How Saying “I Get To…” Instead of “I Have To…” Made Me a Better Parent

I’ve always loved Drew Barrymore, as an actress, as a person, and, now especially as a mother. She always seems so genuine. So when I came across an article entitled, ’20 Parenting Rules Drew Makes Her Kids Follow,” I couldn’t help but click. It’s a pretty fascinating read, considering Barrymore’s own journey from child star, to rehab, to being the proud mother to Olive and Frankie. (She has both their names tattooed on her arm.)

One rule especially stuck out to me under “She Encourages Them To Value Work.” Drew  – we’re on a first name basis since she seems like she can be anyone’s BFF – says that to help her girls understand her work schedule, “she maps it out on paper. Then, she goes over her work calendar with Olive, who is now five years old, and Frankie, who is four. She also points out the places she’s going to on the globe.” She also doesn’t like to FaceTime them, because she doesn’t want to interrupt their day.

What fascinated me the most was learning that, when it comes to talking about work with her children, Drew uses sentences like, “I get to go to work today” and avoids sentences like, “I must go to work,” or, “I have to go to work today.” This way, her kids will perceive work as a positive as opposed to a negative thing.

Hmmm. I have to go to work versus I need to go to work. I immediately thought about all the times I have left my two children at the kitchen table as I race out the door, in a panic, saying, “Where are my keys! I have to go to work!” And all the times, while working on my next book, I have yelled at them to quiet down because, “I have to work!”

Then I thought of all the times I’ve moaned, “I have to drive carpool tonight!’ Or, “I have to buy a birthday present again!” Or, “I can’t believe I have to wrestle with my kid again.” This list goes on and on. After reading how Drew says, “I get to…” it made me realize how negative I was, or must sound to my kids, while saying, “I have to go to work.” Or how negative I sound when moaning, “I have to pack,’ which I hate, even though I love to travel.

So I thought to myself, “What if I tried starting to say, “I get to go to work,” to my children. What if I said, “I get to drive carpool tonight.”

A very interesting thing starts to happen when you use “I get to..” in front of your sentences. Suddenly, you realize how blessed you are. I want my children to lead productive lives, and by moaning “It’s Monday. I have to go to work,” it sounded like I didn’t like my job, and that work was a punishment. But it’s not that easy to change your language. It’s like breaking a bad habit. For the last week, I’ve practiced, “I get to…(fill in the blank) as opposed to, “I have to… (fill in the blank.)

Almost every morning, I had to catch myself, when telling my son, “I have to…I mean, I GET to go to work.” After one totally exhausting day, when my daughter wanted me to drive her and her friend to the mall, I thought to myself, “Great I have to…” But then I stopped and thought, “No, I get to drive my daughter and her friend to the mall.”

An amazing thing happened. I actually started to feel more positive, even excited, about going to work on a Monday and having (I mean, getting) to buy another birthday present and driving my daughter to the mall. I felt more positive, because it showed me how grateful I really should be. Why? Well, many parents, for example, are unemployed. I bet they wish they could say, “I get to go to work.” And, many people whose children don’t get invited to birthday parties, probably wish they could say, “I get to buy another gift.” I know a lot of parents, whose kids are grown, who probably wish they could go back in time and say, “I get to carpool my children and their friends to the mall.” And, I should be grateful to pack, because I get to go on vacation, while many other’s don’t. Thanks to Drew Barrymore, I realized my family leads a pretty damn good life.

We think Drew Barrymore’s parenting advice is great!

Make no mistake, it’s hard to go from thinking negatively to positively about everything since generally I’m not an overly positive person. I like to say I’m a realist, but maybe I’m just a downer. Changing all my sentences to start with, “I get to…” really applies to all aspects of parenting. For example, instead of saying, “I have to put the dishes in the dishwasher,” (And who likes THAT chore?) to thinking, “I get to put the dishes in the dishwasher,” made me think, well, by “getting” to put the dishes in the dishwasher, it means that I have food for my children, a dishwasher, and a roof over my head to have a dishwasher. Many people can’t say this.

So much of our lives are wasted being negative and by saying, “I have to…” when it comes to unpleasant chores. Or even when it comes to, “I have to get my nails done.” (Which I do find a chore, but recognize is a luxury.) When I changed my thinking to “I get to get my nails done,” it made me appreciate the fact that I can afford a manicure.

Yes, it’s a Buddhist way to change your perspective, or attitude, and to see that the cup is always half full, instead of half empty. In this article, the writer also learned to change his attitude from “I have to,” to, “I get to.” He writes, “How much more so, do we take for granted, so much of our life. Our heart beats each and every second of the day, keeping us alive. We live and sleep in the comfort of our own home. Water streams from our faucets. The lights go on when we flip the switch. There is food in our fridge and more in our pantry. But yet we live with the attitude and perspective of, “I have to take out the garbage. I have to take my kids to soccer practice. I have to take my mom to the doctor. I have to do my taxes.”

The writer, like me, sees how different our attitudes change with a simple twist of one word. Have to versus Get to.

“As we go about our daily life and tasks during the week, you might want to keep this little phrase in the back of your mind, and if you can replace your thought of “I have to go to work. I have to cook dinner. I have to wash the dishes,” with the simple switch of words and say to yourself, “I get to go to work today. I get to drive in rush hour traffic. I get to mow the lawn. I get to read the kids a bedtime story,” this writer suggests.

The next step is to teach my children to have the attitude and change their language to use “get” versus, “have to.” When my son complains he doesn’t want to go to camp, I gently reminded him, “You don’t have to. You GET to! You’re lucky! Many other little boys would love your camp!” When my daughter will, inevitably, start complaining about how much homework she has to do once school starts, and moans, “I have so much homework to do!” I am going to tell her, “You GET to do homework at your fancy ass private school. You should be grateful you GET to do homework. Many other children in the world don’t get the opportunity to even go to school.”

I’m not saying it’s easy, but, wow, just changing one word in my sentences has helped this mommy become more positive. (Check out Drew’s other parenting tips! They are awesome!)


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