APSGO Parenting Blog

A few years ago I was addressing the members of a downtown church where the group was a mix of young and old, professional people, stay at home moms and retirees. The conversation centred of course around APSGO’s emphasis on relationship building and like many people, they were drawn into this idea of looking at very serious behaviour issues and coming at them from a rather different direction in order to deal with them.

Not surprisingly, the notion that the best way to deal with the behaviour is to not focus on it but to focus instead on changing how we relate to our young people, caught their attention in a very profound way.

I told a number of stories of the experiences of several of our parents (no identifying information) and they listened and asked questions. The meeting was very lively as it is bound to be when the discussion revolves around people and the things they do which cause grief for the rest of us.

As always, I encouraged questions and comments throughout the presentation and there were many. One question was asked by a man in his thirties who told me about his brother who was an alcoholic. He described his brother’s life and habits, and his own sadness and worry about his brother and he asked me how he could help his brother. I asked him what his relationship was to this man. He was puzzled by the question given that he had already told me but I knew that I had to have him say the word ‘brother’. I needed to have him say it because on this word hung everything that he would need to know and do in order to give the help that his brother needed. When he eventually acknowledged that he was the brother, I asked him to tell me what brothers do. He described brothers spending time together at sports events, movies, watching television and simply ‘hanging out’. I told him that this was what he needed to do in order to help his brother. I told him that being the ‘brother’ was his job, that no one else could do this job and that he was not to attempt to be the therapist, parent, probation officer or anyone else except brother.

I told him that he was the perfect man for this job. I said he should never refer to his brother’s drinking problem unless his brother spoke of it and then he should be prepared to simply listen.

I’ve been asked this question of how to help someone many times. More recently, I’ve been asked the same question by the students of Humber College whom I’ve had the pleasure to address over the past few years. They have also wanted to know how they can mend broken relationships and help troubled siblings and even parents and I’ve been happy to hear that a number of them have gone on to renew relationships with a parent or other family member.

Over the years, I’ve promoted this method of helping the people we care about, especially when those people seem beyond help and even more so when they seem not to want help. If I were to be asked to sum up the essence of the philosophy I’ve taught for so many years it would be this same approach. I’ve promoted it on air, in print, at workshops and wherever I’ve had the opportunity. I never tire of repeating it and I know it works, sometimes in the most spectacular ways. In this age of ‘experts’ and professional intervention, we’ve lost sight of our primary roles.

When things seem the darkest is when we’re called upon to be Mom or Dad or the kid sister or older brother or aunt. When we are, we can examine what it means to be the Mom, aunt etc. and then we will know what our job is and know that we are the only ones who can do it. When you’re feeling desperate about your child, step back, examine your role and start living it. Better yet, don’t wait until you’re desperate, do it now, today and watch what happens. Leave the job of therapist, probation officer, judge, homework police etc. to those who want to do it. Any number of people are willing. Only you can be Mom or Dad or big sister or kid brother.

by Helen Jones, 2011

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Association of Parent Support Groups in Ontario (APSGO)