by Debbie Godfrey
I’m listening to a stressed-out mom of three describing her middle child. “Her voice is so shrill, jaw-clenching, grating on my nerves. I can’t help it, I just lose it with her!” This of course leads to a devastating meltdown of epic proportions. So even though mom is doing her best to survive the moment, the end result is further disruption of their relationship and even worse behavior over time. This leaves mom and daughter exhausted, hurt, remorseful, and feeling sad and like failures.
We begin to talk about mom’s patterns, world views, and life lessons. It turns out this particular child is pressing on nerves that need healing in this mom. I coach mom in meeting this child’s need before they escalate into hysterics, at which point it’s nearly impossible to come back gracefully. We talk about the patience, the unconditional love, and understanding that would go into her meeting those needs, which could be as simple as removing a shoe, providing a particular snack, or retrieving a toy from another room. While these acts of service could be viewed as serving or giving in to a manipulative child, in this particular case it is not. This child really needs help in with these things in order to cope with the frustrations of an unpredictable world.
How do I know this? At first, it’s just a hunch, based on knowing this family’s circumstances and also helping thousands of parents over my 25 years working as a parenting education teacher and coach. Over time, I’ve learned to hear the underlying message of perfection of design in these types of conflicts. Something in mom (or dad) needs healing or growth. The child needs something in order to feel seen, heard, and understood. Without insight, introspection, and pushing through emotional challenges, the parent-child relationship will erode over time. The teen years with this child could become even more disruptive, leaving a chasm from which many relationships never heal.
The alternative is for me to help the parent see the gift she has to give this child and receive from this child. It is no accident that this is your child, and you are this child’s parent. I believe we all have something to give and something to learn from one other. And the loudest, angriest, most conflict-ridden relationships are the ones with the biggest healing potential. Transcending these conflicts, healing the relationship, leads to closeness and connection. This will give the parent a heart filled with love, appreciation, and gratitude at seeing how providing for the child allows the child to blossom into their full beauty. The child, feeling loved and understood, will begin to navigate their world in a much more cooperative and reasonable fashion.
Was my hunch correct? Days later, mom confirms. By helping her daughter with her small frustrations, before they become overwhelming, she has been able to prevent numerous battles. And mother and daughter both healed by the ensuing understanding and love.