Making Our Problems More Manageable

Derek Maul

detoursignParents are not alone when it comes to facing difficult challenges. Problems are problems, no matter where they crop up. Doctors, engineers, lawyers, teachers - all encounter obstacles, and all have to solve puzzles that place barriers between where they are and where they want to be.

The first thing that these professionals do when faced with ongoing dilemmas is to identify their goals. "If you don't know where you are going," the phrase goes, "you'll probably end up somewhere else."

Next, accomplished problem solvers break down their goals into a series of more manageable short term objectives. Each objective moves a step closer toward the final end. Another term for this is "task analysis." This involves identifying the simpler component parts that make up a more complex task.

Essentially, parenting is not any different. What do you want for your children, your relationships, your home? Identify specific goals. Maybe it is something like "Improve communication with my teen," or "I want a beautiful garden like my mother's."

Steps to Building Communication

Okay, now it is important to specify what precise smaller steps will lead, ultimately, to that wonderful intention. What are some of the ingredients that add up to, say, communication?

  1. Spending time together (Now that's not so hard to arrange).
  2. Setting the stage (this often involves food!).
  3. Committing yourself to family mealtimes.
  4. Listening to their life. Not so easy, but can be broken down into even smaller steps like: open ended questions, "best and worst," reviewing specific details, listening to their music, caring about their friends... etc.
  5. Making eye contact.
  6. Actually talking.
  7. Turning off the television when you talk/eat/read etc.
  8. Sharing some of your own struggles and joys.

Any one of these steps can be addressed individually, and then - after a few of them are mastered - improved communication is a natural by-product. We often become so intimidated by our larger goals that we forget that the smaller steps are within our reach - today - one at a time. The key to problem solving, then, is to set clear goals, write realistic short-term objectives, work diligently one step at a time, and - of course - rely on the liberal application of prayer.

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