Friday, October 2, 2009

The Mantra

The eye roll. The heavy sigh. The angry back talk. If these sound familiar, and start your blood to boil, congratulations! Your little baby is growing up. You thought that if you could just survive those early years and get your child into school that the hardest phase of child rearing would be behind you. But now you have discovered that as your pride and joy teeters on the brink of adulthood, her snotty tone, know-it-all posturing and pretzel logic might just lead to the end of one or both of you. If you let it, this infuriating dynamic will continue into perpetuity. But there is an alternative. Are you ready? Take a deep breath and repeat after me, "Focus on behavior, not attitude. Focus on behavior, not attitude". This mantra can save you.
I am not known for my patience or for my zen-like ability to check my temper. But I stumbled upon this sanity saving device when my daughter was about 10. (If you are the parent of a boy, you might have a couple more years before you wade into this quagmire.) It seemed that most of our exchanges would begin peacefully and then quickly evolve into an escalating cycle of confrontation. I would assert, she would push back, I would assert more firmly, she would push back get the picture. I would become angry, frustrated and indignant that she could treat me so disdainfully. I would begin each interaction with a renewed commitment to maintaining my cool and not letting her get the better of me. Inevitably, I failed. Finally, after another such pointless encounter, I had an epiphany. What did I really want: to win an argument or to positively influence her behavior? By engaging, I was giving her the power to affect my attitude, to bring me down time after time. "Focus on behavior, not attitude. Focus on behavior, not attitude." The chant slowly repeated in my head. I could handle her impertinence as long as her behavior outside of these bouts was acceptable. My self esteem was strong enough to absorb the blows. And trying to win pointless arguments was only turning me into a screaming banshee and radiating tension throughout our home. Ultimately, I had to concede that the best way to improve her behavior was to focus on my own attitude.

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