Mira called to tell me about her four-year-old son, Thomas, who was waking her up several times every night, screaming that he needed his water bottle filled to the top (already three-quarters full), or a particular toy located, or a book read to him. She’d been doing this for a couple of years, so she lived in a condition of perpetual sleep deprivation that was making her own happiness impossible, as well as destroying her ability to be a loving mother.
I made some suggestions about sleep training that were simple and direct, and after the first night, Thomas was already staying in his bed all night without screaming. Mira’s husband, Dan, however, was unhappy with the results. Dan had always treated Mira like a servant and enjoyed spoiling Thomas to win his son’s approval.
“What exactly was Dan’s plan for his screaming son?” I asked.
“He just said he didn’t like what I was doing,” Mira answered.
“Ah, I’ve heard this one many times, but ‘I don’t like it’ is not a plan. So you tell Dan that until he can come up with a plan for keeping Thomas in bed all night and allowing you to have a decent sleep, you will be implementing your plan.”
Dan’s parents had thoroughly taught him in the arts of acting like a spoiled brat, but in the face of Mira’s determination, he relented and allowed Mira to properly train their son, which was easily accomplished.
I commonly see one person in a relationship—a partner, a child, an employee—object to a workable plan based solely on the objection, “I don’t like it.” But that’s not a plan, and if their objection is allowed to obstruct meaningful accomplishment, the irresponsibility of the objector is simply enabled and encouraged.
When I was raising my children, they sometimes objected to my plans to weed the garden, or clean the garage, or whatever. I didn’t mind their objecting, but I taught them early in life that they had no ground to stand on unless they had another plan—a truly workable plan—that would accomplish the goal I had proposed.
It is virtually the credo of victims that they “don’t like” everything, and they state their objections so sincerely and energetically that people tend to follow their vehement inaction. The world is never improved by such people. If we wish to make a difference in the world around us, we must be prepared to state that “I don’t like it” is not plan and to set a course that will lead us and others in a forward direction.
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