Success! Over the holidays, I spent a migraine-free week with my mother without a single argument. Instead, I gathered data on her. I tried to keep a curiosity mindset, like: “Isn’t all this information interesting!”
UGGGGH. Yeah, I get you. It can be tough. People’s opinions are not always interesting. Or kind. Or politically correct. That’s why research can be hard.
But, one of the most precious gifts you can give to someone is to “hold the space”: calmly listen and know that the person talking to you is whole and capable, they will figure out their problem, and they just need someone on their side to be there as they process it aloud.
Feel the relief: You don’t need to fix anyone. Just listen. Reflect with them. Observe them swimming without jumping into the water.
Ok… let’s keep it real. I jump in all the time. It’s so hard for me to stay out! But, like a river raft guide, if someone is swimming in the river, you’re of much more help if you stay in the boat.
I mean, what would you do if your therapist cried every time you cried? So awkward!
What if I got anxious every time a student was anxious? Instead, I can smile and remain calm. I can know that this person will give a hundred more speeches in their lifetime.
Nothing is wrong. They are swimming. Maybe they are thrashing a little. But, they are learning. They are getting stronger. If it’s really bad, I’m in the boat.
So, I can hold the space for my mother, right?
Ummmm… I did my best. 🙂
Whenever I felt myself getting annoyed by what my mother was saying, I practiced this new line of thinking:
- Remain calm. You are gathering data.
- You don’t have to agree with her statements.
- This is not about you. This is all about her.
- Stay present and breathe. You can analyze the data later.
Surprise! I learned a lot more about my mother: her decision-making processes, her choices, her extended family and the gender norms of her generation.
I also learned that she doesn’t always want to gather data on me. She doesn’t understand me and worries about me.
That’s ok. I can’t expect anyone to hold the space for me.
Listening, holding the space, and being in a curiosity mindset are gifts. If we gave them to everyone, we’d be depleted and exhausted. So, give them judiciously to the most important people in your life.
Finally, I have also learned that it’s important to gather data on myself. To get space for myself. To know that I am whole and capable, I will figure out my problems, and sometimes I just need someone who is on my side to be there as I thrash around and process them aloud.
And, thankfully, the researcher doesn’t have to be my mother.