Is it difficult to have a healthy conversation? Do you feel like you’re walking on egg shells? Does the tension between you never quite go away? Does your daughter frequently seem to be a little angry or annoyed with you?
Does your son repeatedly make negative comments toward you — correcting you, telling you that you’re wrong, implying he’s right? Have you struggled to put your finger on what’s going on? Have you wondered what you could do about it?
If you have, then you’ll be happy to know there is a technique you can try. Therapists call it containing. Here is a layman’s description: Containing is when you give a person who has been holding in a lot of negative feelings the opportunity to fully express them to the individual they have the feelings about. This is done without interruption; letting them vent freely, for the purpose of receiving positive benefits in the relationship. With all the pent-up anger released, a healthier relationship may be the outcome.
This is a detailed explanation from a friend of mine who tried it with her son at the recommendation of a counselor:
1. Choose the right time and place when no one is rushed and you have privacy.
2. Tell your child you want to ask them a very important question. Say, This may sound strange, but I want you to tell me everything I’ve ever done wrong as your parent. Everything that you’re upset with me about or that bothers you about me and our relationship. I want to hear it all.
3. Then just listen. Bite your tongue. Put duck tape over your mouth if you have to. Don’t defend yourself. Don’t try to explain. Don’t get mad or offended. Don’t cry or look shocked. Just take it and stay calm. Maintain eye contact and offer body language that lets them know you hear them and are validating their feelings. Brace yourself, they may explode all over you. It may be one of the hardest things you’ve ever done.
4. Usually, after about an hour — yes,that long — they will begin to calm down and say something like, “Wow, you didn’t get angry, or cry or ______ (you fill in the blank). I didn’t know what to expect when you asked me that question.” The hope is that then they will begin to think that maybe they can have a relationship with you.
5. Now you can begin to build a bridge. You’re more approachable. As God leads, you may ask forgiveness for some things that seem appropriate, but don’t cower or apologize for what you shouldn’t — like having healthy boundaries or refusing to enable — or for things that weren’t your fault. You did you best. No one is perfect.
6. If they don’t calm down and begin to soften towards you after you’ve listened and received their criticisms, if they have the need for you to agree with how bad a parent you were — how controlling, how absent, etc.– then say, “I would love to have a relationship with you, but I’m going to have to limit my contact with you. I will always love you, nothing will ever change that, but I can’t be around you too much as long as you feel this way about me. It hurts me too much. I hope that some day you will change your mind.”
God, I don’t know if this will help in the relationship I have with my child or not, but I’m willing to try. I guess it can’t hurt. Who knows, it just might become the bridge to new beginning with them. I’d love that. But I’m so afraid of what I might hear. Please help me. Give me the courage I lack to ask this question and then give me the strength to simply listen. Amen.
Scripture: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified . . . for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6 NIV