by Paul Johnson, LMFT, LPC, NCC
(Originally printed in 280 Living, Birmingham, AL, June 2010)
You may or may not have noticed the continuing theme of the articles I contribute to 280 Living. My first contribution was for the November 2009 issue, and was the beginning of a Holiday Triad that encompassed November, December, and January. After that, the theme pretty much was centered around the major holiday or major occurrence in the month, except for May, which was more about a song that was stuck in my head. So as we move into June, I want to incorporate what I technically missed in May with what is in June — Mother’s Day and Father’s Day — for an overall parenting emphasis. After all, it is summer, kids are out of school, and for a period of two and a half months, more demand is placed upon mom and dad to be the entertainment committee. As much as kids would never admit it, summer without a place to go every day where they can hang out with friends or just be socially or intellectually engaged in some form or fashion, well, is boring. And when kids are bored, they get louder and sometimes more insistent in their demands: “Mom, I need something to drink — now. Dad, can we play a game? — now!” My kids are 5 and 2, and we have a newborn due in August; it can be a bit chaotic in our home, and more chaos is on the way. With school (kindergarten and mothers-day-out) taking a hiatus, we realize we have to do something, because leaving them at home alone is not an option.
So what am I going to do with them? McWane Center and Chuck E. Cheese are good for maybe four days of distraction; the Zoo for another two, maybe three. Too young for movies, except for Toy Story 3, but I can afford that only once. Soooo, hmmm, maybe I have a week covered; not enough. Oh, Vacation Bible School will cover another week, but only for half a day each day. Goodness me, what to do.… And the park everyday in good ole’ Alabama summer heat just may not be possible. What do we do with them? What can we do with them?
Well, before we turn the television or electronic pads into more of a baby-sitter than they already are, or before we become too indebted in summer “options” to keep the kids busy and get them tired, let us take a moment to see the parenting opportunity in front of us. Summer means time, and time means potential to get to know each other. Of course, you may be saying, “we know each other fine; what else do I need to know about my kids?”
At the time I’m writing this article (in May, at the deadline), I have just conducted a seminar on the previous Friday for counselors who work with married couples on the use of temperament assessments (aka. personality tests) in their work with couples. I reviewed a wealth of information that some of these assessments provide, especially on styles that affect communication and connection. One particular assessment I use frequently tells me how the individual prefers to rest and restore, to renew their energy; how the individual hears or takes in new information; how the individual processes the information and makes it his or her own; and finally, how the individual makes a decision. These four items indeed affect how the individual relates to other people, especially in the achievement of simple communication goals and fulfillment of needs.
For example, you may have heard a person described as a sensing-type or an intuitive-type. A sensing-type uses and depends on his or her five senses to listen, to learn, to take in information about his or her environment. An intuitive-type uses his or her five senses, but it is not until the new information hits the sixth sense (the intuition) that gives the person a vibe, an essence of the information, that helps it make sense; then the information was “heard”. Sensors are into details and the present experience; intuitives are about the big picture and the underlying and recurring themes.
Okay, what does this have to do with parenting? Let me digress for one more minute: in March, I wrote about two other types: introverts and extroverts. In that article, I wrote: “Being an introvert or an extrovert has to do with how a person re-energizes, how he or she rests or recovers in a social context. Extroverts need the energy of people, and depending on the degree of extroversion, sometimes the more the merrier. Introverts need solitude, or the presence of one or two people with whom they feel comfortable. These recovery interactions are as necessary on a regular basis as eating, sleeping, and breathing.” Let me ask you, what are you? What is your spouse? And more importantly, in the context of this article, what are your kids? Introverts or Extroverts? Sensors or Intuitives?
Perhaps some of the craziness and chaos you feel in your home life, and with the onset of summer an increase in the pressure, is that you and your family seem to operate on different wavelengths — which, you probably do. We tend to speak how we want to hear, and we tend to hear what we speak. It is called language, and the issues of extroversion, introversion, sensing, and intuition, when it comes to relationship, affects our communication and moment-to-moment goals. We use the language that is innate to us; and so do those around us; except your language sounds like Klingon to me; and mine to you. So when misunderstanding and frustration occur, it is not necessarily intended to be malicious. It is a different language that needs to be learned by the members of the family, by those closest to the individual, in order for the individual to feel heard, valued, esteemed (which, by the way, are needs that when met are quite beneficial to children). Taking time to learn these types of preferences within your family can be very empowering.
So, here is the opportunity this summer affords: during downtime and the reduction of responsibility, take the time to actually learn something far, far more practical: the languages in your home based on the types of people that are in your home. If some of the time that could be taken at the museum or the pool is actually used to consider what type of people you are and the things you need to interact with one another, then maybe, just maybe, the chaos could be turned into connection, and value and honor could be felt by the members of your household. In fact, those kinds of observations could be made while at the museum or the pool, if you choose to pay attention to your family rather than trying to find a distraction for (or from) them. These lessons will stay with everyone far longer and will be used more broadly than the summer swim lessons or the getting a jump on next year’s geometry. They are relational lessons that will last a lifetime.
Just consider it.
See you at the zoo. Hopefully, you will catch me type-watching as much as I am animal watching.
To talk further about identity, type, or parenting concerns, please consider LifePractical Counseling for your counseling or consultant needs. You may reach us at 205-807-6645, or contact us via our website at www.lifepractical.org. Paul Johnson is a professionally licensed marriage and family therapist and professionally licensed counselor in the state of Alabama.