Some of my readers are adult children of difficult older parents. No one knows better than they do how painful and unfair it is to have a difficult parent. Therefore, no one is more motivated to not be a difficult parent themselves. Here are two aids toward this goal.
TOOL #1: A LIST OF DO’S AND DON’TS
I urge children of difficult older parents to work at being the very best person they can be. This includes being the kind of person and the kind of parent that they always wished their own parent would be.
How is this done? It simply requires you to learn to show more of the traits and behaviors on the left side of the table below in your family relationships, and less of those on the right side. Easy, right? Of course not! It takes real effort, real attention, and real commitment to improve ourselves. But isn’t this really our only job in life?
* Congruence between your private and public selves; congruence between your beliefs, your words, and your deeds.
TOOL #2: A STRATEGIC EXERCISE
As we go about this self-improvement project, it is important that we not rely solely on our own opinions about our progress. We might be just a little biased!
Rather, we must solicit feedback from loved ones. “How am I doing?” “What is it like having me as a wife, husband, mom, or dad?” “Is my company enjoyable?” “How can I improve?” “How can I better show how much I like, love, enjoy, and respect you?” “How can I help you and others like, love, enjoy, and respect me more?” “How can I help you be the best you can be?” “What are your goals in life, and how can I help you accomplish them?”
Shawn and Doris married in their late twenties and are now in their later forties. Their three children are teenagers. Doris’ mother and Shawn’s father have both always been difficult individuals, so both Shaun and Doris carry emotional scars from their childhoods. Shawn’s father passed away just two years ago, but Doris’ mother is still living and difficult. Doris had several consultation sessions with me to master the CODOP concepts, insights, and skills I teach.
The crowning accomplishment that Doris wanted to work on was to protect against giving her children and husband the same sort of toxic experience with her that her mom had given her husband and children. Her specific steps toward this goal began with reviewing and understanding the guidance in the More/Less table shown here.
Her next step was to invite her husband, and later her kids, too, to give her feedback on her behavior and her personality, as they experienced it in their interactions with her. She asked them to schedule a time to sit down with her for an hour, in a quiet place and without interruption. She began each meeting by thanking them for agreeing to meet with her. She then asked them for honest feedback, using the questions mentioned above. She listened calmly and respectfully. She even took some notes. She thought of their feedback as a precious gift of knowledge from the mouths of people who were experts on her. She frequently asked them to pause so she could paraphrase their comments back to them, to make sure she understood them correctly. She would say, “I think what I hear you saying is ….” She would follow the paraphrase with, “Did I get that right, or is there something I need you to clarify for me?” Doris did not speak one word of self-defense or self-justification, and of course not one word criticizing the speaker. At the meeting’s end, she again thanked them and told them she loved them and would do all she could to use the feedback constructively. The meetings caused her husband and kids to all feel much closer to Doris, and more loved by her, than they had before.
Inspired by his wife’s courageous commitment to not replicate her mother’s mistakes, Shawn later asked Doris and their children to sit down with him and give him feedback, too.
“My passion is ensuring that every adult is mentally ready to succeed in all transitions that comprise the adult years. The meaning in my life comes from helping my patients see themselves, their situation, their future, and the entire world with new eyes and a newly courageous attitude.
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