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Yesterday Jerry got home from a weekend refresher with Vicki determined to work on his relationship with Fenner who is about to become a teenager. His good intentions and willingness even to go to the weekend workshop are encouraging, but there’s just one problem – he has yet to tackle the hard work of Week 2: Buttons? What buttons?

There’s a reason Vicki puts that work early on in the program. It’s crucial to everything that comes after. Because if those buttons are still there, as big and round as ever, then when one gets pushed (when an “activating event” occurs), all the new strategies and plans and promises go out the window in the face of those deep-seated, baggage-laden, because-I-said-so, mistaken beliefs.

So last night Jerry experienced an activating event that happened to involve Fenner. His belief probably goes something like this: Children who cheat on their chores have no respect for their own home or for all the blood, sweat, and tears that go into affording a home and keeping it all going and are selfish and ungrateful for all the luxuries of life that they enjoy riding on the backs of their hard-working parents and they will grow up with no appreciation for anything and will never say thank you and other people won’t like them and will assume that their parents don’t appreciate anything either.

So here’s what happened:

Jerry: “Fenner! You just wiped those popcorn kernels right off the table onto the floor!”

Fenner: “So?”

Jerry: “Why did you do that?!”

Fenner: “I don’t know.”

Jerry: “Tell me why you did that instead of putting them into the garbage!”

Fenner: “Geez dad, calm down!”

Jerry: “Fenner, it’s disrespectful. Clean it up!”

Fenner: “No.”

Jerry stood there glaring at her. I could almost see the smoke rising from his ears. Fenner kept moving, pushing in the chairs and shooting him sideways glances full of equal parts rebellion and fear.

“Hey honey, let’s go upstairs,” I said in my most upbeat voice. It was the time when we usually waited in our bedroom for the girls to be ready for us to visit their rooms and say goodnight.

We sat together on the bed.

Me: “That’s what they call a button.”

Jerry: “It’s not just that. What she did was disrespectful to our home.” He was still fuming.

Me: “That’s the story you attach to it. I just see a kid who doesn’t feel like taking something to the garbage.”

Jerry: “So what was I supposed to do?”

I walked over to the poster I made that lists all our new strategies.

Me: “Here. Right here’s what you can do. Use a friendly tone – that’s really key – and give her choices. Like, ‘Fenner would you like to use the vacuum or the dustpan to clean that up?’ Or inject some humor, you’re good at that … or … ‘Hey, Fenner, I’ll come say goodnight as soon as you clean up the popcorn on the floor,’ or you can just ask her, ‘Would you be willing to pick up that popcorn?’ and if she says no then say, ‘Ok. What would you be willing to do?’”

Jerry (with a sigh): “Am I ever going to learn this stuff?”

Me: “I know it’s not easy to remember. Even Vicki said that for a long time she had to stop herself in the thick of it and go look at her own list of strategies and then come back into it.”

Jerry: “But when I’m feeling like that it’s hard to stop and go look at a list.”

Me: “Yeah, it is hard. … I guess then you have to ask yourself, is it really worth fighting about that? Is it worth what it does to your relationship?”

After that it was time to say goodnight to the girls. Later Fenner told me that he had apologized.

The harsh reality is that all the good intentions and love in the world won’t do a thing to disable those buttons. And unless Jerry does the hard work of systematically thinking through his triggers, this scene will continue to play out over and over again.

Maybe it doesn’t seem like much, but these little spats are cumulative and can insidiously eat away at the respect, trust, and connection between them until it becomes too late.

Don’t let it be too late.

Explore posts in the same categories: Weeks following: Miscellaneous

7 Comments on “Press play”

  1. vicki Says:

    Ohhhh. Big Sigh. Heart felt compassion, understanding, empathy. I can still see the determined smile, the resolve, the light steadily growing – providing insight and the courage to do something different and then popcorn kernals strip it all away. We have SOOOO much work to do us mortals. So much work just to learn how to love.

    • flockmother Says:

      Hey you. Yeah that was tough to see happen right after the workshop. It just shows how powerful our beliefs can be! Those stories that run in our heads like a runaway train — and our poor kids are tied to the tracks!

      At least watching Jerry get triggered bolsters my resolve to keep the voice in my own head on track.

      Love & hugs to you.

  2. Debby Says:

    So frustrating! At least he is trying. This reminds me to go back and look at my own buttons some more.

  3. breathebeast Says:

    Hey, at least you were able to talk about it afterwards, and he acknowledged the button – step one! I found with my husband that sometimes it helped to coach him through the 5 steps of uncovering the baggage within a button. Good luck, sounds like they both want their relationship to deepen, and that must be encouraging to see.

    • flockmother Says:

      Thanks, we’ll keep working on it. He holds on tight to that disrespect story in his head. He really doesn’t want to give it up which can be hard to understand when he’d be so much happier without it!

  4. sblanck Says:

    Even this far into the program – I still have work to do on realizing my buttons. The huge learning for me is that you don’t need to “win” the battle. You will do more good walking away. Thanks for reinforcing that very very important message.

    hope you’re well !

    • flockmother Says:

      Yes, letting go of the “win” is huge! Jerry’s really trying with this one. Yesterday Fenner did the same thing — swept some food off the table onto the floor and left it there. Jerry stared at it and I could see the wheels turning in his head. When he saw her grab a box of cereal he jumped at the chance to say, “You can have that cereal as soon as you pick up that food on the floor.” Fenner rolled her eyes, stomped over to the table, picked up the food, and said, “There. Happy now?!” To my delight, he completely ignored her attitude and it didn’t escalate. Food picked up and movin’ on. Progress!

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