If so, you probably don’t need new skills—just a different perspective.
Often the way we relate to our family members isn’t very inspiring. Why? Because we take them for granted. It’s human to take things for granted, but there is a cost in doing so. Whenever we take a person or relationship for granted, we aren’t at our best. As a result, we interact in ways that don’t enhance the relationship or value the other person—we’re impatient, we get angry, we yell, or are not responsive.
While we can all work on our social skills, our mistakes happen not because we lack skill or caring. Our mistakes are the result of the attitude or perspective that is determining our responses in that moment.
When my daughter, Amy, was about 13 she had a friend, Jessica, who lived next door. One evening, Jessica happened to spill her soda in the living room. Later, upon reflection, I realized that my response to the spill was quite different from what I would have done with Amy.
With Jessica, I did three things:
- I told her that it wasn’t a problem “No worries, Jessica. I’ve spilled many things.”
- Then we quickly cleaned up the spill.
- Then I told her how much we enjoyed having her around and that we were glad she was Amy’s friend.
As you can imagine, Jessica was relieved and appreciated the supportive response.
What perspectives were operating that shaped my response?
- First, I wanted to take great care of her.
- Second, Jessica was a guest in our home and guests deserve our best behavior.
Now think about what might have happened if Amy had spilled her soda. Probably something like:
“Amy, how many times do I have to tell you about eating in the living room?”
“Amy, you need to be more careful about what you are doing!”
Why treat Amy differently than Jessica? Well, it’s our perspective or attitude in the moment that determines our response. And for most of us, we have far too many moments where our perspective is one of taking this person or this moment for granted.
“Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.” —Aldous Huxley, English writer
In fact, anything we get familiar with, we tend to take for granted. Familiarity doesn’t necessarily breed contempt, as Aesop suggests in “The Fox and the Lion”—but it is often rife with disrespect!
So, what do we do?
To be at our best with our kids starts with the intention to do so and then being more mindful throughout the day.
You may be familiar with Tolstoy’s three questions: When is the most important time? Where is the most important place? Who is the most important person? The answers are, of course, right now, right here, and the person you are with. There is a wonderful children’s book, The Three Questions by Jon J. Muth, that illustrates the Tolstoy’s story. The point is to pay attention to this moment.
Want to be a better parent? Just slow down and be more thoughtful before you react or respond. Take a moment to think before you speak. Our automatic responses are often the ones coming from a less than wonderful perspective.
The moment you remember that your kids matter to you and that you matter to them, you’ll react differently. The moment you remember to treat each family member like a cherished guest, you will do better.
- Set up a trigger on your way home from work— perhaps a stop sign or a favorite tree —to remind you of who you want to be when you enter the house.
- When something happens, count to ten or walk around the block before you react. Respond when you are ready rather than react when you are not.