Experiments for Improving Family Relationships

by Mary Ann on April 17, 2015


I have been mentoring a mom who has four children. I have known this woman for a few years and she is a great mom and a wonderful person. Recently we were talking about her relationship with her 17 year old daughter.

My friend has answered some thoughtful questions about “how” she is, when she is with her daughter. She realizes that she is often too critical and that their conversations are usually about chores and school work even though her daughter has things she wants to share. The seventeen year old wants to talk with her mom but she doesn’t seem to know when the time is right. She chooses to share when her mom is working, getting ready to go somewhere or is helping another child. They would like to spend more time together but they are both often tired and on edge. To avoid blow ups they sometimes avoid each other.

Experimenting With Making A Change

When I am mentoring someone I often ask them to pick one or two things that they would most like to see changed in the relationship with someone that matters to them. Then I ask them to come up with an experiment to see what might happen in making a change to the relationship.

I love experiments because they are just that, experiments. They are designed for the purpose of seeing if you can get a certain result by doing something new or different. Sometimes the experiment is successful and sometimes it isn’t. When you don’t get the desired result you just design a new experiment. No failure here.

asian_mother_and_daughter_talking-happySo this mom came up with an experiment to increase the time she and her daughter spend talking and to decrease the time they feel tired and at odds with one another.

Now I want you to remember that this girl is 17, almost 18 years old. I work mostly with children from infancy to 12 or 13. Nevertheless, the mom tried using a connection technique that I teach all the time. For one week she was going to give her daughter as many random touches as she could remember. A random touch looks like this:

• As you walk past the child you reach out and touch them in a friendly way, while smiling. No conversation necessary.
• If you see a child sitting on the couch, a bed or any place like that, you plop down by them, lean back and rest for 10 to 30 seconds. Then you squeeze a knee, or pat a shoulder and then, go on your way. No conversation necessary.

The Result of the Experiment

Here is what came out of the experiment. The relationship feels a lot better. They spend more time together even when tired. Mom is more aware. The daughter has been talking and mom has been listening more. She said that just looking at the relationship and asking questions about it has helped her to be more conscientious about the fact that the relationship is more important than the management part of parenting that she is used to. She also said she feels more purposeful in the relationship. She is more keenly aware of what she wants it to look and feel like.

She and her daughter have four weeks left of life as they have known it. Then her daughter will graduate and move into a new phase in her life. She is going away to work for the summer. She and her mom have decided to go to lunch once a week for the final four weeks. They are really looking forward to it.

In a family, relationship trumps just about everything else. How we see people matters. Our stories about them and their behavior impacts how we, as adults, treat them. It doesn’t take much to “shift” a relationship into calmer and more peaceful waters. I like to remember that it isn’t the big things that make relationships firm and comfortable. It is the small and simple things we do on a consistent basis.

Questions To Ask About Your Relationship With Your Child

Here are a few questions that you can ask yourself about the relationship you have with each of your children:

• What is the primary conversation you have with the child? What are you talking about?
• What is the energy/mood between the two of you most of the time?
• What assets does the child bring to the relationship?
• Are there behaviors that block the relationship?
• What are you tolerating in the relationship? A toleration is anything that is draining your energy.

Now design an experiment to try something new. Just remember that it is an experiment. You don’t know how it will come out and that is OK. If you don’t get the result you want design a new experiment. Like any good scientist you will eventually find what works!

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