Some of the best advice and insights I have ever received has been offered by children. In some cases, they were words actually intended as advice – ”Don’t get into a car with someone you don’t know, Sharon.” But far more often the insight had an unintended impact, a thought spoken with the clarity and conviction beautifully alive in most children.
Several years ago, I was visiting friends who have three children. The oldest, a five-year old we’ll call Adam, had been sent to his room for not doing something his mom had told him to do. After what Adam’s mom judged to be sufficient time for him to reflect on his unacceptable behavior, she went into his room to speak with him. After a few minutes, she walked down the stairs, smiling and obviously trying not to laugh. When she asked Adam why he had not done as he was told, he looked at her with a mix of impatience and frustration. “Mom,” Adam explained, “I’m an alien. Your rules do not apply to me.”
I LOVE these words, this spontaneous proclamation of individuality and independence. Haven’t we all (at times, or often) felt “alien” in our circle of friends, our work environment, and sometimes even in our family? And surely we have thought our own version of the expression “Your rules do not apply to me.” The most challenging situations seem to be when the rules or expectations are not clearly defined or expressed, those subtle expectations that so often result in disappointment and sometimes even anger.
Adam’s words come to mind now as I watch a friend and her husband struggle with their changing life together. The good news is that neither wants to live by the other’s rules, and that seems a healthy place to be. The less-good news is that they have not yet been able to take the step of defining new rules/expectations that will work for them as individuals and as a couple. It’s a familiar situation. Redefining and re-negotiating expectations in all of our relationships is important, and rarely happens by osmosis. Here are some basic questions to consider (and writing the answers is better than thinking the answers):
1. What do I truly need from ______?
2. Have I clearly communicated this to _____?
3. What does ____ need from me?
4. How do I know this? Is it an assumption on my part, or have I expressly asked?
5. Am I willing to initiate the discussion that will get this process started?
So, with thanks to Adam and his mom, I’m off to initiate some discussions of my own. Wish me luck!