I was at a coffee shop, connecting with a friend after her recent visit home.
“Things get a little strange when I’m home,” she said. “When my parents visit me at my place, we don’t fight. But then when I’m home for the holidays and staying at their place, it’s like suddenly there’s a breakdown.”
I remembered that dynamic with my own parents when I was in college. They’d come visit me on campus, and we easily made dinner plans, arranged schedules with no problems, and had animated conversations. They asked questions as if I was an independent, autonomous woman, curious to know more about my life and share theirs.
But when I was home, I was in high school again, suddenly subject to someone else’s program–demands that I’m out of bed at X time in the morning, or that someone else was determining where we ate. And if I didn’t like it? “If you have a problem, you can stay somewhere else.”
My house, my rules.
For generations now, our parents and their parents and their parents’ parents (that would mean, your great-grandparents) have grown up under the edict that children should be seen and not heard, and that “it’s my house, so it’s my rules.” I remember hearing one or the other of my parents saying, “Well, when you’re an adult and pay the bills, you can make your own rules.”
In the strictest sense, that’s absolutely true. I’m not really down with the whole “my kid is my buddy” movement–I’ve been in too many interrupted conversations with parents who are afraid to teach their kids to say “excuse me” because Little Suzy could have self-esteem issues if she has to wait for someone to finish a sentence. No, thank you. Parenting requires someone to be the one with the foresight to see the consequences ahead and make the call for the team. Often, that means setting up family rules.
But–once those kids are adults, this dynamic of obligatory compliance turns sour. When I was 18, I cut out of Dodge. Never lived at home again, not even on summer breaks from college. My parents had said that “when I was an adult, I’d make my own rules”–and dammit, I was going to.
This polarization resulted in years of arguments and power struggles. I flip-flopped between an immature, blanket “no” to all requests (which was really just a giant Fuck You), and silent, seething, resentful acquiescence (which was just a quieter version of the Fuck You). I did not see where there was any room for choice or my “no” or my personal autonomy as an adult or human being.
I thought I was alone with that dynamic, until I got older, started my counseling training, and started working with coaching clients. Then I realized that there were a lot of us out there, people who wanted connection with the people we loved but had felt pressed to give way to someone else’s agenda for so many years that now, we white-knuckled our way through holidays and family gatherings.
There is an alternative: let go of the power dynamics, and start co-creating. It looks something like this:
First, let me be clear: parents deserve respect. Let me go one step further: adult progeny are also deserving of respect. Let me be crystal clear: everyone deserves respect.
However, compliance and respect are different. Co-creating cannot happen under the energy of mandatory compliance, and once a child has become an adult, respect and compliance get terribly mixed up.
“My house = my rules” is compliance. I might comply with, but I won’t necessarily have respect for, the rule or the person I’m deferring to–and I’m definitely not feeling love or connection under that dynamic.
True respect is not about hierarchy. True respect is, in fact, the energy of co-creating, and co-creating is about acknowledgement that people are different while simultaneously weaving something together from all of those different threads in service to a goal, something larger.
Any good teacher knows this–students will do what you tell them to if you threaten them with failing or the principal’s office, but the best classrooms are those where the students are on board with you as a leader, eager to see where you’ll take them next.
The same goes for jobs–people don’t usually hate their jobs because of day to day tasks, they hate going to a place for eight hours a day where they are expendable and easily replaced, where their input is neither desired nor valued.
The best workplaces, schools, and–dare I say–families, are those where people are inspired to unite around a common goal, whether that’s learning, running a business together, or connecting during the holidays.
Co-creating is enlivening. Compliance is deadening. One is born of love, the other is born of fear.
To be continued…