Reality Check: What would you choose?

A story told by Dr. Glasser in Choice Theory describes a mother-daughter relationship that had once been good but has now turned sour.

Mom works all day. She comes home; her teenage daughter is lazing around watching TV. The kitchen is a mess. Mom yells. Daughter sulks. Mom gets headache. No one is happy. We can all understand the emotions.

There will be few pleasantries or shared confidences in a relationship where the interaction starts with mom yelling the moment she’s in the door.

Glasser’s approach is to look at what we can and can’t control. While mom can control what she does, ultimately, she can’t control her daughter’s actions.

We don’t necessarily have evil intent when we try to control others. Mom wants what’s best for her daughter. She believes she must teach responsibility and discipline if her daughter is to become a successful adult.

Mom may be right. But as long as she bullies, yells, bribes, or manipulates to try to “make” her daughter do what she wants, she’s unlikely to see more than short-term results.

Unless they can return to a relationship where both of them value and appreciate each other, her daughter is likely to ignore mom’s bribes and threats and do what she pleases whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Ultimately, mom wants a good relationship with her daughter. She also wants her to grow up to be a woman that she’s proud of. And she’d like a clean house, which is also adult-behaviour.

To help mom with perspective, Glasser suggested that she look at her daughter as a customer. Why?

Customers are free agents. We don’t have control over them; that is, we can’t “make” them buy from us. But we can influence them by how we treat them. If we want our valued customers to stick with us, we need to treat them as valued or they will go elsewhere.

Of course, a mother-daughter relationship is different from a customer-supplier relationship. We can’t walk across the street to shop for a new daughter or mom that suits us better. Because we are stuck with each other, we may develop a mistaken impression that we are able to control how the other behaves. Perhaps we even think we have the right to do so.

But we don’t. We have no more power over family or friends than we have over our customers.

What’s the practical consequence?

Glasser suggests that mom treat her daughter as she treats her best customer. If that were the case, what would she do when she comes home? She’d relax, have a friendly conversation with her daughter before making dinner.

Try an experiment. Skip the yelling and accusations. Sit down; be friendly. Make dinner. Clean up. Have a nice evening. If her daughter asks what’s going on, tell her that you’ve finished yelling.

For any experiment, I find the practice of limiting the time for the changed behaviour helpful. “Can you do this for three days?” is more effective than, “Can you do this from now on?”

Try for three days; then assess. How did it go? Ideally, the daughter responded with friendliness herself. The reduced tension might even have her develop a new sense of responsibility and eagerness to contribute to the household tasks! Both women might appreciate the improved relationship so much that they make permanent, positive changes in their behaviour.

But that might not happen. It’s possible that the daughter will instead respond by becoming even more resistant. Or, she may not change her attitude at all.

What then? It depends on what mom has learned from her experiment. In any case, mom has new information that she didn’t have before.

What would you choose as an experiment in this situation?

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