I’m returning to my bus after a short break we just made after 3 hours of driving. As I return to my seat I notice a lady and her daughter sitting few seats beside me. The daughter is crying. Her mom starts consoling her but what transpired was the most comical misunderstanding of needs I’ve ever seen. The daughter started crying even more which made the mom even more annoyed. All could have been avoided if the mom wasn’t ignorant on the most important piece of information in child rearing.
“We should have entered the queue earlier! I could have gotten that last ice cream!” exclaims the daughter.
“You’re right honey… We should have entered the queue earlier, but you shouldn’t have let that woman jump the queue before you. She got the last ice cream!”, corrects the mom.
“I didn’t let her in!”, yells the daughter while her sobbing increases. “She jumped the queue in front of you! You should have seen her! It’s your fault, everything’s your fault!”
(Whether the daughter is right or not is irrelevant, but here we see a classic behavioral pattern of immature people: blaming others for their own failures and/or emotional states.)
The mother now said something neutral, but the daughter still pressed on with her agenda. Now, the mother should have calmed her down emotionally, but she continued to argue with her.
“I want my daddy!” sobbingly exclaims the daughter.
“No problem!” the mother says. “I will tell him to meet us at our destination. We’ll be there in 2 hours time.”
“No, I want my daddy now!” the daughter says and keeps crying.
“Well, do you want to call him right now and tell him to meet us?”, asks the mom.
“THEN WHAT DO YOU WANT!?” yells the mother. “Stop annoying me! You’re so hard to deal with!” says the mom which just increases her daughter’s suffering.
“I want my daddy right now!” the daughter presses on.
The mother coldly says: “Me too. I would much rather sit with him right now than with you…”
And that’s how the misunderstanding occurred.
The daughter further pressed on that she wants her daddy right now, while her mother was saying that’s logically impossible. The mom gave everything she had to solve the logistical problem of how will her daughter see dad as soon as possible. The daughter kept spewing logical inconsistencies telling her mother that she wants her daddy because mom is rude to her.
It should be quite clear right now what was the misunderstanding. It was a misunderstanding of her needs.
The daughter was sad that she didn’t get her ice cream, due to her being a child she couldn’t deal with her own negative emotions of regret and anger. She needed a safe adult figure who will give her safety.
The mother kept explaining to her daughter what went wrong, and how the daughter should behave next time so that she doesn’t lose her ice cream. But this only fed her daughter’s negative emotions. “You’re not good enough. You not only didn’t get an ice cream, you didn’t get it because you’re clumsy, stupid and irrational.”
Thus, the mother turned from a protective soothing figure, to a cold criticizing one. The mother tried to give her daughter advice, when the daughter didn’t want one. What the daughter wanted was a soothing protective figure. She wanted her mother to say: “Awww, my dearest snowflake, you didn’t get the ice cream? I’ll buy you one as soon as we arrive to our destination!”, and then the mother holds her in her arms and kisses her forehead, which would calmed her daughter in an instant.
But, since our protagonist didn’t get that feeling of safety because she got a cold analytical mind of her mother, the daughter jumped to her next safety figure in her life: her dad. The mother was baffled of why does her daughter want to her dad, but doesn’t want to speak with him right now?
Now we know what her mother didn’t. The daughter didn’t want her father per se, she just wanted to feel safe. She simply wanted a guardian who will tell her that not getting an ice cream is not an end of the world, and who will give her that warm physical and emotional love and acceptance.
This misunderstanding of needs is not only characteristic for the parent/child relationships. We experience it in all relationships. How many times did you try to solve your wife’s problems, when all she wanted for you is to listen? How many times have you experienced hours of fighting, only to realize that you forgot what you were fighting about?
All these occurrences are a consequence of either not being in tune with one own emotions, or not being able to read other people’s emotional states and needs, and it can also be both.
So, keep this knowledge in mind the next time when you find yourself in a shouting match with your child or your partner. Pause for a second and ask yourself, what could be their needs that I’m currently not meeting? If you get stuck, ask them. You’ll be surprised how fast the argument will come to an end.