Getting the Backstory…and Healing Part 2: Talking with Our Parents

In Part 1, I reviewed how empathetic listening can help improve conversations and our healing. This type of listening encourages us to do what James 1:9 says, “…be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry”.

We covered 10 steps for empathetic listening (listening to understand vs. listening to judge or defend). Step 5 was “avoid having judgmental thoughts.”

I’m confident some of you were thinking something like,

Really Kent?! Not judge?! My mom up and leaves my dad after 33 years and I’m not supposed to judge?!!!

Parental divorce is hard.

You’re angry—rightfully so.

You’re hurt—rightfully so.

You’re confused—rightfully so.

You’re worried about your mom or dad who didn’t want the divorce—rightfully so.

You’d be fine if the one parent dropped off the face of the earth—ok…for now…rightfully so. n

The problem is, the constants I’ve observed through the years are:

  1. Our healing is not contingent on what our parents do or don’t do.
  2. Our parents are flawed human beings just like we are. Romans 3:10 says, “There is no one righteous, not even one.” So judging, though a natural response, is problematic.
  3. Our better understanding of our parents can push us past anger, hatred, anxious and tension-filled situations, and even depression. But better understanding comes by listening empathetically (See part 1).

So how do we talk to our parents about the divorce?

First, we must take these factors into account:

  1. How is your heart and mind? Colossians 3:8 says, “But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” These tend to be the fallout from parental divorce. However, they also trigger defensiveness and kill our chance to understand. Learn how their divorce is impacting you so you can be in a healthier mindspace to have a constructive conversation with your parent.
  2. How is their heart and mind? Divorce is second only to the death of a spouse in the amount of emotional impact it has. Most people going through divorce are in survival mode for months and have very limited bandwidth for reflective conversations. Apprehension that you will verbally attack them can be a concern also. It’s important that our desire for information doesn’t bulldoze them when they aren’t ready.
  3. James 1:9 says, “Let everyone be quick to listen and slow to speak.” Plan on listening lots and talking a little. We tend to talk lots and listen little, but that rarely enables us to get the info we need to get satisfying answers to our questions.

What do we want to talk about?

  1. Have a list of questions ready to go, but try to avoid questions that are too personal or could result in TMI (too much information).
  2. Start small and listen your way to the next step. Here is an example using empathetic listening steps:

    “How are you doing with all this dad?“Well, it would help if everyone wasn’t treating me like the Devil himself! ““That must be hard.”“It sure is. It’s not fair.”

    “Has this gone the way you expected?”

    “Not at all”“How is it different?”

    “I thought you kids would be more understanding—especially your brother.”

    “Why did you think Josh would be more understanding?”“Well, we always did things together and I just thought he’d get it.”“What did you think he’d get?”“Just how hard it’s been.” And the conversation continues.

Who’s guiding this conversation? You are. Who’s giving out the information? They are. No defensiveness and no arguing, because we’re genuinely listening.

But Kent, I haven’t asked any of my questions with this scenario! That’s right. But by listening empathetically, you created an emotionally safe environment where your dad didn’t feel attacked. As a result, it’s likely that in the next conversation, or maybe the one after that, you’ll get to ask some questions. Because you listened and asked questions based on what you heard (and not your agenda), it’s likely you’ll already have partial answers to some of your questions.

Divorce creates the opposite of emotionally safe environments to talk. So, it may take a few conversations before it’s comfortable for both of you to ask your questions. Trust the process and don’t rush.

In our last of this three-part series we’ll look at how getting our parents’ backstory can bring healing in us.

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