Hard Earth? Blow Air!
Visualize this! You’re walking through the desert and notice endless sand dunes you need to climb. You crawl and “power struggle” up and down each mountainous mass only to notice your energy and motivation fading with each step. Just when you’re about to give up, a soft wind begins to blow through your hair and tickle your neck. As the wind picks up, you notice the massive dune before you and others beyond it begin to fade and flatten before your eyes. You take a deep breath of gratitude; drawing in and letting out the very air that flattened the source of your stress and struggle. You continue your walk effortlessly through the now smooth path before you. You arrive at your destination stronger and more confident as you connect with those you love.
In part 2 of this series, we explored how pouring water on the relationship can soften your teens hard earth through connection and compassion. Today we’ll explore how blowing air can smooth their hard earth through curiosity and by getting clear on the beliefs held and the personal stories driving everyone’s actions.
The Power of Air
Symbolically, air represents mindset, creativity, play, and thought (think about those thought bubbles in comic strips; what are they often shaped like? Clouds!). Metaphysically, birds in literature represent thoughts and I’ve been told quite a few times in my life to “get [my] head outta the clouds.” Like water, the symbolism of air can help us evolve or transform as individuals and in our relationships (especially the one with our kids).
When our Relationship Suffocates
Personal stories are the beliefs we hold about why things are the way they are. We always carry stories about ourselves, the world, and those around us. Stories are great when they help us assess a situation quickly. They can become an issue when they are full of unchecked assumptions that lead to ineffective actions.
“You just don’t get me or what I’m saying.”
This was what my now 21-year-old sister yelled at me when she was about 16-years-old. I’d been lecturing her about some “ridiculous” decision she’d made that was going to screw up her life if she didn’t course correct in the direction I was suggesting because (of course) I knew what was best.
I opened my mouth in protest to explain that I, in fact, DID know exactly what she was saying and…
After a few rounds of this, I came to realize that I’d spent so much time listening to respond to the stories I created in my mind about her truth, that I failed to actually listen to understand the stories that she was carrying about her own truth.
When I actually did take time to listen to her feelings, thoughts, and needs, I realized that if I were her age and carried her stories, I might’ve responded in similar ways (not saying they would’ve been the most effective responses). This realization brought with it a compassion and patience I’d not felt towards her to that point.
Have you ever been there? In a space where you listened to respond to your child’s stories vs listened to understand them? Ya might be listening to respond if:
- You magically know what they’re going to say as soon as they open their mouth.
- You have a lecture lined up before the conversation even starts.
- You enter the conversation with your own story alive and kicking about why they did what they did, what they were thinking when they did it, and how they plan to try and get away with it.
- The number of statements you make outweighs the number of clarifying questions you ask.
Bottom line, unchecked and piled high, the stories we tell ourselves can suffocate a relationship. This is why exploring the stories we are telling ourselves about ourselves, our child, or the situation AND listening to what our child is telling themselves about themselves, us, or the situation can infuse the moment with oxygen and smooth the mound of hard earth they’ve erected.
In addition, our thoughts become things! When we tell ourselves fear -packed stories that are peppered with our fears, we can potentially attract what we fear to us through our energy and our actions. This is not to suggest that we blindly ignore blatant truths in favor of unicorn rainbow fairy tales, but we should cross check our beliefs. Getting curious and asking our teens questions about their stories and experiences; and asking ourselves questions like the ones used by Byron Katie: “Is this true?” and “How do I know this is true” can help us to cross check our stories.
Blow some Air on It
The faster we enter into a power struggle with our teens, the faster those power struggles disintegrate into family wide “fire tantrums.” At that point, it’s hard for anything to get resolved. Keeping everyone’s frontal lobes (the decision making part of our brains) activated is key in those moments of struggle. One of the most powerful ways to do this is by asking questions.
Many of the strategies I share with my clients involve asking questions. This is intentional because it is impossible to attempt to answer a question without activating the decision making part of our brain (the first part of our brain that shuts down first when we enter into “power struggle” mode).
Here are some questions you can ask to understand and blow air on your teen’s hard earth during those tense moments:
- I really want to understand. Can you help me by telling me what your thinking?
- What do you need right now?
- What are you feeling?/What feelings are coming up for you?
- What are your thoughts about this situation?
- I really want to understand where you’re coming from so I’m just gonna listen and ask questions if I need clarification. Is that okay?
Make sure you’ve filled up your well with compassion for yourself and them. Also, be fully present when using these questions. It’s hard to believe someone really wants to hear you if they’re scowling at you or checking their email. Get on their eye level or if you’re comfortable, get below their eye level (they sit in a chair and you sit on the floor next to them). Getting below someones eye level is a great non-verbal way to communicate, “I’m not a threat.”
Try this! Seek to understand your teen. Challenge yourself to ask at least two of the questions listed above during a tense moment. Listen and reflect back what you heard