If you are a parent, you’ve likely asked yourself “WTF?” more than once. I sometimes ask myself multiple times before 7am! Today, I am going to ask you a different WTF question…
What’s the FUNCTION?
If you’re scratching your head, stick with me. Think about it…what’s the function of you reading this blog? How did you get here and what are you hoping to get out of it? Maybe wtf caught your eye and you were curious? Perhaps you’re a fan of our blogs and wanted to see what was next? Or maybe you’re not feeling great about your current parenting or are overwhelmed by the season and hoped this blog would alleviate some of that angst? WTF of what you are doing RIGHT now?
Humans do all sorts of different behaviors – eat, sleep, walk, talk- and we do these behaviors for a variety of reasons. Often, we are on autopilot and do not think about why we are doing what we are doing. “What’s the function” simply means “why are you doing what you are doing?”
Let’s explore a concept from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) called “towards moves” and “away moves.” The Choice Point (Bailey, Ciarrochi, & Harris, 2014) and Bull’s Eye (Lundgren, 2012) are frameworks that suggest that behaviors can broadly fit into two categories- actions that move us towards what matters to us and actions that move us away from what matters. Sometimes “away moves” are responses to unwanted internal stuff that shows up (emotions, physical sensations, thoughts, memories, cravings) and attempts to escape from something distressing (Matrix; Polk, Hambright, & Webster, 2014). The reason the WTF question is important is that sometimes the exact same behavior can be an away or towards move depending on our why.
For instance, some nights lounging under a blanket with a bowl of ice cream watching Netflix with my husband after we finally coral the kids to bed is what I need to decompress and bond with him. Treating myself with kindness, rest, and connection with my husband are values of mine. Other nights, you may see me doing the exact same thing, but for different reasons. Sugar and mindless tv may be a way of trying to take the edge off anxiety and my “what ifs” or escape from feeling ashamed and experiencing imposter syndrome. Some days, I exercise because movement helps me be my best self mentally and physically. Other days, I work out because I can’t fit into a pair of jeans or was tagged in a picture I don’t like and my inner critic is being nasty. Same behavior-different reasons. The first are value congruent. The second are not.
Let’s look at a parenting example. I have cherished childhood memories of Christmas and am excited to share the magic of the season with my kids. However, in my gusto to be festive over the last four years, I’ve learned that in real life, holiday traditions rarely match up to the Pinterest versions. My house usually looks more like the aftermath from the Wet Bandits scene in Home Alone than a Hallmark movie! A couple of years ago, my rigid insistence to stick to my plans of a fun night at Disney on Ice (despite renovations in my house, 8 months of pregnancy, a husband tied up at work, a late train, rain, a toddler out who missed her nap…and a partridge in a pear tree) resulted in me grabbing my daughter’s arm as she attempted to run away in a crowd and giving her “nursemaid’s elbow.” Instead of merrily singing along with Mickey, I was guilty crying in the ER.
Since then, I’ve tried to connect with what really matters to me as a parent and what is best for all members of my family…and I still sometimes find myself losing my *ish as I try to get gloves on tiny fingers to go see holiday lights or cursing under my breath and thinking “I did it again!” as I carry a sweaty, whining kid who needs to use the Porta Potty through a corn maze. At times like this, I ask myself WTF?
Am I doing these things to connect with my children and create fun traditions and special memories? Are these things really enjoyable for my kids? Am I doing these things because of some rules I have about what a “good parent” looks like? Or am I “doing it for the ‘gram” and because in the age of social media comparisons, I feel inferior and a need to prove my worth? Even if my reasons are aligned with my values, how many activities, crafts, events, toys, parties, decorations, recipes and matching holiday outfits can we fit into our lives without overstimulated, cranky, exhausted, demanding children and resentful, burnt out, angry, guilty parents?
This upcoming holiday season, my family and I are identifying our values and what makes a quality holiday season for us. This may look different from other families and that’s ok. Before planning a gathering, saying yes to a party, signing up for an event, or buying a toy, treat or craft, I am repeatedly coming back to “what’s my why?” I am taking into consideration my children’s developmental levels and needs and building in downtime. When I notice we are going off course, I am committing to trying to reset with compassion.
Download the following reflection worksheet as a guide. If possible, include all members of the family in this discussion. Kids love to have their voices heard! Here’s to trying to mindfully engage in things that are important to us!
Dr. Christina Contrastano is a clinical psychologist and mom whose mission is to make mindfulness and evidence-based therapeutic skills more accessible to busy parents to help them survive, and even thrive, in their parenting journey! Read more about her here: https://cbtcenterofcentralnj.com/drchristina-contrastano/.