I recently had lunch with a longtime friend, Beth, who shared that her step-granddaughter has an eating disorder. Beth was very dismayed about how her stepdaughter, Tina, is handling the situation. Beth does admit that she never raised a child however she does feel validated to have a negative opinion.
Perhaps you have been judged by other parents or have been judgmental yourself. This is quite common yet usually not very helpful for the person being judged. I trust that my story of how I supported Beth will be helpful to you as well when you encounter a similar situation.
I felt that it was my duty to help her shift her perspective at least a little. I could see her judgment in her words, tone of voice, and facial expression. I believed that the best way I could help her be a more supportive stepmother is if I could lead her to have more flexible thinking which could lead to more compassion for how horrible the mother was feeling.
The first step was to allow Beth time to talk about her frustration of being told to not say anything; to “butt out”. Then, I listened as she shared her own childhood eating experience which was the basis of her judgment. “She should be made to at least try things as I had to when I was a child.” Currently, the step-grandaughter is eating very little from a limited variety of starches and no protein or vegetables. She was feeling very afraid that the child wouldn’t live.
This is where it was important for me to not block communication by placating or giving unwanted advice.
Awareness of Communication Blocks is the First Step – Learn More…
Examples of communication blocks would be:
“She’ll be fine. Don’t worry.” (placating)
“Maybe you could have the child over and you could encourage her to eat more.” (giving advice)
I did offer an empathetic phrase about the mother.
“How hard for her to see her child struggling and not eating.”
I realize now that I could have used an empathetic phrase with my friend as well such as, “It sounds really hard feeling afraid for your grandchild.”
As I listened more, Beth kept talking and remembered a time when she was a child and was forced to eat something she hated. As a result, she refused to eat it for years after. This memory brought up a big awareness that she too had a very negative reaction to food. I could see a glimmer of compassion for the challenge the mother was facing. This shift from being stuck with negativity was what I was hoping for.
We talked more and I could tell that she was open to receiving advice because I didn’t tell her she was wrong. Instead, I told her that what the mother needed most was compassion and support, not judgment. As long as Tina felt judged, my friend would be left out of any chance to help. I could tell that Beth is mulling over this advice.
With many years of experience raising a grown daughter and being married, I pretty much stick to parenting when giving advice WHEN ASKED. I believe that the greatest gift we can give another parent or nonparent who is struggling is to listen with support and compassion as they grapple with finding their own solutions. We are all doing the best we can with the wisdom we have at the moment.
You can use the same format when you are supporting a parent who is struggling.
- Stop blocking communication
- Listen openly with empathy
- Only give advice if asked.
- Offer the advice with “You could try” not “You should”. Don’t be a know-it-all!
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