By Paige Trevor
Session 2 of PEP I is so much fun. We plan parties, share our birth order in our families of origin, reflect on temperaments and experience parenting styles in action. The class members are getting to know each other; there is conversation and laughter. All is right with the world.
We do a lively demonstration of parenting styles where the leader is the “parent” and the participants are the “kids,” who are asked to make things out of clay. The participants experience being a kid with three different parents. There’s lots of laughter as people see themselves in the extremes we play out.
The first role-play is a permissive parenting demo and my voice goes up, I’m literally on my toes, I don’t stop talking and I end every sentence with “OK?” Typical permissive phrases are, “I want you to be happy. I want you to feel good. I want you to have a big and happy life, OK? Please do what I ask and be happy about it, OK?” For me, this is most definitely an act. At the end of it the clay is smushed into blobby blobs. Participants don’t know what the clay had to do with “being happy or feeling good, OK?”
For the second role-play, I slip into autocratic mode like an old pair of jeans that really should be thrown away, but they are just so darn comfy! The tone of voice drops, the facial expression is stern, I want RESULTS. “Do not laugh! Get it done. Roll the clay into a ball, smash it down into a 3-inch disc. It’s not funny. Be quiet. You wanna lose TV for two weeks? Well, do that again, Buster. I’m the boss, so if you want smooth sailing just follow the directions. What? All right, TIME OUT.” The clay is either blobbish, or exactly as I instructed, or it has been thrown at me. Cracks me up.
The third role-play is democratic parenting (PEP parenting). My tone of voice is even and low-key. Shoulders are relaxed and I am not focused on making anyone do anything. The mission to please and the vigilance to control have evaporated. “Are you willing to make dishware with your clay for a dollhouse at the homeless shelter? For today you may not mix two colors, and I’ll certainly consider that for next time. A banana is not what is requested; can we think of useful items that go in a kitchen? I don’t have any more pink; can you tolerate another color for today? What is it that you are making, Suzy? Tell me about that pinching technique.” The clay comes out in dishes, cups, saucers, forks and plates. Magic.
The simple act of changing our language can be an effective tool to simmer down strong emotions and transform the family climate to a more positive and encouraging one. If we are willing to try, we might find that we can tolerate more than we thought and can be courageous enough to try some new actions. Perhaps we can focus on the needs of the situation instead of on being right or in control and be willing to make friends with mistakes (theirs and ours). Sounds good, huh? Let’s see how this week goes, and I’ll report back!
Paige Trevor is a certified parent educator, writer, public speaker and founder of Balancing Act, LLC, an organizing consultancy providing tried-and-true methods for establishing efficient routines and a peaceful household. She is the mother of two teenagers.