DBT Skills for Parents: Wise Mind
Today was a day of toddler battles. There were mundane ones (leaving the house, leaving the park, tot sharing, potty breaks) and spectacular ones (spraying water around the kitchen, a poop explosion, food coloring, a giant stick near picture frames). So when B decided to pour out a whole jar of sprinkles on the table and started licking them up, my first thought was "well, he's at least sitting at the table". Nick came home and walked right into this situation. He starts fighting Breccan. "You really shouldn't be eating sprinkles. You need to eat dinner first." Cue toddler meltdown. Of course, Nick was right, Breccan shouldn't have been eating sprinkles. But it took every ounce of strength I had not to rush in and finish handling the situation "my way" just to avoid another toddler meltdown. Let Dad handle it. You weren't wrong, and you don't have to fight this one. Slowing down and listening to that voice inside is so hard. In DBT, we call that voice "Wise Mind". It's the first skill you learn and the crux of the therapy. To understand Wise Mind, you have to understand that most people have two opposing ways of viewing a situation: Emotion Mind and Reason Mind. Emotion Mind is the heated, spontaneous part of your mind. Acting with Emotion Mind can be problematic (snapping in anger, splurge spending) but can also be good (wrestling with your kids, sex with your partner). Reason Mind is the opposite of Emotion Mind; it is cool and calculating. Again, it can be helpful and pleasant (baking and trip planning both employ mostly reason mind) and problematic (it often lacks empathy and joy). The crux of DBT is the dialectical relationship between these two mind states. Both are right; both are wrong; one cannot exist without the other, and neither is a recipe for success by itself. The key to the struggle between these two opposite is the area that exists between: Wise Mind. Wise Mind is the intentional state of mind that acknowledges and attempts to satisfy these two opposites. In my case today, my Wise Mind told me (logically) that Nick was less parenting-weary and sprinkles were NOT an appropriate dinner choice. It also addressed my emotional anguish (frustration) and exhaustion. Not to say that listening to that wisdom is easy. I had to admit that my solution wasn't the best, even though it wasn't wrong. Another contradiction. But parenting is FULL of contradicting situations and information. Learning to thrive not just in spite of but in part because of those contradictions is the gift DBT therapy gives. Accessing Wise Mind takes lots of practice. I recommend a proper DBT workbook (here or here) if you really want to explore it. Nothing replaces a therapist of course. Therapist Aid had a basic worksheet, And Carolina Integrative Psychotherapy has a great situational worksheet. Wise Mind has helped me handle everything from pregnancy fears and breastfeeding struggles to whether or not to skip a class or plan a trip. In the end, Nick handled Breccan's sprinkle debacle perfectly. When B got worked up, he took him to a quiet space to calm down and distract. That allowed me time to get the sprinkles cleaned up and out of sight. Wise Mind (and my awesome partner) for the win!