You Don’t Have To Fix It

We continue with what is turning out to be a month of guest bloggers with a post from featured contributor Esther Schiedel. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Esther.

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Just the other day I got a text message from one of my adult children complaining about a problem. I texted back a helpful suggestion, and another, and another. Which were received with several, “Yes, buts.” It wasn’t until a couple hours later that it occurred to me that I could have simply been empathetic. I could have listened and acknowledged the challenges of dealing with that problem instead of trying to fix it.

I know that listening with empathy is the best way to respond. I have experienced the benefits many times.

  • When I listen empathetically, I show respect. Being respected helps anyone cope with difficult situations.
  • When I listen without trying to solve the problem, I convey confidence in the other person’s ability to deal with the situation. The process of coming up with one’s own solutions to problems promotes learning and growth and increased ability and confidence.
  • When I refrain from offering solutions, I usually find out more information about the situation. When the other person feels free to tell me more, the problem becomes clearer to both of us.

Empathetic listening without jumping in to try to “fix it” is the cornerstone of the classic How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, and a major part of most other parenting books and curriculums. It’s a skill that is useful in any relationship.

Yes, there are times when fixing a problem is necessary—medical emergencies and dangerous situations are times to act and be empathetic along the way. In non-emergencies, empathy is a place to start; sometimes it is all that is needed, other times it opens the door to finding out more information and problem solving together or with outside help.

I share the strategy of empathetic listening with parents in my workshops and in my volunteer work all the time. I’m reasonably successful in responding empathetically to other people. But, as I tell parents, it is a whole lot easier to respond with empathy to a stranger or a friend than to your own children—even when they are competent adults! When I’m the parent, I have a strong gut urge to fix whatever the problem is. However, I have found some strategies that help me remember:

  1. Giving myself empathy first.
  1. Acknowledging (to myself) my underlying worries and fears about my child’s condition or situation. The urge to jump in with solutions is usually based in fear.
  1. Apologize when I jump into fix-it mode. Request a do over. Ask my children to remind me.

Being empathetic isn’t easy. It is worth it, though. One mother shared in a workshop that she dreading having her children tell her things because she thought she needed to solve all their problems, once she let go of having to “fix it,” she was happy to listen more. Now that I think about it, I probably wouldn’t have gotten that text in the first place without a background of years of (much of the time, anyway) listening without trying to “fix it.”

 

Esther Schiedel is parent to three adults, grandparent to two boys, and a Certified Family Life Educator. She provides parenting education through classes and workshops through LBCC and through her business, Sharing Strengths. She became interested in parenting education when she became a parent and had a need for more information and support.

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Turning the Cup

This week’s guest post is by Dessie Wilson. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Dessie.

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I do believe that you’re a product of what you’re raised in.

My mother was born into poverty; she suffered mental and sexual abuse from both of her parents. She got pregnant at a young age and was forced to marry a very abusive sociopath. My mother bore three children with my father, and I am the middle child. We suffered from chronic homelessness and abuse during my early childhood years, followed by several stays in domestic violence shelters hiding from my father. My mother had experienced tremendous trauma and abuse and yet she was raising (by this time) four kids, working, and going to college, so it was in all respects every child for themselves.

I was not raised with rules or discipline. I was never read to, nor did I receive help with homework. I was never told to brush or floss my teeth. I wasn’t raised to do chores, I was raised to run wild and make sure my younger brothers were taken care of.

Now that I am a mother, I often say that I am not sure that I was meant to be one. I don’t think that it is a gift I was born with. I am not naturally nurturing, or empathetic, or even that caring and gentle. I lack the skills to be a disciplined productive parent, the same skills that were not demonstrated to me when I was a child. I’m horrible at making sure my kids do their homework; I brush my teeth but do not make them brush theirs.

The one thing I take away from my childhood is that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my mother loves me. I have always felt comfortable talking to her. And I believe that one thing I do right as a parent is fostering an environment where my children feel safe to talk to me. Throughout the last couple of years and through my program of recovery, I have learned how to listen to my girls. I can allow them to talk without talking back. I even ask my thirteen year-old if she would like to know what I hear, and if she tells me no, I listen and don’t give her unsolicited advice.

My children’s father is not present, and I get to share with my girls my own experience of having an absent father. I share how my relationship with my father made me feel unwanted and unloved and unimportant. I share my fears of being abandoned, of not being loveable or good enough.

Most importantly, I get to share with them how I learned that it wasn’t true. That I was always wanted and important and loved but that my father didn’t know how to show me, because he had something broken inside of him too. When my children come home and complain about getting picked on or bullied, I turn the cup for them. I share my experience, and how I have learned that what other people do or say to me is not about me as much as it is about them: how most kids are full of fear and have a basic social instinct, and if making fun of you is one way they can get to the top, then that has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them, and their fear of not being liked. I take my childhood and adulthood experience and share them with my children so that hopefully I can turn the cup for them and show them a different perspective on life.

I am by no means mother of the year—I yell at my kids, I get frustrated, I cry—but I try to foster an environment of communication and unconditional love.

 

Dessie Wilson is the Family Treatment Court Advocate at Family Tree Relief Nursery.

A Shopping Story

This week’s post was contributed by Kelly Schell. I hope that you find it useful and we look forward to more posts from Kelly in the future.

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I remember my first solo trip to the grocery store several weeks after the birth of my second child. I took my two daughters, one a toddler, to do some grocery shopping. It was my first opportunity to do so since being discharged from the hospital. I was exhausted, and not at my best.

Upon arriving at the store, I looked for a cart and discovered that none of them had built in infant seats. I did not have the type of infant car seat that had a detachable carrier, so I had to juggle my 22 month-old daughter, her newborn sister and a cart. Faced with this situation, I decided the easiest thing to do was to let my 22 month-old walk with me while shopping. I awkwardly pushed the cart with one arm while holding my two week old infant with the other.

My other daughter, being a bright and independent toddler, soon realized my limitations. Taking advantage of this, she took off running through the store, ready to play a game of chase. I called out to her to stop, becoming increasingly frustrated when she kept going. I found that I had to abandon the shopping cart in order to pursue my wildly giggling toddler through the store. I became increasingly frustrated, angry and embarrassed as I unsuccessfully attempted to rein in my errant daughter. My feeling of embarrassment was intensified by the fact that the chase was witnessed by other customers, most of whom openly stared as we passed them. I was sure I was being judged and found lacking as a parent; after all, I couldn’t even control my small child. When I eventually caught up to my daughter, I felt irritated and angry that she had done this to me. I retrieved her, ensuring that she knew how unhappy I was with her, and quickly left the store to go home.

I have used this more than once as an example to underscore how we perceive what other people are thinking often influences us, especially in our parenting. Most of us, especially in stressful situations, have a negative inner dialogue that happens regularly that we may not even be aware of. For example, when I am shopping and my two year old tantrums loudly in the middle of store, I might think things like: “I’m a bad mother,” or “My child is acting awful”. Looks and occasional comments made by well-meaning bystanders often serve to reinforce our negative perception of our parenting. We tend to assume that people are judging us, even if they really aren’t. All of these factors can make it difficult to remain calm and focus on dealing effectively with our children.

There are several tactics you can use to help you remain calm and focused in these situations.

  • Be aware of your negative self-talk and change it to positive self-talk. This is not easy and takes practice. Instead of “I’m a bad mother” you could change it to, “I’m a good mother doing the best I can.” Instead of “My child is acting awful” you could say, “My child is acting like a normal two year old.”
  • Remember that you know your child better than anyone, and ignore unsolicited opinions. People may judge you, and you have no control over that, but you can decide how it will affect you. This is also difficult and will require practice.
  • Avoid or minimize the potential for public outings to become overly stressful. One way to do this is to plan ahead as much as possible and to set expectations for your children. When children know what to expect, things tend to go much smoother for them and for you. Be flexible; you may have to change your plan, no matter how well thought out it is.

I can look back on my experience and laugh now, but if I’d had more tools at the time, it would have been a better experience for both of us.

 

Kelly Schell is the Family Navigator at Family Tree Relief Nursery.