led by Dr. Lyle Becourtney, licensed psychologist: (917) 968-0965

The Most Important Role of Your Life

The Most Important Role of Your Life!
by Ron Huxley
Parenting, without a doubt, is the most important role anyone can play. Very few parents will challenge that statement. More often, the questions parents ask include: "What role do I play in my family?" or "How do I change my role if I don't like it?" Are you the hero? The sinister villain? Do you feel like you are just an "extra" in the movie of your own family?

Most parents are unhappy with the characters they play in their families because they are too extreme. On the one hand, they might play the part of the policeman, judge, or jury in a continual courtroom drama of parents against children. On the other hand, their parenting may be the portrayal of a victim or martyr. In either case, these personifications are unbalanced and unsatisfying roles.

A more satisfying role might be one of a teacher or guide. The motivation of this part is to run the household with an authoritative hand versus a strict authoritarian one. The latter part encourages children to be submissive and do what they are told when they are told to do it but teaches them nothing, in terms of inner discipline. The former role teaches children to be self-responsible and follow the example of the parents in attitude and action. There is no "Do what I say, not what I do" lines in this play. Wouldn't it be fun to enact a drama where supporting characters, in the family, are truly supportive and give one another respect? Sound like a fairy tale? It's not! Here are three techniques that directors (parents) can use to redefine their roles and help their little actors (children) achieve the performance of a lifetime.

"Rewriting the script"

Parents can ask themselves how they can change their roles in the negative scripts they are playing with their children. What are the issues that create the most negative interactions? What are occasions that negative interaction take place most frequently? What are the places that seem to invite family members to make the most negative interactions? Who are the people most likely to be involved in the negative script? And, what are the times that these problem behaviors occur most often? If parents are not the first one to start a negative interaction, what role do they play in responding or reacting to the other person?

"Acting As If."

One way to change a parent's role is to challenge their belief systems about what it means to be a "good" or "bad" parent. Another way is to change the behavior that goes along with it. Parents may feel they cannot change their beliefs or are still unable to identify their role. In this case study, parents will find it easier to change their behaviors by "acting as if."

"Acting as if" is a way that parents can change their parenting roles into that of a teacher or guide by acting as if they are a teacher or guide. Even when they do not feel like they have anything to teach or that they are not a suitable guide, they can "act as if" they do. They do not have to believe it to act like it. The reality is that parents are already teaching their child something. "Acting as if" is simply doing what parents are already doing but in a more positive manner. For example, when a teenager gets upset at their parent for not getting to stay out later then the parent feels is reasonable, the parent can "act as if" they are not upset by their teenager's tantrums and act firm and consistent instead of getting into a verbal battle. Likewise, when a two-year-old throws a tantrum in the store, the parent can "act as if" their child is not embarrassing them in front of everybody, and perform their balanced parenting duties in the way they need to - with love and limits.

Children will not expect this change in behavior. They will expect the parent to act in the familiar ways that they have always acted in the past. They view the parent much like a robot. Wind mom or dad up and they will respond in the same fashion every time. Right? Not anymore! At least not anymore now that parents can "act as if" things are different. What they will find by doing something different, from what the child expects the parent to do, is that they have changed the script they continually play out with the teenager or the two-year-old. By "acting as if" parents can rewrite their roles as well as the sequence of events in the negative scripts they act out with their child. As a result, parents will create a different ending to their parent/child scripts to one that is more positive and balanced.

"Doing a 180."

Parents who find themselves participating in negative interactions, whether they started it or not, can reverse this trend by "doing a 180." Another way of saying this is "do the opposite" of what parents are currently doing and not finding very effective. If, for instance, the parent discovers that they raise their voice with a particular child over a specific issue during a peculiar time of the day, then that parent can try "doing a 180." Instead they can strive to lower their voice, change the issue, or discuss it at a different time of day. Or, if a parent finds that they tend to be more tired and grumpy at the end of the day or their child more moody in the morning, try reducing the overall interaction with that person during that time. Use humor by putting up a storm warning sign on the refrigerator or a grumpy person crossing sign in the hallway. Parents can try doing the opposite of what they would normally do in a given situation and break the stronghold that the negative scripts have on the family. "Doing a 180," like "acting as if," introduces a novel stimulus to a negative situation and thereby reverses its negative course.

While these three techniques won't change every family story, they will redefine the roles parents are playing on the stage of their own life and allow them to find more enjoyable parts to play. Taking the lead role in the family is crucial if parents are to rewrite their family scripts. A bit part or standing on the sidelines is not the place for parents who want more than a small part in a comedic tragedy called "My Family." Take direct action and change your roles and your family story.


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