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Amelia Jack

Submitted to Susan Knott
July 27, 2014

Personal Change Project Final Report

I have many demands placed on my time. The most important source
of these demands is my four children. However, I get so focused and
involved in school and work that I dont always listen attentively to them or
their needs. My goal with this project was to develop the skills necessary to
be a better listener, and to improve my communication, and thereby my
relationship, with each of my children. I implemented strategies of improving
my non-verbal communication to show I was listening, as well as attempted
to eliminate the distractions of electronically-mediated communication,
specifically the social media website Facebook, from my life while my
children were around. Ultimately, I found that I needed to remove it entirely
in order to be successful. I was able to improve my listening and
communication skills, but there were many setbacks. I am sure this will be an
ongoing goal that I will work on throughout my life.
Unwanted Communication Pattern
I have four children, ages 7-14, at home that I care for. I am also
enrolled full-time in College and work about 10 hours per week as an
Endoscopy Technician at a local Hospital. Every moment of my time is very
much accounted for every day. I am enrolled in 5 classes this term and the
assignments involved in my schoolwork generally take up about 50 hours of
my time every week. This means that my children usually see me working on
the computer or with my face in a textbook. Sometimes I feel so
overwhelmed by everything I feel responsible for doing, and so exhausted
from meeting the tasks required of me and I just want to escape; disconnect
from reality for a time. I often do this by connecting to social media websites,
such as Facebook and Instagram. There is constant dialectical tension
(page 226) in my life between what I would like to be doing and what I feel
obligated to do.
The result of my busy life has been that I havent been communicating
well with, or listening effectively (page 106) to my children. We are
experiencing more interpersonal conflict (page 221). When they come in
the room and I am studying or working on an assignment, I dont make eye
contact, or even look away from the thing I am working on. I ask them to
wait, or just ignore them while I focus on what I am doing. When I am on
social media, I generally go into a room by myself for the quiet atmosphere
and lock the door so that I am not interrupted from my reality escapism.

Many times, they become impatient as I tell them, " Just a minute," which
then turns into an hour. They will enter the room and begin to tell me a story,
and I have to ask them to repeat it when I realize that I am not even listening
to them.
In short, they have become less of a priority, and they can feel it. They
feel like they are not as important to me as whatever it is that I happen to be
doing. I can tell that our relationship has become more distant. I have found
that they are fighting with each other a lot more. My youngest daughter,
especially, has begun to scream at people whenever she is frustrated. She is
also having nightmares and is very insecure at night. My oldest daughter is
feeling the stress of added responsibility in taking care of the kids while I am
at work, or busy with school assignments. She is showing signs of being overstressed by being very impatient with everyone around her. My two middle
children have become captivated by electronics; specifically Netflix shows on
TV. and the Minecraft video game on the computer. My son, especially,
begins to cry any time he is pulled away from his video game. I know that my
lack of being an attentive, other-oriented (page 2) listener has been the
root cause of these issues.
Seeing this problem emerging at the beginning of this term, I knew
exactly what I needed to focus on for my Personal Change Project. Being a
present, attentive mother is my first priority, and I have to make sure that it
isnt overshadowed by any other responsibility I have taken on.
From my studies in my Communications class this term, I have learned
many useful strategies to become a better listener. The first thing I knew I
needed to do was to remove the listening barriers (page 125) that created
external and internal noise (page 129) when I communicate with my
children, such as the book Im reading or the electronic device Im using. I
also needed to eliminate the emotional noise (page 129) inside of me,
comprised of the stress my never-ending to-do list creates in my mind, and
the drama that is ever-present on social media. Secondly, I needed to begin
using non-verbal cues (page 194) to show my children that I really am
listening. This included improving my kinesics (page 194) by facing the
child that is talking, and leaning towards them. Positive affect displays
(page 195), such as having a happy facial expression, and touching them
would also convey that I really am listening. In addition, any regulators
(page 195) that I could use to show that I am engaged like nodding,
verbalizing understanding, and making eye contact also were part of my
Another important part of my strategy was to avoid doing unnecessary
things on electronic devices while my children were around. I committed to
only engaging in electronically mediated communication (EMC) (page
15) on Facebook or Instagram while my children were either not home, or
asleep. I planned to avoid checking messages or updates because that

always led to mindless Internet surfing, as a means to escape my

responsibilities for a little while. In order to remove the temptation to check
my EMC accounts periodically throughout the day, I planned to uninstall
them from my iPhone and iPad.
I really felt like if I could force myself to pull my focus away from what I
was working on, and really make the effort to be other-oriented and a
compassionate listener (page 137), that I could increase the closeness of
our relationships, make my children feel validated and valued, and help
eliminate the stress they felt due to me not being as available to them as I
have been in the past. I knew that a concerted effort was needed on my part
in order to affect real change in my communication patterns.
As I already mentioned, I felt stress because I had so many things to do
every day and never enough time or energy to accomplish all of them. This
emotional noise tended to overwhelm my determination to be less focused
on everything besides my children. Even though I had uninstalled the social
media applications on my iPhone and iPad, I reinstalled them on my iPhone
after about a week, rationalizing that it was easier for me to post pictures of
our new puppy (Did I mention, we also have a new puppy?) with my iPhone
than through the computer. I clearly was not as able to resist the lure of
social media as I had hoped. Deadlines for schoolwork kept coming. Having
paid $2,500 for classes and books this summer term, I felt that I could not
afford to do any less than my best at school. It was a constant battle to
remind myself to implement the strategies I had outlined and be more
balanced with what I focused my attention on.
An added, unexpected, constraint was that my second oldest child
broke her elbow and required surgery to repair it at the end of June. She was
completely helpless the first four days after her injury, as pain medication
and her feelings of disappointment and frustration about her new disability
rendered her emotional and unable to care for herself. I had no choice but to
put everything else on hold and attend to her.
It was extremely difficult for me to figure out a way to balance my
attention between everything I was responsible for. There would be several
days in a row that I would listen well, respond to my childrens needs, and
adhere to my self-imposed rules about social media. Then I would have days
where I had a lot of deadlines all at once, and I had to go to work. I felt the
stress of increased workloads and less study time. This made me regress in
the positive steps I had taken. This cycle occurred over and over again. "Two
steps forward, one step back", seemed to be my pattern.
It was about one month after I began implementing my strategies for
this project, and about two weeks after my daughter broke her arm that I had
a moment of clarity. It was after re-reading my project journal and seeing the

situation from a distanced perspective that I realized how unnecessary it was

for me to be wasting time and energy struggling with the pull of EMC and
social media websites. My main EMC problem was Facebook. I was able to
distance myself and realize that getting tripped up by something so
superficial, trivial, and contrived was, frankly, stupid. I wondered why I let it
have so much presence in my life. I decided to delete my Facebook account,
not deactivate, but actually eliminate it so that logging on was not even an
In the ten days or so since I deleted my Facebook account, I am happy
to report that I dont miss it at all. At first, I thought it was just the recency
effect (page 70) influencing my perception of the progress that I made since
I deleted my account. However, the feelings of freedom and lessened stress
have only increased in my life since I took action. Time away from it gave me
the opportunity to realize that social media websites, such as Facebook,
allow people to present an extremely edited version of themselves, an
exaggerated positive face (page 45). It also gives people a sense of
boldness where they say things that they wouldnt normally say to a person
face to face. I saw that so many of my friends were giving every detail of
their lives through status updates and pictures, that it seemed as though
they were doing things in their lives just so they could post about it on
Facebook. They thought in terms of status updates and it seemed as though
all of their conversations were gossip facilitated by what they had seen or
read on Facebook. The ridiculousness of it was so apparent to me and I was
glad to be rid of that extra distraction, and source of physical and emotional
noise in my life.
I would love to report that I have been completely successful in
obtaining my goal of being a better listener to my children, even through all
of the other demands I have on my shoulders. The truth is that I have
improved, though not as much as I had hoped. The reality is that my
responsibilities are real, my time and attention are required for things like
school and my work at the hospital that I have committed to. Being
successful at being more attentive to my children is contingent upon
remembering that while I have many important entities in my life constantly
vying for my time and energy, my children are the most important and come
before anything else. It is not a difficult thing to physically turn my head, look
away from what Im doing, make eye contact with my children, and take care
of their needs in the moment they ask for it. It is, however, a difficult thing
mentally for me. As long as I can remember what my priorities are, and keep
them in the correct order, I have positive results.
I used the opportunity of my daughter having a broken arm to practice
my other-oriented communication skills. I recognized that partly due to her
altered, medicated state, and partly due to her immaturity, her outbursts
and heightened emotional state were not a personal attack on me. It took a
lot of patience and effort, but I was able to improve my compassionate
communication skills. In the past, my conflict management style with this
child has been competition (page 237). Due to her independent nature, our

struggles are most often power struggles. What works best with her,
however, is a compromising (page 238) management style, and during this
time, I went even further and I became for accommodating (page 236) to
her due to her injury. I was also able to find that I am capable of shifting my
attention between schoolwork and my childrens needs. It just took an
extreme situation that left me no other choice to help me find a balance.
In the time since I started this project, I have seen positive
changes in my children. They are fighting less and their emotional outbursts
are fewer. My daughter that broke her arm responded positively to my
increased compassionate communication and affection (page 53) and has,
in turn, become more helpful and has had more of a peaceful attitude than
normal. As I have made time for my children through compromise, and taken
them to the pool or the park where I can study while they play, they feel like
their needs are being met. I have taken the opportunity to speak positively
about school and the opportunities that will be available to me, thereby
resulting in positive potential opportunities for our family. I have tried to
share interesting or funny things that I learn to help them form a positive
perception (page 63) of learning and continuing education. I have also seen
more understanding and cooperation from my children as I have
communicated honestly about what is required of me, what I can do for
them, and what they can do to help me. They respond very well to this
communication and demand less of my attention because their needs are
being better met, and they understand what I am doing and why.

From this process, I have learned that I am capable of dividing my
attention when I need to by remembering what is my most important
priority: being a compassionate mother that listens and is attentive to her
children. Eliminating distractions has been the most helpful thing. I kept
getting drawn back into wasting time on EMC and when I eliminated that
source of noise, I was able to attain my goal of being a good listener more
often. The most important lesson I think I learned was that when I
communicate my need to my children and when I actively listen and take
care of their needs, they are more apt to be less demanding of my time and
attention, and feel more secure and happy. In other words, when I avoid
taking care of them, they grow impatient, demanding, and emotional all of
which increases the stress I feel. However, when I take the time to
communicate and listen, and find compromises with how I spend my time
(like taking them to the pool and reading my textbook chapters while they
swim), I actually get more done, feel less stress, we have less interpersonal
conflict and - best of all my children are happier.
If I take a different perspective and look at this situation from an
outsiders view, there is some very obvious advice I would give myself. If

being enrolled in school full-time is creating such an impactful internal

struggle and increasing interpersonal conflict in my family, then may the
best recommendation is to take fewer classes. By doing this, the demands of
school on my time and attention will be less; thereby easing the stress we
are all experiencing. It may take me longer to reach my academic and career
goals, but in the end, if I will have gotten through the experience having
maintained close relationships with my children and experiencing less
dialectical dilemmas and their corresponding stress, it would be worth it.
Works Cited
Beebe, S., Beebe S., & Redmond M. (2014). Interpersonal Communication: Relating
to Others (7th ed.). Boston: Pearson Publishers

My children and I, Mothers Day 2014