As parents, we have encounters with other parents every day. Generally, they are positive, or at least relatively innocuous.
But sometimes, it can be really hard to talk to other parents about the complex issues we face with our kids. Even if we know we’ve gotta do it – even if it’s in the best interest of our kids – we don’t really know HOW to have those hard conversations.
How to Start a Hard Conversation
The best way to start a difficult conversation with another parent is to ask permission to have the conversation first, sorta like the other parent is doing you a little bit of a favor.
For example, here are three different common circumstances that can be uncomfortable at first.
When you need to prepare another parent for caring for your child’s challenges, you might say something like: “Jaynie is so excited to come over to Audrey’s house. Of course, I’m the nervous mom so I have a few concerns. Do you have a few minutes to talk about them with me?”
When you need to recruit another parent as an ally, you might try: “I’ve been thinking about something and I could really use another parent’s input on this, and I think you might have some really good insights. Would you mind giving me a few minutes?”
When you are having a problem with another child, maybe you could say: “Jaynie shared some things with me that I am really confused about, and I’m trying to get a better picture of what’s going on. Do you have a few minutes to help me, maybe see if you can shed some light on the situation?”
This not only takes the other parent off the defensive, but invites him/her to offer you support and reassurance, and gives you an opening to raise complex issues. 98% of the time, any other parent will say yes to talking with you, so now you have an opening.
Next Comes the Positivity Sandwich
What happens next gets a little tricky. It depends on the circumstances, of course, but it helps to think in terms of a positivity sandwich.
First, share something positive – maybe an acknowledgement of the parent, or appreciation, or best of all, something positive about that parent’s child. Start with something that sets the mood in an uplifting way – don’t dive into difficult topics without lightening the air a little bit.
Then, once you have some positive energy going on, you can bring up the difficult conversation you need to have.
If the other parent is going to be in charge of your child, maybe you’ll say something like, “I know not all parents have to think about these things, but they’re really important for Jaynie and will make such a difference in her experience. I really appreciate your openness to having this conversation” … before you dive into instructions about moods or meds.
If you want the other parent to understand and potentially help you, you might try: “Sometimes Jaynie has a hard time with making friends, and she’s really struggling this year. I’m hoping you might be able to help me, if it’s not too much trouble for you” … before you ask if that parent would be willing to arrange a play-date with your child, even though they’re not yet friends.
If your child is having problems with the other parent’s child, you might say, “I don’t really know what to do with this information, and I’m hoping you can think it out with me. You see, Jaynie struggles a lot with social skills – she’s not quite as mature as most of the other kids in her grade. She told me that she’s having a particularly hard time with your daughter, and I’m hoping that we might be able to work together to help them work things out” … before you launch into an explanation of how mean her child was to yours.
Of course, this is the difficult part of the conversation, so hopefully you’re trying REALLY hard to listen openly and not get defensive, yourself. Try not to take things personally, and remember that the truth is always somewhere in the middle.
Once you’ve completed the “meat” of the conversation, it’s time to finish the sandwich — to return to something positive. Thank the other parent for taking the time to talk with you. Acknowledge her with something positive – anything will do, though something positive about her child is always a big hit! – and try to keep things open for future conversation when you bring this call to a close.
Give Yourself Kudos
When you do complete a difficult conversation, take a few deep breaths and exhale slowly. Try to relax for a moment. Acknowledge yourself for making the effort.
Sometimes in life we all must have difficult, or even fierce conversations. And while they’re not easy, they’re important. It’s part of being a grown up, just one of the many tough things we are called upon to do, over the years, to advocate for our kids.
Over time, this process will get easier. A little positivity goes a long way, and one or two good experiences under your belt will reinforce that the world won’t blow up when you initiate a hard conversation – at least, not usually!
So take it one conversation at a time, use the Positivity Sandwich, and remember that it only takes 20 seconds of bravery to start any difficult conversation. Truth be told, once you’re in the middle of the conversation, it’s usually easier than dialing the phone in the first place :-).