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Your children don’t need you to solve their problems

How a stress-reducing conversation can help you all decompress.

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A few weeks ago, I was at a party and chatting to a group of women who had children younger than mine.  When I told them my eldest daughter was twenty, and one woman immediately asked: “What nugget of wisdom can you tell me that will help me with my eleven-year-old.”

My mind started whirring, but what popped up first was my discovery of not holding onto hurts and troubles that your children bring home to you. 

As parents, particularly mothers, we are deeply connected to our children by an invisible bond, so strong that you feel their hurts and troubles so intensely, always wanting to take this from them, and save them the pain.

When my daughters came home from school, if they had had a challenging day, they would tell me all about it in a stream of she said then I said, then this, that and the other happened. While I was conscious of listening well and not interrupting them, my mind would be trying to work out a suggestion I could make to them to help them solve the problem. I would ask them what they were going to do, and they wouldn’t have a solution but would then go up to their room and have downtime or start homework. 

I was left thinking about the problem.  How was I going to help them?  What suggestions could I make to them that they could use the next day at school? I couldn’t wait for my husband to come home from work so I could talk this through with him.  All the while, I felt unsettled and antsy; my day was turned upside down.

When we all sat down for dinner that evening, nine times out of ten nothing was said about the problems. My daughters are just as close to my husband as me, why didn’t they need to talk this over with him? I was puzzled.  After a few times of this happening, I asked them why.

“Well, we told you about it, then we feel better, and it’s done now.” What? I had been holding onto the pain I was perceiving they were having, totally unnecessarily.  In their minds, it was all over; they had dealt with it and moved on.

Mind-blowing! You mean I didn’t have to hold on to this myself? (And incidentally what wise young people they are!). 

I facilitate a Gottman Bringing Baby Home workshop where we talk about how having a new baby puts extra stress on your relationship and how to resolve conflict and keep your relationship strong through stormy seas.  During the class, we work on the Daily Stress-Reducing Conversation. This technique is what my children had naturally been doing with me.

Every evening each partner gets time to talk about the stresses of their day outside their relationship.  The other partner listens without interrupting them, validates, empathizes, but does not try and solve unless they are asked to.  It’s a time to get it out; you know the saying, “A problem shared is a problem halved.”

Here’s how to have a Daily Stress-Reducing Conversation:

Take Turns.  Each partner gets fifteen minutes to share their day.

Listen deeply. Don’t let your mind wander, listen to what your partner is saying and keep focused on their words and meaning behind the words.

Empathize. Show and communicate your understanding of what your partner is saying.

Don’t advise unless asked. Understanding must come before advice.  If your mind is trying to work out a solution to the problem, you are not listening to what they are saying right now. You can brainstorm solutions later if that is what they want.

Take your partner’s side. You may not agree with everything they are saying, but that is their perspective, and you must respect that.  You don’t have to try and change their view on what happened, accept it as is.

Work as a team. Let your partner know that the two of you are in this together; you are there to support them no matter what.

Hug them. The power of showing affection is unmatched; a big meaningful hug can express a thousand words.

Validate emotions. Let your partner know that their feelings make sense to you.

As you can see, this outline is for working with your partner to reduce the stress in their lives, but it can also be used in any close relationship where someone needs your support and encouragement.  Your children can benefit as much as your partner, just like my girls knew instinctively. 

Since coming to this realization, I have been able to take on much less of my daughters’ strife, knowing they can solve problems and be resilient in the face of any adversity, acknowledging them as the wise young people they are and loving that they teach me so much!

As for the Mom I was talking to at the party? When I told her my story, she took a huge breath and said how much that had helped, she was noticing the same thing, and now she can let go so much easier.

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