“What is your problem?” the counselor asked. “Do you view your children as the problem?”
I froze because I didn’t want to own the first thought that came into my head. “Yes.” I thought. “I have been viewing my children as the problem. The messy house. The loads of laundry. The disobedient defiance of my authority. It’s the children. It’s their fault I’m so tired, so ornery, so worn-out and empty. They are the problem.”
As soon as the thoughts raced through my head, I was ashamed. How could I put all that blame and guilt on my children, whom I love? In that moment, I realized the deep flaw and hurtful impact of my entire thought process.
With a deliberate paradigm shift, and a few words of counsel from a trusted loved one, I immediately made efforts to change my thought process. The messy house is a problem, not the mess-makers. The overwhelming mountain of laundry feels like a problem, but the mountain is not made of children. Being tired, ornery, worn-out and empty are all problems, but they are not my children.
The children weren’t the problem, but I did indeed have a problem. I needed to change my perception and identification of problems, as well as my thought process in handling conflicts with my children.
My Children’s Role In the Problem
First, I had to take a good look at my children and rediscover them for who they are. My children are young individuals who are in the process of learning and growing and trying to make sense of their place in our family and the world surrounding them. They are curious explorers. They are active in their play. They are healthy. Their dispositions are generally happy and optimistic. They are affectionate and loving. They are most definitely not the problem.
I’m not saying they don’t leave behind them a trail of dirt and laundry in their active play. They leave food all over the counters in their healthy (or non-healthy) eating. They go exploring without giving me a full detail report of where they are going and when they will be home. Their love and affection sometimes manifests itself in kicks and shoves. Their energetic attitudes oft-times lead them to think they don’t have to do any chores. Even then, the children are not the problem.
Identifying the Problem
Being able to identify the real problem has resulted in a meaningful parenting change for me, not only in my ability to more accurately define the problem but in handling it in a way that is beneficial for all involved. For example:
Scenario 1: My son is yelling at his sister and has thrown a punch. After a few deep breaths, I identify the problem. Initially I would point to my son. He is the problem because he is yelling and hitting. So how do I solve him?
With my new thought process, I can identify the problem as his sister not wanting to play legos, preferring instead to color. While I still discipline my son for yelling and hitting, I can focus on solving the real problem, which is their communication with each other.
This is also the perfect opportunity to teach my children how to solve the problem themselves. If I were to ask my daughter what the problem is, she would say her brother is the problem. My son would respond that his sister is the problem. But now we have the chance to dig a little deeper.
In doing so, we find that my son just wants to spend time with his sister. My daughter isn’t opposed to playing legos, she’d just rather color. Before long, we have a compromise; coloring first, then legos. More important than the compromise, however, is the realization that the sibling isn’t the problem.
Scenario 2: In loading the fourth load of laundry that day, I find several pairs of socks, still matched and rolled up. I know they are clean. I also find a pair of pants, still neatly folded. Digging deeper into the pile, I find a shirt, still on its hanger. And it’s not the first time. It’s happened too many times to count.
Immediately I begin to blame and put down my kids in my mind as I finish loading the washer and start the laundry cycle. They are the problem, I tell myself. They continue to be thoughtless in the pick-up and sorting of their laundry.
In my new problem solving, I realize they are not the problem. The way they do laundry is the problem.
So, I bring one or two of them (the worst offenders) into the laundry room with me. We look at their basket and sort the laundry together as I demonstrate for them, again, the proper way to do laundry and why. Clean clothes don’t need to be washed. Dirty clothes do. I point out that laundry isn’t the problem and me nagging them about laundry isn’t the problem. The problem is making sure they do a good job the first time.
Repeating the Process
Solving a problem once does not mean it will never resurface. I’m sure I will invite children into the laundry room several more times. I’m sure we will also visit their bedrooms, the kitchen and the toy room frequently.
I’m learning that problem solving can be a process that pays in great dividends. Shifting my focus from people as the problem to the real issue as the problem is saving relationships in our family.
The same process works in other types of relationships too. I have found my new form of problem solving useful in my marriage, with friends, and in a work or church environment. I have found I am more relaxed and optimistic with my children, husband and other relationships. I am more confident in my ability to handle conflict and in my efforts to be a deliberate mother. I can’t solve people. In fact, I’m not sure it’s even possible to solve a person. But I’m getting pretty good at solving problems.
QUESTION: What is your problem? Are you viewing the people around you as the problem?
CHALLENGE: Look for three problems today. As you encounter the problem, look for the true problem rather than blame the person. Help your children recognize the solution to the problem as you solve it together.
Originally posted on November 21, 2012.