Several years ago, I was struggling with my 11-year-old son’s transition to school in the morning. I just wanted him to get up and go to school! He loved his school and I really couldn’t understand what the problem was with getting there on time. He was so slow in the morning and it was eating up my morning work time just trying to get him to school. (There were advantages and disadvantages of having a flexible schedule for both my work and his school.)
Robin Grille, an author and child psychologist from Melbourne, Australia, led an exercise for Parenting as a Hero’s Journey that helped me to see things differently.
The meditation was all about connecting with ourselves in present time, and then ourselves as children, to really understand, in a new light, a conflict that we were experiencing with our child in present time. I used my frustration with my son in the morning as the focus of my own exploration.
Through the guided meditation, I was able to understand what it was like for me to have trouble getting him out the door in the morning, and where in my body I was feeling my distress. Robin asked each of us to connect with what this situation was like, for us, when we were children. I really focused on that transition out of the house in the morning.
Ooofff. When I was a child, getting out the door for me was always SO hard. I was often dealing with nausea and anxiety, and the pressure to hurry up always made it worse for me. It was very difficult for me and I dealt with it a lot, even as an adult.
In the meditation, as I remembered and connected with feeling anxious getting ready for school in the morning, I realized that I was treating my son as if he was also anxious, and I was actually giving him what I needed as a child. In the mornings with my son, I was moving slowly and we transitioned gently.
Except this wasn’t what my son needed.
My youngest son isn’t anxious. In fact, when I really looked at it more closely, I realized that he actually needed a little more pressure to move through the process of getting out the door than I had realized, which is completely the opposite of what I needed at his age. The same amount of pressure to keep moving would have been disastrous for me, yet it was motivating for him. His experience was very different than mine from the very beginning of his life. He needed me to parent him differently than I had needed to be parented.
And I missed this little important fact:
He was having a very different experience than me.
It was eye opening for me. It really helped me to start a new conversation with myself about parenting, and a different conversation with my son, as well. I began to be curious about my own experience of this situation. Is my son’s experience of this situation the same or is it different than mine? What do I need in this situation? What assumptions am I making about what he needs? What does he need?
I realized I had been making assumptions about what my son needed and I wasn’t correct. And it wasn’t working for either of us.
So I shared a little about my own childhood experiences with leaving the house with him, and then asked him what it was like for him. I talked about realizing that I had been treating him like I would have wanted to be treated, which isn’t a bad thing in intention. But it wasn’t what he needed.
I asked him what it was like for him and I listened to understand.
He told me he didn’t need or want a lot of reminders, like I had been giving him. He wanted to know what time we were leaving the house and he wanted to find his own way to get himself ready. He wanted to try different things to see what worked best for him. And he wanted me to back off a bit more.
I listened. I put my assumptions aside.
He felt seen, heard, and understood. I could see him more clearly. I could see the experience he was having of wanting more autonomy and I could make space for him to grow, because I understood where he was coming from.
My child was having a different experience.
But I didn’t know until I stopped to reflect in this space of our conflict and ask him what his experience was.
Your child is having an experience.
Often, this experience is different than the one you’re having, but you don’t realize it.
We’re looking at what is happening to them through our own lens.
Our own worldview.
We all do it.
I invite you to be curious about your child’s experience.
What is happening for them? What are you assuming?
Have you had an experience like mine? I’d love to hear about it.
If you need some extra help understanding more about your child’s experience, I offer 1:1 sessions via Zoom and Skype around the world. And watch for information about an upcoming class about a simple, yet revolutionary way to really listen to understand your child (or even your friends or your partner) in a new way.