Does talking about our problems really help? Do we talk more freely about our issues than we did a decade ago? Are we more willing to open up about the spouse or kids, a health concern, or troubles at work?
Are we more likely to get into the guts of society’s demands as to who we should be, what we should be doing, our insecurities — and feel less alien or alone in revealing confusion, depression, or regrets?
I’m guessing most of us would say yes. We would also suggest that the way we talk about our problems and to whom are both key to how these conversations will be received, much less the positive (or negative) consequences.
But the core concept — that talking helps — is one that most would agree with. In saying that, it’s important to distinguish between situations that will benefit from community or exchanging a confidence with a friend, and those that require properly trained counselors.
Here’s why I raise the subject.
Old Topics, Fresh Insights?
Several comments came in overnight on posts I wrote a few years back, two to do with complicated issues in interpersonal relationships, and another on parenting.
I’m happy to see these discussions continue; the topics are as relevant today as they were when I wrote them, and they have no formulaic resolution. Consequently, I find the ongoing threads encouraging. The more people who offer their remarks, the more we will be able to broaden our views, lessen stigma, adopt a less judgmental stance, and possibly find new options for ourselves.
These issues are also dependent on society’s evolving expectations of both women and men (slower to change than we may think), infrastructure (childcare, education) that is unevenly, unaffordably or insufficiently available, and the landscape that comprises our work lives.
This last, the subject of earning a living, is theoretically facilitated by technology advances. Note that I say theoretically; we live in an increasingly demanding culture of “do more with less,” challenging situations faced by independent workers, additional challenges for specific demographics, and a blurring of boundaries between work and “life” that we are accepting as normal.
Allow me to light for a moment on the topic of SAHMs, or Stay-At-Home-Moms, and the divisive “mommy wars” that have raged for the past few years.
The SAHM Issue(s); How Viewpoints Change With Time
Specifically, I’m addressing the issues mothers face and the many related topics of quality family life, feminist principles, and how best to raise our children in general. Stay-At-Home-Moms With Kids in School,, a short piece of writing that reflected my own ambivalence about the choices available to me as a solo mother of two, is an example of how many viewpoints exist, how our opinions change with experience, and how readily we “critique” our women and devalue their decisions.
Looking back on this 3-year-old musing, with my sons now young adults, I have a different perspective on the years that I worked from home and the way I orchestrated my full-time mothering duties. My “talk” on the subject would reflect my shifting view, which is a function of seeing them as adults.
At each juncture in raising them, I was convinced I was making the best choice I could for my children, at the time.
Life, Choices, Decisions
Before divorce, my “best choice” was a balance of what was best for them, best for my marriage, and best for me. That last piece of the puzzle included working for pay, and thank goodness that I did, for financial reasons. I would not have been able to survive otherwise.
My particular balance also included being away from them from 8 to 5 for several years, and being available to them whenever they weren’t in school, from elementary-age onward, though I was working for pay at the time, largely from home.
I know exactly why I made the choices I did. My reasons were a mix of principles, practicality, my personal history, and my nature. Naturally, I was a product of my time and place and upbringing. As for the choices made following divorce, there was far less element of choice in those decisions, but certainly some. And again, I will say that I did my best.
Hindsight of course is 20-20. I might look back and say “what if…” as I observe the way my sons are leading their lives, wishing I had done things differently so they would have fewer challenges to face. Then again, what parent couldn’t say the same? I must also recognize the world is not the same as it was 30 years ago; I could have taken an alternate route and I would still be second-guessing myself.
The Value of Communication
Does talking about our issues help in tangible ways? Do we feel more free to vent or even compelled to do so, as part of an attention-hungry culture that demands we have something to say? Do we create problems where none exist, or exaggerate them to play to the crowd in social media?
These are worries I give words to on occasion. My concerns have to do with our propensity for airing too much on the Internet — a judgment call, certainly — and our motivations for communicating, our narcissistic culture, and the ease with which we talk at each other for the sake of it. How often do we vent without regard for who is on the other side of the conversation?
Then again, the existence of online communities is a godsend for many of us who find invaluable connections, important information, and a sense of belonging we might not have access to otherwise.
Certainly, we all vent at times, and I’m no exception. When I’m tired and stressed, I do far too much of it. But I’m speaking of those who do little else.
Generally, I think most of us would agree that talking (in non-hurtful and constructive ways) is good. Talking to a psychologist or therapist when problems need professional attention? I’m very much for. And listening — really listening — is an essential part of the equation.
Perhaps here I should note that for some of us, that communication — very much a “live” conversation in our heads — begins on the written or virtual page. We put down our hypotheticals, our fears, our queries, our ambivalence, our exploration process as a function of writing, posting, tweeting, Facebooking, and so on. We invite the feedback because we want more than our own pondering, and we hope for a broader conversation from which to gain insight.
Whatever the method we use to encourage this exchange, isn’t the purpose multifaceted? We may be seeking a release valve or consolation, distraction or commiseration, not to mention reaching some greater understanding. And when we do any of these, we are likely to feel relief.
Relief is good. It helps. And talking is an excellent first step, but only a first step if that doesn’t seem like enough.
So then what? Don’t we need to do something with our understanding? If we’re expressing our feelings on a topic that is problematic in our lives, shouldn’t we consider what comes next?
Perhaps we need to share something difficult with a spouse, or make a change involving going to the doctor. Perhaps we need to dare to explore an educational opportunity, a career option, or addressing an issue with someone else at work or at home — to improve a situation. Maybe there is a political component, for example a desire to get more involved in community or city-wide work, or simply to become a more informed voter.
Talk is great. Listening is great. And I continue to encourage it not only here, but of the people in my life who may have difficult subjects to address, including with and about me. For example, the extent to which my “mess” around the house proliferates, especially as I work from home, can become an irritation to anyone who lives with me. Files (and piles) tend to take over the kitchen table and the living room. While the subject is rarely raised, in all fairness, I need to try harder to find a middle ground.
Mothers and Parenting Feedback
Parenting feedback may be harder for some of us than relationship conversations that are challenging to our sense of self. And reflecting on the extraordinarily thoughtful comments on the post I mention above, it’s clear that I’m one among many millions of mothers who put painstaking effort into the way they raise their children.
When our kids bring up issues that are hard for us to deal with, do we have the courage to really hear them and allow for the possibility that their views are on target? When our spouses or partners are telling us we’re not taking their opinions into account, especially regarding our kids, are we dismissing them out of hand? Are we convinced we’re always right?
Both of my sons seem to feel more comfortable with expressing aspects of the way I deal with them — and their upbringing — that may not be the most effective. If I don’t open myself up to hear what they have to say, not only is it disrespectful to the men I have hoped they would become, but it will surely shut down their willingness to communicate.
So I am listening intently to their input. I am reflecting on the choices that I made as a mother, a hybrid stay-at-home while working dozens of projects and assorted jobs. And I am looking forward to coming closer to the sort of parent and person I wish to be.
I am setting aside defensiveness, though it isn’t easy. I want the ability to talk about issues and to absorb diverse points of view. I want conversations to yield mutual understanding and also, where appropriate, change.
Because I believe that talking about our problems helps, but only talking isn’t enough.
You May Also Enjoy