In my professional career I am often asked what to do in certain relationship situations. These questions usually relate to the how's and why's of relationships. The relationships run the gamut. Husband-wife, father-son, mother-daughter.
Over and over again, I see parents who think they are clued in to their children, but usually aren't. They are distant, too close or simply don't seem to care what is going on in their child's life. When asked, I really try to clue these parents in and help them find ways in which to connect to their children more effectively. At the end of the day, I get to go home.
So what should I do when I meet up with some friends, and I see them parenting in a way that usually has a poor outcome? Do I say something? Say nothing? Make hints? It gets difficult because these are people I care about, but at the same time I don't want to offend them.
There are two things friends, even good friends, notoriously can't handle talking about — finances and parenting. The challenge is that these are two things that if talked about effectively can change lives. So how can you talk to a friend, and how can you listen if a friend wants to talk to you about something you may be doing wrong?
Know your friend cares about you
When someone starts the conversation about the difficult topic, remember they probably want what's best for you. It's already hard to talk about things, but if you let them approach you knowing that they love you, it can make what they are going to say easier. The very fact that they are approaching you shows the concern they have for you. You know this. Don't let your inner mean come out, or your good friendship could be over.
Don't be defensive
It is a natural instinct to defend yourself when you feel like someone is attacking you. Remember though, it's just a feeling. It's also someone that cares about you. In this instance, listening is more important than defending yourself. Perhaps defending yourself is a big part of the problem. Instead of defending thinking you are right, simply take it in and listen. Listening can make you a better person.
Do something different
When you hear information on how something may need to be different in your life, consider doing it. Many times people don't want to change because they feel like it's giving in, or they may compare and think "at least my kid isn't as bad as..." Most people don't do something different because they are lazy, prideful or scared. If you, as a parent, can't get past this, then ultimately your child will suffer the consequences.
I have found over and over that no matter how much I encourage someone to do something differently, point out the flaws in thinking or put on paper how changing will make their life better, it won't happen. It won't happen unless the idea becomes internalized. Once change actually comes from the inside of yourself, things can start moving in a different direction. No amount of life coaching or therapy will move you forward unless you do it yourself. A person must make their own decision to do things differently.
Don't let things or people get in the way
You've decided what your friend said makes sense, and now you want to do something different — something that makes sense. People or things will get in the way. It could be your child trying to convince you this new way of parenting doesn't make sense.
Trust me when I say kids don't usually know what's best for them. It could even be a spouse who wants to continue spending money unwisely or parenting foolishly. Either way if you make a choice to do something different — good for you. Now comes the real work of actually living it.