In my last post we talked about the importance of "observing patterns" of interaction with your family members. This step was vital for me in my relationship with my biological father.
I won't go into all the history, but I will tell you that it took me YEARS to figure out that I needed to do something different when it came to interactions with my dad. Since my parents divorced when I was five, I really didn't have a relationship with my biological father until I was an adult. Since we lived in different cities, most of our interaction was over the phone. For years, our conversations would start out well, as we exchanged superficial pleasantries about family, trips, or my dad's health issues. This would last about ten minutes and then, my dad would bring up a topic to "bait" me into a verbal debate or conflict.
One day after hanging up from another hurtful phone call, my husband Don said, "Honey, this happens every time you have a conversation with your dad. When are you going to stop taking the bait?"
I'm embarrassed to tell you how long this went on in our relationship! But, Don's question made me realize something. There was still a little girl inside me who was hungering for a father who loved her. I kept hoping that one day my dad would want to know me and love me and that's what kept me taking the bait. I had to come to the realization that my biological father was really incapable of deep connection and really didn't know how to have relationship, not just with me, but with anyone.
I then had an idea! Instead of writing my dad off entirely, maybe I would try an experiment. In my last post I referenced a kitchen tool that changed my life. Do you have a guess as to what it might be? It was a simple kitchen timer!
The next time my dad called, I set the timer to 10 minutes. We caught up on his travels, on other family members, talked about the weather and his health, and then the timer went off!
"Dad, it was so nice to talk to you, but I've got to go now! Take care of yourself and I'll talk to you soon!" Click--we hung up the phone on a good note. IT WORKED!
I used this technique for months! As soon as I saw my dad was calling, I'd set my timer. After a few months, I had to chuckle to myself, wondering if my dad ever noticed that I always seemed to be "baking" when he called or when I phoned him! He never noticed.
This simple change still works to this day-- I don't have to set my timer anymore, but I do have an internal timer that tells me when it is time to bring the conversation to a close. This simple technique has helped to preserve a relationship that I value, even on a superficial level, and it prevents further verbal conflict or hurtful behavior.
I learned that Change Begins with Me!
I also had to learn how to care for that little girl inside me who was hungering for a father's love. I had to grieve through the loss of not having a dad who loved me and I had to learn how to connect with others to get some of those deep needs met. I came to realize in a more profound way that I do have a Father who knows me and loves me dearly.
"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." Colossians 3:12