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Jan 24, 2022Liked by Leah Libresco Sargeant

My favorite tip I read and now I use regularly is that when you ask someone with an ongoing challenge how they are doing, ask how they are doing *today*. I love how this little change communicates that you know something is ongoing and you know that coping levels change regularly, and you want to know what the current status is. To me, it also says I'll keep checking on you and keep wanting to know the answer.

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Jan 24, 2022Liked by Leah Libresco Sargeant

Honestly this type of stuff drives me up a wall. If I have a problem, I don’t want my husband to say “wow, that sounds hard.” It is disingenuous and unhelpful. I notice this strategy works for my toddler better but by itself would also be insufficient. I find it’s best if I pair that WITH something concrete that she needs to be reminded of. Like “I know you are frustrated that your brother keeps breaking up your train tracks. Why don’t you give him a few trains to play with so he leaves you alone?” Lest I be called a helicopter parent, I would argue that we are teaching her skills so she can see resolutions with the goal that eventually we don’t have to remind her any longer.

As someone with a chronic condition myself, I understand the frustrations with always having someone try to problem solve with me. There are also people who are better or worse AT problem solving. One analogy I have used with my husband (since we both worked in tech) is the levels of tech support. When you call in for tech support, you are directed to various tiers - almost everyone gets directed to a first tier of support staff that is less trained. They ask the questions like “did you turn it off and on again? Have you done all your software updates?” Of course if you have done all these things, it is frustrating to be asked to rehash all of them. But only once you have stumped the first tier of support do you get bumped to the skilled technical who get to the root of more technical problems. Sometimes certain people will get permission to skip the first tier of support (like if they know you are a programmer etc). But when you are skilled, it can be quiet patronizing and frustrating to go through the unskilled support tier. Of course most of the people you speak with are unskilled at your issue and will not be able to help. Some people will be very skilled at a seemingly related problem that’s actually not related at all and can thus lead you astray.

The most helpful conversations that make me glad to be with my husband are NOT the empathetic ones but they are the genuine problem solving ones. The ones where we review what has been tried so far, explore possible next steps, and decide which one is most practical (and perhaps decide to sacrifice other things to dedicate resources to solving the problem). If I were to run through questions like this with someone else facing a chronic condition, I might say “what are the things you’ve tried already.” “…that sounds like a lot. You must be exhausted! What do you want to try next?” “What blocked you from trying that before or what is blocking you from trying that now?” Then you can offer help based on that - like giving babysitting support so they can make it to a new doctor.

Note the this doesn’t include offering a ton of suggestions (frustrating, bottom tier support) but is still a form of problem solving.

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Jan 24, 2022Liked by Leah Libresco Sargeant

Great reflections, as always, Leah.

On a perhaps related theme, I'm deeply interested in the connection between chronic pain and social isolation. This not to give credence to the shibboleth that "it's all in your head." Rather, I take it that pain is an extraordinarily complicated human phenomenon that has causes, origins, and symptoms that are difficult to understand and treat. It seems that pain may be a symptom of failing to thrive. The existing medical and professional establishment seems at a loss here, which is one of Ross's points.

Back to your point: doesn't it seem like the last straw is not having a witness or to be disbelieved in our suffering? Each heart indeed knows its own bitterness. I've found having a good friend keeps me from drowning in it.

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I think that offering solace, not problem solving was a hard lesson for me to learn in early motherhood--partly because I was traumatized by the experience of trying to comfort an incredibly colickly newborn who could not be consoled for the first several months of his life. I so desperately wanted to solve his discomfort and that experience stayed with me! But I think I've gotten better over time at waiting out the meltdowns rather than trying to "solve" them because especially with toddlers, once feelings take over they have a hard time problem solving anyway and just want to cry and be hugged or snuggle for awhile. As a friend, I actually like help with problem solving alongside comfort. I have a friend who is very thoughtful about sending care packages or Venmo-ing funds for DoorDash if I'm having a hard time. She also will ask, "would you like to vent or would it be helpful if I helped problem solve?" when I go to her in a crisis which is also so appreciated! So there's certainly a place for both strategies in parenting and friendship--so much depends on the person. Some of my kids really want problem solving help (my more analytical kiddo) and others only want comfort.

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I'm now in the stage of parenting teens, which means SO MUCH of my job involves simply being present and modeling my own life as they navigate theirs. Over the weekend I had coffee with a friend and she called it "house plant parenting" — the stage in which your presence is known and you're there to clear the air, but otherwise you don't reach in and interfere when they're about to bonk their head on the ground, metaphorically-speaking.

I think this is a lifelong endeavor, as a parent, and it's a hard lesson to learn as a mom who just wants to protect and comfort her clan. It's cliché but it's true: it's like helping those baby birds crack out of their shells. We think we're helping, but we're only unintentionally making them weak.

I think friendship is a different beast, though, and I do appreciate the friendships that Haley mentions: the "do you need to vent or would you like some input?" friends are the ones I go to the most. As a longstanding independent (to a fault), unsolicited advice feels nearly like an insult instead of a help.

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I think it's often possible to offer hope or encouragement while knowing that I can't offer some sort of solution. I sometimes try to say things along the lines of "I know your loved one is struggling, and it's really hard for you, and it's not getting better anytime soon. But one thing I do see is how much love and care you have for them, and I think that's wonderful about you" or "I see that you're struggling with X, and I think it really boils down to the fact that you made choice Y. You stand by that choice even when it's really difficult, and I think that's great about you." It's definitely not applicable to all people or all situations, but I find it allows me to reach for hope in a genuine way when a problem isn't getting better anytime soon.

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solving your kids' problems for them for them is disabling. no matter their ages. my dad was a trust fund baby. small trust fund. not quite enough to live on, but enough to rob him of ambition. he had a college degree because that was easy to get after WWII. but, he always had his mother to go to for money which was his main 'problem' and his constant solution. other problems, those that arise in childhood, that would be so easy for parents to resolve are best left to kids to work out with us supervising so there is no loss of life or limb. letting the kid figure out how to climb up on the chair, not pulling him up. explaining how to take turns and maybe setting a timer rather than strong arm intervention. even for teenagers, curfews are not a great idea. rather an early get up time the next day, routinely, is a better way to learn self regulation. on saturdays and sundays, when i was a teen, there was always a job to go to so i quickly learned not to stay out too late. things like that with logical, flowing consequences teach self regulating behavior so much better than constant parental intervention. now, as a parent and grandparent, i am proud to have my kids come to me with the occasional problem that requires deep confidence and discussion. they learned to trust me when they were toddlers and teens.

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