Breaking out of the
PARENT TRAP

Copyright 2000 by Cordell Vail

When I started out studying goal setting I was very disturbed by the statistic that was constantly thrown around that 85% of all the people who set out to achieve goals fail. That still disturbs me. So I set out on a life time quest to find a way to change that statistic. I have searched over every thing I can find on goal setting to see if I can find some keys to breaking that syndrome. I have found many of the keys after 30 years of research. The "FAMILY TRAP" is one of them.

When I met my wife we were students at BYU. We got married and within weeks I was drafted into the U.S. Army. We spent 4 years in the Army. She never knew me at home. She only knew me briefly as a college student away from home and then for 4 years in the military. I went to Vietnam as an infantry platoon leader for a year. While I was gone, she lived with my parents. Therefore she knew my parents and my family. But she did not know me with my parents.

When I got out of the Army, I was a Captain. My mind set was Captain Vail, "Commander and Chief" of my life. The military has a tendency to do that to you. I acted that way at church. I was that way with my friends. When something needed to be done, I just jumped up, volunteered and did it. I was a get it done kind of person. That was the only personality my wife knew of me.

After 4 years, I had enough Army so I got out and decided to go back to school and get my Masters Degree as a psychoanalyst. The Army moved us "back home". School did not start for one month so we stayed with my parents for that month before we were able to get into student housing. It was wonderful to be home again. Or so I thought.

After a few days at home, my wife took me aside one evening and said, "Cordell, what is the matter with you?" I did not know what she meant. I did not feel sick. Everything was wonderful. We were out of the Army, on our way to school. I had no clue what she meant. So I asked her to explain. She said, "I have never seen you act this way". I still did not understand. "What way?" Then she laid upon me one of the great lessons of life. She taught me the lesson of the "FAMILY TRAP".

I had grown up as a younger brother. My older brother was self reliant and independent. My parents taught him how to do everything. I was 10 years younger. When I was 5 he was 15. When I was 10 he was 20. My sister was 5 years older than me. They were both very well schooled by my parents in how to work and how to do everything. I was never old enough to do anything. I know some of you are laughing right now. When I was 25 years old I still was not old enough to know how to do anything in the minds of my family. I was caught in the "Parent Trap"

My wife was just shocked. Here was "THE GREAT CAPTAIN VAIL" going around the house acting like a little kid. She said, "what is the matter with you". All of the sudden this person she knew who could fix anything was a "little kid". She had never seen that in me. She had only seen the Captain Vail.

How could that happen? How could I have been a totally focused leader able to make things happen on every hand and then in one day, come back home, and magically turn into a little 10 year old 28 year old. It is called the "Family Trap".

I can fix almost anything. It is just a talent I have. If it is broken I can fix it. My older brother did not like to fix things. He made things, but he did not like to fix things. He just threw them away and bought a new ones. My whole young life was spent taking things out of the garbage that he threw away and fixing them and using them for years. It thrilled me to do it. I never had to buy hardly anything. I just waited until he threw it away and then I fixed it and used it.

When I was 50 years old, just before my brother died, we were all visiting my parent's house. There was hardly a chair, table, lamp, or tool in the house that I had not fixed for my parents over the years. We were sitting at the table visiting with my parents and my brother. My mother's hearing aid broke and she could not hear. She took it out and turned to my brother and said, "Could you fix this for me?" That was the epitome of the "parent trap" in my life. I was 50 years old. I had fixed everything that had ever broken in my parent's house, and my brother had hardly ever fixed anything, and still she turned to my 60 year old brother and said, "Could you fix this for me". There I was feeling like a 50-year-old 10 year old again.

The Helen Keller story is another perfect example of this "FAMILY TRAP". Helen's parents did not know how to communicate with her, so they just gave her anything she wanted any time she wanted. They justified her bratty behavior by saying it was showing compassion and pity for her deaf and blind condition. Ann Sullivan decided the only way to change Helen was to get her out of the family environment. She took Helen away for 2 weeks and taught her manners and how to mind. Then she brought her back to her family. She told Helen's father her greatest fear was that Helen would go right back to being like she was before she took her. And Ann was right. She did. So Ann had to change the parents before she could change Helen. The rest is history.

What does this have to do with goal setting? It has everything to do with goal setting. If you live in an negative environment, then set goals and try to achieve those goals while continuing to live in the present negative environment you are in, you chances of failing are about 85%. I would propose to you that this is one of the main reasons 85% of all people who set goals fail to achieve them. They get caught in the "Parent Trap" or the "Spouse Trap" or the "Friend Trap" or the "Children Trap" or worse yet you get caught in the "SELF TRAP".

You can go to schools, to seminars and even read books about changing your life. You can get all fired up and determined to change and then you tell your spouse or parents or friends about what you are going to try to do and they laugh at you. What does that do to you? It destroys it all.

Have you ever experienced that? You are determined to lose weight and you get all your plans made and them some co-workers or family members find out you are going to do it and make fun of you and that is it. They destroy your ability to do it. They cause you to believe that you have always been what you are to your parents and family and friends, so they expect you to continue to be that. What do you do? You fulfill their expectations, good or bad. You become a 50-year-old, 10 year old.

Now the $64,000 question is this, "How do you break out of that trap?". Well sadly some people just can not. It my mean that you would have to give up your family or friends and move. You may have to quit your job. You may have to live in a different part of the country. For some people that would be too painful. The rewards of having the new you are not worth the pain of giving up what it would cost to separate yourself from the negative environment that you live in. You are caught in "THE TRAP".

What did I do to break out of my "TRAP"? I moved away. I was away for 5 years and I tried it again. We moved back. After a few weeks I knew that I could not live with or near my parents EVER. I could only be a 50-year-old 50 year old if I lived around people who believed in me and did not hold me in the "TRAP". I love my parents. I love my brothers and sisters and family. But I know that I probably can never live around them. To them I am 10 years old and not able to do anything. I have therefore chosen to live far away and just write to them and call them but not allow them to keep me in the "TRAP".

Now you know what the "TRAP" is. Let's see what you do about it.

Your outrageous goal setting, millionaire making friend
Cordell Vail, W.B.

Back to Newsletter Archive