I just received an email from a man who is creative and collaborative. He moved from the East Coast to California for a killer job and has not visited his parents in their family home for 4 years. They have been to L.A. and he was able to keep them busy with all the fun and flash of that area.
Now he is home for the holidays and he sent me a SOS with a “help, I have to get out of here. They have NOT changed and I feel like a ten year old. I do not even have my old room to retreat to since they moved to a condo. It is stifling.”
Anyone else ever have that reaction to going back to your childhood family?
No one can set us off like those we grew up with. And while this man was a stellar student in our Total Leadership Connections Program he did what most of us do. He slid back to the patterns of the past and began to react as such.
I remember reading a column by Erma Bombeck about the holidays and her comment was: “No matter how old our children are, when they come home there is never the right food in the refrigerator and they never close the cabinet doors in the proper way.”
I emailed this amazing leader back and told him it was up to him to make change happen, not them. He is the one who has the tools for success and he needs to use them.
First of all I suggested he make a list of some kind words, some caring words, maybe even a sentence. And say them over and over for a few minutes. Then, go to be with his parents and pay attention to his next interaction.
And then I gave him a sentence to see if it fit and if he could use it to diminish the tension.
Here is the sentence: “You both mean a lot to me and I want to thank you for all the right things you did as I was growing up.”
Then I suggested he stop talking and let the silence do its work.
Result: They sat in silence for a few minutes. His mother, on cue, was wiping tears and his father stood up to shake his hand.
This is doing the right thing at the right time to make a difference. Will his parents change? Who knows? What I do know is he will take that moment back with him.
If you are stuck in a tough situation for the next week, practice a sentence of kind and caring words. And make sure you close the cabinet doors.