Who wins (and who cares): Mindfully navigating the world of parenting.

A funny thing happened to me the other day. I was outside sweeping the path around our house when my two year old son Liam came to help. Now, anyone who has lived with, dealt with or raised a two year old will know that sometimes their idea of ‘helping’ doesn’t exactly fit in with what you want to do. This was one of those occasions. So Liam wandered over, asked me to get ‘Liam’s broom’ out and pushed it over to where I was sweeping. Liam’s broom is a full sized, adult broom, so it tends to become a serious hazard for anyone in the vicinity because it is about three times the size of Liam, so when he swings around, he trails about 1.5 metres of broom handle behind him. Ouch.

When Liam arrived with this potentially life threatening weapon, he figured out a fun game, and this is where my lesson began. I had been sweeping grass clippings into a pile ready to put in our green materials bin, but Liam had a much more fun idea. He figured out that if he swept the nice neat pile back into the middle while I was sweeping in the other direction, our brooms would have a satisfying crash in the centre of the path. Then, he would walk backwards and do it all again, the result? Grass everywhere and lots of fun, not exactly what I had in mind.

And speaking of minds, mine was waking up and telling me all about this situation, why it was a ‘problem’ and how Liam was wasting my time. It was pushing me toward the ultimate parent trap, the potential snare of leaders everywhere: “The Power Struggle”. For anyone not familiar with The Power Struggle, it involves getting yourself into a no-win situation pitting your stubbornness against that of your opponent. It is the direct opposite of teamwork and co-operation and it happens everywhere, not just in parent-child relationships.

Ever been ‘not talking to’ someone, trying to hold out longer than them before you make a phone call? Have you ever spent a weekend (or a week), arguing with your partner about some trivial thing, not wanting to be the one to ‘give in’? Then you, my friend, have been in a Power Struggle (let’s say PS for short, I’m not that good at typing).

The PS is life draining, energy consuming, and relationship poisoning. It offers nothing to anyone, except the opportunity to feel ‘better than’ someone else for a few moments. It does nothing but giving our ego the chance to shine. Here’s how I think it happens:

  1. The ‘other’ does something that the mind perceives as ‘A Threat to My Authority’.
  2. A belief forms that anything less than a ‘win’ would be a diminishment of ‘me’ and mean that I am ‘less than’ the other person.
  3. The battle begins…and continues…and so on.
  4. You get tired of struggling.
  5. Someone comes halfway, makes a phone call, apologises, or whatever it takes to end the PS.
  6. You’re friends again, but you just wasted how many hours of your life?

Countries do this all the time. It’s called “Diplomacy”.

Anyway, back to Liam and me. I saw step 1 above starting to happen, and my mind began telling me about why two year olds should do this, that and the other (try telling them that). But then a question arose: “How do I know that sweeping the grass into a pile is right and spreading it all over the place is wrong in this moment?” Five words then wandered through my mind and changed everything: “Who’s right?” I wondered,  “And who cares?” That’s when it hit me. I could spend this time arguing, controlling and getting upset, or I could enjoy this moment, not knowing who was right, nor caring.

So Liam and I spent the next little while having low speed broom crashes while the wind started the job of sweeping the grass away. And I walked away shaking my head at what profound lessons a toddler can teach you, if only you’re open to it.

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