When my eldest son Alex was a baby and also when he was a toddler, he was the easiest child in the world. He had a period of about two weeks after he turned two, during which he got somewhat feisty. My husband and I looked at each other and concluded, “Oh this must be the terrible twos.” It lasted about two weeks and we thought “Hmm, I guess that’s over with”. Life went back to easy.
In contrast, our second son had a temper that was obvious from the start. He apparently takes after my side of the family. I don’t recall a time when Andrew ever went into time out without having to being restrained. He would rage about it being Monday or any other thought that came to mind. He would rage for not having a reason to rage. When I tried to discipline him, he would hit me. Flabbergasted, I would hit him back. He would hit me harder and I would get a little firmer with my slap back. Then he would haul off and smack me. And I would…..
Nope- here is where the story changes. Somehow I knew to pull him in close and put his cheek next to mine and that would almost always calm him down. Okay, the reality is I knew I could not smack him harder and perhaps out of not knowing what else to do, I tried the cheek thing and it worked so I went with it.
I learned from that strategy something about power struggles which, I try and remember still to this day. As much as I want to stay engaged and make my point louder than the person I am power struggling with, the smartest and most effective thing I can do is counter intuitive for me in those moments. It is to try to do nothing or find a way to join them. I don’t choose this out of defeat, but as a way to keep the ball moving down the field.
Everyone knows the definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. Continuing to engage in the same behavior of whatever I’m doing to keep the struggle active is therefore crazy. Participating in such a way to enable the other person to keep doing that, which keeps the struggle active is crazy.
Even though I say I try to remembering this, I usually remember it AFTER I’m locked into the power struggle. Then I remember it and try to implement it. But the other night I had a cool experience, at least from my point of view. My eldest son (no longer the easy toddler, but a hormonally charged Aspergian 15 year old boy) asked me for something that he was pretty sure I would say no to. Of course I said no, as I was prepared for this. He went to the next level of debate and yours truly said…
Those of you who know me can appreciate the Herculean effort it took to keep my mouth closed. I just sat there while he looked at me. A few moments passed and he repeated himself with a bit of a twist in another attempt of engaging me to spar. I calmly replied that, “I had nothing to add as I had already stated my answer.” With that my son walked away.
What Alex saw was a resolute, immovable parent that was not going to argue with him and wonder into new topics or pull out my litany of reasons to defend my response. I must tell you on the inside of me, there was a giddy cheerleader type character high fiving myself that this actually worked. But once I settled myself down, I realized that it worked because I had ended the crazy power struggle—not by winning, but by refusing to repeat the same behaviors that lock it in place.
One small step for parenting. One giant leap for my own sanity.
Do you find yourself locked into power struggles with people? How often do you notice that it’s the same argument over and over? Is there anything you are willing to do differently without the focus on attempting to change the other person’s behavior?