Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Responsibility and Choice

I used to have a tendency to argue and debate a true principle to the ground with my kids.  I knew it was right and if they would see the light, they would avoid all kinds of sorrow in their future.  Usually they didn’t see.  I believed it was because I still hadn’t explained it well enough or lovingly enough.  It was so clear to me and there were so many examples that validated its truth.  But many times I overdid my persuasive methods and ended up in a power struggle with my kids.  And sometimes these interactions left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

 These unpleasant feelings created an unconscious aversion to interacting with my children because it seemed like they were the cause.
Read more about Classical Conditioning
I didn’t know that the unpleasant feeling I experienced was the effect of my own boundary crossing—trying to force my will, however true it may have been and however well-intentioned, on children who have the inherent right to choose for themselves.

So after particularly difficult interactions with my kids my parenting method changed to a more permissive approach until I healed.  Then I would begin to feel a different kind of discomfort because my kids started getting out of control.  I feared I was neglecting my responsibilities.  So back to the authoritarian methods I would turn.  And the cycle repeated itself.

Last Tuesday night I attended a workshop organized by the women’s group of my church.  Roger K. Allen, Ph.D. was the visiting speaker who talked to us about how we can better raise responsible, emotionally mature children.  I loved it.  The point that stuck out to me the most (which usually means the thing I need to work on the most) was that we need to let our children make the decisions that belong to them.

“We cannot control our children and make them think, feel and do exactly as we want.  We may lecture, preach, threaten and nag our kids to do their homework, choose good friends, etc., but we cannot follow them around and ensure that they do as we wish.  They own their lives and have to learn to make their own choices” (Roger K. Allen, Ph.D.).

Every time I am reminded of this, I breathe a sigh of relief!  It is such a good feeling.  But then I go along my way letting my kids make their own choices and they start crossing each other’s boundaries and all hell breaks loose in my home.  What now?  That’s when I listen to the parenting advisers from the other side:

 “We, as parents, are the authority in our homes. ‘train up a child in the way he should go…’ (Prov.22.6).  Due to our knowledge, capability  and experience, we have a duty to preside.  We must be strong enough to establish our authority and use this authority to create a positive, nurturing environment with clear expectations, routines, traditions, and loving communication.  We are firm and fair.  We say what we mean and mean what we say (Roger K. Allen, Ph.D.).”

I like the fact that Dr. Allen addressed both parenting sides.  He didn’t advocate one or the other but a balance in between them.  This balance takes a high level of attention, effort, and diligence to acquire and maintain. 

Dr. Allen suggested that if we focus on identifying what our choices and responsibilities are and what our children’s are, we can best find this balance.  He started his discussion with the overall responsibility and desire that we as parents have:  To raise responsible, emotionally mature children.

I see my kids’ responsibility as their commitments that we go over in Kid Report everyday.  It is the degree of sacrifice they can maintain out of their own choice without feeling like they are slaves.  Because if they think they are slaves, they aren’t going to be able to grow from their commitment keeping (Moroni 7:6-8).  This is why I make sure to attach their personal desires to the other side of their commitments.  I teach the principle over and over again:  Keeping your commitments is the foundational process to obtain your desires.

I love the Responsibility Diagram Dr. Allen uses to describe the crescendo of responsibility in a child’s life.   It depicts my overall goal and commitment as a parent.  I need to train them to be able to make, keep, and report on commitments out of their own free will.  I don’t want to force them because then they will never develop the muscle.  I don’t want to get in the way of each child’s inherent desire to grow.  But I also don’t want to leave them without structure, goals, and purpose.  Leaving a child to figure it all out on her own from scratch would be like our predecessors burning their stories, historical accounts, journals, and findings before they died. 

Growth is the measuring stick that helps me know how each child is doing.  When I evaluate each child, I ask the questions, “Is her ability to sacrifice without outside compulsion increasing?  Is he progressively able to take on a greater level of commitment over time?” 

I ask these questions not only about their performance in hard skills but also their performance in soft skills.  I know that the greater level they are able to sacrifice in both of these areas consistently, the better the spouse and parent they will be when it is their turn.  Life is hard.  Work has to be done not only to physically live but also to spiritually live with each other in joy.  When a person acquires a greater ability to willingly sacrifice out of love, he or she finds greater joy in each opportunity.  And that person in and of him or herself is an absolute reward for others to be around (John 8:12).

As I’ve pondered on Dr. Allen’s words of last Tuesday night and the handout he gave us, I have come to understand much more clearly how to help rather than hinder my kids’ intrinsic motivation to grow.  Here are my commitments:

  • Consistently ask kids to identify their desires (what they generally want and how I can help them obtain that) balanced with Kid Report
  • Allow my kids to choose whether they will keep their commitments or not but track them.
  • At a separate time, teach my kids WHY it has been in my best interest to keep my commitments and HOW I have been able to  do it especially when it seemed like it would be the death of me.  Read stories of others’ experiences as well (FSS).
  • Allow consequences to follow kids’ choices and:
    • Empathize when things get harder for them or when they can’t obtain their desires
    • Positively reinforce them when they choose the pathway that leads to growth in responsibility 
I love the following quote by Dr. Allen:   
“It is easy to overstep boundaries and rob our children of their agency.  We set expectations, teach, and then support our children in their challenges by allowing them to carry out their own responsibilities, solve their own problems, and make their own decisions.  By trying to do this for them, we steal from them growth opportunities of great value.” 
Dr. Allen focused on empathy during the workshop.  He believes that children are like flowers.  Each one is different so a one-size-fits-all plan is not going to be enough.  There are rules and they are set as a standard for everyone.  But then we need to empathize with each child when it comes to the specifics. 

I understand the need to be flexible.  I tell my kids my stories and the stories of others but then let them apply these to their own story on their own.  Each of my children have learned somewhat differently than the others.  Each one has had their own unique fears to overcome.  Sometimes a child has needed a higher degree of structure and other times I’ve had to let go.  Seeing Dr. Allen’s Responsibility Diagram helped me better visualize the underlying correlations between age and responsibility. 

His handout states that part of our responsibility is to respect our children—see the goodness and uniqueness in each one of them.  This means we allow them to be who they are, join them in their world, take time for them, and honor their boundaries.  We affirm them, listen to them, and support them.  Instead of solving their specific problems for them, we ask them what they need and how we can help them.

Solving a child’s problem for him is like sitting around playing Trivial Pursuit and when it’s our child’s turn, we quickly give him the answer.  I’m kind of guilty of this.  Just kind of.  It’s not that I’m trying to be a ball hog.  It’s that I’m so excited about the ability that I have found to answer questions.  For so long I didn’t have it and experienced so much sorrow as a result.  I just figured everyone would be as excited as I was to hear the answers.  But I’m learning another very strange truth.  While we want the state of happiness, we don’t want the secrets to obtain it just handed to us.  We want to figure it out on on own.  I think we're okay with clues but we are intelligent beings that love solving a good mystery.  We love progressing through a story.  We don’t want to hear the ending until the end.  And we can’t really feel the joy of the solution unless we’ve had to wait for it, solve it, sacrifice for it. 

I have found that my present ability to experience joy is as intense as the level of sacrifice that has been required of me (Moses 5:10-11).

Because I am also still on my growth journey, I am able to find a more effective balance for each child when I rely on my New Parent.  He seems to understand each of my children better than I do.  He is the founder of the goal of raising responsible, emotionally mature children and I am one of his servants helping out with that goal.

Thus this is not the first time I’ve heard the general concept behind what Dr. Allen taught but hearing his fresh perspective was motivating.  Because of my continued tendency to deviate to one side of my desired balance and then the other, I need reminders.  Each unique perspective either teaches me more specifically about the process to obtain my goals or strengthens what I already knew.  Both are an integral part of my training.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Paradoxical vs. Survival Parenting

In order to remain in balance as an administrator of Kid Report, I’ve had to engage in what I call Paradoxical Parenting.

Paradoxical Parenting 
As a parent I’m aware that my children do not yet understand how to keep their commitments to the extent I do so I show them how it works by keeping mine first even when they don’t.  I do this both in the physical chores around the house AND in the spiritual chores.  When they are disrespectful, I am not disrespectful back.  When they yell at me, I do not yell back.  When they are rude to me, I do not respond with rudeness.  At least this is my credo that I strive for.  I call this credo Paradoxical Parenting.

Survival Parenting
Survival Parenting is when I respond to my kids' imbalanced behavior with my own imbalanced behavior.  It's reacting.  It is parenting with the core (but usually unconscious) motivation to manage my kids so that they do what I want them to do for me and my needs.  My inadvertent goal is for them to lighten my burden.  The problem with relying on my kids so heavily, however unconsciously it is done, is that they aren't able to lighten my burden as much as I need it lightened.  And since I'm the mom, I'm in a position where I'm supposed to lighten theirs.

In evaluating myself over the years I can see that I have both Paradoxical and Survival tendencies.  My overall goal and commitment has been to incrementally increase my ability to Paradoxically Parent and decrease my weakness to slip into Survival Parenting.

I descend into Survival Parenting when I do not have someone I can depend on to lighten my burdens. Paradoxical Parenting takes a lot of strength.  It is a leap of faith.  I need to be willing to take the hits my kids give me with FAITH that my own Parent has my back.  It may seem like my kids are "winning" and I am "losing" when I bow my head like this and take it but paradoxically and with my own Parent's support I am choosing a way that promotes winning in the end.

Listen: Losing by 10th Avenue North

Justice and Mercy
Here's a clip that demonstrates Paradoxical Parenting from a book my sister, Melody, gave me a few years ago by Michael J. Bradley, Ed. D. 

"Michael's mom sat in my office sobbing, repeatedly attempting to reason with her raging and verbally vicious adolescent son.  After watching his endless bullying and her tormented begging for too long, I sent him out of the room, turned to her and said, 'Why are you talking to him like he makes sense'  'What do you mean?' she sobbed.  I gave her the same shrugging 'Duh' gesture her son had just used a dozen times and I almost yelled, 'He's nuts!  You can't talk to crazy people like they make sense.'  Her eyes and mouth flew open, astonished at my insensitivity.  Slowly her wrenching sobs transformed into chuckling, softly at first, then building to a crescendo of raucous laughter that rang off the walls.  'Oh...How I needed to laugh like that!  It feels wonderful.  You're right.  Michael is nuts.  And I'm nuts to sit here and talk with him like that.'

"Michael's performance illustrates a lot about contemporary adolescents....My own performance illustrates much about us as responding adults....That cool, controlled psychologist was working hard to restrain an old rule-based urge to eviscerate Michael.  This keeping-cool stuff is not as easy as it looks.  Part of me wanted to make him cry really hard for daring to be disrespectful to both me and his terrified mother.  I wanted badly to physically intimidate him, to jack him up against the wall and scream, 'JUST WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?'  My alternate response came from years of retraining and experience focusing on unlearning my old rules (what I saw my father do) as much as learning new skills" (Michael J. Bradleny, Ed. D., Yes, Your Teen Is Crazy!, pg. 3-4).

My responsibility is to respond as a cool, controlled parent when my kids' "performance" is imbalanced.  But there is another element I need in order for the Paradox to work.  I need to understand that my own Parent is feeling the way Dr. Bradley was feeling when kids treat their mothers or fathers like dirt.  I need to know someone desires to defend me.  It is wrong to treat others like that no matter how old you are.  Wrong.  Bottom line.  And people who do are crazy.  Just knowing that my Parent agrees with that is powerfully comforting!  I don't want him to respond with full justice right now.  I want him to teach my child about performing in balance.  And I admire him even more for giving my son or daughter time to get it all figured out.  But that doesn't mean he stands around and waits for changes to occur.  It means that he is actively engaged in training that child how to behave.  I have faith in that.  If I don't, I can't Parent Paradoxically.  And I'm here to help my Parent accomplish this goal.  Full justice is not upon my kids but incrementally increasing justice over time IS (Alma 42:25).

Got Confidence?
The other thing that happens when I take hits from my kids without responding with Survival methods is that I can feel my Parent's approval, confirmation, and admiration.  My own confidence increases.  Confidence is like a muscle.  In order to strengthen it, I have to lift weights.  When I lift my kids' weight of behavioral imbalance, I grow stronger.  When I lift a physical weight during my workouts, I accept the pain.  I let it happen to me.  During the full range of motion of a bicep curl, my arm is indeed in pain.  It hurts.  But since I have all kinds of faith that in doing this my muscle is getting stronger, I accept and even am glad for the pain  
(Matthew 5:11-12).  I give a portion of my life up willingly (John 10:18).

Newton's Third Law of Motion
Newton's Third Law of Motion states, "When one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction to that of the first body."

When my kids respond to me with Survival behavior, they are like a body that exerts force upon me.  Just as there is an equal and opposite force that reacts, I will have the natural urge to retaliate inside me.  When I stop myself from retaliating I contradict my natural desire for survival.  It doesn't seem right in the moment.  When I take the hardest hits, part of me can't even remember why I should respond paradoxically.  It takes training and time to make sacrifice my spiritual reflex.

Nature vs. Nurture
Paradoxical Parenting is not inherent.  Most of us have a combination of Paradoxical and Survival Parenting skills.  If my parents predominantly parented paradoxically, I have a greater likelihood to have stronger paradoxical skills.  In fact, the only way I could have obtained the natural strength to make this kind of sacrifice for my kids is if my parents did the same for me when I was a child.  If they did, I will remember, both unconsciously and consciously.  I will have greater capacity and skill to take the hits my kids give me.  It was done for me.  Now it’s my turn to do it for them.

If my parents predominantly parented using Survival techniques, I will find myself lacking in Paradoxical skills.  It wasn’t done for me and so I don’t have the strength or even the understanding of how to do it for my kids.  This isn’t an active choice of how I will respond to them.  It is the way the pendulum swings (Alma 9:17).  It's a kind of bondage.
Yet it is always a balance between nature and nurture.  Maybe my parents did parent me paradoxically but I still act like a turd-brain.  When my parents choose Paradoxical Parenting, they zero out themselves as a cause for my imbalanced behavior (Jacob 1:19).  But if they choose Survival Parenting, it leaves me without a choice.  I will parent using Survival techniques.

Cause Identification
I do not assign causes for my own Survival tendencies so that I may justify my continued Survival responses.  That's toxic blame.  If I did that, I would continue in my imbalances.  I seek to identify causes so that I might understand WHAT happened and WHY without descending into toxic shame--blaming myself for all my failures.  I want to objectively evaluate the variables and recognize where my choices are now.

Restructuring DNA
When I found that Paradoxical Parenting wasn’t predominantly in me I turned to a New Parent.  I guess you could say I had to be born again (John 3).  I had to be retrained, re-loved, re-sacrificed for.  I had to become a child again.  My spiritual (mind and heart) DNA had to be reorganized.

"We can rebuild her.  We have the technology."
Because that New Parent has spent a lot of time listening to me, empathizing with me, defending me, teaching me, I have developed that paradoxical strength as an adult to take an increased level of hits my kids (and others) give me without retaliation.  I have learned how to control my response process and to be motivated to do it.

Sometimes I get hit pretty badly.  And even if I can control my outward response, I need to be repaired on the inside.  I go to my New Parent for rehab.  It takes me (and him) time to unravel the tight knots my heart and mind can sometimes get into.  But he ALWAYS does it no matter how tight the knot (2 Nephi 19:6).

10th Avenue North:  "By Your Side"
Through the years of spiritual DNA reconstruction I have learned much about the foundational structure of the human soul.  Whatever imbalanced tendencies towards Survival Parenting I inherited from my parents, they can all be incrementally overcome by this New Parent.  Every single one of us has Survival tendencies to some degree.  We're all crazy!  And we have been raised by parents who are crazy to some degree.  That means we all have need of a New Parent to some degree.

Because my New Parent understands why I have used the levels of Survival Parenting I have, he takes my hits--the ones I give to him and to others.  He gives me time to figure it out.  He bears my burdens and takes care of me.  I literally am reborn.  But he doesn't stand around waiting for me to change.  He actively trains me and expects me to increase my Paradoxical Parenting skills incrementally.  With my "Nature vs. Nurture" choice that I'm gaining, I choose to learn and administer Paradoxical Parenting.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Kid Report

When my oldest were in middle school and my youngest were in grade school I started searching for a better way to stop the chaos.  I was tired of being a nag.  Tired of hearing the anger in my voice that seemed to be required to get the kids to obey the rules of our home.  That wasn’t me.  Or at least that wasn’t what I wanted to be.  I wanted to gently but firmly love.  But how could I be that way AND train my kids to keep their commitments?  I knew I had both responsibilities and somehow I had to fulfill them both.

After much prayer and sacrifice, my own training as a mother began to accelerate and Kid Report was born.

Kid Report is what I call the system I have found that frees me from turning into the wicked witch of the west while trying to fulfill both of the aforementioned responsibilities.  It also provides a way for my kids to obtain their endless desires without spoiling them.

Off and on through the years, I established different systems to regulate when I should give them what they wanted and when I shouldn’t.  The systems usually included chore charts with commitments and rewards.  Kid Report is pulling the best of all those systems together. 

Kid Report is a meeting.  I have it every weekday with the kids at a regularly scheduled time.  It takes 15 minutes max.  Each child has a notebook where they have their responsibilities written down.  They are in charge of organizing it.  They can either write their responsibilities anew everyday in a “things to do” list or they can create a chart for the week.  When the kids were younger they all started with lists.  After doing it several times, they converted to charts.
The "1s" indicate completed chores

Writing their commitments down demonstrates they are making the commitments.  It is also the first step in keeping them.

Daily Kid Report only serves as a reminder of what their commitments are.  It is not a time to grill them for not doing what they committed to do.  When I try to grill them I feel terrible.  It’s not that it isn’t true that they aren’t keeping their commitments.  It’s not that that doesn’t create a greater burden for me to bear.  It’s that this isn’t the way to promote commitment keeping.  I am forever working on this principle.

Instead I ask each child to report on his/her commitments.  I have a notebook too with each child’s chart.   The child and I both check off what he/she has done and I express my gratitude.  Positive reinforcement. 

In the weekly Family Meeting I ask the kids to write a list of their desires in their notebook.  Then they take turns telling me what those desires are so I can write them down in my notebook.

Through this process I have come to understand that most of their desires can be taken care of with a weekly or monthly allowance.

Allowance is not contingent upon their  commitment keeping FROM DAY TO DAY.  Trying to make it contingent about drove me crazy and made me feel like Scrooge (before he had a change of heart).  The reason is that they inevitably don’t keep their commitments as consistently as I’m keeping mine to them. That's the facts.

When I give them their allowance unconditionally up front I’m sending a clear message that I keep my commitments and I trust that they will keep theirs.  Innocent until proven guilty, not the other way around.

If OVER A MORE EXTENDED PERIOD OF TIME they are not keeping their commitment even though I’ve continued to keep mine, I have a warning meeting.  I inform them that if they do not start to keep commitments better, then their allowance will be discontinued.

If I want to be even more merciful to a child, I will start giving her allowance based on the percentage of commitments she is keeping (thereby making it contingent).  But again, this can’t be Scrooge-like or it becomes very irritating to both parties.  I know all about this.  So if I’m giving my daughter $10/week, and she keeps 30% (3/10) of her commitments then I will give her a $3 allowance.  The goal is to transition back to an overall trust.

A word about Honesty.  Sometimes kids will report they have completed their commitments but they really haven’t.  This helps me know that they need to learn about honesty.  They haven’t quite grasped the benefits.  I add honesty to their list of responsibilities in Kid Report.  For a time I will check on jobs myself and when I see they are being honest in their reporting, they get a check-mark.

If I feel like they are rippin’ me off with their dishonesty, then I can’t keep myself balanced as an administrator of Kid Report.  I have to understand that I’m training them here.  It’s not so much about the temporary disorder of the house or the money.  It’s about organizing them so that in the long run they become individuals who can make, keep, and report on commitments with honesty and integrity.

For these kinds of issues and other good work-ethics, we have a separate daily meeting that I call FSS.  Family Scripture Study.  The scriptures teach why it is in their best interest to cultivate these characteristics.  I ask them to apply the stories we read to their own story.

The Sword of Truth
If I try to apply them to show them what a bad boy or bad girl they have been, then it’s like I am sticking a sword in their chest.  The sword of truth.  Not necessary.  Overkill.  If I do that, I teach them how to use the word of God to inflict damage upon those who wrong us.  Yet if they are continuously behaving like virulent viruses, then I may give them a poke or two.

Kid Report and FSS are not usually quick-fix techniques.  Patience is required.  Not one of my strong points.  It is a system that has long term benefits as its targeted objective.  It is the making of a man.  It is the making of a woman.

Disney's Mulan:  Donny Osmond:  "I'll make a Man Out of You"
At 18 years old, Chris, my second oldest, sent me the following: 

June 1, 2013

MOMMMY. I realize now more than ever that the preparation you put me through has helped immensely. I feel like I have a solid foundation to build upon. My wish is that I had followed the programs that you had set for us earlier and more closely. Feel free to tell Matthew and Laura that I said that. Hopefully that will motivate them to be more obedient or willing.”

We see that even though I have not administered Kid Report perfectly, someone has made up the difference and the kids are turning out pretty good (2 Nephi 25:23).  Also, I have thanked God on more than one occasion for my kids' resiliency.  All that has been required of me is that I do my best.  And when I fall short of that, get back up and try again.

My kids have been kids.  It’s not that they love Kid Report.  In fact, there is a general groan and sometimes outright rebellion when I say, “It’s time for Kid Report.”  That’s mostly my fault as I haven't been able to stop paying attention to the commitments they’re not keeping.  It is a leap of faith to pay attention to what they are doing right.  But the times I have consistently been good with doing that have been the times when I have felt confident in gentle but firm love for them.  And I think that’s when they grow.