photo by alexindigo via Flickr
I have often thought parenting is like climbing a mountain: ups and downs, tricky turns, sometimes going down a little to go up and sometimes slowly navigating slippery passages. All of these trying times, however, come with incredible feelings of accomplishment at every “peak.” After listening to a recent interview with a famous author and mountain climber, I’m even more convinced.
Climbing mountains and “Zooming in” on the problem
Jim Collins, the coauthor of the book Great by Choice, is a mountain climber. He talks about times when you get a not-so-great grip during a climb and things start looking bleak. He says climbers (ahem, ahem: parents) tend to “zoom in” on the problem, trying to find a way to get a better grasp; clinching and gripping even tighter to that bad hold. With each slight move of a finger or shift of weight in an effort to make that grip better, the problem gets worse and worse. Ultimately, if the climber can’t break out, he falls.
Undivided focus is given towards the weakening hold: the problem
Zooming in on the problem puts undue attention on the problem, rather than the solution. Teeth are mashed, knuckles are popping, and fingertips loose pressure. Bad goes to worse.
However, if the climber could simply zoom out instead of zoom in, he or she would notice the better foothold or another better grip position. Moving in any of these other directions immediately alleviates all the problems being encountered. However, if completely zoomed in on the problem, the solutions are not visible.
Are there times in your role as a parent you focus too much on the problem rather than the possible solutions or bigger picture?
I see this sometimes in a wide variety of situations where the parent gets so deep into trying to “follow through” or “make sure the child doesn’t get away with it,” that the parent is almost ensuring the behavior will escalate and cause a much bigger problem than it was in the beginning. I have heard parents say, “if he does not clean his room after I ask two or three times, I’ll go in there and MAKE him do it.” What does that mean? You are going to force it and create a bigger mess than the room ever was? ZOOM OUT, for crying out loud!
I have seen parents get so frustrated with making sure their kid does what they say, that they end up having WWIII when, if they would have gone about things differently, there would not be a problem in the first place. Adding punisher after punisher until something finally hits so hard the child submits. Physically engaging at the point of total frustration. Both parent and child typically leave this situation embarrassed and emotionally drained. I get it…it happens to all of us.
Zooming out in these situations means stepping back and asking questions about why he is not cleaning his room and how you can make it more likely next time. It is about asking why she always dilly-dallies around in the morning instead of being ready on time and how you might could motivate her to move quicker and more independently in the future. It is about why YOU react so strongly in some situations and how YOU can better prepare for (or avoid) them in the future.
Put up notes around the house, put something on the fridge. Whatever it is you need to do to remind yourself to ZOOM OUT in times of distress or difficulty. Enlist your spouse to tell you to “zoom out” when things are getting tough. Look for other options. Don’t fall off the cliff because you wanted to make that one grip hold. Make it to the top because you found better solutions once you got into trouble.