Archive for the ‘Week 4: Four Mistaken Goals of Behavior’ category

Coach or nag?

May 3, 2009

Jerry hasn’t quite worked through his own buttons yet, namely mess-making and sister-fighting. Last night we were sitting at the table and Ellen picked up a sippy cup full of water and sprinkled some on the floor. “Ellen!” said Jerry, “Why did you just put that on the floor!” his facial expression screaming disapproval. I caught his eye and said, “Paper towel?” in my most light-hearted voice. He looked at Ellen and mimicked my tone, “Get a paper towel, please!” Fenner chimed in, “Well that was a change in attitude!” Yep, workin’ on it.

Later I was helping Ellen clean her room for her birthday party the next day, and Fenner came sulking in the door. “I hit Charlotte on the head with the remote because she was making this noise over and over and it made me so mad! And then Daddy came in and said, ‘no more TV’ and started treating Charlotte all special. He does that a lot!” “Hmm,” I said. “I’ll be right back.”

I found Jerry in the kitchen. “Hi.” “Hi … I’m feeling upset.” “Why?” I thought for a moment, and then said, “I need my partner. I need you to be on board with this thing.” “So I’m supposed to act like it’s ok that she hits Charlotte on the head with the remote?” “We are ignoring their fights, we’re not judging.” “I don’t think telling her it’s wrong to hit her on the head is judging,” he replied. “You’re interfering with this process we signed up for. If you rescue Charlotte, she’ll think we think she needs rescuing, that she can’t stand up for herself and she’ll play the victim even more.” He looked down and paused and then looked up again. “Ok.” “Can you do it?” I asked. “Yeah.” “Ok,” I said and stuck out my hand. And then we shook on it.


May 2, 2009

(Geez, a lot to cover today!) I’m encouraged. Even after that pancake episode this morning, Fenner approached suppertime with a good attitude and took charge of making her own quesadilla. Jerry tried hard not to interfere. “So I should put it in the pan and then put the cheese on?” “Uh, yeah,” said Jerry. “Mm, no … I like putting the cheese on over here and then plopping it in the pan.” She looked at Jerry for his reaction and he frowned at her. I caught his eye and mouthed the word, ‘ok.’ “Ok!” he said and turned away. Ellen was watching the whole thing. “So, mom, you’re in charge?” I smiled, shook my head, and looked at the floor. Too funny! Then I said, “No, just an advisor.”

It was time to flip the quesadilla and Fenner said, “How do you flip this? It’s so big!” “I don’t know, that’ll take some thought,” I said. “Dad, I can’t, will you flip it?” He started reaching for it and I said, “Fenner, try. I think you can figure it out.” Jerry stepped back and encouraged her instead. “That’s it, you almost did it.” “But it slid and now it’s ruined!” “No, try again … harder.” She hoisted the pan up and the quesadilla lifted part way into air, flipped, and flopped down again. “Hey it flipped!” I said. “Fenner, that was cool,” said Jerry, “Do you know how long it took me to learn how to do that? I didn’t do it until we moved to this house. And here you are, eleven years old, flipping a quesadilla like that.” “I’m still not very good at it though.” “Well I thought it was good,” said Jerry. “I’ve never tried it,” I said, “What did you do to make it work that time?” “Well, I just flipped it high, and then watched it!” she said with a little swagger in her voice. “Hmm, I think I’ll watch you do it one more time before I try.” “Ok!” she said and went back to enjoying her meal.

Charlotte’s garden

May 2, 2009

hostas Jerry had a big project today that involved digging two new flower beds in the back yard. He enlisted Charlotte’s help and she really stepped up to the plate. The two of them worked together for several hours. At one point, they came in to have lunch and she said, “Dad, if I wasn’t helping you, you wouldn’t be able to have lunch right now. You’d still be digging those holes. … Fenner and Ellen think I like to stay neat and clean, but they’re wrong. I like my hands in the dirt.”

When they were done and admiring their work, she said, “Dad, now are you glad you agreed with mom to have another kid?”



May 2, 2009

“Who’s making pancakes this morning?” said Jerry. “We will!” said Ellen. “But we want help!” said Fenner in a half-whine. “We like it when you help, will you help us?” “I’ll help you,” said Jerry.

I stayed upstairs to get dressed, but I could hear them in the kitchen. “Stop that whining, Charlotte!” said Jerry, “I like it much better when you say …” etc. etc. The shriveled whine-weed got a little drink of water. Oh, well.

I walked down stairs and right away things weren’t sounding good. “No, no… this is the pan you want … that looks a little too thick, Ellen, let me add some water … no, you have to wait, it’s not hot enough, you just turned it on.” “Daddy, it’s sticking!” “Well, did you add the oil?” “No.” “Fenner, you have to add oil every time … here, no … go all the way around the edge to unstick it … ok, Ellen, turn it down to medium, you’ve got it on high and that’s why it’s too dark…Fenner, try not to let it drip like that.” “Well, dad, you didn’t tell me how to keep it from dripping, why didn’t you tell me?!”

Ooo, boy, I thought. This is painful to watch. Nobody’s smiling. The only bright spot was Charlotte. She didn’t want pancakes and she went about her business quietly making her own breakfast, and feeling quite good about it because no one was telling her what to do or how to do it.

Jerry kept going. “Fenner, get ready! You better flip that, it’s ready to be flipped! … Here Ellen, you want me to make you one?” He took the pan and poured the batter. “Dad, are these ready?” asked Fenner. “Yes, they look ready.” Fenner brought them to her plate. Meanwhile, Jerry flipped the pancake he made for Ellen. “Daddy, you flipped it. I wanted to flip my pancake!” “Well, I’m just trying to get this done so I can move on to other things.”

I sat at the table with Fenner and Ellen who were both slumped in their chairs, half-heartedly nibbling at the pancakes on their plate. “I don’t like cooking,” said Fenner. She looked on the verge of tears. “Why?” asked Jerry. “It’s too complicated,” she answered. “Fenner, cooking is all about experimenting and learning from your mistakes. The best cooks have years of practice.” “Well I don’t want to be a cook when I grow up!” “Don’t be discouraged, honey,” Jerry continued, “trying different things, that’s what makes cooking fun.” He walked back into the kitchen, and Fenner said under her breath, “Cooking’s not fun.” Then she said, “This doesn’t taste good.” And she pushed it away and left the table.

“Um, honey?” I said, “We should probably talk about what just happened.” “What?” he said. “That did not go well. They’re really discouraged.” “Well, cooking is hard, they just need some more training.” “The problem is when training feels like criticism.” “Yeah, I know. Plus that pan’s old and sticky. I think what I’ll do is get a new pan and then have them watch me one more time while I make the perfect pancake.” “No, I’m sorry, but you’re not doing that. Perfectionism is not a good thing to teach.” “Ok, but they need training, I just need to show them how to get the batter just right and how much oil to use.” “You don’t think you’ve shown them that already?” He thought for a minute. “Well, they don’t know how the get the batter right. I’m not even sure sometimes, I have to just keep adding things until it’s right … I suppose I could look on the box.” He got the box and looked at it. “Hmm, 2 parts to 1 … but we tried that and it was too thick.” “The thing is, honey, letting them figure out on their own how thick the batter should be is the kind of thing that builds confidence.” “Yes, but I’m just afraid they’ll get frustrated with it.” “Well, out in the world they’re going to get frustrated and they’ll need to know how to deal with that.” “Ok, well, then I guess I should just get out of the way, just leave them to do it.” “I think that’s a good idea. How about we get that new pan, and take ourselves away, and we can say that they can come and ask us questions, but without the hovering over their shoulder.” “Yeah, the hovering’s not good because then they ask me every little thing.” Right.

Phew. Deep breath. New plan. Try again next time.

Remote control

May 2, 2009

“Aaaauuugh!!!” I heard Jerry say in the living room. We had just finished another super-smooth bedtime and I was doing a few things upstairs. I came down to the living room. “Sorry,” he said, “but for this whole time you were upstairs I’ve been tearing this room apart looking for the remote. Watching TV just doesn’t work without the remote.” I helped him look and had a hunch that Charlotte had hidden it because she had done that a few days before and I found it placed carefully under one of the chairs. This time it was harder, but I finally found it tucked into one of the sewing bags.

I handed it to Jerry and he sat down heavily on the couch, clearly exasperated. “This just really bugs me. I come in here to relax and have to spend my time searching for the remote because of those kids.” “Have you explained the problem to them?” “Yes! I’ve asked them over and over, ‘Put the remote in a place where people can find it!’ … When this happens it’s like a bomb goes off in my head.” “Mmm. So … what do you want?” I asked. “I want more respect. More respect for this house and our things. They come in here and watch hours of TV and just … take advantage of it!”

I said, “Ok, I hear your frustration. I wish that just asking them to do it was enough, but it’s not working. So then we ask, what will it take? What will it take for them to put the remote back in the same place each time?” “I don’t know… Some kind of drastic measure,” he said. “I mean, I think watching TV is a privilege and they have a responsibility to put the remote where it belongs.” “Ok, so how about we say that if we come in here to have our TV in the evening and the remote is not put back on this table, then they lose TV for the next day?” “Ok, good. … Thanks, honey.” We’ll see if it works…

ps Later I casually told Charlotte about how we had to search and search for the remote last night and how frustrating it was. She thought for a minute and then said, “I did that. … I did that because if I don’t then I can’t watch my shows because Fenner and Ellen take the remote and they only watch their shows.” “Mmm,” I said, “and you want a turn too.” “Yeah, because if I don’t hide it from them, they come and take it out of my hand and turn it to their show.” “I see. It’s hard to have a turn if they do that.” “Yeah, they always do that. And I mean always.” Good to know.


May 2, 2009

I keep forgetting to add this little tidbit relevant to this week. It has to do with that family discussion we had (“Week 2, Day 1”) when Charlotte kept interrupting until finally we all had to go into my office and leave Charlotte outside in order to finish. I mentioned my office has an interior window that looks into the living room, and the shade was drawn and she was banging on the window for part of the time while we were in there. But what I didn’t know was what else she was doing.

Under the window in the living room is a secretary-style writing desk that Jerry built when he was in college. A few days after that event, I was doing some picking up in the living room and the light hit the front of the desk in a certain way so I could see …


I don’t know what she used to make those deep scratches, but it did the job. I looked at it with my mouth open for a long moment. And then took a deep breath. That hurts, I thought. And it shows how much she was hurting too. I haven’t asked her about it because guilting her would only do more harm. Maybe we can talk about it in a few weeks. I haven’t pointed it out to Jerry yet either and I’m not even sure why. Either I’m fearful of his reaction, or I’m waiting for the right time to magically appear. Probably both. Maybe he’ll read this post …

Freaky Friday

May 1, 2009

After a quiet period, a lot happened today. First I’ve been witnessing the power of saying nothing in some new ways. “I can’t do anything else until this kitchen gets cleaned up,” I said this morning intending to do it myself as usual. Fenner looked at the two fry pans on the stove that Jerry had used earlier to make them pancakes. “I didn’t get these out, so why should I have to clean them?” I couldn’t think of a constructive response to that so I said nothing. She looked at me and then said, “Ellen, you wash this one, and I’ll wash the other one.” And they did! While Fenner was washing she said, “Mom, it still feels like week one. Every week feels like week one now!” Again I didn’t have a quick response. Ellen chimed in. “I don’t think so. They’re teaching us stuff now. Now we know how to make pancakes.” Interesting. Fenner feels it more somehow, this big shift to more independence. I think it feels more scary to her. Thank goodness we’re doing it now when she has lots of time to get used to it and build her confidence! Five years from now would’ve been too late.

Later Ellen spilled cereal all over the floor and left it there. Saying nothing, I tried to hand her the dust pan. “No, mom,” she said and walked away. I offered it to her again. “No.” I left it on the table next to her and walked away. “No, mom!” she said loudly, and then a minute later I heard a quiet, “Oh, fine,” as she headed to the kitchen.

The next incident involved a small cup of water Charlotte had left on the dining room table. Fenner knocked it over. I heard her say, “It’s not mine!” and then Jerry, “I don’t care whose it is, you knocked it over!” his face was full of anger and Fenner was looking at him, her cheeks flushed. I quickly grabbed a paper towel and said, “The water spilled,” and handed her the towel. Then I took Jerry’s hand and lead him into the kitchen. He was almost shaking with anger. “Ok, you’re scaring her. You’re even scaring me a little.” He didn’t like that at all. We went outside and talked some more. “She should know, if you make a mess you have to clean it up!” “Ok. And I can also understand how she feels –that she didn’t leave the water on the table. … A little empathy goes a long way while you let her know she still has to clean it up.” He agreed, but I could tell it still bugged him. “Do you remember what this week is about?” “Remind me.” “We’re supposed to pay attention to how we feel when they misbehave.” “I’m angry.” “Yeah, that was a power move. She’s trying to get something she needs, but she’s going about it in the wrong way. So we take note and use that information for next week.” I kept going. “And that was a classic overreaction on your part. There’s something going on there that you need to work through.” He agreed, but still seemed a bit reluctant. “Remember what Vicki said — Fenner’s probably thinking, ‘There must be something wrong with me that I can make my dad that angry over a little cup of water.’” “Yeah … ok.”

I’m glad I stepped in, but I do wonder – when you see your spouse overreacting with the kids, what’s the best way to handle that? Do you stay out of it? Intervene? What’s the most constructive approach? I’m not sure….

Soon after it was time to go into town. Jerry, Ellen, and I were waiting in the car. Fenner had just gone in to get something and Charlotte came out and sat in Fenner’s favorite seat. “Uh-oh,” said Jerry. Fenner came back out. “Charlotte! I was sitting there! Can you please sit in the back?” “You always get to sit here.” “Charlotte! Please?! … I have to sit there! … I’m going to step on your foot until you move!” Charlotte didn’t move. Fenner got in and started hitting her. I couldn’t watch, but I know it was hard enough to make the seat wiggle. “Don’t hit me!” “I’m going to hit you until you move!” And she started whacking Charlotte over the head. Jerry pursed his lips and turned toward Fenner. I touched his arm and whispered, “Don’t feed the weed … we’re going to address this.” He was fuming. By this time Charlotte had succumbed and moved to the back seat in tears. “She doesn’t even care,” whispered Jerry. “She’s sitting there are she doesn’t even care that she just hit Charlotte over the head! I have had it up to here with the way she treats her.” “It will get better,” I said, “but not by doing what we’ve always done – the scolding and the lecturing – that’s how we got here. … And something to think about is what you believe about someone who does what Fenner just did. What do you believe about a person who does that?” “I don’t know.” He wasn’t in the right state of mind to tackle that right then. Maybe later.

We started on our way and I told everyone the story about how when I was really little, before I could talk, my sister Sloane used to hit me on the head until I cried and then tell our mom that I fell down. “That’s mean!” said Fenner. “What part is mean? Hitting her on the head or lying about it?” prompted Jerry. “Both!” said Fenner. “Yeah, I agree,” said Jerry, “both things are wrong.”