16 Questions You Can Use To Help Heal Family Tensions


Listening Time 

There's nothing like raising kids to bring tension into a family. Right from pregnancy it can seem like every decision you make comes under scrutiny, and then feeding, sleeping, schooling, behavior and discipline draw opinions and comparisons.

Straying from the parenting path your parents used to raise you can bring up all kinds of feelings. For them and you.

If you decide that spanking is not for you, your parents might scoff when your daughter hits you, and you move in closer to calm her.

When your son refuses to sit still at lunch in their house and you play a game like Seat Glue instead of shouting and demanding he sit, they might roll their eyes, and question your authority.

When your toddler throws a tantrum, they move in with bribes or threats intended to stop the tears, when you'd prefer to let the tantrum run its course so that your child can clear his feelings. There are heated comments and you try and defend your actions. Letting a child cry seems to them pure madness!

Comments and criticism, lack of connection and judgments from your loved ones can feel particularly damaging, leaving you tender and vulnerable.

“Mothering without your own mother's approval can be lonely, and fathering without your father's blessing can be tough,” says Emily Gray Murray, an instructor with Hand in Hand Parenting.

But there are ways you can help bridge the differences.

It's unlikely you'll convert them to your way of thinking totally, and trying to do so can just cause more tension, says Hand in Hand Instructor, Rachel Schofield. “Trying to convince them that we are right and they are wrong usually doesn't work.”

A different and more effective goal is changing how we react to the differences. Noticing our reactions when we receive criticisms can have a huge impact on how we deal with an approach our family.

The first step in a process of change is the acceptance that differences can be taken very personally. Connection parenting prioritizes the relationship with your children, but this more authoritative parenting style of parenting looks very different from the models that many of our parents were raised with, and what was passed down to us accordingly. To them, this can feel like a criticism of their own parenting, even if they don't realise it.

It's the difference that rubs old wounds for them and you, reminding you all, consciously or otherwise, of past hurts, of times you felt wronged, dramas and upsets, or times when situations could have handled differently.

Getting to this acceptance, and creating new ways to react from it can be transforming, but it takes exploration, practice and some perseverance with a listening partner.

Listeners will give you space to examine the responses that flair when you spend time around family, provide room to vent your anger and rage, and then the opportunity to practice new responses.

Done regularly, “You'll be able to stand strong in your parenting as well as face people's judgements compassionately,” says Rachel Schofield. This kind  of parental self-care is a vital element in Hand in Hand's approach, and you can find out more about it in What is a Listening Partnership and Why Do I Need One?

Here are some questions to bring to listening time about family. Do let yourself feel sadness and rage as bubbles inside you as you work through these questions. Clearing those feelings will allow you to think and react more flexibly going forward.

First Questions to Ask:

1. How deeply do you want your mother/father/friend to agree with you?

2. What are you afraid might happen if you can't agree with them?

3. What feelings come up if you consider you might be wrong?

4. What feelings come up when you think about being a great parent? When you think about always doing your best or when you think about the one or two mistakes you have made?

Shifting Reactions:

5. What is your knee-jerk reaction to criticism? Do you feel Anger? Embarrassment? Do you freeze?

6. What is the pattern of this reaction and how does it impact your relationships?

7. Finish the sentence: “I wish my father/mother/friend would…”

8. What childhood memory does the lack of support remind you of? What does it feel like?

9. Try being light-hearted. Think of some times that criticism and judgment have affected you and practice bringing humor to it by laughing, and saying, “That's just like my mum,” or, “That's my dad.”

Experiment with New Patterns and Responses:

10. How can I stand strong in my opinion and still convey warmth to others?

11. What could we agree on? What is our common ground?

12. How can I come into the conversation with a “no big deal,” attitude? What would it look like if I had nothing to prove and they had nothing to defend?

13. How can I respond playfully to differences? How can I make them feel lighter? How could I be playful if my father sneers, or my mother gives a sideways glance?

14. What would it feel like to make light or laugh with them about my quirks?

15. How can I notice them reacting without getting triggered myself?

16. What do I most appreciate about them? What efforts can I notice?

“See what happens when you work from the assumption that they genuinely care, and want to connect with you and your children, but that you just haven't found that right fit yet,” suggests Emily Gray Murray.

With regular listening, you'll find your thinking will get more creative and compassionate, you'll be able listen more to your family, notice what triggers them, and respond with warmth. You'll extend the same kind of care and empathy you work so hard on extending to your children. It will take work, but you'll be the change.

From the Hand in Hand Toolbox:

Get more tips on preparing to spend time with family and how to listen to them with empathy on Rachel and Emily's podcast When Family and Friends Don't Get Your Parenting.

Find out more about Listening Time, in this guide The One Basic Secret to Reducing Parenting Stress

Read Why do We Put Off Listening Time if you are having trouble committing to regular listening time.

What If I'm Just Not A Playful Parent? gives you questions to shift your thinking about getting playful in your Listening Time.

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