Let’s talk about some things parents can do when they see situations differently than their children. Maybe your child wants to go to a movie unsupervised for the first time and you’re uncomfortable, while they’re insistent. Maybe at your child’s weekly activity you have concerns about the behaviour of another child or parent, yet your child is unconcerned—they just don’t see it the way you do. Where do you go from there?
In my experience, when there seems to be a stalemate of sorts, what’s often missing is the parent’s genuine understanding of the situation from their child’s point-of-view. Sometimes as parents we forget that what we are sharing is our perspective, our interpretation of the situation, not cold, hard facts. And as different people, it’s unreasonable to expect that they will always see things exactly the same way we do. What your child is telling you is their reality. The challenge is that if we are insistent, if we try to push our reality to replace theirs, we can also be pushing away the chance for a deeper understanding of and connection with them. We risk damaging the trust in our relationship.
When I find myself in this predicament, I try to step back and do the work to understand my child’s point-of-view. It helps me see them more deeply, beyond “they just don’t understand.” If I assume they just don’t understand, my path forward is likely to just keep explaining my point-of-view over and over. They’ll get it eventually, right? If you find yourself repeating the same explanations, trying to convince them, that’s a big clue that whatever you’re saying isn’t making sense, it’s not connecting to how they see things. It’s time to change things up.
How? For me, instead of continuing to explain my reality, I try to live their reality for a while. And I explore my discomfort with the situation: I ask myself questions, like “what is it that’s making me feel uncomfortable?” and “why is that?”, following up each answer with more questions as I dig deeper, doing the work to understand my reactions and move past my defensiveness and filters. This helps me to more clearly see my child’s world through their eyes. If they aren’t bothered by things, I try on what it feels like to not be bothered. And vice versa. I’m a detailed yet detached observer for now. What is it that my child anticipates or sees in the goings-on? How are they reacting, or not reacting? Why? Why not? Where does that lead them?
As you continue to observe, keep the communication between you both open and safe. You have made your concerns known—after all, that’s when you realized your differing viewpoints—so your child is aware of them. If a parent makes too big a deal about something (too big as judged by the child), there’s a good chance that if a challenge does arise, the child might choose not to talk to the parent about it because the “I told you so”, whether or not literally spoken out loud, would be too heavy in the air.
Understanding your child’s world more deeply can help you develop trust in them and their actions. And from there you are in a more knowledgeable place from which to help them process and move through what they see. If it’s not something in their world, and when you point it out they see no big need to incorporate your feedback into their day-to-day actions, then maybe they really don’t yet need to react to it. If they can’t see it yet, it’s because it’s not on their radar. You can help them understand their world more deeply by seeing what they see and being open and available when they notice new things and begin to incorporate them into their expanding worldview. Just because they don’t see something now, doesn’t mean they never will.
I wanted to approach the issues of the last post and this one separately because they seem like very different situations: one when your child is sad or upset and you want to help them feel better; and the other when you and your child don’t see eye-to-eye about something. But what I’ve found over the years is that the most supportive way through those situations is the same: work through my fears and filters so I can clearly see the situation from my child’s perspective. So often that’s where real understanding lies.
In fact, any time there is a disconnect between my child and myself, it’s a clue for me to do some work. To learn some more, to think some more; ask myself questions, get to the root of my unease. The disconnect means either I’m missing something—I haven’t yet managed to ask the right questions—or I haven’t been able to explain myself clearly. To be clear, my work isn’t to beat back my fears so I can get to a place of acceptance and blindly follow their choices. It’s to understand my child’s perspective so that I can be there with them, seeing and validating what they see, and from that deeper understanding, bring more useful information to our discussions.
In doing that work, maybe I discover that, though their choices wouldn’t be my path, I understand why it’s their path. I can now see how they got there. That understanding means that I can now be fully supportive, whether that’s moving forward at their pace, or with their activity of choice on their terms.
Maybe I discover the root of what is bothering me and I can now articulate it, meaning I can now ask them the question that will afford me the answer that puts my mind at ease. Or share the insight that connects with my child where they are, helping them better understand my discomfort, and we find a path forward that incorporates my concerns.
Sometimes in the end I discover that it’s “just” about stretching my boundaries, like my child’s first overnight visit, or their first mosh pit, or their first extended trip.
As parents, we can choose to “put our foot down” and expect our children to do what we think is best. As unschooling parents, we can choose to do the work to understand our children’s perspective, their emotions, and their choices. And to understand our own experiences deeply enough that we can share them in a way that is helpful for our children—in a way that makes connections for them and broadens their understanding of themselves and the world.
We can choose to walk with them through their days.