Learning to Meet Our Loved Ones Where They're AtMar 05, 2023
In my career as a behavior analyst, I had the opportunity to meet and work with many parents of children on the autism spectrum.
I watched them as they reeled after the diagnosis. Dealing with behaviors. Trying to work with their kiddos who often couldn't communicate their wants and needs.
I'd see them grieve, work their butts off, celebrate wins, experience setbacks, and repeat.
I helped when I could.
More often than not, I listened.
Part of my job throughout the years was to train therapists and up and coming behavior analysts to work with our kids and families.
My mantra with anyone who I trained was, "you have to REALLY LISTEN to the parents and meet them where they're at."
We might want them to dive into a great new behavior plan that we've written for their child.
Or to try some other great new thing.
But, they may not have the energy or ability to do what we think is best for any variety of reasons.
And, that's okay. By giving them a safe place to voice that and allowing them to really be heard, we were able to work with them and make adjustments as needed based on what they were capable of at the time.
Which ultimately benefitted the entire family in the long run.
Interestingly, I am finding myself thinking about this in terms of my personal relationships now. Particularly, with my own mother.
I'm needing to put aside my ideas of what she should or shouldn't do. How she should or shouldn't act.
I'm starting to learn how to meet her where she's at.
I know that many of the women in this community are dealing with strain with their own adult children, which can be particularly painful, especially if it has led to estrangement.
Others may be experiencing strain with their siblings, particularly if they are all caring for a senior parent.
Still others may be experiencing relationship strain with their spouses or significant others.
I decided to take a look at this - particularly what steps we ourselves can take as we navigate strained relationships in our own lives.
I am not going to go into great detail about my relationship with my mother other than to say that it's not been an easy road. But what I'm realizing is that she is who she is. And that she's done the best that she could along the way.
I'm focusing on the times where she was there, rather than on the times where she wasn't.
She will be 85 this year. We moved her up here so that she could live close by and although our caretaking at this point is minimum, she is very much present and relies on us.
And I take comfort in knowing that I am there for her and will have no regrets when all is said and done.
No regrets is huge for me. And I would venture to say that's also the case for many of you who are reading this.
What About Those of Us Who Are Estranged from Adult Children?
There is no question that estrangement from our children is an excruciatingly painful situation, particularly for parents. Estranged parents often experience grief similar to that felt with a death.
Parent/child estrangement will often cause depression and feelings of failure on the part of the parent as well as the adult child.
Estrangement between parent and child can occur for any number of reasons to include:
- unresolved issues/feelings on the part of the child;
- disagreement between parent and child on life choices, friends, dating partners;
- abuse from either side.
The effects of estrangement on a parent can be monumental. Worry, anxiety, feelings of isolation and failure are only a few.
And, these negative emotions can, in turn, affect us physically.
There are cases where estrangement is the healthiest choice for one or all parties involved. Particularly when ongoing abuse, either verbally or physically, is an issue.
In these situations, those involved need to work through their negative emotions, often with the help of a counselor. Coming to terms with a permanent estrangement with a child is difficult - even when it is the healthiest solution.
Many parent/child estrangements are temporary, however.
Meeting our loves ones where they're at can go a long way towards strengthening the relationship.
This is THE number one thing that we all need to do. Really, really listen.
This does NOT mean listen halfway while trying to figure out what you're going to say next.
Nor does it mean interrupting and defending yourself.
Actively listen to what the other person is saying and feeling.
As they're speaking, consider whether or not what they're saying has some validity. Might you be able to accept some responsibility for your part in the situation?
Might you have something to apologize for?
Active listening means:
- looking at the person while they're talking;
- nodding and reacting empathically;
- asking open ended questions along the way and listening to the answers.
It's important for me to note here that listening does not mean allowing someone else to verbally attack you. Particularly in the case of a child, though, there may be some deep seated anger that they have been repressing. Allowing that to release may help.
Realize, too, that you might never become "best friends." But, listening and sincerely owning your part in the situation when applicable can go a long way towards creating a decent relationship with your adult child.
Ask Yourself How Important it Is For You to Be "Right"
What are the stakes? What do you have to lose or gain? Are you missing out on seeing grandchildren as a result of an estrangement? Help with a senior parent? Lifelong companionship or friendship?
Again, in a situation that is toxic or abusive, you have to separate. But, in situations where there is a difference of opinion, these are questions that you need to ask yourself and seriously consider.
Be Respectful of Differences
This boils down to knowing that your child is an adult and is capable of making adult decisions.
These may not be the same decisions you might have made.
Again, I need to reiterate that there are situations where our adult children may be doing harm to themselves. Perhaps there is an addiction issue. Or a condition for which they aren't taking the medications they should.
When this is happening, there is often a point where there is nothing further a parent can do until their adult child is ready and willing to take healthier steps.
When the choices and behaviors of another person are making us sick, physically and emotionally, we have to protect our own health first.
We are no good to anyone else, including our adult child, if we are a mess. In these cases, it is often best to let the adult child know that you love them, that you are there to help them when they decide to be healthy, but that until then you need to separate yourself.
And, likely, it would be a good decision to talk to a counselor if you are someone who is moving through this process.
Take Care of YOU
It is often very difficult for us in this community of women to stop trying to control everyone else and to turn inward.
To focus on ourselves.
But, doing this is a big part of the answer when we are experiencing strain in our family relationships.
Take Time In Each Day to Do Something For YOU
Something that brings YOU joy. That makes you feel fulfilled. That doesn't involve reacting to the needs of someone else in your life.
This could mean journaling, walking dogs at the shelter, reading to children at the elementary school, taking a class, or taking a walk in the sunshine.
The list is infinite. But, the time needs to be scheduled. In your calendar, like any other important appointment.
Because it is THE most important appointment.
Find A Community of Women Who are Going Through a Similar Experience
This may be women who are caring for a difficult parent, estranged from a child, or having difficulty with a spouse. The ability to find communities of people has never been easier.
And having a group that understands you, can provide resources or an ear, and that encourages you can be a huge asset.
We have a difficult time in this community taking care of ourselves. Setting time aside each day to do something just for US.
It can be especially difficult to do this when we are experiencing strain in our personal relationships. We may feel guilt for taking time for ourselves. We may be distracted by what we are experiencing.
But, remember....when we allow ourselves the time to do that thing that ignites us - whatever it might be - we are ultimately much more available to our loved ones.