Wednesday, 21 October 2015
How Mike King made me a better parent
According to my 17-year-old, he tells me about 70% of what goes on in his life. I found this out on national radio recently when Ali and I were guests on Mike King's radio show 'The Nutters Club'. I was pretty happy with that, I was expecting more around the 40% mark! Apparently we're the exception, most kid-to-parent disclosure ratios are much lower. I reckon I have my mum and dad to thank for helping me to achieve that 70% because the biggest thing I learned from the way they parented me was to always keep the communication lines open. I could talk to my parents about absolutely anything and I did. Even so, no matter how good a relationship you think you have with your child, no matter how approachable you think you are, it doesn't mean that they WILL talk to you. These past few months I have experienced first hand how holding in problems and negative thoughts can quite literally make a person implode. It is the most terrifying thing I have ever seen in my whole life. It happened in my world and it can happen in yours too, don't think for one moment it can't.
I mentioned in my last blog how spending two hours in Mike's company completely changed my perspective on pretty much everything. In particular he made me aware of how we as people a) treat one another and b) how we NEED to treat one another. I cannot begin to stress how enormous this guy's workload is; he and his team have one hell of a mammoth task on their hands and the demand for his help is overwhelming. I learned more about the minds of teenagers in two hours from watching Ali and Mike interact than most parents could hope to learn in a lifetime. Ali and me have always had a really tight bond but what I took away from that show has strengthened our relationship beyond belief and resulted in a much happier home. It's made me think - if I as a 70% parent was able to learn so much, how much could this information help a 40% parent? I feel that not sharing what I have learned would be selfish.
I'm not telling anyone what to do here, I'm just sharing what has worked for me. But I do know that if more parents, elders, teachers and friends took this stuff on board, there would be a lot more happy and healthy people out there. And I do know that Mike is right when he says we need to make it OK to talk about our problems. Here are the key things I have learned from him, and Ali too:
1. Stop talking, start listening. As Mike said (and it made me fall about laughing as it's so true), our generation think we know EVERYTHING. We have a lifetime of wisdom to impart and enjoy nothing better than inflicting it on our offspring. Whilst our hearts are in the right place, we are so busy forcing THEM to listen to US the moment they try to open their mouths, when what they really want is for US to listen to THEM. You don't have to have an answer for everything. Sometimes just listening is enough. But if you are going to talk to them, make sure you talk WITH them, not AT them, there's a big difference. Adults are much too good at interrupting kids because we think what we have to say is so much more important when the poor little buggers have barely had a chance to open their mouths. We need to make a conscious effort to shut up instead of shooting down. Respect their feelings and opinions. They have them, even if you don't agree with them. You don't even have to understand them. The important thing is that they feel able to talk to you.
2. Give them space. This was Ali's number one tip for parents on the Nutters Club show. If I ask him what's wrong and he says 'nothing', then there most likely isn't. And if there is I've learned to simply say 'OK' and leave it there. He knows I know he's not OK and that's enough; if he needs to talk about whatever is bothering him he will when he's ready. Getting in kids' faces and asking over and over again what's wrong can just add to the pressure and make them clam up even more. Besides, nine times out of 10 they don't actually need you and will sort out whatever it is bothering them for themselves.
3. Share your experiences. Ali says this is one of the biggest benefits when talking to me. Parents don't have to be perfect, we don't have to be these flawless pillars of society. It's that way of thinking that could well stop your kids from feeling they can't talk to you for fear of letting you down, or that you will judge, or berate them. How can kids expect their parents to understand them if they don't even know that we have lived? The thing is, when you're willing to share your less than perfect experiences as a parent, your kids respect the fact that you know what you're talking about - and I think it's also quite disarming for them that you are willing to disclose those things about yourself. It doesn't mean you condone that behaviour by any stretch of the imagination, it just makes you human and more importantly, relatable.
4. Never belittle someone else's problems. This is pretty much the worst thing you can do, unless you actually WANT to stop them from sharing anything with you ever again. Put yourself in their shoes, imagine you plucked up the courage to tell someone something that was really bothering you and they immediately jumped in and said 'Oh you don't want to worry about that, that's nothing!' - how would that make you feel? Yet we do that in society all the time, especially to kids. We don't mean to, it's just that we don't want them to worry needlessly, especially when to us the problem is so easily fixed. But to the person who has the problem, it's not nothing, it's a big thing. If someone plucks up the courage to talk about whatever's bothering them, just let them offload and if you can't think of anything helpful to say back, just listen.
5. Trust your kids. This can be bloody hard if they have given you reason not to but at the end of the day it's all you can do. Don't automatically think that every time they leave the house they're going off to do drugs or get into trouble. Maybe they are. But there's a pretty big chance that they're not. My son knows that all I ask of him is that he keeps himself safe.
6. Remember this mantra 'it's not about you'. I'll repeat that again for good measure - IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU. This is probably the biggest thing I learned from Mike; it has helped me to understand my son more than anything else. As I mentioned earlier, we think we have all this wisdom we need to impart when all that matters is stopping the other person from hurting. If you've got an angry and aggressive teenage boy on your hands, he's not being like that to be an arsehole, he's behaving that way because he's in pain. Once you get that, you can begin working with it rather than against it.
7. Last but not least - love unconditionally. I'm sure Mike would say this too but I learned this one from my parents. When I was 18 I was drinking a crazy amount every day. I had booze hidden everywhere. My friends were worried about me (seeing me drunk at college had stopped being funny for them a long time ago) and tried to help me but I kept letting them down. I wanted to tell my parents but I didn't know how. I think in the end one of their friends who was a college lecturer tipped them off that she had run into me and the smell of alcohol coming from me almost knocked her out. I was terrified of what my dad would say but you know what? He was the one who had the most faith in me. I sat and bawled in his lap until his shirt was soaked and instead of hitting the roof and telling me what a terrible daughter I was he simply ruffled my hair and said 'It'll be alright mate'. He didn't have the answers - but he believed in me.
Becoming aware of all these things has made me not only a better parent, but a better person. I would honestly recommend the above advice to anyone. Or better still, you can listen to it from the man himself in Part 1 and Part 2 of the Nutters Club radio show podcast. Every day I thank Mike inwardly for what he has taught me and encourage every single parent to embrace and support the incredible work this guy is doing throughout our country. Who knows, he may well have already helped someone you love.