My parenting plan often operates with the idea that feeling will follow behavior. In other words instead of sitting around waiting for everyone to feel great about something I often encourage behavior that suggests that feeling. Yes it is a bit of “fake it till you make it” theory but sometimes that can result in some positives.
I woke up on Saturday with a mission in mind. Our house was a disaster area. Things were out of place, laundry was undone, everything needed to be vacuumed and dusted. I knew that when I announced the plan to clean as a family my 14 year old and 11 year old would not be thrilled. I knew my husband would agree with me but likely respond badly once the kids started complaining. Still, I persevered.
I gathered everyone in the family room/kitchen area and announced we were going to clean as a family because we all liked it when the house was neat and tidy. (I threw the “because” part in there since a book I had just read on persuasion gave compelling research findings that “because” statements improve cooperation.) I laid only one ground rule and that was that we had to all remain in each room until it was completely done. In this way we would all be together and helping each other.
There was mild grumbling and sighing as we got started but again I persevered. I became the cleaning cheerleader. I helped the 11 year old get started taking everything out of the family room that didn’t belong there. (Sounds easy but this included everything from an unmatched flip flop to a staple gun.) I exclaimed “Perfect!” as my 14 year old started emptying the dishwasher. I conversed obviously with my husband who was mining for lost items in the sectional “Honey, working as a family team is so much more fun and fast! Don’t you think?” My wink and smile to him got him in the spirit and before you knew it we were all four cleaning and chatting away.
The family room /kitchen area hasn’t received so much attention since a remodel job a few years ago. Cabinets and floors were polished and cleaned. Countertops and appliances were scrubbed to a sparkling shine. Dust and pet hair vanished and were replaced with that lemony clean smell. It was wonderful.
But the best part happened later that day when I checked my Facebook account and found my daughter had updated her status. Katie tells me you will all think I made this up so I’m adding a picture as proof:
Reading that was better than smelling the clean house! All of the cheery teamwork behavior had led to cheery teamwork feelings. Not rocket science I admit, but amazing and wonderful none the less.
My house cleaning story is really inconsequential in comparison to the effects that “fake it till you make it” can have in more important situations. I was recently talking to a friend who adopted an older child several years ago. The child is now a teenager and their family is happy and thriving. Even so, my friend reminisced with me about how hard the first year with her new son was. She was often wracked with guilt because the difficult behaviors of her new son made it hard for her to feel the same way she did about her biological children especially in the early stages of the adoption. When I asked her what had gotten her through she told me about a conversation that she had had with a mutual friend who is also a therapist. The therapist’s words had helped this mom because they acknowledged for her that a “love” feeling doesn’t always come immediately upon adopting a child. The therapist reminded this mom that her commitment to the adoption and the process of becoming a family was most important and that that commitment itself was a loving act. She went on to tell the mom that when she behaved like a loving nurturing mother it helped to move her “feelings” in the right direction. This mom told me with teary happy eyes how true that statement really was, how much love she now feels for this child, how mutually this love is returned, and how important it had been for her to hear that important advice during that difficult time.
Give it a try. Behave in the way you wish to feel today and encourage your family to do the same. See if feelings really do follow behaviors for you too.