Interesting or troubling? This article popped up on my facebook feed, recommended by an extremely caring, loving mother, who commented on the big responsibility she felt to make sure she didn’t nurture her child’s inner critic. She is a really, really fabulous Mum and to be honest I was a bit put out at the idea at her feeling this kind of pressure.
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!’ helps your child develop their inner critic, the voice that will eventually develop into ‘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. This goes hand in hand with the kind of ‘negative talk’ described above. As does life-long success.
Which brings me to the author, a ‘life coach’ whose experience is wrestling people’s ‘inner critics’ into submission. Life coaches do not deal with people who think they can solve their own problems. Now I don’t doubt she helps people, or feels that she does. However, I don’t think she can draw on her experiences with her clients as evidence of her theories.
There’s something else worrying here;
She tells her almost pre-verbal daughter 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. It’s a seriously big concept to deal with, and one that is at the heart of much tantrumming.
Telling a toddler they are not only responsible for their own actions, they are also responsible for Mummy’s feelings is pretty intense.
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 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.
And then there’s your inner critic. It’s actually 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 might enable you to work harder towards your goals. It might actually enable you to be more considerate of the other people in your life. Fear and anxiety isn’t necessarily limiting, it is usually motivating. 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 people – (hey, pay attention to your personal world and nothing else) but that’s Cranky Mum for another day. It’s fashionable to endlessly mull over your personal ‘wellbeing’ – without considering the social factors that it is almost entirely comprised of.
And……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 (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. No pressure!
AND…..The author 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 clear. There is, I know, a fashion for ‘no negative talk’ parenting, where children are never told no, in any way. They are discouraged from bad behaviour 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 usually middle class working parents, so by the time their child is two it’s likely they’re no longer the kid’s primary caregiver.
For many, many parents, especially the ones who read these kinds of articles (or indeed, might consult a life coach), they are not their kid’s primary caregiver. Many children spend most of their waking ours in a childcare setting,
“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.