Have you ever waited at the grocery store checkout line and your child starts to whine for something? You're standing right in front of all those tantalizing sweet foods, salty crispy bags, and cool colorful toys.
This is when we'd always have That One Moment... when relating turns into conflict. When my child would start to plead for the things she just had to have. Her voice would get louder and louder. After the third begging attempt, I wouldn't be able to stop from grabbing her arm hard, to get her attention. I'd give her an awful 'disapproval face', saying how disappointed I was. I’d turn from a good patient, caring mom who listened into an exasperated, yelling mom who just wanted the squirming, whining, grabbing to STOP! Ugh.
And if you have a strong willed, intensely feeling child, it can be even more extreme.
Unfortunately, I didn't know then what I do now.
This one moment is key. It's also complex and takes skill to handle well. Multiple competing things are happening at once, for both of us. Not easy. Learning the skills to shift out of these old conditioned patterns of reacting will make an important difference in your relationship with your child.
Later, when my daughter was a pre-teen, she asked to get a social media app to communicate with her friends. I said no, she was too young. But she was relentless. Said she was going to be an outcast without it, lonely. That ALL her friends had one. And why couldn’t I understand? All with an anguished tone in her voice.
Until she switched to anger. She'd roll her eyes and say how stupid I was, her tone loaded with disrespect. How I was so backward and didn't get anything. That she hated me. It would go downhill from their as I'd react to her reaction. Sound familiar?
It’s actually that same One Moment... with similar dynamics. And sometimes, especially if I were tired, I'd get to the same frustrated, overwhelmed, hopeless place when I would just need it to STOP.
I work with hundreds of parents on this exact One Moment. There’s so much going on for each of us, especially underneath the words, that it’s like magic when we're able to slow it down, pull it apart together, and understand what’s really going on. Most importantly, it makes the difference for relationship healing and trust building.
It takes us both from being stuck, needing to get our way. Both feeling frustrated, upset and overwhelmed by our feelings. Both so attached to an outcome that we trample our on relationship.
We end up unintentionally blocking the other's basic humanity, as well as our own. Unaware, and in a place of extremes, without the skills to get through it undamaged.
Too often when faced with That Hard Moment at the store or negotiating apps and screen time, we get lost in our minds, forgetting these relationship-saving skills.
Fortunately, there is a better way to communicate with each other. A way to navigate wanting different things without conflict.
The answer is bridging the skills gap to shift from stuck in arguing back to relating. Skill gap, like re-regulating your (and their) nervous system by accessing body wisdom. The skill of using emotional intelligence and vocabulary. The skill of slowing down, and noticing that the story I’m telling myself is not the whole story. The ability to S.T.O.P. to connect.
If you are curious about learning and practicing communication skills, I encourage you to reach out. I know it's not easy to ask, as we're told that we are just supposed to know how to parent. But I didn't find this to be true. I needed support.
The sooner you develop the skills, the more you’ll have access during these difficult moments when you really need them.
Also important, I found these skills contributed to my own and my daughters' improved mental health, like anxiety and depression.
I was never taught these skills as my parents didn’t know them as their parents didn’t know them. So I learned ineffective ways of facing emotion and conflict. I developed armor as Brené Brown calls it, to avoid pain.
I have a message of hope. If I could learn these skills, so can you. They changed my damaged relationship with my older daughter to the point where we enjoy each other now. More, we can get through The One Hard Moment over and over which builds trust and understanding.
What's the cost to your relationship if you keep doing what you've been doing?
(Card my daughter sent to say she appreciated how I was able to listen to her)