Recently, my husband and I were on vacation with our three boys, and our oldest was seemingly always putting a damper on our fun adventures. The walk was too long. Someone was talking too loudly. Another’s socks were pulled up too high. Someone blocked the TV in the middle of the baseball game (because it was necessary to pass in front to get to the bathroom)… You get the picture. After a few days everyone wanted to bite this child’s head off.
My husband woke up one morning and announced that there was a new plan for the day – everyone was going to take on the identity of someone else in the family. Since we were there, in part, for a business conference, we all even had official name tags that clipped to our clothes! The boys (and we, too) got really excited, and after a lively discussion of who got to be who, we each clipped on our name tag and headed down to breakfast.
The second my husband was out the door of the hotel room, he began jumping all over and making goofy sounds, exactly the way our middle son would have done. We all busted up laughing. One of the kids said, “Dad, watch out! People are coming down the hall!” He ignored them and kept on with his silliness. The kids tensed up for a moment, but when they saw the smiles on the faces of the people walking towards us, fell back into laughter. I was our youngest, and kept hanging onto the leg of our oldest, who was acting as me. “MOM! Carry me! I’m tired!” (Mind you, this is 20 minutes after wake-up, and ten steps out of our hotel room.) Again, laughter, as our youngest son (now Dad), scolded me and told me to leave mom alone. “This is a public place!” Our middle son, playing our oldest, jumped right into his role beautifully: “Why is the restaurant so far away from everything?? This place is too big!” Then he began poking at his two brothers, purposefully trying to knock them down, or scare them by jumping out from behind a pillar. Everyone was rolling in laughter. Not just us, but everyone we passed!
After a while, our oldest tried to take on the role of correcting us all, and orchestrating how we should be acting, and what we should be saying – a pattern we’re working hard to help him shed. None of us caved. We just continued on in our roles, and the laughter kept coming and coming. I admit that our oldest, the inspiration for the game, wasn’t doubled over, but he was grinning ear to ear, and I definitely detected a handful of chuckles.
I also noted that he was really watching “himself.” How interesting to see “yourself” from the outside looking in. Identity is complicated, and so often we lack the insight to differentiate between our behaviors and who we really are at the core, or our children’s behaviors and the sweet, lovable kids we know they are. Taking on the identity of another with them watching, and seeing “ourselves” from the outside, broke the tension created by all that identity confusion, and allowed us to see ourselves, and one another, for the people we really are: good people with some behaviors that we would all do well to shed.
~ Tosha Schore is a Certified Parenting by Connection instructor in the San Francisco Bay Area. Join Tosha on January 28 for her next Online Parenting Class, Building Emotional Understanding.
You can learn more about Parenting by Connection in the Listening to Children booklet set.