At some point, every parent faces this resistance. We had it this week with one of our boys. He’s having a tough time because his normal group of friends have stopped playing with him. He’s in the playground reading by himself.
The first feeling this created for me was sadness, quickly followed by grating frustration that there was nothing I could do about it. F all. And I so desperately wanted to fix it for him. I found myself trying to coach him on ways to make new friends, on working out what was going on with his current ones, and trying to reframe it for him as a ‘bump in the road’. I realised that, while this made me feel better, it wasn’t really helping him, because I’ve been in his shoes and I remember my parents having similar conversations.
What I did instead is what I’ve learned to do from my wife and, I imagine, what you’ve learned from the women close to you. I didn’t try to solve the problem. Instead I just listen to, absorbed and consoled my son. I connected to his feelings. I said things like ‘how does that make you feel?’ and ‘of course it would make you feel sad’. That was it.
It’s like when I talk to my wife about a work problem. I don’t want, or expect, her to solve it for me. I share it because I want to know we’re good, that our relationship is good, that she understands me and my situation, so I have the strength to work through the problem.
It’s like that quote from the father of attachment theory, John Bowlby — “life is best organised as a series of daring adventures from a secure base.” That secure base is what us parents provide (or should).
It’s what my son needed from me. So when I tried to name some of the feelings he might be having about his friendship — being left out, lonely, disappointed, down on himself — , the connection between us grew. And the conflict in the house has reduced. You see, there have been times where he’s been having difficulties with school, friends in particular, and my wife and I have been too busy with work and life admin to really connect with him. This just results in more arguments in the home, I guess because he’s angry about his friend situation, we’re too busy to be sympathetic and connect, we just expect him to get on, and of course that triggers a reaction in him, which triggers an equal and opposite reaction in us. All because we haven’t connected emotionally.
Previously Published on Medium
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