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When Your Kids Push Your Buttons
"I will persist until I succeed. Always will I take another step. If that is of no avail I will take another, and yet another. In truth, one step at a time is not too difficult.... I know that small attempts, repeated, will complete any undertaking."
Parenting is the most important undertaking any of us can make. To do it well is a journey. That journey happens one step at a time.
And don't forget, please send your questions and stories!
- Discussion of key points
- Questions and answers – Running low. Keep them coming!
- Stories – None this month. We want to hear how you’re doing!
- News of upcoming events or announcements
This newsletter focuses on some of the key points in my book with new thoughts and practical applications. Hopefully it will help the "swimming upstream" struggle we face in changing our parenting from what many of our friends, relatives, teachers and a good deal society expect from us.
What I ask in return is your help in spreading this message. Please forward this to any friends or family you think might benefit, encourage them to subscribe to the newsletter and to buy the book, When Your Kids Push Your Buttons And What You Can Do About It (Warner Books, 2003).
Your questions and stories:
In order for this newsletter to be rich and interesting, I need your questions and stories. You can ask a question from your daily parenting life or you can ask me to elaborate on certain ideas from the book or any previous newsletter. Depending on the number of questions, I may or may not be able to get to all of them in the following newsletter. Your question might be the basis of the discussion of key points or might be in the question and answer section. Please make it as short and succinct as possible and give your children’s ages. Many readers assume I have more questions than I can answer, so they don’t ask — this is not true unless I tell you otherwise. Ask away!
2. Discussion of key points – Respect and Gratitude
One of the reasons we don’t make changes in our lives or in our parenting is because it just seems too hard. So many parents say to me, I don’t have the time for this. I’d have to pay attention all the time. Although I completely understand, I have to respond with, “What is it that is more important?” Our job description calls for paying attention—not micromanaging, hovering, or fixing, all of which take way more time and energy—but simply being conscious, watching for clues, taking responsibility for our behavior, and not asking our children to take responsibility for us to make our lives more convenient. Pendulum thinking, discussed in Chapter 8 of the book, is one reason for so much stuck behavior. We seem to think that if we want to change anything about ourselves, it means we have to suddenly be completely different. If I don’t like being fat, then I have to be thin. This is self-sabbotage. We catastrophize so easily that our minds zoom into the future and it’s hard for us to simply be in the moment. We need to look only at the next step. If I don’t like the way I reacted to my child this morning, the first step is to think about how I would like to respond next time. That’s only thinking. Then that thought might lead me to a different response next time. These are baby steps and that’s all that’s needed to change. Actually it’s the only way to make any change—one step at a time.
Another of our problems is patience. Wanting to do it differently usually leads us into frustration and anger the next time we do the same old thing. If you have ever decided to quit a long held habit, do you expect the habit to be broken immediately? Our reactions to our children are habits, often toxic and addictive habits. It takes time, patience, and practice to break them. Again, self-sabbotage is your enemy if you don't think you have it to give.
As the greetings quote above says, one step at a time is not so hard. Our children deserve the time it takes to pay attention, to find a better way to communicate, to listen, to negotiate. Sure it's annoying when you have many other things to do. But I defy you to tell me what better things you have to do. You don't need to know how you're going to handle a situation to just stop and listen. You don't have to have the answers. Your communication will be better off if you don't.
3. Questions from Readers:
Q. I am currently reading your book and have a question on something I read. In Chapter 6, the section in the side margin called Parent-Blame didn't sink in with me and I'm hoping you can clarify. It says, "Your parents did the best they could given the knowledge and circumstances they had at the time." It sounds like we should hold blameless those parents who just don't do right by their children. On a more personal level, what if my mother had thought to herself as she was parenting that there must be a better way to do this, but, dammit, I have 7 children and it's just too hard, or, this is the way my mother raised me, so therefore, this is how I am going to raise my daughter. Does that mean she's still blameless for everything she chose to do or not do? It's like saying we have to forgive all the previous generations for how they parented, but our generation is to be more accountable - I am accountable. But shouldn't my mother and her mother have taken responsibility for themselves? I didn't have an opportunity to share my concerns with my mother as she passed away 8 years ago and had a debilitating mental illness since I was 16. It's a fact that she did not do right by me and treated me differently than my siblings. But even my forgiving her doesn't release her from the responsibility she had or hold her blameless.
The other line in this section I didn't quite get was, "Their intentions were most likely different from the messages you received." But, this isn't necessarily true in every case, correct? How would I know for sure? I can try to assume that my mother loved me as much as my siblings, but when she said herself she wanted only boys (perhaps based on her own experience and the way she was treated as the youngest daughter w/an older sister and brother), it is hard not to think the messages I received were intentional on her part. What matters most to me now is to not repeat the mistakes my mother made and to acknowledge that her mistakes were because of her issues (i.e. her responsibility or her fault), and not because of me, or anything I said or did.
A. I don't believe very many parents choose not to do right by their children. Like your mother, they parent the best they can "given the knowledge and circumstances they have at the time." They may be aware that they are not doing what they want, but they usually don't know what else to do. Still true of most parents I see. We often feel helpless at the power and control of our past patterns. Your mother learned from her past. I doubt if she and her mother had the opportunity to take classes or have therapy to change deeply set patterns of behavior. Do you blame any of your friends for saying and doing to their children what they wish they hadn't? Of course not. Are they responsible for what they do? Absolutely. I see blame and responsibility as very different things. Absolutely your mother was responsible, but if she didn't have the resources to help her understand a better way the way you do, blame will not help. Blaming her keeps you stuck and releases you of taking responsibility for yourself. "given the knowledge and circumstances they had at the time" does not release her of responsibility but does offer information about the context in which her intentions were made. Her mental illness was one of the circumstances within which she parented you—terribly unfortunate for you. It caused you pain and suffering that can last a lifetime. She was responsible for the choices she made but within a context of very little control over what she was capable of. When she said she wanted only boys, you heard, "You are chopped liver." As you said, her intention might have been based on her experience of being a girl and not wanting her children to experience the pain that she did. She likely did not intend for you to hear that you were chopped liver. She was responsible for saying those words to you, but it's likely, especially given her mental illness, that she didn't understand that it would have any effect on you. This doesn't mean you need to feel wonderful about the way you were parented. But it doesn't help you to say she should have known better and stay stuck in blame. You may very likely need to go through blaming her to deal with the anger you feel—it's hard to get to the anger without blame. Your perspective of how you were raised, the damage done, the pain felt, is very real and is your right. But inevitably, when we do the work, go through that blame to get the anger out, we come to the other side where there is no more blame.
Reader Response: You’ve given me much to consider and mull over; and I can already sense a few light bulbs going off (as Oprah would say, some “Aha” moments). I think you captured my mother’s predicament so precisely. I have the sense she might even be speaking to me. I reread what I wrote and I can definitely sense some residual anger. It never occurred to me that I could come out on the other side without blame. The most I hoped for was for there to be no more anger. Your perspective has given me hope, and you have helped more than I can articulate now. Please feel free to reprint any of this. If it helps someone else, that would be great.
Q. My daughter just turned 18. I went out to her car today to move it so I could leave and found a backpack full of beer in her car. I'm not sure what a logical consequence is short of tying her to her car and dragging her behind it!!! After that, I decided to check out her photos on her computer. She's been telling me she was at a friend's for a sleep over a couple of nights this week and there are many pictures of her drinking with her friends, pix taken at IHOP at 4 am, pix of 4 bottles of rum in the trunk of her car the day of her birthday...she was at the beach with friends!!! This is all complicated because her best friend from England is here until next week. I flew her in as a surprise for her 18th BD — not sure I'm glad I did that. She seems a bit ungrateful!! HELP! I want to handle this calmly as an aware Mother!!! It's the lying and drinking that concern me!
A. I think it's good news that her friend is here so it means you have to hold back and find the right time. Her irresponsible behavior has nothing to do with being ungrateful—that's your assumption. She's just trying to be cool. I don't think consequences will help as they could push her further into foolish behavior. You could certainly take away her car privileges or ground her if you don't think she will make matters worse by driving anyway. It's hard to police children at this age, and if she doesn't obey the punishment, the reactive cycle gets out of control. Think about why this is happening. She's a teenager trying to be grown-up as she hits her 18th birthday, which feels pretty grown-up when you're 18. She thinks she knows all she needs to know, doesn't need you, and is ready to call the shots for herself—that's her agenda. It doesn't have anything to do with you. If you start controlling her in a way that makes her feel like a reprimanded little girl, she won't listen, she'll get mad and react badly. When you find the right time, tell her you have a problem you need to talk to her about. Explain factually how you moved her car and what you saw. The same with her website. She will be mad but you need to have a conversation/argument about the web. She has a right to be mad. Nobody wants to be spied on. If she balks about her privacy, tell her that the internet is not private and you want to know what she is putting out there and getting back. Make an arrangement with her. You need her assurance that she is going to be safe. Check her website with her from time to time and let her know that driving with alcohol in the car makes her a sitting duck for arrest. Police love to stop young drivers for going 2 miles over the speed limit or for a tail-light out so they check out the rest of the car. Don't expect her to become a tea-totaler at this point, so telling her not to drink is futile. Make agreements about where and how she drinks and that you will pick her up at any time. Write a contract with her if possible but she must be a co-author. Keep all this in the realm of your problem, your worry, your job as a parent but that it could so quickly become a major problem for her. Also consider that her "show-off" behavior might be the result of something going on in your family that she feels out of control of. Remember she's having a problem, not being a problem.
Please let us know if the answers to your questions are helpful. If not, ask again and send me more information. We’d all like to hear how things turn out!
This morning I found a piece of paper I had written out two weeks ago. My 11 yr old was upset and said it was clear he "wasn't wanted in this family" I asked him why and wrote down what he said in an effort to demonstrate that I was hearing him. He said it was because every time Dad walked in a room he gave a direction or ordered him to do something. That half the time Mom did it too, that he lost pool for not hanging up his towel which was an accident and that there are consequences for even the most trivial accidental things. This morning my husband and I read it and realized it echoed in part what we became aware of this week, and that once again our very bright child verbalized a pretty important point. Of course, when he initially said it, we rolled our eyes at each other and didn't really hear him.
Please send your stories. No matter how small your successes, they are so important to hear and to gove encouragement.
The Family Center in Peterborough, NH is sponsoring Judy Osborne, founder of Step Families Assoc. in Brookline, MA, to present a workshop on Step-parenting on Sat. Oct. 21 from 9:00 to 11:30 a.m. at Reynolds Hall next door to The Family Center on Concord St. Appropriate for parents, step-parents and anyone dealing with other people’s children and highly recommended for professionals who work with children and families. $15 per person, $20 per couple. Childcare available. For more information or to register call 603 924-6306.
I will be starting an 8 week When Your Kids Push Your Buttons class at The Family Center (see above) on Thursday Sept. 14. As well, I will be continuing the on-going Parent/Child Connection program for parents of 6-10 year olds on Tuesday mornings beginning Sept. 12.
If any of you are interested in bringing programs or a Buttons certification training to your area, let us know your needs and get information by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
A 6-CD set of When Your Kids Push Your Buttons And What You Can Do About It (read by me) are available by contacting email@example.com or by sending $29.95 plus $2.30 postage to Bonnie Harris Core Parenting 152 Windy Row Peterborough, NH 03458. Includes a 7th bonus disk with printable pdf files of the exercises from the book.
If anyone is so inclined, I would love more reviews of my book on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.
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Email Bonnie with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Bonnie Harris, LLC | 603.924.6639 | email@example.com
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