In any parent child relationship, there is conflict. We know that by being the parent, we may make decisions our children don’t like, and often find ourselves the receivers of tantrums, outbursts, and blame. It isn’t always easy. But we also hope to enjoy moments of closeness, when we are the receivers of affection, shared stories and confidences, gratitude, care and deeds. Very often in the course of parenting, we might feel that the level of conflict is higher than the level of closeness. In other words things are off balance, and we know we want to change it, but feel stuck…
Whether its a toddler whose favorite word is “no” or a teenager who is more often in their room with the door closed than feels comfortable, and whether its just something you have felt since the argument you had this morning or its been going on all year, it feels off when the parent child relationship is off balance. You know it…you might tell yourself that this is normal, but your instinct and feeling that you want to repair the parent child relationship is probably one to follow.
Sometimes the first step is figuring out how to bring something up without creating more conflict or starting an argument. Whether you speak it or not, the pain point is likely sitting right there…left unsaid. Perhaps, at a family gathering you made a joke about something your child wore, and your child became embarrassed and said something that hurt your feelings. Maybe you argued or you both simply dropped it. But if this was never discussed, bringing it up can be helpful. How you do that matters. Bring it up with a neutral description of the event -- no impressions or judgements. “At dinner, I made a joke about your batman costume you were wearing. Then you said that I was wearing an ugly dress.” Just reading this, you might be thinking…oh, who wants to talk about this again, and maybe they will get mad again...however, this needs repairing.
Before you ask your child to understand your perspective, first step into their shoes empathically. “That was embarrassing. You like your batman costume and when I made that joke in front of everyone it was hurtful.” When we step in and empathize with someone’s feelings, before defending ourselves, or sharing our feelings, we can start to rebuild a connection. When your child feels understood, their stress levels go down--their heart rate lowers, and they can think. They are more likely to talk about how they feel. If they say more, continue to empathize with what they are saying. In this moment, it's not about you….don’t worry…we’ll get there. Empathy is the best way to repair the parent child relationship because being understood is a core need in any relationship.
And so, yes, you too need to feel understood and to share your feelings authentically in order to reconnect with your child. How you do so matters. When you share how you feel without judging your child, they are more likely to hear and understand you. "I was nervous that Uncle David might think I should not let you wear a costume to the party and so I made that joke. I felt badly that I said it. And when you said my dress was ugly, I felt upset." Some reassurance about what you don’t feel is also important. “I don’t think you are unkind”…or “I dont think your costume is silly.” This is easier said than done. Note that you only describe your feelings and relate to a concrete thing that happened. There is no accusation of intent or blame ("you made me feel…"). Sharing your authentic feelings in a way that does not break down your child can help your connection grow stronger, help them understand your real feelings ,and begin to repair the parent child relationship, because the effects of the parent child relationship cannot be overstated. A quality relationship with an emotionally skilled adult is the way to build emotional resilience in children.
So try it today, or the next time you feel that the balance is off and there is more conflict than connection, and you want to repair the parent child relationship. Describe neutrally with no judgment what happened, empathize with your child, and share authentically your own feelings. Start with one small event, not all of the ways in which you are struggling. This is challenging. And most parents struggle to do each of these steps…Mariposa Education offers the specific skills and language for parents to help you create the connection with your child that you both need to thrive. Go to https://www.mariposaeducation.org/for-parents to find out more.