Stop Repeating Your Parents’ Dysfunctional Patterns

That moment when you realize you just became your mother...

We love our parents. But we want to avoid their flaws.

This week’s question comes from a mom who slips into “drill-sergeant mode” when her child resists homework—just like her own mom did. She wants to break the pattern, but still gets stuck. What to do?

Carol and Anne’s questions and insights will help you break old cycles. (Plus, you get bonus ideas to peacefully motivate a resistant child.)

This Episode’s Parenting Practice

First, pay attention. Become aware of a parenting approach you don’t like, but that you keep repeating. Put yourself in your child’s shoes by asking yourself, “How would I have wanted my parent to respond?” Set an intention that you will have a new idea and follow the personal inspiration that comes.

Transcript of podcast episode

Anne: That’s powerful.

Carol: That’s something I could do.

Anne: Can I share with you what I’ve been thinking? You’re my mom. So I…

Carol: There we go. Well, nothing like being a accountable in the moment. This was not planned.

Welcome to the Child Whisperer podcast. I’m your host, Carol Tuttle, author of the best-selling parenting book, “The Child Whisperer.” I’m with my co-host, Anne Tuttle Brown.

Anne: Today’s question is, “I’m a type one mom of three boys. My type one 11-year-old son is not doing his homework or his chores or anything he has decided is not fun. As a fellow type one, I really relate to his position. I’ve tried to help him with strategies to help him find the fun while doings that typically aren’t, but he is holding his ground. The homework, especially, is not fun. And he won’t do it. I am increasingly frustrated with his pushback. And I’m falling into the parenting model I was shown as a child by my type three mother, which we lovingly called drill sergeant mode. While eventually I learned to focus and get things done, I do not feel like this is the most supportive way to teach this skill. How can I teach my son that sometimes tasks in life are not fun and we do not want to do them, but we have to get them done anyways?”

Carol: I love that she’s identified that she is repeating a pattern that her mother played out too. The mother chose to be more commanding, directive, just taking charge true to her type three nature, but, you know, most likely in a more dysfunctional way to motivate an outcome to get the children to get things done. And she’s fallen into that pattern. And she’s seeing it’s not working because I’m convinced that children are born in more full awareness of who they are. I’ve even said this, and she shared it in her question, is, “They’re holding their ground. They’re not responding to dysfunctional parenting methods.”

Anne: Hats off to the kid for holding his ground, but he’s got to get his homework done.

Carol: Right. So we’ve got a couple of things we’re looking at with this question. The primary one I want to look at today, and I do want to give her some tips that she might be able to shift this, the primary issue is she’s repeating a dysfunctional pattern that was basically modeled to her. And I want you to just take a moment and think about, because this will be the practice of the week, so let’s get into that even right on the front end of the podcast, is what pattern are you repeating that actually was modeled to you by a parent that’s not working? And it’s dysfunctional. And it’s stressful. It causes you stress. It’s causing the child stress. And it’s actually not working. Maybe it worked for your parent in an unhealthy way. It was more of a shaming tactic, you know, or fear-based driven approach.

Anne: Well, she says, “While I eventually learned to focus and get things done,” she doesn’t feel like it’s a supportive way to teach her…

Carol: No.

Anne: So obviously, there’s something that’s still meant to be learned. Maybe that’s why this son’s showing up to say, “Mom, there’s a better way to do this,” so she can learn for herself as a fellow type one.

Carol: Well, the issue is that your children don’t get anything done without that influence, see? That’s where the type three mother of the woman who sent in this question was. That became her go-to to say, “To get my children to cooperate and to get things done, I’ve gotta do this,” versus, “My child’s motivated on their own to be cooperative and get things done because of their own motives without me having to play this part to push them forward to get them to do things.” So that will exhaust any parent in that practice of, “I’ve got to get my children to do things. It’s up to me to get my children to get this done.”

Anne: At this point, it’s drill sergeant mode. You’re barking orders. You’re getting firm. And it’s exhausting, like you said, for any type of parent.

Carol: Well, it’s not working. The boy is like, “That’s not working. I’m not doing my homework.” Now, the thing that she… I don’t know if he said to her, “It’s not fun. I’m not doing it,” or if she’s just concluded that. And a tip for this mom that I think might help the shift is activities in and of themselves, some are just fun in and of themselves by the quality of activity. Yet, a type one brings their nature of making things light and more spontaneous that we call playful, they bring that to the experience.

They bring their energy to the quality of making it more fun. Pulling weeds isn’t fun in most people’s book, but a type one could make it fun by the nature of who they are. And so is this child being enrolled to learn how to make things that are more mundane, routine, things that have a cause and effect quality to say, “You don’t do your homework, you don’t get good grades. You don’t pass school.” There is a cause and effect to this.

Anne: And has he experienced that?

Carol: Yeah.

Anne: Or has the mom always had his back and say, “We’ve gotta get this done and get it in?”

Carol: Yeah. Is she afraid of him failing that he’s not learning through some of life’s obvious lessons and say, “Well, if you don’t do that, this will happen. And you won’t advance with your peer group to the next grade.”

Anne: And that’s not so fun, to not be in…

Carol: And that doesn’t sound so fun.

Anne: Yeah, to not be in class with some of your best friends is not very fun, right?

Carol: Yeah. I mean, that’s kind of embarrassing that you’re the one kid that stays behind because you didn’t pass…

Anne: I think that’s a more effective approach to…

Carol: …fifth or sixth grade.

Anne: …to consequences, rather than, “If you don’t finish your homework, then you can’t go outside and play. If you don’t finish your homework, you can’t have a treat.”

Carol: I’m trying to prevent my child from failing. And yet, maybe that in the system they’re in, the cause and effect is the best teacher. I mean, this is a delicate line because you could say…

Anne: You can have a conversation about what that looks like, rather than saying, “Your consequence, if you don’t finish your homework, is you can’t play with your friends.” In the real world, if you don’t finish your homework, you can still play with your friends, but you will not get good grades.

Carol: And you don’t advance to the next grade level.

Anne: Right. So have you had that conversation about the real cause and effect and then say, “Are you willing to go there?” And experiment and see what happens.

Carol: I had that with one of our children, with my son, Chris, where he made it very clear to us… He was a type two. And he was very… He’s a type two secondary four, a very private, has always been a very private individual. And he did not like me poking around with his school experience. You know, by his sophomore year, he basically flat out told me, “I’ve got this handled. I know what I have to do.” It really bothered him, if I would talk to him about, “Are you getting this done? What’s happening with your school?”

Anne: Maybe that’s because [inaudible 00:06:40] to him, “You never offered to help with my homework,” because there were times I was like, “This would be fun to get help with my…” I mean, not at that stage. I was old enough to do it, but that’s funny because yeah, coming after Chris, you’re like, “All right. You just do your own thing.”

Carol: Yeah, I was very hands-off then and he’s seen very much, I put it in his… It’s like his deal. It’s up to… He’s made it real clear. This is his deal. And he’s gonna do it his way. Now, in his senior year… I mean, this is the kid that was the student assistant for dance club.

Anne: Yeah, he was just sliding by, that was last year.

Carol: Yeah. In his nature, he is very committed to what he cared about. And there were certain things in school that weren’t his passion. He wasn’t that interested. He knew what he had to do to get through school and to get through it in his way. And five weeks before his senior graduation, I got a notice in the mail, we did. John and I got a notice in the mail saying he was failing a class. And he might not graduate. And I went to him. I had not had this conversation in a couple of years, right? I just said, “I just need to ask you do you know about this? And I just want to be prepared, if you are going to take care of it because I want to be prepared if you end up not graduating,” but I didn’t try and change it for him. It wasn’t like, “I’ve gotta get him to fix this.” It was in his hands.

Anne: Or go into lecture mode that we’ve talked about before.

Carol: No, I didn’t do any of that. I didn’t even call the school.

Anne: You just said, “Explain to me.”

Carol: He said, “I know what I’ve gotta do. I’m gonna graduate.” I said, “All right.” And he did,

Anne: Yeah, he really did.

Carol: But I really gave… Yeah, I let him do it his way. And so maybe in this case, you’re trying to get the child to do it your way. What’s their way of doing their homework? Do they have ideas? Are they just feeling so micro-managed in this case and being told what to do there’s no space for, “I don’t want to do this because Mom, you’re making it less fun by the way you’re even handling this thing.” And is there something they have to look forward to that gets to be a by-product of getting all this done? You get all this done, you’re gonna get to go do this or have this experience.

Anne: As a type one, is the homework being approached after, you know, when you come home from school, are you expected to do the homework right then or is there an opportunity to…

Carol: Well, that’s where the child can come in. They’re 11.

Anne: Yeah, to go outside and play.

Carol: They can come up with these strategies. Are you trying to come up with all the strategies that your child now feels so oppressed in this situation like, “I’m not interested in any of this. You make this so heavy.” Anything that’s heavy in a type one’s world, you disconnect from. You don’t want anything to do with. So how are you adding a heaviness and not supporting them in coming up with their own strategies?

Anne: I mean, you can guide this problem solving.

Carol: And them being accountable for them.

Anne: Yeah. So I would get together with the child and say, “Homework needs to get done. Okay. The challenge is homework’s not fun. It’s not getting done. How can we solve this problem together?” Write down your ideas. Write down his ideas. And then go through the list together and circle the ideas that you both agree upon. And while you’re sharing ideas, don’t shoot down anyone’s idea. Just get them all on the table. Type one’s have brilliant minds. I’d be really curious to see what he would come up with.

Carol: Yeah. Now, the issue at large also was you’re repeating a dysfunctional pattern of your parents. Now, this is an easy one to fix. Go back to your own childhood. And think of how you felt when your parent was doing this. The cause and effect of your choices in the current parenting execution of repeating the pattern, you’re causing your children to feel the same yucky way you felt. That’s not motivating. So go back to your own story as a child. And ask yourself, “What do I wish my parent would have done that would have been more supportive?” That’s some of our best ah-has is to think of our own childhood and what we wanted as children. And in this case, you’re both the same energy type.

What if your mother had shown up in your world and when you were 11 and said, “You know, I realize I’m kinda being a drill sergeant here.” I think that’s incredibly powerful to admit to a child to say, “What I’m doing isn’t working. I apologize. This isn’t fun for you. I want to come up with a new approach. To accept having your own, you know, be self-accountable with your own child. What if you mother had come to you and said that? What would you have told her that you would have preferred? What would have motivated you? What would have enrolled you to want to be cooperative and motivated to get things done? We get some really great ah-has when we go back to our own story and ask ourselves, “What do I wish my parent had done for me?” because that’s gonna be your parenting tip for yourself. Then go,” Oh…”

Anne: That’s powerful.

Carol: That’ something I would do.

Anne: Can I share with you what I’ve been thinking? You’re my mom, so…

Carol: There we go. Well, nothing like being accountable in the moment. This was not planned. Yes, please do. I did apologize a lot as a mother.

Anne: No, you haven’t. I don’t mean to, you know, bring up a…

Carol: I can take it.

Anne: I don’t think it’s a dysfunction, but I remember you’re type three. You’re a busy worker. And you had a side… You know, you were working and writing a book, “Remembering Wholeness.” I remember oftentimes thinking, “Mom’s in the basement again on her computer.” And I have had that come up with my daughter. “You’re just texting, Mom. Why do you keep texting? Like play with me.” And just thinking in that moment, like, “What would I have wanted you to say?” We didn’t have the phones in the back, but like, “Maybe shut the computer or turn it off. And turn around and look at me and say, ‘Let’s be together just one-on-one.'”

Carol: Oh, and here we are now.

Anne: I know, look at that.

Carol: I hope this counts.

Anne: And I, as a type two coming up with a solution, I would have like said, “Let’s schedule some time. Like what I can expect from like maybe when I come home from school, there’s that 20 minutes?” Now, as a type three with my type three daughter, and she’s still young, I don’t know if she wants to necessarily plan, but I have actually just in the last week given myself phone time and social media time. And the days when I am at home, social media is off. And so I am not… That’s my new rule. I am with my kids. And I am not distracted to pick up my phone and scroll through. And so this is just very timely that it’s come back together and I’m seeing, “Okay. That’s a pattern that I could have repeated. How did I feel? How do I want my kids to feel?” And I’m making better choices.

Carol: I love that you actually tuned into this on your own and asked yourself, “What did I want as a child? What could my mother have done differently that would have supported me?” and that you’re now seeing opportunities to share that with your own children. Good for you. I love that we’re improving our family in each generation. It’s fabulous. Inspiration is your best friend as a parent. Awareness is your first step in getting that, awareness that there is an issue here. So in this mom’s case, she’s aware, “I’m repeating a dysfunctional pattern of my mother’s. I didn’t like it as a kid. I don’t like acting this way as a parent, but I don’t know what to do.” Well, awareness is the first step and being accountable that it’s not working and accepting the fact that you’d like to change the pattern.

That’s when inspiration starts to come in. What else could I do? What are other approaches? You’ll be inspired. I’ve received so much inspiration through the years on behalf of my children and my role as a parent that it’s been my greatest tool to turn to. Knowing your child’s type then allows that inspiration to get very personalized for your child. And that’s what I love. It’s like you get intuitive hits and inspired ah-has that, “This is what my child needs. Now I understand them better and their nature and how to nurture that nature.”

Anne: So this week’s parenting practice is to become aware of the parenting approach that you keep repeating that isn’t getting what you want. And those questions as you kinda walked us through that visualization of going and saying, “What would I want as a child,” those are great questions to help reveal that. And then set an intention to come up with something different. And the inspiration will follow.

Carol: Thanks for listening. For more support, go to where you can purchase the book, subscribe to our weekly parenting practice email, and find the transcription and audio of The Child Whisperer podcast.

Anne: If you’re listening on iTunes, thank you for leaving a review. If you have a parenting question, please send it to [email protected].

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