Smoothing out squiggly-line relationships
Summer travel…sometimes spending hours in the car driving with family or to see family. Sometimes driving to see a “whole lotta” family at family reunion. Fun? Maybe. That depends on a number of factors, including what the family genogram looks like. Families with a lot of ====== in their genograms probably do have a lot of fun when they enjoy summertime activities together. Some of us have families who would have a lot of squiggly lines drawn between various members if we mapped out our own genograms. So driving long distances together or spending several days together can be like traveling down a really bumpy road—more challenging than fun.
In my own family, there are a number of squiggly-lined relationships resulting from challenging circumstances including family culture, mental illness, traumatic brain injury, and a generally underdeveloped Emotional Intelligence, or EQ, as GFBAI member Natalie McVeigh calls it. For about 25 years, I’ve managed my relationship with my mother, who turned 75 this year, by keeping quite a bit of distance. My own signs of aging and her milestone year highlighted for me that now is the time to give it another try —we’re both running out of days to heal and reconnect.
When I took her out for a birthday dinner this spring and asked if there were any things she wanted to do before she dies, she replied simply, “Travel.” Since she rarely ventures more than an hour radius of her home, with genuine curiosity I asked her where she wanted to go, expecting perhaps something exotic. “The Thousand Islands, I want to see Boldt Castle.” “Well, that’s easy!,” I thought. For my own sense of wanting to make a positive contribution to her life and to possibly enjoy the bonus of a pleasant re-connection, I promised her we’d make that happen this summer.
We finally overcame scheduling conflicts, flooding in the St. Lawrence River, home of this magnificent castle, and went last week. The plan was simple—pick her up after work on Tuesday, drive the three or so hours Northeast, get a good night’s rest in a quaint 30’s style sleeping cottage, and then spend Wednesday making her dream come true, before returning home after breakfast the next day. It would take a lot of paragraphs to share all of the conversations we had, the delight I witnessed in her making a dream come true, and the acceptance, consideration, patience, give and take, and love we shared during those 36 or so hours. The bottom line is that I feel so good, not only about the decision, but also about the outcome and what we’ll continue to reap from this renewed connection in the unknown quantity of time we each have ahead.
Did the therapy, personal growth work, EQ development, and mindfulness practice I’ve invested in over the last 3 decades make a big difference in how this trip came about and unfolded? Yes. And, as I’m writing this not knowing where it would go exactly, I’m realizing that another key factor is the three times I’ve attended GFBAI’s Family Business Advisor Core (FBAC) Training, which has been what I call a “Patty Changing Experience.” I truly didn’t start out to write a plug for the FBAC but as I wrote I realized how many of the techniques I learned from the FBAC helped me really show up for this adventure with my mother in a way that improved our connection. While The Galliard Methodology was developed with a focus of supporting the success of family-businesses, it has also greatly supported the success of my reconnection with my mother.
Here’s an adapted version of page 7 of GFBAI’s FBAC Training Workbook to explain:
- I was not the expert. As we spent time together, I worked with my aging and mobility impaired mother to explore and define the solutions that worked best for her (how to get up and down stairs, in and out of restrooms, etc.)
- I asked more questions than making statements or proclamations. My curiosity opened the door to many good conversations.
- I behaved as an expert in listening—actively, fully and without judging. As part of this, I focused on understanding and asking clarifying questions when necessary.
- I began where my mother is right now—addressing her needs and issues rather than trying to ‘sell’ or overlay my own ideas about what she should be doing.
- I adjusted my style or techniques to suit the needs of my mom.
- I was fully present in the conversation—keeping my focus on her and her needs rather than trying to drive the conversation to meet my own agenda.
- I focused on the future and what would propel our relationship forward, rather than dwelling on the past and the mistakes made.
- I honored and respected who my mother is, recognized her contributions, and acknowledged our mutual desire to move our relationship in a new, sometimes confusing or uncertain, direction.
- I worked to offer a safe and thoughtful environment that encouraged exploration, the development of options, and support for implementing her ideas.
Maybe you have a similar story from your summer travels. Or maybe you’re now feeling inspired to do what you can to change a “squiggly line” relationship in your family to a close relationship. Either way, we’d be glad to hear about it.