Here’s what could have happened: angry feelings of betrayal, the pain of secrets kept in plain sight but not talked about, judgement and defensiveness and anger and stress.
That’s not what happened.
Here’s how it came out, instead:
A Meddlesome Love
One of my daughters is moving in a couple of days. Natasha and I planned on helping her out (the duty of every father and every father’s girlfriend), but there was a problem.
There was something that I’d learned about her behavior that disturbed me. I felt that she was taking risks out of proportion to the possible (and, in my opinion, probable) consequences. In fact, I was so upset with her that my initial reaction was a desire to tell her “I’m not helping you move!” I was full of righteous anger, and I knew that by withdrawing my support I would teach her a lesson.
Thankfully I have other daughters, as well as a partner, friends, and a father all of whom have cooler heads than mine. They talked it out with me – never telling me what I should or shouldn’t do, just exploring the options and possible consequences of withholding my help as a “demonstration”. In fact, my father specifically pointed out that as I was growing up he’d just been “making it up as I went along!”
That, I believe, is the one great truth of parenting.
Finally I came up with a plan of action. I texted her. Can you give me a call before the move? I have to talk with you.
About an hour later my phone rang. I asked her to stop what she was doing and just listen for a short time. Because what I had to talk about was likely to upset her, and upset me, but the last thing I wanted was for us to fall victim to one of the epic fights that me and my kids used to get into during their teen years.
I told her that I was calling because I love her, and I wanted her to succeed, and that regardless of how the phone call went, I was going to be helping her move – that was never in any danger.
She agreed to listen, and she did, as I laid out my concerns. Then I listened to her, and then she listened to me a little more, and then I listened to her. Then she needed to get back to packing, so I told her again that I loved her and that we’d see her tomorrow.
Was the issue resolved? No. But I believe I was heard, and she promised to think about it. More to the point, I believe that she understood that my concerns were out of love.
It was a victory over anger. It was the benefit of three generations pulling at a problem and carving a path through what could have been much more difficult.
I’m not writing this to brag – far from it. It almost feels like a miracle, because this is the first time I can remember it working this well. But if, like me, you’re working to try and improve your communication, your anger management, your relationships…sometimes it works.
So even if you don’t have a father like mine, or daughters or partners or friends as good and smart as mine are…keep it up. It’s worth it.