All posts tagged competition

Spit, Soup, & Love

HannahVickiLast week I posted this picture and described the week I had with my daughter, celebrating our time together and the woman she is. A reader wondered whether or not this declaration would offend or isolate any of my other children. As I was contemplating her question and forming my reply, I received a text from Hannah’s sister remembering and acknowledging the unconditional love we all have for each other. That’s it. That was the answer. I had created a purposeful and intentional plan as a parent to cultivate a climate of unconditional love rather than “special love” with very different children (some biological, some adopted) and so the answer was no, the celebration of one did not take away from the other. Since this is not a condition that lives in all families, I was inspired to share my strategies.

Spit in their Soup
The first tool (that I continue to use in all aspects of my life) is Adler’s famous “spit in their soup” technique. Gross isn’t it? Well, that is exactly why it is such a powerful tool for exposing all kinds of mischief when it comes to kids and wanting the “special” love from a parent. In this case, it was the “you love him more than me” song and dance. Instead of trying to convince this child that I did indeed love him (and not his brother more than him) and naming all the ways I attempt to show him and all the reasons I love him, I avoided the trap all together by agreeing that I did indeed love his brother more. I said it in a matter-of-fact kind of way. I said it seriously with just a hint of mischief behind my eyes. The child was stunned, and then he was forced to tell me the truth, “noooooo you don’t.” And I agreed, “No, I don’t.”

Favorite in the Moment
Vicki with ZoeThe second technique was applied whenever I was connecting with one of my munchkins. I would look into their eyes and say, “You are my most favorite child and I love you more than all the others — in this moment.” What I didn’t have to say was, and when your sibling walks in and I am talking directly to him, he will be my most favorite child and I will love him more than all the others, in that moment. Over the course of many years my children came to understand that they each owned a part of my heart that could never be compromised or diminished and that in-fact love is limitless.

Having a limited amount of love is an idea that springs from the idea of “special love”, or different love for different people. I don’t happen to subscribe to that notion, quite frankly it is too complicated and cumbersome. The goal for me is to love. Just love. I can’t be bothered with different kinds of love. There is love and there is not love.

Love is
Now, don’t confuse this with the different kinds of relationships I have with my kids, my spouse or my friends. Those are different, but love – love is. My kids heard these words from me from the time they were infants, and they knew that my love is endless and unconditional. It is not based on their behavior, my mood, which child was most like me and which one the most mysterious. Love is a fact. Because of this environment, each child developed a deep sense of self-worth and “lovability.”

dave-amy-2This deep sense of self-worth provides the people I had the pleasure of parenting, an enormous capacity to love. They are not stingy with their love. They are not jealous of love. They do not fear that there is only so much love to go around.

I encourage parents to avoid the “you love him more than me trap” by stepping right into it and spitting, rather than trying to explain to a young child with limited reasoning skills all the nuances of love. They are clever these kids and they will make lifelong decisions based on your ideas about love.

No doubt someone will challenge that my kids worried I DIDN’T love them if they weren’t right in front of me, but that is an adult fear, not a child’s. A child quickly figures out that the love is there, always, at 100 percent whether they are in front of you or not, and that was my goal.

What’s your goal when it comes to teaching your kids about love?

Are you inadvertently raising a jerk?

playdate-awryA few years back I asked a parent in one of my classes what his deep desires were for his children. He paused for a moment and then said, “It’s simple. I don’t want to raise ass-holes. That’s all. I don’t want to live with an ass-hole and I don’t want to send one out into the world.”

Voila! One of the most popular topics in my “At Home with Vicki” series was launched and last Wednesday night a parent with a two-month old, parents raising kids deep into their teens and parents of children every age in between sat in my home discussing this very topic.

Many kids begin to display jerky qualities at around 7, 8 and 9-years and over time end up as full-fledged jerks by the time they are teens. And so the conversation commences on how NOT to raise an ass.

Here is the big take-away – Competitive household environments breed jerks.

The big surprise here is that the role-models for these competitive, winner take all, I’m better than you relationships are between the partners raising these children. The dynamics can be subtle or overt, and are present even in loving relationships.

Read through these examples and see if any of them sound familiar.

    Partner 1: “I really struggled in school and decided not to go to college”
    Partner 2: “I’m the one with the education in the family. I have a Masters Degree.”

    Partner 1: “I love to cook and I tried to follow my grandmother’s recipe as I remember it.”
    Partner 2: “ Try is the operative word here.”

    Partner 1: “It was the trip of a lifetime. I think we left in April and stayed nearly 3 weeks.”
    Partner 2: “It wasn’t April, it was May and we stayed 16 days. Hardly 3 weeks.”

    Partner 1: “It’s not her fault that she loses her temper. She had a really tough childhood and some times she can’t control herself.”

    Partner 1: “Daddy didn’t mean it. He just isn’t as patient as I am about these things.”

    Partner 1: “I know it’s REALLY important that I put the vacuum back in just the right way. Luckily, I don’t care about inconsequential things like that.”

Do you hear yourself or your life-partner in any of the phrases above? Have you heard your spouse say something similar and just felt uneasy or the hair bristle on the back of your neck, but not fully understood why? Now before you finish reading this and jump all over your partner for being the jerk, stop and think about your own words, attitudes and actions. It’s far more important that we develop Awareness before we spring into action.

Awareness allows you to facilitate change and to remedy the situation by moving from the competitive one-upmanship-environment and work toward establishing a cooperative environment, in which Adler’s ideas of Social Interest are fostered each and every day.

Social Interest is not the same as social action. Social Interest as defined by Alfred Adler is “a feeling of community as opposed to focusing on one’s private interests or concerns.” It has been said that someone without social interest is concerned only with one’s self.

Here is an exercise to flush out your role in creating a competitive environment.

Write down all the words you would use to describe a jerk. Now compare it to the competitive interaction you might be having with your significant other. Do you embody these words at times? Think about what you could do differently the next time.

Now write down all the words you would use to describe people who made you feel “at ease” when you were in their company. People who make you feel as though you are good enough, and that they were interested in you and your ideas.

Now ask yourself how you demonstrate these qualities with your significant other. Is it possible to move from the “jerk” list to the “at ease” list in each scenario? How could you respond differently?

I know it is shocking. Shocking to think that our daily interactions with our life-partner, the love of our lives influences whether or not our children grow up to be jerks. Think of it as the oxygen your kids are breathing every day. They are watching, listening, and making decisions about themselves, their siblings, and the ways men and women, husbands and wives, and brothers and sisters interact. The good news is the solution is right in front of you and available to you every day.

So the next time you are tempted to be jerky to your jerky child, when he is acting like a total ass – STOP – Take responsibility for your part in the competitive nature of the relationship and decide to do something else. Yes, it is that simple and that difficult. Remember that you are the change agent in your home and if you want to raise kids that – dare I say it – make you proud – than be the parent your kids can be proud of.