My husband, my daughter and I are currently sharing living space with my father and sometimes his new partner. Today after breakfast my father said to his partner: ‘I will do it!’, pointing at the dishes on the table, as she was rushing to get ready. As he carried out the plates into the kitchen, he asked me: ‘Can I just put the dishes here, or do you want me to wash them?’
My father is perfectly capable of doing the dishes and we even have a dishwasher. What was showing up was a little example of old family patterns playing out. Let me point them out to you:
1. I need help
Often in families there is one pattern where a person is pretending to be incapable of doing something to enrol others in doing it for them. He wanted me to do it for him by asking nicely, stressing on ‘do you want me to wash them?’ My answer was: ‘You can also put them in the dishwasher.’
His next sentence was ‘I hate dishwashers!’ What he was actually saying was ‘I don’t like that you didn’t play my game!’
2. I deserve respect
It is a common requirement in families that people respect one another but often children are required to respect their parents even more that the other way around. In our family this was and still is a royal rule, that shouldn’t be questioned. With my father’s original question he expected me to respect him by saying: ‘Of course, just leave them there.’ When I didn’t play into his pattern however still treated him with respect he had to up the ante with the dishwasher statement.
3. You/I did it last time, so you/I must do it this time too
It has happened before that he asked the very same question. I answered: ‘You have to ask Chris (my husband) as he’s doing the dishes today’ to which he just put the dishes away. This time he actually said out loud: ‘If I’m doing it this time, I always have to do it.’ He saw his own game.
4. I don’t have time
This pattern can either be another victim game like ‘I need help’ or be more a bully game, depending on the force and tone of voice it is used with. After his statement of hating the dishwasher I said: ‘Feel free to wash the dishes if you prefer’ to which his answer was: ‘I don’t have time, I need to go because… ‘ and he mentioned all his appointments.
Most of the patterns or games are to enrol people to play along with your preferred outcome. The above mentioned ones are just examples but there are many more.
Once you can identify the games you are at choice whether you want to play along or not. The way out is to not take on someone else’s drama but to detach with love and walk away from the storm. And you don’t have to even physically leave if you’re truly aware.