A 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.