Lots going on this time of year. (Props for taking time to read a blog.) We feel pressure to make the holidays “perfect.” Pressure to spend. Pressure to save. Pressure to get the kids to behave. We all have moments when we trade “nice” for B#$@%. We’re human and we get stressed. But when we show more Beast than Loving Parent, we are damaging our children. That’s a problem that keeps making problems. The good news? We are key to the solution.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Rachel Simmons the Wise for my podcast series. We talked about her book The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence. We also discussed how often parents engage in meta-conversations with their children (i.e., parent says one thing and an unspoken message churns just below the surface).
With all that doublespeak how can a t(w)een learn to be authentic and express the truth of her heart? Not very easily. And it isn’t just parents and daughters. As Rachel put it, no matter who you’re talking to or what relationship you’ve got, “there’s always a meta-conversation going on.”
Parent: Oh, you’re still playing that game.
Meta-message: I just know you won’t get your homework
done tonight and then what? You think I like being on your case? Well, I don’t! But if I don’t keep after you how are you ever going to get into a decent college?
Mini meta-message: You’re lazy and I’m disappointed in you.
Parent: Don’t you think your other jeans would look better with that top?
Meta-message: Those jeans are too tight and too low cut. They make you look fat and slutty. What will Grandma say when she sees you wearing that? She’s going to think I’m a terrible mother to let you dress that way!
Mini meta-message: You’re fat and you embarrass me.
Parent: How’s your buddy Ryan these days?
Meta-message: Are you two still friends? Did something
happen between you? Are you now hanging out with people I should be worried about? (Sigh) You and I used to be able to talk about stuff. Now you don’t tell me anything. What else are you hiding from me? Maybe I don’t even want to know!
Mini meta-message: You’re disloyal and untrustworthy.
I’ve been thinking about meta-messages and how I use them. Whether they’re conscious or not, communication patterns between people often determine who we like to hang out with and who doesn’t make our FAVS list.
During the holidays a few years back, Josie and I snuck out of the house before anyone else was up. Because she was still full of puppy beans and needed her off-leash time, we headed for the nearby hills. She instantly vanished through the trees tracking deer and squirrels and nosing the underbrush for ticks thumbing a ride. While she was gone I walked on, enjoying the quiet light and the colors. Every so often I’d whistle for Josie and she’d reappear, sometimes from behind me on the trail, sometimes way ahead. We’d smile at each other and wag our tails. “Yes! Good dog!” Then I’d give her a treat. After each reunion she’d take off again and I continued hiking.
So it went for an hour. When I finally put her back on leash I thought about the meta-conversation we had and why Josie happily kept returning to me. The way I figure, it comes down to this . . . each of us, dog and human, prefers to hang with those who tell us we are good dogs.
It also helps if they give us treats.
We’re in the darkest days of the year, so how about lightening up? Catch someone you love in the act of doing something right. Drop the meta-messages and smile.