On this episode, we discuss the nuances about kids, holiday visits, and behavior. It is the day after Black Friday here in the United States, and this is an interesting time of year, because at this time of year, we tend to go visit different family, friends, and relatives. It's a little bit different for us because. We live across the country from where we grew up, both, both my wife and I, are just completely across the country from our folks, which means that our visits are very different from when we used to live there.
Summary and Notes
[00:01:40] – Change in behavior depending on who you are around
[00:04:56] – Children’s observation of their parents change in behavior
[00:08:33] – Upfront agreement, how everyone is expected to behave
[00:11:23] – Negotiating the expectations of behavior
[00:18:46] – Physical proximity does not equal closeness
Quotes from the Episode
“It's hard to say that mommy or daddy behaves differently around these people because this is how we, we're conditioned to them as we grew up and now, even though we're adults, full-grown adults, we still act differently around this person or this person because that is the role that we have cast ourselves to play.” [00:06:15]
“Seeing that we as parents are also subject to the rules that we put forth, I think is very important for them to.” [00:10:31]
“I realized that if I wasn't important enough to get to know, for them to get to know me, then ultimately, I was making an investment in a relationship that would only go one way. And when you give too much without gaining anything in return, then you ha you end up in debt.” [00:20:04]
“Showing an interest in someone is an investment that costs you nothing. It literally costs nothing to take an interest in a relative and a friend and a coworker in a colleague.” [00:20:50]
Transcript continues below:
And what I find is interesting is that, I moved away permanently pretty much when I was 25. And so I had a good amount of exposure to family holidays from the time I was born up until I was 25. And then for the next almost two decades at this point, the holiday season has been spent either with just my wife and kids, or maybe with some, some friends that we have over here as well, who will invite us over for their family events.
The reason that I think that this contrast is important is because what I've noticed is that when I was around family members, I would, my behavior would sometimes change depending on what family members I was around. So, for instance, when I went over one set of grandparents house. I found myself behaving differently than when I was over a different set of grandparents house, even though I was a fully grown adult at that time.
And the interesting point to me was that this behavior was completely, or the change in behavior between the grandparents was something that was completely invisible to me until I moved away and did the work to kind of think about that. Because it's something that comes so naturally, I think to us that we're not even aware of it, where it's, it's something that other people might see us do, but we don't see ourselves do.
And what's interesting is when you kind of move as a family unit around to these various holiday functions, and you're going to visit people, especially if you. Grew up in the same area as as your spouse, then they may not see it as well. It might be invisible to them as well. Why this is important and why I want to point it out is because when, what I, what I have noticed is that when we have gone back at the holiday season or to go visit, my children's grandparents now or so, my parents and my wife's parents in the past.
My kids specifically, , the boy who's older has noticed a change in behavior depending on which relative we were visiting. Now, this is very, very subtle stuff. This is, this is not, you know, like dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type stuff here, but very subtle behavioral changes in terms of not only how.
we behaved as adults, but what the children noticed was what our expectations of them were. And it's, it can be challenging for kids to understand nuances of what one grandparent might find acceptable in their house versus what another grandparent might find acceptable in their house. And we're not talking about, for instance, something so, so large as one grandparent doesn't.
Want kids crawling all over their furniture and another grandparent doesn't mind that we're talking and stuff. That's even quite a bit more subtle than that. just in terms of, for instance, differing as to who eat, who eats first, waiting for, for one person in the house to start eating versus in the other environment or where, where we, You know, and in our household on a day to day basis, that's not done. It might be done out of, out of respect in certain circumstances. but it's not done on a, on a, on a continual basis, let's just say. So why that's interesting is that when children see that behavior changing in their parents, They don't ignore it. Whereas we've been conditioned to it all our lives, and it's just, it's become invisible to us as adults. Children pick up on it and they see it, and they pointed out. Now, my first response to this with my kids before I really started thinking about it, was just to tell them, you know, they would ask a why question.
And children of course, are no strangers to a. Bashing you over the head with with the why weapon. But the first response I'd have, well, they'd ask why, and I said, well, that's because that's the way it is. That's just the way it is. And I realized that by giving them that answer, not only was I making the easy way out for myself, but I was also denying their observation of what, what their actual observation was.
And their observation was based in fact based in reality. It was not something that they were making up. There was something, there was some nuance that was different that I was basically saying, well, that's just the way it is, and not giving them a good explanation for it. And what I started to do was starting to explain that well, instead of just saying, well, that's the way it is.
I'd say, well, you know, in this instance, these are. The this, see, this is challenging for me. This is hard for me because it's hard to, it's hard to say that mommy or daddy behaves differently around these people because this is how we, we're conditioned to them as we grew up and now, even though we're adults, full grown adults, we still act differently around this person or this person because that is the role that we have cast ourselves to play.
And I try explaining that to a six year old. And the six year old says, well, I don't understand. Like that makes no sense. It makes no sense to them. And then you have to rationalize that with yourself, which becomes even more, you've had more of a battle because now you're, you're getting, you're, you're gaining wisdom from.
The reflection of your own words in your six year old, which is very easy to ignore. in fact, I would, I would say that it's actually some somewhat desirable to ignore it, but I realize that by ignoring that pain, by, by ignoring, not pain, but by ignoring, when I, whenever I receive kind of a signal of this is uncomfortable or this is unpleasant.
it encourages me in the past. I would shy away from that area and I would look away from that area. But what I do now is I forced myself to look in the areas where I at least want to look. Because what I found is that oftentimes I will discover things that I most need in those areas where I least want to look around.
I'm least comfortable looking. And so having that dialogue with my kid. Really helped me to understand and explain not only to myself, but to my child that, Hey, listen, sometimes you might behave differently. And the most important thing is to understand it and to be conscious and to be aware of it, and then you can choose to change it or not, but if you're not conscious and aware of it, then you have no ability to change it at that point.
One of the things that I like to do with my kids before we go into any new space. Be at a restaurant or going to the supermarket or anything like that is we talk about very briefly what our upfront agreement is on how we're both supposed to behave on how all of us are supposed to behave in that environment.
And for example, going into a restaurant, we'll talk about. What is expected of us and also what we should not do in there. And the reason we do that before we arrive at the restaurant is because we don't want to be negotiating those things in the moment. We want to be having that agreement beforehand because kids like those boundaries, they like knowing what the rules are, so to speak.
And what we're seeing now is that our six year old is actually a . Trying to reinforce that behavior. He wants to have stability, and so if he sees, for example, his sister going out of the limits for what we've agreed on, he'll mention that to us. Likewise, if he sees his mother or I going out of the limits for what we've agreed on, he'll tell us that too.
So for instance. If we say no horseplay in the restaurant, and this, this happened the other day where, we're at the restaurant and his sister was sitting on my lap. She's just turned three and I started her, her shirt is getting, she's starting to grow out of her clothes now, so her shirt is a little bit too short.
And so her belly was sticking out just a tiny little bit. And so I started to tickle her belly and she started to laugh just a little bit. And my. Six year old reminds me that daddy, there's no horseplay in the restaurant. And you know, it was fun to see his sister laugh, but I had to give it to him and I had to say, you know what?
You're absolutely right. I should have been more aware of that and I'm going to stop tickling you right now because seeing that we as parents are also subject to the rules that we put forth, I think is very important for them to. Now, obviously there's. Different categories of activities that we as parents and adults have to do that sometimes are different from that of children.
But for instance, this was a, a very good example of universality in something that was a universal, that applied to not only the children, but that could be applied to us as parents and adults as well. And so I thought that that was really important. Another thing that I like to do. With my kids is when we negotiate these, these expectations of behavior, we'll talk about what we shouldn't do.
So I like to start by saying all of the things that would be really, really bad to do, and I start this in kind of a humorous way once again, when we're not actually there. And this will tie back into visiting relatives as well. But we'll start off. For example, let's say we're going to a restaurant and all kind of seed off the conversation by saying, okay, well, what should we, why should we not do?
Would it be a, should we jump up on the table and dance around? Is that something that daddy should do? And that will start my kids laughing and they'll say, no, and they'll get very animated about it. And then. I'll give another example. I'll, you know, that's equally absurd. Should show daddy go run into the back of the kitchen and go make a mess back there.
No, and then my kids will start offering suggestions to about various things about superheroes and other, other, other silliness like that. The point is, is that we're honing in on all of the things that. We have an expectation that we're not going to do. Now I understand that sometimes the concept of the negative can be challenging for children to understand.
So for example, we've all heard the thing of don't, don't think of purple elephants. because once somebody says that, it becomes very hard not to do something. And I agree with that for the most part. But in this particular instance, I think that it's, it's good to paint the entire picture. For the children because by thinking of purple elephant, by thinking of all the things that we're not going to do, what it does is it helps to define the desired behavior or the desired expectations by the negative because it's very easy for kids to think of absurd things.
It's very easy for kids to think of things that are out there. And so by defining all of those things as things that we're not going to do, then it becomes very easy to say, what is an appropriate behavior in a restaurant? Oh, it's appropriate to laugh. Okay, but when, when might that become not appropriate?
Well, and then we go down that line and we compare it oftentimes to one of the, one of the other things. that, that might be not acceptable in that particular environment. So for example, like I said, the nuance of, of I have my daughter on my lap and I'm tickling her belly a little bit, and she's kind of cooing.
She's not making a lot of noise with that. my kid, my six year old has a hard time differentiating that, laughing from. Uproarious laughter of children that is disturbing other folks in the restaurant. Now, this is not a fancy restaurant, but I'm just giving you the, the, an idea of, of what it is that we're talking about here.
So by helping the kids to define that, define what we're not going to do. We use that as a bridge to get to what desired or acceptable behavior. Would be in this, in this particular instance. So where this loops back to visiting relatives, friends, et cetera, during the holiday season is in terms of having those expectations and then making it known to the kid that.
This is how this person is and this is not how we have to be all the time. In fact, it's not even maybe how we have to be here, but understanding why that makes us uncomfortable. Why are we more comfortable at one relatives house than the other relatives house? Cause what that manifests and with kids a lot of times is, Oh, I don't want to go see aunt so-and-so.
And they can't really put their finger on why that is, but they just know that it's not as comfortable there as it is in other places. A lot of this, having, having been away from family for so long, it's given me kind of an insight into that preconditioned behavior that I wasn't even particularly aware of and what it's also done is really forced me to reevaluate.
Many of my, my relationships in terms of, okay, well if this is D a then I ask myself, well, when this person comes to visit me, do they conform to. What I would believe is acceptable in my house, or do they import their rules of behavior in spaces where I am as well that that I own, for instance.
So if they come to my house, did they then impose their expectations of behavior on me or do they conform to what I find to be appropriate or acceptable? And what I've. Found pretty much universally, I, I, I don't know that there are exceptions. I haven't put a lot of thought really into trying to catalog exceptions to this, but the people, the relatives and the friends who come into my space who do not bring their rules with them and expect me to conform to their rules are almost universally the people who I enjoy spending time with.
Looking back, the people, the relatives who would come into my home and expect that now that they're there, I conform to their imported expectations in a space that they have no ownership and no control over. Those are the folks who I have found to be just not really worth, worth putting a lot of effort into maintaining a relationship with for better or for worse.
So as, as, as a scientist, we try to isolate one variable and change only one variable at a time because it gives us the insight that we need to see what's going on. And obviously anything with people, it's challenging to isolate only one variable at a time. But what I find interesting is that because I have these two multi-year experiences of living in very close proximity to family and then living very distant proximity to my family for multiple decades. In either sample, I can say that there is definitely a difference. And, you know, as I said before, my parents would give kind of a, well, “they're family, you know, don't you want to see them?”
And what I realized is that proximity, physical proximity. Does not equal closeness. Being geographically proximate to family and where I grew up, everybody lived within, I think, maybe 12 miles of each other. Now granted, because it was, you know, a city, it could take, you know, an hour or murdered to drive those 12 miles.
But the point being that even though I was very close in physical proximity, That does not mean that there was connection. That does not mean that there was a understanding or a desire to understand really. And I could say that it went both ways from that perspective, because you put out effort to understand someone and they have to put back effort to understand you and vice versa.
but I think that what, what ultimately happened, is that if you. Didn't conform. And if you weren't convenient to some, some folks in, in that area, then, you know, they didn't care. It wasn't, it wasn't important to them. And so what I realized that if I, if I wasn't important enough to get to know for them to get to know me, then ultimately, I was making an investment in a relationship that would only go one way.
And when you give too much without gaining anything in return, then you ha you end up in debt. And the thing is, is that giving here is the easiest thing in the world because we're not talking about money. We're not talking about food, we're not talking about anything that costs any, like any resource at all.
Because taking interest in someone and being interested in someone is something that. Costs. Nothing but provides huge gains for, for everyone. Showing an interest in someone is an investment that costs you nothing. It literally costs nothing to take an interest in a relative and a friend and a coworker in a colleague.
And what I noticed was that where there was this imbalance was in the relationships where. There was an expectation from the other party that you be interested in them, but that was not reciprocated back to you. And where there is that imbalance, it causes that relationship debt. And ultimately what I realized is just because I was related to someone or physically proximate to someone did not mean that they were entitled to that investment from me.
In my effort to. To pour that effort into them. So I hope that this has been useful explanation. I realized that the holiday season is, can be, you know, kind of a challenging time of year because so many different personalities come together that you have to ask yourself, if this person, we're not quote unquote family, would I be, would I allow them this level of access to me?
I think that's the most important thing to take from this is if this person were just someone that I knew from work or, or somebody who I saw at the gym or at church or wherever, would I give them this level of access to me and to my children? And if no, then the question that you have to ask yourself is, okay, how am I going to manage this then?
Because. A lot of times people will go parabolic. They'll say, Oh, well, what's you're saying is I have to never see this person again because they make me a little bit uncomfortable, or because they're a little bit narcissistic or they they don't take an interest in me and I'm saying, no. I'm saying just be aware of it because the mere awareness that there is a difference of how you would treat this person if they weren't, quote unquote family, is going to almost enable you to make that change subconsciously.
What a, and here's, here's how that works. So when we say don't think about, don't think about pink elephants, well your brain automatically thinks of that. So, and it's very hard not to do that at that point in time. So as soon as you become aware that there is a difference between the level of contact that you would afford a person, where are they family or were they a stranger?
Then the pink elephant goes into action. And youth start to act in a way that restricts that access to a level that you are more comfortable with. So that's the end of this episode. I hope it's been useful. If you have any questions, if you have any comments, please let me know and we'll see you in the next show.