At my place of work we have number of internal courses available which are designed to help one become a better manager, coworker, teammate, and all around successful communicator. One of these courses focuses on how to hold difficult conversations, and a key tool for doing so is called bracketing. To bracket, one simply states all the negative and ill purposed words they would like to say to someone in their head but not with their mouth. For some this requires a great deal of restraint, but for others it is a method practiced in every day life.
I have become a master at bracketing, and I have my children to thank.
Child: Mama, why do you keep all those clothes piled on the dining room table?
Me: Because they are clean and waiting to be folded.
Child: But why are they still there? Why do they stay there for such a long time?
Me: [Because your dad and I work full time so we can buy the clothes that sit on that beautiful table, which resides in this nice house in which you get to live, and when we’re not working we’re doing things like cooking your dinner and picking up all your crap and playing 5 games in a row of mind numbing Candy Land. So forgive me if folding your clothes that are already washed and ready to be grabbed from the table which we barely ever use anyway is not on my high-priority task list at the moment, you little ingrate.] Because I just haven’t had time to fold them yet, Sweetie.
Ah, bracketing. It is quite clearly an essential skill of parenting. Let’s have another look:
Child: Mama? Do you? Do you? Do you? Um, do you know what I? Um, do you, um, do you know what? Do you know what I did, um, Mama?
Me: [OH FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, SPIT IT OUT!!!] Calm down Sweetie. Think about you would like to say and then and speak to me slowly.
Yes, there is much that I would have liked to have said to my daughter in response to the suggestion of my poor house keeping skills. I might easily have lost my temper with the fact that her excitement levels were clouding her ability to produce a coherent sentence. I could certainly have said a great deal more, but in the end I know I would have regretted it. And that is why we bracket. We say it to ourselves; we say it to our spouses later. Or better yet we share it with other parents on the internet. I am willing to bet that you do it yourself all the time.
Young children are not yet capable of this skill. A part of me doesn’t mind it. A part of me finds it highly entertaining that my four year old continues to call me out on my crap on a fairly consistent basis. It’s all in the timing. Ask me if I mind before my first morning cup of coffee, and we’d be having a very different conversation. I guess eventually they will learn to bracket themselves, but for now we’re just going to have to pull the weight. [Son of a…]