Mistaken beliefs. Evidently a phrase that is important for Adlerian psychology.
Values. A word that is important to most of us.
A value may be something you will go to the mat for. A mistaken belief may take you to the mat on its own. Figuring out how beliefs and values shape our behavior takes observation and time. This is what we are working on this week for Parenting on Track Class.
When I ask myself about my core parenting values I come up with words like collaboration, acceptance, curiosity, growth, independence. Blah Blah blah. Those things matter some, but according to Vicki we know what matters most based on our mis-behavior. SO a kids who sits alone watching TV, ought to trigger some emotional response in me as he is neither collaborating, nor showing curiosity etc. Nope. TV is all good. Clearly those things that I say are most essential, are just my internal parenting marketing materials.
With technological development I have learned to WATCH my users rather than LISTEN to them. Or at least in addition to listening to them. The way they behave is a true indicator of how they expect an application to function. It is a lot like that with our parenting. When we are parenting from our worst it is a great time to take stock of the situation. The shrieking, nagging, screaming, slamming, taunting, mocking (or whatever your worst looks and feels like) it is a very good signal that you are treading close to something that deeply matters to you. This is a time to collect information.
For years I have been practicing setting aside my judgement. Maybe we are all born this way, but my earliest memories include looking around my second grade classroom and slashing down everyone around me. He can’t think his way out of a box – he will be pumping gas when he is older.(ended up making award winning documentaries) She spends more time on her hair than anything else- future vapid trophy wife. (could be a trophy wife, but seems happy) I don’t know when I began trying to turn off my judgement but it was certainly by high school, when the thoughts about clothes, or drugs, or sex would come through my head (frequently) and I would notice them, ask what they meant, and then try to let that go. So I have been practicing for more than half my life with some success. So it surprises me when I stumble upon some STRONG judgement has clung on through the years.
The other evening I went to dinner with Steve and some friends, after a pleasant stretch one friend asked for company to go outside to smoke a cigarette. I agreed and we stood in the drizzle chatting. Because it is Burlington after a minute or two another friend approached. I had the strongest reaction I can remember having. “I DON’T SMOKE” I wanted to scream. “IT’S NOT ME. I AM NOT SMOKING.” “LOOK AT MY HANDS. NO CIGARETTE.” I kept my mouth shut. I seriously considered emailing my other (newish) friend to tell him. “I am not a smoker.” Why? Why did that matter? How much am I hoping he will read this post so he knows ” I DO NOT SMOKE.” That reaction told me something. I don’t judge my friends, but clearly the idea of ME AS A SMOKER, is appalling. I’ll have to think about that more. That seems to just affect me (until my kids smoke?), I want to focus on something that affects our whole family.
I parent from my worst about something pretty petty. Disarray in the house.
I lose my s**t when the house is messy. There are plenty of times when I can behave as if I am not having an emotional response to clutter, but it always makes me feel like I am drowning. When I snap, and shriek it is almost always about legos, shoes, cereal bowls, or candy wrappers.
Hearing that my kid spent lunch in the planning room, my internal response was that it was handled at school and I don’t expect it to be an ongoing problem. Letting him go to school in his pjs, OK. Hitting his brother, they will work it out. Handing his allowance to a friend, its his money. Skipping reading log, between his teacher and him. Declaring that the kid with special needs “already has enough friends”, share my perspective and never ask again. But the legos. The legos, mixed with the dog hair, those drive me to therapy. And between home and therapy there is a fair amount of yelling.
So Vicki tells us that when we find ourselves parenting from our worst there are two possibilities,
- We have a mistaken belief
- We are “stomping on” a core value.
Which is this? Tidiness? Is that a value?
I can gather some info by checking my car. FILTHY. I mean, meals on wheels, strata of homework, layers of outerwear, flies and mold filthy. Pretty clear that cleanliness is not a “core value.” A litnus test for value v. belief is whether you will go to the mat for it. I mean will you send your kid the message THIS, A tidy home, is actually more important to me than you are. Um…no. There are some days when I feel that way, but fundamentally no.
So we are dealing with a mistaken belief. What is my belief? What is it I believe about people whose homes are messy? I start with the marketing speak. People with messy homes are disorganized,…., whatever. The true mistaken belief comes to me snuggled in bed with the kids this morning. I tell them I am doing my parenting class homework, trying to figure out what is going on in my head when I am “parenting from my worst.” “Like when you yell?” “yup.” They agree it is about cleaning. So I say it to the two little boys, at the same time that I first realize HOW mistaken and frankly asinine my belief is about the messy house. Ready?
“I believe that when people, including myself, leave messes around they are doing it as an act of aggression to me: Anna.” Like a little milky bowl of fuck you. Seriously, that is what I believe. “What does that mean? the 5 year old asks, (and no- I didn’t say the ‘fuck you’ to the kids, that was for the readers, I said act of aggression)while the six year old says “noooo, Mama, no, I just dump the legos to see the pieces better.” I’m still thinking of the messy fuck you. I realize that I extend it to the dog. Who can’t effectively scratch her ear with her leg. She sheds, and drools, and eats boxes of crackers leaving the box in bits to piss me off. I truly believe this, in the deep totally illogical part of my brain.
What do I do with this incoherence I have uncovered?
So the next step, says Vicki, is to tell a new story. I ask the boys. “What can my new story be about mess?” “That we are playing well, rushing to get to school, moving on the the next thing? Feeling excited about a drawing?” All these suggestions tumble over each other until Leo says “mess means we are happy, happy.” And have a full life. So that is my new story. A mess means that we have a happy, happy full life.
But I want to know…
Can I believe that and still want a clean house?
Because I do.
The goal, I think it is to reframe the mistaken believe so I can strip the emotion from the situation and increase the odds that I will not be parenting from my worst around messy stuff.
Here are the steps if you want to try.
- Stop and think about when you parent from your worst
- Think about whether that situation (lying, lateness, mess, quitting) represents a VALUE, or a MISTAKEN BELIEF
- Ask yourself “what do I think about people who are late?”
- Replace that thought with an equally compelling story on the other side. “Those people are helping someone in an immediate critical situation”
- Practice the new story
- See if you can parent from at least your medium place.