Down To The Bottom (Of It All)

August 2018

Dear you,

Good question! How exactly have we managed to stay together for 2 years, given the potentially explosive nature of our stuff – how Becky’s shit triggers mine and mine triggers hers- and with the kids in the mix?! One of the most useful tools we’ve discovered is…

Sportscasting! WTF is sportscasting you might ask? (as has many a friend when I’ve mentioned it!).

I first heard the term when my kids were little from Janet Lansbury, a huge proponent of respectful parenting. She describes it as a “just the facts” verbalisation of what’s going on for a child without taking over. It’s not about judging, fixing, shaming or blaming but giving them the “space they need to continue struggling until they either solve a problem or decide to let go and move on to something else.”

For example, saying “You’re working very hard on fitting that puzzle piece. You seem frustrated.” rather than rushing in to fit the piece for them. It’s an acknowledgment that they’re seen, understood and empowered to continue to work things out for themselves with support if needed.

We use this approach with the children in a slightly different way these days, but we also use it for ourselves to get out of the drama our stuff seems to entangle us in frequently…I’m pretty sure it’s what has saved us from even more flounces, dumpings and huge bust-ups than have already occurred!!

It’s been useful when we seem to keep having the same argument over and over again.

It’s been relationship-saving when one of us is stuck knee-deep in a long-held but highly destructive narrative that might cause us to engineer a relationship-ending argument.

It’s helped us each reach the other person, kindly and with love, without that person feeling like they have to ‘give in’ or concede.

It’s been the single most effective way to get out of child, parent, victim, rescuer or perpetrator state (yep, heavily pulling from Transactional Analysis and Karpman’s Drama Triangle there), and back into adult where we can see things more calmly and in a less emotionally-fuelled state.

So what does it actually look like in practice?

It’s a pretty simple technique on the surface but takes quite a bit of practice to get right when you first start doing it…

For example, take this morning as we were both writing these letters – me to you, Becky to her friend. Becky was in danger of flouncing off – annoyed that we were ‘constrained’ to writing in letter format and pissed off that we were writing about something she didn’t feel like writing about today.

Sportscasting what I thought might actually be underneath/behind all of this, I said “But do you think it’s because letters feel (and are) more personal? And you’d rather keep things at arm’s length, especially when they still feel too raw, too close or too personal?”.

Or going back to the early days of our relationship when separation anxiety was rife, I’d often become (even more – as Becky would probably say) aloof, engineer arguments or be unnecessarily mean because of our impending separation. Rather than buying into the drama, engaging in the provocation and arguing, whenever Becky took a step back and sportscasted what was going on – “Is this about separation? Are you needing to separate from me?” – it all became clearer.

Followed up with “So now you have a choice – either stay in your narrative or triggered place, or choose to spend the time we have together in a loving way”…as frustrating and annoying as that can be, it was and is a great way to nudge someone back towards their adult place again!

While it wasn’t (and still isn’t) always easy to own what is really going on beneath the surface, the relief, gratitude, and sense of being held and still loved are worth the uncomfortable feelings of embarrassment, shame, or anger that someone else has truly seen you and helped you verbalise what might be going on for you.

But we don’t always get it right and – as we’ve discovered – there’s a fine line between ‘telling’ someone what’s going on for them versus allowing them to identify and confirm for themselves what’s actually going on. Get it wrong and it leads to more explosive fireworks between us “Who the fuck are you to tell me that’s what’s happening?” “What makes you the expert on me?”. Ouch.

But get it right, and it’s becoming easier and easier to own our stuff and what’s at the root of some of our patterns with less shame, less embarrassment and a feeling that – just because someone else has seen it first, it doesn’t make us weaker or give them more power. It’s made for the most open, honest, authentic and vulnerable relationship of my life.

Dear You,

Yes, you’re right! The kids and how we all come together as a six – especially as we don’t live together – is one of the things people are most curious about in our new blended family.

It can feel like a potential minefield helping four under 10s adjust to their new life and family situation. As we’ve already discussed, there’s nothing like a big life change to not only throw up new stuff but also highlight existing dynamics based on all our emotional baggage.

You know that Lea and I have a raftful of our own pre-existing stuff that we’re both currently contending with in therapy, and one of the themes for both of us around that stuff has been not knowing and uncertainty.

It seems pretty obvious then that our way of broaching our life change and its impact on the children’s existing narratives – the stories they tell themselves about who they are, how their world works and their sense of self – is about transparency, knowing and comprehension.

Do you remember when we first came across Janet Lansbury, the parenting educator? (Incidentally she’s rooted in Magda Gerber’s RIE conscious parenting approach that my cousin, Sarah is writing a book about).

Well, when we first discovered her we were obsessed with the techniques of sportscasting and used it loads with our then toddlers, didn’t we? We had many a chortle about how useful it would be to use on the men, parents or any other difficult people in our lives!!!

Well, it’s this sportscasting approach that has helped us so much with our children. Yes, even now they’re not toddlers – in fact especially now they’re not toddlers! Janet Lansbury’s work seems to be aimed at younger children and I’ve not been able to find anything about continuing to use it throughout their lives and with adults too and yet this seems so useful to everyone.

When we reflected back to our toddlers the facts of what was going on in a non-judgemental, factual way, as a narrator or sportscaster might do, the idea was to empower our children to figure things out and resolve things for themselves. The same is true now, although it feels like we get to a much deeper layer these days as we try and figure out what might be going on for them on a more emotional level – and whether they’re responding from within their narratives.

Narratives have been really important to get to grips with as they are essentially the lens through which they view everything else…

For one of them this centres around the belief that they play second fiddle to their younger sibling (they even verbally expressed that they thought the sibling was wanted as a second child because they themselves weren’t good enough 😩), for another the focus is on them not being special or good enough to have air time or attention, and for the youngest two it seems to be the belief that they have to be different or special to be loved and that they will never be as good at things as their older sibling and that it’s not ok to make mistakes when they try.

Layered on top of these narratives are their additional anxieties around parental separation and new relationships and step siblings.

Sportscasting enables us to discuss with each of them what might really be going on underneath the surface behaviour of crying, shouting, lashing out, hitting, kicking, whining, etc – that often stems from their underlying narratives.

For example, “Are you feeling jealous because mummy’s spent time with your sister and you felt rejected and not as important?”, or “Are you cross because I’m cuddling your brother and you think he’s the favourite?”. Often we have to make numerous guesses at exactly what is going on, but can usually tell when we’ve got it right because they ‘feel’ its accuracy and feel understood, and confirm that to us.

Don’t get me wrong, this is still a work in progress. I still struggle not to judge or attach blame or criticism at times but when it works it really changes things…

We’ve seen all four of them become more comfortable discussing emotions, be able to better access what’s going on for them more quickly and express this, understand the lingo around their own and others’ narratives, admit when they’ve been triggered, feel less embarrassed that their stuff has been seen, more able to discuss their emotions in a matter of fact way, and generally come out of their triggered places much more quickly.

These skills that they’re learning and the ability to talk so freely about their emotions feels to us like some of the most important tools we are equipping them with for adulthood, and sportscasting continues to be a really useful means of doing this, with their stuff and our own!

This Theme’s Soundtrack…

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