Planning for a tough conversation
Sometimes my clients want help with their own resistance around talking about sex with their kids. Other times, they know a certain conversation has to happen and that it will be hard on their child. Have you ever had to have a conversation like that?
Most of the time, we get caught up in how the actual conversation will go, planning our part of it. But before we get to that, zoom out for a moment. As with any tough event, bookending will help.
What’s that? Bookending is recognizing that we need something extra at the beginning and something extra at the end to keep the main thing from falling down flat. In other words, the preparation and the aftercare will make a big difference in how successful this conversation will be.
Bookend: The preparation
Everyone likes a little warning. Whether this is a tough conversation with your child or someone else, it’s kind to let them know something big is in the works. “I need to have a serious conversation with you about something that happened at school.” “I want to share with you what happened a long time ago between me and Uncle Joe.” “We need to have a conversation about pornography.” Lay it out in one sentence and tell them it’s going to happen a day or two in advance. That gives your child time to psychologically prepare and it also gives them a window of time to share with you what would make the conversation most comfortable for them. Ask, “how can I make this conversation as comfortable as possible for you?” and honor as many of your child’s requests as possible.
Plan lots of time, lots of privacy, and have everyone present who needs to be. Decide ahead of time if you want to take questions or ask your child to hear you out. Be clear upfront about what your child should do to pause the conversation if he/she feels it’s too uncomfortable. Know that might happen: What will you do if the conversation goes badly and your kid walks out before it’s done?
You can prevent that to some extent. Try not to lay down the part that’s hardest to digest first. In that session with my client, we found that talking about why the conversation needed to happen now was more palatable than going in chronological order and giving the hardest news first. Think about what your child can relate to and what exactly the toughest part will be for them, and see if you can tell it in that order.
Bookend: The aftercare
The ball is in your child’s court. You’ve said your piece. Are you done? Maybe, if you’ve planned well. If you haven’t planned the aftercare piece though, this thing could blow up big time in the days and weeks to come.
When your child gets big news, who will they want to talk about it with? Yes, you, and after that? Who else? We often process by talking, so how far are you willing to let this thing spread? Is this news ok to share with friends? Is it ok to share with other family members? What kind of boundaries do you need to have in place?
After the big reveal, will your child be able to sleep that night? Is it ok to spend the night somewhere else, away from it all? If your child can’t sleep, what do you want them to do? Make a short list of your child’s allies: God parents, mentors, friends, cousins, aunts & uncles, etc. Who would your child call on the phone? (You might want to reach out to them and let them know what’s coming. That way they know to expect a call on Saturday evening, and they actually pick up.) If there’s no one like that in your child’s life, what hotlines or other forums exist? You could research a few ahead of time and make sure your child knows about the best ones.
There are lots of big conversations we need to have with our kids to truly have open communication. If you’re afraid your child is going to start Googling people and find Uncle Bob’s sex offender status, Aunt Suzie’s porn video, your family friend’s blog post speaking out about sexual abuse, or their best friend’s dad’s interview on the joys of polyamory, think about how you can bookend the conversation. It will build a lot of trust and deepen the relationship between you and your child. Need some help? Use the contact form to reach out to me and tell me what’s going on.
In support of you,
P.S. My friend Elisabeth of Joyful Parenting is offering a Middle School Mastermind program, and it’s a steal! If you’re the parent of a middle schooler, and you’d like Elisabeth’s incredible support (she’s so experienced with middle-school kids and all things parenting) and a tight-knit community of other parents, there are just a few spots left in the program. Check it out! I’m honored she asked me to participate as a guest speaker later this month, so I’ll see you there!