Self Change and Parenting Skills

by Michael Mallows

I was recently working with Anne, a lone parent, and introduced her to the Self Change Model. 

After I explained the Self Change Model, we assessed at which of the stages she would place herself in relation to her two teenage sons. 

“Well, I keep trying different approaches [Action], but the boys get worse, so I retreat to contemplation feeling like a failure. Then I try something else, and it still doesn’t work!” 

“Well,” I said, “you have only failed if you do not learn from what didn’t work at the action stage. Also, instead of judging yourself for ‘failure’ let us celebrate your flexibility! It is wonderful that, time after time, after each relapse, you are still willing to try new approaches!” 

“That’s a nice way to put it,” she said, smiling. “I feel better about myself already.” 

“How often do you try these new approaches?” 

“Oh, if the boys don’t react positively, I give up more or less straight away.” 

It was not difficult to work with this mother, and the Self Change Model helped her to understand and validate her strengths, and to recognise that if she was going to prevail in her parenting role, she had to demonstrate to her teenagers that she had changed herself. 

The change would show itself partly in the way she made demands of them. Instead of fearfully expecting them to say ‘No!’ and showing it by requesting apologetically, in a pleading, whining kind of voice, she would make clear, emphatic statements about what she wanted, what she expected, and, if necessary, what would happen if she did not get what she asked. The change would also manifest if she did not give up after one or two attempts. So she would only persevere in the areas where she knew she could prevail. 

She had many opportunities, including the issue of washing dishes after meals.

Because contemplating this change made her feel guilty and anxious, we rehearsed the following scenario: 

A lone, working parent, Anne would tell her boys, aged 15 and 16, that she needed their support, and from now on would expect them to clear and wash dishes after meals, and to share other household chores. 

They understandably agreed, and unsurprisingly reneged almost immediately.

At the next meal, she said that she understood they did not want to share the chores because she got very bored and tired of them as well. What suggestions did they have for dealing with the situation? 

They could think of nothing, except more promises. She explained that she knew they meant it, but experience showed they found it hard to remember or to follow through.

She said that she would give them until the end of week to think it over, talk it though and come up with some real ideas – and some real consequences. If they did not, she said, then she had some ideas that might help the situation. 

They were intrigued, but she did not cave in to their entreaties to tell. 

On the Friday evening, she asked them what ideas they had. 

Answers came there none. 

“Well,” she said (and she told me that she already felt so much more confident, that she was quite enjoying the situation), “I have decided that I will only shop or cook in relation to the amount of work that gets done after I have prepared meals. 

“If you do not clear up and wash up after evening meals, then I will not cook the following evening. Also, from now on, I will only shop each day rather than weekly. There will always be some basics so you will not go hungry, but I agree with you that it is not worth putting too much effort in if you don’t want to bother.” 

Of course, they did not believe her, and she did not know if she would be able to maintain her resilience over time. 

Well, she managed it for long enough that she didn’t have to struggle for long. After three weeks or so, her sons were convinced that she ‘meant it’, She arrived home one evening to find that they had, if not to her standards, certainly to her great delight, cleaned the house and had prepared a meal. 

Over the meal, they had the first real talk they’d ever had, in effect, as adult to adult.

The talk touched on the hurt and anger they’d all felt when her husband, their father had walked out on them two years previously. The boys had blamed her, and she had blamed herself, wondering where she’d gone wrong, and believing that it was he fault that the boys had lost their father. Overcompensating had significantly contributed to the boys’ expectations of her dong everything for them. 

There is more love, laughter and dust in their house these days. The boys still leave undone some of the things they said they’d do, and she still nags them to do their share of keeping the house and family running reasonably smoothly. But there is little rancour in their arguments now, and they are all able to negotiate back to a win/win situation rather quickly. 

Anne has lowered her standards of housework, raised her expectations of a family united in respect and empowerment rather than guilt and regret and has definitely changed her self in many ways. 

She is more assertive, more direct and forthright, more confident, and she has regained her self-esteem as a mother and as a woman. 

Her sons are more considerate more often; they have become better communicators and gained both empathy and responsibility. 

As you will have seen, the stages of the Self Change Model are implicit. Perhaps you can see how Anne, consciously, and the boys perforce, had worked through the various stages to a more intelligent level of processing, a wiser level of thinking and more responsible, responsive and effective levels of functioning and communicating.

Michael Mallows is offering a Living Inside Out - On Purpose workshop on November 23 and 24, 2002.  For details, write to Michael at 37 Layfield Rd.,  London NW4 3UH, or phone him: 020 8202 3373, or check it out on his website