Having Difficult Conversations
As parents, we sometimes avoid conversations because we know they’ll be highly charged – perhaps you have a lot of anger about whatever it is, or guilt, or you know your child is going to be really defensive. Before you engage with your child, take a moment for yourself.
Acknowledge your own feelings.
Take a moment by yourself to address your own feelings about the issue. Some questions for reflection might include:
- If I could list all the feelings I have about this, the list would include _____, _____, _____, _____.
- What I want out of this discussion for myself is_________.
- What I want out of this discussion for my child is _________.
- My greatest fear in approaching this conversation is _________.
- All the reasons I really need to have this conversation are _________.
- The worst possible outcome would be _________.
Add any other helpful questions that come to mind. The goal here is to take inventory of your own likely reactions, deal with them, and then step back far enough that you’re able to be reflective instead of reactive in your conversation with your child.
Consider whether your expectations can be more flexible than they might be right now.
- It is better to engage in the conversation and stop before we alienate ourselves than to not have it at all. I’m willing to appreciate getting a start on this even if we don’t get as far as I might want.
- I want my child to see my point of view because this is about safety/morals/whatever. But if I can let myself take more time and help my child to internalize this process over time, the end result may be more durable for the child.
- Am I willing to look at this as an opportunity to learn how to parent more effectively rather than just wanting the outcome to be what I want?
Think about how to frame the issue.
Rather than asking your child what s/he thinks about the issue, keep it general for now. This allows conversation that is much less defensive. You’ll hear attitudes and beliefs that may otherwise seem to risky for a child to voice. Consider the differences in these statements:
“We’ve got to address you sneaking out and hanging out with your friends while this whole COVID thing is such a risk.”
“We are still hearing in the news that cases of COVID are on the rise. What do you think the factors are that make it risky for youth?”
“I realize that researchers have had time to identify more about how we are spreading COVID, and I’d like for the two of us to take a little time to see what current knowledge is about various risk factors and which behaviors might be safer and less safe than they once thought.”
Planning Summer Vacations
As you plan your summer, you’ll be weighing in the issues that may create parameters for whether you’ll take a vacation, what modes of transportation seem safe, where you’ll stay and who you’ll be willing to visit.
The easiest approach is to find out who has the most stringent needs (wearing masks, physical distance, outdoors only, etc.) and have everyone agree to meet those needs. In these cases, visits will happen more often and more easily.
The push to keep the economy going means we’re opening stores and workplaces at the expense of health. We’ve already begun to see that Covid will spread and case numbers will spike as we re-open. If you want to continue to protect your family, you may find yourself at odds with others who are a bit more cavalier.
All of this can bring us to difficult conversations. Here are some considerations that may help.
Make a list of the risks that concern you and why. Examples:
- We have an elderly family member who would not survive COVID-19 and we’re committed to protecting his health.
- We have a family member with a condition that leaves her at high risk.
- We’re clear that we want to try to stay clear of COVID until there is a vaccine.
- Get clear about what your limitations are. Physical distance, masks, indoors vs. outdoors and so on.
- We’re willing to be with others who maintain the same practices we do (masks, whatever)
- We’re willing to be outside at the beach where there is a constant breeze without a mask but want everyone to wear one if we’re outside in someone’s back yard in closer proximity.
- Consider that you may have family members whose needs for safe measures are more stringent than yours. Whether they make sense to you or not, is there any reason not to accept their perceived needs and meet their requests?
Preparing for the Vacation Conversation
You don’t have to decide that the first conversation will be a make-it-or-break-it deal. It can simply be information gathering and sharing. Either party may reflect on this first conversation and find ways to amend plans in ways that work for both. Approach it with interest and curiosity rather than winning or deciding. You might frame it something like this:
“We’re interested in seeing whether there is a way for us all to get together and still make sure everyone is comfortable with everybody’s need for masks or distance or other ways of feeling safe. I thought a start might be just to listen to what your needs are and talk about ours and see whether we’re pretty well-matched already or whether one of us might not feel comfortable.”
In order that you don’t close out the conversation and lose the opportunity for figuring out alternatives that will work for everyone, you might end with:
“Thanks for taking time with me on this. Let me think it over to see if there are other options that might work for all of us and I hope you’ll do the same.” You can decide whether you’ll continue the conversation via email or calls, but leave the door open.
Some comments that might be helpful in the process could be:
“It isn’t like there is one right answer, but that the uncertainty of the situation leaves us all with questions that don’t really have answers. I think it is just important for us to approach this in a way that – in the end – we all feel comfortable with an agreement.”
“I’m sure that one reason I feel this way is that science is still learning more about what makes us most vulnerable, so they’re still learning as well.”
“We know that the virus has mutated many times and it will continue to do so. I think that’s one thing that makes me more cautious.”
Remember, there are many ways of amending a situation that might make it possible to get together.
- Being outside
- Sharing meals but on separate picnic or portable tables
- Having lots of sprinklers going in the yard so kids can be running through the water but maintaining distance
- Going to a drive-in movie in your own cars but parking together
- Camping with each family having it’s own space and being in canoes together, but parallel with others
Covid restrictions won’t last forever, but the pandemic is going to be with us for some time yet.
This means many things, but two fundamental parts of this are:
- The need to protect our families remains very individual and it helps greatly if it can just be accepted by all concerned.
- We need social contact now more than ever (given we’ve been so isolated these past few months) so finding new ways of doing both (being together but staying safe) requires creativity because flexibility in your parameters for safety doesn’t likely serve you well.
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