When you and your child don’t “get” each other
What happens in a family where the parent doesn’t feel that he or she is a good match for the kid, or doesn’t really get the kid? And families where there are learning differences or attention differences, that can happen quite likely. There are maybe parents who are very, very focused or serious, and they may have a kid who’s hyperactive, or inattentive, and drawn to every passing stimulus, and that just kind of drives certain parents crazy. They say “I don’t get this,” and part of them wants to say, “Come on, you don’t have to do that, stop doing that.” And there’s another part of them that says, well, my child has a condition, or this has been the way my child is for life, but I don’t get it. It’s an incompatibility. “How do you deal with that?” parents may want to say.
One thing I think you can do is to say to your kid, who might not be like you or might act in a different kind of way, to say, “I see something over here.” We’re in a museum together, or we’re doing an activity. “This is the way I see it, but you know what, I don’t know if I’m sure if I know how you see it. What’s that like to you?” And the kid says something like, “I think that is so boring, I can’t even understand why you would even bring me here.” Or you do something that takes focused skill, like you’re knitting in front of your kid, or you’re painting, or doing something like this, and you say to your kid out of the corner of your eye, you know, “I really like to do this kind of detailed work, but I see that from time to time you’re asked to do these kinds of things and you don’t like it.
Tell me more about what that’s like for you, when you’re required to do that.” So I think the key to the answer here is, first of all, empathy. Trying to get at what your child feels like to be your child. To be in that body, in that state of mind. And by having your child tell his or her own story, it might help you be more empathic. It might help you see how your child’s world looks through his or her eyes. It might also give you a structured opportunity not to react to that, because it’s important. If your child says, “I don’t get very engaged with things for a very long time.” And you may be tempted to say things like, “Well, you know, there are things in life that you really need to be focused on for a very long time. If you become a brain surgeon, and you say ‘I can’t be focused on things for very long,’ people will die. And you can’t do that.”
So you have to be very careful about turning that self-disclosure into a lecture or a corrective action. You have to really practice active listening. You say, “That is really interesting, I really never realized how you saw it that way.” And you’ll find as a parent if you do that over and over again, your child is more likely, first of all, to tell you what’s on his or her mind, because he knows he’s not gonna get blasted by it.
And they’ll also understand that you may be different from her, but you still respect the difference. It’s not a problem but it’s a difference.