Here’s the really great thing about being a writer. To write, I need to read, and when I read, I learn. Each book I pick up opens up some new possible world that I might not have known about yesterday. Like all these parenting and marriage-focused books that I’ve read for this blog.
And like the talk I went to last week, “Raising the Heart of Boys,” by Michael Vladeck, a relationship coach who was once an angry, aggressive and, it turns out, severely depressed teenager before he got his act together. And changed his story.
And then there’s the recent show Stacey Stern did with Mozella Perry Ademiluyi called “Discover The Power of Your Story.” During the show, Ademiluyi talks about noticing your positive and negative self-talk, and how much power both of those story lines can carry. She then tells a brief story from her childhood, showing how she talked herself into being one of those girls who’s no good at math. A storyline some of us (ahem, me) have carried into adulthood.
What’s the story you tell yourself?
Do you tell yourself that you’re stuck in a shitty job? That there aren’t any jobs in this shitty economy, so why even bother looking?
Do you throw up your hands and say, “Yeah, this sucks, but whaddya gonna do about it?”
Coach Michael Vladeck spent an hour last week teaching us how to change our storylines when it comes to our kids.
How do we do this? First, by validating them.
Which, it seems to me, is probably something we could all do for each other, regardless of age. After all, don’t we all want to be heard? Don’t we all want to matter?
Well, the same goes for our kids. And while I might not have liked the fact that my 5-year-old suddenly started acting super-mean to my 2.5-year-old last week, there was probably something going on behind his actions. My job, Vladeck tells us, is to figure that out.
When I did, I found out that Nico had just had a rough afternoon at school.
Would I have known this if I just punished Nico and sent him to his room?
Nope. Because that’s what I tried first! But when Nico broke down in tears, I quickly figured out something bigger was going on. So I sat down and started asking him some questions. Turns out some older kids were teasing Nico on the playground, then telling him they’d hurt him if he told a teacher.
Was he afraid? Scared? You bet. No wonder he wanted to beat the shit out of his little brother.
When our kids act out, Vladeck tells us, it’s because they’re hurt or scared.
So the last thing they need us to do is shut them down even more. (Like I was trying to do by punishing Nico and sending him to his room.) Keep doing this and you’ll end up with a “problem” kid or rebellious teenager.
What we need to be doing instead is getting out of the way and creating enough space so that our kid will feel safe enough to tell us what’s really going on.
And we do this by asking questions. (Open-ended questions, that is. Not the kind of questions that try to lead someone to a predetermined outcome.)
It seems to me that this is the same way that we go about changing our story–start by asking enough questions to figure out what’s going on in the first place.
Just ask Gardaphe, whose ticket out arrived the moment he started to question who he was and where he was going.
Or Vladeck, who didn’t beat a late-stage, “incurable” cancer by sitting back and saying Whaddya gonna do?
Instead, he started asking questions. Questions that would help him figure out who he was and where he was going. Questions that helped him identify where he’d gotten stuck and how he was going to get past it.
Today, Vladeck helps who-knows-how-many families out there who are having some difficulty navigating the tricky waters of life. (Hmm, isn’t that most of us?) He’s able to do this because:
a) he changed his story and
b) decided to share his story in order to help others.
Which is probably what Fred Gardaphe is doing when he writes about his Italian-American experience. And what Alfred Lubrano is doing when he writes about living with one foot in a blue-collar world and one foot in a white-collar one. And what Admiuluyi is doing in her poetry and motivational workshops.
It’s definitely what I’m trying to do with this blog. Cause, man, imagine what we could do if we pulled the lid off this whole marriage-and-parenting?-what-a-piece-of-cake! mentality for even one person. One woman, man or hell, kid, who finally understood that they weren’t the only person out there awake at night, pulling out their hair.
Until I started writing about my life, I didn’t realize how powerful our stories are. How easily they can hold us captive; and how wonderfully they can set us free. Shining this giant-blog-of-a-spotlight on my life has taught me that I’ve got plenty of options out there, plenty of opportunities. Whether or not I follow them is up to me.
What about you? What does your story look like?
Are you still telling yourself that you’re stuck in an unfulfilling marriage? Or maybe you’re stuck volunteering too many hours at your kids’ school. Or stuck in an unhealthy lifestyle. Do you throw up your hands and say, “Yeah, this sucks, but whaddya gonna do?”
Or do you go out and do something about it?
Your words are more powerful than you know.