This article might be a little bit of a whiney rant.
I think I have a pet peeve
Or maybe it’s a bit of a chip on my shoulder.
When I run across people who are rigid and absolute in their advice when it comes to parenting, stepparenting or relationships I don’t like that.
When people tell me that there is only one way to do things or that their way always works … I feel a little cringe inside.
The reason I think this bugs me is because, in my experience, I think there are very few things that are always true or never false.
Is your family exactly like any other family?
In my opinion, when it comes to relationships, family, parenting, step parenting every situation is probably a little different.
And with parenting and relationships – I personally have found that once you think you’ve got one thing figured out the situation changes. What works with one kid doesn’t work with another and what works this week stops working next week. What is working in your relationship this year shifts the next year.
If this is true then I think it’s probable that there just are not many things that work in every situation. This is my opinion. The situations are just too varied for one thing to work in every situation all the time.
Perhaps this is more easily apparent in the context of the blended families that I work with as a coach. It is possible that my awareness of this is heightened because I did sometimes experience feeling like my family didn’t look exactly like the traditional family most “experts” were talking about. My first kid was my husband’s third kid. I had a stepkid in college at the same time I had a kid in preschool.
This is why it drives me bananas when family experts or coaches or other advisors like teachers and lawyers and sometimes even well meaning friends say things like – well THIS is what you need to do. I am sceptical when people say to me things like, “This one thing is the only thing that you need to do and it always works.”
I see this a lot in parenting coaching, relationship coaching and lot’s of other things too like fitness and health advice. It bugs me. I’ll be honest. It bugs me.
When people say to me, “what you need to do is” and then offer one thing with no options … I bristle inside. Is this because I’m a gen-x kid resistant to authority … perhaps. Also though I do have many years of experience and experience has shown me a lot of variety.
These folks mean well … I know it… they want to help… they think they have a good solution but I just try to smile and nod and think to myself well … maybe.
Or maybe not.
In my opinion, the words always and never can sometimes be signs that the person talking possibly isn’t looking at the full situation or context.
This can show up in a few ways that I feel like I hear and experience often. Here are some.
When a person says, “The truth is…” or “What you need to do is…” or “You are doing this wrong…” or “Trust the process…” or “This always works…” or “That never works.” or “you can’t do it that way…” or “this is the only way to …” or perhaps my one of my favorites “Just trust me on this…”
I won’t pretend that all of those phrases have never come out of my mouth. They probably have. I’m not perfect.
When I hear these things (especially from coaches and experts) I get a little antsy because I think what they are about to share with me has the potential to be problematic simply because of the rigidity of their statement.
There are a lot of possible reasons for people to give rigid and one-sided advice
Perhaps they have had great success themselves with this solution and they want you to try it. That’s a pretty innocent reason.
Perhaps they only know one tool and they don’t have anything else to offer you.
Or sometimes they are what I call pure believers and they truly hold the idea in their heart that what they are telling you is simply superior to other options.
Sometimes the reason we see this technique employed as a sales mechanism is that it can be very effective. I think that we all want simple solutions if we can get them.
Sometimes I think these things can be good to watch out for as a consumer. This can be tricky to do because sometimes you don’t know what to look out for.
An example of rigid advice that I once got from a “parenting coach”
I think I’ve got several examples from my many years of parenting. I’ll just choose one for the moment.
Let’s take sleep.
A nice easy topic. (I’m kidding…sleep tools and sleep habits can be complicated and controversial).
Many brand new babies are not great sleepers. Believe it or not there are a few babies who are great sleepers right away. See already this is already something where there is a lot of variety in the options.
Anyway, sleep training can sometimes be a hot topic in parenting circles. Will you let your kids cry it out or will you nurse them to sleep or hold them and rock them help them soothe or will you cosleep with your kids. In a blended family this can be a source of conflict. One house might have one set of thoughts about sleep habits and the other house might have totally different views.
Oh geez again there are lots of options.
In my family with 4 kids we’ve done a little bit of all of these things. Depending on the kid, depending on what was going on at the time. My first two kids were my step-kids and I remember having a very strong opinion that they should be better at going to bed, staying in bed and most importantly sleeping-in early in the morning than they turned out to be at these skills.
Many years later I now can see that they were pretty normal sleepers for their age but I didn’t know that then.
When I had my first baby and I hit the point where I was exhausted I consulted with a sleep consultant to help me get my first born on a sleep schedule. This consultant wanted to teach me her method for getting the baby onto the right schedule. She had a book, and a course and I felt like she really knew what she was doing. A few moms in a mom group had recommended her.
As it worked out my baby did not want this program. She screamed until she pooped in her diaper. She cried so hard that she had hiccups and threw up for a long time until she calmed down. I was in another room also crying. It was awful for both of us and neither of us got sleep.
It didn’t work. Well maybe it could have if I had stuck with it more than 12 hours but I decided that it wasn’t worth it to me. I called the consultant and asked if there was anything else I could try. This consultant only knew her one method so when that didn’t work she wasn’t helpful. She just said try it again. Trust the system. I needed to stick it out. It was me doing it wrong. There was nothing wrong with her program. The program worked I just needed to follow it. Basically, she took my money – told me that I was making a mistake and then left me by myself to figure it out.
Fast forward many many years and this particular kid is an adult with excellent independent sleep habits. Just in case you are curious how that worked out.
I later found several other moms who had similar miserable experiences with this consultant. A truth is that businesses try to only show their positive reviews. It’s also true that I wanted to believe that it would work. This is something called confirmation bias. I wanted to believe that she could help me so that’s what I saw. Until I had an experience that didn’t match and then I was able to find information that supported a different view. Confirmation bias is not the topic of this article but it is something I teach about as a coach.
My point is, an expert that only has one method or just one tool can paint themselves into a corner where they are either right or wrong. The advice could help but also it might not. As the saying goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day.
I had some pretty strong opinions about the right way to parent before I walked this road myself.
One thing that I think I’ve personally learned over and over again during my time as a parent is that there are a lot of different ways to be a parent. There are also lots of different ways to build a family or structure a relationship.
As a consumer over time I’ve learned to look for experts and helpers that don’t do this. If there is only one thing you take away from this article this might be the big tip. If you find yourself being swayed with a “this one thing always works” message … I encourage you to allow yourself to question it.
I gave an example of my experience with this with newborn sleep. I have other examples of similar situations with toddler discipline, education choices, disciplining teens, communication with partners and exes and inlaws.
As a coach, I also try not to do this. I work with people in families and I coach people on their relationships with partners and kids and stepkids and we work on discipline and parenting styles and tough conversations and boundaries and lots of different things.
I do think that one of the things that makes me a coach that gets results for my clients is that I begin with the idea that while I have a lot of experience and I’ve studied a lot of things that I hope with be helpful I am also pretty confident that the best solution for you might truly be unique to you. My job as a coach is not to tell you what you need to do but to help you discover what your best options may be.
Would you like an example of what non-rigid or flexible advice might look like?
I’ve got lots.
I’ll pick just one because this article is already crazy long. Thanks for sticking with me by the way.
I was working with a client who had a lot of angry thoughts and feelings toward a family member and these thoughts were on her mind a lot. This was bothering her.
One issue was that the person who my client had thoughts about happened to be deceased. My client felt trapped that she was never going to be able to express her feelings to this person directly. She felt fear that she’d be stuck in this cycle of anger and resentment forever without the opportunity to directly speak to this person.
To be honest this was not our primary topic of coaching … this is something that came up along the way. I suggested that there might be a few other things they could consider trying to see if it was helpful with these thoughts. The first one I suggested I remember the client said, “oh I don’t know if I could do that.” So I offered the client a few options and I think I even may have offered up some books or other resources she might try if she wanted to do her own research.
What’s fun about this story when I think back to it is that I think over the next several weeks this client went onto try a few of the things I suggested and even eventually tried the idea that had seemed so uncomfortable at the start.
Sometimes we are in a point of high stress or conflict we might crave a simple solution to our problems.
We may really have a sense that we desperately want people to tell us what to do to fix the situation.
I know that I felt that way as a new stepparent. I can remember sitting on the floor of my closet hiding from my family. I was wishing desperately for somebody to give me a solution. It was a dark time for me.
Lots of people actually did tell me things to do. People told me I should leave my marriage. People told me that a lot.
People told me I should stand up for myself to my husband.
People told me I should not tolerate the way my stepkids were behaving and that I should tell them that directly myself.
People told me I should enforce strong consequences within my house.
People told me I should make big changes and take bold action.
I tried several of those things.
What I learned over time was that sometimes when people offered me solutions they didn’t always work.
Another thing I learned was to be selective about where I accepted advice. I once found myself in a conversation with someone who was judging my experience as a stepparent and in this conversation I learned that not only did this person not have stepkids or kids they also had never been married or in a long-term relationship. To be upfront this person was selling their information as a parenting coach / expert.
I learned that if I was open to it solutions often came from unexpected places. I once got very helpful advice from a janitor in a parking lot.
I learned that sometimes what seems like an obvious solution needs a little more context because what looks like the full story is not actually the whole situation.
I eventually learned that often solutions to big problem usually started with small moves and trying different things gently and with compassion.
I learn over and over again that my perception can be widened if I allow myself to listen and observe.
I learned that often when something appears urgent and like big action is needed sometimes slowing down can be surprisingly helpful. I’ve also learned over and over again that when I feel that somebody else in my circle needs to change that discomfort is often resolved when I focus on my own behaviors rather than on other peoples behaviors.
These are a few things that are part of how I try to approach these situations today as a coach.
I hope that this article was helpful to you and when you’re ready here’s how you can find out more about working with me.