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Sunday, September 06, 2009

Gaining Parental Respect

By the time I was a teen my mom was a widow. We used to have conversations late at night in the summertime, because we were both "night-owls." There was a time for me when I was sixteen when my mom and I suddenly realized that I had something to offer her. Finding out our relationship could work in another direction was a momentous occasion for me.  It was a significant shift between parent and child from a one-way energy flow - to the recognition that her teenager had meaningful wisdom to offer her that the she did not already possess.

My mom had already learned that it did not do any good to complain about relationships or circumstances.  The way she said it was "It's pretty useless to cry in your beer." I had the benefit of growing up in a household where there was not much bitching going on... (I know, that in itself was extraordinary!)

In this particular late-night conversation when things changed, I described to my mom what I was trying to do with my friends to allow us to uncover the reasons why we were having relationship problems. Of course, my mom recited her maximums about the uselessness of bitching and complaining about what was too complex to change. Then she realized that what we were doing was not merely complaining - it was a very original type of problem-solving for relationships that was working for us.

She got curious. She hung out with us kids and asked us to tell her more about what we were doing. We were more than happy to explain it to her and I guessed we did that successfully. She was impressed. She talked about it to her live-in house mate (who I hope was her boyfriend) and they used the same process to work out something that had been a problem for them.   The guy even thanked me and my friends for teaching the two of them how to communicate easier.

Another thing happened around that time. For some reason my mom and I were joking around about seeing each other in bad or good moods. It was a conversation along the line of how each of us knew to stay away and give the other person lots of privacy, and when each of us was willing to talk to the other. As an example of how the other person appeared to us, we mimicked the postural attitude of the other person in a bad mood or in a good mood. As my mom walked across the room trying to behave like me, I have to admit that I was completely shocked and did not realize how sensitive my mother was to my moods and how much she was able to notice about how I felt. She was also affected by how much she was influencing me with her own moods as I demonstrated to her how she looked to me when she was in a good or bad mood. This interaction led us to give each other permission to remind the other person to smile more often.

Many parents can never imagine that their child has something to offer them that is not tangible - although these parents are often the first to declare they have knowledge of who this child is that is not tangible. If you cannot describe and communicate in a way so as to become useful to each other, how can you declare you "know" a person? You only know a part of them. I would say that knowing only a part and attempting to bring forward that part (to the exclusion of all other possible ways of acting) encourages a lack of growth. People who know us well can sometimes have this awful tendency to encourage dependence, even while they are attempting to extend care in hopes of that person eventually not needing to be cared for! Really, a person who knows us well often knows merely habits and patterns and not our potential. In fact, some people inadvertently stifle potential. They seem to only want to interact with their preconceptions of who we have been for them. These expectations come from what they think they already know about us. These expectations can be tragically limiting.

Of course, one solution is to acknowledge the state-specific quality of the self and respect it. This is part of why adult children have trouble "updating" their relationship with their family members who seem to want them to remain the way they were. It's tricky to change your half of the relationship when the other person seems to want to address the outdated part of who you used to be. By doing the work to change yourself and the qualities of how your part of the relationship interacts with others, you inadvertently change the quality of the whole interaction. The other person eventually realizes that you are different and responds accordingly.

The other way is to take the relationship into different circumstances. People are different in different situations - and while interacting with different people who bring forward unique qualities you might have never seen in them. 

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