Charlie came stomping in the back door from outside, grumbling to himself. His brother, Pete, followed him and mumbled, “Sore loser.” Charlie turned on his heel and started yelling at his brother. Their mom heard the commotion from the kitchen, sighed, wiped her hands on the dish towel and turned toward them at the back door.
“Charlie, that’s enough,” she started. “We don’t talk like that around here.” “But…but, he broke the rules,” he pleaded with his mom. “I said, enough,” mom barked. She then sighed and directed, “Go to your room to calm down.” Charlie stomped off and complained under his breath, “Sure. Take his side, again.” Pete smiled to himself as he found his iPad and cued up a game.
Mom went back to the kitchen thinking, “Well, that didn’t go well.” As she went back to drying dishes, she made a decision, “I need to go to Pete, apologize for snapping at him, and let him talk it out. I need to pull out my active listening.”
This is a snapshot of the journey parents travel from surviving to thriving in a healthy family. For all of us, stuff happens. It’s what you do with the stuff that makes for teachable moments. The journey has 4 parts. First, we tend to do what’s familiar, even if it’s not working. Then, when we learn something and decide it’s a better path, we try it. With repeated effort, and lots of missteps, we get used to the new path. Finally, the new path becomes second nature to us.
For Charlie’s mom, she caught herself on a familiar path, using her power to solve the immediate problem. That works well…for the moment. However, Charlie has lots of unexpressed feelings and sees Pete as her mom’s favorite. That makes for longer term issues.
How cool was it for mom to catch herself in old, unhealthy habits that were familiar, and then to venture out on a new path, active listening? She started with an apology to her son. With her apology, and then active listening, Charlie’s feelings went from angry and frustrated, to confused, to heard, to hopeful. She could see his emotional fever come down. He’s not off the hook for his behavior, but the process has gone from power to relationship.
After her conversation with Charlie in his bedroom, mom asked how he felt and then what he thought about how his mom handled the situation. Afterward, she told him that she was trying out active listening as a way to understand him and his needs and feelings better. Charlie said he liked it and told her to keep doing it. Such is a parent’s journey to thriving, and to many more teachable moments.