Should we parent as if someone is watching us?
You know that famous saying that begins, “Dance as if no one is watching you”? The idea is that we might be our true selves and live happier lives if we weren’t so self-conscious. But what if what we really need is someone watching over us to make sure we are constantly striving to be our best selves?
This morning I recorded one of my numerous, frustrating interactions with my daughter. I recorded it, at the suggestion of my therapist, both to help me keep my tone of voice where I want it to be, as well as to help dissect what I am doing that is prolonging the battles. Listening to the play back makes me sad.
The one conversation I taped lasted eight minutes. Eight minutes spent arguing about eating more food after she had already finished eating breakfast. Eight minutes spent asking her to speak to me without whining. Eight minutes spent trying to keep a calm voice, not roll my eyes, not sigh deeply out of frustration.
And that is only the eight minutes I recorded. I spent 30 minutes earlier trying not to engage in a battle about her family obligations (otherwise known as chores). But I got very angry with her during that half an hour. So, I decided to start recording the next time a power struggle started. I often pretend there is a camera on me, with the thought of “How would I act if someone was filming me?” I want to be my best self with my children as often as I possibly can.
Sometimes pretending that someone else is watching or listening helps me control my tendency to “flip out”.
One of the aspects of engaging in these battles with our daughter that I hate the most is how they affect our son. On the tape, when we’re discussing food, he’s in the background trying to get attention in the midst of it in the way he’s figured out works the best—by teasing her. Teasing her takes the focus off of her and gets it squarely on him. Even if what lands on him is parental irritation.
When he’s not teasing her, he tries to get the arguing to stop—often by reminding mommy to “Be kind,” or saying “I don’t like when you talk to her like that, mommy.” He protects her when he’s not teasing, and his reminder for me to “calm down” is like a pause button.
His quiet voice rings loudly in my ears, somehow cutting through the whining and crying sounds belonging to his sister.
I worry that her battles with me are some convoluted way to get me to pay more attention to her. I worry that my kids are going to end up polarizing themselves as “the good one” and “the naughty one.” I worry that he will ultimately resent her for taking up so much of my time and attention. I worry that, as she gets older, our struggles will drive us apart, when what I want most is to understand her and help her be happy.
Although I sometimes pretend there’s a camera watching me, as I wrote about this, I was thinking about the idea of “the observer” and that there is something in all of us that is aware of everything we do.
There is always a part of us that is aware of right and wrong, and aware of right action and selfish action; although often, in the moment, we choose to ignore this awareness.
This observer can be thought of as the “still, small voice” of our conscience. Just as my son’s voice cuts through the chaos and stops me in my tracks, tuning in to this inner voice can help me do the same. If I think about it, I don’t need a camera crew to keep me on the path I want to be on, but I do need to remember that someone is watching. And that someone is me.
Editor: Lorin Arnold