Earlier this month, Bob and I listened to an NPR show about making and keeping resolutions. The advice? Keep resolutions to a bare minimum and keep resolutions specific. While resolutions such as losing weight, becoming a better tennis player, and communicating more effectively are all good in theory, these resolutions raise red flags. They’re too general. However, resolution number three is critical to me -- I believe that good communication is the underpinning of all great relationships (and certainly parent-child partnerships) -- so I want to break it down into smaller, more tangible components.
Resolution #1. Learn to accept your kid’s feelings. We need not (and shouldn’t) accept all of our kids’ behaviors, but we do need to acknowledge and authenticate their feelings. Kids have a right to their feelings and denying them definitely won’t help anybody. And apparently it works for grownups too. Over the holidays I started to rant about my brother to one of my daughters. I stopped and said, “I guess this all sounds so childish to you.” She responded, “Not at all, Mom. Your feelings are your feelings and nobody can take those away from you. At least that’s what you always told us.” And magically, when she uttered those sentences, my feelings dissipated. Really. There is power in the simple act of acceptance.
Resolution #2. When attempting to comfort and communicate, avoid clichés and long winded advice. Children rarely want advice and if they do, they’ll ask for it. And it’s much healthier to listen and allow kids to figure out their own next baby or big steps. My father was a very caring dad but he had a propensity to repeat clichés that ended up sounding dismissive, and a propensity to offer plenty of ill-fitting advice. He meant well, but the advice was based on what suited his -- not my -- style. Simply let your kids know you hear and support them, and perhaps give them a little prompt in problem solving by asking what they think a good solution would be. Kids and adults feel better about themselves when they come up with their own solutions.
Resolution #3. Children’s messages often come coded and we need to resolve to uncode them (via Haim Ginott’s Between Parent and Child). When Bob and I were eating breakfast in NYC, sitting at the table next to us was a mom, her three-year-old daughter, and the mom’s friend, eating breakfast while the mom and friend talked and talked and talked. After a while the little girl wearied of playing with her doll and started to whine and cry, louder and louder. The child was not misbehaving, simply communicating in her own code that she was through with her toy, breakfast, and the restaurant. The mom deciphered the message and wrapped things up; things could have had a much less happy ended had the mom not decoded the message and responded appropriately.
Resolution #4. Resolve to get more self-care. Communicating effectively is productive but sometimes requires good concentration. And we can’t concentrate well if we are stressed and not taking care of our own needs. Last fall, First Lady Michelle Obama said that women can’t take care of others until they take care of themselves. She’s right about that. You know what to do: take a walk, a hot bath, a yoga class, breathe deeply, share babysitting, and maybe even get a manicure.
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