Meal preparation in my home offers a great opportunity to my son about tough topics. I find myself using the distraction of clearing the table, chopping vegetables, and getting lunches ready a perfect time to connect with him. It’s not unusual for him to tell me about a tough time he had with “so-and-so” during Success Time or at lunch. As long as I don’t make consistent eye-contact, he’ll continue to talk, seemingly less anxious about sharing. I keep myself distracted and not ready to fight on his behalf when he shares conflicts with friends or a particularly unfair situation.
After a few years, I can say that I have a good strategy for debriefing the day with him. First, have conversations when we don’t have to look at each other, like the car or where we are ‘doing’ something, like the kitchen. Second, keep a conversational tone and a certain amount of ‘distraction’. If I appear too interested, I get shut down and no specific information. Just last week, I was asking about a particularly challenging friend. How is so-and so doing? I immediately followed it up with…are things better? Are you still playing together at school? I was CUT OFF almost immediately.
Usually, these steps lead to a full and rich discussion, where I get to know my son in a new way. One of the best parts of being a parent is getting to know my kids in these new ways. Likewise, first-born seems to enjoy hearing my opinion or a story about how I struggle, even as an adult. More often than not, his struggle with colleagues. Negotiating group dynamics, communicating with people in positions of authority, and difficult conversations with people who disagree with you all begins so early in life. Even though I have a much better work situation, I find that personality differences and power struggles exist everywhere.
“I don’t know about you buddy, but one of the toughest things to do is telling people how you feel. Especially when its something that may hurt their feelings.” I say while I chop potatoes for dinner. “What did you do when you disagreed with so-and-so?”
As the peacemaker, my son will often handle a challenge (for a long time) without getting help. He can and does stick up for himself, but as an eight-year old, he often needs support and direction. So dinnertime for me and bedtime for my wife, are the times when we talk about these challenges. “Difficult conversations are just tough and usually I have to practice what I’m going to say over and over again before I talk to someone. Even then, it never really feels good, but I feel better about what I have to say”.
“Really?” is often his response. He often seems surprised that adults have the same challenges kids have. He also seems a little disappointed that it doesn’t get better and I can’t blame him.
“Really! Most things in life worth having require a little sweat and hard work, relationships are no different. Here’s what’s really cool though. Some of the most difficult conversations have led me to some of the best relationships. When you are willing to be honest with people, it can build a pretty good friendship!”