Most all of us have struggled at one time or another with a relationship. A best friend who takes advantage of us, a parent who always has to have the final say, a boss who uses his positional authority in a negative way, can leave us unsure of what to do next. Depending on whether we are wound to actively engage in the struggle or retreat to the sidelines determines the lens with which we most likely will teach our kids about how relationships work. Our advice and counsel will be based on our own experiences. Did we get the result we wanted with the action we took?
Take, for example, the notorious bully on the playground. When Jeffrey comes home upset about an incident that happened at school, we as parents respond to Jeffrey’s emotions typically in one of two ways: 1) “You need to learn to stand up for yourself.” And we’re ready to sign Jeff up for Taekwondo or boxing and we’ll consider marching Jeffrey over to the bully’s house to talk to the bully’s parents. OR 2) “You need to stay away from that kid.” And we’re ready to call the teacher to intervene if need be. We might even go as far as telling all the moms we know about what is happening so that Jeffrey is protected.
I’m not going to debate which way is right or wrong because there are too many variables in the average bullying scenario to even sort through the best response in a given situation. However, it is important to realize that these are two extremes on the same relationship scale. Depending on how we respond, we’re either teaching our kid to engage or retreat.
There is another scenario that we typically don’t see and that is the power of influence in the muck of relationships. It is finding ways to communicate such that the other person can hear. Things like respect, empathy, validation, and reminding the other person that we belong on the same team can go a long way. However, another piece of influence if we aren’t getting the result we need is to be willing to create boundaries and utilize our right to instill consequences if the other person is causing us physical or emotional harm.
We know that kids tend to embrace what is “caught not taught”. And so my question to us as parents is what are we modeling with our relationships?
I was talking to a woman last week about a difficult parenting situation she was struggling with and how it was being handled. The longer we talked I began to ask questions about how she was responding to the dilemma versus her husband’s response. It was obvious they weren’t even close to being on the same page. Or were they?
I don’t think she even knows what her husband’s true thoughts or feeling are on the situation.
Here’s why. What I discovered was that her husband appeared to have had an overbearing mother who still tries to control her now adult, married son with his own kids. This dad is caught between responding to his mother’s thoughts on how to handle her grandchild and his wife’s desires on how they should handle the situation. Based on this woman’s comments, this dad seems to be doing exactly what his dad did–retreat and hope it would all blow over.
His lack of action will most likely not bring the best outcome for his child.
But more importantly for us as moms, could we be doing the very same thing to our kids? Are we modeling control in such a way that we are impacting our kid’s relationships now and in the future?
What if in the same situation above a daughter had witnessed the relationship dynamic with her parents. Would she learn that moms are to control and dad’s role is to retreat?
So what can we as moms do to model healthy relationships so that our kid’s don’t end up on one end or the other of the relationship scale?
- Take a self inventory. Do you retreat? Do you tend to engage in conflict? If so, do you fight fair? (Fighting fair means that we engage in conflict in a way that builds the relationship rather than taking an I’m right/you’re wrong position.)
- Do your kids see you operating in your relationships in healthy ways: With your spouse? With your parents? With your in-laws? With extended family? What about the friends you interact with on a day-to-day basis?
- How do you know you are modeling healthy relationships? What is your measurement? In other words, is there always conflict? Do friends stick around? Do you stay engaged with the person when difficulty arises between you and another person? Do you know when it is in your best interest to hold that person at arm’s length?
- Take a look at how you deal with your teen’s relationship struggles. Do you counsel in a healthy way hoping to bring both people back together so they can remain friends? Or do you always take your child’s side empathizing to the point that your child feels justified with their feelings and actions? Do you help your child try to see both sides? Do you encourage them to go pray about the situation and for the other person?
- Do you re-engage with your teen to see how things are going so you can coach them through the next phase of reconciliation or being able to walk away with dignity?
I’ll admit that this can be deep work for some of us. When healthy relationships have not been modeled for us, we typically don’t even become aware of it until something happens where it really matters. The potential loss of a job, or marriage, or the possibility that we will lose a child who chooses to walk away will bring any of us to a place of looking hard at ourselves and how we do relationship if we are willing to take ownership for our part.
Sometimes we forget that it takes two people to have relationship just like it takes two people to have conflict. By taking inventory of ourselves, we’ll be able to make sure we are operating in a healthy way so that we can better model it for our kids.