You can’t really take my word too seriously on this topic because I seem to have lost my ability to talk to my kids. People always warned me from the moment my daughter was born that the teen years would be hell, and when the second one came along people found it amusing to point out just how much trouble I was in for. Hearing comments like that were laughable, and over time they angered me because I felt it was pretty obvious that I had a great relationship with my girls. To me, those people were flat out wrong. At least it were wrong at the time. That is until around the age of 8 (or thereabouts), for both of them. I once read that 8 years old is when girls start to diverge from their parents’ way of thinking – when they begin flexing their individuality, and that held true in my house. They began to really express their individual personalities at that time, and that was hard to deal with. I’ll admit that I didn’t deal with it very well, because I didn’t understand it and I wasn’t equipped to deal with it. I was also out of the country for five months around this time, and custody was split 50/50. Enough complications? Ugh.
I have found that the harder I try to hang onto what we once had the worse it becomes. That relationship is gone. Those little girls are gone. They’re young women now and they don’t have the same wants and needs anymore, so for me –the same guy, mostly– to continue on with them as though they’re still 8 (or younger) is a disservice to them. And to me. I have to adapt as they mature.
I read a book called “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk,” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish that I found very helpful. I ran into an article on yourtango.com today that reminded me of that book, and inspired me to write this post. If you don’t have time for the book, the article summarizes many of the principles very well. If I could condense it even further, I’d say this:
Shut up and LISTEN to what your kids have to say.
While you’re listening the only thing you should be thinking about is how what they’re telling you is –aside from paying attention, obviously– this question, “How does this make her feel?”
Kids are new – they don’t know until their taught. If you can identify how they’re feeling, say it as a sympathetic statement, or ask directly. If you translate their feelings into words they are now more equipped to express and eventually process (deal with) those feelings.
One of the challenges for the adult mind to deal with in these situations is to shut up. For us the problems kids deal with are simple, easy to solve or avoid, and largely inconsequential. We could easily deal with them in their shoes, but only if we had our adult brain and lifetime of experience. They don’t have those, so remember that. What they feel is real, regardless of your perception of it. To them, their feelings are their world; don’t deny them.
When someone pisses you off, you will probably have an emotional reaction. I do.
If your reactions are visible (like mine often are) to the offender, they’re most likely gonna either defend their actions, or continue being offensive (if they’re very offended). It is highly unlikely that they’re going to provide flowers and rainbows.
Now both of you are fizzing with negativity.
When was the last time you were kind to someone being negative towards you? You could probably count the number of times on one hand, and the same is probably true for them as well.
Every choice we make from that point of view is being made thinking about how we were just offended, not thinking about the other person’s point of view – and why should we be considerate to the one who is offending us?!
So if we react negatively, we satisfy our egos and pride, and our sense of fairness is now balanced out. We can say, “I put that dumbass in their place!” But, they’re not going to take THAT lying down though, so they, too, rise to meet our negativity.
Here’s a thought: THEY are reacting to US. WE are making the situation worse by being negative. WE are not allowing them to back down. WE are not allowing them to save THEIR ego and pride. Our negativity towards others forces them to be negative to us. We make it next to impossible for the good in them to be revealed.
When we don’t care about the other person, like a stranger, there is really no reason to be so critical because we will likely never have to face that person again. They’re just a nameless face, or perhaps they’re a face we really, really want to get back at.
But wait, let’s suppose –or pretend– that we actually care about that person. Do we continue with our negative reactions, or do we stop and think it through from their point of view first? Did they mean to be offensive? Do we ever ask yourselves if you had that coming? Do we ever stop and face the mistake that we may have made?
Here’s the hardest part, the evolve as a person part: Our aggressive reactions towards others are really just a simplified way of avoiding facing ourselves. Being wrong is embarrassing and our egos do not want anything to do with it. Also, knowing that our actions have harmed someone we care about is very difficult to deal with: guilt & shame. If we face our mistakes, we’re forced to deal with them, or accept our failure, which only compounds the problems. It is far easier to shift and dodge the blame, or to be more aggressive so that the focus is never set on us, than it is to take a detailed look at ourselves, apologize, and commit to improving.
So, maybe we don’t defend and we instead own our errors.
Maybe we don’t over-power people and we instead embrace them as people with their own feelings.
Maybe we don’t deflect blame away from ourselves and we instead ask for some understanding of our faults.
Maybe if we do crap like that we can have better relationships – even with people we don’t like.