One of the more powerful concepts I have found through coaching numerous families is transparency. While not high on the priority list in our culture, it is vital within our homes.
Depending on our background and personality, transparency can either be easier or harder for us. For those who have a hard time saying no to our family members, transparency is an incredibly freeing tool. For those who really depend more on right and wrong and telling the truth, transparency helps those around us understand and draw closer to us.
Why is transparency so important?
Transparency gets below the surface of the relationship, creates a deeper level of understanding, and gives us a healthier perspective. Far too often I find that kids fear sharing their real feelings about their families, especially with their own parents. At the same time I often find parents feeling compelled to say yes when inside they know their answer should be no.
Here is an actual example that took place, when there was a lack of transparency:
This example involves a daughter and her mom. The daughter who was struggling. She was trying to keep herself busy, not wanting to be alone because she has grown very negative about herself. She regularly asks her mom to take her places to be with her friends. She is trying to stop the tide of negative feelings and thoughts from overtaking her but does not share this with her mom.
The mom, due to her past, often feels compelled to say yes to prove her love. This can be termed enabling. Mom has been saying yes for weeks but is growing tired, she does not understand her daughter’s need, and is beginning to feel used and or manipulated. She does not share her feelings with her daughter because she would not be doing all she needs to be to fill the elusive super mom shoes. If she said no she would feel bad about herself, partly due to some of her past baggage.
“Transparency rather than no is the answer to her dilemma.”
The lack of understanding and transparency has set the stage for the perfect storm. One afternoon the daughter texts her mom, “Can you, my friend and I go to Cheescake Factory tonight?” It’s Friday and mom is tired and feeling used, but responds, “We will work it out.” The daughter hears “yes” and tells her friend they are going to the Cheesecake Factory. Later the very excited girls say to this tired, frustrated mom. “We are ready to go to the Cheesecake Factory.” To avoid feeling like a bad mom for saying no, mom tosses out some weak reason why she cannot go. The daughter erupts, mom tries to keep her cool, but her frustration eventually boils over as her daughter pushes to get what she thought had been approved earlier in the day. She is very upset and thinks she is letting her friend down.
“This real life story was set in motion by the lack of transparency on both sides.”
In this scenario the daughter was not fully aware of why she was so compelled to be out and about so much. She did not realize she was avoiding her own feelings. She needed her mother to ask her questions to help her figure it out rather than assume she was being selfish and having to have her own way. Had the daughter been encouraged to share what was going on inside and if the mother understood, she would have seen her daughter’s behavior in a totally different light. She would not have drawn negative conclusions about her daughter. Her response only added to her daughter’s negative feelings about herself and led to her pushing harder to get out and about.
Mom’s saying yes to everything left her feeling used which truly is not the daughter’s responsibility. Yet her feelings reinforced her negative conclusion about her daughter. It became harder and harder for her to say yes and built some resentment within.
Along came the fateful evening and what should have been a great mother, daughter, friend bonding time created hurt on all sides instead. If the mom had responded transparently when her daughter asked about going to Cheesecake Factory, the eruption could have been avoided in spite of any other misunderstandings going on.
Had mom said. “It’s been a long week and I am really tired. I just want to veg tonight,” the daughter, being an adolescent and operating more emotionally, would have connected to her mom’s feelings and understood in their text communications earlier in the day. The lack of transparency about her feelings and situation set the stage for a melt down because mom felt compelled to be super mom and say yes rather than being a real life mom.
Creating a culture of transparency in our homes is crucial if we want to remain close to our kids as they grow older. Saying no to our kids may work when they are toddlers, but soon they begin to ask why. Instead of excuses or fabricated reasons, try transparency instead. It connects with our more emotional kids and helps them listen, understand and relate to us.
How to Implement Transparency
For parents who are more focused on right and wrong and seek to deal with truth, how they deliver their truth is vital. Lectures about right and wrong and the associated commands that often go with them lead our kids to stop talking with us as well as shutting down their transparency. Like in the story above, this can cause a complete misunderstanding of our kid’s behavior. I frequently find kids are hurt and negative about themselves because their parents have pointed out the negative truth so often. Transparency regarding the feelings we have underneath our right and wrong can make a huge difference in how our kids hear and understand our truth.
Encouraging open sharing of feelings and thoughts requires parents to establish a safe place where yelling is replaced by sharing and defensiveness is replaced by listening, love, and seeking to understand each other. So many of the issues I see in my coaching stem from a lack of understanding of each other’s thoughts, feelings and perspectives which leads to errant conclusions about each other. The end result is more distance, frustration, and eruptions.
What can you do next?
Take the time to help your kids share their feelings about you and your family and where they are struggling, rather than dealing with their behavior. Avoid jumping to negative conclusions about your kids. Open the door for transparency, real understanding and closer relationships. When this happens in the families I coach, parents are shocked at how far off their conclusions about their kids were. Kids once again feel close to their parents, which helps them listen and process what their parents say and results in better behavior and decisions.