By Hal Edward Runkel, www.screamfree.com
Excerpted from Screamfree Parenting by Hal Edward Runkel Copyright © 2007 by Hal Edward Runkel. Excerpted by permission of Broadway, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
That statement might not make complete sense right now. It might, in fact, seem downright offensive. What? Turn the focus away from my children and onto myself? Isn’t that against all the rules?
No, it isn’t. I’m not proposing that you put your children last on the list. Far from it. What I’m saying is that by focusing on yourself, you will have a healthier, happier relationship with your whole family.
You see, most of us have been operating with a faulty model of how to live in our relationships. That’s not to say our relationships are all faulty, but the model sure is. We've been operating with a model that says in order to have healthy relationships, we need to focus on meeting other people’s needs, trying to serve them and make them happy. To even question such a model draws controversy, I know, but stay with me.
By focusing on yourself, you will have a healthier, happier relationship with your whole family.
This book is going to talk about why this model is so faulty, particularly in our parent–child relationships. For now, there are a few simple things we should consider. First, it's a given that there are things in this world we can control and things we cannot control. Now ask yourself this question: How smart is it to focus your energy on something you can't do anything about, something you cannot control? Answer: Not very. Follow–up question: Which category do your kids fall into? In other words, are your children something you can control or something you cannot control? Here’s an even tougher question: Even if you could control your kids, should you? Is that what parenting is all about? And what if it’s not the kids who are out of control?
Who’s Really Out of Control Here?
My kids, Hannah and Brandon, were four and two, and it was one of those Saturday mornings. My wife, Jenny, and I had stayed up way too late on Friday night, which guaranteed that our kids would get up way too early the next day. And so the weekend began with a lot of whining and crying and complaining—and the kids were upset as well.
So I decided, in my parenting expert wisdom, to get us all out of the house. Let’s go to Waffle House for breakfast. Now the first Waffle House we walked into was just too full, but, thankfully, there is no shortage of Waffle Houses in suburban Atlanta. So, we piled back into the car, strapped our children into their car seats, quieted disappointed whines with promises of lots of maple syrup, and drove the hundred yards or so to a second Waffle House. And the line at the second one was just as long as the first.
There was no way we were getting the kids back into the car for another trip, however, so we decided to wait it out. Thankfully, the staff at this Waffle House were thinking—they had crayons and blank paper for the kids. My wife and I could even get in a little adult conversation. A win-win situation.
As if that weren't enough, a sign caught my eye. If my children drew a picture, they were entitled to a paper Waffle House hat—just like the grill man wears—and a free waffle. Sometimes life is good. The kids colored. My wife and I talked. The time flew and before we knew it, we were seated—my wife and daughter on one side of the booth, my son and I on the other. They brought the kids their paper hats, and I even tried one on.
If you’ve never been to a Waffle House, you would be amazed at the consistency of their architecture. All the tables surround the kitchen, and wall-length windows surround the tables. It’s very open, and it’s easy to notice the goings-on of others.
Now, while I was feeling pretty good by this time, my kids hadn’t eaten anything all morning. Hungry kids who’ve done nothing but wait around can be…restless. Hannah, our four–year–old, handled it all right, just garden–variety complaints. But Brandon, our two–year–old, sure was feeling two years old, if you know what I mean. Two–year-olds generally have no regard for things like “practicing an inside voice” or “using words like a big boy” when they’ve been forced in and out of a car with nothing to eat but promises. Cooperating with me was not high on his list of priorities at the time. Enjoying a nice family breakfast didn't seem like such a good idea now.
But I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. I’m a relationship coach. I know how to control myself and keep from losing my temper. I know better than to react and resort to yelling and violent acts of coercion. I can stay calm in the face of increasing levels of anxiety. But then my son threw his fork on the floor. My resolve began to fade.
The fork made a loud noise, causing all the people around us to look at me. Some of them even pointed and whispered (at least that’s what it felt like they were doing). I looked over at my perfect wife sitting there with my perfect daughter. There is an unwritten rule among parents with multiple kids: Whoever is sitting on your side is on your watch. So while the women in my life are enjoying this angelic scene of cooperation and intimacy, my son and I are on the verge of World War III. Nothing is making him happy, nothing is stopping him from the beginning stages of an all–out tantrum. Finally, his waffle arrives and I think the battle will be over soon. So, I start to cut the waffle up, but he doesn’t want the waffle cut up. Maybe he wants to eat the whole thing with his hands in one bite, I don’t know. I do know I’m feeling closer and closer to my own emotional edge.