When someone you love is in distress, it is natural to try to fix the problem as soon as possible. Finding a pathway to a solution seems like the fastest way to soothe someone who is upset. That may involve giving advice for what your loved one should do next, exploring steps toward the desired outcome and discussing how to take those steps in the most immediate and effective way possible. However, this ‘solution-oriented’ discussion may actually interfere with what your loved one really needs, which is your understanding and support. There is a tremendous amount of emotional soothing and mental strength that you can provide people by simply focusing on the process instead of the outcome. Focusing on the process means that your primary goal is to understand and join with your loved one where they are emotionally and experientially in that moment, instead of rushing them into the “all better” state. When we rush toward a solution, we overlook the value of the other person’s feelings–but feelings are really a gateway into who we are as people, they are guideposts to our inner selves. When someone is having strong feelings and you are able to simply join them in that feeling, witness and process those emotions with them, you are actually on the pathway toward understanding and really identifying with that person’s inner world. This establishes trust, connection and soothing in a way that no logical answer or practical plan ever could. So the next time someone you love is having a problem or is upset, try to be in the process more and in the solution less. You will likely find that this generates intimacy, and in the end, that closeness is what we really need most.
So often, without our knowing, we fall into the insidious and sometimes destructive current of “Self-Parenting By-Proxy”, which is when parents are confusing their own unmet needs with the needs of their children. Every parent was once a child who was navigating in a family that had it’s own strengths and weaknesses. We ALL emerge from childhood with certain needs that were unmet by our own parents. These needs don’t just dissolve, we carry them with us into adulthood, and we tend to meet these needs later through our experiences with our own kids. So for instance, say a child was raised in an environment that was rife with conflict–mom and dad fought a lot, mom and older sister duked it out, and dad and brother came to blows every weekend. As an adult, this former child will strive to have a very amicable home, possibly to the point that healthy conflict is avoided, because he so longed for a peaceful home as a kid. The boy whose father never came to his little league games will be the coach of his own son’s baseball and soccer team. The daughter whose mother never gave her affection will be smothering her own son with hugs and kisses to the point of embarrassment. Whatever need our own parents left unmet, we later try to provide to our own children in spades. But, the person whose needs these parenting habits REALLY meet…are the parent’s.
I’m not calling bad on any parent who wants to protect and enrich their child in the way that didn’t happen in their own childhood. That does come from a place of love, and the result is often really great. However, sometimes the drive to fill our own unmet needs causes us to be blind to the ways that our parenting style might not be working for our kids. It is really important to fit your parenting behaviors to your child’s particular needs. This isn’t to say that the child should be driving the proverbial bus. Rather, that each child is different and really good parenting involves adjusting the ways you provide support and structure to fit each child’s disposition. Some children need more supervision and some children do great with independence. Some children really thrive on a lot of expressed affection and attention, others rather prefer to have their space. Some children are precocious and want to be your ‘best friend’, some children are quite overwhelmed with adult themes and conversations. The point is, know where your parenting rules and habits really come from and try to be aware of when you are meeting the needs of your inner child but not the needs of your outer child.