Naked Communication, available at: ForYourMarriage.org


Happily Even After

Naked Communication


June 15, 2010

Communicating well is difficult enough on its own. Throw in a busy schedule and three young children and it is amazing it happens at all.

It will often happen that Stacey and I have a disagreement or a difference of opinions on a matter and we’ll begin to talk it out. This “talk it out” phase can take place at any given time during the day: making dinner or cleaning up after it, making lunches, driving in the car, taking a shower, checking homework. Rarely does it happen that all three children are asleep or occupied and Stacey and I can pour a cup of tea and sit at the table to talk about our differences. It usually happens in the middle of something, and often at the worst possible moment.

The result is a very fragmented conversation.

For example, this morning, as we were getting ready to go to Sunday Mass, Stacey and our oldest child were having a disagreement while Stacey was getting ready for the day in the bathroom. I could see it coming, and removed him from the situation in the middle of the conflict.

She indicated to me that she was very hurt and frustrated. I had effectively usurped her parenthood at that moment—preventing her from seeing her conflict through. I was frustrated that the conflict had happened in the first place when I could see it coming and tried to prevent it. In that moment, we were broken—we were not in the same relational space. We were in two different worlds.

Well, the day had to progress—kids were ready for Mass and Father John was not going to wait for us to have a conversation before starting the opening procession. We both had to take showers, so while the kids were wrestling downstairs, we found ourselves having a conversation about parenthood standing in the bathroom, both stark naked.

Talk about being honest with one another.

In our best moments, we seize what time and space we can to be able to get on the same page with one another. Sometimes, that means telling our children that they’ll have to find some way to keep busy until we’re done. Often, it means being able to talk and work at the same time.

At our worst, we get impatient, overwhelmed, and crabby with each other and with the kids. At our best, we both commit to communicating honestly with one another, knowing that we’ll get to the other side of it if we both dive in and make an effort to see things form the other’s perspective.

Once in a while, we’ll both see that we don’t have the time and space to get through an issue, and we’ll identify a time later in that same day when we will be able to talk it through. This is a good approach, as it gives us space to think through what happened and why. When we come back together, we are usually more level-headed.

So this morning, standing naked with one another in a small bathroom, we talked it out. We heard each other out, and got to the heart of the matter quickly. I was able to apologize to Stacey for stepping into her conflict in a troublesome way, and she was quick to accept my apology and move on. While we were getting dressed, she kissed me and we went to Mass in a much better mood.

There are Sunday mornings when the sign of peace carries more meaning than others.

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Parenting the “Now More Than Ever” Teen

Parenting the “Now More Than Ever” Teen

I feel like a war-worn, battle-tested survivor today after parenting the kids alone while Stacey is away. In one day, two of the three children abruptly outgrew their school uniforms—their pants just all of a sudden didn’t fit. Next, I held lines with a hormonal, irrational, and emotional teenager over an utterly nonsense issue without escalating. Finally, I had to break out the sewing kit to make repairs to two non-clothing items, once during breakfast and then again during dinner.

The key to it all, looking back from a comfortable distance, was holding lines and boundaries and avoiding escalation. Escalation is how we describe what happens when a conversation continually rises in intensity and then boils over.

I usually have the line-holding thing locked down. That part is easy for me. It is just that I easily escalate as I hold those lines because I become offended if they are crossed.

For example, Oscar began a conversation just before bed by saying this, “Daddy, I feel like you outright lied to me…” I called a time out right there and had him go back to his room and think about a better way to begin that thought. I told him that I did not intentionally deceive him, and accusing someone of lying is a big step. He consulted a dictionary and held his line—he felt like I lied to him.

Understanding that he had come to this conclusion thoughtfully, I let him proceed with his statement. He was talking about something utterly insane—he felt like I was preventing him from going to bed sooner—so I called a second time out and told him to hit the sack because the conversation was not going to be productive.

Now, if it was still an issue in the morning, we could talk about it then, I told him. He was miffed in the moment, but I’m pretty confident he got over it in 15 minutes. Our poor son has hormones raging through him and he just isn’t himself sometimes. In some ways, he literally is becoming someone else—his voice is changing and his body is transforming into an adult’s.

There is an old saying that is ringing more and more true to me the older I get: the boy is the father of the man. The line means that the habits and proclivities we cultivate in our youth shape the adult we become. Looking back, I see this as true in my own life. Looking ahead, I see that we have a responsibility to help Oscar cultivate the man he will become one day.

That lens changes what lines I hold with him and why. I used to hold lines about respectfulness because I felt like children should honor their parents (which they should, of course). Now I hold those lines with Oscar because I want him to become a respectful man who communicates thoughtfully when he matures.

Oscar is changing, and his changes are transforming our family, and asking more out of us as parents. As a teenager, he is highly sensitive to anything that even smells hypocritical, and this is calling us to more integrity and honesty in our parenting. We have to be able to hold lines in a firm, but loving manner, and to absorb escalating emotions without making him feel distanced. We can clearly see that he absolutely needs firm boundaries now (more than ever), but that he also desperately needs to feel heard now (more than ever).

On top of all this, we must maintain and perhaps even increase our physical affection for him. Touch is one of the ways Oscar receives love—he has always responded to physical affection, whether a rub on the back or a sudden hug. As he grows into his teenage body, which starts to resemble an adult body, it seems natural to give him more space and privacy. While he does need those, he also continues to need bodily expressions of love.

So in many ways, he is asking us for that which is most difficult to give right now—parenting him is like swimming upstream. Balancing all of that is not easy, but true growth never is, and it will make us stronger swimmers in the end. We are taking another step in the way family life is calling us to grow towards perfection.


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