Being an adult is hard and sometimes we find ourselves sounding like our parents,feeling or viewing our partner as a 5 year old version of the adult self. ” OMG stop acting like a 5 year old..Act your age….You sound like my Mother/Father.I feel like Im turning into your Mother/Father” are comments and thoughts most of us can relate to at some point in our lives.
Now if we are 5 years old or the persons Mother /Father then these comments are accurate and fine. When however our partner is 45 grown adult and we find ourselves either saying or thinking these things then we have a problem with the art of adulting.
Setting the scene is a couple Robyn and Chris ( notice gender neutral )just home from a long day of work /wrangling kids/work colleagues traffic and getting the wrong coffee order etc etc.
Chris- “Im so tired Im going to watch tv and just blob out for a bit with my beer/wine/chips/socks/Facebook/blanket fort”
Robyn- “But what about the rubbish you havent put it out yet and whose making dinner???”
Chris- “mutters under breathe- OMG just give me a break Im tired and just want a moment to chill.”
Robyn- “Oh great if I want anything done I have to do it your like a teenager!”
Chris- “Well stop acting like my B%#$$Y Mother/Father your no fun.”
Robyn- ” Typical. Now I know just how your Mother/Father/geography teacher felt I always have to be the grown up”
This type of dialogue can keep continuing unresolved with ruptures in relationship and everyone being unhappy and no rubbish EVER getting put out. Dinner tends to be a plate of hot resentment with a side salad of contempt.
So lets take a side step and look at some theory .
Based on his observations of people in his own clinical practice in the 1950’s psychologist Eric Berne developed the idea that people can switch between different states of mind and behaviour—sometimes in the same conversation and certainly in different parts of their lives, for example at work and at home. He found that these states of mind fell into three types which he named Parent, Adult and Child and helped us respond to life in automatic ways. Also known as PAC states
The Parent state reflects the absorption over the years of the influences of our actual parents and of parent and authority figures such as teachers, bosses and so on. One is to enable people hopefully be better actual parents of their children with the two main characteristics being critical or nurturing in a positive( teaching/boundaries/caring for appropriately) or negative way (blaming or smothering/rescuing).
The Adult state is where we hope to be as adults. It is our adult selves, dealing with the never ending interesting facets everyday life. Its more logical, fair, solution based and It also has the function of regulating the activities of the Parent and Child, and mediating between them. IE Child- ‘I hate you and Im not going to eat my carrots’, Parent ‘You are so naughty and never do as your told. EAT YOUR CARROTS OR ELSE’. Adult ‘Hate is a pretty strong word , how about we mash them with sauce?”
The Child state consists of parts of ourselves which hark back to our childhood. It is childlike but not childish. This child can be spontaneous, fun loving, rebellious ,trying to please or inquisitive IE How does the moon not fall out of the stars….why are stars twinkly….why is twinkly called twinkly. You get the idea.
Berne used this model of the personality to inform his theory of transactional analysis, which is just the study of the transactions, the communication, the relationship between people as in the diagram below. The parent and child states have either a positive or negative aspect and its when the negative aspects come into play then dis-hormony can run riot.
The above scenario highlights how individuals can get triggered by each other into unhelpful parental/child states and get caught in the drama triangle which I wrote about in a previous blog.
If as a child we had a critical parent we can SWITCH into this child rebellious/or over pleasing state when we perceive a criticism, equally if we see someone coming from a child rebellious state we can switch into our learnt parental roles of criticism or over nurturing. We can get stuck in these negative transactions and all our adulting goes out the door!
HOW It CAN LOOK.
Chris- “Im so tired Im going to watch tv and just blob out for a bit with my beer/wine/chips/socks/Facebook/blanket fort”(child response)
Robyn- goes over to Chris on sofa, gives a hug/head rub/kiss.( nurturing parent) “Was it a tough day Chris? How about we both get our selves sorted and think about dinner later?( adulting response)
Chris- “Yeah it was Im so tired can you make me dinner and bring it to me? (A mix of some adulting and still in child)
Robyn- ” No I cant as Im busy finishing a call but when your ready we can do it together or just have cake and pretend to be super heroes? ( mix of adulting and some healthy free child).
Chris- “Oh sorry I wasn’t thinking but ooooh I love you I can get the ice-cream and fruit for us?”( adult,nurturing parent and healthy free child)
As you can see its not always about being firmly in the ADULT, because the art of adulting includes having some positive child aspects and some healthy parent characteristics in the mix.
The art of adulting means we understand when we are getting triggered or coming from one of these unhealthy but automatic states and having the tools to shift gear. Important also is helping our partner get back on track and having healthy ways to discuss this.Try some homework question with your partner
What did you learn about being a parent from your parents?
How were decisions made? What were the rules?
How were boundaries set, critical or fair? What did they say do?
As a kid what was your way of dealing with this? Did you rebel or try to be the good kid?
How do you think this plays out with us?
How can we have more of the healthy child/parent roles?
Use these questions as a way of getting to know each other more and understanding that each of us is a product of our learnt relationship patterns which are often unconscious. When we can understand our selves and our loved ones we can communicate more effectively and build stronger connections together. These tools are also incredibly useful in other relationships whether work, family or friends.
Remember no matter how old we are its so important to enjoy that positive child state with others as life is short and often far too serious!