“‘I can’t believe you let them control you like that.’ They were the last words my mum said to me before I walked out last week.”
My new client, Emma, continued to tell her story. “I was so angry with her, how dare she say those things to me, I’m doing my best. It’s not easy bringing up the girls on my own. My ex-husband wasn’t really around much when we were together, and now I have a pre-teen and a teenage daughter to deal with on my own. I know I let them get away with some things and I know I don’t handle their tantrums well.”
Emma stared directly at me with tears streaming down her face. “She was right, wasn’t she? They do control me.”
These kinds of conversations are not uncommon. As an NLP therapist in Berkshire, I work with many parents who, predominantly due to a significant change at home or when dealing with their own life challenges, feel they have lost control and are in fact being controlled by their children.
Emma felt this change had begun after the split from her husband. She went on to tell me how some of her deepest fears were coming true; a sense of helplessness, rejection, lack of control and a loss of love.
Once Emma had highlighted these fears and the impact they were having, she was able to move from a position of powerlessness to one of empowerment. By taking responsibility for situations (even those we didn’t choose) it empowers us, giving us the ability to take action and make a change.
As we worked together Emma went on to identify that she felt guilty for the break-up of the family home and had been so desperate to make her children happy, that she had been much more lenient than before. She believed she was helping the girls by removing some of the ‘rules’ they had in place, allowing them to do whatever they wanted.
Does this story ring true for you? Maybe you’ve seen first-hand what can happen when a parent/parents find it difficult to cope and the children begin to take control? Do you know someone who also feels as though they are losing control at home?
One of the first things Emma and I looked at together was the concept of human needs and their impact on our behaviour. NLP utilises the work of Tony Robbins, ‘6 human needs’ (who adapted them from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, discussed in his paper ‘A Theory of Human Motivation’ back in 1943).
These 6 needs are: Connection, Certainty, Variety, Significance, Growth & Contribution (the latter 2 being met by meeting the first four).
The human needs are one of the key driving forces behind our actions, we’re ultimately looking to keep our needs in balance ensuring we grow and contribute to society. When any of these needs are out of whack, we may employ out-of-character actions to help us meet our needs and regain the balance.
Emma and I focused on the two needs that were impacted most by her current situation:
Feeling in control leads to a level of certainty and comfort. Humans (especially children) like to understand what’s going on. We seek comfort in routine behaviours and patterns. It’s why we can find change so difficult to cope with. When we have been through a significant change in our life our levels of certainty can plummet.
From mum’s point of view, her own levels of certainty were in question. She had now become a full-time single mum, juggling work, her children and many jobs that had previously been shared.
From the girls’ point of view, the certainty of their family unit had been taken away. Their daily schedules had gone into disarray as mum learned to balance the new activities. Although Emma thought she was helping her girls by giving them more freedom, what they were actually looking for was the certainty their previous routine had given them. They were desperately in need of clear and consistent boundaries.
Love & Connection
The need for love and connection takes us outside of ourselves, to belong to something more. Our first sense of connection is within our family unit. Later this need is enriched by friendship groups, clubs and work colleagues.
In this instance Emma had lost a pivotal connection when her marriage broke down and she was questioning her ability to build successful relationships. In turn, as she was dealing with these feelings, she wasn’t able to nurture the connections she did have. Their natural bond was being challenged as Emma adjusted to her new role.
The girls could sense Emma withdrawing and were doing as many actions as possible to gain her attention and ‘force’ her to get back in charge. This was especially important at a time when their need for connection was at its highest.
So, what did Emma change to regain her role as a parent, to meet her own needs and those of her girls?
1. She reintroduced the use of boundaries. She worked out what her expectations were of the girls, what she expected them to do and where they had choices. She was clear about what she considered acceptable behaviour and what wasn’t. They worked together to agree rewards and consequences. This included the girls setting a couple of ‘parenting boundaries’ for mum 🙂
2. They also worked together to create a family plan, to reintroduce daily structure within their new circumstances and find a way all of them were able to feel in control of their day-to-day activities. The activity itself was a great act of teamwork and they have gone on to pull together as a team to implement it.
The girls commented, “It’s great to have mum back, we know where we stand and what we need to do. Of course we were going to push the boundaries when they weren’t clear, we are kids after all”.
3. All this team work also helped with their sense of connection. In addition, Emma made sure she spent some quality time with the girls, together and separately. Quality time to do fun activities together, which included football, tea and cake at the local cafe, nail painting and chatting. The key to these times together was no technology and no multi-tasking, just simple together time, learning about each other and having fun.
Emma couldn’t believe the difference in her girls. When I saw her a few weeks later she was so proud of the changes they’d made together.
“I was so nervous about telling the girls what I wanted to happen and how I wanted them to behave. I felt this was the last thing they needed. It was, however, the one thing they were crying out for. My lack of control led them to believe they needed to control the situation. Something no child should have to do.”
By Debbie Kinghorn