Wednesday, January 28, 2009

More on Double Binds

Ever notice that your style of thinking changes in the shower? I dunno, maybe more meandering kinds of thoughts that allow for ideas to be generated that wouldn't happen else where?

Happened to me yesterday. I was thinking about yesterday's post on double binds when I suddenly was drawn back to spring days where puddles are present, but it is cold enough that there is a thin layer of ice on top.

Remember those ice covered puddles...and when you step on them a little, they crack and then there's an air bubble...and when you step on them a little again on the other side of the puddle, it cracks again and the intersection of the cracks makes a really cool design? Or when you smash the ice, the water comes spurting out? There were all sorts of neat experiements to have the water ooze out slowly from the side, or spurt out suddently from a little hole. I loved those puddles. I loved playing in those puddles.

But when you're a kid playing in puddles, it's messy stuff. My pants would get dirty. And my dad would be disgruntled at my lack of ability to keep my pants clean, and frustrated at all the laundry I was creating for my mother.

Wondering how this connects back to double binds? It does. It's coming:

My dad would say, "Why did you get your pants dirty again today?" It was a question, which generally requires an answer.

However, there was no way to respond to this question that would satisfy him. If I tried to explain the lure of the puddles, then it seemed to him that I was simply indicating flagrant disobedience. If I tried to explain that I made an effort to tuck my pants into my rubber boots and play carefully, then it seemed to him that I was making silly excuses and that was worse. If I resorted to the age old fallback that children use all over the world in situations like this: "I don't know", then he would be angry that I wasn't talking, or wasn't making an effort to respond to his question.

But parents all over this country, all the time, ask questions for which there is no right answer--it's not really a question at all. The parent doesn't want an answer--there is no answer that can satisfy at that moment. But because it has a question mark at the end, an answer is expected. The kid can't win.

I remember reading something where a parent asked, "Why did you eat a cookie before supper when I told you you couldn't?" (another cultural classic). And the interviewer said, "Wouldn't it be great to be able to say, 'Part of me knew I wasn't supposed to, and part of me couldn't wait because they smelled so good, and they are always so yummy, and I couldn't stop myself'?" And the parent would recognize the problem with impulse control (and don't most people, even grown ups, struggle with this?) and then have a conversation about wanting to do something even when you're not supposed to do it, in a way that maintains the connection, rather than breaking it?

I gotta go...I think my kid has his hands in the cookie jar. Pray for me.

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