Parenting Expectations: Predicting Disaster

Steve had been a caring child until his brother Charlie was born.  Their parents, Brad and Nancy chalked it up to “a phase he was going through.”  Steve was now twenty years old and the phase is still going on.
Charlie is as giving as his brother is selfish.  They are poles apart in their temperaments.  Their parents cannot explain this polarity: “We love both of our kids just the same.”
One night, Brad and Nancy came home from the movies to find Charlie’s car missing from its usual parking space.  Brad said, “Steve must have taken it.  I know he’s over at his buddy Tom’s  house.  I’m going to go over there and get him.”  Nancy volunteered to accompany him.  They turned and took about four steps in the direction of their car when Brad came to his senses and thought about some points we had discussed in one of his sessions.  ”Wait a minute.  That is exactly what he expects us to do!  We have always come down on him like the wrath of God because everything he does is wrong.  We expect him to do the wrong thing, and then we get nuts when he does it.”
Nancy agreed that they were about to fulfill Steve’s prophecies of disaster, right on schedule.  The old way wasn’t working.  It didn’t improve Steve’s behavior and it never gave them any feeling of resolution or relief.  Brad remembered what he had discussed in counseling  and said,”Let’s not do what he expects, for a change.  Let’s do what we expect.”
Nancy: “What do we expect?”
 Brad: “Let’s talk about us instead of him.  We are people too.  Let’s stop reacting and start choosing what we are going to say or do.  Let’s take the power away from Steve to make us crazy.”
Nancy:  ”It’s not the end of the world, is it?  I did the same thing to my brother when my car was out if gas.  He was a goody two shoes, too.  God, I hated that kid.”
 Brad: ”What did your father do?”
Nancy “He came down on me like avalanche.  I hated him, too.”
Brad: “Did his punishing earn your respect?”
 Nancy: ”No way, I guess I see your point. It didn’t work thirty years ago and it’s not going to work now, is it?”
 They went in the house and called Tom’s  number.  When Steve picked up, Brad said, “I’m very angry at you for taking Charlie’s car behind his back.”  Brad fully expected an earful of defensiveness, excuses, and rationalizations.  It didn’t come.
Steve: “You’re right, dad.  I know I’m not supposed to, but I’ll be coming home in a half an hour and no harm done.  I’ll see you in a little while.”
Brad wasn’t sure that he had dialed the right number.  It sure didn’t sound like the spiteful son he had come to know.  It sounded almost like a self-respecting adult.

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Shared by: Aaron Karmin, LCPC, Contributing Blogger

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