The last time my children saw my mother before Christmas, she asked my daughters what they were hoping to find beneath their tree this year. My youngest was distracted, but my oldest told her grandmother that she wanted a new American Girl doll. Several years ago my aunt had bought Jill an American Girl doll. It was a dark time in our lives, and my aunt bought the doll because she felt that my daughter would feel as if people cared about her. At the time, the doll was important because my daughter was the only girl in her class who didn't have one. After she opened the doll, she played with it, but as time passed, she grew more careless. One day I found the doll covered in black ink. Her curly blonde hair was coming out near her forehead, she was naked, laying face down on the carpeting so I picked her up, bathed her tattooed limbs, put a nightgown on her, and settled her into the bunk beds that my father-in-law had made for the American Girl dolls in my family.

When my mom heard that Jill wanted a new doll, she asked what had happened to the one she had. My daughter admitted that she had disfigured the doll by scribbling on it. After hearing this, my mother offered to give my daughter a bottle of Goo Gone. She assured Jill that this magical solution would be the cure to the Pen Disease that afflicted her doll, and in no time, the doll would be just as good as new. As my mother talked, I watched my daughter's face fall. A straight out no can be a hope killer, but so few people say no, and actually mean it, that the word has lost a lot of the force it once had. My daughter doesn't want the doll she has, she wants a new doll. My mother doesn't have to buy my daughter a new doll, but I believe that she could have handed her end of the conversation differently. Take the following example:

Grandma: "Jill, what do you have on your Christmas list this year?"

Jill: "I want a new American Girl doll."

Grandma: "What happened to the doll you have?"

Jill: "I wrote on her so now she has Pen Disease."

Grandma: "I'm so sorry to hear that. Your mother colored on a doll when she was younger. What do you think would happen to the new doll if someone were to buy you one?"

Jill: "I don't know."

Grandma: "Could we trust you to take care of it?"

Jill: "No."

Grandma: "Why not?"

Jill: "Because I didn't take care of the one I had."

Grandma: "That's true, but people can change, right?"

Jill: "Right."

Grandma: "I was thinking, and this might not work, but I have an idea. I was planning on getting you a Christmas present, but I'm afraid if I buy you a new doll that you won't have the opportunity to show me you can take care of it. What if you did some chores for people? Then you could earn the money to buy yourself a new doll. Do you think that would work?"

Jill: "Maybe."

Grandma: "Are you interested in earning money to buy a new doll? I have some housework you could help me with. I don't know if your parents would pay you to do extra chores at home, but you could ask them after you explain that you'd like to earn money for a new American Girl Doll. Do you want to ask them yourself, or would you like me to go with you?"

Jill: "Could you come with me please?"

Grandma: "Sure honey. I'd be happy to."

In the original conversation, my mother dismisses what Jill wants. She tries to solve Jill's problems for her, and she erases Jill's hopes for a new American Girl doll. The lesson here is that after you make the mistake of inking your doll's limbs, you are forever stuck with that doll. Real life is often like that, however Jill didn't really learn anything new from the conversation with my mother. She knew that coloring on her doll was not a good idea when she did it. In the revised scenario, Jill is given a chance to earn money for a new doll. American Girl dolls run about a hundred dollars, not including tax, and extra chores around my house typically earn two or three dollars. Picking up sticks in the yard is worth five dollars, but it also takes a considerable chunk of time. Under the second scenario, if Jill wants a new doll, she has to earn the money for it, and save that money. It will require hard work, dedication, and she'll have to sacrifice smaller things she could be buying with her money, or her savings will be depleted.

Erasing hope is a dangerous hobby. If you listen, you'll hear conversations where hope is being smothered, opportunities to teach lessons are lost, and people turn away from an encounter no more enlightened than they were when they entered the discussion. What people want is what they want. Presenting them with facts is fairly useless as a person convinced against their will is often of the same opinion still. Giving people choices allows them to practice their decision making skills. Decision making can only be learned through finding out the real life consequences that follow a choice. My mother could have asked Jill if she was interested in hearing about ways to restore the doll she has. She could have talked to me about getting the doll to clean as a surprise for Jill, that with a new outfit probably would have gone a long way in relationship building, but instead, my mother chose to speak down to my daughter, present her with solutions to problems that didn't address what Jill was feeling which was remorse over a ruined toy.

The doll is not the real issue here as Jill wasn't a fan of it in the first place. Eventually Jill will own things that she will regret not taking better care of, and I want her to learn that consequences follow every decision. If she wrecks her car in an accident due to her own neglect or carelessness, her parents are not going to replace her vehicle for her. Her car repairs are not our problem, and if she can learn that earning money which must be saved to buy a replacement for whatever can't be fixed when she is eleven, that will save everyone a lot of heartbreak in the future. This past fall my husband and I took a parenting class together. The Love and Logic approach to parenting teaches parents to genuinely empathize with their children, and then hands the problem back to the child so they can decide what they're going to do next. You can ask your child if they are interested in hearing what other children in their situation have chosen to do, but if your child doesn't care to hear what you have to say, you wish them luck, and move on to the next topic of conversation.

The truth is none of us really know what people are capable of until they are put in a difficult situation. If my daughter crashes her car when she's a teenager, is my mother going to be able to fix the problem with a bottle of Goo Gone? My younger sister once crashed a car I owned when I was on vacation. She was afraid to talk to me about it so my mother broke the news to me. Although people are more important to me than cars, my sister didn't know that her life and limbs were much, much more valuable than a car that I kept washed and waxed. The car accident was my sister's problem, and my mother erased my sister's hope that I would be compassionate by offering to call me on her behalf. Boundaries are critical in life. Decide where yours are, learn where other people have set boundaries, and do not violate either your own or those of others. No means no, whether you are saying it or hearing it from another. If more people said what they meant, and meant what they said, the amount of whining would immediately decrease because children would recognize the finality of the word.

Each of us carries a portion of hope around; your conversations can be hope builders, or hope erasers. My hope is that by reading this, people will consider how their words affect others, and explore ways to empathize with others while avoiding being the solution someone else doesn't want to hear. Love and Logic is parenting by parameters. It works on everyone, and the further I get into the program, the broader the application becomes. If people are constantly violating your boundaries, this needs to be addressed. Similarly, if you are the person violating boundaries, you need to become better at listening to what other people are saying. It cuts rhetoric because you don't need to argue with people anymore. You state what you are willing to do, you offer choices among acceptable options, and you empower others when you let them decide which of your options they are going to choose.

As a product of my upbringing, I used to parent a lot like my mother did. This year, I started my New Year's Resolutions early. One of things I had on my list was working on my interpersonal relationships and communication skills so I could become a better parent by fostering healthier relationships with my children. Take a minute to reread the conversations at the beginning of this writeup, they're actually both real. The second one is me talking to Jill about her doll in a format that was modified to seem as if it was really my mother speaking. Initially, I had my hope eraser out, but fortunately, I recognized a brilliant opportunity for us both to learn and grow. May your 2013 be filled with better decisions, more effective communication, and fewer hope erasers.

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