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|Vertically Challenged - Page 8|
Needless to say, she was a terrific debater; debating was her natural conversational style. The debate club introduced her to a new world of like-minded, iconoclastic, argumentative kids, and she eventually made the school's travel team. Her ability at debating and sardonic humor were so appreciated by her peers that she was elected team president. Two years later, a boyfriend followed, someone she really loved. Gradually, unexpected change stuck to those walls.
Communication During Transitions: The New Real
Post-boomer parents are so used to thinking of drop-offs, the ferrying of children to extracurricular activities, and the intense hour before dinnertime as logistical challenges and the necessary means to an end that they often don't make use of these "in-between" times to engage kids. They don't realize how open kids are during transitions, those "Hello-I-must-be-going" moments. In fact, such transitions are a most promising real estate for building communication. Far from incidental time, they're often the only time in which real, nonformulaic conversations take place.
Thad was an early adolescent, obsessed with snowboarding and countercultural music. He was involved with weekend drinking and marijuana and on the verge of expulsion from school because of near-failing grades—which led Melanie, his highly organized mom, to monitor his every move. To break this destructive dance, I encouraged her to continue some monitoring, but to use the few quiet, transitional times around the house differently. One such moment occurred in the evening, when she liked to read, just before going to bed. Thad had taken up knitting (snowboarders love colorful, knitted caps). Because Melanie had learned to make use of this transition and keep it off-limits for pointed reminders, Thad spontaneously began knitting next to her while she read. Not much was said, but this taken-for-granted "in-between" gradually became a soothing part of their daily routine. One evening, Thad unexpectedly opened up about how much he hated his prep school.
Following my coaching, Melanie didn't pounce on the information Thad was sharing. He went on to reveal the secret rules of snowboarding's anarchistic world, and almost casually initiated discussions about a girlfriend, sex, and weekend drinking—all of which frightened Melanie, but made her feel relieved that he was actually telling her what was going on. Melanie took Thad's complaints seriously and started exploring different schools. Ultimately, this in-between conversational time resulted in a new school setting, better suited for Thad—a match for this boy's working-class identity—where he made friends and began to come into his own.
Frank, a single dad, couldn't establish any meaningful connection with his withdrawn daughter, fourth-grader Gwen, and the greater the distance between them became, the more she held back from revealing hurtful experiences in her preteen, girl-world. So I asked him to think about the endless transitions of an evening or weekend and consider one in-between as a possible place for talking. After going back and forth for a while, he chose to walk his daughter to school. At first, she resisted this involvement, feeling awkward with her dad, but I encouraged him to stand firm.
It took several months for anything to change. Then one day, out of the blue, Gwen asked Dad for a hug before parting. The next week, she invited him into the school to meet the staff in the downstairs office. (Post-boomer preteens aren't always as ashamed of their parents as kids once were.) Frank, by this time a different sort of listener, offered Gwen advice about feeling excluded by her classmates and the growing online popularity wars—issues that he'd personally experienced as a post-boomer. He was touched, when he had to go on a business trip, to see how much his absence affected this once-dismissive daughter. Moments of communication had stuck and moved them in unexpected directions.
Communication and Progressive Faith
Johnny has just returned with his posse to a friend's house from a wild, mosh-pit rock concert, reeking from the concert-hall's hallucinogenic haze. The boys are in for an all-nighter of munchies and videogames when one of the boys' moms texts him to get back home. In front of his supercool buddies, he says, with no trace of self-consciousness, "Gotta go; church tomorrow."
Mindful of the politicization of faith, therapists often dismiss the importance of spirituality in our work, especially its potential for increasing communication in families. God-talk is often seen as irreconcilable with therapy-talk. But again and again, I've seen how the rituals of worship can reconnect fragmented families. The idea of God, howsoever one relates to it (or not), represents to many contemporary families an opening of the heart and mind to an inner state that resembles philosopher Martin Buber's relational concept of "I-Thou" more than James Dobson's dictum "Thou shalt not." Two ancient tenets of faith—"to act with intention" and to create "sacred spaces in time"—can encourage communication and are readily incorporated in our therapeutic work.