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thanks to Unsplash

Do you ever have times when you’re just trying to help but one of your kids blows up in your face? I’d like to propose that the “explosion” is a yellow flag that you’re doing too much. How can that be, when their schedules are packed, they’re exhausted, burning the candle at both ends. And yet, there it is: he’s super cranky, practically kicking us in the teeth and here we are, feelings hurt, wondering what happened…and why we’re not appreciated, after all our intentions are so good…..

I’d like to share one of the most brilliant notions I’ve encountered. I’m pretty sure it’ll change the parenting “dance” at your house.

Consider the difference between COMPLAINING and VENTING. Brought to you from Lisa Damour’s book, Untangled, it’s a very important awareness in whatever relationships you’re in. According to Damour

COMPLAINING is code for “someone needs to FIX this.”

VENTING is code for “I need someone who cares to LISTEN to me.”

With a bit of reflection, it’s easy to see that from our kid’s early life, when they tell us something is wrong, we head into fixing it. Frankly, often little kids need help fixing things. We get into a pattern: our kid whines, complains, grumbles around and BINGO, off we go fixing it!

Now we have some other experiences with this pattern: many women complain that when they grumble to their husbands, the husband jumps right in with suggested solutions or even takes on the “fixing” himself….when all they really wanted was just to have someone hear them and to care. He so longs to be helpful, to make his beloved more comfortable…and yet! It’s often hard to convince a man that LISTENING IS doing something!

There is a parallel experience between parents and kids. We mean well but as kids head into adolescence, they really want to “own” their own problems, their own solutions, their own lives…for better or worse. The hidden message when parents jump in to fix it is that they (the parents) really don’t have confidence that the kid can do it himself! Oof! Did you feel the slap in the face to the kid? No wonder he gets angry!

By listening without solving at least two really positive things may happen: first, he get to vent difficult emotions. Secondly in the process of pouring out the misery, he may begin to see it all more clearly, to be able to sort and sift toward solving it! All that, just from listening!

This week one mom told me about a Sunday evening when her middle school son began to complain and grumble about the upcoming return to school Monday morning. “I didn’t get enough time to play. I had to go to grandmother’s and I didn’t even have a good time! I HATE school and I HATE going tomorrow.” Mom reported that she was sorely tempted to begin Lecture #204: “You should be grateful for…school….for a grandmother who loves you…blah, blah, blah!” But keeping in mind complaining vs venting, she simply listened. She nodded to let him know she really heard him. She did not interrupt or try to correct his rant even when his tears threatened. What surprised her was how quickly his “storm” blew over…having been heard, he was ready to prepare for bed…and got up the next morning ready to greet the world.

The older our kids become, the more critical it is to move away from fixing and toward listening. Keep your eyes open for that yellow flag, crankiness at your efforts to “help.” They may be letting you know that you’ve strayed from listening into action that just isn’t wanted, needed or appreciated.

It also means our kids are growing up, growing more competent, more willing to “risk” their own solutions.

That’s a good thing, right?