My inner critic.

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Interesting or troubling? This article popped up on my facebook feed.

I’m wary of articles that suggest that caring, loving parents should constantly fret over ‘doing it wrong’.

The article itself even acknowledges this pressure – referencing the ‘Shitty Guilt Fairy’ before racking up a couple of lines of coke for the aforementioned fairy.

I’ve got some issues;

First; the author tells us that we shouldn’t tell our children off in a negative way. Here she is describing her daughter pretending to tell the adults off in a stern way,

I decided she must have picked it up from someone. But who? She spends most of her time with me and I know I don’t shout like that. I certainly don’t use that horrible inflection at the end of my sentences. Who the hell could she have picked it up from?

Then, in the car park of Pak n Save, she did that thing that I’ve asked her not to do a thousand times. That thing where she lets go of my hand and runs off. It scares the shit out of me for obvious reasons. Coupled with my fear is also my anger: she knows better than this. Our subsequent conversation went something like this:

Me: Hey, you know not to run off in car parks. That really scared mummy!

Her: [eyes looking somewhere above the top of my head]

Me: You know you must hold my hand when we’re near cars!

Her: [eyes looking off to the right as she starts humming a little tune to herself.]

Me: What do I say about cars? You must hold my hand, okay?  OKAAAAAAY?!

Ugh. So that’s where she’s been getting it from. That’s one harsh penny dropping right there.

I don’t know about you, but I find hearing my own shitty communication mirrored right back at me through my angelic two year-old’s mouth particularly hard to swallow. I feel not just ashamed but also incredulous at how oblivious I was to it. I literally spent two weeks trying to work out who she’d modelled her behaviour from and I had ruled myself out almost instantly. I’m a conscious parent for God’s sake! I care about this stuff! I read parenting advice on communication! WTF?

The other particularly horrible thing is that I’ve had a successful career as a life coach for the last 12 years; I get paid to help people be happy. And there’s one major thing that makes all the difference to how happy someone is and it’s not about earning the highest income. It is our inner dialogue…

This inner dialogue eventually develops into your Inner Critic. You know, that little voice that beats you up, and says really unhelpful things to you like: Who do you think you are applying for that job? You suck at your job.  You’re a crap parent. You’re a lazy parent. You really screwed up today. It’s your fault your partner left you. I can’t believe you buggered that up again – idiot. Don’t be silly, why would they like you?

In summary, there are two main categories of feedback being played inside your head: Who do you think you are? And: You’re not good enough. If you pay attention to your Inner Critic for a while you will see this for yourself.

You can see how treating yourself this way has an erosive impact on your wellbeing and happiness and holds you back. Our aim in coaching is to transform the Inner Critic to Inner Coach. The Inner Coach is far from Pollyanna positive. We don’t want you going around giving yourself high-fives for making a sandwich, or looking in the mirror saying, “yeah, you shouted at your child – AWESOME!’ We want you to have a reasonable voice in there, a logical one, a kind one. You want to help yourself manage your life, make good decisions, and recover from adversity, be resilient. You want to learn from your mistakes and encourage yourself to grow. You want a reasonable, logical, truth-telling voice that helps you learn. You want to say: ‘Charlotte, that wasn’t your best parenting moment. I know you can make improvements.Why don’t we do it this other way tomorrow…?’

The question that everybody asks is why? Why does it evolve to become your inner critic, rather than your inner coach? Why does it evolve to be negative and not positive?

From my own experience and my work with clients, I subscribe mostly to theory that we model language from those around us and unfortunately some of those people weren’t or aren’t always kind. We learn to talk to ourselves in the same way we are talked to and around.

This last point means that we all do what my daughter did: we talk the way we got talked to. Our brains can’t help it – we have to learn language by modelling as there is no other way to do it. That same language eventually gets used to communicate to ourselves inside our head.

This means that way you talk to and around your children will become their inner dialogue.

So, saying, ‘No! Don’t run into the traffic!’ will give your child an inner critic. An inner critic that screams; ‘Hey, loser! Run into the traffic!’.

You know what? I’m not buying it. Almost everyone I know was brought up with ‘No! Don’t do that!’ usually promptly followed by; ‘Or you’ll get a smack’. As the Dunedin study tells us, almost all children of the 1970s were brought up with physical punishment – almost entirely gentle, but physical none-the-less. And yet, most of the children in the Dunedin study turned out fine.

Which brings me to the author, a ‘life coach’ whose experience is wrestling people’s ‘inner critics’ into submission. Let’s talk about selection bias. Life coaches do not deal with people who think they can solve their own problems.

When you’re dealing with losers, improvement is a relative function. It does not prove the author’s ‘theories’ as useful for the rest of us.

Let’s be clear. It’s bloody great to have an inner critic. No, not an ‘inner coach’. An inner critic. Sure this critic can get out of hand. But it can also tell you things you don’t want to hear, but really, really fucking need to. Your inner critic gives you guilt, shame, fear and heartbreak, all of which are far more motivating than anything your lame-o “Inner Coach” could come up with.

Your inner critic will enable you to work harder towards your goals. It might enable you to be more considerate of the other people in your life. Tenacity is the result of a robust debate with your inner critic.

We have turned to a world of wooly booly psycho-babble that places the individual at the very core in every facet of life. Personally I think this is an effective way of depoliticising young people, as we turn critical thinking inwards like a perverse 1980s board game;

Hey, young people, make sure your identity matches your sexual preferences AND your gender! Come up with your own acronym to win the game! 

In this way young people internalise the message that they can control themselves, but nothing else. It is designed to replace political activism with faux activism – to wit, endless comment threads about who is more disempowered/outraged/wronged than who vis a vis gender/identity/personhood.

So, there’s that. But then there’s something more worrying about this article.

The author tells her toddler that her actions ’caused Mummy to be scared’.

Two year olds have enough trouble dealing with the concept that they have their own thoughts, feelings and sense of self. This is a completely non-controversial stage of child development. (It’s also the cause of much toddler angst and trantrumming).

The toddler struggle is working out when and how to be responsible for their own actions (as opposed to being simply part of someone else). Telling a toddler that they’re also responsible for Mummy’s feelings too is cruel.

Apparently, during these ‘telling offs’ the author’s daughter looks above her head, and then off to one side, and then starts humming to herself. This is completely consistent with a kid who is too young for the cognitive pressure of being responsible for an adult’s feelings.

Mummy is very, very important. And now I’m making her scared. I need to modify my behaviour so she isn’t scared. But it’s really hard to modify my behaviour. I’m working on it, but man, IT’S HARD. Cos I’m TWO.

Hey toddler, it’s your fault if Mum goes tits up. No pressure, kiddo.

 

This article is aimed at middle class mothers, who’re already at the pointy crescendo of Mummy-guilt. Hey, Mums, forget everything you know about mothering (that your learned from your own mother…..FIRST THE GINGER CRUNCH, NOW THIS!), you must change how you speak to your child. Every single utterance must be monitored, lest your comments become potting mix for the devastating inner critic. But hey no pressure!

The author also tells us that telling your kid off is bad, but gives no alternatives. I mean really, aside from telling her toddler she’s scaring her, I thought her admonishment was completely fine; DO NOT BUGGER OFF IN THE CARPARK is pretty straightforward.

So I’m wondering if the author is an adherent of the new fashion for ‘no negative talk’ parenting, where children are never told no. Bad behaviour is addressed by distraction,

Darling, I can see you really love the plasma cutter (validate their experience), but look at this! It’s tickle me Elmo! (distract child from imminent emasculation).

Of course, the no-negative-talk parents are middle class working parents, so they’re probably not the child’s primary caregiver anyway.

“Here’s his organic snack box and filtered water. Now, we don’t tell Oliver ‘No’, as we’re nurturing his inner coach, not his inner critic”.  

Good luck with that. Kids learn ‘negative talk’ pretty smartly in a maxxed out daycare centre.

 

 

 

 

 

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