Questions from the frontline (of parenting):
Is it just me or do other moms feel they’re being judged (and come up short) by other adults
(in-laws, “friends”, other sports moms)?
I asked the group of moms-of-teens to write questions they hoped we discuss during our coaching group. The question above was absolutely absorbing to the group as they divulged that each of them shared this mom’s feelings of being criticized, some by other parents, some by their own parents, some by coaches or teachers, etc, etc. At the heart of it all, parents felt criticized for their judgement calls for their own kids…sometimes after days, months, even years of angst. As we shared a frank conversation, we came up with some clarity about such situations. . .
Our own sensitivity: Because our role as parents is SO key to us, something each of us feels is SO important to do as well as we possibly can, we invest a huge amount of our identity and thought and effort into doing our best possible job. Of course it all begins with our complete devotion to that darling, almost-perfect baby, our sense of oneness with our child. Nature’s bond makes that so. But long after we figure out they aren’t so perfect, we still continue to have such deep emotional investment in them. We might have to confess that we see our kids through mixed, contradictory lenses: from the one eye, they are our precious kid, capable of no wrong which can’t be fixed; from the other eye, we see every tiny glitch, every flaw and ache for it. No wonder that our perspective is sometimes a bit unreliable! But…
Others really don’t know or understand our particular circumstances: No matter how close our friend is, no matter that our sister has known our kid since his birth, no one but a parent has that live-in perspective of day-to-day observation. And not just of the kid but also of the multitude of factors which shape our kid’s life, habits, idiosyncrasies. For example, I’ve got three children but only one of them had almost a startle reflex when we raised our voices, drawing away even when the discipline was directed at another sib! Such tender little feelings, from the very beginning! Yet another of our kids was so rough-and-tumble that his older brother declared we’d have to discipline him with a 2×4! Different kids. Different circumstances. Different situations. Often, only WE “get” our kids in all their particularity!
Making suggestions, judgements, recommendations can be/feel SO disrespectful: Given the fact that parents are really sensitive about their kids and parenting, given the fact that if you’re not the parent, you really don’t know all the circumstances, offering unsolicited advice or comments feels really disrespectful. The message beneath the message often comes across as, “Clearly, though you are the mom and should see this, you do NOT see what is so clear to me even though I’m not actually IN the situation. Pretty sure I’m smarter/better/wiser/clearer about this than you.” And whether or not the recipient-mother rises up and pokes you in the nose right there and then…or not… she probably feels like it. And so do any other parents who’re listening!
So, as this group of moms sat around sharing times when friends or family or other sports moms had crossed their collective lines, I inquired if there is ever, any way a loving, concerned adult can offer thoughts on someone else’s child. It became clear that those situations are rare and require not only real closeness (as in: I really love you and your kid) but also extreme delicacy. I couldn’t help wondering if those situations might actually call for coaching questions, characterized not so much by offering direction as by helping a parent consider possibilities. Two of my most useful coaching lead-ins are:
I’m confused or a variation, I’m curious – So it might sound like, I’m confused about why you’d call the coach when your son didn’t make the team. I’m curious about what you were hoping for? Or, I’m curious what you think might happen if she (your daughter) …..?
Another excellent coaching/focusing comment is
I wonder – As in, I wonder how she’d respond to an earlier curfew? The “I wonder” approach has to remain very open, a genuine point of curiosity, not veiled suggestions.
Finally, when we’re itching to offer suggestions or even criticisms, have this practiced reply ready to offer instead: You know, I’ve seen you do such great/strong/insightful parenting. I’m pretty sure you’ll come up with just the right direction.
Such a response is the ultimate GRACE among parents!