Case #9 - The solution is not to give a solution

Jane has an adolescent son. She is having trouble motivating him and is conflicted about whether to pressure him about doing well at school or give him space to find his own level. He spends a lot of time on the internet.

She is asking me for advice, for solutions, and for guidance.

Of course, there's a part of me that would be happy to give her parenting advice - after all, I raised 5 children. There are lots of opinions I have about what could be helpful.

However, I decline her invitation, and focus instead on her feelings as she tells me about the situation. She jumps around - remembering a positive experience in a parenting class, anticipating things not going well for her son. It’s hard to keep her in the present, with me, and with her feelings.

I talk about some of my feelings when raising my adolescents. That creates some space for her to open up and talk about being anxious and tense. But while doing so, she is smiling. I comment on what I see and what I hear and ask her how that difference is for her.

She talks about trying to put on a happy face, rather than always being worried and glum. To some degree, this works for her.

But her tension shows that it also doesn't work enough.

So I keep focusing on the present, on her experience and talk about my own difficulties at the time of my kids being that age.

Little by little, she allows herself to feel more. I ask her to breathe more deeply.

She reports feeling lost. I suggest that rather than offering her solutions to get out of this lost place, I stay with her there for a while. I propose one minute, where we are both together in that place.

She relaxes and then starts to feel an internal warmth. I notice her hand on the side of her stomach, around the ribs. I bring her awareness to this point. Normally she feels anxiety and tension in her stomach. Now she feels warmth. I invite her to breathe this in more fully. Now she is feeling more deeply and then starts crying. She is opening up to be present with her deeper feelings. Both sadness and warmth are present.

This is the point of integration.

Finally, I offer her a parenting principle I learnt that was very helpful to me. Now she can receive it from a place of open heartedness, rather than as an intellectual idea.

The importance here is that rather than coming in with the solutions she kept wanting (and kept reporting that others had given her), I stayed with her resistance, invited her to stay with the present, stayed with her in her lostness, which allowed her to be more fully with herself in that place. The focus was relational rather than behavioural.

Posted by Steve Vinay Gunther