I have spent some time recently, thinking about family relationships. About three years ago we moved my mom from four hours away to live closer to us. There’s a lot of history in our relationship, and I had some concerns about the move. But I am her only child, and it needed to happen.
Three years later, we are finding our way. She is living independently but does rely on us emotionally and is with us several times each week. I am not caretaking in the true sense, but I am on some level. And who knows what the future might hold.
I’ve realized that even though she wasn’t the mother I needed her to be throughout most of my life, she loves me and has likely done the best she knew how along the journey. It has enabled me to continue to be there for her with less resentment along the way.
I know that many of the women in my community at Life Balance After 50 and in this 60 and Me community are experiencing strained family relationships. Whether they are:
As I read and listen to these women, and consider my interactions with my own mother, I realize that it typically (not always, but typically) boils down to one thing.
Getting outside of your own head and hearing from the other person.
We don’t listen only with our ears. It’s much more than that, so let’s take a moment to explore the concept of listening.
When you are really listening to another person, you are facing them with open body language. You are not closed off in any way.
As we really listen, we nod and react empathically to what the other person is saying, and we do this naturally. Without effort.
When we are really listening, we do not speak until the other person is completely done with their thought.
There is no interrupting.
Because we are REALLY listening. Not just halfway while we figure out how to defend ourselves. We are focused and listening to every word they are saying.
Active listening is entered into with a growth rather than a fixed mindset.
Some questions to answer for yourself before entering into the conversation might include:
For example, if you are in a disagreement with one of your children, what might it mean for you to continue to defend your position? Might it mean you don’t get to see your grandchildren again? Might it mean that you don’t ever speak to your adult child again? Are either of these worth it?
The question about differences is an important one to ask yourself. Often, we experience relationship strain because we just aren’t respectful of differences.
As the other person is speaking and you are listening, consider these questions, as well:
Really listening does not mean that another person is allowed to verbally attack you. If that is happening, you can gently interrupt and ask that they talk about how they’re feeling and what you might be able to do on your end to help resolve the situation.
These situations can be very stressful emotionally and physically. Take care of YOU while you are working on things with your family member.
Something that brings YOU joy. That makes you feel fulfilled. That doesn’t involve reacting to the needs of someone else in your life.
This could mean journaling, walking dogs at the shelter, reading to children at the elementary school, taking a class, or taking a walk in the sunshine.
The list is infinite. But the time needs to be scheduled. In your calendar, like any other important appointment.
Because it is THE most important appointment.
This may be women who are caring for a difficult parent, estranged from a child, or having difficulty with a spouse. The ability to find communities of people has never been easier.
And having a group that understands you, can provide resources or an ear, and that encourages you can be a huge asset.
Keep in mind that you may not end up being best friends with your person. But reconciliation and open lines of communication are a huge win. For all parties involved.
Do you have a family relationship that is strained? How does this affect you emotionally? Might active listening be helpful in your situation?