Help Your Kids 'Move Through'
Parents and step-parents don't want to live in the past. And there's a good reason for that. Separation, abandonment or death has occurred…regardless of which you have experienced, it likely caused pain. You probably want to stop reliving that pain and move on.
Kids are different. They are still connected to those old relationships. Some are still living in those connections if they move between two homes. If they have endured the abandonment or death of a parent, they are likely thinking of that missing relationship. Most often, kids don't want to move on.
What if "moving on" isn't the goal?
I was only 13 months old when my mom passed away. I have no actual memories of her. Several years later, my dad re-married and it seemed as though we had "moved on".
The trouble was that the older I got, the more curious I was about my birth mom. I wanted to know what she was like. What kind of person was she? What kind of mom was she? What were her likes and dislikes? What did she want to do with her life?
I thought, "If I could understand a little of who she was, maybe it would help me understand who I was becoming."
The problem was, I couldn't ask. The subject of my mom was off limits in our house. Once in a while I got up the courage to ask my dad about her, but mostly I got something like "she was nice". I don't think Dad was purposely depriving me of what I was looking for…he had just moved on and didn't want to go back. Who wants to relive painful memories?
As a result, I was stuck.
I was stuck wanting to know where I came from…who I was. Moving on wasn't an option for me. I needed help moving through.
You can help your kids move through
I get it…you have worked hard to move on. You've endured a nasty divorce or survived a painful loss. You've done the grieving and the counseling. Or you've been dealing with your Ex every week for years. You're exhausted and just want to move on!
Moving On means we can finally stop talking about it…or at least talk about it as little as possible.
Moving Through requires dialog. It means we intentionally enter into conversation with our kids. It means we give them truthful answers that honor their history.
Here's a few ways to help your kids Move Through:
Acknowledge Their Losses
When kids are expressing sadness or frustration around their realities, don't downplay their feelings or try to convince them otherwise. This can be tough. Sometimes we try to avoid these conversations because they are painful for us too. Other times we are trying to avoid conflict because our perspective is different than theirs. Yet other times we jump into "fix it" mode and try to solve an unsolvable problem.
Give your kids the space and time to express their emotions in a respectful and productive way. They need you to acknowledge that their experiences have been challenging.
Live in the Tension
Once you have helped your kids know it is ok for them to be struggling by acknowledging their losses, try out your Active Listening skills.
Active Listening is simply the habit of trying to identify what they are experiencing and feeling, then reflecting that back to them. Here's a couple of examples:
- "It sounds like you're feeling a bit sad today, is that right?"
- "I'm hearing that you are frustrated with this situation, did I hear that correctly?"
They may either affirm that you are right or correct you. You can simply say something like, "Okay, tell me more about that." Try to focus on asking open ended questions that help them share what they're experiencing. When they ask a question about their history, answer it honestly and appropriately always being respectful of their other parent…even if you don't get along.
As you close the conversation, thank them for sharing with you (especially if you are the step-parent). Letting them know you heard them, love them and are available to help, shows that you are willing to live in the tension with them as they move through the journey.
Most of us confuse empathy with sympathy. We offer sympathy when we show pity for someone else's difficulties. We can show sympathy and feel disconnected at the same time. We may feel bad for victims we see on the news, but we can quickly change the channel and move on with our lives.
Empathy causes us to enter into another's world. Something inside us connects with something inside them and we are able to experience their perspective. When we connect in that way, it often sticks with us for a while. We want to let the other person know they are loved and supported. For more on empathy, click here.
Our kids need empathy to move through. Find that place inside you that connects with what's inside them, live in the tension with them and acknowledge their losses.
There will be a time when you can Move On, but for now focus on helping your kids Move Through.
QUESTION: What have you done to help your kids move through their challenges? Leave a comment below…