The 1950s and 60s were notorious for their parenting styles, especially th ones that suggested children needing cutting down to size lest we become too big for our boots. I am not alone in remembering times when someone has told me my head was too big for my body – and they weren’t speaking about my physical appearance – or that I had tickets on myself (whatever that meant), or that I wasn’t as good as I thought I was.
I am appalled that anyone would say such things to their children but I heard these phrases often and like most other children of that generation, we sucked it up, in today’s parlance, and got on with it. I couldn’t imagine ever having said such things to my children – I’m sure they will set me straight on that account – but there are so many ways to get a message across without resorting to put downs. Part of that psyche is that we never acknowledged our own efforts as being anything other than mediocre.
While I am not an advocate of building others up by insincere comments or accolades, I do feel there is a place where one can reflect and acknowledge that today I did something well. We wander through our lives with heads down getting on with the business that is our work and social activities.
I have an hour’s drive to and from work each day yet none of that time is spent reflecting on the days accomplishments. Rather it is spent looking at how things may have been done differently, or why a certain therapeutic approach didn’t have the anticipated outcome. Now I think maybe my expectations of myself are too high (more than likely way too high … Type A personality alert).
For something to be considered an achievement it has to be momentous and ground breaking, to my mind. Otherwise it’s just ordinary day to day things we do to get from one end of the day to the other. I rarely spend those two hours thinking about the little things that have made a difference in people’s lives over the course of the day.
In the years I have been working as a counsellor I have noticed that it is the little things that matter most to people. The little things, like being able to listen well and reflect back to the speaker. The little things, like normalising mental health symptoms for someone who has experienced the ache of discrimination and bears the stigma of a diagnosis.
Today I sat with someone, it was our fourth visit, and we reflected on the changes she had been able to make during the past four weeks. We call them dolly steps because it’s less threatening to make small changes slowly. Each week she has identified a dolly step she felt was within her capability to achieve. So far she is still using the three strategies (dolly steps) and she has noticed significant changes in her children. In four weeks she has built a degree of personal capacity (self-efficacy) that has encouraged her to keep going. She smiles now, is able to leave her house, has set some boundaries in place for her children and reduced her alcohol intake.
As always, I am humbled when my suggestions are taken on board, but more importantly, when those suggestions have worked. It is her accomplishment but I feel like I accomplished something too. I felt as proud as she did and not for any part I may have played, but for the fact she had the trust and confidence in my ability as a counsellor to try something new and daring.
Today I feel accomplished.