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Recently, I read a post on a social media group where a mother was writing in for advice on how, or if, she should punish her twelve year old daughter. The cliff notes version of the story is – family of seven – mom, dad and five kids.  Mom, dad and three of the kids caught a stomach virus – the double exit bad kind! The twelve year old miraculously (at the time of the post) had escaped the dreaded virus along with her 11 month old sibling.  The problem percolating in mom’s mind was that her daughter did not want to play nurse to the infirmed or help out with the 11 month old.  Correction, she didn’t want to, but she did with a healthy dose of sass.  Before the virus, the daughter had planned a sleepover with her girlfriends. 

The advice provided to this mom was fascinating.  Most commentators felt the girl should be punished.  

Not only should we ground her, take away her electronic devices, and not let her go anywhere for weeks, many hoped the child would get sick so the mom could in turn ignore her as a way to teach her a lesson. They felt the girl should have without question or hesitation helped out with the sick family and the baby. And when she didn’t want to, she should be punished.

Nobody wants to wait on five people that have foreign substances violently shooting from their bodies – it’s scary, it’s disgusting.  Many of us do because we think we have to.  We often do it because we want to help those that can’t help themselves.  But we don’t WANT to do it.  We’ve learned to keep the voice inside our heads quiet.  A twelve year old has not.  A twelve year old hasn’t developed those skills, much like our teenagers.  The most honest person we’re likely to find on the planet is a 4 year old..and then we start beating people pleasing behaviors and expectations into them.

By saying the child “should” we are in essence saying that she has to live up to the expectations placed upon her that she may not even be aware of. And when she doesn’t, we’re not happy.  In fact, we’re going to punish her for not meeting our expectations, and frankly, if we follow the commentators advice, we’ll be mean and uncaring like we think she is.  

That’s when the shit should show starts.

Shoulds are similar to operating manuals that come with appliances.  The manual specifies in great detail how the refrigerator, for example, should operate.  

We have operating manuals for people in our lives and for those not in our lives.  We have detailed instructions on how people should behave so that we aren’t sad, mad, lonely, [insert any emotion]. We have manuals for how others should drive or speak to us. We have manuals for how our mothers should treat us, how friends should call us, or how our teenagers should connect with us, but they don’t even know we have the manuals.  We also have manuals for ourselves which often lead to self-loathing, guilt, and shame.

When you hear the word “should,” you know you’ve stumbled upon a manual.

We can’t control other peoples behavior – period.  You can certainly make a request of others to do certain things, but whether they do or do not is up to them. Making your happiness dependent on them, is expecting the impossible.  You are expecting that your daughter, husband, or person behind the counter to know the specific instructions they must follow in order for you to be happy.   We’d all need to be mind-readers.

Pull the thread of this thought… 

If we have expectations or manuals for how others should behave, we must also know that they have them for us!   

In the example above, we expect the twelve year old girl to knowingly and willingly wait on her sick family.  We expect she should play with the 11 month old and be happy about it. We expect her to have no opinions, especially contrary to our desires.  When we made the request of her, we expect she should do everything we ask and do it with a smiling loving face.   She didn’t know we had those rules for her.  She may have never in her years on this earth experienced a time when her mom wasn’t able to care for everyone in the house.  She doesn’t understand what it’s like to be mom.  She only knows that her fantastic sleepover plans have been ruined and she’s forced to smell the stench of vomit and feces all weekend.  Of course she is upset!  She’s human.  Punishing her for not meeting our expectations will likely only lead to more of a shit show and resentment.  What if her manual for her mother and father was that they never got sick or for sure not get sick when she has plans with her girlfriends?  Or that her mom is to care for the baby all the time?   

Now, if you’re anything like me, you’re next thought is likely – what about my kids and expectations that they should mind me, do their chores, abide by my curfew? 

What about the expectations our children have of us that we should never lose our tempers, buy them anything they want, or know the answers to all their hard math questions.  My head swirled around this concept. Let’s first digest the concept of the manual. Start noticing your manuals and tear them up!  You’ll be happier for it!  Your relationships will improve exponentially. This concept applies to every human interaction you have.  We’ll get to consequences and boundaries in another post!

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