Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Undoing 27 Years of Military Training

Changing my parenting style is so difficult and brain-numbing. The latest twist is to say those dreaded words. What dreaded words, you ask? Well, back in the summer of 1981, the very first thing I learned at the boat school was the five basic responses of the plebe. There are only five ways we could respond and saying the wrong thing could cause your squad leader to yell at you at the top of his lungs with about one inch between his nose and yours. The five basic responses were "Yes, sir!" "No, sir!" "Aye-aye, sir!" The answer or "I'll find out, sir!" It took quite a bit of yelling and screaming in my face for it to be drilled into my head to say "I'll find out, sir!" instead of what most people say when they don't know. Yes, those dreaded words, "I don't know, sir!"

What does this have to do with parenting? My RDI consultant has wisely observed that Pamela has a difficult time living with uncertainty. And, when I think about it, her worst crying jags (short, but intense) are caused by true uncertainty. For example, we do not know how long it will take for power to come back on when it is out. We do not know when the cable box will come back on if it dies. We do not know when Steve will come home if his flight is canceled. We do not know how long a traffic jam will last (especially if we are late for a very important date). This kind of uncertainty does cause Pamela to become unglued because there is no answer and know predicting when we will have an answer.

While what we were doing was helping, I did not have it quite nailed. I was just letting uncertainty flow into little guessing games, which misses the point of living with uncertainty. The following two clips show how I have been missing the boat because knowing that there is an answer if you wait long enough sweeps away uncertainty in Pamela's mind.

Keep in mind--what we are doing was sweet and fun, but we were NOT working on uncertainty, which was the objective! The focus is that we don't know and we can live with not knowing. The key is to stop and freeze that moment of uncertainty in time so that Pamela has time to process that I am perfectly fine about not knowing. She needs space around the "I don't know" moment so that it will register as being a neutral moment for me (and I hope she will reference that and decide it is neutral for her, too). We do not need to play guessing games or solve the problem because, in our messy world, that is not always possible. Sometimes, there is no answer or solution.

Once Pamela relaxes and accepts being uncertain, we can resume the action and go back to what we were doing, which may very well include solving the problem or finding out the answer or living with uncertainty even longer! The problem with this is that it will be hard to record these moments because moments of true uncertainty happen unannounced. You almost need TiVo in your eyeballs!

In the past day, I have already seen how hard this is for Pamela. For example, Pamela loves commenting on which car Steve takes (one car does not have a radio and she loves her music). The first time she asked me what car he was taking I did the slow, neutral, calm "I don't know which car Dad is taking" and started World War III! She kept rotating between the three car colors (red, gray, or black). I must have repeated the "I don't know" mantra about eight times. She was not happy and fussed and blustered at me. She gave up. A minute later, she ran to the window to see three cars still there.

Later, I tried the IDK car mantra again. I was unable to prevent her from running to the window to check to see Steve switching around cars. Later, Steve was busy switching cars around. I tried the IDK car thing, and Pamela got so frustrated she used her power words. After guessing each car several times, she finally said, "Failed. Game over!" Aha! I thought she thinks it is a game in which there has to be an answer. Not knowing is not an option in this game. So, I said to her, "This is not a game. I don't know which car Dad is taking. It's okay." FINALLY, she got it. Pamela relaxed, nodded, and smiled back, then went back to eating!

Later in the day, we were coming back from picking up Pamela's dinner. We always do that on my choir night. As we turned onto our street, we saw Steve drive off. Pamela asked, "Where's Dad going?" I stopped the car (we live on a dead street) and said, "I don't know" and smiled. She smiled back and let it go! NORMALLY, she would have said something like, "Daddy's getting gas" which is what he usually does when the price of gas is low. After we got home, I walked into the office/TV room and said, "I don't know where Dad went." I was relaxed and neutral. Pamela nodded and smiled back!

That does not mean she has mastered this concept in a day. The true test will be the next time something unpredictable happens for which we have no answer.

1 comment:

poohder said...

Great explanation of LIVING with uncertainty vs just short moments of uncertainty.It's so subtle isn't it? This is great Tammy! Now that she knows to look to you for your perception of the matter, Pamela is gonna be a master at this Messy world before ya know it. Rhonda