When the "Fix It" Approach Doesn't Work...Try These 5 Steps
Hi, I'm Mike and I'm a problem solver.
In my family and work life, when issues pop up and the pressure is on I move quickly into "fix-it" mode. I can evaluate a situation, ask a few questions and rapidly develop and deliver a solution that I'm convinced will work for everyone. "Do this…stop doing that…don't feel that way…think this instead." Go ahead…give me a problem to solve!
The Problem with Problem Solving
I've lived my entire life in blended family dynamics. It's only the past few years that I am realizing this "blessing" of being a problem solver is sometimes a curse for those around me.
In stepfamily life, certain "problems" are better viewed not as problems at all…but tensions.
Tension is a part of the journey for most stepfamilies and no one experiences tensions more than our kids. Here's a few that your kids might be experiencing:
- Pressure to fit into this new family and find their place
- Tensions of choosing between the two households
- Caught in a Loyalty Bind (between mom & step-mom or dad and step-dad)
- The weight of a multitude of losses they have experienced
There are hundreds of different kinds of tensions our kids and step-kids face as a result of living in a stepfamily structure. Most of these tensions simply cannot be resolved…that means "problem solving" won't help. Even when you're really great at it! Problems need to be solved, but tensions must be managed.
5 Steps to Managing Tension
As a recovering problem solver, I'll share up front that I am no expert at this. However, I have learned as a step-parent and parent that when I stop solving problems and start joining my kids in their experience, things seem to go better for all of us. In addition…looking back on my childhood, I see how the 5 steps below may have changed the trajectory of several negative experiences in my teen and early adult years.
- Discover Their Story. Often when we are working to solve problems, we're trying to insert our perspective into the situation. But learning to help our kids manage their tension means we need to get curious about their perspective. To do that we must focus on their experiences and emotions by asking lots of curiosity questions rather than giving lots of answers.
- Acknowledge Their Struggle. Once you get curious, be prepared to hear some things you may not like or agree with. When you do, avoid jumping to defensiveness or back to "fix it" mode. Do your best to affirm their feelings about the tension they're experiencing and let them know it's ok for them to have those feelings.
- Ask For Something Positive. Kids can often be laser focused on their tensions and ignore anything positive that could be happening around them. As the conversation begins to wind down you might ask, "I wonder what positive things are happening in your life right now…or something you are thankful for?" Help them see beyond the tension. (Hint: Don't do this too early. The idea is not to distract them from their feelings, but to help them move forward as the conversation is coming to a close.)
- Tackle Poor Behavior. Now, you might ask, "But how do I deal with disrespectful behavior?" Keep in mind that behavior and emotions are two different things. If your kid's or step-kid's experiences are leading to poor behavior, make your expectations clear AND affirm their negative emotions. You can hold behavioral boundaries and support them in managing their tensions at the same time.
- Press Forward. Tensions will be a part of your journey…tensions that are not solvable. That means perseverance is key. You're likely to have the same conversation multiple times and in a variety of ways. Hang in there and walk the journey with your kids and step-kids. It will pay off in the end!
Take some time to evaluate the tensions that might be present in your stepfamily. Recognize the difference between problems and tensions, then choose your strategy. Solve the problems, but manage the tensions!
QUESTION: What tensions have you been trying to solve rather than manage? Leave a comment below: