Asking, Options, and Conflict

Young Sam is conflicted. He could behave responsibly—and be confined to home to help his sick mother. Or he could be independent—and miserable about abandoning his parents.

However, after friend Lisa asked him, “Do your parents want you to stay?” Sam realized he’d better check his perceptions. Speculation and perception can’t compare to real information. Do his parents see the situation as he does?

This article is one in a series on conflict.
You can find the first article in the series here.

Sam’s conversation with his parents can be helpful or harmful. It’ll help if Sam keeps Reality Therapy principles in mind and uses relationship-building behaviours—caring, encouraging, supporting—rather than criticizing, blaming, or complaining. And remember Sam’s limitations—he can’t control his parents’ behaviour; he can only control his own.

What will Sam learn when he asks, “Is my living at home working well for you?” Let’s look at some possibilities.

Sam’s parents might say, “We’re so glad you brought this up. We’ve wanted to talk to you but didn’t know how to start. We’d like to move into a senior’s residence, but we didn’t want you to feel like we were taking away your home.” In that scenario, having Sam at home wasn’t meeting the needs of Sam’s parents at all!

Or they might say, “We really need you here for the next 6 months, till we get over this crisis. Can we talk then?”

Another possibility, “We really appreciate your helping out and being with mom. But we know that you can’t be here all the time. Let’s work out how to do that.”

For any of those responses, Sam and his parents can work together so everyone gets some, if not all, of what they want. Options might range from having Sam move close by, turning the basement into an apartment, or simply agreeing that Sam will be “off duty” at certain times.

However, there are other possible responses. Here’s one: “We need you at home all the time.” Now, that’ll be a challenge for Sam. However, at least it’s clear!

Sam’s fear is that he’ll hear that response, but in a different way. What if they say the following? “You run along and live your life; don’t mind us. We’ll get by. You’re young and you don’t want to be tied down here looking after your sick mother…”

Now what Sam gets from that is, “If you were a decent son, you wouldn’t think of leaving. How could you even bring this up? You know how sick your mother is…”

Sam perceives that response is intended to keep him home through guilt. He can find no good choice: he’ll feel guilty if he leaves; he’ll resent if he stays. Worse, now his parents know he wants to leave.

Let’s say this difficult response is what he got. How might Sam (or you) deal with that challenge?

The next article in this series on conflict is here.
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