Not relating to your child?
“I never really liked my daughter.”
Michaela (not her real name) had our attention. We were in a parenting class and I had asked how everyone had gone with their homework from the previous week. Participants were asked to be “emotionally available” to their kids.
“I just never felt like she belonged. She was this kid that I couldn’t really understand. I didn’t get her.”
As I have spoken with parents who struggle with their children, this theme comes up from time to time.
“We don’t bond.”
“I don’t understand this child.”
“It is like they’re from another planet.”
How do we deal with a child (or teen) who we don’t “get”?
I don’t understand my teenage son
Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, tells the story of a man who spoke to him after a seminar.
“I can’t understand my teenage son,” the man said. “He won’t listen to me.”
Covey replied, “Let me repeat what you just said. You said, ‘I can’t understand my son. He won’t listen to me’.”
“That’s right,” the man confirmed.
“Let me say it again. You can’t understand your son because he won’t listen to you.”
The man confirmed that Covey had indeed understood him. Then Covey said, “I thought that for you to understand your son, you have to listen to him.”
The power of being available
When we feel disconnected to our children, or we feel as though they’re weird or we are out of touch, we tend to think the problem is with our child. Sometimes this may be true. Often, however, it is not. And there is only one way to find out. We need to make ourselves available – emotionally – to our kids.
Michaela’s story continued. “So after our last parenting workshop last Friday night, I went home and decided to be emotionally available to Sarah [her daughter]. The next morning I was outside mowing the lawn because my husband was away, and Sarah came up to me and said she wanted to talk. It was hot, I was tired and dusty, and I was only halfway through the job.
“I was going to brush her away, but then I remembered I had to be available, so I turned off the mower and we went and sat in the shade.”
Michaela confessed that it was a pain. She wanted to get the work done. She didn’t want to be interrupted. And she was particularly put out that it was Sarah that wanted her. Her eight year old was the one she really didn’t like that much.”
“What would you like to talk to me about Sarah?” Michaela asked, being as polite as she could.
There was silence.
Michaela bit her lip. She wanted to tell Sarah she was being a nuisance, or that she had work to do. Instead, she put off her “agenda” and tried again, attempting to show her daughter she was really there and available.
“What is it Sarah? You wanted to talk with me.”
After another lengthy silence, Sarah quietly responded, “Mum, I wanted to talk to you because I’m feeling like I don’t belong in this family. I feel as though I just don’t fit in. Sometimes I feel as if you don’t love me.”
Michaela told us that her daughter’s words were like a punch in the stomach. She stumbled and stammered over her words. Then she paused. She invited her little girl to tell her more. And she listened.
As their conversation continued, Michaela realised that her daughter was not from another planet and was really not even weird. Instead, she felt unloved and misunderstood. And she was hurting, showing that hurt by her peculiar and challenging behaviour.
Happy families – It’s about time
If our children seem a little strange, they won’t get better with our criticism or even our well-intentioned efforts at fixing them. They need to feel our love. And the universal language of love is time. (Which, incidentally, is the opposite of the hurry we usually focus on).
As we take time to be with our children two things can happen:
- We can find out if something really is wrong
- We can grow to understand them – at least a little bit
You don’t have to “get” them to love them, and to show it. But you’re more likely to get them if you invest in your relationships.
This article was written by Dr Justin Coulson - parenting speaker and author, and father of six daughters.