I spoke with a friend this morning who was at something of an impasse with her 12 year-old son.  He’d told her that he wants to quit something she thinks he really likes and knows he excels at.

We talked about several aspects of the situation – about what it is that has him wanting to quit, about why she wants him to keep at it, about whether or not she should insist that he continue.

We realized in the midst of our conversation that everything we were discussing about her son’s position was based on a single exchange she’d had with him about it.

This particular child has a tremendous capacity for mature reflection and reasoning that wasn’t apparent in the conversation he’d had with his mom about quitting.  When she and I realized that – that she’d been trying to negotiate and navigate this aspect of his life with him when he didn’t have his clearest self about him – her exasperation with him and with the situation quickly faded.  The challenge was still there, but she realized that the conversation they’d had didn’t have to be the end of the story, and may not even have given her an accurate idea of where he stood on the whole matter.   She was also suddenly able to laugh in recognition of her own preference for having one conversation, on her own time, that addressed and resolved a given issue or disagreement.  “I guess that’s not so realistic, is it?” she mused.

There’s endless nuance and complexity to navigating a life, and doing it in true collaboration with a child tends to drive up more than other approaches might.  There are simple things, though, like leaving a contentious topic alone for a bit and revisiting it under different circumstances, that can entirely shift the dynamic of that collaboration.


One Response

  1. This story raises so many wonderful and helpful things for me to try to remember!

    Sometimes when we say “no” we may be saying “no” to things aside from or beyond the question asked. My son these days says “no” to almost everything offered at every meal. But then he goes on to eat well and in variety. This is a new development in our home and we don’t know quite what to make of it, except that we are learning that if we take his “no” as a literal answer to the question “How about X for lunch?” we are definitely missing it.

    My hunch (but I could be totally wrong) is that our son is saying “no” right now to the grownups having control over the food. He is not yet confident in his abilities to make his own meals but I think emotionally he is ready to and so is annoyed that we are gatekeepers to his eating (not obviously to any kind of eating or snacking but prepared meals).

    And then I love your wisdom here about how the conversation is always forever ongoing and that it so helps to see it that way. Like if a parent said to this child “okay, sure, totally fine if you want to quit doing that thing” that still wouldn’t be the end of it. And if the child followed through on quitting that thing, that STILL wouldn’t be the end of it. And if the parent said, “I’d like to hear more about your feelings about wanting to quit that thing” that would be yet another beginning. But even the things that look like “endings” of conversations (like “no you can’t do that” or “sure that’s fine”) are not endings either.

    I like to believe that if we try to approach our children remembering that they are sincerely doing their best to navigate the waters of their own life based on their own real feelings and desires (shifting though they may be), then however we respond in the moment will just be another beginning, and that they and we will get where we need to along the way. There is no one road, no one right response, just a striving to listen and understand.

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