A couple weeks ago, I enrolled in a parenting seminar. Guess what? It's sort of hard to admit that, which is why I'm doing it. Should there be any shame in admitting your skills in the World's Most Important Job could be honed?
I don't think so.
Anyway, the material for this course comes from the rather oddly named Real Restitution (website not so explanatory) and is based on control theory. Rather than diving into tricks and techniques for handling sticky situations with the kids, we've spent the first two weeks looking at big-picture issues like understanding WHY we choose to do what we do, why coercion doesn't work, why and how we attempt to control other people or allow other people to control us, what motivates us to change our actions, what we consider to be an ideal child and an influential adult, and the five basic human needs.
There's a lot to think, talk, reflect, and write about. For the purpose of brevity and clarity, I'll try to rein myself in and focus on one thing at a time.
Obviously, the questions we're discussing around a dining room table on a Sunday afternoon apply to any human relationship, including our relationship to ourselves (and, if you're a person of faith, to God). So here's a brief description of the five basic human needs:
1. Safety/survival -- food, shelter, water, security, etc.
2. Love and Belonging -- unconditional acceptance, care, connection with others
3. Power -- self-control, competence, capability, effectiveness with integrity
4. Freedom -- freedom from harm and to make choices, express ourselves, etc.
5. Fun -- playfulness, spontaneity, humor, delight of learning
(Note: these concepts are expanded on in the book My Child is a Pleasure, written by Diane Gossen.)
Here's the kicker: We ALL have these needs, just in different relative capacities. You may have a large love and belonging need, medium freedom and fun needs, and a lower power need. If so, you're a lot like me! Or at least, my best estimation of me. Or you may have a big power need and a low fun need, with the others somewhere in the middle. You get the picture.
Our need levels (picture four cups of water; the survival need doesn't count because it's a given for everyone) can fluctuate from day to day or from life phase to life phase, or even moment to moment, depending on our circumstances. But they tend to motivate much of how we feel and behave. And … how our KIDS feel and behave.
I'm planning to do this exercise with my husband and kids to see how they view their own needs. But already, I've been observing them to figure out what their needs profile might be. I've realized that one of my daughters, for example, has a huge love and belonging need, so when she comes to me crying, she probably needs a hug. Nine times out of ten, the crying is a response to hurt feelings -- i.e. a broken connection. The other has a bigger power need, so her tears are more likely from frustration; a simple "Do you need some help doing this?" would fit the purpose. And I think my son's primary need is for freedom. Can you see why my largest need might be for dark chocolate?
You don't have to answer this, but how do you see your own cups? What's the one of the four you could most easily do without? Which could you NEVER do without? How do they rank relative to each other? How are your levels right now? What about your kids?
Of course, from there we start to distinguish between needs and wants, which are ways we choose to try to meet our needs. Sometimes the wants can be satisfied; often they cannot. Maybe the temptation to snack all the time is a way to meet a freedom need (our instructor's example). As we understand what's going on, we can figure out other, healthier ways to meet the need. As kids learn this, they can to.
So, this is a journey my family and I will be undertaking together, not something I'm going to be doing TO them. Without going into any "how to's" yet, this class already seems to be having an effect on our home. Today I chewed one of the kids out for violating a clear rule. A few minutes later, after some reflection and some eating of humble pie, I called him back and said, "I'm sorry. That is not the kind of parent I want to be. I don't want to lecture you, but I lost my temper and said too much. Will you forgive me?"
(P.S.In case you're wondering how faith fits into all of this, I would propose that our deepest need is for something higher than ourselves, which our family recognizes as God. I believe that growing as Christians means allowing getting that need met first, and that over a lifetime of maturing spiritually, filling that need takes care of all the other needs as well. We're all just at different places in that process.)