Wednesday, March 16, 2011

How To Change The Quality of the Parent / Child Relationship

Question:
When you are in a family relationship with someone and they are going through an extremely hard time, physically not feeling well, hormonally challenged, 18 and going through constant life changes, (you get the picture) and they are in almost a constant negative and hurting mood, how do you keep from falling apart yourself while trying to speak in love and show love. Because when you speak it and show it they almost always reject or make it seem like it's not enough. You know they need someone to understand and listen but it seems nothing you do or say makes a difference and they just get upset. I'm desperate for suggestions.

My Answer:
Well, that is a good one...and not to get too technical but let me try this:

Let’s think a bit about two different levels of communication (the reason I start here is that there is a break down in effective communication and emotional reactivity at the heart of most relational difficulties)....

PROCESS VERSUS OUTCOME ORIENTATION

Kids who are process-oriented tend to react to any confrontation (even loving confrontation when they are upset) by persistently focusing on the process of the communication rather than the outcome. If the parent is focused on the outcome (most of us parents are...I will explain more in a moment), there can be a ‘communication breakdown....and it drives us insane’ (to borrow from Led Zepplin?!!).

Imagine you go to the IRS and your present your gripe/complaint to the IRS agent...you are considerate and she is polite, would you be more concerned about whether or not you owed more money (OUTCOME) or would you be more interested in the process of the audit? Most of us would be more interested in the OUTCOME of the audit.

However, if you and I went to the IRS to complain about how complicated the forms are and how aggravating it is to fill out the forms and how much it costs to get a CPA to do our taxes and how unfair the tax bracket we are in and how we have called 12 agents and have gotten 12 different answers to the same question and on and on we go....we are there because we are upset at the whole system...then we are at that point PROCESS oriented...no one there can do one thing to rectify our situation!

Now, for us parents, who are OUTCOME oriented, the goal of a discussion/loving confrontation is to determine the outcome of the discussion. “Be happier” “Get more involved” “Bring grades up” “You should not date that boy” “You must get home by 11:00”....etc. etc. etc. BUT for the process oriented child, the goal is to control the process of the discussion...the discussion is about the discussion, the outcome is secondary. In other words, from the child’s perspective, the winner is the one who controls the process and the parent who tries to ‘win’ by determining the outcome is extremely frustrated...and often has a sense that she/he is not ‘winning’ but does not know why.

Now to THINK a bit more before about this here are three critical questions that must be answered:

1. Who determines the timing of the discussion? Is the discussion chosen by the child? When the child initiates an inopportune moment, is the parent unsuccessful in delaying the discussion until a later time? Does the child allow the parent to initiate conversation about painful issues or will the child only discuss these issues that he /she initiates?

2. Who determines the content and direction of communication during the discussion? For example, the parent comes to child to discuss ISSUE A. The child responds instead by accusing the adult of ISSUE B. The adult defends herself/himself against the child’s accusation of ISSUE B. In this example the adult initiated the content of the discussion (ISSUE A) and the direction (asking the child questions). However, the child quickly takes charge of the process as the subject is now ISSUE B and the direction becomes that of the child’s asking questions (accusations) and the adult engages in self-defense. The child ended up determining the content and direction of the conversation.

3. Who determines the mood of the discussion? Here is an important principle of parent/child relationships: If a parent and a child enter a discussion with two different moods they often leave with the same mood!! The critical issue here is whether the adult takes on the mood of the child or the child takes on the mood of the parent.

Here are some helpful hints to improve this very common situation.

I will prevent the child from determining the timing of the discussions, the direction/content, and mood of the discussion.

The timing can be altered by the parent refusing to engage in the griping / complaining....if the parent can’t contain themselves by not engaging then go to another room in the house for a short while.

To prevent the child from determining the direction/content and mood...I might write notes and leave them for the child to read...especially if this content could possibly be ‘explosive.’

Without a doubt the MOST IMPORTANT piece here is to prevent the child from determining the mood of the discussion or the mood of the home. Sometimes here, the marriage may need some strengthening so that MOM and DAD are working together and not against each other....

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