Handling Challenging Conversations
Before we go any further, please note that we’re going to assume that all of the people we’re talking about here are well-intentioned if also a bit misguided. If you are dealing with people who are trying to belittle or berate you, it is best to discuss the situation with your doctor or therapist.
Most of us shy away from challenging or emotional conversations. Confronting Aunt Mimi is particularly tough because you do need her help and you don’t want to insult her. Here are some tips to get you started.
- Know what you want. Think specifically about what you want to happen after your conversation is over, the more concrete the better. For example, it is too vague to ask for “more help.” It is much better to ask Aunt Mimi to “do the cooking and dishes for the next 3 days.” Remember, Aunt Mimi is not volunteering to be your servant and she should not be expected to do all the household chores you and your partner did before the baby came. If all of those chores matter to you, recruit more help.
- Focus on the present need. Think hard about what is the most important thing you need to say and say it first. If you need Aunt Mimi to help with the dishes, don’t be concerned about her comment about your carpets. Let it go. Start from the present moment and move forward. Worry about the rest after things are a little easier.
- Don’t wait. If Aunt Mimi’s behavior is making you mad, don’t wait until there is an emotional scene. It is best to get things out in the open as soon as things start going in the wrong direction.
What does this look like in action? Maybe something like this: “We’re so glad you’re here Aunt Mimi; there aren’t very many people who understand how much help we need. We have organized a list of friends who have offered to help with errands and chores. They signed up for specific days and times. They’ve been wonderful. Finding the time to make regular meals and do dishes has been impossible. We desperately need your help with meals and dishes for the next few days. You must be tired from traveling. We were thinking of picking something up at the deli for tonight. Tomorrow, I was hoping you’d make some of that great stew you made last time I saw you.”
What if the Problem is your Partner?
Sometimes we find that our biggest challenges are closest to home. We’ve had several posts on the difficulties related to becoming a new parent. When you’re lost in the haze of those first few weeks, it is easy to think that you are the only one who is tired and frustrated. Keeping two things in mind can help you through this tough time. First, no matter how much others love us, they can’t read our minds. Don’t get mad if your partner doesn’t do the dishes because you thought he or she should know you wanted them done. Second, your partner is going through the same adjustments and challenges that you are. Taking care of a baby can be overwhelming emotionally and physically. Under extreme stress, people naturally want to “feel normal again” and get back to familiar routines. So, for example, if you made breakfast every day before the baby came, don’t be surprised if your partner sits down at the table and waits for you to start the coffee, especially after a long stressful night. As frustrating as that may be, don’t get mad. Sit down yourself and talk about how you can trade off making breakfast. Even better, wake Aunt Mimi and ask her to make her famous biscuits.
Don’t forget to ask your partner (out loud) for the kind of help you need. Be open to your partner’s feelings and seek ways to get things done together, recruit others, or let things go. Ideally, you should have a plan in place before your baby is born but it’s never too late to get one started.
Next time: Coping with the Kind of Help that You're Better Off Without
*Note: Don’t get excited; this book does not exist.