Articles by Debashis Dutta – 6

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The Parenting Empowerment Program – Week 2

Homework Review

Last week, three questions were proposed to you:

1. What are the things in your life (as a parent or otherwise) that really get you angry or frustrated? Come up with as many as you can. Try using the sentence “I hate it when….” Or ” I get frustrated or angry when…”

2. Now for each of these problems, look at what things you do to resolve them. What works? What doesn’t?

3. When you approach these problems, do you feel embattled (always having to battle to win) or disempowered (always feeling beaten and eventually helpless)?

So, what did you come up with? All sorts of things, I imagine. These could range from the very simple to the very complex. I’ll use myself as an example. And I’ll go through the process answering these three questions to demonstrate a neat little tool that shows a thinking/feeling/experiencing process. I’ll stick to me as a (very new) parent but I’d like you to recognize that the overall thinking process is the same for many areas of your life (frustrations at work, frustrations in your relationship, frustrations in your family, frustrations generally).

An example

Alright, so here is the biggest thing that I get frustrated about when it comes to parenting my four-and-a-half month old daughter: Inconsolable crying, screaming and anger.

This one thing, just gets to me. Anjuli will start whimpering and whining, her bottom lip quivering and pouting and she’s just not happy. Then, the volume goes up a notch and there’s more crying and fussing. Add to that the body wriggling around. A couple of more minutes go by and she’s now louder and my ears begin to ring. That little tiny face is getting a little redder now, and a vein begins to show itself (hers, not mine.) And then, it’s tears, tiny little drops of unhappiness drip-drip-dripping out the corners of these overflowing eyes. Next, comes the screaming. It’s loud. My ears hurt, my head hurts. I can’t think clearly. And then the screaming turns into this coughing, catching-her-breath, sputtering, intermittent yell, screech thing, which again goes on and on.

So what do I do about this disaster? Well, from the first sign that something is wrong – in other words, when it’s clear that Anjuli is not happy,- I begin to think “what might this little baby need? So, I go through quick checks on the diaper to see if it’s wet or more than wet. Then, I put a finger near her mouth to see if she’ll attack it which is a sign for hunger. I check to see about her physical comfort: anything too tight, too scratchy, too cold, too warm. Maybe it’s gas, so I start giving her some fennel water, pumping her legs, massaging her tummy (I love that little tummy.) Or, it could be that she’s missing her mommy, in which case I’ll find mommy. Maybe she’s tired and she is fighting her sleep. Or maybe she just wants to cry, a concern for which the logic just escapes me (hold onto that one.) So, I do the holding, the rocking, the cradling, the singing, the humming, the talking, the moving around, the leaving alone, the colic hold, the football hold, the up-on-daddy’s shoulders manoeuvre, the hey-look-who’s-in-the-mirror trick, or the look-at-the-kitty distraction endeavour. Nothing works. This goes on for an hour or two. Think about that – AN HOUR OR TWO of screaming, choking, sputtering, extreme red face, tears and sweat.

Next is the answer to question # 3, what do I feel when I try to solve this problem or challenge. Well, I go from feeling embattled at times to feeling disempowered at other times. When Anjuli begins her tirade-to-be, sometimes I’ll feel like there’s going to be a struggle and I can literally feel my energy gearing up, getting prepared, gathering momentum to deal with the big fuss. It’s just like getting ready for what a war. Other time, I’m expecting my daughter to be inconsolable and I’ll already feel tired knowing beforehand that I just can’t help her and I get the “I’m a bad dad” mode and I’m weary and I’m singing a sorrowful song and I’m sad and woe is me….so I pass her off to my wonderful wife, Adrienne, the kid’s mother, because after all, she knows the baby, she can take care of her, she’s the one closest to her, and on and on. So, there’s the embattled and disempowered thoughts that run through my mind.

The spheres of control

So, the first thing I’ll show you is a way of organizing frustrations that may help to really clear your mind. And I’ll walk you through my own problem I described in the example above. Look at your list of frustrations. Really take a good look at this list of things that frustrate, infuriate, anger, irritate you. I propose that you get most frustrated about things that are outside or beyond your control. Look at each item on your list. Consider each one on its on – and answer with a yes or a no – “Can I control this?” Likely, you will have to answer with “no, when it comes down to this, I really can’t do anything about it.”

My teammates and I think (and I think Wayne and Darlene and others would agree) that most of us get frustrated, angry, sad, hurt, negative, suspicious, cynical, irritated, depressed, etc., etc., etc. because we spend too much time thinking about things over which we have no control.

So, applying this to me and my crying baby situation, little Anjuli cries and screams and I get frustrated. When I try to help her, my goal is to try and address her needs, but my other goal is also to get her to BE QUIET. I’m trying to gain control of her. And I’m spending time and energy and emotion on trying to control something over which I have little control. So, when asked whether or not I can control my daughter’s crying with either a yes or a no, I am forced to answer “no, I can’t control my daughter’s crying”

Think about the implications here. I can’t control my four-month-old. I can’t control this little creature, who is a fraction my weight, height and ability. She’s smaller, younger, more dependent and less able than me AND I CAN NOT CONTROL HER !!!!!!!! Do you see the far ranging implications here ? Essentially, I can not control anything about her. Ever. When she’s two years old, when she’s eight, thirteen, eighteen, twenty-four. I can never ever control her. Never.

Ok, I’m sure you get the point. So the question then becomes, “Well, if I can’t control my own children (or spouse, or co-worker or friend, or whomever,) how do I get them to do what I want? Before I go on here, I want to mention that it’s not at all appropriate to control others. Attempts to control others leaves me with a really gross feeling. And essentially, controlling someone is abusive. Period.

But for the purpose of this discussion, YOU CAN get others to do what you want. You’ve seen it. You’ve heard about. You might do it. Or, you experience it being done to you. You can get your child to obey you by using your INFLUENCE. Applying this to me, though it’s hard to get my daughter to stop the fussing, I know that after an hour or two, she will. And that depends on my influence with her. And the fact that Adrienne can ease Anjuli’s crying quicker is indicative of her influence with Anjuli. What I’m saying here is that the influence one has with another depends on the nature of the relationship between those two people. Adrienne’s relationship to Anjuli is different than my relationship to Anjuli and so Adrienne’s influence with her is also different than my influence with her.

In parenting, or in other functions, your influence depends on your relationship. And your relationship consists of so much – time, energy, connection, richness, patterns of interaction, etc., etc., etc. An extremely simple way to put this in terms of parenting goes like this: You cannot control your child. But you can influence them to get them to do what you want. And your influence depends on your relationship. And this relationship depends on whether you interaction with your child is based on generating respect or generating fear. So, your kids will do as you say (generally) because they respect you, or they fear you.

How’s it going so far? Does some of this make sense to you? Do you see how this can be applied to areas in your own life? Work, relationships, parenting? Alright, so we’ve come to two things: You can’t control anything is the universe. You do have influence with others to get them to do what you want, but you still don’t have full control. So what the heck is it that you do have control over?

Only four things.

  • You have control over your choice of words.

  • You have control over what you choose to do with your body.

  • You have control over how you choose to think about a certain situation.

  • You have control over the choices you make in feeling a range of emotions over a certain situation.

Only four things: words, body, thoughts, feelings. You therefore only have control over what’s under your skin. Admittedly, controlling your words and body are easier than controlling your thoughts and feelings, but I do want to very clearly emphasize that you do in fact, have control and choice over all four things.

I’ll relate this to me again. So, when my infant daughter is doing her thing, I know I can’t control her. I do have influence with her, which is slowly growing (come on -give me a break here, she grew inside Adrienne for nine months and they now spend at least 16 – 20 hours together.) So, my relationship with her will take time. I can only control how I react to Anjuli’s fuss time.

My words – I usually choose to humm to her or speak softly to her. I’ve been close to saying nasty things to her, but refrain (God give me strength.) Or sometimes, I’ll say nothing to her because she’s just too loud.

My body – I lift her, cradle her, hold her securely. I’ll stroke her and touch her gently. I’ll admit that when she’s into hour two of choking and sputtering and screaming, my body is tempted to pitch her out the window.

My thoughts – this is hard, but do-able. There are times when I choose to think that there’s nothing that makes Anjuli happy, that Adrienne is the only one who can console her, that she’s such a pain in the ass, that she’s the fussiest baby in the universe and in the history of babies. And I have to look at putting my thoughts in perspective. So, I think, “She’s just a baby. She’s fussing because she’s fussing. She needs me to be there. This is not personal against me. She’s getting to know me What would Adrienne do? Other parents have it worse than I do. This will pass”. And on and on.

My feelings – And then I can choose (again quite hard) how I feel about the fussing. Instead of feeling embattled or disempowered, I can choose to feel proud that I am trying to be there for Anjuli. Instead of feeling frustrated or angry at the lack of logic with this crying, I can choose to let it go and feel content that it will pass. Above all, I look to choosing to feel blessed about having a daughter.

Now, let’s put it all together. If you look at what you cannot control, what you can influence and what you can control, your world ends up looking something like this:


spheres of influence

Try this out in your own life situations – as a parent, a worker, a partner, a friend, a business executive, a colleague, in any role that you have.

You see, you really have control over what’s under your skin. And when you look at it, you don’t have control over a lot. So, choose to stop getting so frustrated and tired and upset and depressed and angry. In other words (and I really do mean this tongue-in-cheek), control yourself!!!

Next week’s homework:

1. Make little cue cards out of some scrap paper. Or, if you have some post-it notes, use them. You’ll need a lot (at least 20, hopefully 50 or more).

2. Think of your child (or a child you know) and consider them at an older age. Let’s say when your child is 25, or 33, or 47.

3. Now, think about all the qualities and characteristics you want this child to have. What are they? Perhaps ask yourself this: “When my child is my age, I would like to be proud of them for having the following values, qualities, characteristics, personality traits, etc.” Or try filling in this blank: “I want my child to be__________”. You’ll likely come up with many, many, many characteristics. A few examples are: a sense of humour, kindness, the ability to make good decisions, law-abiding, etc. Come up with your own list.

4. Place each of these characteristics on a separate cue card or post-it note or whatever you are using. So you’ve got one quality per separate piece of paper.

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