You Just Don’t Understand

“I think my marriage is not going to last much longer,” Julie says. I encourage her to go on. “We don’t talk!” she continues. “Whenever I want to talk, my husband says ‘There is nothing to talk about.’ And we just sit and watch TV together. And then he wants to go to bed and have sex when we can’t even talk with each other!”

Once again it’s the time to pull a book out of my shelf by Deborah Tannen, a professor of Linguistics, which was published 15 years ago. In her book “You Just Don’t Understand”, she beautifully illustrates the gender differences when it comes to communication, which can challenge us in our relationships.

“…many women are deeply hurt when men don’t talk to them at home, and many men are deeply frustrated by feeling they have disappointed their partners, without understanding how they failed or how else they could have behaved.” (Tannen, p. 82)

The gender differences when it comes to communication stem from a different upbringing. Even though things are changing, men and women are still socialized differently. Boys tend to play outside, in larger groups that are hierarchically structured. Their groups have a leader who tells others what to do. The power structure is negotiated by giving orders, telling stories and jokes, and by challenging the stories and jokes of the other boys. Boys’ games have winners and losers. It is accepted to boast of their skills and argue who is the best at something.

Girls play mostly in pairs or smaller groups. The centre of a girl’s social life is often her best friend. In that relationship, intimacy is key. Many of the girls’ activities do not have winners and losers. Girls are expected not to boast and if they are strong leaders, they are frequently accused of being bossy. They often simply sit together and talk. There is less joking for status. Girls are more focused on being the same and more concerned that they be liked.

Based on their upbringing, men use conversations for negotiations and to achieve and maintain their position of power or respect. Life is about independence and avoiding weakness and vulnerability. For women conversations are negotiations for closeness. They seek and give confirmation and support. Conversations are a protection from being pushed away, a struggle to avoid isolation. The main purpose of communication is to create closeness through vulnerability.

Men use words

Julie perceives her husband’s behaviour as a failure of intimacy, she assumes he is keeping things from her, or has lost interest in her or is pulling away. She can’t comprehend why he wants to be physically intimate if they can’t even connect through words. She is unaware that men use the spoken language more to convey information. So when he says “there is nothing to talk about” he is solely saying “I don’t have any information to convey at the moment”. It does not occur to him that for Julie, talking is the main way of experiencing connection and intimacy. For women, talk is for interaction and to feel closer to each other. Telling things is a way to open up and be vulnerable, and listening is a way to show that we care.

“When I ask him what he is thinking, he says “nothing”! How is that possible?,” Julie says. For Julie, like for most women, it is natural to express her fleeting thoughts and opinions. Men usually assume that their passing thoughts and feelings are not worth uttering. Speaking them would give them more weight and significance than they feel they deserve. While Julie naturally speaks her thoughts and feelings in private conversations with people she loves, her husband naturally dismisses his thoughts as soon as they occur as “not important enough”.

A particular scene used to repeat itself in our home. I would ask my daughters “How was school?” and the flood gates for a really lively communication filled with feeling would open. “It was a great day. At lunch time, I asked my friend B how her first date with C was and she told me… And my drama teacher today, guess what he said when… And I am planning to apply for drama council… what do you think, should I do that?… I am mad at myself though because I made some really silly mistakes on the math test…” etc.

Then I, or one of the girls, would ask my partner, “How was your day?” He would say, “Good…” Pause. Three pairs of eyes were looking at him expectedly. We could literally see his wheels turning. “They want more… okay, what happened today?” He would then embark on a list of factual events of the day. “I first did this… and then so and so came… and there was so much traffic on the way to… and then I had a meeting with so and so.” Looking around the table I would see the girls eyes glaze over and think, “It’s not just me who is tuning out.” What happened there? We hadn’t asked him to list what he did, we had asked him to connect with us on a feeling level. What we really wanted to know was how he felt during his day. We wanted to be able to experience his day second-hand through his thoughts, feelings and opinions.

So now we have a joke in our house. When we are trying to connect through words, thoughts and feelings, I will say “Okay. Tell us about your fleeting thoughts and feelings you had today! You know, the ones that you figured weren’t worth mentioning.” He can then laugh because he understands that his way of communicating is not lacking. We are just requesting to connect through feelings and thoughts, which to him seem unimportant. At that moment, I am asking him to speak the female genderlect for a bit.

women tend to connect

What does it on the other hand mean for women to speak the male genderlect? One way of speaking the male language is to connect through jokes and “ribbing”. Just as men often aren’t comfortable expressing their thoughts and feelings, we are often not as skilled at joking around and teasing others.

Another situation in which we might have to shift into the male genderlect is when we are in a position of authority as a boss or teacher. When I was studying to become a teacher, many of my fellow male students chose to teach high school rather than the elementary level. One said to me, “What I like about high school is that I can pull the trouble makers (male students) aside and let them know very clearly that we can have fun unless they piss me off. I can tell them if they piss me off that they’ll get kicked out. That always works!”

I remember wondering back then if that would work as well for a female teacher. I also remember thinking that it seemed really exhausting to me to have to discipline like this. For men, domineering over others through language comes more naturally, for women it is like learning a new language, the language of power and status.

In public situations, meetings for example, the roles are often reversed. Most men are more comfortable putting themselves on display, claiming public attention for what they have to say.

If you have a silent man at home who says “there is nothing to talk about”, keep in mind that for many men, being home means being free from having to prove themselves to others through verbal communication. They are free to be silent. For women on the other hand, home is a place where they are free to talk.

Nagging owls

Unfortunately, our differences in communication have given us women a bad rep as well. Have you ever wondered why women get labelled as “nags”? That is the result of the interplay between women’s and men’s different communication styles. Many women are inclined to do what is asked of them, especially if asked nicely; “many men are inclined to resist even the slightest hint that anyone, especially a woman, is telling them what to do. A woman will be inclined to repeat a request that doesn’t get a response because she is convinced that her husband would do what she asks, if he only understood that she really wants him to do it.” (Tannen, 31)

Her assumption is that he just didn’t hear her or forgot what she asked. She cannot fathom why he has an issue with being asked to do something. “but a man who wants to avoid feeling that he is following orders may instinctively wait before doing what she asked, in order to imagine that he is doing it of his own free will. Nagging is the result, because each time she repeats the request, he again puts off fulfilling it.” (Tannen, 31)

Another gender difference shows up when a decision needs to be made. Many women feel it is natural to consult their partners. They expect decisions to be discussed first and made by consensus. The discussion itself for women is evidence of closeness, caring and involvement. Usually, they are not asking their partners to make the decision for them.

Men on the other hand often feel hemmed if they can’t just act without talking first. How often have I heard men in my sessions or in my circle of friends complain “I feel like I have to ask for permission!” What women perceive as connection is seen by men as a lack of independence and being controlled by the woman, and therefore they fear being perceived as incompetent and weak.

For most women sharing

Men and women are frequently talking at cross-purposes when it comes to expressing feelings or troubles. When we share with our girlfriends how we feel, they are usually very good at sympathizing. One way they show us that they are empathizing and that we are not alone with our challenges is that they match our problem with a matching trouble. They might share that they feel the same or have had a similar experience. For most women the message itself is not the main point of complaining. It’s the metamessage that counts: Talking about a problem is a request for an expression of understanding. Troubles talk is intended to reinforce rapport between the person sharing and the person listening.

Men often tend to give the gift of advice or solving a problem over the gift of empathy. “But whereas many women appreciate help in fixing mechanical equipment, few are inclined to appreciate help in ‘fixing’ emotional troubles.” (Tannen, 52) In fact, women are frustrated when they do not get that closeness and understanding but rather advice which sends the meta-message “We are not the same. You have the problems. I have the solutions.”

Mutual understanding is symmetrical and connects. Giving advice is asymmetrical. “It frames the advice giver as more knowledgeable, more reasonable, more in control—in a word, one-up. And this contributes to the distancing effect.” (Tannen, 53)

So next time your partner does not validate your feelings but suggests a solution to your emotional struggle, remember that he missed the meta-message. You might need to say, “Honey, I don’t need a solution. I just want to bounce something off you and express my feelings. It would make me feel close and safe if you could just listen and acknowledge my feelings.” Then give him a chance to speak the female genderlect as best as he can.

Angelika

Relationship Coaching

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

If you enjoy my posts, you can follow Greendoor to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to click the “follow” button in the right-hand corner of your screen.

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HOMEWORK – Part Two – by Angelika Baum

This is the second in a two part series on homework. The first part, called “How a Grade 3 Book Report Turned into a Parenting Life Lesson for Me” was written by my friend and colleague Mary Strachan, the Founder of Fresh Perspectives and mother of two.

PART TWO

Nobody Likes Homework – Or?

By Angelika Baum

For the past ten years, I have been trying to convince my oldest daughter to throw out an old school project that was taking up room in the closet. It was a huge model of an airport runway, buildings and model planes attached to it. She made this project in grade two—or so we think. We also cannot remember anymore what the title of the assignment was. Yet, this project had become like a fifth limb to her. It had turned into the perfect representation of her creative ability. It was probably one of her first experiences of being resourceful and able to produce something that looked good and felt good. For this project she had to “interview” two people who worked at the airport. Ironically, she works at the airport herself today. The project—or what was left of it after all those years—stood for being able to achieve anything she sets her mind to.

As a teacher as well as a parent, I have seen children come into school with these elaborate and perfect projects which have so clearly been 80% produced by a parent. Have you ever wondered what is underneath this? Could it be our fear that our child will not be able to compete without us?

Let’s sit for a moment with the beliefs that cause this fear in us.

Does our story go a little bit like this? “It’s a tough world out there. It’s hard to compete with others. If you don’t get good grades in school you are not going to get a ‘good job’, and if you do not get a ‘good job’, you will not make ‘enough money’, and if you do not make ‘enough money’, you won’t be happy.”

Sometimes the fear story goes “My child is different. He/she is too sensitive/has too much energy/ADD/etc. Unless my child learns to be ‘normal’, he/she is lost and is going to fail in the system.”

Just notice your fear story. Be compassionate with yourself for having it. It was probably instilled long time ago by your own parents and your own experiences. Also ask what it would be like to let go of that story and trust that everything is alright. And what would it be like to trust our children to be smart, complete and resourceful? If we are packing their symbolic luggage to go out into the world, what would we like them to have in that suitcase of theirs?

homework - suitcase

What limiting beliefs do we teach our children by doing their homework for them?

“I cannot do my homework by myself.” Or more specifically, “I am not good enough (smart, creative, etc) to do it myself.” Maybe even, “I cannot do anything by myself; why even try.” He or she learns, “I am not good at problem solving” and “Homework is overwhelming.” And most limiting of all, “I need my parent in order to get through life and to compete with others. In order to make it through life I need help.”

It does not even have to be a project, regular everyday homework provides the opportunity for either learning limiting or supportive beliefs. Now that school is in full swing again, many parents find homework time stressful. Emotions fly high, tears roll and there is a lot of struggle when the experience could be completely different.

Am I saying that we shouldn’t under any circumstances support our children with their homework? Not at all. But there is a difference between supporting them and doing it for them. It’s the difference between teaching them strong beliefs about themselves and teaching them limiting beliefs about themselves, school and life.

Is homework a big dramatic event in your household? Do you have a child who puts all his or her energy into not doing the work or into whining about it? Do you hear “I don’t want to do this,” “I can’t do this,” or “I don’t know this” a lot? Do you find yourself being pulled into endless repetitive games around the school work?

homework H Ford quote

If this is your household, your child most likely believes that learning and homework are hard and not fun. Instead of embracing the homework as easy and enjoyable, your child puts his or her entire energy into fighting the situation.

How different would life be like for this child if he or she had the following beliefs?

  • I can do most of my homework by myself. If I need assistance, it is given to me.
  • I can think for myself and problem solve. If I need further clues, I can ask for them.
  • I am good at reading, writing and problem solving.
  • I am smart and I can do whatever I set my mind to.
  • I have the choice to make homework pleasant and I do.
  • I like doing my homework and I am good at it.
  • My homework is my responsibility and I do it as soon as I can.
  • I always complete my homework efficiently.
  • I do my best in school and my best is always good enough.

Now you might be thinking, “Sure! When pigs fly!”

I promise you that you CAN shift the energy in your house—but you need to start with yourself.

Do you truly believe that homework can be fun and easy? Or do you feel burdened by it and are secretly thinking, “It’s the teacher’s job to teach my kids in school, not mine at home on the weekend!” Watch how you are responding to the homework; how do you feel when it’s homework time; how are you are talking about it?

We also need to be conscious of our own fears and not pass them on without questioning their measure of truth and their usefulness. Is it more likely that our children will thrive in life when they are living in fear, or when they are embracing new challenges and tasks with curiosity and joy?

homework 1

How different would your family life be if you embraced your child’s school work not as an evil which has to be done but as something positive? Show interest in what they are doing in school, supply an everyday context for what they are learning, or be impressed by the amazing knowledge or skills that your child is currently acquiring.

Provide applications for what they are doing in school. Math, for example, is abstract if I am only writing numbers underneath each other and adding or subtracting single digits. Give your children money to buy something small rather than you buying everything. Point out prices and do calculations. When they ask, “How old is grandpa?” don’t give them the answer but say “Grandpa was born in 1945. How old do you think he is?” Life is full of mathematical calculations. Playfully practice the times tables and simple additions, subtractions and divisions. Most of all, know that you child can do this. They are smart enough to put their energy into avoiding thinking and doing homework. Just re-direct that curiosity and intelligence to playfully learning every day.

Walk your talk about learning and school work. Does your child see you read to relax or educate yourself? Do you enjoy when you have to write something? Do you approach problems with an attitude of I’ll find a solution rather than “I can’t do this”? Are you making time for creativity?

homework - bookshelf 1

Nobody is perfect, so if you have noticed that you are not modelling to your child that thinking, learning and being creative are fun, be open about it. Say to your son or daughter, “I don’t read as much as I would like to. Let’s find some time each week for you and I to read together or sit in the same room reading.” Or “I think grandma would really like to get a letter. Let’s sit down together tomorrow and write one for her.” Or “When it comes to new things, I sometimes give up to fast. I want to change that. What do you think I should do?”

Children value transparency and truthfulness. Don’t get annoyed, angry or lecture. Don’t tell them stories about how you always did your homework right away when you were a student. Be honest and prepared to make changes yourself. Change your own attitude towards homework. Use it as an opportunity to connect and have fun with your children. School is their life; you can help them to enjoy it.

Angelika

Coaching & Conscious Parenting

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

greendoorrelaxation.net

If you enjoy my posts, you can follow Greendoor to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to click the “follow” button in the right-hand corner of your screen.

HOMEWORK – Part One – by Mary Strachan

I have a special treat for you today, a collaboration on the topic “homework”. I am sharing the blog space for today’s post in two parts with my colleague, friend and fellow mother Mary Strachan, who is the founder of Fresh Perspectives, a Parenting Coaching Service. She coaches and mentors parents and children. The purpose of Fresh Perspectives is to empower parents to get clear on what they want most, understand what might be getting in their way, and get re-energized to raise a happy and healthy family. Here is a story Mary would like to share:

PART ONE

How a Grade 3 Book Report Turned into a Parenting Life Lesson for Me

By Mary Strachan

When our son was in grade 3, he had a series of 3 book report projects to do over the course of the year. The first one went really well. I supported him to break it down into pieces and he was able to get it done without any drama at all. It was really quite a pleasant experience, with minimal involvement on my part.

homework mary 1- zombiekins

The second one didn’t go so well. His motivation to do it just wasn’t there, and, ski and snowmobile season had started so he spent most weekends away, enjoying his fun in the snow. He definitely did not work on it a little bit at a time.

Suddenly it was Family Day weekend, and the project was due on the Tuesday, and it wasn’t anywhere near being done.   As you can imagine, stress levels were high – both his and mine. The more I pointed out that he was running out of time, the less he wanted to work on it. Instead, he suggested he might as well not do it at all, seeing as he’d “never get it done anyways.” (In the heat of the moment, I may have suggested he’d never get it done at the rate he was going.)

Several arguments later, I found myself bargaining with him to get it done. If I drew the characters’ heads, would he colour them in (please say yes) and, if you tell me what you want to say, I’ll type it out for you (it was so painful to watch him type.)

We got the project done. On time. Mission accomplished. Crisis averted.

I could breathe again. Until Tuesday night that is. When he came home from school, he was worried about how a class mate would do on the project because she had only written a couple of sentences for each section – unlike him, whose sections were full because I had typed them out for him. He was convinced she was going to fail. But I knew better. If anyone had failed, it was me.

homework mary 2- failure

Sure enough, I got a call from his teacher later in the week, asking me to come in and talk about his project. Even though I was embarrassed, I went in to have the conversation. Luckily, his teacher kept an open mind about what happened, and wanted to understand what lead me to do so much of the project for him.

Together we figured out that leaving most of it to the end was a really big part of the problem. He felt so overwhelmed at the thought of having so much to do that it was just easier not to do it at all. He also changed the kind of project he wanted to do at the last minute, creating more work for himself. We agreed that she would work with him to set up a time line for the last project to keep him on track and stress free.

But there was more to it than that. She also helped me see that I was unwilling to let him take the project to school “as is” and incomplete. The thought never, ever, crossed my mind. It was due so that meant it would be finished and handed in. No ifs, ors, ands, or buts. At least not on my watch.

Cartoon

Cartoon

My belief that he had to have a finished project to hand in robbed him of the opportunity to learn from his choices. To feel the consequences of the decision not to finish it. To understand what to do differently next time so he wouldn’t be so overwhelmed. To admit to the teacher it didn’t go the way he’d planned. Even worse, it taught him that the only way to handle the situation was for me to do the work for him.

And, at the end of the day, if he didn’t hand in a completed project, on time, didn’t it mean that I was not a “good” mother?

Lots has changed since then. I’ve seen him hand projects in on time and late. I’ve also seen him hand in a version of the project he thought he was supposed to do that was very different from the one he was actually assigned. I’ve kept him company late at night while he has finished them and celebrated with him when he’s completed them a day early. I’ve encouraged him to check in with his teachers to make sure he’s on track and to be honest with them when he’s having trouble. I’ve bought supplies for him, driven him to friends’ houses to work on group projects, and even proof read his writing when he’s asked me to do it.

Are there times when I want to manage his work more? Sure. Are there times I’d love to jump in and rescue him? Yep – I’m still working on this one. Do I like it when he procrastinates and leaves things to the last minute? Not really – I find it kind of stressful, actually. But I realized something. I’ve had my turn at being a student. This is his turn. And the more I do for him, the less opportunity he has to experience what it truly means to learn – beyond the facts and multiplication tables and capital cities.

homework mary 4- plantinhand

As far as my worries about being a “good” mother, I know it has less to do with being “right” or what other people think about me and more about allowing space for my kids to experience all of what life has to offer – the good and the bad, the ups and the downs, and allowing them the chance to discover what works and doesn’t work for them. It’s about staying connected with them without overdoing it and being available and present when they need me to be.

Check out Mary’s website for 5 Ways to Support Your Kids With Their Homework Without Actually Doing It For Them

The Shadow Side of Gratitude

When I casually asked my family a couple of days ago, “Any ideas for a Thanksgiving blog?” my daughter replied, “Only cheesy ones, about gratitude”.

Now, I don’t think that gratitude is cheesy at all. Gratitude has many benefits. It gives us an experience of joy and optimism, it strengthens our relationships and it actually improves our health. The better we feel about our life, the healthier our physical body is. However, the question is, how do we handle gratitude?

My grandmother who survived two world wars used to look at her grandchildren and say to us “You are so spoiled. You should be modest and grateful for everything you have.” I learned early on that being “ungrateful” is a terrible thing, a character flaw, something we need to hide and fight. Can you guess what happened?

It became one of my shadows. Each time when I felt disappointed about something and had the perspective of ungratefulness about an event, I felt really guilty and flawed. I felt like I had failed to be what one should be, which is always grateful.

shadow 1

And as it is the case with our shadows, one of the things which triggered me most as a parent were little children who showed up as “demanding” and “spoiled”. I remember vividly a little boy at my younger daughter’s birthday party, the forgotten sad middle child of three, who loudly and clearly expressed his dissatisfaction with his loot bag as opposed to his brother’s loot bag. Apparently, his brother’s loot bag had the items in exactly the colours he wanted.

Instead of being able to see what was going on for this little guy, that his life experience was being overshadowed by his only slightly younger brother and being able to feel compassion for him, I felt an inner anger rise about this entitlement and lack of gratitude. There was my grandmother all over again. I felt like saying to him, “You are so spoiled.” Obviously, I didn’t, but I could tell his father saw it in my face and heard it in my tone as I tried to respond with a calm I didn’t feel inside. All the little boy had done was mirror to me what I had learned to hate about myself.

I have thought about my grandmother and what she taught me to suppress—the feeling of dissatisfaction in this case—many times since. I’ve thought of birthdays growing up when I felt disappointment but smiled because one is supposed to be grateful for everything. Inside, I felt like a horrible ungrateful person. Somehow that feeling of “un-gratitude” grew more from year to year, and from birthday to birthday. Suppressing our shadows is like cutting off the heads of the Lernaean Hydra, the serpentine water monster from Greek and Roman mythology. When you cut one head off, she grows two. If you cut those two off, she grows four and so on. I had a multi-headed hydra in my life, waking up each October around my birthday with more and more heads.

It wasn’t until I was a mother buying natural fibred underwear for my first child and my grandmother repeated her sentence “You are so spoiled” that I realized, it wasn’t just a bad thing to be spoiled. Suddenly, I heard a different sub-text. I heard, “Who are you to think you or your child deserves the more expensive item? Who are you to think you are special?”

I didn’t know the answer back then but I know it today. Back then she managed to trigger the feeling of guilt for being so ungrateful and spoiled. Even though my rising anger inside told me there was something to do with this situation, I did not have the right answer because I did not really feel deserving. Today, I know I deserve whatever I decide I deserve. What can look like lack of gratitude to others can also be that you know what you want and you are able to treat yourself or your family to the best.

Louise Hay - I deserve

Fact is, we are all everything. Everything that exists in the world around us, in the macrocosm, also exists inside of us, in the microcosm. We are all grateful at times and ungrateful at others. Sometimes we see the light at the end of the tunnel or the gift something or someone is. Other times a nagging feeling of “this is not good enough” creeps in. That nagging feeling is not there to be judged and suppressed. It is a call to find a way to honour ourselves more—even if that means being judged by other people as ungrateful, spoiled or selfish.

Fifteen years ago, I started on my spiritual path. In spiritual circles it’s all about gratitude. And, as I mentioned above, gratitude is a fantastic perspective changer and key to happiness. Yet, let’s not forget to first honestly feel what is really there, acknowledge it, decide if it’s a call to do something and then, in the final step, shift to a different perspective—if we choose to.

Gratitude cannot be forced. Nobody has to be grateful, not on their birthday or Christmas or Thanksgiving. Those celebrations can bring out all sorts of emotions. Honour them. And when you are ready, feel free to try this thing called gratitude—not because we should all be grateful, but just because it might be fun to see what it’s like.

Angelika

Thanksgiving - Happy Thanksgiving

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