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!