(Bonus!) The power of “that sucks.” I’m a big fan of the TV show Parks and Recreation. In one of the later episodes, Chris Trager (played by the indomitable Rob Lowe) is trying to meet every single possible need of his very pregnant girlfriend Ann Perkins (played by the fabulous Rashida Jones). He makes smoothies, rubs her feet, and basically takes care of every task around the house. He is the perfect gentleman and boyfriend.
And Ann is wildly frustrated by that fact.
It doesn’t make sense. Chris is doing everything. He’s helping! How could Ann possibly be upset by someone who is literally doing everything that she could ask for? But Ann reveals to her coworkers (who later tell Chris) that all his efforts are making her feel useless and incapable of solving her problems. When he rushes off to address her every need, she feels that are feelings are invalidated. Chris’s coworkers say to him that all Ann really needs to hear are the two magic words: That sucks.
We all fall victim to trying to be everything for our kids, especially now when it feels like we ARE everything to our kids. We try to solve every problem, bootstrap every obstacle, and call upon all our resources the moment we are needed. Who wants to see their children suffer, especially when we see the possible solutions that we could enact for them? But there are times that we simply cannot do that. It may not be possible. It may not be the best choice for the kid right now. It may not even be in our own best interest.
When we problem-solve for our kids, we increase the pressure on ourselves to Fix It. That means immediately that we are psychologically inserting ourselves in their problems. That is more challenging at best, and counterproductive at worst. When we insert ourselves into our child’s problem, we take the focus away from the actual problem. We often push a Life Lesson® that, while potentially helpful (“When I was in this situation when I was your age, I just did XYZ and things turned out great!”) is going to fall on deaf ears. Or we tell a personal anecdote that, despite our best intentions, isn’t really going to fully address what our kids are struggling with. In a family therapy session not too long ago, a kid was wildly upset that he had missed out on getting a solo in concert choir. His dad swaggered in and said, “Well, I remember when my grandfather died and I had to come home early from summer camp. I was crushed but I got over it.” I acutally had to say to him in session “What does that have to do with what we are talking about?!” I know he was trying to help but he lost the thread and, when he did, he lost his kid’s attention.
Additionally, when we rush in, we also tell our kids that they cannot handle their problems on their own. No, we don’t say this overtly (though I have seen parents say to their upset kids, “Shhh, let me do this for you so you don’t have to worry at all, ever.” Then I increase their therapy to twice per week. Kidding. Kinda.), but we say it with our behavior. When comes comes rushing in, it’s a major event, right? To a kid, a major event says that the adults are in charge and they can take a back seat. But we want our kids to be charge of their own emotional regulation. We want them to feel their feelings and then feel the power that comes with getting those feelings back under control.
So, because I want to give you something to use, I am once again calling on the brilliance of Parks and Recreation. Ann comes home from work and Chris is there, doing his brilliantly manic job of maintaining the house. She starts to complain and, instead of rushing to fix it, he moves to her. He sits down on the couch and says, “that sucks.” Ann smiles. “Right?” she says. “Tell me more,” Chris replies, and they begin to work through her rough day (and here’s the important part) together.
Tell your kids that the things that are making them sad/angry/scared/upset “suck” (or, once again, whatever your word is for that) because it does. When you’re upset, do you want people to solve your problems or to commiserate? (See point #7 for more!). Your kids want that same respect, empathy, and compassion. And if they don’t get it? Well, that sucks.
As we all know, there is no one technique (or 11) that will magically make the difficult job of homeschooling suddenly “easy.” What I can share is that these techniques are effective means of promoting effective, emotionally-intelligent communication. These techniques focus on strengthening skills and relationships, while giving kids tools to access help and support as needed. When we use our words to support and structure our homeschool kids, we set them up for even greater success.