In 1974, I was a divorced parent (my choice), 27 years old, about to start work on my Ph.D. at Stanford. Everything was going well for me. Except that I found myself yelling at my two children, ages 4 and 6, when they didn’t deserve it. The therapy I chose at that time was the Process, as offered by the Institute for Personal Change.
The Process changed my relationship with myself, first and foremost. I began to value myself and appreciate my good points, while developing compassion for my failings. The tools I learned helped me deal with the rigors of a very competitive graduate program, and the stresses of single parenthood. If you had asked me then why I had taken the Process, I would have told you that it was for my own self-development.
The changes I made in the summer of 1974 were quite striking to me. But they didn’t stop. After a while, I stopped noticing them. One day, several years later, I was extremely angry with my children. My daughter asked me to stop yelling at her. And in that moment, I realized that I no longer yelled at them the way I had before the Process –– I had spoken to them in a loud angry voice, but it was not out-of-control yelling. And that my daughter labelled this “yelling” meant that this was as bad (or as loud) as it gets!
Funny how we measure successes! But for me this was a real success.
Parenting was very important to me. One of the reasons that I remained a single parent until my children were grown was that I didn’t meet anyone whose parenting I trusted. I had begun to trust my own parenting.
I had strict rules about certain things, and lenient rules about others. I did not buy junk food for the house, and insisted on healthy meals. They both told me later that they ate sugar cereals for snacks at the neighbor’s house! But both of them today have excellent, healthy diets and have thanked me for that rule.
Curfews were an interesting strict/lenient rule mix. It seemed to me that there are two reasons for a curfew: 1. To prevent the child from being somewhere that he or she shouldn’t be, and 2. To relieve the parents’ anxiety from not knowing where their child is. So we adopted the following strategy as a family. Each child had a curfew appropriate to his or her age. However, if they found themselves unable to make it home by curfew, it was absolutely required that they call home so I wouldn’t be worried. My son always came home on time. My daughter always used the “It’s OK if I’m going to be late, as long as I call home” part of the rule.
I never punished my children for telling the truth, even if I didn’t like what they told me. But I did require them to be truthful. And they knew when they made me proud, and when I was disappointed with them.
Even before they were teenagers, I asked them to be honest with me about where they were going, who they were going with, and what they would be doing there (drugs and alcohol, in specific). I reassured them that if they were caught doing something they shouldn’t, that I would not want to be surprised. This attitude fostered an atmosphere of trust and confidence, which continues today.
As my own personal growth continued, I was able to confront my children in a way that was totally unknownto me in my own childhood. One time, during a fight, my daughter ran away to her bedroom. I went running after her and sat on her bed and told her that we would never be able to resolve the issue if she ran away! I still find it uncomfortable to confront, but all three of us are capable of facing the issues, not only between ourselves, but with others as well.
Because I felt good about myself, I could rely on my “person-hood” in my relationship with my children, and I did not have to fall back on that weakest of excuses “Do it because I said so!” If they had an issue with any of my policies, we discussed it, and looked for the underlying reasons for and against the policy. We discussed the issues as people working toward a common solution, not as Parent/authority versus child/underling.
When my son was 16, he wanted to get one ear pierced, before it was common for men to do so (1984). I was really against it. He asked me why. It took a lot of thinking and soul searching. My reasons centered around his acceptance in society, and his ability to get a job. He then called several local businesses, where a high school boy might work, and asked the managers whether they would hire a boy with an earring. And he reminded me that once the hole had healed, he would be able to go earring-less when he wanted to. With positive results from the managers, I agreed to let him get his ear pierced.
My biggest parenting breakthough occurred when my daughter was 14. She was developing values different from mine, and wanted to be popular with a group that only marginally accepted her. I was upset, and asked myself why she wasn’t more like me. Then I considered my own mother. Although I loved my mother, I didn’t want to be like her, so why should my daughter want to be like me? In that special moment, I let go of creating my children into who I wanted them to be, and really began to foster their development into who they wanted to be.
This was not easy. It meant supporting their choice of extra-curricular activities, even when my sonbecame a cheerleader for his high school and was teased and harrassed unmercifully by many of the students. It meant accepting that my daughter did not want to continue piano lessons even though she had obvious talent. It meant leaving up to them major decisions about where to go to college and what courses to take. It meant letting go.
My son ’s first year at college was very difficult for him. He did not do well academically, and was depressed. By the time summer came, he decided to take the Process himself. He turned 19 during the course. Although 19 is generally too young for Process students, the Institute accepted him because he had grown up around the Process and knew more than most about what he was getting into. Today he says that his experience with the Process is one of the most important and formative events of his life.
When my son was 21, his girlfriend became pregnant. Within 24 hours of hearing the news, they decided that they did not want to get married, but that they both wanted to raise the baby together. My granddaughter was born on September 13, 1990. On February 21, 1994, my grandson was born.
Because the Process works with parenting issues (from the perspective of your relationship with your own parents), process graduates tend to be sensitized to parenting styles, both good and bad. I have commented at times to parents in the supermarket, or on airplanes, when I see they are doing a good job. And I think that my son is doing a wonderful job with his children.
He is an incredibly good father. He is very loving to his children, and yet firm about acceptable and unacceptable behavior. He plays with each of them on their own levels. He is able to set limits for both children, and yet be understanding of their needs. He uses distraction to avoid confrontation when confrontation isn’t necessary. He is truly a master at talking to his children at their levels without being condescending. And he really enjoys the time he spends with both children.
And for their part, my grandchildren are becoming friendly, polite, and nice human beings. They are warm and loving and open, just like their parents.
I thought I took the Process for myself back in 1974. But in fact, I took it for my grandchildren, and for all the other children of their generation. They are the ones who will inherit our world. Because I took the Process and became a more loving and better parent, my son was also able to do the same. His children will grow up with positive and loving parents, which will support them the rest of their lives. This is truly the Grandmother’s joy in watching her grandchildren grow.
—Elaine Baskin, written in 1995. Executive Director of the Institute for Personal Change since 2003.