learn from the experience, clear boundaries and useable information for your child. 

“Not old enough,” which is not useable information, may trigger a power struggle.  Your child may respond, “Yes, I AM old enough” followed by “No, you are not.”.  It then becomes a non-productive tug-of-war that teaches children that being powerful is about resisting and over-powering.  It is more helpful to teach them that being powerful is about being influential by your example of listening, empathizing and setting clear boundaries.   

Your child may also begin to believe that old enough means good enough or simply enough.  He is already enough no matter his age.  He may ask that you be specific about the magical age “old enough”.  He will then hold you accountable when he reaches that age.

Let your response be the beginning of a conversation.  Instead of “you are not old enough” say, “I am not ready for you to go to the mall with your friends without an adult.  Let’s talk about what works for both of us.”  By saying “I am not ready”, there is nothing for your child to resist, so you have side-stepped a power struggle.  Beginning with “I am not ready,” you have the flexibility to negotiate what provides your child with the independence he desires AND with what feels comfortable for you.  

Avoid “We can’t afford it.”   Instead, you might say, “I am not willing to spend the money on that right now” or  “I am willing to pay for half.  How would you like to earn the money to pay for the other half?” 

Let your child clearly know your expectations.  If he desires a cell phone and you feel uncomfortable because he is disorganized, let him know you would love for him to have a phone when he organizes his room and maintains it for a month.  Then take time to teach him how to organize.  If your daughter desires a phone yet doesn’t handle her reponsibilities around the house, explain that you would like to see her “own” her responsibility of feeding the dog, mowing the lawn, or folding the laundry for a reasonable length of time.  If your son looses other devices, you can negotiate what you are willing to contribute, if anything, towards the purchase of the cell phone and the monthly bill.  Ask how he will handle it if he looses his phone.  Make sure everything is clear and then stick with the agreement.

If your child does say, “Everyone else has one,” acknowledge him with the question “Most of your friends have cell phones [go to the mall with friends, are on FaceBook]?”  Begin a conversation rather than defending [“Well, in our family we just don’t do that!”] or making him wrong [“Oh, I know plenty of kids your age who don’t have cell phones yet.”].  Talk about what it means to him to do what he is requesting. Listen.  Empathize.  Then set your clear boundary.