Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Read Between the Tears

Our pediatrician doesn’t know this, but he taught me something that has proven to be critical to my communication with Mrs. O.  He taught me to hear what she is feeling.  We had spoken to him only days after our son was born.  Little E. wasn’t breast-feeding well and Mrs. O. was at the end of her rope.  He examined our son, and gave us his recommendations.  Then, as we were leaving, he looked Mrs. O. in the eye and said, “You’re a wonderful mother.”  She started sobbing.  I could have kissed Dr. V!  I knew that was exactly what she needed to hear.  She was feeling like a failure.  She didn’t need more tips and techniques.  She didn’t need nutritional supplements.  She didn’t need medication.  He gave her what no one, including me, had the insight to give.  

I remember the day I ‘got it.’  It was in the middle of potty-training and we were having some very stressful days.  Since it was our first child, we were having to learn by doing and it didn’t always go smoothly.

I came home after work and Mrs. O. was telling me about the day’s potty-training adventures.  Our son, whom we knew to be capable of performing according to our expectations, just wasn’t feeling it.  He could be a ‘big boy’ when he wanted to be, but today he didn’t.  Mrs. O. was lamenting the magnitude of her stress.  She could sense that it was affecting our son, making him even less inclined to comply with her requests.  That, in turn, added to her stress and the whole thing snowballed from there.  She included descriptions of what she said to him, what he did and said and so on.

So, before I got it, my first inclination was to go over all the things she shouldn’t have said, and begin to come up with alternatives.  Thank God, I didn’t do that!  I had tried that kind of thing before and it just didn’t work.  I decided that she probably didn’t need me to tell her all the things she shouldn’t have said...she already knew that even though she hadn’t said it explicitly.  Mrs. O. was feeling like a failure.

After a brief pause, I started to tell her that I thought she was a great mom.  I told her that she was doing everything right.  If she wanted to talk to little E. about her frustrations to reassure him that would be a great thing and none of this was going to cause any lasting hurt on his part.  She started to tear up, and she started telling me all the things she shouldn’t have said...all that stuff that I was inclined to tell her up front.  She didn’t need me to tell her what she was doing wrong.  She needed me to tell her that she wasn’t a failure.  She didn’t need me to hear the facts of the day, she needed me to hear how she felt about the facts.  

Note to self: keep doing that.

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