EDITOR’S NOTE: Being a good parent at times takes superhero skills. To help you develop your own, “The Relational Book for Parenting” authors Saliha Bava and Mark Greene offer suggestions from their book. Go here to read more in this exclusive periodic series for City Dads Group.
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We all need to confront the many damaging narratives about parenting. One of the most challenging is the relentless drumbeat of others telling us to “enjoy them while they’re little.” This implies parents are destined for increasing disconnection and conflict with our children as they approach their teen years.
No parent needs to accept a collapse of connection with his or her child as inevitable. We can instead intentionally work at growing our children’s relationship capacities and keeping communication flourishing with them throughout the tweens and teens.
This is important work. Our children’s ultimate success in the world will be rooted in their ability to form co-creative, diverse, authentic personal and professional relationships. What’s more, when we, as parents, commit to increasing these capacities in our children, we expand our own relationship capacities as well.
Relationship Super Power #1:
Listening with curiosity
Listening is often reduced to a process of us simply waiting our turn to speak or preparing to engage in a debate. Instead, we should enter conversations with our partner and children with the intentional expectation of hearing something new and powerful.
We need to be curious when listening. How? Try this:
- Listen for things we do not expect rather than focusing on listening for what will reinforce our expectations.
- Listen with the understanding that we’re not here to fix or solve a problem. Instead, listen for how they are relating to the situation. Ask questions to understand.
- When appropriate, choose to let others simply speak out loud what they are feeling. Sometimes being heard is all they need from us.
- Listen for how they frame what they are saying instead of framing or naming it for them. Ask them if you are hearing what they are saying, e.g., “So are you saying you want to rethink playing the piano or are you saying you want a different teacher?” Instead of “No, you can’t stop playing the piano.”
If we practice this often enough in matters big and small, routine and extraordinary, it becomes part of a family’s culture. This will make it more effective than rolling it out only as a technique we apply only when a situation might require us to change our mind.
Remember that our curious questions should be age and context appropriate. Children know when we are leading them with our “curious” questions. Instead we need to be open to trying to see things as they are seeing (or coming to see) the world. For example, when a 3-year-old shows off a picture she has drawn showing a house with a garden and trees and we pose aloud “What is it a picture of?” instead of assuming it is the picture of our home. We need to listen to their story to learn how they are creating it, how the symbols connect, etc. We are in their world.
How might we continue this way of being curious as our child grows? We can start by parking our expectations for the moment, and enter into their world by seeking to understand them rather than tell them what we want done. You’ll be surprised how different of a world your children’s world is. It’s a world of surprises and insights that can be unfamiliar or even at times disconcerting. But it’s a world we can grow more at home in over time. We must hang in there with our desire to learn rather than to fix, tell or redirect. It’s a process by which we can help our children gain confidence, nuance and mindfulness as they learn to share who they are in their relationships.
- Try listening with curiosity for a week in your family.
- What did you discover about your approach to listening?
- How did it change the conversations with your partner or your children?
Next up: Avoid Collapsing Into Other’s Emotions
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Saliha Bava, PhD, is a couples and family therapist who you can follow on Twitter @ThinkPlay. Mark Greene is senior editor of The Good Men Project who you can follow on Twitter @Remakingmanhood. Their book on growing our families’ relationship capacities, The Relational Book for Parenting, is available on Amazon.
See their introductory video at http://ThinkPlayPartners.com.