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Popsicles Past, Present, and Future: The Ploy of Consistency

This is from Jaya Walsh. It came with a note: “To my imagination, this could be used to stir up more interest in the upcoming Workshop for parents and children.”

Children are very good at following the simple directions: “I’m hot, I’m thirsty, there are popsicles in the freezer—let’s ask Mom.” It’s a simple question: “Can we have a Popsicle?” But Mom has no simple answer because she is operating under the delusion “I should be consistent with my children.”

She leaves the present and travels to the past: What do I know about Popsicles? What have I told them before about Popsicles? What have we said about when we can have them and when we can’t? She travels to the future: What will happen later if I give them a Popsicle now? What will happen if this isn’t when I said I’d give them a Popsicle? What patterns are being created or broken here?

Mom looks down at the children’s little faces and sees the enemy looking back. They will run over me if I don’t defend myself against them with consistency. I must maintain a sense of power and control with consistency. I know what they’re thinking: “We want as many Popsicles as we can get, no matter what it does to our relationship.” They don’t know any better.

She is now totally disconnected from them and totally disconnected from herself. The search engine of her brain is so muddled as it sifts through the data around “Popsicles and consistency” that she can’t make a simple decision. She can’t trust herself as a parent to make a good decision—about Popsicles—and she has a moral imperative to make a good decision, because the ramifications are huge and far-reaching and she needs to weigh them out carefully before she can give a balanced answer.

Chances are good that by the time she chokes out an answer through the clutter of thoughts—“Well, no, this doesn’t seem like the right time”—it’s going to feel disconnected to the children. So they ask a question to get clarity—“Isn’t this when we always have a snack?” They might even add more data because, obviously, Mom needs help here—“It’s really hot and we haven’t had any sweets yet today.” Now, anything they say becomes the proof that they’re manipulating her!

What’s really going on here? They asked a simple question and their mother left the planet. She’s trying to show she’s a reliable person by being consistent about Popsicles but all they’re seeing is a total lack of presence. Is it any wonder everyone’s confused and cross?

A Canadian mom named Caitlin, who loves questioning her parenting notions with The Work, noticed that her stance on consistency was creating what she was trying to avoid: internal muddle, confused, combative discussions, stern tones in her voice, and whining, complaining tones in her children’s. What she was especially after was being present, staying connected to her children, and living out of integrity. Instead, she was gone, disconnected, confused.

She took the statement “I should be consistent with my children” to The Work. This exploration revealed to her all the behaviors and thoughts from the Popsicle story above. She found that the belief was founded on distrust: she couldn’t trust her children to have authentic interactions with her, and she couldn’t trust herself to be a good parent to her children in the moment. As she witnessed her life following this session of inquiry, she noticed how many times a day a new opportunity arose for “I should be consistent.” Only now she was no longer believing the thought.

Caitlin’s inquiry led her to trust herself to simply check in and give an answer in the moment. “I can be consistently myself,” she realized. “I can show up in each moment and trust that.” What followed was a new ease in her interactions with her children. The ease was in herself, with a huge reduction in mental work and no more separation—which feels dense and heavy. Now her children ask a question and she gives a response after a two-second check-in. Caitlin’s new modus operandi is “Put in the question and see what it says. It knows the answer.”

In the moments when the answer doesn’t come right away, she notices that now curiosity arises instead of confusion and panic. She tells her children, “I don’t know yet. Can you come ask again in about ten minutes?” Then she does The Work to get back to clarity. The children respond well to this: they, too, seem to prefer the clear mother with the clear answers.

Caitlin marvels at how often her children simply trust her answer these days. When they get a no, they’re more likely to carry right on with what they were doing than to argue about it. Sometimes they do have a response: “I’ll say, ‘No, I don’t want you to have a Popsicle.’ They’ll say, ‘We didn’t have one in the last couple of days, what do you think?’” Then she checks in again—new moment, new information. In her mind, she doesn’t go to, I’ve answered. I have to be consistent or it will mean . . . What she loves is that her children present the new information in a very peaceful way. They don’t speak with the charge they used to put into it, with a torrent of “It’s not fair . . . You said . . . We never get . . . That’s not the way . . .”

And then there are still those moments when a child really doesn’t like the parental answer and responds with tears, anger, and accusations. Even this has become welcome in Caitlin’s world because she doesn’t feel instant anger well up inside herself, worry about or judge the child, question her decision or whether or not she’s a good parent—all the confused craziness this response used to yield for her. Her daughter was raging recently when Caitlin’s answer was “Yes, in ten minutes,” instead of the desired “Yes, I’m jumping up right away.” Caitlin found no judgment or anger in herself as she met her daughter’s response. What she found was true love for her daughter and a clear holding to her true “Yes, in ten minutes.” Her daughter’s emotions spent themselves quickly and, ten minutes later, both were happily engaged in their shared activity. And Caitlin spent the interim ten minutes at peace in her own mind.

A bonus she has discovered in her new way of being is that her children involve her more in their processes. They trust her to be present and simply curious with them about whatever they’re dealing with. Together, they come up with ideas and create solutions to problems and conflicts. “They know I’m with them—present in the moment and not gone, lost in all those thoughts as I search for my Parenting Plan and Theory on Popsicles. In that clear place we can really hear each other and connect, and there are so many more options and possibilities.”

Finally, trust has moved into their home: mom trusting herself, children trusting themselves, and all trusting one another. It’s a good life—and it’s amazing how consistent it looks once the religion of consistency is dropped.

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