Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Time Travel Tuesday: Limiting Myself

One of my favorite Positive Discipline Tool Cards is Decide What You Will Do. Really, it's my go-to parenting tool. I use it all the time, often in parenting situations where I am simply paralyzed by the WTFery of it all, or when I find myself standing at the edge of the Cliffs of Insanity, ready to jump over.

Decide What You Will Do (DWYWD) helps me keep MY needs, wants, and values at the forefront. Which is something, as a rational egoist, I think I should be doing. Sometimes it's easy to get caught up in the throes of all of the things I must do and I forget to think about what I want to do or need.

I am anti-Mom-as-self-sacrificial-martyr. I am pro-Mom-as-individual-who-has-thoughts-and-feelings-too.

In July 2009, I wrote this post about deciding what I will do and gave several examples of how I use this tool. I even wrote out the thought process I had during a specific parenting challenge. Introspection--it's a good thing.

This thinking about my own limits has been a good exercise for me. I like doing it because it helps me focus on MY needs, which I sometimes forget to do in the shuffle, which adds to the grumpiness. And it helps the kids realize that I have needs. If I don't speak up and tell them "This is what I'm going to do because I want/need something...." then they will probably not realize that I even have needs or desires. 
Because in their view--and this is only kind of a joke--I'm MOM, not an actual person. :o) Now I know the baby doesn't understand this distinction, having only recently grasped the idea that he and I are separate entities, but the other two are beginning to get that Mom-as-such is not who I am. I am Jenn, who happens to be their Mommy. I know it's a hard distinction and it may very well take each of them reaching adulthood to fully realize it, but they're not going to get it if I never mention it!

Another aspect of DWYWD that I didn't mention in that original post is this: in any relationship--parenting, marital, friendship, coworkers--the only person you can truly control is yourself. (Kelly and I talk about this in our Effective Communication talk, too.) You really can't make someone do something unless you are willing to use or threaten some serious force. And I'm going to assume that most people reading this don't make a habit of threatening or using violence to get people to do stuff, and prefer instead to rely on rational discourse in their relationships. Correct me if I'm wrong.

Think about it. You can't actually MAKE your spouse mow the lawn. You can't force your coworker to turn in his part of the report on time. You can't take your potty training two year old and hold her over the potty and squeeze the poop out of her.

But you can change the tone of your voice when you talk to your husband about the state of the lawn. You can send a reminder email to your coworker. You can notice when your toddler looks like she might need to go and help her get to the bathroom in time.

And in each case, you have a choice not only about what you do, but how you do it. And some hows are more effective than others, more benevolent than others, more respectful than others. Same with the whats, now that I think about it.

And when I choose the whats and hows that are more rights-respecting and kind, I feel better about myself--even if the situation doesn't exactly pan out the way I'd really like it to. When I talk to Brendan about the lawn, I am much happier with myself when I ask him about it in a kind way than if I make a snarky comment about the prairie in the backyard. When I'm focused on guiding my kids instead of controlling them, it makes me feel better about myself, too. It's good for them, but it's also good for my self-esteem and happiness.

Whether I use DWYWD in communication situations or when I'm in the midst of a parenting challenge, this tool is a good way to remember that the only person truly within my control is me. It helps me keep my own needs and thoughts and feelings in mind AND remember to choose methods of handling problems that are in keeping with the idea of the Trader Principle and rational discourse.

Truly, one of the most useful tools ever.

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