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Willingness is not a fixed state *or* Playing the game where everyone wins

2018 November 2
by Rachel Turiel

It’s a Saturday morning and I am thinking of nothing more than sipping coffee while the trees outside flare into deeper intensities of their autumn selves. Later, there may be a bit of tomato processing on the agenda, or some casual bathroom cleaning, not the kind you’d do for company, but perhaps an offhand drive-by with a sponge. It’s just Rosie and me at home, moving in our separate though intersecting orbits.

Except, Rosie is actually whizzing around at a meteoric pace, taking up and shedding activities, the byproducts scattered like fallen leaves about the house. Just as I’m sighting the rare animal of an unstructured day, Rosie wonders aloud what she will possibly find to do until her friend Fawn arrives later in the afternoon.

“Maybe,” Rosie begins brightly, “you could drive to Fawn’s, pick her up and bring her back here.” Driving 45 minutes roundtrip when Rose’s friend has a ride into town, though much later, conflicts with my leaf-gazing non-agenda. This day that unspools in spectacular openness for me, is for Rose, tauntingly boundless, a deep chasm of boredom to overcome before arriving at the fun and connection that friendship provides.

Rose and Fawn do exactly what you’d expect two eleven-year-old girls to do: they get on the phone and discuss. Shortly after, Rose puts the phone on speaker and says, “So, Mama, we’re wondering what’s the reason that you don’t want to pick Fawn up early. Like, is it the cost of gas? Or, the extra sitting in the car? Or, do you have other plans? And, we’re wondering if we can offer you some gas money or in some way make it work better for you.”

Listening to Rosie and Fawn show consideration for me, express interest in making my life more wonderful, I feel, in one remarkable moment, my willingness shift. My focus widens from preserving my own agenda to contributing to my daughter’s sense of joy and connection. I think of the advice of Marshall Rosenberg, developer of nonviolent communication: ”Instead of playing the game ‘Making Life Wonderful,’ we often play the game called ‘Who’s Right.’ Do you know that game? It’s a game where everybody loses.” Like a magical formula of physics in which the more you give the more is available, Rose’s willingness to care for my needs creates more willingness in me to care for hers.

I don’t need gas money (I’m picturing a handful of coins unearthed from couch cushions), but I ask the girls if they’re open to helping me with some chores, the ones which I’ll have less time for because of the drive. They are thrilled and grateful to be meeting up six hours early. They are empowered by their ability to shift the power dynamics of an adult-child relationship with their own care and compassion. They say yes to my request, wholeheartedly. Their willingness to help me contains no obligation nor resentment, and neither does my decision to make the extra drive. In fact, I now see the 45-minute drive as a sweet opportunity to enjoy my daughter and her delightful friend, as well as an easy way to contribute to their happiness, which actually boosts my happiness because we’re wired for interdependence; interdependence runs on mutual generosity. It’s the game where everyone wins.

In typical parenting paradigms, in which a child gets rewarded for behavior deemed “good,” the child may be robbed of the beneficial feelings generated by true willingness to give to others or contribute to positive family culture. This willingness creates the scaffolding that supports cooperation, creative problem-solving, fearless honesty, and the trust that everyone’s needs matter. This is the fuel I want our family to run on, rather than the hope of reward or fear of punishment.

Back at our house, Fawn chops the last of the frost-rescued tomatoes. Rosie cleans the bathroom until it gleams. The wind flings sunset-colored chokecherry leaves to the ground where they shine like the tree’s own reflection. The beauty of this life is almost too much to bear. My coffee is now cold, but the rest of me is filled with warmth.

12 Responses leave one →
  1. shadymama permalink
    November 2, 2018

    “This willingness creates the scaffolding that supports cooperation, creative problem-solving, fearless honesty, and the trust that everyone’s needs matter.”

    three cheers for willingness! (and an extra huzzah for the sweetness of mama-daughter connection and problem-solving.)

  2. Bea permalink
    November 2, 2018

    I swear Rose was two when I first started reading your blog! I’ve never commented before, but thought I’d say hello. I so enjoy reading about your journey. My eldest is 8 and you guys put the idea of homeschooling into my head all those years ago. Your blog prompted me to research whether it was legal in the UK and we’ve never looked back.
    Keep on writing your beautiful words, Mama. They’re an absolute delight. X

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      November 2, 2018

      Bea, lovely to read this comment on many levels. Glad the homeschooling has been satisfying and doable! And Rose *was* two when I started this blog! Sniff sniff.

  3. Judy permalink
    November 2, 2018

    Hi Rachel – This is one of your very best J

  4. Elizabeth permalink
    November 3, 2018

    I am amazed at the last picture of your living room, it looks… different. Love the rug and the wooden pillar and is that a table inside of the wall? I am mesmerized by discovering this after all of these years of looking at pictures of your living room :).

    Also, very impressed by both you and the girls’ attitude in this blog, very inspiring! I have to think of this when my kids fight or scream for my attention… we can all win and have a wonderful time. Can we also all win when one of us is 3? I hope so!

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      November 4, 2018

      That rug was brought to America from Turkey by my grandparents 100 years ago!

  5. John Schiffel permalink
    November 3, 2018

    Thanks for the “making life wonderful” attitude-tip.

  6. M moon permalink
    November 3, 2018

    Thank you. I am going to make a “making life wonderful” poster. :). To remind us.

  7. Pamela Marshall permalink
    November 4, 2018

    Making life wonderful, and a win-win! Simple and inspiring!
    Thank you, Rachel!

  8. Bethany permalink
    November 11, 2018

    Love this!

  9. November 17, 2018

    yes! love every single thing about this post.

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