Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Day 52: White-Knuckle Parenting

I will choose to find a positive perspective under even the most negative circumstances.
I will choose acceptance over resistance.
I will choose to focus on the things I value about my children, not the things that drive me nuts.
I will choose to extend the same grace, love and forgiveness to myself that I try to lavish on my husband and children each day.

One of the things this project is helping me realize is that white-knuckle parenting works about as well as white-knuckle sobriety.

If you've ever loved an addict, you know first-hand what I mean. There's believable determination, a promise to do better, that this time will be different, only to be followed up by an inevitable relapse, another disappointment. Trust is shattered along with your dreams of a better life, and you find yourself right back where you started, maybe even farther down.

Sheer will power is no way to make a change in life. But it's where I've directed so much of my energy over the years. Coming out of a typical childhood where the operative word is simply "obey," I wasn't well-versed in other options. Will power was how I approached everything, as if life was one big pre-vacation diet. If only it were that simple.

When it comes down to it, will power is just another way of saying fight. In a competitive view of the world, will power makes sense - white-knuckle parenting and sobriety for that matter make sense. If everything is a competition with a winner and a loser, all you have to do is fight hard enough to be the winner.

But as my worldview has expanded, I've come to question this philosophy that pits me against everyone and everything in my life, this outlook that is outrageously self-centered. Who wants to go through life fighting? I've seen those people, and they don't look happy. They struggle through relationships (the ones that survive, that is), their guard never comes down, they never get to just rest and be at peace. I've been that person, and I wasn't happy.

Life isn't a competition. No one has to lose so I can win. When I fall back into this default view, I set myself up for all the things I desperately want to avoid, especially as a wife and a mother; power struggles, intimidation, coercion, disrespect, a search for the win at any cost - at anyone's cost. And when I try to use will power to change these things, I only feed that competitive nature. 

In a relationship-centered world, cooperation, not competition, is the name of the game. Instead of looking for win-lose, you look for win-win (forgive the cliche, but there are no simpler term to describe it). The goal isn't to come out on top, it's to find a way to reach the top together. It's a radical change that will power can't provide.

Will power will, in fact, sabotage the effort to change because it's inherently opposed to meeting needs. And this is exactly why white-knuckle parenting, like white-knuckle sobriety, is always doomed to failure. Will power requires you to ignore your needs in order to make a behavioral (read: surface) change. It's an effort to make a change from the outside in, when true change can only come from the inside out.

So I will just say no. But not to my behavior. To the competition I've set up with my defaults, to the internal power struggle.

As I accept that my children's behaviors are expressions of need, I'll extend the same understanding to myself. Getting to the root of undesirable behaviors in myself is a little scary, but not as scary as lifetime of fighting them.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with your article especially the last paragraph. Sometimes we have to say "NO" to our children and explain to them the reason why mom said no to their request. By saying "no" to some things enable them to realize things that are important and which are not as well as know the right from wrong.