Blog Post | Being Honest and Vulnerable in Our Parent and Child Talks
Being Honest and Vulnerable in Our Parent and Child Talks
I have a client family, with a father - let’s call him Peter. Peter is a parent of 3 children, and his middle child Tommy was diagnosed with ADHD. Believe it or not, Tommy is late for school almost every day. This is upsetting for Peter, and it’s also personal. Tommy being on time is important to Peter, and, though it frequently has no meaningful impact on Peter’s day, it’s a principle he values.
When Tommy is consistently late, Peter tells himself a story about why his son doesn’t care about being on time. As with any story that we write about others without their input, assumptions are made to fill in the blanks, and perhaps to fit a narrative that has already begun to take shape. Peter tells himself the story every time Tommy is late (which is very often), it becomes more and more personal, and Tommy’s actions feel more and more deliberate and malicious in Peter’s eyes. This dynamic is one of the foundational roots of Peter’s frayed relationship with his son. Should you ask either Tommy or Peter, both will tell you their relationship is extremely important to them, and they are both unhappy with the current status of that relationship.
Does this sound familiar to you? It is a story that countless parents have told me over the years. And each time I find myself asking the parents the same questions: Have you told your child that being on time is important to you? Have you explained that you know it’s a propensity you care about and this thing that is important to you, but that you’re working on it? Have you told your child that it would mean a lot to you if they could help by placing more emphasis on being on time? Have you offered to support your child in their renewed efforts to be on time?
Inevitably the answers to these questions are variations of no. I work with parents to change those answers to yes and help them see that this kind of thing is a unique opportunity for their children to use one of their greatest strengths: empathy.
By talking with your child, sharing your own struggles, sharing what's important to you, even when it might not make a lot of sense, we open ourselves up, we show vulnerability, and we give our children the opportunity to rise to the occasion.
After Peter and I talked about the potential value of communicating with his son, he agreed it would be worthwhile to try talking to Tommy, sharing why being late was so upsetting for him, showing him that level of vulnerability, and seeing how it went. Peter reported a week later, with joy, that Tommy was on time most days that week - sometimes even early. They had used this unexpected additional time in the morning to go for a car ride together, to go for coffee, and to connect on a more personal level. Peter had the opportunity to praise Tommy for his efforts to be on time, his responsiveness to Peter sharing a vulnerability, and his general attitude shift each morning. This, in turn, has Tommy coming home in a better mood, and now homework, taking out the trash, or just eating dinner with the family becomes less of a burden.
Communicating with your children allows your relationship to grow into a positive cycle, and it begins with honesty, vulnerability, and awareness.
ADHD Coach | Center For Living Well with ADHD, LLC