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Family stress – pushing against obstacles instead of pushing into each other.

“Our fate is shaped from within ourselves outward, never from without inward.” (Jacques Lusseyran)

Last week I was called by a couple single mothers who needed my consulting – right then. Neither had the funds to pay my fees. They both came from nonprofits for whom I do work. I was unusually busy last week. Lots of travel. Other clients to which I had to attend. But, for me, my practice is my internal voice calling. I cannot turn my back on a cry for help.

I am an independent therapeutic consultant. I run my own business. Creating boundaries and sticking to business practices is very important for one who wants to have positive cash flow – and frankly, who doesn’t? It is even harder when your clients are likely to have incredible personal challenges that warrant an investment of your time and research – sooner rather than later. Still, my intellectual property is worth the cost of my fees and I know I bring incredible value to my clients. You pay accountants, lawyers, doctors and even your hairdresser for knowing their profession. Therapeutic educational consultants invest in traveling to programs, ongoing education and research and cultivating industry relationships to provide our best advice and strategy.

But last week, I worked for free. Totally for free. I feel that part of what makes us human is the ability and need to connect with others. When we stray from this natural inclination because it doesn’t match our business model, I wonder how good that business feels?

I have been reading The Anatomy of Peace published by The Arbinger Institute. (ISBN 978-1-62656-431-2) One of the themes is that we forget to see one another as a person, but rather an obstacle to something we want. You are driving down the road and someone in front of you slows down or wants to turn creating a delay in your travel. It is easy to create an image of an “object” that is getting in our way, rather than remember that there is a human driving the car with needs and wants just as valid as our own.

When there is chaos in our families, it is often because we become focussed on our own needs and stop thinking of our loved ones as their own persons – like, if I honor my promise to cut the grass, I will be late for tennis. I blame you because I promised you I would do it and now I see you as the reason I might be late. Then I get mad and protest. Then you see me as irresponsible perhaps objectified as immature. The cycle continues. We become our behaviors, we are what we are doing, not who we are.

It is our feelings and thoughts create behaviors. This is what everyone else observes. Behaviors. “Generally speaking, we respond to other’s way of being toward us rather than to their behavior. ……. our children respond more to how we’re regarding them than they do to our particular words or actions.” (page 39) We need to become attuned to one another. Reach across what you see to what you feel.

Recently, I had a client who was frustrated that his son demonstrated high anxiety due to the academic pressure of his private school. However, when offered support on the weekends, he lazed around all day. Then, Sunday nights he was up very late to get homework done and the cycle continued. Mom and Dad offered therapy, tutors and structure in the home. The son wouldn’t do it. Don’t judge them….can you make a teenager do something they resist? Especially in the face of a debilitating emotion? While I can come up with practical parenting solutions, my best advice was to stop pushing against the “object.” Reach beyond what you see to what you feel.

How is the parent feeling? Hopeless? Frustrated? Scared? Embarrassed? Angry? How is the teenager feeling? Anxious? Worried? Tired? Lonely? Each of them needs to find out. Starting with this type of respectful human connection will lead itself to the path forward for both parent and child. My advice – look beyond behavior and see the mom or dad, the son or daughter. I know it is not easy, but it will create change in the family system. It may even become the catalyst of something greater.

So, back to my pro-bono work this last week. Instead of seeing these calls as obstacles to my “paid” work, I saw them as an opportunity to connect with someone else’s life in an emotional way. I chose to see them. My instincts were to move outward from within myself – the money will come.