Thursday, April 1, 2010

What I Learned From "What I Learned From Shamu"

I'm reading a fascinating book by Amy Sutherland, who started out studying exotic animal training but then discovered she could apply those techniques to people in her life, specifically her husband. Her basic principles include learning what a species can or cannot do, judicious use of rewards instead of punishment, and not responding at all to behaviors you don't like. She writes glowingly about the miraculous changes in her marriage, as she stopped nagging her messy husband, praised him when he did something she liked, and ignored his fuming tantrums when he couldn't find his keys. She understood he, like most men, simply wasn't capable of certain things, rewarded him for the tasks she wanted him to repeat, and created nearly instant harmony and serenity in her newly peaceful home. Plus it made her calmer in dealing with honking drivers, rude bank clerks, and a hard-of-hearing mother.
Which sounds great in theory - but Ms. Sutherland is not a mother, and she also had the advantage of novelty, because her husband didn't see her reading her own book. For starters, my husband noticed the title of the book and asked me about it - so now whenever I praise him ("Wow, you figured out the circuit breakers!"), he rolls his eyes and says, "Great, you're Shamu-ing me." And I'm trying to stop nagging, but when I'm exhausted, crabby, and perimenopausal, it's almost impossible to bite my tongue before I lash out.
Plus kids are a whole other proposition. My teenage boys love to bicker - they can get along beautifully while they're home alone, but the minute I pull into the garage, Ben starts humming, David gets annoyed, Ben complains that David was supposed to feed the dog, David claims Ben said he'd switch if David set the table, and in 2 minutes they're calling each other names and telling me that if I were doing my job as a mom I'd make the other one stop because it's all HIS fault. I try to ignore them, of course, but as I'm rewashing the dishes they were supposed to do, folding the laundry, and trying to remember what I have to remember for the next morning, it would take the patience of a saint not to yell that they're both grounded for a month and forget about that movie I promised to take them to. And I'm jewish - we don't have saints!
Still, the basic idea sounds really good, and I have noticed occasional positive results when I can stick to it - recognizing, for example, that teenage boys are not capable of moving quickly in the morning has helped me be more patient when it takes them 20 minutes to put on one shoe, and praising my husband for the circuit breaker thing motivated him to take on a few other home repairs (okay, he called his buddy who's a handyman, but still, he made the call and held the tools while Ritchie fixed the stuck pocket door and replaced the broken shower head).
Ms. Sutherland, I suggest you write your next book for moms who need to train themselves - how do we encourage ourselves to stop nagging? Where's our treat for understanding these alien species with whom we live? Oh, sure, I know the long term results will be worth it, but Shamu got little rewards as he developed his impressive tricks, and we need that gradual training too! So until Sutherland comes out with the sequel (How To 'Shamu' Yourself?), I think I'll reward myself, for not yelling this morning, and browse the Old sale page!

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