Really connecting means being a kid?

July 6, 2011

My husband came home last night just as dinner was being served. He had been away the night before and had just driven almost 2 hours to get home. He was tired but relieved to be home and we were certainly happy to have daddy back!

My mother, observing our life, said once…”it must be hard for him to go from all adult, business, boss mode and then come home to deal with the craziness of kids.” And I think it is sometimes hard for him to make that shift for sure.

So there we were having a nice evening and it really was a less than normal chaotic dinner. My oldest was making conversation about our upcoming vacation and the little one was being cute. But, the whole time my husband interacted with them, he didn’t crack a smile, didn’t make a joke (and he is a silly daddy), didn’t get on their level and it served to turn a lovely dinner together cold. I have seen this tendency in him before, but just chalked it up to us having different parenting styles, but it all sort of clicked in place for me last night.

I had read the previous day a bit about Alfred Adler and his psychological approach to parenting. His work is really interesting, if you are interested in knowing more about his background and theories, click here. Adler suggests that there are 3 ego states of personality – the parent, the adult and the child. He says that all humans, healthy humans operate in all 3 of these states.

The parent ego state is the one that orders. directs and takes responsibility. You can imagine this easily in the act of actually parenting, and as we find ourselves getting older parenting our parents as well!

The adult state is a non emotional state and shows up often when we are at work, with other adults or when we are engaged intellectually. Here we are receiving, processing and transmitting information. When our children are at school, processing information, they are in the adult ego state as well.

The child ego state a high emotion state. Imagine a child rolling around on the floor in a huge belly laugh (or a massive temper tantrum), this is the child ego state and where naturally, children spend most of their time.

So this is where it gets INTERESTING! Adler suggests that it is when we are able to shift into the child ego state, this is where we connect best with our children. As parents, he says, we spend most of our time in the parent ego state, but as we are able to interact with our kids from their perspective – like a kid – it serves to reduce power struggles in the family unit, conflict that arises and brings the family closer.

Ok, so back to my story…..

As we were cleaning up the dishes after dinner that night, I explained briefly what I had learned and pointed out that I saw him (and the kids for sure sensed it) in the adult ego state all through dinner – reserved, annoyed at “kid antics”, stiff and disconnected. It clicked for him too! He got it right away! Whew! The rest of the evening was spent like 4 little kids…hugging, playing, reading, and being silly. I know it felt so good for all of us and seemed like a real liberation for my husband – by shifting into kid mode, his stress from work and the drive seemed to melt away.

So, take a look at your day to day life.  How much time do you spend in each of these different ego states? How easy is it for you to switch from one to the other? Are you good at understanding which ego state is most appropriate in certain situations? When do you find yourself in one ego state when the situation calls for another?

Adler suggests that we spend no more than 30% of our time in the parent ego state. Anymore than that causes friction and power struggles.

This was a HUGE eye opener for me and I hope it helped you too!! Would love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below!

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  • Leslee Smith October 18, 2011 at 11:01 pm

    I am a grandmother, and I remember spending so much of my time in the parent ego state with my kids, but there must be another state, a combination of parent/child ego that grandparents enter.
    We keep them safe but keep the fun.

  • Trina Timmerman October 11, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    I needed to read this today. Thank you! I have been in a constant power struggle of sorts with my 5 yr. old twins. They just started kindergarten and have always been home with mom. They love school, but come home ready to “let go” and I am in full-on “parent” ego state so much of the day that it creates a tense environment. It seems so simple, yet I have not been doing it! I am going to do my usual happy, huggy greeting, take care of “parent” ego stuff (put your back pack away, wash hands, etc.) and then just PLAY for a while before we have to move on to the more mundane tasks of the day again. I’ll let you know how it works out! I need to do something differently, that is certain. I do not enjoy the constant butting of head. This was a good reminder of something I probably already instinctually knew. Thanks!

    • Sigrid October 12, 2011 at 4:08 am

      Wonderful Trina! Yes, try out some of these perspective and let us know how it works out! Good luck :-)

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  • Sigrid Stover Kjeldsen July 7, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    Good Kirsten!! Let me know how it goes! Signing off for now…have to go be a kid with MY kids!!

  • Kirsten Purdy Jones July 7, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    Perfect! Thanks Siggi.

  • Sigrid Stover Kjeldsen July 7, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    Yup…you sure do! I think as a successful parent, we have to use our intution to effortlessly determine what ego state is appropriate in each moment or setting. Switching into parent mode may bring the party down, but if a behavior needs correcting, then that must be done from the parent ego state. Does that make sense Kirsten?

  • Kirsten Purdy Jones July 7, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    So here is my question – if you are in “child” ego and your child demonstrates a behavior that is unacceptable or one that should be corrected, what do you do? Do you come out of “child” ego and enter “parent” ego?

  • Leigh Ann July 6, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    This makes so much sense. Thanks for sharing. I think I spend 100% in either parent or adult ego, and I am a stay at home mom. Not good. I need to get in touch with my inner child:-).

    • StressCoach July 7, 2011 at 4:21 am

      Thanks for your comment Leigh Ann! I think we all fall into the dominant parenting mode at one point or another with our kids. I know I have found myself more in the parenting mode since we had baby nr. 2. He is a handful! But, I can see how being a kid impact not just my kids but their friends. When I show up like a goofy mommy playing and having fun, they just can’t believe their eyes…literally stare at me with their mouths ajar. That tells me that kids need us to be kids in BUCKET LOADS!!

  • Kirsten Purdy Jones July 6, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    Siggi – This is great!!!!