Strained Relations

Strained Relations: Help for Struggling Parents of Troubled Teens

How to Listen to Disclosure of Family Estrangement or Difficulties

Posted by Marcia on March 2, 2011

In my last post I wrote about the process of deciding to share difficult information about one’s family. This post is devoted to receiving this information.

Some of the richest and most heartfelt conversations I have had have been when someone decides to confide in me or when another person listens to my story.

When your family member or friend is having family problems and decides to share these issues with you, it takes a lot of courage, hope and trust that you will not judge, will listen carefully, offer help if asked, will not gossip. This is a confidential and difficult conversation.

Truly listening means that you turn off distractions: this is not a time for watching TV, texting and taking calls. Turn off your phone and give that person your attention. Listen with your head and your heart. Don’t ask a lot of questions, just a few to clarify the situation if needed.

Don’t change the topic unless you’re very uncomfortable hearing this news, and if you are, it’s better to just say you’re uncomfortable.

This conversation is about the other person, not you and your family, unless you’ve experienced a similar situation. Then it’s appropriate to share but limit your input: this person has a lot to say.

Be private and confidential. If the person wanted all of the family and friends to know, there are many ways to alert everyone. It can hurt the person’s feelings if you talk about this to others and damage your own credibility as a confidante.

Don’t judge the people involved. You’re hearing a part of the story and you’re hearing it for the first time. It may be shocking news, but all of it is in the realm of the human condition: the things that happen to people and the decisions we make.

Ask if there is anything you can do to help and provide resources if you have them. One woman called me regarding her son and after listening to her story, I asked if she wanted resources or how I could best help her. She was looking for resources and I gave her a few places to start, indicating there were additional resources in my book and on the blog if she needed them. It’s easy to become overwhelmed when you’re already dealing with a stressful situation. I also keep in touch, ask how things are going, and remember her on Mother’s Day and Christmas, two really hard holidays for her.

When you see or talk with the person in the future, ask about his or her child. I know from personal experience that the concern people show is helpful. It helps me to know that they haven’t forgotten I am a parent, and birthdays and some holidays in particular are really difficult.

Keep in touch and show concern and compassion. That’s the best way you can help anyone.

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