“You are doing amazingly at…”
“Are you about to tell me off”?
“Err, yes…how could you tell?”
“You were doing that X-factor thing of saying something nice before saying something cutting. You were just nice so you could then be out of order.”
Rumbled, even a 14-year-old could spot my phoney parenting style.
Why was I so hooked on the praise sandwich?
Say something positive, make it as scrumptious as the thick white doorstep bread in the greasy spoon cafe. Then, while they glow in the contentment of inch-deep crusty carb heaven, hit them with the tough, chewy and slightly overcooked protein of your latest condemnation of their actions or attitude. Then as quick as you can, slap another piece of soft, just-cooked doughy bread on top of the bitter-tasting encounter to minimise the impact of the blow to them.
The shit sandwich, to give it the official title.
Why had my parenting (and leadership, for that matter) become so addicted to carbs? Was it because I grew up with precious little of the sweet carby praise and remembered all those hours of chewing on tough inedible honesty from parents, teachers and coaches? I remember time and time again feeling so unsatisfied in my ability to make progress with the “advice” I’d been served by adults in my life. Was my addiction to serving inch-hick bread more about my needs than the needs of my kids? I feared giving my kids chronic indigestion from eating a confidence-denting diet, which only leads to an appetite in low self-worth.
But the shit sandwich had been rumbled, so now what?!
Just bread, loads of praise and ignore that which needed discussing and challenging?! I do not have the self-control to completely ignore my kids’ flaws and anyway, what type of parent provides just bread?
“What do you think I’m going to say then?”
“I think you want to talk about…”
No need for amazing bread which was only being given to soften a blow, they already knew.
I can give the bread anytime I like, there’s no need to make a shit sandwich predictably unsavoury and in doing so, making me sound like I’m a patronizing middle manager in a job I don’t care about.
I’m trying to give up my carb-addicted parenting by just asking. I’ll say, “can we talk about [insert my latest parenting angst here.]”
I’ve been shocked that most of the time they already know what the problem is, and on those occasions when their knowledge hasn’t been enough I’ve been able to fill the gaps, but without the need to put my own fragile ego-induced sandwich in the way of them making progress.
No more shit sandwiches. More like a soda stream; make it yourself, kids and I’ll add some extra flavour when needed.
*This was written as a 500-word writing challenge, I have much more to write on the subject…but I’m sticking to the 500 words.