Thursday, January 22, 2009

Other People Don't Change

If I had a dime for every time I heard someone say, "he/she just needs to change x or y behavior" and (insert result here) all of life's problems would be solved, I would be a very rich woman. How many times have we secretly wished (or even verbalized) that someone change his behavior to better suit our needs? Probably too many.

Alfred Einstein's definition of insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." This time it will be different…I know it! So many people are, by Einstein's definition, obviously insane because they continue reacting to a person or an event the exact same way, but expect that, magically, the outcome will be different the 1,000th time. I know I am guilty (or insane). Why do we spend so much time trying to get other people to change their behavior when it makes more sense to simply change our own? Why do we continually justify requesting someone else to do all of the hard work?

Other people don't change. We might as well accept that fact before we succumb to insanity's relentless clutches once and for all. Instead of continuing to wreck your mind with justifications of why someone else needs to do something differently, why not focus solely on what you can do differently in your own life. No more wishing for the impossible. No more expecting change by osmosis. No more excuses. You are 100 percent in control of your own actions and reactions. If something in your life isn’t working, change it. I’m not saying that change is easy, but who ever said life was easy?

I had a college friend that I used to see occasionally but only after I initiated a meeting. I did all of the calling and all of the inviting whenever we got together. After awhile I was very angry at this friend because I felt like I was doing all the work. I kept calling and inviting her out to dinner and getting angry each time because she never reciprocated the invitation. I was at a loss. Instead of confronting her with this observation and accusing her of being a terrible friend, I simply stopped calling her. I changed my reaction. I figured if my friendship was important to her, she would realize the lapse in communication and, hopefully, try to contact me. I never heard from her again.

Other people don’t change. I’m not a pessimist - I’m just being realistic. We are born with inherent personality traits that are part of our genetic makeup and not something we necessarily have a lot of control over. For example, I am a perfectionist. I come from a long line of perfectionists. Try as I might I can’t get away from the fact that I like things to be done in a certain way. If I try to act like I don’t care if it’s done a different way I am not being true to myself. I do care. And, I will be more content if I know it’s done to my satisfaction. I will spend an inordinate amount of time reviewing and tweaking and inspecting every little facet of every little thing I create. Our idiosyncrasies and quirky traits are what make us unique.

But, to expect me to change from being a perfectionist to being something non-perfectionists find more appealing or easier to manage is ludicrous and virtually impossible. I am what I am. Expecting your husband to change from being an introverted wallflower to an extroverted entertainer is impossible. Expecting your wife to change from being a Type-A workaholic to a cookie-baking wife is impractical. Expecting your child to change from a quiet bookworm to a theatrical stage performer is simply unfair. It is what it is.

If you are certain that your life would be so much simpler if someone else changed his/her behavior to suit you, you are headed down the wrong path. Take a look in the mirror. The change that needs to take place needs to happen from within. It’s a pretty liberating experience. Try it sometime and you will realize that you have had the potential to be content and satisfied all along.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Making Unpopular Decisions

I have never made more seemingly unpopular decisions than since I became a mother. The choices I make for my children have been analyzed, whispered about and challenged by other mothers and even those without kids. Opinions are usually offered by people unfamiliar with the careful analysis that goes into each and ever choice I make and with whom I probably wouldn't even ask over for a cup of coffee. Who would have thought that the conclusions I reach about what is best for my family would spark such skepticism in others?

Before Nicholas turned 3 I contemplated sending him to preschool. I wasn't comfortable with the thought of him going to "school" at such a young age and since I am a stay-at-home mom we were regularly attending outings with other kids his age. Socialization skills were a non-issue. But, I felt it was in my best interest to look at all of my options and choose the best-case scenario. Almost everyone I knew was sending their 3-year-old to preschool, so I thought I better execute some due diligence to find out about this whole preschool scene.

I worked up a preschool checklist to help me conduct side-by-side comparisons of schools within about five miles of my house. Location was the main criteria since it did not make sense to me to drive any farther for such a short period of time. I interviewed several teachers and even talked to current and past participants of each school. I covered every angle, researched every teaching style and categorized my findings.

My final decision was to not send Nicholas to preschool until he turned four. He was a bright, articulate, socially-adept 3-year-old and I did not feel that he needed to go to "school" to learn any more than he was already learning by our museum and park visits, social outings and play dates. Another important fact was that I thoroughly enjoyed his company during the day and I wasn't interested in sharing him with anyone else.

I was really taken aback by the comments from supposedly well-meaning friends and acquaintances who could not believe that I chose not to send my son to preschool at age 3. I was told everything from, "he will not be ready for Kindergarten," to "you really do need to let go." I second-guessed my decision for weeks (I am human, after all) but ultimately believed that I was making the right decision for my family. Nicholas and his brother and I had an extraordinary, fun-filled year that I look back on fondly because we had no schedules, conflicts or interruptions of our precious time together.

When it was time for Nicholas to attend Kindergarten our school district changed the curriculum from a part-time to a full-time program. I was devastated and heartbroken at the thought of Nicholas being gone all day, every day during the week. I was prepared for this to happen in first grade, but not prepared for it to happen so soon in Kindergarten. After much discussion between the administration and other Kindergarten families our school district opted to continue offering a part-time curriculum for those who were interested. We jumped at the chance. I would have to drive him to another elementary school, but it was a perfect, win-win scenario for us.

Again, the comments and confused looks from friends and acquaintances followed us as I tried to explain the decision that was best for my family. Comments this time ranged from, "oh, he must not be ready for full-time," to "aren't you afraid he will be behind his peers in full-time Kindergarten?" to "he might not make the transition to first grade." I was offended that people actually thought the part-time curriculum was somehow sub-standard now that a full-time curriculum was offered. How could years and years of a stellar part-time Kindergarten curriculum that produced students who learned effectively and confidently made the transition to first grade be forgotten so quickly?

I have had to defend my position repeatedly to people who just simply don't get it. I am not the parent who looks forward to someone else caring for or watching my kids. I am not jumping for joy that my son will be in school full-time so that I can have some free time to myself. I am not ready to push my son out the door into the "real world" when he is only 5-years-old. He has plenty of time for learning and for school over the next 12 years. I simply opted to give him one more year of childhood.

If I thought for a minute that Nicholas would somehow be scarred by my decision I wouldn't have done it. But, I know for sure that the time we have had together as a family over the past five years will be more socially and academically beneficial to him that any preschool or full-time Kindergarten classroom ever could. The picnics in the park, games of hide-and-go-seek, fun times, shared laughs and family togetherness will go a long way in building Nicholas's self-confidence and knowledge that he is an important and loved person. If by continuing to make unpopular decisions I can show Nicholas that it's more important to do what's best for him than to follow a majority opinion, he will be well on his way to mastering one of the most important life lessons of all.

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