Crush Your Parenting Overwhelm: better communication with the people you love

Are you feeling overwhelmed by parenting? Improving communication can help strengthen your relationships and ease your stress. It can seem like the key to reducing this stress is about managing time more effectively, but what if it’s about nurturing the connections within your family? 

When you enhance your interactions with your children, partner, and even your own parents, you reduce frustrations, and create a foundation of mutual respect and understanding. This creates a bridge that allows you to function as a team rather than as adversaries. 

Let’s explore how to strengthen your communication toolbox and build a more peaceful home and family life.

The Blame Game: A Roadblock to Connection

Imagine a recent disagreement with your partner, child or parent. Raised voices, accusations, slammed doors or stony silences – sound familiar? These are classic examples of communication gone awry. When communication breaks down, self-blame and other-blame take center stage.

  • Self-blame: You take full responsibility for the problem, thinking things like, “It’s all my fault,” or “I’m a terrible parent.” While self-reflection is important, dwelling on self-blame can be paralyzing and prevent you from finding solutions.
  • Other-blame: You shift all the responsibility to your parent, partner or child, thinking, “They’re the reason everything feels bad between us,” or “They shouldn’t be so…(fill in the blank with whatever quality you dislike in the other person)” This creates resentment and shuts down the possibility of a productive conversation.

Both self-blame and other-blame hinder connection and prevent real relationship progress. So how can change happen in relationships and interactions that you wish would improve?

The Really Real Rules of Relationships

In the book “Feeling Good Together, The Secret to Making Troubled Relationships Work,” Dr. David Burns reminds us that we only have 3 options in a troubled relationship (or interaction): 

  1. Do nothing. Keep the status quo and everything stays the same.
  2. Leave the relationship or interaction.
  3. Improve the relationship. 

He also states that there are 3 rules of relationships and interactions:

1. Any relationship problem is 100% you and 100% the other person. It’s impossible to place blame with only you or only them, because your response feeds into their response, and vice versa. That’s called circular causality – or a vicious cycle. 

2. Every person inadvertently creates the relationship dynamic that they are complaining about.

3. You have a lot more power than you think in a relationship or an interaction. Change your 100% portion and you change the whole relationship/interaction.

The 5 Secrets of Effective Communication: A Path to Understanding

If you’re ready to accept that you only have the power to change your 100% portion, which will change the dynamic of the relationship even if the other person is unwilling to change, you’re ready to use Dr. Burns’ 5 Secrets of Effective Communication. These 5 Secrets offer a roadmap to healthier interactions. 

But before you jump into using the 5 Secrets, heed this crucial reminder: the 5 Secrets of Effective Communication only “work” if you really and truly want to increase closeness and a felt sense of connection with another person. 

You have to be willing to be vulnerable, to accept and openly admit your inadvertent (or purposeful) failings and mistakes, as well as be willing to identify and honestly share your authentic feelings. Without those ingredients your words will fall flat and sound disingenuous to the other person. 

Here’s how to put the 5 Secrets into practice in your daily life:

  • Disarm: Find Truth in Criticism. Even if your partner, parent, or child’s criticism feels unfair or irrational, acknowledge a kernel of truth. Agreeing with a valid point they have (even some small slice of their point!) can transform a defensive argument into a collaborative discussion. For example, if your partner says you’re always working late,  pause, and Instead of defending yourself, find a snippet of truth in their criticism. You might say, “You’re right, I was thinking about work and not how my lateness would affect you. Can we brainstorm some solutions for better balance together?”
  1. Empathy: Reflect Their Thoughts and Feelings. Put yourself in their shoes. Listen attentively and reflect back their feelings and thoughts using their words – especially the ones that were hardest to hear. This demonstrates that you’re truly listening and understanding their perspective. If your child is upset and complaining about missing out on playtime because of having to clean their room, acknowledge their feelings, “It sounds like you’d rather be playing. Cleaning up can feel like a drag sometimes, huh?” If your parent or your partner says, “You never make time for me,” you can respond with, “I hear that you’re feeling neglected, and that must be really hurtful.”
  1. Inquiry: Ask Open-Ended Questions. Encourage deeper conversations by using questions that spark discussion. Instead of demanding explanations, ask, “What would make you feel better about this situation?” or “Can you tell me more about what’s bothering you?” or “Can you let me know how you feel about what I’ve just said?”
  1. Assertiveness: Express Your Own Feelings with an “I feel” statement. Communicate your needs and emotions honestly, but respectfully – without attacks or accusations. Instead of bottling up frustration, lashing out indirectly or with statements like “OMG, you’re such a slob!” say, “I feel overwhelmed when the house is a mess. Can we work together on a cleaning plan?”
  1. Affirmations: Show Respect and Warmth. You know that purring sound a cat makes when you stroke their fur? Imagine that your fur-stroking hand could speak words, and that the “fur” you’re stroking is the other person’s in-the-moment feelings about themselves, you, and the relationship between the two of you. Even during disagreements, you can show that you value and respect the other person by fostering purr-like positive vibes that also prevent the situation from escalating. Offer compliments and acknowledge your family member’s efforts. A simple “I appreciate you so much for trying to understand my perspective” or “Our relationship is so important to me, so I want to understand your feelings better” can go a long way. 

Bonus Tips

When your relationships are strong and respectful, you feel more supported and less stressed. If you often find yourself clashing with your partner or your parents about parenting strategies, and you’re constantly arguing with your child about rules and limits, using these communication techniques can help improve those relational dynamics.

Practicing these steps can feel unnatural at first. Like learning a new instrument, it takes time and repetition. Start by rewriting past conversations using these techniques, then gradually implement them in real time.

So here are some additional tips:

  • Active Listening: Pay close attention, both verbally and nonverbally. Put away distractions, make eye contact, and show you’re engaged.
  • “I” Statements: Take ownership of your feelings. Instead of blaming, say, “I feel frustrated when…”
  • Body Language: Maintain open, positive body language to encourage communication.
  • Patience and Persistence: Communication is a two-way street. Be patient with yourself and others as you practice these skills.

Strengthening Your Parenting Journey

Empower yourself to significantly and positively shift and deepen the connection with your loved ones. In doing so, you’ll boost your felt sense of agency, your mood and reduce your parental stress and overwhelm. 

Prioritizing respect in the relationships with the people you love means fostering an environment where everyone feels valued and heard. By following these guidelines and embracing the 5 Secrets, you can cultivate a more mutually respectful and understanding environment within your family, and model healthy interactions for your children. They’ll learn how to express themselves, listen actively, and resolve conflicts respectfully.

Sign Up for Support

If you find these strategies helpful and want to delve deeper, consider working with Dr. Coor in parenting-focused psychotherapy sessions or a Brooklyn Parent Therapy Parent Intensive designed specifically for you. These tailored sessions can help you break intergenerational cycles of disconnection and build a more connected, respectful family dynamic.

Check out more ways to manage your own big feelings so you can parent with compassion! Ready to work on your parenting with Dr. Coor? Click here to schedule your free consultation.