The Power of One
Many times when I’m struggling with issues in my relationships: parenting, marriage, friends, church, work, it’s easy for me to identify what the other person can do to improve the situation. But the truth is that I’m the only person that I can control. I can’t make anyone else behave differently (including my children), but I can change how I respond to their behavior, which in an interesting turn of events, forces them to behave differently.
I can choose not to argue with a disrespectful child using phrases like “I’ll be happy to talk about this when you’re voice is as calm as mine” (in the calmest monotone voice possible). Instead of telling my kids to do their chores, I can say things like “you are welcome to play video games as soon as your chores are done.”
With spouses, co-workers, parents, and adult children, I can describe what I’m willing to do rather than telling them how they should feel or what they should do. Phrases such as: “I will be happy to take care of that as soon as I’ve finished this” (substituting “that” for whatever is requested and “this” with whatever you are currently doing); or “dinner is at seven, you are welcome to join us if that time works for you”; or “Your friends are welcome in our home as long as they respect our family rules” can be helpful ways to both care for myself and respect the autonomy of the person I’m relating to.
In families, one person really does have the power to change the system. Think about what happens when a child is born into a family or a child leaves for college – everyone in the family has to adjust to the new reality of family life. Behavioral changes can have a similar impact. If my response to a particular behavior has always been to get upset and yell, and I choose to stop, calm down, and use words and phrases that keep my “upstairs” brain in charge, my family system will change over time as long as I’m consistent and committed to my changes.