The Amazing Result of One Simple Change
One fall, at the conclusion of a weekend marriage seminar, a young mother named Melissa approached us. Her eyes sparkled, and she grabbed my (Kay’s) arm as she spoke. “I had the most amazing experience,” she said. “Because of your teaching, my husband and I have started seeing our marriage problems in a whole new light. But I didn’t expect to get parenting help as well. This morning, when we dropped our seven-year-old girl off at the baby-sitter’s, I remembered what you taught yesterday about the importance of self-awareness and offering comfort for others’ feelings. We’ve had difficulty with this in our marriage, but even more so with our kids.”
Melissa continued, “Our seven-year-old, Gina, is superemotional, and honestly, it’s always annoyed me. Every October she gets scared by the Halloween decorations, and she has crying fits if she gets anywhere near them. I’ve been telling her all week that they are just plastic—that none of it is real and she’s a big girl now. This morning at the babysitter’s house, the entire front porch was covered in Halloween decorations. Gina started to have a fit in the car. I got so irritated and was just about to launch into my ‘It’s all pretend’ speech when I remembered the feeling question. So I asked, ‘Gina, how do all those decorations make you feel?’
“She wailed, ‘Scared!’ I didn’t know what to say. But I walked around to open her door, and before she got out, I knelt down and said, ‘It’s okay to be scared, Gina. How can Mommy help you right now?’ Her sobs turned to whimpers, and she looked right in my eyes. I could see her little mind racing.
“‘Mommy,’ she said, ‘you hold me and let me hide my eyes on your shoulder. I’ll keep them covered while you ring the doorbell. And then you go inside and close the door, and I’ll keep my eyes shut tight. After we’re inside I can open my eyes and I’ll be fine.’ So I did. I followed her instructions, and when I put her down in the house, she looked up at me and said, ‘Thanks, Mommy. That really helped me.’
“I was shocked! Not only could she tell me what she needed, it was so easy! Maybe I don’t need to change her at all. Maybe I just needed to change my response.”
By this time, Milan and I were getting excited with her. “Think about that one change, Melissa,” Milan said. “One small change in you made such a big difference in your relationship with your daughter. What if you made it a goal to continue working on that—to become comfortable with all kinds of emotions in Gina? Today, you helped her manage
her anxiety instead of telling her why her fears were silly. You can change her life forever, and give her a different future, by making that one change a way of life.”
It has been numerous encounters like this that have made us excited to write this book. Melissa isn’t alone; we’ve received literally thousands of stories, e-mails, letters, and comments from people who’ve read our book, learned about love styles, and found countless great ways to apply the ideas. It’s so gratifying to hear of lives changed and relationships restored, but it’s all because of the inherent strength in responding to others’ natural emotions rather than ignoring, diminishing, or rejecting them.
Of course, there are so many parenting books that it can be more than a bit overwhelming. That’s why we’ve tried hard to make this one different. The main focus isn’t curbing behaviors with discipline or using techniques to get kids to behave. We’ve found such books can be helpful, but our parenting took a dramatic turn when Milan and I discovered specific changes we needed to make in ourselves, which automatically changed what was happening with our kids.
Taking a close look at how we were brought up helped us to pinpoint our defenses and difficulties we learned in our original families. We realized that often our kids were not the problem. We began to recognize how we loved our kids was often at the root of the struggles, and that understanding and changing our damaged love styles affected our children’s behavior dramatically.
Once we changed as parents, almost everything else in our relationships with our kids began to change as well. There was less defensiveness, less misunderstanding, and less heartache all around. Best of all, we began to develop closer, deeper connections with them almost immediately. Maybe the greatest news for a parent is that once you know how to change yourself to be that better parent you’ve hoped to be, parenting can and does become far easier, as well as more rewarding!
Imagine that for a moment—simple, relational parenting. Are you tired of sabotaging your own fulfillment and happiness as a parent? Are your children tired of seeing how frustrated you can get?
As any discouraged parent can tell you, trying to change your kids is hard. The easiest thing you can do as a parent is to learn what you can do to change yourself for the better. And, ironically, this is the only thing that creates the peaceful home you’ve been longing for.
Here’s our hope: once you discover what you’ve been bringing to your parenting from your family of origin and learn to overcome your personal challenges and parenting baggage, you’ll be able to respond to your children in a way that greatly reduces the behavior problem you’re currently facing.
When we first discover our own deficiencies and begin making the positive changes that improve our performance as parents, it leads to more enjoyable relationships overall. Now Milan and I didn’t start our parenting careers with this profound wisdom in hand. With the exception of our youngest, our kids were much older when we first discovered our damaged love styles. It came as quite a surprise after more than a dozen years of parenting, because we had learned to hide our personal difficulties so well, even from ourselves, as dysfunctional-but-functioning adults.
If you’re parenting with your spouse, you may also want to read our first book, How We Love, to get an idea of how your love style is playing out with your partner and how that naturally affects parenting.
Whether you’re planning a family, currently a parent, or have grown children, freeing yourself to feel and deal with emotion appropriately will give your children solid, secure foundations as adults. As you use this book to foster open, healing conversations with your children, you will realize just how true it is that one small change in the parent can make a huge difference.
As I write this, I’m thinking back to just last night when a mother told me, “After seeing you and Milan demonstrate active feeling and dealing, I realized we’d never shown our kids how to really listen to others. So I apologized to my adult son and asked him to share how he felt about it. At first he didn’t want to, but soon we started talking, and we’ve continued now for a long time. One little change—just learning to listen—has totally changed our relationship, and I can actually see his wounds healing.” Many parents who call Milan and me for help with their kids are surprised when we ask to see them—the parents—instead. Nearly every time the problems are greatly alleviated or completely solved when parents become aware of how they are contributing to the difficulties.
How you love your kids is a matter of learning to become the truly great parent you’ve always wanted to be. Ironically, the greatest gift you can give your child is to be the best you’ve ever been. And who doesn’t want that? By learning how you love, initially by becoming more selfaware, you will know exactly how to love your child better. It won’t always
be easy or a walk in the park, but the decision to see yourself clearly and identify those places you have blind spots will give you a road map to reach your full potential as a parent.
Beyond that, learning to love well will require a bit of training and some regular practice. But if you’re patient and remember that you’re just like anyone training for a challenging task, with those blind spots that will hold you back, you’ll gradually improve in time. With an open mind, you’ll begin to see yourself as you really are for the first time, and your view of your child as the source of your problem will begin to change.
And in our experience, that’s when you may realize your problem is being solved.
With the right perspective, behavioral, emotional, and relational challenges can be improved—even future generations will benefit. Who doesn’t long to hear their kids say, “My parents are the best! They’ve taught me everything I need to know in life”? To us, that sounds like the highest compliment any parent could receive.
If you’re ready now to make that one change—to see yourself honestly and learn to listen and grow—we believe you’ll be hearing your child say those words to you someday.
Excerpted from How We Love Our Kids by Milan and Kay Yerkovich. Copyright © 2011 by Milan and Kay Yerkovich. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.