When the "Wrong" Parenting Tool Becomes the Right One...and the Source of Inspiration

Picture this dilemma:  It’s a GORGEOUS day (no, this is not the problem).  You’re on the ski slopes and there is fresh powder (still not the family challenge).  It’s lunchtime and you have no cash...but you have freshly made, delicious sandwiches (still in suspense...) 

Here is the clincher:  you would like to enjoy your simple feast sitting down BUT, restaurants are in business and not in charity; they reserve seats for clients who purchase.  You would rather not freeze your rear off by sprawling in the snow.  Besides have you tried sitting Indian style with ski boots?  Ouch!  Squatting could be an option, but how restful is that?  And to add challenge to difficulty, you would appreciate an amazing view.

Life is tough...or full of promise.

Two Cool Dudes

Here’s the ultimate solution devised by two creative young men.  Using their skis to “slice” the snow, they carved a bench facing the stunning mountainside, and placed their skis down-side-up on the base of the snow bench to keep their hind warm!  Congratulations!  Three cheers for their ingenuity...and life enjoyment.   As they said, “Faut profiter d’la vie!” (“Gotta love life!”)

These guys made two critical choices, maybe even unknowingly. 

Many of us take these vital options for granted and therefore don’t consciously decide how to act.  We follow our “normal” penchant.  As we become increasingly aware of and consciously select our responses, we invite into our lives new opportunities for reacting to challenges.   

So, what are these alternatives?

Decision 1—to try and change other people’s behavior or to focus on our own.

Decision 2—how much _______ (money, sweat, time, patience....) is the result worth?

1—Who Can You And I Change?

Have you ever tried to diet, take on an exercise program, give up something for Lent, or stop screaming at your kids :-(?   You know first-hand that changing the person over whom you have the most control (YOU) is challenging.

And yet, the amazing thing is that many of us try to change other people, those folk over whom we enjoy even less mastery!

Our Two Cool Dudes did not try to negotiate with the restaurant owners for a free seat.  (Changing others)  Instead, they opted to invest in their operating style.

All too often, I find myself trying to change the kids.  I’m spending this ski trip with five teen boys.  For several days, I found 20 wet boots strewn across our front hallway (a pair of ski boots and play-in-snow variety for each youth). 

Day 1:  “Boys, did you notice what the hallway looks like?”  (Trying to change the boys via building their awareness) 

Day 2:  “Hey guys, the hallway looks almost nice.  Thanks to those of you who put your boots away. “  (Trying to change them through positive reinforcement.) 

Day 3: “Boys, please line your boots up neatly in the hallway.”  (Trying to change them through VERY CLEAR instructions!) 

Day 4:  I gathered the stray boots into a (clean) trash bag which went outside.  (I changed my behavior.)  “Has anyone seen my boot?  There is only one in the hallway,” inquired one of the guests.  “Oh, I put the stray boots in a trash bag on the terrace.”  I only had to let one of the boys know.  When the others searched for their affairs, he passed on the message. 

The boots stand relatively neatly aligned today on Day 5.   The trash bag remains available.   By changing MY behavior, our hallway meets my criteria for welcoming-ness and my humor remains positive.

Here’s the same situation from a different take.  The teens should be caring for their belongings and about being appreciative guests.  It’s work in process.  In my Days 1-3 attempts at getting a cleanish hallway, I allowed their problem (responsibility for their gear) to become mine (annoyance over a dirty entry).   My Days 4-5 behavior keeps the kids’ problem (responsibility for their gear) in their realm.  The boys that disregard my totally legitimate request for a navigable and welcoming hallway J are the ones that now deal with the (slightly) annoying consequences of their choices.

2—Is Necessity or Pleasure the Mother of Invention?

There are numerous alternatives to enjoying lunch on the slopes.  Here’s a family that settled for a Freezing Fanny mealtime.  Less pleasure...and less sweat.  Maybe these parents and child don’t ride the slopes with the same intensity as the youth; they need less recuperation time and will be off again before they lose sensitivity in their hind side.  They could also be exhausted by skiing with their child and need a pause NOW; neither energy nor time is available to sculpt a bench.

It’s called tradeoffs.  Freezing Fanny Family and Two Cool Dudes made them.  You and I do too.  And so can our kids. 

Oftentimes my children (and me too) want to make their choices AND select the respective consequences.  Like, eat at Burger & Fries and send messages on their mobiles all day long (the choices) and expect a fit and trim body (consequences).   Clearly, these are not compatible.

And yet, some of us parents (often without realizing it), break our backs to provide our children with both the ideal choices and consequences. 

 Confessions:  My kids wanted cookies before lunch, and to please them I gave in.  (Choice = snacking is OK)  Then they weren’t hungry for their meal but were starving in early afternoon.  Instead of letting them deal with the consequences of not eating lunch, I gave them more cookies!!!

I have screamed at our children when they spoke to me without respect. (Choice = respond to  discontent with wrath)  And when my children were reprimanded for responding with aggression, I blamed it on the other party. (“What do those other parents do to have such badly behaved kids?!!?”)

We go to extra efforts to provide our children with the best education and sign them up for fascinating extra-curricular activities.  (Choices) When they don’t have time to do their homework, we write (or are highly tempted to write) excuse letters to the teachers.  (Avoiding the consequences.)

I finally realize that tradeoffs are gifts.  The mother of invention.  Thanks to the limits they impose, many have delved into their creativity to identify new choice options, alternatives they would not have considered unless they wanted different consequences.

Do you know Kenny Sailors?  He’s the 5’10” (i.e. short) basketball player that invented the jump shot back in 1943.  He described the game in his time:  people kept their feet on the floor.  But to compete against players 6’5” tall, he developed a new alternative:  the jump shot.  He was not the first to jump in the air with a ball.  He is the one who traded leisure activities for practice time to perfect the shot.

Could You and I Be Waiting for Godot?

As a student, I studied Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot .  Two characters keep a lookout for Godot.  They keep waiting.  And waiting.  Indefinitely and in vain.

HERE IS THE REAL CLINCHER:  Do you and I miss out on loving life because we’re “stuck” with the “wrong” tools...waiting for the “perfect” one to come along?    For years I searched for the “Obey-Mom-and-Dad-NOW” button on my children and never found it.  What would it look, sound, and feel like?

You and I cannot change someone else, but we can decide to act differently.  This will generate a new response on the other’s part.

You and I can embrace limits since they are a vital key to unlock our creativity.  It’s THANKS to our most challenging child (he made the NEED oh-so-clear) that I embarked on a search for more effective and enjoyable methods to make family happy.

To my darling:  Thank YOU

To our readers:  Thank you...and bon courage (wishes of courage) to you too!


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