The choice is yours.
I was on a call the other day with a dad who said to me, “That sounds nice and good the way you describe treating people with kindness when I’m upset or working through my emotions and not taking it out on anybody. But how do you do that?”
It was so clear to me after meditating on it for a moment, that what he failed to recognize was the role that his own personal choice plays in all of it. I started to see that we as families, and parents especially, have a huge opportunity to realize the role of choice in all our decisions and how we interact with people, especially our kids.
Fundamentally, we are the choosers of all of our actions.
We live in a culture that is often motivated and controlled by our subconscious, repeating old patterns that we’ve learned and practiced. For example, the dad I was speaking to was somebody who’s known to lash out if he gets overwhelmed or frustrated. If things get too intense for him at home, he’ll just start screaming at his kids and his wife. He’s been doing that for a long time, so it’s just sort of how things go at the house.
What I’ve been working to show him and his family, and everybody through this post, is that we are the choosers. We are choosing even when we are not conscious of it. So, do we choose to lash out at somebody when they’ve upset us?
When we realize we’re the chooser, we can begin to do the work of choosing something different. We can choose to state how we’re feeling instead of lashing out at people. We can choose to take space and not engage with anybody while we’re running too hot and too full of anger. We can choose to do things like go for a run, meditate, cook or do anything that brings us peace. We have the choice to manage our actions, so that we don’t get so angry and overwhelmed that we have to lash out at people.
All of these are choices that we can make. Nobody can make them for us. You can’t tell somebody to stop drinking if they have a drinking problem. They have to choose to do that on their own, and often times it takes serious consequences or a big intervention for them to do that. But ultimately, the way that a person stays sober is that they choose to stay sober once they’ve gotten there.
The same is true for parents who choose not to scream at their kids anymore. For parents who choose to not let their own overwhelm and fear and anxiety take hold in the course of a situation with their kids leading to fights or screaming and shaming, making a situation a whole lot worse.
As soon as we recognize that we have a choice, we have begun the big work: the personal transformation work to choose to be who we want to be in this life.
On the road I’ve been talking to parents a lot about this idea that Yale calls the ‘best self,’ and often times when things get really hard, we lose our idea of what our best self is as a parent.
When I’m speaking of being a best parent, I’m talking about that view we had of ourselves before we even had kids. That perspective of the kind of parent we were going to be: one who could be there for our kids, who wouldn’t overreact, who could say yes to things when it was appropriate. Remember that parent we wanted to be, the one who made sure their kids had all kinds of fun experiences?
That view of ourselves, of the best self, the parent that we believed we could be often goes right out the door when things get hard. You come home from work, it’s dinnertime and there’s homework to be done, or you’ve been at home all day and you’re husband comes home in a grumpy mood and you feel like you’ve been doing everything all day. You just need a little bit of help, but you don’t know how to ask for it. In those moments you may not know how to choose to be your best self. You are like that confounded dad at the beginning of this post wondering, “How do you do that?”
You recognize that you have a choice. It’s like waking up from a dream and becoming conscious.
Now, recognizing that we have a choice doesn’t automatically mean that we choose to act as we want every time. Oftentimes our subconscious will take over and we will do the thing we’ve always done. We will do the thing that we learned from our parents. We will do the thing that we see played out at work or on TV. We will not know that we are acting in ways we don’t want to.
But when you become the chooser, when you act in a way that you didn’t choose, that your subconscious led you toward, you get to reconnect with the person you impacted and try being the person you consciously want to be.
For example, screaming at our kids over spilled milk is my favorite example. We get to apologize to them. We get to reconnect with them in a good way and let them know that we’re sorry we got so overwhelmed that we screamed at them. Then we can invite them to be more careful when using their cup.
We can do that. But then we can also choose the next time to not scream over spilled milk. We can get right back to being the chooser, and choose the things that align with our best self, the things that we believe in, and our values.
If you have any questions or need some support please call me at 415 370-3767 or email me at email@example.com. No parent should ever feel like they don’t know who to call when things get tough.